The Happiest Place on Earth, Part 2

I actually arrived in Orlando last Thursday night because I also attended and presented at the NCTE Convention (this is my second year). It was a busy, busy few days, so here are some of the highlights..

On Friday morning I got a sneak peek at some ALAN friends in action. Once I got the bus service figured out (no, I don't want to talk about that), I listened to Don Gallo, CJ Bott, and Jeff Harr booktalk some of the newest and best YA books. I got lots of titles for my own to-read list and learned about lots of books I will recommend to my students. (I'll see if they have their handouts posted anywhere and if they do, I'll put a link here.) My fellow presenters for Saturday, Jennifer Buehler and Jen Walsh, and I took some “notes” on how Don, CJ, and Jeff divided up the titles, how long they spent on each book, and whether they worked from a script, ad-libbed, or did a combo of the two. I was also really pleased to arrive and find that two of my favorite librarians, Mary Arnold (my ALAN fairy godmother) and Bonnie Kunzel, were at the session. It was a great way to kick off NCTE!

Saturday morning was the ALAN Breakfast. It starts at 7 AM and, though I am not a morning person, it is totally worth it to be up at the crack of dawn in order to attend this event. Several ALAN awards were given at the breakfast:
–This year's Hipple Award, which honors service to ALAN, was given to scholar, author, and past ALAN president Chris Crowe. Chris announced that a new award, the Nilsen-Donelson* Award, had been created and named after two of ALAN's and the ALAN Review's founding members in order to honor the best article published in The ALAN Review.
–The ALAN Award for contributions to YA literature went to Jack Gantos. I was really excited to hear Jack Gantos for several reasons: 1) I have never heard him speak before. 2) His autobiographical Hole in My Life was a big hit in my classroom until it went missing. 3) My crazy cool librarian friends (and, if you think “cool librarian” is an oxymoron, then you're not hanging out with the right librarians!) have selected Jack's book to be the YA tie-in to our county's One Community, One Book title, The Color of Water. 4) I had learned on Friday that Jack and Gary had made one other notorious appearance at the ALAN Breakfast several years ago. Jack referred to it as “returning to the scene of the crime”. I'm not sure it's good for your digestion to laugh that much after eating, but it sure was fun :)

The breakfast wrapped up with Gary Paulsen as the keynote speaker! This guy is everything you'd expect him to be and more. I wish my students (especially my boys who really do love his books) had been there to hear him talk about his life—from his difficult childhood to a stint in the Army to a job as an aerospace engineer to being a Hollywood screenwriter to becoming an author to running the Iditarod—which has clearly helped to define his work. Gary's final charge to us was to, “Go back to your jobs and kick ass!”

* I have not had the pleasure of meeting Ken Donelson, but I am familiar with his reputation in the YA community and have used his articles several times for papers, projects, and research. I did have the pleasure of meeting Aileen Nilsen on Sunday afternoon. She was positively delightful and was willing to let me pick her brain about the founding of ALAN.

After the breakfast, I headed to the other NCTE venue to hear part of the panel that my friend Jennifer Buehler had organized and was facilitating with Matt de la Pena and Coe Booth, two fantastically talented young authors at the beginning of what are sure to be extremely fruitful careers. There was a lot of discussion from both the panel and the audience about who Matt and Coe's audience is. Can kids who aren't Latino or African American connect with characters whose race and ethnicity is different from their own? The consensus in the room was yes, but unfortunately it seems that some teachers, pre-service teachers, librarians, and booksellers, don't realize that teens need lit to provide both a mirror and a window and that, even teens who don't share the same background with characters in books, will still be able to connect with the humanity of the characters. Spread the word!

Saturday afternoon, Jennifer Buehler, Jennifer Walsh, and I did our presentation celebrating the newest award winners in YA lit. We did a similar presentation last year and we'd like to do it every year in order to help teachers and librarians sort through the over 3,000 YA titles published each year to find the ones that might be right for their kids, classrooms, and/or libraries. We cross-referenced several award lists to highlight books that won or were finalists/honor books for several awards. Our handouts are up here: . I had fun booktalking my titles and thought Jennifer and Jennifer did a fantastic job with theirs. Getting to booktalk lots of books that you actually like is a pretty good gig. I think the audience enjoyed it too, as all 60 of our handouts were gone (and several people requested copies of them). We had great feedback from the people who came to talk to us after the session was over, and we even had some requests for our handouts from people who hadn't attended our presentation but had heard how good it was. Squee!

Then my roomies Kelli and Amber (some of those crazy cool librarians I mentioned earlier) arrived from Michigan. Amber will be blogging about their ALAN experiences on the library's blog for teens, Kitabu . You can bet it will be hilarious and while you're there, check out some of her other blog posts (she's Alaska—bonus points if you can guess why she chose that codename). These two are young, fun, knowledgeable, and are doing great work in their branches ( I'm proud to report that we had 3 librarians from our county at ALAN this year! Our biggest number ever was 4, but with budget being an issue just about everywhere in Michigan right now, I think 3 is pretty good. We did miss Sheree, though, because she is an absolute riot (and I can only imagine what she'd have done if she'd had the opportunity to meet Jack Gantos). We also had the literacy consultant from the biggest school district in our county there, so Monroe County, Michigan was well represented. My goal for next year is to lure an English teacher from the “regular” high school in my district and at least one of the people from EMU's Children's Lit program to Chicago.

