For some reason, I imagine that my summers will float along at a leisurely pace, especially when it comes to summer reading—family outings to the coast where I’m reading in a chair on a deck, quiet mornings at home reading on the patio with my coffee, camping adventures reading by a crackling fire. I don’t know how summers go for you, but for me, my plans always seem to be grander than what the actual limits of the season could possibly allow. Things always seem to come up—the breakdown of a major home appliance, a tree limb falling on a Sunday evening leading to an unplanned fencing project and, to paraphrase the famous John Lennon line, “Son returning home from college for the summer is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” My stack of summer reading books topples as it crashes into the spontaneous hair-pin turns of the joys of home ownership and the last minute plan changes of a nineteen year old attempting to milk his summer for all it’s worth before returning to school in September. Deep breath…Again…There.

It really isn’t that bad. Spontaneous is good for someone who can get a bit routinized. All it means really is that you have to prioritize your reading with informed selections narrowed down by the experience of someone you can trust. Hopefully, you can trust me. Here are a few books I heartily recommend (I believe you will like them and might even find a place for them in your classroom) for reading this summer by the ocean, with morning coffee, or by a campfire. Or really, anytime, such as when you’ve finished mopping up after the eighteen year old leaking dishwasher, waiting for the new one to be delivered between 1 and 5, or after being informed at 11 PM that your nineteen year old son wants to go camping, like now, and if you know where his tent and sleeping bag are…Deep breath…Again…There.

Clare Vanderpool, the author of Navigating Early, one of my recommended books, suggests on her website that, “Good writing starts with good reading. And remember, variety is good. Read anything and everything from historical to contemporary, fantasy, science fiction and fairy tales. Learn from everything you read…” I haven’t included any lesson ideas, mention of the six traits, or links to CCSS (but it would have been easy to). Read for your own enjoyment, but don’t be surprised if a few classroom connections linger pleasantly in your mind. When you “Learn from everything you read,” it’s hard to keep it to yourself.


9780545176866_p0_v1_s260x420 Drawing From Memory. 2011. Allen Say. New York: Scholastic Press. 63 pages.
Genre: Picture book/graphic autobiography of the Caldecott Award winning author/illustrator
Ages 10 and up

If you are not familiar with Allen Say’s art and stories, you might want to take a moment to check out Grandfather’s Journey (1993 Caldecott Medal), Home of the Brave, Tree of Cranes, The Lost Lake, A River Dream, to get you started.  Drawing From Memory is Allen Say’s own story of growing up in Japan and becoming an artist, told in illustrations, photographs, and words, using a graphic novel—ish approach. Many of the illustrations are actually drawn from memory—he burned many of his drawings and sketchbooks before coming to America. This is a book about following your passion regardless of the obstacles and perfect for any aspiring artists (either in your school or in your home). Believing that artists were not respectable people, Allen’s father discouraged his artistic talents. Fortunately, Allen found other adults, including his mother, who were more supportive of his passion for drawing. At the age of thirteen, in fact, Allen becomes an apprentice to Noro Shinpei, his favorite cartoonist, a life-changing event. Noro, who Allen referred to as Sensei (master or teacher), helped Allen develop his artistic skills and focus his passion. Sensei said, “Drawing is never a practice. To draw is to see and discover…Painting is a kind of writing, and writing is a kind of painting—they are both about seeing.” Whether your students call you Sensei, Teacher, Mom or Dad, this book reminds us about the power of being a mentor and encouraging the kind of perseverance it takes to become the artist, writer, engineer, or scientists our mentees passionately want to be.

For more about Allen Say:

 9781250012579_p0_v1_s260x420Eleanor & Park. 2013. Rainbow Rowell. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin. 328 pages.

