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I am moving my Blog

 After much looking around at other people's blogs, I have decided to re-organize my site and re-establish it at another location.  To find me now please head over to:  alybee930.wordpress.com/  It is still under construction but my goals is to pull together resources for teachers, librarians, and authors which will connect books with kids.  

- aly

10-10-10 Reading Challenge

I am fairly new to reading challenges so I am a little hesitant to make too many book commitments and then find myself not finishing them. So I decided on two challenges - The 2010 Debut Authors Challenge hosted by the Story Siren.  Here is the link to my post about the Debut Authors Challenge  alybee930.livejournal.com/5592.html

And the second challenge is The 10-10-10 Reading Challenge (Modified) - 101010reading.blogspot.com/

Modification of 10-10-10: Three books in each category rather than 10 books.

Please note
:  I am allowing overlap with the two challenges and where as the 2010 Debut Author Challenge is all Children and YA authors, this will include adult titles as well.

Mystery/Crime Fiction/Thriller
The First Rule by Robert Crais
Closed for the Season by Mary Downing Hahn
The Body Finder by Kimberly Derting (This may be a stretch to fit it in this category but I am leaving it for now.  Still want to read it.)

Historical Fiction
Al Capone Shines My Shoes by Gennifer Choldenko
Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak 

The Hunger Games Book 3  by Suzanne Collins
The Scorch Trials (The Maze Runner Book 2) by James Dashner
The Line by Teri Hall

Fantasy (Vampires/Werewolves/Zombies/Faeries,etc.) - From An Author I haven't read before
13 to Life by Shannon Delany
Spell Hunter by R.J. Anderson
Graceling by Kristin Cashore

A Debut Author
The Secret Year by Jennifer R Hubbard
Sea by Heidi R Kling
Restoring Harmony by Joelle Anthony

A Classic Children's Book that I have never read
Blubber by Judy Blume
Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
Old Yeller by Fred Gipson

A book that is being made into a movie
The Lightening Thief by Rick Riordan
How To Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell
Beastly by Alex Finn

A book about food/food central to the theme
The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister
My Life in France by Julia Child
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

YA Realistic Fiction
WinterGirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
Struts and Frets by Jon Skovron
Absolutely, Maybe by Lisa Yee

A Book Where the Main Character has a disability
The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin by Josh Berk
Harmonic Feedback by Tara Kelly
The Reinvention of Edison Thomas by Jacqueline Houtman

Well I think I am going to post what I have and try again tomorrow to add pictures.  


Dystopian Challenge Update

Back in October, I signed up for the Dystopian Challenge on Bart's Bookshelf.  The goal was to read 4 Dystopian books by December 31st.  When I first heard about the challenge, I thought "easy peasy" - four books in 2-1/2 months.  What I didn't realize is that when I read a dystopian story it takes me weeks before I can read another one.  So it actually was harder than I expected and I am actually about 1/2 a book short of the goal. 

Here is my List of books and some quick thoughts:

The Maze Runner by James Dashner (on my original list to read):
This was on my fall list of anticipated books.  It was released on October 6, 2009.  I was excited to read the book but after seeing the book trailer I was somewhat spooked.  However, at a book signing with the author (who is a super fabulous guy), he assured us that the trailer was "scarier" than the book.  I went home and read the book that weekend.  It was wonderful.  I fell in love with Thomas and the other boys in the Glade.  The Maze Runner made it to my top 5 YA books for 2009 and I eagerly anticipate the sequel.

Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer (not on my original list but on my secondary list):
Wow!  I think I prefer dystopian stories that are set in the future and have their own world rather than ones that I can imagine happening today.  Pfeffer's story was powerful and somewhat panic-inducing.  As I watch the snow come down outside and enjoy the warmth of my home, I am glad I am not going through what her characters had to endure.  Very dark but worth the read.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan (not on my original list but on my secondary list):
Though the book is technically about zombies, it really isn't.  The setting in some ways could have easily been anywhere in the past, present, or future.  It is a story about love and living and the freedom to do both and what happens when a few try to control the whole and what one girl does to risk it all.  Well written, powerful, and engaging from the beginning with just enough to scare you.  Another top pick for 2009.

The Girl in the Arena by Lise Haines (on my original list):
I am currently reading this book and enjoying it.  But alas...may run out of hours before finishing the book.

Read just prior to the challenge:

Catching Fire By Suzanne Collins
Just an amazing series and I can't wait until book 3 comes out in August/September of 2010.

Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Haddix Shadow Children's series is the Hunger Games of the middle grade readers.  I am about halfway through the 7 book series.  It is wonderful and worth reading. 

Thanks Bart's Bookshelf for your wonderful challenge!

Final Favorite Picks for 2009

At the beginning of this year, I decided that I needed to re-explore some of the things that energized me. One of those things was doing more pleasure reading. I began by doing a book club with my students which was a great excuse to combine “work reading” with fun since I thoroughly enjoy reading children’s and YA literature. Then in an effort to encourage my 8 year old niece’s budding interest in reading, I started exploring new books and book events to share with her. The results have been amazing, but that is for another blog post. 

As summer approached, I decided to set a goal for myself as to how many books I would read this year. My goal was 50 books for 2009. I was feeling really bad about only setting my goal at reading 50 books this year but I set the goal in June and at that point I really hadn’t read that many books. As of the beginning of June I had read 9 books and one was a “did not finish” (DNF). So when I think about it, I actually did well. From June to December, I have read 58 books which includes one more DNF and a few adult novels as well. (Note: This does not include the numerous picture books that I read over that time as well since I didn’t think that should really count.)

Before sharing my favorites of 2009, I will say that it was good to read outside of my primary interest level. Typically when reading YA fiction, I chose from the fantasy/urban fantasy category. Thanks to so many people raving about new releases, I started reading lots of new authors and other categories including realistic fiction and a few graphic novels. Though I am still partial to YA urban fantasy, I was pleasantly surprised at some of the other stories that I read. 

In finally reviewing all of the books that I read in 2009, I came up with my favorites list. All books were released in 2009 unless otherwise specified. If the pick was a series, the current book had to be released in 2009.

 Favorite Paranormal Romance:
 Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Favorite Book About Werewolves:
Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

Favorite Book About Zombies:
The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

Favorite YA Series:
Mortal Instruments Trilogy by Cassandra Clare

Favorite Dystopian:
The Maze Runner by James Dashner tied with Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Favorite Middle Grade:
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead tied with SLOB by Ellen Potter

Favorite Middle Grade Series
The Secret Series by Pseudonymous Bosch

Favorite Realistic YA Fiction:
Food, Girls, And Other Things I Can’t Have by Allan Zadoff

Favorite Book with a Character with a Disability:
Anything but Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin


Favorite Picture Book
The Seeing Stick by Jane Yolen (2009 release – with new illustrations the original was in 1977)

Favorite Book Read in 2009 that was released before 2009:

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson


Wishing everyone a Happy New Year and to great reading in 2010! I am upping my goal to 100 books next year. Oh man, the pressure is on...

Note: If you are interested in more of what I read in 2009, please refer to my two earlier posts.



In my last week's post, I talked about the YA books that I read in 2009 as part of my goal of reaching 50 books. Originally, I was going to read primarily YA books. However, in September, I started a challenge with my sixth grade students. I challenged them to read 1-2 books each week above and beyond assigned reading and I would do the same. On Monday mornings, I set aside time to talk about what I read over the past week and ask for their recommendations. As a result, my list of Middle Grade fiction list started to grow though it still has a ways to go to catch up to my YA list. As I mentioned in my previous post, I am not selecting my top picks until New Year's Eve. There are just too many days left for reading to make my final decisions.

Here are my thoughts on several 2009 releases... Thanks to Twitter, I discovered Kate Messner, a teacher and a writer. Before I even realized who she was, I had copied one of her School Library Journal (SLJ) articles for my teachers. The article was talking about Authors visiting schools via Skype. Since then she has been the source of great referrals for Middle Grade Fiction, ideas for using technology in the classroom, and even a great post on editing that I was able to use with my kids.

So the first two books are a nod to Kate (who you should go follow on Twitter @katemessner or on Facebook)...

1. The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z by none other than Kate Messner, herself Now I tend to be partial to fantasy fiction and only pick realist fiction when I have to, but Gianna Z won me over. Messner did a fabulous job with making Gianna a very relate-able character, who I could relate to on so many different levels. And at times, I miss my New England roots and the changing seasons and while I read the book, I was able to escape to Vermont during my favorite season. When I did my plug for this book to my students, I had a wait list for children wanting to read it. Even a couple of my reluctant readers gave the book a "thumbs up" and one student said "I think Gianna Z was written just for me". Note: I am looking for someone to help me get a class set of these books. Unfortunately, I might have to wait until I find them in paperback.

