Monday, November 28, 2011

It's Monday? What Are You Reading? From Picture Books to YA

It's Monday! What are you reading? is hosted by Sheila of Book Journey.  Jen & Kellee from 
Teach Mentor Texts have adapted this to focus on Picture Books to Young Adult Books.
Each week I'll recap what I've read/reviewed the week before 
and then look ahead to what I am planning on reading/reviewing in the upcoming week.

Last week's Book Adventures:
I had fun going through numerous picture books this past week.  My favorite of the week was Heart and Soul by Kadir Nelson.  The book is beautifully illustrated and the audiobook is superbly narrated by Debbie Allen.  It is best to pair the two together.  Check out my review here.

Upcoming Book Adventures:
I picked up a bunch of books at one of my favorite Indie Bookstores - Mrs. Nelson's Bookstore in LaVerne, CA.  All of these have come highly recommended and very eager to dive into them.

So, what are you reading this week? 
Please share! And remember to check in at Sheila's or Jen & Kellee's blog to see what they and others are reading!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Book Review - The Santa Club

Author:  Kelly Moss
Illustrator: Jim Keserich
Publisher: Palmary Press (July 1, 2011)
Source: Copy for Review from the Cadence Group
Audience: 4 to 8 years old

Description from GoodReads:
A delightful book with captivating illustrations, The Santa Club transitions your child from receiving gifts to experiencing the joy of giving. With sensitivity, faith, and love, The Santa Club tackles the serious question, "Is Santa Claus Real?" To be read with your child, this wonderful book not only answers that sometimes "dreaded" question but it also addresses the questions of why Santa comes at Christmas and who was the first Santa. The Santa Club is a wonderful parenting resource and a stunning children's book, and is sure to become an annual family favorite.

At some point, parents will hear the question - "Is Santa Claus real?"  Kelly Moss seeks to tackle this question in her book The Santa Club.  From the beginning, she warns children to only continue reading with a parent and never to share the information with other children unless an adult gives them permission.  

As children progress through the story, they learn how to become members of The Santa Club. There is even a list of responsibilities at the end of the book and a certificate of membership.  Moss has elected to explain about Santa Claus through the connection between St. Nicholas, and the birth of Jesus Christ as the basis for the spirit of giving that occurs at Christmas.  Though the message is to help children understand that there is something good in giving not just receiving, the book relies heavily on the message of birth and purpose of Jesus Christ. 

Since not all people who celebrate Christmas, celebrate the religious basis for the holiday, this book may not appeal to all readers.  For those that do, this book presents a nice twist on the answer to "Is Santa Claus real?"

For more information:

Friday, November 25, 2011


Recently, I had a wonderful opportunity to go to Chicago to attend the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) conference and the post-workshop for the Assembly of Literature for Adolescents (ALAN).   I was excited to attend a conference where I would be surrounded by professionals who were excited about teaching reading, and writing, and also were passionate readers.  I shared with friends before I left that I was going to a conference that would be Book Geek Heaven.

During my time at the conference, I was affirmed as an educator.  Listening to the opening Keynote given by Linda Darling-Hammond set the tone for a week of learning.  I engaged in dozens of passionate conversations over the six days with various teachers, authors, and other professionals about teaching, and students, and learning.  I loved knowing that it didn't matter who I sat with at a meal or during a session but I could learn something new from each person and presenter.

I was also thankful for Twitter for helping to make this one of the best conferences I have attended.  Yep, twitter allowed me to create an on-line Professional Learning Committee (PLC) that has become an invaluable resource for me.  So many of my wonderful twitter PLC folks were there at the conference and I got to meet and hang-out with many of them at both NCTE11 and ALAN11.

Here are some of my highlights:

- NCTE 11 - 

* arriving in Chicago and taking the train to Naperville to meet with friends (Jen, Colby, Kelly) for deep-dish pizza and attending the Tom Angleberger/Jack Ferraiolo/Michael Buckley signing at Anderson's Bookstore.  Thank you Donna (@akgal68) for seeing my tweets and picking Cathy (@cathy_blackler) and I up at the train station.