The three of us shared a cab over to Downtown Disney (boy, things sure have changed since I was here in the early-ish 80's) where I had a terrific meal at Fulton's Crab House hosted by Macmillan Publishing. The food was fab, some of my friends were there, and I met some super cool authors*. I made two especially cool connections. The first was with Sally M. Walker a writer of nonfiction. Jennifer B. had booktalked her Written in Bone in our presentation earlier that day. I am generally nonfictionphobic, but it sounds like this book could cure me. I also talked to graphic novelist George O'Connor who is working on a series of GN's about the 12 Olympic gods. I asked him about when he was going to be working on the book for Hephaestos (the smith god) because I have a really reluctant reader who is also a blacksmith. George gave me his card and asked me to put him in touch with my student so he could make sure the blacksmithing scenes are drawn correctly when the time comes to work on the book. OMG! How cool is that?!? Then I met up with my friends Wendy and Ricki, who just happened to be having drinks with friends on the first floor of Fulton's.

*Just an aside here: Every time I meet an author and/or hear an author talk about her/his book, it almost always makes me want to read the book. So, if meeting an author can have that affect on a grown-up, just think what an author visit (either virtual or in person) could do for our students.

Sunday was the the day I had the most down time and opportunities to get outside, so naturally it was bit overcast and drizzly in the afternoon. It was OK, though, because I got to spend some time hanging out with people I really like. I slept in, had a fabulous brunch hosted by Scholastic, made some progress on a project(s) with my friends Ricki and CJ, and got to attend the ALAN cocktail party.

The cocktail party is one of my favorite things about ALAN. It is hosted by several publishers and there are authors roaming around everywhere. It's a great opportunity to talk to authors and let them know how grateful we are that they do what they do. One particular highlight for me was getting the chance to talk to Ellen Hopkins. News of several recent challenges to Ellen's books didn't sit well with my students when we read about them during Banned Books Week and her books are always a big hit with my girls (I sure hope her newest, Fallout, was in that box I sent out, or I'll never hear the end of it). I wanted her to know that she does have support with kids and teachers and that her books are so important, not only because they help convert reluctant readers to ravenous readers, but also because they tell the truth about the lives of kids who are often marginalized. I know that she knows this, but it's got to be tough to be criticized and told that your work is offensive and/or inappropriate, so I figured it's one of those things that it's always nice to hear.

The official first day of ALAN! I spent a lot of time finalizing preparations for the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Ceremony and Reception during the day today—powerpoints, giant checks, and “raffle” tickets, oh my! I did go to a fantastic breakout session by a prof from Western Michigan University (Go, Broncos!) about working with incarcerated youth. It sounded a lot like the stuff Sheree and Donna are doing at the youth center here in Monroe County. She also faced obstacles that are similar to the ones I face in my classroom.

Last year I had the privilege of chairing the 2010 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award (there are a few blog posts about it here, so feel free to check them out). Monday was the night that we recognized our finalists (Jill S. Alexander, Justina Chen Headley, Francisco X. Stork, and Rick Yancey) and winner (Kristin Cashore). On the cusp of Thanksgiving, we had a lot to be thankful for:
–We were so fortunate that the wonderful folks at Penguin Publishing brought Kristin Cashore to Orlando so she could receive her award in person and talk to us about her book.
–Kristin gave an absolutely phenomenal talk that had us laughing and crying (to read the text of her speech, click here:
–The Walden Award comes with a $5000 cash prize and when Kristin announced that she would be donating the cash prize to a camp for kids that her sister works with, I'd be surprised if there was a dry eye in the place—I wouldn't know because I was too busy blinking back tears and trying to swallow the lump in my throat.
–Penguin donated 100 copies of Fire and Macmillan donated 50 pre-signed copies of The Sweetheart of Prosper County by Jill S. Alexander.
–Kristin graciously agreed to sign books for the people who stayed for the ceremony.
–After the ceremony, a few members of the committee (Jean, Bonnie, and Ricki) and I attended a dinner at Il Mulino with Kristin, her publisher, Scottie, and her editor, Kathy. Having the chance to talk to all of these people in a small, intimate environment was such a treat. It was delightful on every level and I am even more eager for Kristin's next book, Bitterblue!

