Best Book I Have Not Read

Writing, Reading, Teaching, Life, Attempting to Balance it All

What’s Up with the new American Girl? September 30, 2009

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I’ve always like the American Girl Doll books as a stepping stone into historical fiction for middle age readers. Colonial Times, The Great Depression, World War II-all introduced through the eyes of a kid their own age.

On the other hand, I really can’t imagine what American Girl/Mattel was thinking when they created the new $95 Homeless Girl doll-Gwen. While she is not the new Historical Character or the Girl of the Year, Gwen is the friend of Chrissa-the 2009 Girl of the Year and is included in the story line and available for purchase.

One legitimate complaint many news articles have cited is that none of the profit of the American Girl Homeless Doll go to help organizations that aid homelessness.

I guess I’m glad that my daughter has outgrown the fascination with American Girl so that homelessness doesn’t get discussed in the context of expensive toys and books.


New Picture Book by Lois Lowry September 26, 2009

Filed under: blogs,books,narrative writing,picture books — bestbookihavenotread @ 9:04 pm
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I was so excited to see a picture book by Lois Lowry this evening.  crow callCrow Calls is a beautiful story illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline and tell’s Lowry’s own story from her childhood.

Crow Calls takes place when Lois was a young girl, a big outing with her father has just returned from a long absence away during World War II is heart-warming. The illustrations are perfect for the mood and tone of the book, as well as the hunting season.  A photo of Lois Lowry as a child in the plaid, hunting shirt highlights Ibatoulline’s artistic talent.

I can hardly wait to share this book with my colleagues and their students next week. A perfect complement to our personal narrative work we’ve been doing!

If you check out Lois Lowry’s blog you can see everyday life for her, along with beautiful photographs.


39 Clues and Patrick Carmen… September 25, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — bestbookihavenotread @ 4:51 pm

This week, author Patrick Carman has been on two national television shows.

If you missed out on the shows, you can watch him online.

The Martha Stewart Show – 9/21/09 Patrick Carman and Martha Stewart discuss ’39 Clues’.

The Today Show – 9/25/09 Watch Patrick on ‘Al Roker’s Book Club for Kids’.  Ghost in the Machine, the highly anticipated sequel to ‘Skeleton Creek’ will be released Tuesday, October 1st. Move deeper into the mystery that Ryan & Sarah uncovered, and discover the secrets buried in Skeleton Creek.
Watch the Trailer for Ghost in the Machine on his website!



It’s Hard Keeping Up… September 24, 2009

I don’t know why I am finding it more difficult to keep up with my blog lately. I guess it’s that school is at a full, rolling boil! I haven’t had much time to read either. I actually think it might be related to the ages (and phases) my children are currently.

Even though I haven’t been blogging about it, lots of good things continue to happen. The good news is:

I have gotten to experience and fall in love with so many different groups of students this fall as they get started with writing workshop.

I had a great PD day with a grade level that I didn’t have much of an opportunity to work with last year. The dedication to kids and learning in my colleagues is always so inspiring.

I was able to talk a small group of teachers into spending their own money to travel to the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project’s Fall Reunion . You can’t beat Katherine Patterson and Lucy Calkins in one venue! Legal teacher crack!


Excitement…I am up to…. September 17, 2009

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planning professional development opportunities for teachers that think outside the box.


What YA Lit Is and Isn’t

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From my friend Dana–“This was on the site,, I couldn’t get it to email – but I think this is a perfect tone in conveying, from a YA author’s perspective what she does and why. Thought you’d probably enjoy.”

She was so right. I love Mary Pearson’s work and think this is a very well written article.

Mary Pearson

This past year I’ve met with a lot of book clubs, several of which were adult book clubs. Many were surprised that The Adoration of Jenna Fox was a teen book. They had never read a teen book before—at least not since their own teen years. They didn’t really know what YA fiction was. They are not alone. I think there are a lot of misconceptions about young adult literature. Who writes it? Why do they write it? Who should read it? Who shouldn’t? What are the author’s responsibilities? What should their responsibilities be? What is YA lit? What is it not? Is it “safe” literature? Being a YA writer, all these questions make me feel almost subversive at times.

