My 10 Favorite YA Novels

The other day I shared a post about what makes YA so special (click here to read it), and it made me start thinking about all of the YA books that I love. So, I decided to share my personal list of favorite YA novels, in no particular order.

Divergent by Veronica Roth. I literally can’t even type that title without smiling. I have loved this novel since it first came out, and have used it as a read aloud with my students every year. It’s honestly a book that has turned many of my non-readers into readers. I love it because the plot is fast paced with lots of twists, the characters are incredibly relatable, and there is just a hint of mystery that keeps readers on their toes. It’s not the typical mushy gushy teen love story, but shows the importance of teamwork in a relationship.

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling. These books just make my heart so happy. I have read this series more times than I can count, and I am now addicted to the audio books. This to me will always be a staple in YA literature culture because it sparked a movement in our society that showed the power of a book. I love it because it’s beyond imaginative and creative in terms of plot, the characterization is incredible as we see them grow up, and the timeless theme of good vs. evil is captivating.

The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney. When I was in middle school I saw the TV movie of this novel and instantly fell in love with the story. For the next 15 years ish I read the series and followed Janie’s story. When the final story was released a few years ago, I knew I wanted to somehow introduce my students to this incredible mystery. I dedicated an entire school year read aloud to my honors sixth grade students every day for 10 minutes. We literally cried on the last day we finished the series because we were all so emotionally invested in the characters. I absolutely LOVE how intricate and complex the plot is, especially as readers discover more about certain characters. This is a fabulous option for students who love realistic mysteries.

The City of Bones by Cassandra Clare. I feel like I’m home whenever I re-read this series. The characters are some of my best friends, especially because they can always make me laugh with their wit and sarcasm. As a reader, I love that I can be a total English nerd and analyze this text for religious symbolism and a whole slew of inferences. This is definitely a series I would read with a pen and highlighter in hand. I tried to watch Shadowhunters when it was a TV series, and I couldn’t make it through the first episode because I didn’t want to destroy my personal version in my head. The use of fantasy in this series sucks readers into a world they will never want to leave. I’m also a fan of the maturity of this series, which gives it a really great YA feel.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle. I truly don’t have enough words to describe my love for this novel. I remember reading it in 6th grade, and I still have my original copy. While the plot and characters are fabulous, I LOVE the underlying messages in this text. The battle of good vs. evil, light vs. dark, government control, and so, so much more. I love the feeling of empowerment this book gives readers to fight for what’s right. The symbolism is so decadent and rich, which makes it an amazing novel to use with middle school readers. Truthfully, I get excited whenever I do my Wrinkle unit.

Pop Princess by Rachel Cohn. I remember seeing this book at my local library as a teen and devouring it. Teens are always fascinated about being a celebrity and living that kind of lifestyle. Since I grew up in the 2000s, hello bubble gum pop era, this book got my attention. I love how the plot took readers on a realistic journey as Wonder went from working at Dairy Queen to being a pop sensation. It felt very 2000s, and was a fun, quick read.

Dreamland by Sarah Dessen. I mentioned this text in my previous post, What’s So Special About YA?, so it obviously had to make my list. One of my favorite aspects about YA novels is there really are no boundaries when it comes to plot. This one touches on a very sensitive subject of abuse, but I think that’s why I like it so much. While it doesn’t sugar coat anything, the writing isn’t too in your face and instead shows readers Caitlin’s experience. I love the use of POV in this one, because we gain an insight into what victims of abuse go through.

The Selection by Kiera Cass. Full disclosure, I’m addicted to reality TV, specifically the Real Housewives franchise. When I first started reading this series I could taste the reality TV feel right away. It’s very Bachelor in a sense. However, the reality feel doesn’t stay for very long before it morphs into a love story with some major problems. I loved the fun tone of this series and of course the idea of a prince and princess. I honestly made my classes have a reading day the day the final book came out just so I could read it (which they totally didn’t mind).

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. I know, I know. Similar to Harry Potter, Twilight sparked something in our society which turned it into an incredible phenomenon. Werewolves, vampires and a love story don’t sound that exciting until you read the series. During the peak of its popularity, it wasn’t uncommon for readers to pick a team, which readers still take extremely seriously. I will forever be Team Jacob, and I apologize if I offend anyone. (Never go back to a man that left you). It’s an incredibly easy read that speaks to the heart of teenage girls because they all want that deep love.

Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick. This is probably the most underrated YA book I’ve ever come across. For the life of me I don’t understand how it was never more popular. This was my very first unit plan during my practicum experience and it will always hold a special place in my heart. I love the realness of this novel. Steven’s little brother is diagnosed with cancer. We follow Steven as he deals with an incredibly challenging home life and dealing with middle school all at the same time. The dialogue and characterization are spot on for an 8th grade boy, which makes the story that much better.

 

Project Dandelion: Reentry Book Review

It’s been a little while since I read a YA dystopian novel, so I decided to get back to my true love. In July I reviewed Project Dandelion, and I was so excited when the author sent me a copy of the sequel.

Project Dandelion: Reentry, by Heather Carson, is a fabulous YA dystopian novel that reminds readers how important it is to fight for our rights.

The story picks up right where the first book left off. The group is heading towards Katrina’s dad’s cabin to seek safety and hopefully answers. The nuclear explosions have cleared and the world is covered in ash. Early on, the group encounters survivors who realize the teens are part of Project Dandelion and try to capture them. However, the survivors don’t know they are dealing with incredibly resourceful teens who manage to escape.

During their trek to the cabin, the group uses their survival skills to hunt, fish, build shelter, etc. They work together to stay alive and they don’t leave anyone behind. I love that even those this takes place in modern day, the kids aren’t helpless without the use of a cellphone. There is no Alexa for them to ask for help, and yet these teenagers are able to make it through.

There is a smidge of teenage love, but it reminds me of the relationship between Tris and Four in Divergent. Katrina and James are like a team, supporting one another and keeping on eye out for the other. They do kiss, but other than that there is no mushy gushy stuff going on. Personally, I admire teenage relationships like this because it teaches readers about the important aspects of what to look for in a partner.

Without giving too much of the plot away, we learn more about Project Dandelion as the story progresses. The new government wants to keep all of the chosen teenagers safe so they can help create a new society. While this sounds good in theory, it quickly becomes obvious that the teens will not have many choices in the new world. They will be forced to have children in a few years and do what the new government tells them.

Katrina, Dreya, Mia, James and Jayden continue to go against the crowd, as they did in the first novel, to fight for their rights. They want the right to make decisions about their own lives, such as when to have children and where to live. By working together, they demonstrate the power of teamwork and perseverance. They don’t let petty teenage drama cloud their judgements, and show how important maturity is.

As we know, there is no utopia without a dystopia, and this novel is a fantastic demonstration of this idea. It is a quick read with a few curse words, so I would recommend the text for eighth grade and up.

To purchase the book click here.

My 5 Favorite Books of 2019

2019 was a really big year for this blog. I took a HUGE nose dove into book reviews, and I loved every second of it. I have worked with some absolutely incredible writers and read some amazing texts. As 2019 draws to a close, I thought I would recap my favorite five books of the year before we ring in 2020 (in no particular order).

Bound in Silver

Bound in Silver by Marie Grace. This book is the ultimate YA fangirl book. I love the creativity and all of the amazing reminders of other great YA books (Harry Potter, Divergent, The Hunger Games, etc.). The plot moves at a great pace and really sets up ideas for the next books. And, as a plus, the author is a true book lover with an amazing Instagram account.

Arial the Youtuber

Arial the Youtuber by Mary Nhin. It’s no secret that I have fondness for this incredible unicorn, but this is my favorite Arial book. Being a virtual teacher, I’m drawn to ideas that involve technology, and this one shows how much work is involved in making it in the Youtube world. Nhin allows has life lessons mixed into inventive plots making her books engaging for young readers.

Timothy's

Timothy’s Lesson in Good Values by Christopher Gordon.  I always find it hard to find good books for boys that teach life lessons that don’t feel super Disneyish. This text definitely engages all readers, especially boys, with the use of a superhero. The stories are quick and effective, while focusing on one core value at a time. The questions at the end of each story also allow readers to interact with the text and make it personal.

Under the Scars

Under the Scars by Isabella Morgan.  This book is a little outside my usual review genres, as it’s an adult romance novel. It’s nothing like 50 Shades. It’s an incredible love story that will have you falling in love with Nick from the moment you meet him. This book will make you believe in the power and magic of love, and I guarantee each reader will want their own Nick or Violet.

Swimming Sideways

Swimming Sideways by C.L. Walters. This realistic fiction YA book is truly one of a kind. It’s the first in a trilogy that follows three extremely relatable characters as they struggle through life as teenagers in today’s world. The characterization is so intense and realistic that I can picture Abby, Seth, and Gabe as my own students. The realness of this book will leave an impression on any reader, especially those in high school.