Because of travel plans people tend to clear out over the course of the day on Tuesday, but the day was packed with many great authors with a lot to say. By Tuesday all of my responsibilities were over and I was able to just sit and enjoy. Some of my faves were:
–The panel on boys lit which included Brent Crawford (Carter Finally Gets It series), Derrick Barnes (We Could Be Brothers), and Tom Angleberger (The Strange Case of the Origami Yoda). Martin Chatterton was also on this panel and he said, “There are 3 rules to writing a novel...unfortunately, nobody knows what they are.”
–Heather Brewer, author of the Vladimir Tod Chronicles, who called libraries “bully kryptonite”.
–Past ALAN president David Gill talking about dystopian lit, his book Black Hole Sun, and high school, “By the time you get to high school you feel like a pancake house breakfast. You've been smothered, scrambled, fried, and laced with ham.”
–Ally Carter, author of Heist Society, who said, “I write for teens, quite frankly, because I don't want to take the time to dumb my stuff down for adults.”
–The panel on LGBT Lit which featured Michael Cart (someone whose work I really, really respect) and Malinda Lo (Ash—which I booktalked for our presentation).
-The breakout session on nonfiction by super-skilled booktalkers (& 3 of my fave ladies): Mary Arnold, Bonnie Kunzel, and Teri Lesesne (2011 Walden Award Chair and new ALAN Executive Director). They talked about a lot of titles that I'll be adding to my to-read list and, once again, Jennifer B. and I "took notes" on their booktalking styles.

There were many others, but I lost my program sometime during the day on Monday. All in all, it was another remarkable year. ALAN President Jim Blasingame put together a fantastic program with just the right mix of new and experienced authors.

My friend, Wendy Glenn, the incoming ALAN president (yippee!) has already announced some highlights for next year's workshop. The theme: “Flash Back. Forge Ahead.” ALAN Workshop Keynote: MT Anderson. ALAN Breakfast Keynote: Jacquelyn Woodson (2009 Walden Award Finalist). Join us next year in Chicago, won't you?
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The Happiest Place on Earth, Part 1

Hi, it's me. Sorry I've been away so long. Right now I'm writing from “the happiest place on earth”. No, I don't mean Disney, though I am currently vegging in my room at Disney's Coronado Springs Resort in Orlando, Florida. My happiest place on earth is where I go to feel professionally energized and fortified. My happiest place is a place where I can find many of my favorite things and people all in one place: free books, YA authors, and people who love books, reading, and connecting kids to books. My happiest place changes its location every November. My happiest place is a place where it's always magical (and not in that ironic, artificial, sorta creepy Disney kind of way). My happiest place is the ALAN Workshop. This blog won't be posted until I get home tomorrow, but the ALAN Workshop wrapped about 2 ½ hours ago, my roomies have flown out already (more about them later), and for some reason I always feel the need to blog when the ALAN Workshop ends. I think it's because it's such an intense experience that I need to reflect and debrief. Or maybe the word I should use is “detox” because I often feel like I'm coming down from a 2 ½ day high when it ends.

If you're not familiar with ALAN (the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of the National Council of Teachers of English—that's a mouthful huh? Now you see why there's an acronym) and you love young adult literature, go to (go ahead, I'll wait) and get some information about the premiere resource on YA lit for teachers, librarians, and professors.

The ALAN Workshop is held annually on the Monday and Tuesday following the NCTE Convention and before Thanksgiving. The workshop program reads like a who's who in young adult lit and some people have called it the greatest YA show on earth. I'm relatively new to the ALAN family (and that really is what it feels like) and I'm so sad that I didn't know about ALAN sooner—in fact, I'd say I'm downright lugubrious about it, which is a word I learned from Michael Salinger, one of the poets who performed for us on Monday. I almost couldn't believe it when my friend and classmate, Joy, and I drove to Indianapolis in 2004 and found out that, not only were we going to get to listen as panel after panel of YA authors read from their work and talked about their craft, but that we were also invited to a cocktail party where the workshop participants got to schmooze with the authors on Sunday night AND that we were going to get FREE BOOKS when we checked-in on Monday morning. I know, it seems too good to be true, doesn't it? But it is true. And, what used to be 10-15 books given away in tote bags, has grown to an enormous box that generally weighs about 35 pounds (33.8 lbs. this year to be exact, which I only know because I was kinda busy on Monday and I didn't even open my box before I shipped it—I can't wait til it gets to my house so I can see what's in it). I also shipped home another 19.1 lb. box of books, handouts, bookmarks, etc. that I scored in various places. All told, that's about 52 ½ lbs of fantastic book goodness. It's like Christmas in November.

But, not only is the swag the best, so are the people. Each year is better than the last because each year I get to know more amazing people than I did before. ALAN-ers are my fave kind of people—they are fantastic, enthusiastic, and passionate about books. Plus, the authors and the publishers who show up are damn cool, too. For the past three years I've had the privilege of serving on the ALAN Board of Directors, and though I'm sad that my tenure has ended, I hope that it just marks the beginning of my service to this wonderful organization. Yeah, I know it sounds like I'm gushing, but I can't help it; ALAN is home to me and for that I am supremely grateful. I am a member of other professional organizations, like the MCTE (Michigan) and NCTE, that I really enjoy, and this isn't to say that they aren't wonderful and welcoming too, because they are. It's just that if you asked me to describe my ideal professional environment, it would look remarkably like ALAN.

Up next? Highlights from Friday through Tuesday...
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So, it's been a long time. What have I been doing since my last posting on December 9, you might ask. Well, the answer is that I've been busy chairing the amazingly awesome Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Committee. What an incredible experience it was, as I had the privilege of working with some of the most amazing minds in the field of YA literature. Lucky me!

Here's a copy of the press release I sent out this morning. Feel free to help us spread the word!

