Tuesday, August 26, 2014

My Favorite Books I Read this Summer

Each summer, I try to read a lot of new books for children so I can recommend them in the fall when the school year begins.  I have a "New Books" basket that I regularly add to and love to keep up with all the great new books that are being published.  
I am usually asked questions from my colleagues and former students such as, "So what did you read this summer that I should read? What were your favorites?" 
I organize all of my books on Goodreads and always have a list for my summer reading each year so I can answer these questions with ease and of course keep track of all my reading! :)

Below, are my top 6 favorite books that I read this summer, in no particular order.  

Click on the title to read the post I wrote this summer about Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff 

Click on the title to read the post I wrote this summer about Dash by Kirby Larson which comes out today!  

Click on the title to read the post I wrote this summer about Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin which comes out on October 7th.  

Click on the title to read the post I wrote this summer about The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires.  

The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L.Holm is out today - yay! This was the last book that I read this summer and I loved it! This is a fascinating story about an eleven year old girl named Ellie who misses her most recent goldfish.  One day, a young boy shows up with her mother who reminds her a lot of her grandfather, but it can't be...or can it?? Did her Grandpa Melvin, a famous scientist, actually discover how to return to a younger age? Read to find out and discover more about Ellie and her Grandpa Melvin or should I say the young Melvin! 

Fish in a Tree is Lynda Mullaly Hunt's newest book will be published on February 5th...I know it is a ways out, but definitely mark your calendar because this is a must read book!!! I had the honor and privilege of getting an ARC in my hands to read and I devoured it in one day! I am reading aloud this book to my new 5th grade class at the beginning of the year and can not wait to have them experience this book.  My class two years ago also had the big honor of not only meeting Lynda, but also listening to a couple chapters of this book and naming chapter 25! We are also in the acknowledgments in the back of the book which is very cool! Stay tuned to hear more about this book as I read it aloud to my class.  Thank you Lynda for writing another fabulous book and bringing Ally into our lives! :) 

Hope you all enjoyed your summer and read lots of great books too! 
Melanie Swider 

Slice of Life- Big Moments in Family Life

Slice of Life is hosted by the inspiring community oftwowritingteachers.wordpress.com. Everyone is welcome to read, post, and comment every Tuesday. Feel free to stop over and join us!

Yesterday morning at convocation, I sat next to a teacher who is returning after a maternity leave. After six months home, she left her two young children with a babysitter and headed to work. I could totally relate to how hard the morning had been for her and I loved looking at the pictures that she has on her phone of her children learning to sit up, pushing a play stroller, smiling at their father-- they took me on a major sentimental journey. Okay, ANOTHER major sentimental journey... And then came the question that traumatized me all morning, because I can’t tell you how many times I was asked, “How are your girls? What grade are they in?”

Well, one of them (there are four) is a junior. That means that she is of the age to get her driving license and, in fact, she got it on Friday and drove to school for her first day yesterday. Yes, I have another high school daughter who I drove, but it's not the same. And for all of you who are approaching teenage driving years, know that, while it's  great independence for them, it's less time that we have to talk to our children.

Oh, and one of them will be a freshman in college. My stomach flipped as I wrote that because tomorrow, the countdown is over.

Tomorrow, Larkin and I will head off with a car full of life’s necessities. We will drive all day, unpack and set up on Thursday, and on Friday, I will. leave. her.

It’s what’s supposed to happen. 

She’s excited. 

She’s ready. 

She’s going to a great place, she will keep in touch, she will be home for Thanksgiving, she has a good head on her shoulders. She will be safe. 

She will be safe.

All of a sudden, August 28th, a date that has been far off in the distance, is really close.

A friend of my mother’s shared the wonderful practice that she started of keeping a box in her child’s room when he is away. Whenever anyone comes across something that they think he would like, they put it in the box, wrapped or unwrapped, but with a message. When the box is full, she mails him a care package. Larkin’s box will be on her bed when I come home, and I know that I will be filling that box over the next couple of months. 

If anyone has any favorite sending-off traditions, please share. I have some ideas, but am still open to others!

Happy writing,

Monday, August 25, 2014

It's Monday! Here's What I'm Reading...

Jen Vincent at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee Moye and Ricki Ginsburg at Unleashing Readers cohost It's Monday! What are You Reading? weekly on their blogs.  To see what others are reading and recommending each Monday, or to participate, be sure to head over to these blogs.

