A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

a great and terrible beautyReading level: 5.9
Lexile: 760
Series: Gemma Doyle, #1
Genre: Historical fiction, paranormal
ELL-Friendly: No
Library recommendation: High school

Goodreads summary:

Sixteen-year-old Gemma has had an unconventional upbringing in India, until the day she foresees her mother’s death in a black, swirling vision that turns out to be true. Sent back to England, she is enrolled at Spence, a girls’ academy with a mysterious burned-out East Wing. There Gemma is snubbed by powerful Felicity, beautiful Pippa, and even her own dumpy roommate Ann, until she blackmails herself and Ann into the treacherous clique. Gemma is distressed to find that she has been followed from India by Kartik, a beautiful young man who warns her to fight off the visions. Nevertheless, they continue, and one night she is led by a child-spirit to find a diary that reveals the secrets of a mystical Order. The clique soon finds a way to accompany Gemma to the other-world realms of her visions “for a bit of fun” and to taste the power they will never have as Victorian wives, but they discover that the delights of the realms are overwhelmed by a menace they cannot control. Gemma is left with the knowledge that her role as the link between worlds leaves her with a mission to seek out the “others” and rebuild the Order.

Mmmm. Libba Bray. Mmmm. That book cover. She is just so good.

Much like Beauty Queens, A Great and Terrible Beauty is a reflection on how society treats and views women. This time, there’s a Victorian spin where we get a taste of how women were expected to live back in the day. But if you stop and think for…two seconds you’ll see how some of those expectations carry over to today. Oh, but Gemma and her friends try to swim against the current, which is very refreshing.

Victorian English stories are interesting. Victorian English stories with paranormal monsters and other worlds is fantastic. I felt that some of the plot moved on too slowly, but in retrospect it was just building a complex world with complex characters that will continue for two more books (hooray!). I liked how we are set up to dislike Pippa and her crew, but we grow to like them. Watching them all pull together and grow stronger from each other was empowering. I didn’t expect them to become so tight. Honestly, I still don’t trust any of them except Gemma and Anne, but I am open to changing my mind.

It’s not ELL friendly (this is Victorian England, remember) but not too complex for higher ELLs to understand. My fear was that it just wouldn’t be appropriate for various reasons. I’ll put a PG-14 sticker on it for a brief but vivid dreamed…romantic encounter, but other than that one instance, I see no issues with it.

I might start a book talk by telling students what life was like in Victorian times: women expected to do whatever their father/brother/husband said, cook and clean and not have a career, to not speak unless spoken to, to marry whomever their parents chose… Imagine how hard it would be to rebel or be happy at all under these conditions. Gemma finds a way to escape these constraints, briefly, by escaping into the Realms, a magical place where there is anything and everything you could wish for but which holds dark magic and great dangers. Would you still go there to escape no matter the risks?

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

WonderReading level: 5.0
Lexile: 790
Genre: realistic fiction
ELL-Friendly: Yes (mostly)
Library recommendation: Middle school

Goodreads summary:

August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He’s about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you’ve ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie’s just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, despite appearances?

Wonder was one of the books that all kids wanted to read when I student taught 6th grade. One student in particular read it over and over. It was a natural choice to buy when I was looking for popular middle level books to add to my library.

I can’t say I was blown away, but it was a solid, memorable book. I was expecting it to be all from Auggie’s point of view, but I really enjoyed all the different viewpoints from his sister Olivia to her ex-best friend to Auggie’s friends. When someone you know and love has a disability or physical abnormality, those people’s lives are affected too.

I am a big fan of kids being nice to teach other. After the suicide of a friend due to bullying, I have zero tolerance for kids being mean. This story is a powerful message of the difference friends and bullies make. I would recommend Wonder to kids who feel different and need to know that their feelings are justified. I might also recommend it to kids who aren’t always nice to others to help them see the negative impact they make and the positive impact they could make if they made better choices. I’d also recommend it as an “easy” read for struggling readers because the story of straight-forward and easy to understand.

I’m a little surprised at the high lexile because it seemed pretty low level to me. That said, it’s ELL-friendly except for one chapter told from the viewpoint of Olivia’s boyfriend. I don’t have the book in front of me, but I don’t think there were capitals or correct punctuation.

For doing a book talk, I might ask students if they’ve seen kids being mean to each other or bullied. I might ask them to think about how awesome it felt when someone was nice to them when they needed support. I’d talk about how scary it is to start at a new school and how hard it would be if you’d never been to public school and had severe facial abnormalities. It’d be hard for that kid but also for the people who were nice to him as well as his family. A book talk may not be necessary because of its reputation, though.