My Why: Making My Classroom Virtual

Why did you want to be a teacher?

I’ve been asked this question countless times over the last ten years, by parents, administrators, college professors, etc. In the early days I would dive into a heartfelt story about playing school with my dolls growing up,  saying that I was meant to be a teacher. When I was working in public school I would express my desire to make a difference in the lives of my students.

Today, my why looks nothing like those responses.

In college, I was fortunate to be in a program that valued creativity and ambition. We were taught to create unit plans that sparked student engagement, incorporated real world skills, and fulfilled all of the state requirements. I felt incredibly confident in my ability to teach and truly impact my students in a positive way. I was ready to experiment with new ideas and collaborate with other teachers to give my students a memorable experience.

Since day one my goal has always been putting my students first. I promised myself I would always fight for my kids, to do whatever I could to provide them with the best education that I could give them. If that meant working on weekends, doing additional research, enrolling in courses, I would do it.

What they don’t tell you in college is that not all districts, supervisors or principals will have the same mindset. What they don’t tell you is how political a school building can be. What they don’t tell you is that sometimes the student will not come first.

My first year I taught eighth grade English. My course was focused on literature (woot woot!) and I worked in an affluent district with involved parents. They expected their children to go to college. Over the course of the year it became clear that my students wanted help with reading comprehension. They literally asked for help with it. The curriculum said I had to do a literature circle (students could choose 1 of 4 books to read), one of those being To Kill a Mockingbird. I knew the high school would have high expectations for my students, so I wanted to do To Kill a Mockingbird as a whole class novel to help prepare my students and work on reading comprehension.

I collaborated with my amazing in class support teacher, who agreed with me that this was the best decision for our students. I reached out to my supervisor, in his first year on the job, and waited for a response. He took days to get back to me. It was Friday afternoon, we started the unit on Monday. At 1 pm he responded that no I couldn’t focus on reading comprehension with TKAM. We had to leave the curriculum as is.

I was beyond frustrated.

That summer I was moved to sixth grade reading (yay!), and was writing curriculum with our new Pearson textbook. The Common Core had just come out and we had to revamp everything. I was so excited, until I was told we needed to use the textbook for EVERYTHING that wasn’t using one of our novels. The reason? New teachers need to follow a textbook.

The following year, I was moved to teach literacy support for sixth and seventh grade. I was working towards my reading specialist certification, so this was perfect for me. I had done a lot of research on read alouds and started to dedicate the first 10 minutes of my class to reading Divergent. I wanted a book that would hook my struggling readers and get them excited to read. These students were not scoring proficient on the state standardized test, so they needed all the additional support I could provide. Divergent was a title in the seventh grade curriculum as a literature circle choice. However, being that it was a popular book, many students had been reading it on their own. I included the text in my lesson plans for my supervisor to see when he checked it. He never said anything.

When he came to observe me first marking period he was not a fan of my read aloud. It took up 10 minutes of precious instruction time. The book was in the seventh grade curriculum, so I was told to stop reading the trilogy, even though Insurgent (the second book) was not in the curriculum.

At the end of the year, my tenure year, I was told I wasn’t a good fit and would not be returning.

I was hired to work in a charter school for the following September teaching sixth grade. I had an incredibly supportive administration team who wanted me to experiment. What I wasn’t prepared for was having students on a third grade reading level, with a severe lack of resources. I created a classroom library and a community of readers, but I couldn’t provide the individual time with students that they needed.

I resigned from my position to be with Molly. However, I needed to work because I’m just that type of person. I was an experienced teacher with a reading specialist endorsement, and I couldn’t get a job. I applied to hundreds of positions, virtual and brick and mortar. I didn’t even get an interview.

Finally, I was hired by EdOptions Academy, a branch of Edmentum, an edtech company. Making the leap from brick and mortar to virtual has changed my life. I’ve worked with hundreds of students from different backgrounds and life situations. I had the flexibility to collaborate with other teachers and provide my students with the support they needed. However, working full time was taking a toll on me. I struggled with balancing my work-home life, even working from home. I decided to go back to being part time.

Why?

Because I have a vision. I believe that literacy affects all areas of a person’s life. I believe those skills are critical for a person to be successful. I believe struggling readers need customized support.

From my own personal experiences, I can see how struggling readers fall through the cracks. There isn’t enough time, money, resources, etc. in many of our schools. There are teachers who are frustrated and burned out. The amount of red tape is negatively impacting our readers.

That is why I started Little Reading Coach. I’m getting rid of the red tape and set curriculums. I’m giving each student the individual focus they deserve.