Over the summer, I did a lot of writing, so I was constantly on the hunt for books that developed strong plots with memorable characters. What I have realized, and it really intimidates me as a writer, is that most of the books that I admire have more than one plot, with several stories intersecting and intertwining. 

The Secret Hum of a Daisy by Tracy Holczer is a beautiful book about a 12 year-old coming to terms, as much as anyone can, with her mother's death. Thank you to Tara Smith for the recommendation! The characters are complex and developed, with quirks, hobbies, secrets, talents, and passions and they are all so likable and memorable. Voice is critically important in middle grade fiction, and the first person narrative is packed full of preteen insights, emotions, and humor. This would be a very long read-aloud, but a great book for strong upper elementary readers. 

Listening for Lucca by Suzanne LaFleur surprised me with sub-plots I was not expecting and elements of magic within what seemed at first to be realistic fiction. Because the main character, Siena, is such a strong and insightful narrator, readers learn a lot about the writing process through her experiences, as well as about struggles with moving, making friends, and guilt. As a writer, this book inspired me to think about how to weave stories together, but it also inspired me to learn more about selective mutism and I could also see it inspire students to want to learn more about war and what some American soldiers experienced when fighting overseas. 

Happy reading!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Takeaways for Classroom and Coaching Practices from a Summer of Writing

Slice of Life is hosted by the inspiring community oftwowritingteachers.wordpress.com. Everyone is welcome to read, post, and comment every Tuesday. Feel free to stop over and join us!

I have written a lot this summer. Not much on the blog (and I feel guilty about that--I am working on letting it go!). Not even much as far as weekly slices are concerned, because I have been completely committed to finishing and then revising a chapter book that I started several years ago--I think that the first pieces of it were from 2008!

But, I have learned a lot about writing this summer, as I reflect on the work. I have gotten to know about communities that exist to mentor, encourage, and inspire writers. If any of you are trying to write a chapter book, firstfivepagesworkshop.blogspot.com is an incredible resource. I can not say enough about how much the community there has taught me. 

Here are a couple of big takeaways for classrooms. Writers crave responses. At the firstfivepages website, we put our writing up publicly for critiques and I read, re-read, read out loud, and even printed out many of the comments. On the days when we put up our revised versions, I would be embarrassed to tell you how many times I checked to see if my piece had any new comments. When we are really into writing, it’s brave and scary to put it out there, and that’s what we ask kids to do in workshop oriented classrooms. As a teacher, as a coach, as a human, I pledge to remember to respond when people, young or old, share their work with me.

Another takeaway for classrooms is that letting go of ideas or parts of written work is hard. I found myself going through a predictable process when my writing community made suggestions that involved significant revisions (and admittedly, my writing community was probably much more honest and critical than I would think most teachers would be to students). First, I have to say, I felt defensive. I wanted to explain why I made the decisions that I made and have my readers/critiquers just understand. Then, I would try to dig into what they were saying. This is when I was really grateful for written comments because I could repeatedly return to them. Gradually, I would rehearse in my head how to incorporate suggestions and feedback before I could sit down and really do meaningful revision. 

I’m not saying that students follow this same process when teachers give them stuff to work on, but this summer, I have developed a second favorite word. (My first favorite word is yet, since it opens up a world of possibility.) Maybe has a whole new place of power as a word for me this summer. When critiquers used the word maybe, I felt empowered, almost like their idea was my idea. (It wasn’t. Many times, the ideas were other people’s...) I am planning to use maybe in my practice much, much more. I am even working on a post about the power of maybe.

I’m off to celebrate my last day at the beach--this week I return to the land of working with meetings on Thursday and work-related tasks on Friday. 

Happy Writing,

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Reflections on Writing Every Day.

Slice of Life is hosted by the inspiring community oftwowritingteachers.wordpress.com. Everyone is welcome to read, post, and comment every Tuesday. Feel free to stop over and join us!

I made a commitment to write over the summer. Every day.  I committed to write or revise a chapter of a book that I started a few years ago. Every day. 

Here are some of the things that I am learning as I live with this commitment.