2. Anything but Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin Though not written by Messner, this was a book I discovered thanks to one of her tweets. I promptly ordered Baskin's Anything But Typical, a story told from the POV of a 12 year old boy with Autism. As the principal of a school with a significant number of students on the Autism Spectrum who are included in general education classes, I am always on the look out for good books on this topic. Once I finished reading this, not only did I recommend it to my students, but to parents, teachers, and anyone else that will listen to me. It does an exceptional job helping the reader understand what life is like living with Autism. For the past two weeks, I have read the story aloud to my sixth graders. They really got it and have been enjoying it. Some of the students have siblings on the Autism Spectrum and the book allowed them to feel more comfortable sharing stories about their own experiences. This is one book that I wish I had the budget to purchase one copy for each one of my staff, but I have purchased several copies for teachers to check out and read.

My next two choices are my current favorites for outstanding books in 2009. Thanks to my local Children's & YA book club, I stumbled upon When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead and SLOB by Ellen Potter. Believe it or not they kind of work well together. Both books are set in New York City, both are realistic coming of age stories with a slight sci-fi twist or feel to them. Each story touched me on a deeply personal level for very different reasons. I won't say a ton about the books because I don't want to give any spoilers. However, I will say that though I had them both on my e-reader, I went out and bought hard copies for the classroom. And I think I will need to get more copies since the ones we have are always checked out. Additionally, I have given copies of both of these books as gifts.

Finally, the last of the 2009 new Middle Grade releases that I have read so far is Bobby vs. Girls (Accidentally) by Lisa Yee. This was just a fun read. Bobby is your typical fourth grade boy. He is completely oblivious to what is happening to girls and manages to unintentionally get all the girls in his class mad at him. To encourage students to do more writing, we recently held an essay contest among our fourth to sixth graders. The prize - a signed copy of Bobby vs. Girls (Accidentally). Let's just say I have a very happy student winner.

Some fun reads, though not released in 2009... The Name of This Book is Secret (first book in the Secret Series) by Pseudonymous Bosch James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl (How did I miss this book all these years?) Among the Hidden (first book in the Shadow Children Series) by Margaret Peterson Haddix Gregor the Overlander (first book in the Underlander Chronicles) by Suzanne Collins Magyk (first book in the Septimus Heap Series) by Angie Sage Well that's it for tonight, but I plan on doing a final wrap up on my favorites at the end of the year...

Note: I apologize in advance for any formatting issues...LiveJournal is giving me a hassle.
Earlier this year, I set a goal for myself to read 50 books in 2009. Once I hit 50, I added an extra 15 books to my goal. I have another 19 days to get in 7 more books. No problem. Heck, I even have a travel day from California to Connecticut. I can get at least 2 books read on that trip alone. Recently, I noticed that other people are already blogging about their favorite books in 2009. I want to say "Wait, there is still plenty of time to continue to read before deciding about favorite books". I'm not sure that I am going to be able to decide on my favorite book(s) until the clock is about to strike midnight on the new year. But I will take a few minutes to reflect on what I have read so far this year...

My favorite series this year is without a doubt Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instrument Trilogy. If I didn't have a goal to read 50 books this year, I could have probably spent months just re-reading City of Bones, City of Ashes, and City of Glass. I loved that it was one of those series that once started I couldn't stop until I read every one of them. Now I am eagerly awaiting, Clare's new series and then the fourth book in the Mortal Instruments.

Sandwiched before and after the Mortal Instruments Trilogy were the Generation Dead books by Daniel Waters. An interesting twists on zombies. However, the teacher in me quickly saw ways of using the books to talk about differences with students. And now I am of course waiting for the third book in the series. Glad there is plenty to read in the interim.

Of course I needed to branch out and not just get stuck on a couple of series. So I decided to read Tithe by Holly Black; Great & Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray; Lament and Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater. I was awed by the world of the fey that Black so masterfully created. Bray’s sense of dialogue and ability to inject sass & humor in her 19th century main character was brilliant. The faerie world of Lament was vastly different than Shiver’s Minnesota werewolves but Stiefvater’s lyrical writing and enchanting characters cast their own magic.

Not stopping there, I discovered Mary E. Pearson’s The Adoration of Jenna Fox where teens and parents can agree on a book but for totally separate reasons. It still moves me and it has been months since I read it.

Next I discovered that I enjoyed books that I would never have picked up on my own but am thankful to my bookclub for making me read them. Cory Doctorow managed to make techno-babble understandable in Little Brother and Markus Zukus created a likable but unlikely hero in I am the Messenger.