Students have a million activities going on. I want to provide convenience by conducting all sessions virtually through Zoom. Tutoring can take place in the backseat of a car, at home or during study hall. There are no limits as long as we have wifi.

My why is to help struggling readers gain the skills they need to be successful. Whether that is to go to college, become a mechanic, or train to be a chef.

I struggled for years trying to understand why I wasn’t a “good fit” when I realized they weren’t the good fit. They lost the individual attention I believe every student deserves. They lost a teacher who made personal connections with families, who cried with moms during parent teacher conferences. A teacher who believes that it only takes one book to make a student a reader.

For more information click here.

Bound in Silver Book Review

I’m currently on a YA kick and I’m enjoying every second of it. I keep finding myself taking screenshots of books that I see on Instagram, which is how I found out about this lovely text.

Bound in Silver, by Marie Grace, is the total YA fantasy fangirl novel.

We follow Arabella Grace as she navigates the typical teenage issues (school, boys, the death of her grandparents) but her world gets turned upside down when she discovers she is a Clock Keeper. As readers, we experience her training, changes in her relationships with those around her, and the strides Arabella makes with her personal growth.

As a die hard YA fangirl myself, I LOVED all of the amazing references to Harry Potter, Divergent, Hunger Games, City of Glass, etc. I truly felt that the character of Arabella embodies girls like me (minus the super hero thing), which made me want to be her best friend. The first person narration made so many text to text connections (there were one or two I actually did not know) which made me appreciate the plot more because I was able to understand the significance of the events.

And just like all fabulous YA novels, there was a love story in the mix of fighting, Shadows, swords, and nightmares. However, unlike Twilight, this text downplays the love to explain more of the plot to set up future books. There is no mushy gushy nonsense happening. Each Clock Keeper has an Anam Cara, a true soulmate. As a romantic, I fell in love with this concept. It did remind me of parabatai from City of Bones, but on a much more intimate scale. The vow that is spoken to connect Anam Caras together is beyond beautiful and it should totally be part of future wedding vows for book lovers.

As a teacher, I really appreciated how the author was able to capture teenage thoughts without including curse words and nudity. It’s a little more conservative than Divergent and City of Bones, but the feelings and emotions are still powerful between the characters.

One of the overall themes of the novel is good vs. evil, and we see that with the constant mention of light and dark imagery. The Shadows, white ink tattoos, black ink tattoos, all express the importance of good vs. evil in the plot. Personally, I enjoyed how obvious the symbolism was because it allowed me as a reader to enjoy the story more. For struggling readers, especially high school students, this is a great way for them to make inferences and draw conclusions without feeling frustrated and overwhelmed.

Without giving away any spoilers, I will say the plot kept me engaged, and it really ramped up the last two chapters. All of a sudden the book was over and I was left wanting more. The end doesn’t stop abruptly, but it definitely makes you want to start the second book right away (which I am trying very to wait patiently for).

Overall, I would recommend this book for any YA fantasy fans in grades 6-12.

Blood Book Review

My favorite genre is 10000% YA. I’m fortunate where I get to share my love of these amazing texts with my students. During our class discussions we often compare works to Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, The Hunger Games, and Divergent. I’m always on a quest for the next series to completely suck me into a different world, and I just found one!

Blood by Kirsten Krueger, is a fantasy young adult novel about people with special powers (Affinities). Readers follow a group of new students who are learning about their unique abilities and how it impacts the world around them.

I had the privilege of meeting this author at my writing workshop meeting a few weeks ago. We attended the same high school and grew up in the same town (such a small world). In speaking with her, we learned that her writing is based on Harry Potter fan fiction. After reading this novel, I can totally see it!!

My number one favorite aspect about this piece are the characters. Hands down they are the most entertaining and engaging characters I have come across since City of Bones. The dialogue is filled with sarcasm, sass, and brutal honesty that captures the true attitude of a high school student. I actually caught myself loling for a solid 30 seconds during the scene with the students in the van when Adara freaks out over Kiki and Seth’s mushy gushiness.

Adara is an incredibly hard young lady (although she’d probably yell at me for calling her a lady) that many students can relate to. She has a very heavy guard up, which makes sense based on her history, and her mouth is razor sharp. While the point of view is third person, it doesn’t always stay on the main character, which I liked. The shifts in POV don’t distract the reader from the action, but rather is used to explore more personal feelings and experiences of other characters at just the right points in the plot.