2010 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award
Winner and Finalists Announced

The Assembly on Literature for Adolescents (ALAN) of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) is pleased and proud to announce the winner of the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award for Young Adult Fiction. Established in 2008 to honor the wishes of young adult author, Amelia Elizabeth Walden, the award allows for the sum of $5,000 to be presented annually to the author of a young adult title selected by the ALAN Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award Committee as demonstrating a positive approach to life, widespread teen appeal, and literary merit.

The winner of the 2010 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award is:
Fire by Kristin Cashore

The 2010 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award finalists are:
Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork
(Arthur A. Levine)

The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey
(Simon and Schuster)

North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley
(Little, Brown and Company)

The Sweetheart of Prosper County by Jill S. Alexander
(Feiwel and Friends)

All Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award titles will be identified by an award sticker—gold for the winner and silver for the four finalists. This year’s winning title and finalists will be honored at an open reception on Monday, November 22, immediately following the 2010 ALAN Workshop in Orlando, Florida.

The 2010 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Committee would like to thank: the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Foundation; the ALAN Executive Council; the ALAN Board of Directors; past AEWA chair Dr. Wendy Glenn; NCTE; and last, but not least, the more than twenty publishers who submitted titles for consideration.

The 2010 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Committee considered 202 young adult titles throughout the process. The committee was comprised of ten members representing the university, K-12 school, and library communities. They are:

Daria Plumb, Committee Chair
Classroom Teacher
Riverside Academy, Dundee, MI

Erica Berg
Classroom Teacher
Rockville High School, Vernon, CT

Jean Boreen
Northern Arizona University, Department of English, Flagstaff, AZ

C.J. Bott
Retired Classroom Teacher and Consultant
Solon, OH

Lois Buckman
Caney Creek High School, Conroe, TX

Jeff Harr
Classroom Teacher
Theodore Roosevelt High School, Kent, OH

Jeff Kaplan
Associate Professor
University of Central Florida, College of Education, Orlando, FL

Bonnie Kunzel
Youth Services and Adolescent Literacy Consultant
Germantown, TN

Teri Lesesne
Sam Houston State University, Department of Library Science, Huntsville, TX

Barbara Ward
Assistant Professor
Washington State University, Department of Teaching and Learning, Richland, WA

For more information on the award, please visit ALAN Online: The Official Site of the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents .

Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award WINNER!!!

Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award Winner Announced

The Assembly on Literature for Adolescents (ALAN) of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) is pleased and proud to announce the winner of the inaugural Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award for Young Adult Fiction. Established in 2008 to honor the wishes of young adult author, Amelia Elizabeth Walden, the award allows for the sum of $5,000 to be presented annually to the author of a young adult title selected by the ALAN Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award Committee as demonstrating a positive approach to life, widespread teen appeal, and literary merit.

The winner of the 2009 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award is:
My Most Excellent Year: A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins & Fenway Park
by Steve Kluger (Dial)

2009 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award finalists are:
After Tupac and D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson (Putnam)
Graceling by Kristin Cashore (Harcourt)
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (HarperCollins)
Me, The Missing, and the Dead by Jenny Valentine (HarperCollins)

All Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award titles will be identified by an award sticker—gold for the winner and silver for the four finalists.

This year’s winning title was announced at an open reception and reading on Monday, November 23 during the 2009 ALAN Workshop in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Finalists Steve Kluger (My Most Excellent Year: A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins & Fenway Park) and Jacqueline Woodson (After Tupac and D Foster) were present to read from and sign their nominated titles. Members of the 2009 committee, Jennifer Buehler, Erica Berg, and Mary Arnold, read from the remaining nominated titles.

The 2009 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Committee would like to thank: NCTE and the ALAN Board of Directors; all of the publishers who nominated books for consideration; Scottie Bowditch and Kimberly Lauber from Penguin Group for making arrangements for their authors to attend the reception and for supplying books for the signing; Daniel Gill for designing the beautiful award seal; Gerard Mendoza, event planner for the Philadelphia Downtown Marriot, for his assistance in planning the reception; and Don Gallo for photographing the reception.

The 2009 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Committee was comprised of ten members representing the university, K-12 school, and library communities who considered 232 young adult titles over the duration of the process:

Dr. Wendy Glenn, Chair
Associate Professor, University of Connecticut, Storrs
Willington, CT

Mary Arnold
Teen Services Manager, Cuyahoga County Public Library
Cleveland, OH

Erica Berg
Classroom Teacher, Rockville High School
Vernon, CT

Dr. Jean Boreen
Professor, Northern Arizona University
Flagstaff, AZ

C.J. Bott
Retired Classroom Teacher and Educational Consultant
Solon, OH

Dr. Jennifer Buehler
Assistant Professor, Saint Louis University
Saint Louis, MO

Bonnie Kunzel
Youth Services and Adolescent Literacy Consultant
Germantown, TN

Dr. Teri Lesesne
Professor, Sam Houston State University
Huntsville, TX

Daria Plumb
Classroom Teacher, Dundee Alternative High School
Dundee, MI

Dr. Barbara Ward
Assistant Professor, Washington State University, Tri-Cities
Richland, WA

For more information on the award, please visit ALAN Online: The Official Site of the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents .
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In preparation for a presentation I'm giving at the Michigan Council of Teachers of English's Fall Assembly titled "We Are a Family of Books: How to Create a Community of Readers" I've been trying to catch up on my "professional" reading.