September came and I finally caught up with Katniss, Gale, and Peeta in Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins, but James Dashner’s Maze Runner certainly provided some healthy competition in the area of Dystopian literature. Now if next fall could come quickly so I can read the sequels of each of those books.

In 2009, I discovered that not all realistic teen fiction is filled with over the top drama. Allen Zadoff’s Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can’t Have was fun, and heartwarming. And David Levithan’s Love is the Higher Law was insightful and touching as it sought to capture one of the many stories of 9/11.

Finally, Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl lured me into their world of Beautiful Creatures which is currently in contention for my number one choice of 2009.

Next up: A look at my favorite Middle Grade Fiction that I read in 2009…Until then tell me what was your favorite.

2010 Debut Author Challenge

Over the past year, I created several book challenges for myself. The first challenge was to read 50 YA or MG fiction books in 2009. I have exceeded that number and trying to squeeze in another 15 by December 18, 2009. I have a challenge with my sixth graders that they will read at least one additional book per week (this needs to be in addition to their assigned reading) and I will also read at least one book per week (though I am typically trying to read more than one book per week). In October, I joined in on the YA Dystopian Book Challenge by Bart's Bookshelf. The goal is to read 4 YA or MG Dystopian novels by December 31, 2009. I am halfway there. Yay!

My challenge for 2010 in addition to reading another 50 books is to read at least 12 debut novels by YA or MG authors. The challenge is being hosted by The Story Siren (Kristi). You can join in on the challenge by popping over to her website. I have created a list of possible debut novels that I will be reading during 2010. Please note they are all books on my wishlist but I reserve the right to swap out titles.

My list of tentative books for the challenge:
Sea by Heidi R. Kling
The Secret Year by Jennifer R. Hubbard
Paranormalcy by Kiersten White
The Body Finder by Kimberly Derting
The Tension of Opposites by Kristina McBride
The Beautiful Between by Alyssa B. Sheinmel
Other by Karen Kincy
The Duff by Kody Keplinger
Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins
The Reinvention of Edison Thomas by Jacqueline Houtman
Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves
The Red Umbrella by Christina Diaz Gonzalez
A Most Improper Magick by Stephanie Burgis
Escaping the Tiger by Laura Manivong
The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin by Josh Berk

Even if you don't want to join in on the full challenge, I would love everyone to consider reading at least one debut novel in 2010.

12/06/09 Update: Well as I continued to look into debut releases for 2010, I came across a few more that I would like to add to my list:

Thirteen to Life: A Werewolf's Tale by Shannon Delany
Leaving Gee's Bend by Irene Latham
Cinderella Society by Kay Cassidy
The Rise of Renegade X by Chelsea Campbell
The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney
Freaksville by Kitty Keswick
Shade by Jeri Smith-Ready
Here is the review that I posted over at Young Adult Literature Review Blog (http://youngadultlitreviewblog.blogspot.com)

Publisher: Walker Publishing Co., 2009
Pages: 195
Reading Level: Ages 9 to 12 years 

Over the years, I have shifted my reading preferences from more realistic fiction to fantasy fiction and suspense. Much of this switch can be attributed to working in a field where I deal with the harshness of reality on a daily basis. When I do find time for pleasure reading, I want to simply escape. However, after starting a book club for 4th-6th graders, I realized that I would be remiss if the only novels I recommended were part of the fantasy and science fiction genre. 

I was attracted to Kate Messner’s The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. for several reasons. First, Messner is a middle school teacher. As an educator, I want to be able to encourage and support teachers who are writers. Second, though I currently live in Southern California, I grew up in New England and the story is set in the fall in Vermont. Third, I was looking for a realistic fiction story to share with my students in our book club. 

Gianna (“Gee”) is a twelve year old girl who would rather be drawing pictures, or running trails than doing homework. The story opens with Gianna needing to finish a science project by the end of the week. Her ability to compete in the upcoming Sectionals for cross-country hinges on her ability to complete the project on time and obtain a passing grade. It appears that nearly everyone has been working on this science project for the past three weeks except for Gianna. With the support of her best friend Zig, Gee believes that she will be able to finish the task and then compete in Sectionals. However, as most of us know, real life can trip us up on the way to the finish line. Not only does Gee have to deal her archenemy, Bianca, trying to sabotage her efforts, but there are unexpected challenges at home that continue to interfere with Gee's reaching her goals.