Can you imagine having these same suspicions, er, I mean, questions about any other kind of literature? Adult books for instance.

Why do those writers write stories about adults?
Science fiction? Shouldn’t those adults grow up and read real fiction?
Hemingway is just watered-down fiction when adults should be moving on to complex stuff like Kafka and Tolstoy.
Do adults really need to read McCarthy when we have Dickens? It was good enough for our grandparents.
(Or fill in the author substitutions of your choice.)
I wonder if everyone’s very strong opinions about this one segment of literature comes from our attitudes about the teen years? We fear them. We want teens to “get over it” quickly, and heck, let’s not mess with books that just dwell more on the teen years! Move on! How many times have you heard someone practically offer condolences to someone upon hearing they have teenagers? I’ve never understood that. Maybe that’s why I like writing about the teen experience. I find it amazing. Let’s face it. When we are teens we ARE adults, albeit young ones. Hm. Young. Adults. I wonder how they came up with that? And we are making important and complex decisions. It’s a fascinating period in life. Why shouldn’t there be books that explore it?

So back to some of the misconceptions and questions:
Who writes it?
People like me. People who find the teen years fascinating and the nuances of teen literature a challenge. I am not writing it as “practice” so I can one day write an adult book (I am asked that a lot.) Young adult books are not a lesser, watered-down version of adult books. They are not any easier or harder to read than adult books and they are certainly not any easier to write. They are just different. Just as with adult books, some teen books are easy and breezy and meant to be that way, and others, like Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, or Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan, are complex and mulit-layered. They can offer social commentary, as with The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, or The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks by E. Lockhart, while being immensely entertaining at the same time. They can examine our flaws and failures and our hopes and dreams in quiet, elegant prose as in Thursday’s Child by Sonya Hartnett, or with fun, quippy prose as in Repossessed by A.M. Jenkins.

I think sometimes there is still this basal reader mentality when it comes to teen books, like it is a stepping stone to the “grown-up stuff.” Basal Reader Year 10. Hm, no. It is simply its own unique type of literature that explores the teen experience.

Recently I’ve heard some discussion about the “responsibility” of YA books and YA authors. Oh, I hate that word when it comes to books. I’ve heard complaints at both ends of the spectrum, far left and far right, wanting books to “guide” readers one way or the other.  Their way, I imagine. Or not include sex or language or whatever, and sometimes the whatever is pretty ridiculous, under the guise that we must “protect” young minds. I have to say, I have seen just as much harm come to children who are over-protected as those who are not paid any mind at all. I have seen parents who sequester their children away from the world in order to protect them, but hey, the world is there, and one day the kid will be out in it. Do they really want to spring it on them cold turkey? Often the results aren’t pretty. Or wouldn’t they rather have their child test the waters while they are still under their wings and can come to them with questions?

But all of this is neither here nor there. The bottom line is that YA books are not meant to raise children. They are everything any adult book is. They are entertainment. They are a place to see ourselves. They are a place to get lost for a few hours. They are a place to make us think and wonder and imagine. They are a place to evoke anger, disagreement, discussion, and maybe tears. Books have no other responsibility than not to make the reader hate reading.

Who should read it?
Anyone who wants to. There are some folks who think YA shouldn’t be a classification at all. That teens shouldn’t be steered to YA books. They are “ready” for adult books. Of course they are! Adult books aren’t necessarily rocket science, ya know? But teens are also ready for YA books, and darn, if they just might not want to read a book that has characters that on some level might be like them. Where the character is voicing their thoughts and their experience. There is nothing wrong with wanting to see ourselves in books. Sometimes we want, and even need, to see our peers or own lives between the pages.