I just finished Nancie Atwell's THE READING ZONE: HOW TO HELP KIDS BECOME SKILLED, PASSIONATE, HABITUAL, CRITICAL READERS, a wonderful book about Atwell's reading workshop that she conducts at her school.

I just started READICIDE: HOW SCHOOLS ARE KILLING READING AND WHAT YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT by Kelly Gallagher. I'm not very far into it, but so far the title pretty much says it all.

I read these because I like to be able to offer professional resources to the people who attend my sessions, but then I realized that the real experts sit in front of me every day. So, I asked my students to write journal entries today about what they need from teachers in order to become readers. I'm happy to report that they listed much of what I already had in my power point.

Here it is, straight from the students' pens:
* Get to know students and figure out what they like--Give a survey to help them find a genre they like, then help them find more books from that genre.
* Don’t pick boring books—provide books with lots of action and suspense.
* Let students choose their own books and have a selection of books teens actually want to choose from.
* Change up genres and have different authors who use different writing styles.
* Kids need to listen to a good book to get hooked/Read out loud—short, interesting stories.
* Don’t rush students through books/Let us read at our own pace.
* Realize that not everyone has the same interests.
* Don’t make students read a book they don’t like because then they won’t understand it.
* Discuss and share stories that are interesting.
* Ask students more questions about how they feel about the book during a discussion.
* Steer away from required materials.
* Let students read to themselves—in school.
* Allow us to change books.
* Don’t bombard us with work from the book.
* Give them books that are at their reading level.

A few weeks ago I also asked them to add their own rights to Daniel Pennac's Readers Bill of Rights.

Here's Pennac's list

Readers have:
The right to not read.
The right to skip pages.
The right to not finish.
The right to reread.
The right to read anything.
The right to escapism.
The right to read anywhere.
The right to browse.
The right to read out loud.
The right not to defend your tastes.

—Daniel Pennac Better Than Life, Coach House Press, 1996

And, here's what my students would add:

Readers have:
The right to choose a book by its cover.
The right to read quietly; i.e. to not read out loud.
The right to feel emotion—to laugh or cry—during a book.
The right to talk about and discuss your book.
The right to share your book with others.
The right to read all kinds of books.
The right to change books.
The right to enjoy reading.
The right to read a lot of books.
The right to read anytime.
The right to question the writer.

Both of these lists will be appearing in my presentation. Many of these kids never read an entire book before coming to our school and now they're not only reading, but they are reflecting upon their own wants and needs as readers. LOVE IT!!! Now if I could just figure out a way to pack up my students and haul them to Lansing with me, then I could get out of the way and they could give the presentation!


Call for 2010 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Selection Committee Members

Those interested in serving on the ALAN Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Committee may self-nominate by completing a self-nomination form. Members of the selection committee must be: 1) ALAN members and 2) classroom teachers, university professors, or librarians. To avoid potential conflicts of interest, authors and publishers are not eligible to apply.

To participate in the selection of the 2010 winner, please send completed self-nomination forms to Daria Plumb (, the 2010 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Committee Chair, by September 15, 2009. For more information about the award and to download the self-nomination form, please visit ALAN Online (

The Committee Chair, striving for wide representation of members in terms of professional position, grade level of population served, and geographic diversity, will extend an invitation to potential committee members who show an interest in serving. Those selected will serve for one year with the possibility of reappointment for a second.

For the 2010 award, we are seeking nominees from the following communities:
• 1 Classroom Teacher
• 1 University Professor
• 1 Librarian

The Reaping

It's not unusual for parents in YA books to play the role of antagonist. After all, adolescents must break away from their parents in order to define their own identities; it's natural and necessary for them to question and rebel against the authority figures in their lives. It's also not unusual for parents in YA books to be sort of "missing" from the central storyline. Anyone who has regular contact with teens has probably noticed that they think the entire world revolves around them, their friends, and the drama that goes along with being a teenager. If you've ever seen a student outside of your school building who seems surprised to discover that you don't actually LIVE at the school, then you know what I mean. It's not that don't like us or care about us, it's just that we don't inhabit the same plane that they do.

Once in awhile, though, I come across a YA book with a parent in it who is so vile and reprehensible that I'd like to reach right into the pages of the book and give him/her a good shake. Now I'm willing to give a pass to parents like the dad in The Great Wide Sea by M.H. Herlong because he's dealing with his own grief over losing his wife and to the mom in North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley because she's also a victim of her husband's abuse and eventually starts to stand up for herself. I'm talking about the parents who: abandon their children emotionally &/or physically--usually both; look the other way while their child is being victimized by someone else; use, abuse, and otherwise exploit their kids; choose a new spouse/lover who has no regard for their child; don't provide even the most basic needs of food and shelter for their kids; and who place their own wants, needs, and desires above everything else, including their children. These are parents who are (to borrow a line from my librarian friend Mary Arnold) "bitter meanies".