Messner does a phenomenal job in making Gee, her friends, school and home life seem real. In many ways, Gee is a typical middle schooler who struggles with her school work, with budding emotions for her male best friend, and with the transformation of her family life due to her grandmother’s failing memory. Without giving too much of the story away, Gee’s quest to find 25 leaves and assemble them into a display for her science teacher becomes the metaphor for all of the changes and challenges that she is facing.

I loved the tender and fragile relationship between Gee and her grandmother. And as a teacher, I recognized in Gianna so many of my own students who struggle to attend and to conform to the system and structure called school. My only criticism was that Gianna’s perspective often times seemed more mature than I would expect from a 12 year old who leaned more towards being a creative free-spirit than the “I’ve had to grow up too fast” type of kid. Much of Gianna’s reactions and dialogue seemed fairly aligned with her character’s persona, but at times the narration which was from Gianna’s point of view seemed more adult like. However, I don’t believe that it takes away from the story and I would recommend the book to children and adults, especially for children who are dealing with a close family member whose health concerns are impacting the lives of other the family members.

Enjoy the fall, and find time to read a book…

YA Dystopian Book Challenge

 Recently, Bart's Bookshelf put out a challenge to read up to 4 YA dystopian books between October 15, 2009 to December 31, 2009.  Since I already had several dystopian books on my TBR pile, I decided to take up the challenge.  The four books that I decided to read for the challenge are as follows:  

* The Maze Runner by James Dashner
* The Girl in the Arena by Lise Haines
* Unwind by Neal Shusterman
* Skinned by Robin Wasserman

Of course that still leaves me the rest of Margaret Peterson Haddix' Shadow Children's Series.  I read the first 3 with my  8 year old niece this summer.  I'm on book 4 and she just started book 5. And other dystopian books on my TBR list includes: The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan; Genesis by Bernard Beckett; The Uglies by Scott Westerfeld; The Giver by Lois Lowry; and Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer.  

Now of course, the biggest challenge, is finding time with a busy schedule to read all of those books but fortunately I have a couple of long weekends between October 15th and the end of the year.  If worse comes to worse, it will be a dystopian read-a-thon.  :-)  

Review of Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Publisher: Scholastic Press
Pages: 391
Reading Level: Young Adult 

In the fall of 2008, I discovered Suzanne Collin’s book Hunger Games. However it took me a couple of months to finally read the book. Even though it had gotten great reviews, I struggled with the concept of a book premise where teenagers were forced into a game where they were required to kill one another. Yet, once I finally picked up the book and started reading it, I couldn’t put it down. It was one of those “disturbing in a good way” books. To my amazement, I ranked the Hunger Games as the top book I had read in 2008. But then began the wait for the sequelCatching Fire

At the end of the Hunger Games, main character Katniss Everdeen had found a way to not only win but to also keep fellow tribute, Peeta Mellark alive as well. Her behavior was viewed as an act of rebellion, and upon her return home, life was not as she expected. Her relationship with her best friend Gale is strained. Peeta, her fellow victor, is ignoring her and there are rumors of a rebellion rising as a result of her and Peeta’s actions in the arena. So what’s a 17 year old girl to do when the Capital feels that her actions were an act of defiance, and she has become a symbol of a potential uprising? 

Suzanne Collin’s second book in the Hunger Games Trilogy picks up shortly after the end of the first novel. With this installment, Collins again contrasts the shallow, arrogant, self-centeredness of the Capital’s leaders and residents with the struggles, poverty, and oppression of the residents of the 12 Districts. Sinister President Snow informs Katniss that he is aware of her feelings for Gale and that if she doesn’t want it to seem as if she intentionally defied the authority of the Capital that she and Peeta will need to prove that their displays of affection in the arena were sincere. Embarking on the Capital’s cruel Victory Tour, Katniss slowly begins to recognize the role she has played in the growing unrest. 

Though Catching Fire is somewhat slower paced than its predecessor, the intensity never quits. I found myself having to periodically stop reading and take a break, but my curiosity with how the book would end kept drawing me back to the story. I was particularly enthralled with how Collins gave readers glimpses into the lives of former victors, and the impact the games had on each of them. Additionally, I found a growing appreciation for Katniss as the ultimate flawed heroine who struggles as the reluctant symbol of a burgeoning insurgence. And with the 75th Hunger Games, Collins creation of new surprises doesn’t fail to keep her readers on the edge of their seats. 

Once again, I find myself waiting for the next installment of the Hunger Games Trilogy. Wonder what I have to do to get an ARC of the third book????