As in Divergent,  Blood also alludes to some political commentary. The Affinities pose a threat to the US government and the presidential candidates are in favor of imprisoning these individuals. Usually writers focus on corrupt governments in YA novels like this, but Blood didn’t go in that direction. Instead, it looks like it will be a key piece of the plot in book #2 like a domino effect.

Personally, the plot felt a little drawn out to me during my reading. However, as the story went on, I realized it was so detailed to provide readers with a clear image of the dynamics between the characters and background information for the next book. The last two chapters did make everything come together, but also left me with some questions.

I would recommend this book for high school readers because of content and language used. Just as a heads up, it has 502 pages. It reminds me of a grown up version of Harry Potter, mixed with a little bit of City of Bones and Divergent.

For more information on the author click here.

Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book from the author to facilitate this review. As always, all opinions are my own and are not influenced in any way.

Effective Read Alouds in the Virtual Classroom

For over a year and a half I have been an virtual English teacher with EdOptions Academy. There is definitely some transition from being in a brick and mortar school to working with kids digitally, but the rewards are still the same.

One of my favorite activities to do with my students when I taught in a brick and mortar was my daily read aloud. I would choose a high interest text for my students, read it aloud to them every day and then have a quick class discussion about the reading. I was ecstatic when EdOptions Academy started using Zoom to conduct live weekly lessons because I would be allowed to continue my read alouds in the virtual setting.

For the last six months I have held weekly read alouds for my students in secondary English. It was slow going in the beginning, but I now have students waiting for me in our weekly meetings.

Below are some ways that I have created a successful virtual read aloud for students in grades 6-12.

Picking the right book. EdOptions Academy has a set curriculum, so I wanted to choose a novel based on assignments students are required to complete. For fall semester I did three separate read alouds (The Hunger Games, A Wrinkle in Time, and The Giver). While I loved reading these novels with my students, it was a lot to manage with 250 students. For spring semester, I am reading Divergent because it has similar themes to the texts from last semester and it’s an AMAZING book.

Student participation. Zoom allows students to participate via video chat or instant message using a chat box. I never gave students direct instructions on how to share their ideas during our sessions because I didn’t know what they would be comfortable using. My goal is always to have students be comfortable during our time together. Students started utilizing the chat box while I was reading to ask questions or express their thoughts. I monitor the chat box periodically while I read each chapter, and go through it at the end of each chunk to address any questions or ideas students have.

This is has been the most powerful aspect of my read aloud. Students are able to socialize with other students in the chat box while discussing the text. I notice that students make a TON of text-to-text connections (my favorite are the Harry Potter connections) and really love to discuss characterization. Students even came up with a hashtag ,#pusheric, when discussing the youngest Dauntless leader and it was one of my favorite discussions I’ve ever had. Having the freedom to type their ideas at any point during our hour together encourages students to participate when they feel comfortable and not worry about getting in trouble for interrupting.

Talk about being readers. Just as in a brick and mortar environment, it’s important to discuss reading habits in and out of the classroom. During my read alouds, I often find myself saying things such as, “As readers, we can infer…”. Using language like this helps create a stronger community feeling that we are all readers, regardless if we struggle or not. We also spend time talking about other texts the students are currently reading. Some are reading the Divergent series and others are enjoying Percy Jackson. By engaging in conversations like this with my students on a consistent basis we are not only bonding in the virtual classroom, but sharing books and characters we love.

Recorded sessions. I am required to record all of my live lessons with my students, which has turned out to be an incredible concept. Since my read aloud changes every week depending on meetings and office hours, some of my students are unable to attend the live session. I send the recorded link to my students each week so they can watch it at their convenience and still feel included. I also keep a Word document of all my recording links so I can share them with other teachers, parents, and schools. Students have told me they have “watched” me in the car traveling to tournaments and at night with their families. I love that parents get just as excited for the next chapter as my students.

All are welcome. During the fall semester, I was talking to another English teacher who was on a different team. She expressed her concern for a student because he was struggling in her class. I told the teacher the student should come to my read aloud to help practice reading skills in addition to the amazing work that she was already doing with him. The student participated in my read alouds and made significant progress in his English class. His success story is one of my favorites because it shows the power of collaboration in the virtual environment. I will never turn a student away from a read aloud because he or she is not “mine”. Any student is welcome to attend my read alouds and engage in amazing conversations with us.

The virtual learning environment is still a very new concept, but it is possible to create a community of readers from the comforts of home or on the road. My students now wait for me to start our meetings and I have a steady core group of readers. My read aloud is easily the highlight of my week and I love that I get to share it with my students from all over the US.