In some ways, I am fine with getting rid of the classification. Lump YA in with all the other books. However, while we are at it, let’s get rid of all the classifications. No mystery. No science fiction. No series fiction. No historical fiction. No romance. No self-help. No non-fiction. No graphic novels. Etc, etc, etc. Make the bookstore and library one big happy room of books in alphabetical order. Maybe we all need to venture beyond our usual reads? It might take a wretched long time to find the book that you want though. Maybe Dewey had a good system after all.

My point is, there are all kinds of books for all kinds of reasons. One is not lesser or more than the other. Books introduce us to different kinds of worlds and thank goodness there are so many to explore.

Finally, I might try to take a stab at some sort of characteristic that sets teen books apart and say teen books are short. I would be wrong. Graceling by Kristin Cashore.

I might say they always have a teen narrator and sensibility. I would be wrong. The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak.
I might say they end on a hopeful note. I would be wrong.  Inexcusable by Chris Lynch.
I might say that somewhere in the book they explore the teen experience. And maybe there I would be right. But the teen experience is just as varied as the “adult experience” or “senior experience” or “childhood experience” so that doesn’t narrow it down a whole lot either.

One thing I am happy about is that the audience for YA Lit is growing. More adults are discovering it and more older teens are doing the same. I guess for a subversive lot, we’re doing okay.  So tell me, what was the last teen book you read?

Mary E. Pearson is the author of five novels for teens, most recently, The Miles Between just out in September, and newly out in paperback, The Adoration of Jenna Fox which has been optioned by 20th Century Fox for a major motion picture and translated into thirteen languages, both from Henry Holt Books.

(I’m very excited about that! Yeah Mary!)


Reading Workshop explained by Nancie Atwell. The New York Times article still is producing strong reactions! September 16, 2009

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The New York Times article I posted earlier this month is still causing quite the stir (433 comments and counting). In my Inbox yesterday was an e-mail Heinemann sent out letting educators know that there is a video rebuttal by Nancy Atwell.

Check out Heinemann’s Teacher Lounge and read what top authors have to say about students and book choice including Shelley Harwayne, Harvey Daniels, and Regie Routman.

You also MUST watch Nancie Atwell’s video on the homepage of Heinemann.  The video is on the top right-hand corner. I wish I could embed it, but haven’t been able to figure out how to do that. It’s about 5 minutes, but so worth hearing what this expert has to say. She does it so well.

Myths addressed:

#7 Reading Workshop only works with certain types of students

#6 Students who choose their own literature are deprived of opportunities to discuss literature.

# 5 Adults who are literary, habitual readers got that way by reading the classics as kids.

# 4 Students actually read the classics their English teachers assign.

# 3 The classroom is a place for the classics only–students can read popular literature on their own

# 2 A goal of creating habitual, life-long readers is insufficient or a “soft” goal

#1 Choice means anything goes

The timing of this video in proximity to my own excitement about my Book Club picks and meetings, strikes as a little ironic. I am not going to be able to keep my own two cents to myself for long. I agree with everything Atwell says, as well as having my own evidence as both a reader and a teacher of reading.


“Grown-Up” Book Club 2009-2010 September 15, 2009

Filed under: book clubs — bestbookihavenotread @ 8:38 pm

The winners of last night’s planning meeting for “grown-up” book club are as follows:

Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society Mary Ann Schaffer
and Annie Barrows
The Elegance of the Hedgehog Muriel Barberry
Alison Anderson
My Life in France Julia Child
The Maytrees Annie Dillard
Mrs. Dalloway Virginia Woolf
The Space Between Us Thirty Umriger
Hunger Games Suzanne Collins
The Black Book of Secrets FE Higggins
Distant Land of My Father Bo Caldwell
(and for over achievers or fast readers)
Last Chinese Chef Nicole Mones
The Help Kathryn Stockett
The Middle Place Kelly Corrigan
My Stroke of Insight Jill Bolte Taylor
Last Town on Earth Thomas Mullen
pick from recommended
Peony in Love Lisa See
Anti-Intellectualism in American Life Richard Hofstadter