So I decided to make a list of some of the parents from YA books that I'd like to see in a Hunger Games-style contest. "But, wait," you're probably thinking, "the contestant who wins the Hunger Games becomes rich and famous. That doesn't seem fair." You're right, that wouldn't be fair, but don't worry I have a solution to that problem...the winner of THIS Hunger Games gets to be unwound.

Without further ado, here are the 12 moms and 12 dads that I would send into My Hunger Games.

1) Addie's "Mommers" from Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor
2) Sam's mom from Jerk, California by Jonathan Friesan
3) Rosie's mother from House of Dance by Beth Kephart
4) Chessy's mom from Absolutely Maybe by Lisa Yee
5) Ben's and the neighbor kid Billy's moms from Last Exit to Normal by Michael Harmon (you get 2-for-1 in this book)
6) Kaleigh and Raeanne's mom from Identical by Ellen Hopkins
7) Poe's mom from Brutal by Michael Harmon
8) Kendra's mom from Kendra by Coe Booth
9) Aslaug's mom from Madapple by Christina Meldrum
10) Ratchet's mom from The Canning Season by Polly Horvath
11) Chris Creed's mom from The Body of Christopher Creed by Carol Plum-Ucci
12) Peeta's mom from The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

1) Lucas's dad from Me, the Missing, and the Dead by Jenny Valentine
2) Liam's father from King of the Screwups by K.L. Going
3) Danny's dad from Mexican WhiteBoy by Matt de la Pena
4) Ramiro's and Jake's fathers from He Forgot to Say Goodbye by Benjamin Alire Saenz (another 2-for-1 deal)
5) Terra's dad from North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley
6) Quinn's dad from The Secret Life of Prince Charming by Deb Caletti
7) Marcelo's father from Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork
8) Mazzy's dad from Everything is Fine by Ann Dee Ellis
9) Nazia's father from Beneath My Mother's Feet by Amjed Qamar
10) Sarah's dad from Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher
11) Brett's dad from Nailed by Patrick Jones
12) Lakshmi's father from Sold by Patricia McCormick

Now this list certainly isn't meant to suggest that these aren't good books; in fact I encourage to read all of these incredibly well-written books. I'm just saying that you might need to take your blood pressure medicine before doing so, because these parents and their antics are really gonna tick you off. Check out for yourself HOW these kids manage to overcome the obstacles their parents have placed in their paths.

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V.I.P. (Very Important Press Release)!!!

Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award Finalists Announced

The Assembly on Literature for Adolescents (ALAN) of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) is pleased and proud to announce the finalists for the inaugural Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award for Young Adult Fiction. The honored titles for 2009 (in alphabetical order by title) are:

* After Tupac and D Foster, by Jacqueline Woodson (Putnam)

* Graceling, by Kristin Cashore (Harcourt)

* The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman (HarperCollins)

* Me, The Missing, and the Dead, by Jenny Valentine (HarperCollins)

* My Most Excellent Year: A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins, and Fenway Park, by Steve Kluger (Dial)

This year’s winning title will be announced at an open reception and reading at the 2009 ALAN Workshop in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Established in 2008 to honor the wishes of young adult author, Amelia Elizabeth Walden, the award allows for the sum of $5,000 to be presented annually to the author of a young adult title selected by the ALAN Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award Committee as demonstrating a positive approach to life, widespread teen appeal, and literary merit.

The 2009 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Committee was comprised of ten members representing the university, K-12 school, and library communities who considered 232 young adult titles over the duration of the process:

Wendy Glenn, Chair
Associate Professor
University of Connecticut, Storrs

Mary Arnold
Teen Services Manager
Cuyahoga County Public Library, Ohio

Erica Berg
Classroom Teacher
Rockville High School, Vernon, CT

Jean Boreen
Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff

C.J. Bott
Retired Classroom Teacher, Educational Consultant
Solon, OH

Jennifer Buehler
Assistant Professor
Saint Louis University, Saint Louis, MO

Bonnie Kunzel
Retired Youth Services Consultant, Youth Services Consultant
New Jersey

Teri Lesesne
Sam Houston State University Department of Library Science, Huntsville, TX

Daria Plumb
Classroom Teacher
Dundee Alternative High School, Dundee, MI

Barbara Ward
Assistant Professor
Washington State University, Tri-Cities

For more information on the award, please contact Wendy Glenn, 2009 AEW Committee Chair, at


In my "grown up" life, I am a mystery fan. My grandma (who was a BIG reader) got me started on Mary Higgins Clark and from there I moved on to Sue Grafton's alphabet series, James Patterson's Alex Cross and Women's Murder Club series, Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta series (until she ruined it by switching the narration to 3rd person after 10 books written in 1st person, but I digress...), Kathy Reichs's Tempe Brennan series, and Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum (no relation) series. On the rare occasions that I read nonfiction, I also go for books about forensics and criminal profiling. But it seems like when I shift over to YA books I have trouble finding mysteries that appeal to me--until this past year. In my (now extensive) reading of 2008 books, I managed to find some really great mysteries.