  1. It's hard. I know that doesn't surprise all of you. It reminds me of exercising, though. Some days are easier than others. Some days my knees don't hurt when I walk or it takes less time to work out the kinks in my forehands. Writing is like this, too. Some days it flows and my fingers can hardly keep up with my brain and other days, I hit the delete key more times than I hit the rest of the letters on the keyboard. 
  2. I have not been able to keep up my reading life as much as I had planned. Partially, even in the summer, time is an issue, and I only have so many available hours for my intellectual life. Additionally, I have been reading differently. Instead of reading to engage in the plot and immerse myself into the world of the characters and story, I am studying the craft for how the author has pulled me in. Because of this, I am reading much more slowly, and I haven't been losing myself in books the way I usually do. Yes, a couple books have distracted me away from the craft with the power of the story, but mostly I'm studying the development, pace, voice, conflict...
  3. Preparing mentally is important. I am much more efficient and effective on the keyboard if I have had time to think, really think, and rehearse, really rehearse, what I'm going to write. This realization is an interesting one when I think about teaching and learning because I don't know how much time we dedicate in classrooms or for homework to thinking, and if we did, how would we ever hold students accountable for this task? Your homework tonight is to think about what you're going to write tomorrow... I want you to take time just thinking and visualizing your story and when you are ready, then start to write... Do we picture this working? Maybe in a very smooth and well oiled writing workshop where students really do think of themselves as writers, which leads me to my next realization...
  4. Picturing myself, and announcing myself as a writer has helped me to maintain the commitment to write. This summer, I told my friends and family that I am writing a book. I even announced it on this blog. There's a lot of pressure when you announce this. It's sort of like training for a marathon. People ask how it's going and what it's about. Some even ask if they can read it. (I've said yes to only a couple...) I have found that this sort of checking in is really motivating. There's an accountability that I feel and it has helped me stay with my writing, especially when the process has gotten hard or when the delete button has been overused.
  5. Being a part of a writing community has been essential to my progress. We established a web-based writing community and every Sunday night for the last four weeks, I have met up with Catherine, Julie, and Stacey for an hour via google hangout. In between Sundays, we have all posted our work, opening our writing up to questions, feedback, comments, and compliments in shared google drive documents. We have shared links, contacts, tweets, articles, and opportunities, as well as our expertise as writers and teachers of writing. Just as exercising is easier for me in a group setting works better,--I'd much  rather walk with someone than alone or take a fitness class than do individual machines-- writing with this group has helped me keep going. More importantly, writing together has helped me to fix mistakes, address important questions, and engage in meaningful revision. 
I finished my first draft two days ago, and have started the hard work of going back through it, seeing where readers lose interest, trying to answer the hard questions that Lisa Cron poses in her book Wired for Story, a book that I recommend for any aspiring writers!

Happy slicing!

Monday, July 28, 2014

It's Monday! Here's What I'm Reading!

Jen Vincent at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee Moye and Ricki Ginsburg at Unleashing Readers cohost It's Monday! What are You Reading? weekly on their blogs.  To see what others are reading and recommending each Monday, or to participate, be sure to head over to these blogs.

I ordered I Kill the Mockingbird by Paul Acampora because To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my favorite all time books and I was fascinated to see how someone would spin this classic. As it turned out, it's not really a spin on TKAM, but more of an endorsement of it. Three clever middle schoolers launch a plot to increase the interest in TKAM. Their theory is that if they make the book more inaccessible, the perceived value would increase. Their plan spins out of control via social media and the press, and there were definitely moments when I wanted to jump into the pages and ask them what on earth they were going to do next in order to keep themselves out of some serious trouble. Woven into the text are some not so subtle messages about bookstores, readers, curriculum, and literature. I'd be interested to hear how a middle school reader would interpret them. I'm not sure that reluctant readers would enjoy this book, but strong readers will appreciate the layers of conflicts, and may even be inspired to pick up some the classics that are referenced, including To Kill a Mockingbird.

 What an adorable picture book The Adventures of Beekle: the Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat is! This book could be a great read aloud at the beginning of the school year, as the central conflict has to do with the struggle to find a friend. Beekle waits and waits to be claimed as a friend, but finally sets off on his own, struggling to connect with anyone and to find his special person. Reading this book could lead to some important discussions about how we decide who to become friends with, as well as the potential pitfalls of having just one person. Discussions could also happen about inclusion, kindness, and empathy because of some of the pages and pictures within this one. Enjoy!

Define "Normal" by Julie Anne Peters is not a new release, but it was on my daughter's summer reading list. I started it with her, reading it out loud. She had just come home from camp, so she went to bed early, and I finished the book. As a further endorsement, my daughter, who is not an avid reader, finished it also this morning before we did anything else. While there are some discussion questions listed in the back of the book, we did not need them in order to engage in a pretty deep conversation about the messages and the characters within this story. Antonia and Jazz are two strong middle school girls who provide significant and complex evidence that things aren't always what they seem. If you have missed this book, I strongly recommend it, and if you have forgotten about it, it is a wonderful book for reluctant readers, girls and boys.

