Category Archives: Middle School

Book Blog: The Fairy-Tale Detectives

Image Credit: MuggleNet

Image Credit: MuggleNet

If you had to choose, which fairy tale would you name as your absolute favorite fairy tale?  Would it be Goldilocks and the Three Bears?  How about Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs?  Maybe it’s not exactly a fairy tale but a story that has magic in it like the Wizard of Oz?  Perhaps, it is a nursery rhyme like Three Blind Mice or a legend like King Arthur and the Knights at the Round Table.

These characters plus so many more form the massive cast of characters in Michael Buckley’s first installment in the Sisters Grimm series entitled, The Fairy-Tale Detectives.  Ferryport Landing is a small town along the Hudson River in New York and Sabrina and Daphne Grimm are stuck here!  Their grandmother finally sends for them a year and a half after their parents disappear, after time in an orphanage, and after multiple, horrible foster homes.

But, from the moment they meet their grandmother, Relda Grimm, something is off.  Is it her random ramblings?  Is it scrawny Mr. Canis who is always with them but not related to them?  Is it the multiple locks, the weird decorations, or the forbidden room in their grandmother’s house?  Is it the townspeople who just don’t seem quite right?  So many unanswered questions but the most important one is: Is this woman really who she claims to be?  Their grandmother is dead!  At least that’s what their parents told them from the time they were little!

Sabrina and Daphne are about to find out the hard way who their grandmother is, who they are, and what on earth is going on in Fairyport Ferryport Landing!  Are you ready for the adventure, the suspense, and a few of those questions to be answered?!


Title: The Fairy-Tale Detectives
Author: Michael Buckley
Illustrator: Peter Ferguson
Copyright Date: 2007
ISBN: 978-0-8109-9322-8
Dewey Decimal Number: 813
Reading Range: Grade 4-6
Curricular Connections: This would be a great read-aloud for our Grade 3 teacher after their Language Arts/Library unit on Fairy Tales.  I anticipate that many middle school students who call fantasy their favorite genre would like this updated and modern look at fairy tales.  I think they would also appreciate that this is a 9-book series so it’ll keep them reading and exploring for quite a while.  The Reader’s Guide at the end of the book has some great ideas for teachers (or even students) to extend learning beyond this book’s extension of fairy tales.

Works Cited

Fischer, Robbie. “The Fairy-Tale Detectives.” MuggleNet. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Oct. 2013.


Book Blog: Counting by 7s

Where do you get recommendations for books to read?  Maybe your recommendations come from me.  Maybe your recommendations come from your teacher.  Maybe your recommendations come from friends.  I get a lot of my recommendations from my friends and acquaintances online.  They start talking about a book that they really liked.  Some of them change their profile pictures to the book cover.  And they start raving to anyone who will listen about how good the book was.  A year and a half ago, that book was Wonder by R.J. Palacio.  And now, there’s Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan.  And it definitely didn’t disappoint.

Image Credit: Holly Goldberg Sloan

Image Credit: Holly Goldberg Sloan at Jenna Does Books

Willow Chance is in middle school and definitely does not fit in!  Her clothes are wrong.  Her way of thinking is different.  And, in “17 minutes and 47 seconds,” she scored an absolutely perfect score on a standardized test given to all students (Counting by 7s 35).  Willow Chance is obsessed with the number 7 and two other things: medical conditions and plants (12).  Her life is dominated by those three things until the day that it isn’t, the day that it can’t be, the day that everything around her crashes.  Then, all she has to hold on to is an unlikely friendship with the Nguyen kids and her school counselor, Dell Duke.

Like the extremely popular book Wonder, Counting by 7s doesn’t just tell Willow’s story.  It also jumps from narrator to narrator, broadens the borders of the story by including important insight into other characters, but keeps coming back to Willow’s powerful story of coping with immense sadness and loss.



Title: Counting by 7s
Author: Holly Goldberg Sloan
Illustrator: n/a
Copyright: 2013
ISBN: 978-0803738553
Dewey: 813
Reading Range: Grade 5-8. Ages 10 and up.
Curriculum Connection: This book could be used by an upper elementary or early middle school teacher as a classroom read-aloud with potential for conversations about differences, unlikely friendships, and coping with trauma.  I see the potential for conversations in regards to Child Safety training that we do because of a character who exhibits indicators of potential child abuse.  I can also see it being a popular individual read for those who liked Wonder, Because of Mr. Terupt, or Mockingbird.

Works Cited

Goldberg Sloan, Holly. “Blog Tour: Counting by 7s with Holly Goldberg Sloan.” Jenna Does Books. N.p., 9 Sept. 2013. Web. 15 Oct. 2013.