BTW, if you're looking for good mysteries, try checking out the Mystery Writers of America's Edgar Awards (named after, you guessed it, the man credited with writing the first detective story--Edgar Allan Poe). They have given awards for best YA mystery since 1989 ( -- sorry but this link does not include a list of nominated or honor books) and best juvenile mystery since 1961 ( )

You can read my review of the 2009 Edgar Award Winner, John Green's Paper Towns, in the entry from December 3, as well as another mystery that I quite enjoyed, Jenny Valentine's Me, the Missing, and the Dead, in the entry from January 10th.

I also recently finished a book that was a 2009 Edgar Award nominee, Siobhan Dowd's Bog Child.

One of my librarian friends, Sheree, booktalked this for us at our teachers as readers group (The Book Hook-ers) a couple of months ago and I was dubious to say the least. A book set in Northern Ireland in 1981 during "the Troubles" and focused around the discovery of an ancient child's body in a bog and a boy whose brother is in prison and participating in a hunger strike? It didn't sound intriguing to me and, frankly, it sounded like a lot of work. In fact, I had actually checked this book out of the library a number of times, started it, and then put it back down. But, once I actually sat down and gave it a chance, I was sucked in. Fergus McCann and his Uncle Tally are out one morning illegally cutting peat from a bog when Fergus notices something shiny--it's a bangle and, upon further inspection, he notices that it's attached to a body. At Fergus's urging, his Uncle Tally reluctantly leaves to notify the authorities of their finding. As it turns out, the body is not from a recent murder, but rather is the preserved body of a girl from the Iron Age. Fergus teams up with the archaeologist who works on the case, Felicity, and her daughter, Cora, and is given naming rights of the bog child, Mel (short for Melanie), whose life and death he begins having dreams about. During all of this, Fergus is also: preparing for his A Level exams; befriending a Welsh soldier and border guard, Owain; running packets of something across the border for a The Provos; falling in love; making plans for his future; and dealing with his brother Joey's hunger strike in prison. The way Dowd weaves all of these storylines together is truly intruiging. I was particularly interested in the glimpses into Mel's life and family and would have actually liked to have more--her death and the events that lead to it are heartbreaking.

Another of Dowd's books published in 2008 (first U.S. printing) and also a mystery is the middle grade novel The London Eye Mystery.

When Ted and Kat's cousin, Salim, goes missing after a ride on the London Eye, Ted and Kat set out to find out what happened to him. There are a lot of twists and turns in this story and it is made more interesting by the fact that Ted has Aspberger's Syndrome which makes his brain run "on a different operating system"(p. 4). In the end it is Ted's ability to think in a different way that leads to the solution to the mystery. (In many ways this book is similar to the 2003 adult book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon.) It saddens me that an author with the range and potential of Siobhan Dowd is no longer with us. Her fourth and final novel, Solace of the Road, is set to be released later this year. You can visit her website for more information about the life of this truly extraordinary author: .

Joan Bauer is an author who, in my mind, can do no wrong. I have read everything she has written and she has never let me down. Her characters are always quirky, smart, individuals with some very unique interests who have generally suffered a loss but who push forward with the help from supportive adults in their lives. Her newest book, Peeled, is no exception.

Hildy Biddle lives in Banesville, NY, an apple growing community that has fallen on some hard times. Hildy's first love, though, isn't apples, it's journalism--something that she learned about from her now deceased father. When the town's long-rumored haunted house begins to show new signs of "supernatural activity", the local paper, The Bee, begins to spin the story National Enquirer style. Hildy and the rest of the staff of the school paper, The Core, set out to find the truth behind the "hauntings". This is a story about how fear can be used to manipulate people and the power (and sometimes the danger) of taking a stand and telling the truth.

I want to continue this mystery thread, but I'm getting tired, so it will be continued later with reviews of: Shift by Jennifer Bradbury, Black Rabbit Summer by Kevin Brooks, Absolute Brightness by James Lecesne, Alane Ferguson's Cameryn Mahoney series, and a handful of books by Carol Plum-Ucci.

My Love/Hate Relationship with Fantasy and Science Fiction

I hate fantasy and science fiction. Just ask me. I'll tell you that I avoid these books like the plague. If I have a stack of 20 "must-read" books, you can guarantee that the fantasy and sci-fi books will be at the bottom. I run screaming from most books featuring magic (except Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia, of course) and I typically can't stand books with maps on the end papers and/or characters with bizarre names. And don't even get me started on science fiction--especially the dark, depressing, dystopian stuff--I don't have the time or patience for all of that detailed "world building" *disdainful sniff*.

So why is it then that lately these are the very books I'm passionately recommending to (forcing on--whatever) my family and friends? Why was I tempted to answer, "Yes!!! And hurry!" when my students asked me if I wanted them to steal the ARC of Catching Fire from someone I know? Why did finding out that a friend has an extra copy of Fire that she's putting aside for me put a gigantic smile on my face and make me bounce up and down in my chair clapping? I give up. I'm coming out of the closet: I LIKE FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION!!!