Happy reading!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Slice of Life: Reflections in the Middle of a College Tour

Slice of Life is hosted by the inspiring community oftwowritingteachers.wordpress.com. Everyone is welcome to read, post, and comment every Tuesday. Feel free to stop over and join us!

My second daughter is about to start her junior year in high school, and, since several of the colleges are far away, we are in the middle of an early road trip as I write. The slices have piled up, and I have wrestled with what to write, but, in keeping with the academic nature of the blog, I have chosen the most academically related one.

We have toured two campuses so far, and I have to say that one of them (I will not name the university) impressed me much less than I thought it would. Here's why:

  • On the back of every toilet stall that I used was information about drinking and instructions in case anyone has alcohol poisoning.
  • The classroom that we were proudly shown was a lecture hall with about fifty very comfortable chairs that were immobile other than the swiveling action. These chairs were positioned on levels to face the front podium. 
  • Although the room had several technological features--there was a computer in the front by the podium, a television in the back (I'm not sure how the back row would access it, though), and speakers all around--there were chalkboards in the front. I haven't seen chalkboards in a while. Do people still use them? My daughters don't understand it when I complain about squeaking chalk on fingernails on a board. (Both give me goosebumps.)
  • Our tour guide proudly told us about his relationships with professors. One was based on how his professor helps him to use mathematical formulas correctly, and the other was about how he and his professor love to talk about and analyze the latest X-Box games. 
  • He also told us about the food, the dorms, the extra-curricular activities, the various traditions, parties and celebrations, the sporting events, and the conversations with his professors about professional athletes. 
  • Julia and I went to the town to have lunch and one of the two people I know who goes there was waitressing at an Irish pub, so we had lunch there. It was a forgettable meal, although I was happy to see our friend. "It's not the best food, really," she said as I paid. "Mostly, it's a drinking place."
I told my daughter that I am working hard at not making judgements, since I  do want the decision to be hers. I'm actually really interested in watching her process information, tours, cultures, and climates of various places. I've reminded her that it's summer, so it's very different than when school is in session, and she should keep that lens on when envisioning herself at any of these places. However, I will make a couple of judgements in the safe environment of my TWT community--Julia should really read my blog! 

Where's the excitement about learning???? What is the college experience about? For $250,000, we will get more than safe drinking environments and knowledge about how to work mathematical formulas, right? I know that the answers to these questions are probably more what I want them to be at this particular school, that what came across yesterday, and I do think that this university does great things and involves students in powerful learning opportunities. However, if Julia does end up choosing between this school and others, I will be looking hard at how and what kind of learning is valued!

Off to see more! Happy slicing!

Monday, July 21, 2014

It's Monday! Here's What I'm Reading!

Jen Vincent at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee Moye and Ricki Ginsburg at Unleashing Readers cohost It's Monday! What are You Reading? weekly on their blogs.  To see what others are reading and recommending each Monday, or to participate, be sure to head over to these blogs.

I've been listening to the Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, as it's on my daughter's summer reading list and we are on a lengthy college road trip. One of the things that Holden says at the beginning of this classic is that when you read a really good book, you want to meet the author and really hang out with him/her.  I agree, and I would love to hang out with Megan Jean Sovern who wrote the Meaning of Maggie.

If I could have a conversation with Holden, I would suggest to him some additional ways to judge a book. I love when I care about the characters. I finished the Meaning of Maggie on Tuesday and I really miss Maggie. I miss her quirkiness, her humor, her commitment to learning, her analysis of her sisters, her sense of unfairness... I even miss her sisters and their vanity and quick tongues with Maggie. I would also suggest to Holden that really good books demand that you read them out loud or at least share parts of them. I found myself begging anyone who was in the room around me to "just listen to this one part." I've left the book on a nightstand so that my number one reading daughter will join me as a Maggie reader. 

Suffice it to say the Maggie is a wonderful first person narrator. Loved, loved, loved this one.

Happy Reading!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Summer Writing Takeaways Part 2: Ideas for Next Summer

Our Summer Writing Academy is only one week long, but is packed full of writing and learning for both teachers and students. Last week, I wrote about some of the activities that we did with the students throughout the week in Part 1. This was my second year of running it, and I worked hard to have the learning be impactful for teachers, as well as for students. This post has more to do with the reflections, insights and learning that we had as teachers. Each day, we met after the students left and exchanged ideas for a half hour. The conversations were unstructured and organic, led by a talented five-some of writing teachers.