21st Century Tool of the Month for August: Thinglink

Originally posted on teacher stuff:

Thinglink is one of my new favorite 21st Century tools! I’ve been finding new ideas for how to use it in the classroom, and the more I use it, the more versatile I find it to be!

What is Thinglink?

Click here to see a Thinglink which explains what Thinglink is!

Here are some of my favorite ways to use it:

Task Library:

Collect resources for a project or unit of study using thinglink. This shows a task library for a teacher, and a student task library is embedded (a backward plan is also embedded in this thinglink). Students and Teachers can collaboratively add to it.

  Click here to see a post I made about the essential question, “How are people transformed by their relationships with others?” using thinglink to create a task library.

Gameboards: I have used a few “game boards” for classes that I have taught for teachers this summer…

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In This Class, We Are…

At the time that I am writing this, I STILL HAVEN’T SEEN MY CLASSROOM. It’s August 3rd, guys. I’m getting antsy. Anyway, if I have room, I want to have a display that says: “In P?, We Are…” (p? = portable whatever). Still don’t know my portable number.

Then I want to have these words written individually with colored background:

creative (will use imagination in writing)

responsible (will take responsibility for actions, both academic and behaviorally)

successful (WILL get good grades and succeed as a student)

brave (will take risks and not be afraid to make mistakes)

resilient (will make mistakes but will recover)

hard-working (will work hard to overcome any and all barriers)

supportive (will help other classmates)

kind (will make all efforts to be nice – always)

exceptional (will not accept mediocrity)

Rather than telling kids that this is how they’re going to be, I want them to take ownership of it. I’ll have mini lessons and anecdotes throughout the first few weeks to teach these expectations, but here is an idea:

1. Pass out slips of paper that have these words and their definitions. All parts are separate, so words and definitions are all mixed together. Give each group of students an envelope with a complete set.

2. Have students match words and definitions (so they know what the words mean). Check that all words are matched correctly.

3. On a small piece of paper, have them draw a line down the middle and write the words in one of two columns: “I already am…” or “I struggle to be…” This paper will be turned in.

4.  Assign one word per student. Give each student a small-ish piece of paper for them to write a synonym and draw a picture. (They learn “synonym” and get to represent the idea in a creative way.) Finished mini-posters will be hung up around the room.

Behavior Management Strategy for 7th Grade

Here are my pre-school thoughts on the behavior management system I wish to implement with my 7th graders. It’s a mix of an idea I got from a veteran teacher and the program used at a summer camp I worked at. I want to post these expectations so that the process is clear with the understanding that I can change it up as I see fit.

1. verbal warning

2. name on board

3. yellow card (like in soccer)

-a yellow card means the student has until the end of the class period (preferably about 3 minutes) fill out a small form detailing what happened and what the student will do better next time. If the student refuses to fill it out or does not finish, I will write MY side of the story, which I’m sure students don’t want. These yellow cards will be kept in a file with other cards for that class period. Students might receive an automatic yellow card without warning if the behavior warrants.

4. red card

-a student would receive a red card for getting more than 1 yellow card in a period or more than 3 yellow cards per week. It’s for repeat-offenders or when behavior warrants. Like a yellow card, a student fills out the red card detailing what happened and agrees to have a conference with the teacher on his or her own time (before/after school, during break) or parents are called.

5. blue card (maybe I’ll make it grey depending on the colors I find in the copy room)

-A blue card is a form that the teacher fills out detailing what happened. Parents and/or administrators are contacted. It’s a last resort.

I like this system because the progression is clear, and students are given chances but are forced to think about their actions so they don’t get off without a consequence. Of course, parents can be called at any of these stages. I also like this system because the teacher doesn’t even have to stop talking or teaching. I can just give the student a card and they’ll know what it means. If they don’t fill it out, they’ll know that I will write my version. Let’s see how it works…

A logistical thing: to keep track of who I gave yellow/red cards to (especially when they’re not turned in by the end of the class period), I will put a colored check (yellow, red, blue) next to the names since they should already be written on the board by that point.

 

 

Froi of the Exiles by Melina Marchetta

Froi of the ExilesReading level: ~5.4
Lexile: ~820
Series: Lumatere Chronicles book 2
Genre: Fantasy
ELL-Friendly: No
Library recommendation: High school

Goodreads summary:

Three years after the curse on Lumatere was lifted, Froi has found his home… Or so he believes…

Fiercely loyal to the Queen and Finnikin, Froi has been trained roughly and lovingly by the Guard sworn to protect the royal family, and has learned to control his quick temper. But when he is sent on a secretive mission to the kingdom of Charyn, nothing could have prepared him for what he finds. Here he encounters a damaged people who are not who they seem, and must unravel both the dark bonds of kinship and the mysteries of a half-mad Princess.