Tom Angleberger signs a book for a fan.
Jack Ferraiolo with Jen (@mentortexts)
* Listening to Kirby Larson, Deborah Hopkinson, and Jack Murphy talk about how the research they do for their non-fiction books can be used as writing prompts

* Hearing authors - Kate Messner, Linda Urban, Eric Luper, and Matthew Kirby talk about writing and editing/revising their work.  I wish I had thought to capture the whole presentation on video.  There were so many brilliant comments.  This was the first time I had also met Kate Messner in person and she is sooooo nice.  Oh, and I got a wonderful hug and greeting from Linda Urban.

* I attended a workshop about graphic novels with my twitter buddy, Colby, and we both got to meet Jennifer Holm.  Jenni actually signed Colby's Babymouse T-shirt.

* Dinner Friday night was a blast as I got to meet and hang out with more tweeps -Donalyn (@donalynbooks), Kellee (@kelleemoye), Jen (@mentortexts), Colby (@colbysharp), John (@mrschureads) just to mention a few.

* Saturday morning we attended the ALAN breakfast where Sharon Draper received an award and the keynote was given by Jacqueline Woodson.

* I also connected up with author & teacher Melissa Thompson and as we walked around the exhibit hall we found Jen, Colby, and John.  On our way to additional workshops, we stopped for lunch and shared about books and kids. 

* Saturday afternoon sessions were filled with learning about Mentor Texts, as well as, Websites and Technology that could be used to support student learning and writing.  At a session led by Donalyn Miller, Teri Lesesne, Franki Sibberson, and Sara Kajder participants were reminded that "we shouldn't schoolify technology". (Have I said how amazing these women are?)

* Saturday evening, I had a chance to go out to dinner with a large group of Twitter buddies (@leakelley, @mindi_r, @cbethm @heisereads @yaloveblog @cathy_blackler @childofthe80s @jenniesmith @kimmccollum @katsok).  Thanks Mindi for finding such a great restaurant for us.  And thanks everyone for such great dinner conversation.

* At the Children's Literature Assembly Breakfast, I had a chance to hear award winning author/poet Joyce Sidman speak.

* On Sunday, I attended several amazing sessions as well.  I expected the session on Inquiry Circles to be empty since so many people were leaving, but it turned out to be Standing Room Only and one of the best sessions that I attended.  As I watched the school team talk about what they have been doing with Inquiry Circles, I even texted folks in my District telling them how much I was loving what I was learning.  I have ordered Comprehension & Collaboration by Harvey Daniels & Stephanie Harvey for my teachers.

* At the final NCTE session, I had an opportunity to meet some wonderful authors including some favorites like Sharon Draper, and Rita Williams Garcia. 

- ALAN 11 - 

* ALAN kicked off with a reception where Alethea (@frootjoos) and I did some open author-stalking. First, we got to say "hi" to our SoCal author buddies - Andrew Smith, Katie Alender, and Kazu Kibuishi.  Over the evening, I got to fangirl Sharon Draper and let her know about my love for OUT OF MY MIND and Neal Shusterman who writes amazing books.

* The two days of ALAN were filled with amazing author panels, book talks, book signings, and lots of books. 

In looking at my pictures, I realized that I spent too much time talking and not enough time taking good pictures.  For some great quotes from the various workshops, and lots more pictures (including one of a group of us at dinner on Saturday), click here to check out my twitter buddy, Kellee's blogpost. 

Thank you to all of my Twitter PLC (including my roommates @cathy_blackler, @frootjoos, @thebrainlair) for making my first time to NCTE/ALAN such an amazing experience.  Hope to see everyone again in Las Vegas for NCTE/ALAN 2012.



Thursday, November 24, 2011

Book Review - Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans

Author/Illustrator: Kadir Nelson
Publisher: Balzer & Bray (September 27, 2011)
Audience: Fourth Grade and up
Source: Purchased Hardcover; Audiobook
History * Non-fiction * African Americans

Description from GoodReads:
In his Coretta Scott King Award-winning We Are The Ship, artist Kadir Nelson told the story of Negro League baseball. In Heart and Soul, he widens his scope to cover a wide range of African-American history, from centuries of brutal slavery to the Civil Rights era to the presidential election of Barack Obama. Nelson's focus is on African-American women and men who struggled through adversity while somehow maintain their integrity. This beautifully illustrated hardcover with a message for us all.

In March, I had a wonderful opportunity to hear Kadir Nelson speak and he shared about his work on Heart and Soul.  As a huge Kadir Nelson fan, I wanted to read the book right then but I had to wait a little over six months to finally get my hands on a copy and my first viewing was to just admire the amazing illustrations in this book.  