This year, we focused our students on narrative writing, but with a more imaginative twist than most get within our academic year's curriculum. For example, many of the students developed their main characters as animals, a la Poppleton, Frog and Toad, or the Lighthouse Family. I saw several stories with mermaids and princesses. (Yes, there are many more girls than boys who opt into a summer writing camp!) Other students had characters and action figures come to life.

One of the goals for this summer was to have students complete at least one story that could be entered into the state writing contest, and this goal became the topic of conversation and debate for the teachers after the last session.

  • Did the pressure of completing a piece motivate students?
  • Did the product become more important than the process?
  • Could students have learned better/more deeply if they had been working on parts of stories each day, rather than trying work through one story each day?
As a group, we value process for these students and without planning to, we found ourselves planning for next year's writing academy. The teachers all loved Gail Carson Levine's Writing Magic, and if you have not read it, I highly recommend it as summer reading! Our proposed theme for next year? Learning from the magic of the masters to develop our writing toolkits. Each day we could have author studies, focusing on their expertise on certain aspects of story telling.

For right now, we are envisioning:
Day 1: Captivating beginnings (Jon Scieszka or Eve Bunting)
Day 2: Plot development (Kevin Henkes)
Day 3: Bringing the setting to life (Patricia MacLachlan)
Day 4: Voice, dialogue and emotions (Cynthia Rylant)
Day 5: Lasting impressions (Mem Fox or Patricia Polacco)

And so, next year is evolving into developing a magical writing toolkit by studying the masters. No, we may not complete pieces, but we will send students of all levels off with tools and skills that will help them in all writing genres throughout the year!

Bring on Summer Writing Academy 2015!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Slice of Life: My Husband's Duckling

Slice of Life is hosted by the inspiring community oftwowritingteachers.wordpress.com. Everyone is welcome to read, post, and comment every Tuesday. Feel free to stop over and join us!

I have been writing a lot this summer, aware of and attuned to all of the stories that swirl and whirl in my decadent summer life, and slices of life have been rolling in! Here are the contenders for the week:

  • my sister-in-law's 88 year-old mother doing jello shots at her birthday party. (no, we did not make them very strong and yes, she like them!)
  • deciding that we never want to ride horses on Block Island, as it is much more fun and worthwhile to hike through Rodman's Hollow (one of the most spectacular places in the United States) and spend the money at Rags in the center of town. (Or on mudslides at the National.)
  • receiving the somewhat backhanded compliment from an 18 year-old boy that I am much better at providing tubing rides than he would have guessed. (I am proud to say that I dumped him in the harbor four times. Yes, FOUR.)
  • watching one of my husband's friends sweat his way through his first hot yoga class. (My husband won't go.) At one point I'm sure that his eyelashes were sweating when I looked over at him. 
  • Having to hear about (and not see for myself) the six-foot shark that the morning beach walking crew saw on the beach on the ONE morning that I opted out of the daily walk. The shark was alive and managed to get back into the water!
But the winner for the week's slice of life, the one that may one day end up as a children's book, has to do with the duckling that my husband brought home from his golf outing. (Plot spoiler: this slice of life is sad.) Despite my advice against naming the tiny bird, he was dubbed Waddle. At first I only saw pictures of the little guy, because I have been mostly staying at the beach. Garth found the duckling on the third hole, and my husband, softy that he is, carted Waddle in the basket of his pull-cart for the remaining fifteen holes, not knowing what else to do with a softball sized lost bird. 
Garth did everything right for this little duck. He called the nature center and was told that if he could find a family of ducks with young about the same size as Waddle, he could slip Waddle right in. The mother could be momentarily confused, but the nature center expert reassured Garth that the family would adopt his duckling. Garth drove all over searching ponds for ducks with families. July is not the usual time for ducklings to hatch. Foiled in his quest, he found a place to adopt Waddle, but the duck adoption agency was only open on weekdays. So Garth brought Waddle to our Rhode Island house, planning to take the duckling to his new home on Monday morning. 

Maybe it was the throngs of people, the overstimulation, overfeeding, overwatering, hypothermia, or just the course of nature, but Waddle died the next morning. Poor Garth was devastated. He dug a hole in the back yard and marked it with a stone from the beach. I tried to console him with how hard it is to keep wild animals alive, how maybe there had been something wrong with him in the first place, how he had done a great job keeping the duckling alive for 48 hours, how I really will write a picture book about Waddle (although I am struggling with whose perspective to take and I am REALLY struggling with the ending...)