And in this barren and mysterious place, he will discover that there is a song sleeping in his blood, and though Froi would rather not, the time has come to listen.

I was initially concerned that I wouldn’t like Froi as much as Finnikin because I was so mad at Froi the character that I didn’t see how I could love a book centered around him – a book much longer than Finnikin. It took just a few pages for me to change my mind completely. Froi is transformed from a thief with no values to an honorable young man. Froi’s character is beautifully constructed from his dedication to Lumatere to his caring for innocent human life. I am a fan.

I will never forget how Froi tried to rape Evanjeline. And neither will she. And neither will he. In fact, we learn that it is a constant source of shame and guilt for him. When he is presented with the opportunity to “lay with a woman” he refuses over and over because the girl in question does not do so willingly.

That said, this book is not exactly appropriate for middle school because a huge chunk of the book is about getting the princess of Charyn pregnant with Froi being the man for the job whether he likes it or not. There’s nothing terribly explicit but it is certainly at the forefront of the plot.

The plot twist in Finnikin really got me. It was one of those where I told my husband about how amazed I was even though he had no idea what I was talking about. With Froi, though, I wasn’t as blown away. Not sure why. It wasn’t like I saw it coming, but when it did, I wasn’t surprised. But that twist is one that caused me to really think about the story. Vague, I know, but I don’t want to spoil anything.

There isn’t much else to say about Froi that hasn’t been said about Finnikin. The world building continues to amaze me, and the characters are rich in ways few writers can achieve. It hasn’t been leveled through Scholastic, so the reading level and lexile are taken from what was provided for Finnikin. My only complaint is that the plot is a little stagnant at times, making it perhaps a bit longer than necessary. And boy, it is long. But worth it.

Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan

Boy Meets BoyReading level: 6.3
Lexile: 730
Genre: Romance, LGBT
ELL-Friendly: Mostly
Library recommendation: High school

Goodreads summary:

This is the story of Paul, a sophomore at a high school like no other: The cheerleaders ride Harleys, the homecoming queen used to be a guy named Daryl (she now prefers Infinite Darlene and is also the star quarterback), and the gay-straight alliance was formed to help the straight kids learn how to dance.

When Paul meets Noah, he thinks he’s found the one his heart is made for. Until he blows it. The school bookie says the odds are 12-to-1 against him getting Noah back, but Paul’s not giving up without playing his love really loud. His best friend Joni might be drifting away, his other best friend Tony might be dealing with ultra-religious parents, and his ex-boyfriend Kyle might not be going away anytime soon, but sometimes everything needs to fall apart before it can really fit together right.

David Levithan is a bit of a literary hero to me because he writes such fabulous gay characters. But that’s also because my experience with LGBT literature is fairly minimal. In any case, I read Boy Meets Boy because I love the author, even though Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist was a bit of a bust for me. Boy Meets Boy is, in a lot of ways, a typical romance story. That part I didn’t care for very much because I’m not one for the romance genre as a whole. But what Boy Meets Boy does differently and spectacularly is create “a high school like no other.”

This story makes me wonder what our schools could be like if kids weren’t afraid to come out as gay to their friends, community, and family. With the freedom to do this, Levithan opens all sorts of doors, like straight boys having crushes on manly-quarterbacks-turned-girls and characters not tip-toeing around the “is he gay?” question and moving straight into business.

To throw a wrench into this little utopia, Paul’s friend Tony’s parents try to make him not gay anymore, which is something that happens all the time over here in the real world. Tony teaches us that even when parents try to change something about their child, it is out of love, even if it hurts. At least in this circumstance.

I would recommend this book to students who enjoy romance, whether or not they’re gay. It’s just a fun story about love and more importantly about friendship. What I took away from the story wasn’t the love between Paul and Noah but the friendship between Paul and all his friends and family. I might also recommend it to students who read books not just for the plot but for the writing. (Do those students even exist?) Levithan’s prose flows like poetry and is half the fun of reading his stories.

It’s more of a high school book because the characters are in high school, but it’s fine for upper middle school. I also don’t recall anything inappropriate unless parents think that any sort of gay content is inappropriate.

Finally, it is a coming-of-age story as Paul tries to figure out himself and his loves and his friends. These subjects relate to all adolescents, because LGBT books are for everyone.

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