Goldberg Sloan, Holly. Counting by 7s. New York: Dial for Young Readers, 2013. Ebook.

Dystopian Recommendations

Need a book but you’re in a post-Hunger Games funk?  Try one of these.

“Gotta Keep Reading”

I’ve shown this video a number of times to students.  Upbeat and a fantastic endorsement of reading.

And if you haven’t seen the original video that they’re spoofing (The Black Eyed Peas on Oprah), then check that out here.

UPDATE: They’re at it again!  Check out a recent video of Ocoee Middle School on WESH in Orlando, Florida:

Conversations with librarians

Part of my job for my 6-month home assignment is to meet with librarians, tour their libraries, and discuss with them their struggles, joys, frustration, advice they may have, things that wish that they could do differently, the role that digital media is playing in their libraries, among other things.

I have felt so incredibly welcomed by the librarians that I have met while I’ve been out here in Washington.  I’ve met with Christian school, public school, and public libraries.  They are elementary librarians, middle school librarians, teen librarians, combination librarians (Grades 7-12).  They are in schools that have significant budgets and no budgets at all.  And they have all been so gracious in answering my questions.

As I leave Washington, I wanted to reflect on some of what I have learned and discussed with these amazing women (have yet to meet with a male librarian…which I find a bit discouraging…boys need to see men reading and promoting books).

1.  They are all passionate about what they do.  It is thrilling to watch how their eyes light up when they talk about the love that they have for their jobs.

2. Each of the school librarians deals with the struggle of providing quality pieces of literature to their student population.  They are all asking the questions – what is appropriate?  What’s the line when it comes to content, language, situational appropriateness?

3. Teaching students how to use the library well is something that they are all wrestling with.  One school does an orientation with all of their incoming Grade 7 students (youngest grade in that school) and then they do another orientation with their incoming Grade 9 students.

4. All of the libraries are hooked into the public library system.  Some still have their own online databases that they purchase but many are hooked into the ones that the public library system offers.

5. The physical space of every library that I’ve been in has wide-open space.  While the shelving units on the wall are floor-to-(almost) ceiling, none of the center shelving is above chest level.  There’s almost nothing blocking the librarian’s ability to see every corner of the room.

6. All agreed that the phrase “unquiet library” was probably the most accurate description of what they are and how things work in the middle school and high school setting.  Thank you, Buffy Hamilton, for coining the phrase.

7. I saw a variety of circulation systems.  Most are using a Follett product.  Some will be moving on to Follett Destiny when Follett no longer supports their older products.  One school was in the process of moving from Concourse to Koha.  I liked the open-source idea of Koha.  It appeared to be very user-friendly and I loved it’s visual appeal to the “digital natives” who use it – pictures of the books, ability to search at home.

8. All have a policy and process in place when the situation arises that a parent or staff member or student takes issue with a book in the collection.  All of the librarians were pretty firm on making sure that you have this policy in place before you ever open the doors of your library.  Some have to have the educational board read the book in question; others have committees that read the book and make a recommendation to keep or discard.

9. All see digital media as changing the game.  Not sure what that’s going to look like in the future but it’s going to be a game-changer.

10. They passed on a wealth of resources: print-outs of books that they’ve added to their collection in the last year, Booklist, LM-Net listserv, the Indie Next List, reading lists by grade level.

I really appreciate the time that each of these librarians has spent with me.  Most have given me an hour or more of their time.  And I’m fully aware that as a general rule, they are THE librarian with a limited amount of time to spend with a school-librarian-in-training.  So my sincere thanks, Jean, Pat, Aubrie, Liz, Sue, and Anita!


Our school went to Google Apps for Education approximately two years ago.  It wasn’t an easy transition by any means but I think it has offered a plethora of exciting tools to use in our classrooms.  I’ll confess that I’m a little bit of a Google Apps addict.  I use Google products for much of what I do in the classroom.  I use Gmail for my personal e-mail and have a Google Apps e-mail for school.  I requested Google Apps e-mail addresses for all of my Grade 7’s last year.  They did much of their work, especially their writing in Google Docs.  In my Book+Tech Club last year, students used Google sites to create websites that compiled some of their learning about Online Safety and Net-iquette.

However, the one thing that made my life as a Grade 7 English teacher easier was a website that I developed and continually added to last year:  I used this website as my Grade 7 “container.”  I did a weekly digest of what students and parents could expect in the coming week on the main page.  Then there were links in the navigation menu that led them to a variety of pages such as: a daily homework page, a list of what I was reading, the next big date to look forward to, reading requirements, an online reading log, and common handouts that students would often look for.  This website was invaluable in keeping both students and parents informed.