So without further ado, here they are, the fantasy and sci-fi books that have recently captured my attention (and, yes, my heart):

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

I first read this book back in September 2008 in preparation for introducing Neal Shusterman at the ALAN Workshop. This book is set about 50 years in the future following a second American Civil War fought over abortion. Part of the peace treaty ending the war made abortion illegal but gave parents to option to unwind (or retroactively abort) their children any time between the ages of 13 and 18 (anyone who has parented &/or worked with teens will likely understand this desire). Technically, the kids aren't killed when they are unwound, but what does happen is truly chilling on a variety of levels. The three main characters Connor, Risa, and Lev have all narrowly escaped their unwinding "appointments" and are now on the run. If they can just survive until they turn 18, they will be safe. What will happen to them? This is a fast-paced and gripping book full of social commentary that will make you and your students question what it means to be alive. I read this aloud to my kids at the beginning of the second semester and they were still making references to it at the end of the school year; in fact, one of our running "jokes" this semester was that if a student was misbehaving, I'd have her/him unwound (or put into the Hunger Games). Next year they will be integrating this book into our "regular" high school's curriculum as an example of satire.

Two others that I blogged about on December 17 are Mary Pearson's The Adoration of Jenna Fox and Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games:

Here's a brief update: I recently read The Hunger Games to my students and they really enjoyed it! The students had "scorecards" so they could keep track of who died each day and predict who would be next. I even thought about creating a BINGO card and having them fill in the squares with character names/district numbers for Hunger Games Death Bingo. I also toyed with the idea of giving each student Monopoly money and having them "sponsor" the tributes, but I couldn't quite figure out how to do that--if you can, let me know. Lionsgate has purchased the movie rights for this book and Suzanne Collins will be working on the screenplay, so watch for this one in theaters--it should make a FANTASTIC movie! While you're waiting for book 2, head over to Scholastic's The Hunger Games website where you can play games, watch interviews with Suzanne Collins, discuss the book on message boards, and download posters, bookmarks, and wallpaper.

I was fortunate enough to temporarily score the ARC (advanced reader copy) of the sequel to The Hunger Games titled Catching Fire. How popular is this series? So many of my local teacher and librarian friends want to read this that I thought I might have to go into a witness protection program when I told them that I couldn't let them borrow it because it wasn't my own, personal copy. How DID I manage to get my hands on it? My obviously well-connected friend, Jennifer B., thought it was exciting and cool that my students were desperate to find out what happens after the Hunger Games end. So she read it as quickly as she could and I drove to Ann Arbor to pick it up. My kids were thrilled!!! When I got to school the next day they kept asking, "Did you get it? Did you get it?" Luckily we were able to make arrangements to meet for some extra class time so that the kids who wanted to could hear all 391 pages of it read aloud by moi; we finished on our second to last day of school. The kids who made it all the way through loved it and made some very interesting predictions about the events to come and none of us want to wait for book 3 (which I don't think is going to be available until November 2010!!!).

I don't want to say much about this book because I don't want to spoil the ending of The Hunger Games for those of you who haven't read it yet or the plot of this one. What I will say is if you loved the first book, you will love this book. I thought I had some pretty good guesses about what direction the plot of this book would take and I was wrong, wrong, wrong!!! Collins's ability to build the storyline continued to impress me and I cannot wait to see how she wraps up this story. Look for this one on September 1, 2009.

And now on to fantasy. A book that I recently fell in love with is Graceling by Kristin Cashore. I am currently on my second read through of this one and it's just as good the second time around.

This book was shortlisted for the first ever William C. Morris YA Debut Award and it's easy to see why. Kristin Cashore will no doubt be an author to watch. Katsa and Po live in a world where some people are born with special powers called graces. These Gracelings are identified by their different colored eyes and are both feared and revered; as such they are often forced to live on the fringes of society. Katsa's grace is her ability to kill. Her uncle Randa, the king of the Middluns, forces her to use her grace to punish his enemies and abuse his power--an arrangement Katsa is not terribly happy with. When Katsa teams up with Po (another Graceling from the island kingdom of Lienid) to train and to help find the person responsible for the kidnapping of Po's grandfather, she begins to question her loyalty to her uncle and starts to redefine herself. This book has it all: daring rescues, lots of fight scenes, adventure, and even a love story (but not of the sickeningly sweet variety). Cashore has crafted a fast-paced story that features a strong female protagonist and balances her with an equally strong and interesting male character. Many questions are raised in this book about power and it's abuses and also about marriage and relationships.

Cashore's second book, Fire, is a prequel to Graceling.

I have not had a chance to read it yet, but my ARC fairygodmother Jennifer B. is giving me a copy next week!!! This is all I can tell you right now: Due out on October 6, 2009, this book takes place in the same world as Graceling but 30 years earlier and features a crossover character. On my re-read, I think I picked up some clues as to who the crossover character could be, but I'm not telling... I am SO looking forward to reading this one! Look for a posting about it in the next week or two because as soon as it's in my hot little hands, I'll be parking my tush on the couch (or the deck, if the weather's nice) and reading this one straight through.

Now that school's out for the summer, I'm going to catch up on my book blogging. Stay tuned for: reviews of more fantasy books (like Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book and Antonia Michaelis's Tiger Moon); reviews of more science fiction (like Exodus by Julie Bertagna and The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness--and find out why Patrick Ness is on my you-know-what list); and more "themed" booklists (including one featuring parents from YA books that I'd like to send to the Hunger Games).