I had been looking forward to this evening for quite a while and started doing by “research” for suggestions this past July. Everyone in the group brings a suggestion (or two or three) and then we hash it out. Some books are clear ‘winners’ if more than one person brought the book as a suggestion. We also get recommendations from the owner and the manager of the local book store for consideration.  We try to always have one classic, one non-fiction, and one young adult book, in addition to fiction titles. There are a few members who can always be counted on to bring non-fiction recommendations as well as a few who love the classics.  I’m one of two who inhale young adult, so it’s always fun to compare notes as well as getting our friends to read some of our YA favorites. Hunger Games was an easy pick for both of us.

I had brought the three titles in bold and have been holding off on reading Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society in hopes that it would make this year’s list (sometimes if too many people have already read a title, it can eliminate a book from ‘the running’.

The classic is always the hardest for me with non-fiction coming in a close second. I still haven’t made it through a classic in three years. It doesn’t help that the non-fiction month usually overlaps when I am reading YA books like a fiend before Newbery announcements.  I’m not making any bets that I will make it to Virginia Woolf, but maybe if I can buy it on I-tunes and listen to it in the car.

The group expanded as many brought a friend and we were able to make decisions in record time this year.  Big thanks to Susan for hosting and organizing. We wouldn’t all be the varied readers we are without your organization.


Not sure where he’s coming from… September 14, 2009

Filed under: authors — bestbookihavenotread @ 7:50 am
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Richard Peck seems to be missing the point. He states that students are telling him over and over again that teachers are reading aloud his books. That is meant as a compliment, not a complaint!

I’m sure not one teacher who has chosen to read his book aloud, set out with the goal of teaching a list of vocabulary words. That part of his interview in Horn Book seems to be at direct odds with the stories themselves!

Endings aren’t “given away” by read alouds-they are shared by students with bated breath, hardly able to wait and see what unfolds.

With “limited classroom time”, reading aloud is the most valuable (and least expensive) of all teaching tools that every teacher has.

While I adore Richard Peck I agree with The Reading Zone, he is really off the mark.


Make My Day September 13, 2009

Sometimes I worry about Facebook.

Is it mentally healthy to be able to stay connected to your childhood friends especially when you live in your childhood town?

Do I really want everyone who is my Facebook friend to be able to read my blog when that is not the audience I intend it for?

All kinds of other silly worries… I know I shouldn’t worry, but…I am me.

But on the other hand I recently received a message from a friend that I haven’t seen nearly enough in the past year (names changed for privacy). That is a positive of Facebook!

Subject: good feedback…

“I’ve been wanting to share with you…  last week I was asking the girls what their favorite part of the first week of school was.  Sally said that your writing time was her favorite, as she proceeded to tell me all about three stories that she started writing (along with a story that you had shared with them).  I didn’t even have to coax her beyond recess!  Thanks for your dedication to all of our kids and their education!  We are so fortunate to have educators and friends like you!”

How much do I LOVE that!

Not that I was her favorite part of her first week of school, but that WRITING was her favorite part! Presentation and storytelling is so important in inspiring young writers! Getting to kick off writing workshop in multiple classroom over multiple weeks has been a blast! It doesn’t matter what the age, their stories are so great, and the ability for kids to learn quickly how to shape words to pull their reader in is darn amazing. I’ve gotten to hear/read during writing conferences with students about how the wind blows your hair back from your face as you go up the incline of a roller coaster and how to feels to pull back the string (so not the actual word) on the bow of your first deer hunt while your dad whispers in your ear and lets you take the first shot (I hate hunting but was able to marvel at his words.).

Pretty amazing. I love my job and I love that most every work day includes a happy, waist-high hug, and enthusiastic silent waves from students on their way from one part of the building to the next.