Because I am not teaching Grade 7 this year, the page has not been updated since June but I believe it’s a pretty accurate reflection of how a Google App supplemented my teaching.

Reflecting on 2009, Anticipating 2010

I spent a bit of time tonight looking over my 2009 goals – both personal and professional.  It’s been a pretty amazing year.  The last 4 months have taught me so much and are the majority of the reason that 2009 has been so good.

My professional goals for 2009:

  • Get 6-8 hours of sleep a night.
  • Focus in my office.
  • Read books that will enhance my teaching.
  • Do my Rubicon entries.

I would say that I made some significant progress in 3 out of those 4 goals.  There were a handful of nights that I didn’t get enough sleep (and boy, did I feel it the following day!).   My principals consented to me being based in one room this year, meaning that I had my own room and thus less distracted by a variety of people coming in to chat, to grab coffee, to find a book.

The Rubicon thing – not so much.  It’s our curriculum-mapping site.  I’m not a huge fan of it.  The theory is great!  I wholeheartedly agree that there needs to be consistency in what is taught from year to year even if the same teacher is not there.  However, the site itself is laborsome to use and a quick click to the next page without saving can cause heaps of frustration.

But on to the best part of this year – reading books that will enhance my teaching.  What a year it has been.  I decided to keep a record of everything that I read this year.  It’s a simple list on my netvibes page.  I am proud to say that as of 12:01 pm this afternoon (December 31, 2009), I met my 2009 goal of reading 45 books.  Now, to be perfectly honest, I only set this goal for myself on November 1 when I was already at 33 books for the year.  But with 33 books in 10 months and another 12 to read by the end of the year, I was really going to be pushing myself.

The books I’ve read this year have varied greatly. Breaking it down a bit:

28 – Young Adult novels to help recommend and steer my Grade 7 students to some good reads.

5 – Re-reads.  It’s amazing how books change in the years between reading them.  I found that of my adult re-reads, I didn’t like the books nearly as much as I had the first time around.

4 – Professional development books.  None of them were dry, straight information!  I will be recommending all of them to others.

1 – From a genre that I gave up reading about 10 years ago – Christian Fiction.  I found the book to be fairly predictable.  It’s easy to see how I raced through those books before.

If I had to choose my best book of 2009, I would probably choose The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller.  This book has changed my life and my teaching.  It’s pushed me to read and it’s pushed me to change how my Grade 7 class approaches reading.  And I think it’s pushing me to change how I approach reading in my Grade 12 classes too.

The Hunger Games and Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins would definitely be my 2nd and 3rd place contenders.

I am so excited about 2010!  I cannot wait to see what’s in store for me, my students, and my learning community.

Happy New Year!

Oh, the books…

Oh, the books!  Oh, the conversations!  Oh, the life lessons!

Books are changing me.  Books are changing Grade 7.  After reading The Book Whisperer as a personal professional development text, things have changed in my Grade 7 classes.  We are devouring books!

During the first quarter, I required my Grade 7 students to read 800+ pages for an outside reading requirement.  We went to the library at least two times.  I book-talked a couple of books from the front of the classroom.  And 5 of my 44 students didn’t meet the 800 pages.  Another 10 had less than 900 pages.  I just wasn’t happy with those numbers.  I thought it could be better but I didn’t know what to do to see growth…to see a whole mindset change.

I started the second quarter making a few changes but mostly praying for a miracle.  We must be doing something right.  Even my reading is going through a mindset change.  Three weeks into the quarter, I challenged students to make their own goal for the quarter.  They should have an idea what they are capable of and what would be an achievable challenge.  For some, it has been a page number goal – and you should see their page number goals!  I had a student send me an e-mail last week to tell me that she was going to have to change her goal – she already met her 1500-page goal and was going to go up to 2500 pages.  Other students have decided to read genres that they are not as familiar with.  One student decided that her Quarter 2 goal was to not read any books that she had already read before.  I love their goals!

They inspired me to make my own goal.  At the same point of the quarter, having read 33 books during 2009, I made it a goal to read 12 more books – two of my “just right” books, one from an unfamiliar genre, one professional development book, and 8 other books.  I have 6 more to go before December 31.

We are having such a blast!  We’ve started book crazes among our class and they are spreading to other classes.  Hello, Alex Rider!  Oh, Margaret Peterson Haddix, we love your books!

Oh, the fun!  Oh, the recommendations!  Oh, the books…