Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book Club Blogging – a new venture!

I have recently been asked to join a book club with a group of teachers both from my current school and from my larger network of schools.  The network literacy coach wanted to give interested teachers the opportunity to read and discuss Kylene Beer’s newest book Note and Notice in a format that allowed for discussion without feeling pressured to meet in person and discuss.  This format has come in the form of the 411bookclub Blog!

While it may be old hat to many out there to use a blog as a forum for this king of reflection of reading it is new to many who are participating, even myself.  As this is a first for many involved, the blog has been slow to get started, so I offered to cross post with my blog and hope to increase traffic as well as thoughts.  I do believe, especially with something like this, the more opinions, the deeper, richer, and more productive the conversation!

If you have not had a chance to get your hands on a copy of Note and Notice, I suggest you do.  While I am still not that deep into the book, I already begun to change my thinking about the way that we read with our students.  You can be sure that I will be blogging as I go because so much of what she says is true.

My most recent post – Text Dependent Questions: Harmful or Hurtful?  has really challenged me to think about the types of questions we ask when students read. Haven’t heard of text-dependent questions – then read on! Oh, and please feel free to comment, post, add, share, or smile with us.  It would be great if our teachable moments become yours as well.


Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay vs. Crossed, Matched, and Reached….

Before I even being this post, I want to be very very very clear – there are some serious SPOILERS in what I am writing so if you a diehard believer in not knowing what the end of a book is about – let alone any details from part of a great piece of fiction…then I would urge you not to read.

That said – I also want to be very clear that I am going to through my two cents in about two trilogies that are really big now in the Young Adult genre but Ally Condie has not released Reached yet and it is not due out until November.

And finally, I have made the decision to on occasion “review” some great books that I have come across over the years that work really well with even the most difficult of students in a hope that I can share some ideas with others out there.  So there is not going to be a lot of plot recall and character traits but rather thoughts and ideas that I have about the use of the books in the classroom.  The teachable moments of the books!

Hunger Games

The Hunger Games Trilogy

So there is clearly a bit of a craze sweeping my school as the count down to the movie release draws near.   The movie adaptation of Suzanne Collin’s Hunger Games is rumored to be as good as everyone had hoped and I am not going to lie – when I first heard about this book I was completely and totally turned off by the idea.  I hands down refused to read it and I like utopia/dystopian literature.  A lot.  I even have the 8th graders in my school study utopian/dystopian literature each year. But the concept of the book and the people around me oohing and ahhing over it, I just completely shut down to it and read anything else but the Hunger Games.  That is until I saw the movie trailer.  96 hours later, I am reading the last line of Mockingjay – “But there are much worse games to play,” having visions of the arena in my dreams and totally enthralled with the ways in which Collins managed to create such depth, irony, and imagery in her characters and plot lines.  Suzanne Collin’s not only am I jealous, you are genius!

Matched Trilogy

Matched Trilogy (So far...)

Ironically, I read the first two books in the Matched Trilogy by Ally Condie before I dove head first into the Hunger Games. It was hyped up in my school as much as the Hunger Games.  In fact, for our Utopian Literature study several of the classes used it as a mentor text because of the beautiful way in which Condie describes a utopian society.   What is killing me now is the third book is months away.  Crossed left me with so many questions.  I am impatiently waiting to find out what happens to Cassia and if she ends up with Ky or Xander or dare I say it – no one!

In the classroom

Having read these books, it is remarkable how similar and different they are.  Students using these books as mentor texts can find themselves studying a myriad of skills and concepts all of which are at the foundation of any literacy class.

  • Both Collins and Condie use a female as their main character and stick her at the heart of a love triangle.  Very Twlightesque, but makes for a more modern read and far from the more standard guys likes two girls which one does he choose.
  • Both stories take place in the future.  While it is unclear how far into the future, but most definitely the future.  Yet both authors manage to keep many of our current societies elements, routines, and rituals which make the plot more obtainable to young readers.
  • Both girls are confused.  Torn between what they believe to be right and what they want to be right or fair or just.  The emotional journey of Katniss and Cassia is at times hard to pull yourself away from.
  • Both societies control and the idea that that control can take different forms compared to our current societies control makes for very interesting analysis
  • Morality is also heavily tested in both these books.  While clearly there is little way for Katniss to avoid killing people in the arena Cassia herself has to deal with death in terms of the fact of her sorting people into a job that means certain death.
  • The male characters (Peeta/Gale and Ky/Xander) add interesting complications to the story rather then being the complications.  On the surface they seem to be the main conflict but they are a sub conflict to Katniss and Cassia’s defiance against something far stronger.
  • The societies in both trilogies have a lot of underlying similarities that are interesting to compare to each other and then to the idea of utopia and dystopia

There are so many more themes that I could pull out of the books, but the reality is, I believe that as educators we have to find what strikes us the most in a book and then teach those elements, my list only touches on a couple of themes.  Either way, I urge anyone and everyone to read both these trilogies if you haven’t.  These books are more than just books where you ask your students to recall events, they challenge themes, ideas, and prove symbolism, imagery and irony in ways that few books do. There is so much here to challenge students higher cognitive thinking skills. These books are so rich that rote recall of the story line does not do they justice.   This Hunger Games Assessment  is just one example of how I am doing it with my school. It pushes the kids to think, make choices, all while citing evidence and digging deeper into the text

I know with the Hunger Games release days away everyone who hasn’t read the books is scrambling to get through them, but the Matched trilogy has already been optioned by Disney and the movies will be here before we know it.  So if you havent done so – bring these great books to your students.  I mean they must be good if they have been banned….