Recently, a twitter friend (@maryannscheuer) recommended the audiobook.  The initial thought that ran through my mind was "Why would you listen to a Kadir Nelson book?!".  Obviously you would want to read it so that you can experience the amazing artwork.  And at some level this is true.  However, when I heard that Debbie Allen was the narrator, I decided to give it a try.  And it was an amazing experience.  Of course, in this case, I would suggest listening to the audio if you had the book in hand or had previously viewed the pictures.

Allen as narrator brought Nelson's text and illustrations alive.  As I listened to the audiobook, I was reminded of the time I had lunch with an elderly African-American woman.  I sat there realizing how significant it was to hear the stories that this woman could tell.  First-hand accounts that would be lost as more of our elders passed on.  Nelson's choice to use this technique to share the story of American History through the eyes of an African American family is brilliant.  

This is one book that will end up on my best books of 2011 list.  I am glad to have it as part of my personal collection and would recommend it for any teacher or librarian for classroom, school, or public libraries.  

To get a greater sense of the book, I suggest checking out either the NPR link or the YouTube link listed below.        

To listen to an interview with Kadir Nelson on NPR, click here.  

To watch video about Nelson's work on this book, click below:

For more information about Kadir Nelson, check out his website
You can follow him on Twitter: @kadirnelson 
On Facebook: 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Gratitude Giveaway Hop - Thank you to You the Readers!

Welcome to the Gratitude Giveaways Blog Hop hosted by I Am A Reader, Not A Writer and co-hosted by All-Consuming Books.   The hop will run from November 17th to November 27th which will give you plenty of time to enter all the giveaways.  And there are 300 blogs each saying thanks to their followers by offering a simple, easy, one entry giveaway. No long list of optional entries on this hop - they are not allowed.

My Giveaway for one lucky follower is a Maggie Stiefvater Prize Pack - a signed copy of both Forever and The Scorpio Races.

Since this is a Gratitude Giveaway Hop - I just want to thank all of you who read and stop by and comment and well are just wonderful readers. Thank You!!!

Rules for the Contest:

1. Please do not enter any personal information in the comments section (including your email, website, etc.), you must complete the Entry Form to officially enter the contest.
2.  The Contest runs from 12:00 a.m. Pacific Time on November 17, 2011 to 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time on November 27th.
3.  You must be 13 or older to participate in this contest.
4.  If you are selected as a winner, I will notify you by e-mail.  If you do not respond within 48 hours, I will select a new winner.
5.  International participants are welcome to enter the contest.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Book Review: Forbidden

Author: Tabitha Suzuma
Published: UK: Definitions (May 27, 2010) / US: Simon Pulse (June 28, 2011)
Audience: Young Adult
Source: Purchased in store
Young Adult  * Romance 

Description from Goodreads:
Seventeen-year-old Lochan and sixteen-year-old Maya have always felt more like friends than siblings. Together they have stepped in for their alcoholic, wayward mother to take care of their three younger siblings. As defacto parents to the little ones, Lochan and Maya have had to grow up fast. And the stress of their lives—and the way they understand each other so completely—has also also brought them closer than two siblings would ordinarily be. So close, in fact, that they have fallen in love. Their clandestine romance quickly blooms into deep, desperate love. They know their relationship is wrong and cannot possibly continue. And yet, they cannot stop what feels so incredibly right. As the novel careens toward an explosive and shocking finale, only one thing is certain: a love this devastating has no happy ending. 


Before I begin to review this book, and tell you why I thought that this was one of the best books I've read, I want to reiterate that this book does contain mature themes. It deals with the incestuous relationship between a brother and sister, so parents or sensitive readers should take note.

This is a difficult review for me to write because I can't quite explain how I loved this book to someone who hasn't read it. Just to get it out of the way, the novel doesn't gloss over the aspects of Lochan and Maya's relationship. It's not just a crush. They are properly in love, and strangely... I really wanted them to be. Like for most people, incest is one of those universal taboos for me. So, I was half-intrigued, half-skeptical going into reading this , but Tabitha Suzuma nails it. There is something about the way she writes these two characters that forces you to root for them. A few chapters into the book, I completely abandoned my, "Ewws," for, "Awws," and was already hoping for a way that the two of them could find a way to be together without hiding. The romance is sweet, believable, and paced extremely well -- they aren't making out in chapter 2 or declaring eternal love in chapter 3. Forbidden is a long enough book that Suzuma can take her time establishing Lochan and Maya as separate characters and individuals and make the romance grow out of that slowly. I promise you, I went into this young adult romance thinking that my stomach might turn at the idea of sibling love and came out of it wanting even more moments of them together.