Having once hatched ducklings, I know how much work they are and I wasn't on board for keeping Waddle, but he really was a cute little guy and I SO wish that he could have made it to a place where he could have become a full-grown mallard. As my daughter tweeted, rest in peace Waddle. 

Happy writing,

Monday, July 14, 2014

It's Monday! What are You Reading?

Jen Vincent at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee Moye and Ricki Ginsburg at Unleashing Readers cohost It's Monday! What are You Reading? weekly on their blogs.  To see what others are reading and recommending each Monday, or to participate, be sure to head over to these blogs.

Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin will be on shelves on October 7th, but I had to share about it now because it was such a good read! Rose Howard is a 5th grader who is obsessed with homonyms, prime numbers, and rules.  She lives with her father and has a close relationship with her uncle.  Her mother is not in the picture and her father tells Rose that she walked out on them when she was little.  She has a dog named Rain (of course she chose a name that is a homonym) that her father found and brought home one day. Rose adores Rain and they are always together when she isn't in school.  Rose has Aspergers and has multiple challenges at school socially and academically.  The story is told from Rose's point of view, which makes her character come alive for the reader.  This story is full of suspense, heartbreak, and surprises. 

Dash by Kirby Larson will be published on August 26th so mark your calendars! I just started reading the ARC last night and could not put it down! I am always on the look-out for new historical fiction titles and I can not wait to share this one with my fifth graders - may have to be a read-aloud! This story takes place during WWII when people of Japanese descent are forced into internment camps after the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Mitsi-Kashino, the main character, is in fifth grade and is a Japanese-American who lives in Seattle. She has a dog named Dash who she treasures!  Up until the attack on Pearl Harbor, she has two close friends at school, but then they stop talking to her and make her feel like an outsider.  Following the attack, her family is forced to move to a relocation camp and she can not bring Dash, which completely devastates her.  A neighbor agrees to take care of Dash and write letters to Mitsi so she can stay connected with Dash.  This is a must-read historical fiction book that shows the impact the bombing of Pearl Harbor had on Japanese American families. 

Enjoy reading this week! :)

It's Monday! Here's What I'm Reading!

Jen Vincent at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee Moye and Ricki Ginsburg at Unleashing Readers cohost It's Monday! What are You Reading? weekly on their blogs.  To see what others are reading and recommending each Monday, or to participate, be sure to head over to these blogs.

I love the time that summer offers for reading. This summer, I have been working on a chapter book, so my reading choices have been ones that have been serving as mentors. Patricia MacLachlan remains my favorite writer because of the simple language that contains complex information and meanings. Cynthia Rylant is another favorite for the humor and voice that she weaves into her writing.

I re-read The Truth of Me by Patricia MacLachlan. Although it is a first-person narrative, I was studying it for character complexity. If you have missed this book, it's a more recent one from Patricia MacLachlan, with a characteristic artist, a charismatic pet, an an eccentric older person. I highly recommend it!

I also picked up Patricia MacLachlan's The Boxcar Children Beginning. This book is a prelude to the classic series created by Gertrude Chandler Warner, imagining the events that led to the four Alden children living in a boxcar. While my chapter book is not a precursor to any famous series, (that's way too original and creative idea for me to have thought up) the character development and the sense of impending doom intrigued me as a writer reading this relatively short chapter book.

I spent time re-reading The Turtle from The Lighthouse Family by Cynthia Rylant. In this book, even though it is imaginative fiction, I used it to study how one event drives the story forward. I loved the relationships that were evident throughout this, and may go back to study how Cynthia Rylant includes snippets of information to inform readers about important prior events in the characters' lives.

Not so much for mentor-me reading, I finally got to Prisoner B-3087 by Ruth Gruener, Jack Gruener, and Alan Gratz. Melanie Swider's class chose it as their book of the year, and I can see why, since this book is a painfully gripping, and disturbing account of a young man's will to survive the atrocities of persecution, abuse, and torture in concentration camps. Based on the true events of Jack Gruener's life, Prisoner B-3087 provides a lens into some of the most despicable behavior of humans, and could inspire students to want to learn more about an era that should never, ever be repeated.

Currently, I am reading The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern. I am admiring the voice, humor, insight, and determination of the main character and narrator. I am sure that I will have more to say about it next week--thank you to all of the bloggers who have been raving about this one--I'm so glad I ordered it!

Because I am writing a lot, my professional reading has suffered. Stay tuned for next week, as this is a goal for the week!

Happy reading!