Suzuma does a great job with characters in general. Besides Lochan (my favorite!) and Maya, the other characters in their family are multi-dimensional and interesting. Particular favorites include their alcoholic mother, who was so nuanced, and Kit, their rebellious younger brother. I loved that the alcoholic mother wasn't of the stereotypical scream-and-shout-and-abuse variety. The way her addiction to alcohol made her an absent parent and tore her family apart was different and believable, and caused enough harm to facilitate Lochan and Maya's unusual relationship. Kit, on the other hand, was a fascinating character because he was the 13 years old middle child, in that awkward stage between boy and man. As much as I agreed with or accepted the ending of the novel, the one thing I would have wanted would be more of Kit -- such a fascinating character.

The writing was also really phenomenal. It's told in alternating POV between Lochan and Maya, which is so difficult to manage sometimes, but worked really well in this one. Each of their voices is very distinct and I really like it when authors can pull this off. (If you are a fan of Maggie''s Stiefvater's Shiver or Malorie Blackman's Naughs and Crosses, then you'll appreciate this style of storytelling.) I loved getting inside the heads of these two complex characters and listening to -- or reading, rather -- how they justified their love, criticized themselves, felt cheated or dirty.... Given the subject matter of the novel, it really helped to be told in first person POV.

There's really not much more I can say about this. The novel is a beautiful romance that might step on some toes, but ultimately surprise you. There isn't anything like this out there (that I've read anyway). This novel just represents what I love about fiction. It turns something vile, unexpected, unconventional, and ultimately "wrong," into something beautiful and poetic. I hope you give Forbidden a chance. It's certainly a risky novel, but the reward is so great.

Tabitha Suzuma is the award-winning British author of several young adult novels with difficult subject matter, including mental illness and depression. You can follow Tabitha on twitter: @TabithaSuzuma or on her blog: 

Her official website is:

Friday, November 11, 2011

Special Edition Literacy Café: Scott Campbell & Zombie in Love

Back in September, I attended the Book Release and Art Exhibit event for Scott Campbell who illustrated Zombie in Love (written by Kelly DiPucchio).  You can read my post here.   While I was at the event, I chatted with Scott about possibly doing a school visit.  Amazingly enough for my school, he agreed.  (Yes, I did a happy dance when I found out.)

Once it was confirmed, I started planning with Angie who runs the Literacy Cafés for the school.  We knew we could do a great Special Edition Café for Zombie In Love and for Scott Campbell.

Angie started planning and creating decorations.

I had one of our students design a welcome sign.

The room was prepared.  Activities were thought out and prepped.

When Scott arrived, we had Rupert Holmes' Escape (The Pina Colada Song) playing in the background.  We asked him to read the story to the students outside on blankets. (It was a perfect fall day.)

When all of the children came in, Scott did some drawings and talked about his artistic process.  He even drew Mortimer and Mildred for us and we added them to the picture of Lucille Beatrice Bear (Yes, Peter Brown - Lucy is even happy to have Zombies for friends.)

After drawing for us, Scott had a chance to observe students as they worked on some writing and drawing activities that centered around the book.

We wrapped up with punch (yes, there was pineapple rings in it) and popcorn.  Every café has to have food.  And then Scott signed books for his new friends.

Thanks Scott for coming out to the school and hanging with us.  We had a blast. 

Check out this animoto of the Literacy Café.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Guest Post - Review of Anna Dressed In Blood

Author: Kendare Blake
Publisher: Tor Teen (August 30, 2011)
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Hardcover, ebook

My synopsis:
Cas Lowood isn’t your average teenager. Actually - he’s unlike any other person you’ve ever met. He’s a ghost killer (but please don’t call him a ghostbuster). Like his father before him, Cas has the unenviable job of hunting those spirits which still haunt this earth, hurting and killing people in their wake. With his father’s magical and deadly athame blade, Cas is able to send these murderous spirits away from this world. He travels with his mother (a white witch) and Tybalt, their ghost sensing cat, while secretly preparing himself to find and kill his father’s murderer. When he gets a tip about a ghost known as Anna Dressed In Blood out in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Cas knows that she is his next target. The story of a young Anna Korlov, murdered in 1958, inexplicable draws him. Once there, Cas tries to kill Anna but she is too strong - the strongest ghost he’s ever encountered. And she doesn’t kill him. But why? As Cas tries to figure this out he also starts to unravel the mystery of Anna Dressed In Blood.

Kendare Blake blends horror and teen angst into a delightfully creepy novel that will have you staying up late at night and turning on all the lights. It’s been awhile since I’ve been scared by a book but Anna Dressed In Blood managed it thoroughly. Cas, a jaded 17-year-old, has followed in his father’s footsteps to become a hunter of angry ghost spirits. In Blake’s world, when someone dies a violent death, they don’t always go away to where they are meant to. In her world, both good and bad people can come back as dark, twisted ghosts that lure the living to horrible deaths. Cas stops them by tracking them and setting a trap. Then he uses his mystical athame to send them away to parts unknown. Ghost killing is a gory business and Blake’s descriptions are often gruesome and chilling.

Cas is a complex character. Afraid to let anyone too close, he isolates himself and avoids making any real human connections. I admire Cas but I don’t always like him. He’s cocky and his snarkiness, especially towards those who want to help him, gets old. His father’s death has also made him bitter and serious. But he is also loyal and protective and I liked him more as the book went on. Forced to work with others for the first time, he learns to trust his friends.

Let’s not forget Anna. When we first meet her she is tearing a human body to pieces - one of many people we’ve been told that Anna has killed over the years. She is vicious and terrible but, we learn, she may not be evil. Complicated? You bet. But Blake deftly manages Anna’s evolution from angry, murderous spirit into someone you can sympathize with. Along with Cas and Anna, there is an interesting cast of secondary characters. New friends Tim and Carmel are opposites in the school heirarchy. One is awkward and dabbles in magic and the other is the school’s queen bee, but both are more than their reputations. Morfran, Will, Cas’s mother and their ghost sniffing cat Tybalt round out the eclectic group.

At times frightening, tragic, funny and creepy, Anna Dressed In Blood is a gripping read that you’ll have a hard time putting down. I look forward to Anna’s return in the sequel, Girl Of Nightmares, coming out next year.

For More Information about author, Kendare Blake, check out her website:

You can follow her on twitter: @kendareblake

If you liked this review, please come check out our other YA and younger book reviews at Read Now Sleep Later  and our adult book reviews at Nite Lite .

Thanks, Aly, for letting us guest post on your blog!

And thank you Thuy for stopping by and sharing your thoughts on Anna Dressed in Blood.  I can't wait to pick up a copy, but I will definitely be reading this one with the lights on. :-)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Picture Book Month & Marcel the Shell

Today at my school we celebrated the start of Picture Book Month.  You might be asking "What is Picture Book Month?" Well I grabbed this explanation off of Katie Davis' website:

"It is an international initiative to designate November as Picture Book Month, encouraging grown-ups to read picture books with children. Founder Dianne de Las Casas, and Co-Founders, Wendy Martin, Elizabeth O. Dulemba (author/illustrator), Tara Lazar (author) and I (Katie Davis) are putting it all together."

Here is the website for more information: 

You might be wondering how we celebrated Picture Book Month.  For Day 1, one of the first grade classes at my school skyped with Mr. Schu's (@mrschureads on twitter) second grade class from  Brook Forest Elementary in Illinois.  Mr. Schu's class did a great job telling us about Picture Book Month and then I had a chance to share about 3 special picture books with them.

However, it didn't end there.  In second and third grade today, we welcomed debut picture book creators Jenny Slate and Dean Fleischer-Camp to San Rafael.  Their book Marcel The Shell With Shoes On released today.  It was so much fun to get to celebrate with these two wonderful writers and illustrators and help them kick off their book tour.

Above Dean and Jenny tell a little bit about their new book.

Answering questions from students.

Dean operates the technology while Jenny reads the story in Marcel's voice.

If you haven't seen the original video that sparked this book, take a minute to check it out below.

We are looking forward to more Skype visits with Twitter Friends from all over the country.  I am so excited to be able to connect my students with students from other places and together be able to celebrate picture books.  I am also thrilled that we will be hosting visits from the following Picture Book authors and illustrators - Scott Campbell (Zombie in Love), Oliver Jeffer (Stuck), and Bill Thomson (Chalk).