Genre: YA realistic fiction
Grades 9-12

I have often avoided books about teenagers in love, not because I don’t like teenagers or because I’m against love. I’ve taught, coached, and mentored teenagers for years. I want to go on record as being pro-teenager, pro-love and even, at times, pro-teenagers in love. I have a teenager, and I believe he’s been in love, once for sure, while in high school. My dilemma is that the stories, for me, don’t often ring true. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell rings very true. True language, true behaviors, true desires, and true feelings. (Take this as a heads-up if you are a nervous reader when it comes to cursing or teen hormones.) The characters in this book are not the stock football heroes and cheerleaders. Park is a freshman, into his comic books, marshal arts, and cool music. He’s got his seat on the bus staked out, and he tries to block out the other kids and their drama with his headphones and Walkman (it’s 1986). He’s got a system for not being noticed, and it works. Eleanor is new to town and school, and apparently trying hard to be noticed with her strange clothing and …”crazy hair, bright red on top of curly.” Compounding her awkward walk down the bus aisle on the first day of school is the fact that Eleanor doesn’t have a seat on the bus—any available seats are made clearly unavailable with harsh looks and snide comments. The “&” in Eleanor & Park begins at this moment when Park, without total awareness of the “why” of his actions, moves towards the window, opening up a spot, and commands her to “Sit down,” the only words spoken between them that day. Their friendship and, later, love doesn’t blossom overnight (and it even involves exchanging mix-tapes—remember those!) and it’s definitely not love at first sight. There are outside forces (bullying, parents, step-parents) and inner turmoil (dealing with feelings that are difficult to name and explain) working against each of them, but that’s part of what makes the truth of their story ring so loudly.

For more about Rainbow Rowell:

9781442408920_p0_v5_s260x420Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. 2013. Benjamin Alire Saenz. New York: Simon & Schuster BFYR. 359 pages.

Genre: YA realistic fiction (romance, LGBT)
Grades 9-12

Stonewall Book Award—2013, Printz Honor—2013, YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association) Best Fiction for Young Adults (Top Ten)—2013, Pura Belpre Author Award—2013

That’s quite a trophy case! And it’s a book about teenagers in love! And, like Eleanor & Park, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe rings true, loud, clear, and from the rooftops. True language, true behaviors, true desires, and true feelings. (Yes, this is a repeat from the last review, but there are so many similarities.) This book made me cry—more than once and for different reasons. The friendship between these two boys begins when they meet at the city pool in El Paso, Texas; they’re fifteen and seem to have very little in common. Over the next couple of years, however, Ari Mendoza and Dante Quintana build a very special friendship as each grows to understand not only his individual place in the world but also what they mean to each other. The issue of identity is at the heart of this story—cultural identity, self-identity, and sexual identity. At one point in the book, Ari reflects, “Maybe that’s the way it worked. High school was just a prologue to the real novel. Everybody got to write you—but when you graduated, you got to write yourself. At graduation you got to collect your teacher’s pens and your parent’s pens and got your own pen. And you could do all the writing. Yeah. Wouldn’t that be sweet?”  Bittersweet, perhaps, because putting the pen in your own hand and “writing yourself” can be pretty scary, too, as both boys learn. The author takes his time with these characters, not rushing the pace of their self-discovery and journey to manhood. To help them deal with their internal struggles and the harsh realities of the world, he surrounds them with realistic and supportive parents and families who work hard to protect their boys and understand them.

For a bit more about Benjamin Alire Saenz (author of prose and poetry), including a reading group guide for Aristotle and Dante:

9780385742092_p0_v1_s260x420Navigating Early. 2013. Clare Vanderpool. New York: Delacorte Press. 306 pages.
Genre: YA realistic fiction
Grades 6-8

If the author’s name rings a bell it’s because she is the 2011 Newberry Award winning writer of Moon Over Manifest. On her website, she says that you never know where a good writing idea is going to come from. The idea for Moon Over Manifest came from the title of a book with a “very cool cover” and a quote from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. The idea behind Navigating Early started with a dream her mother had about a boy, who with no musical training could play anything on the piano after only a single listen. (Wow! I guess that means we’ve all probably missed some pretty great ideas because we weren’t on the lookout for them.) I’m glad she listened to her mother tell about her dream. It launched a grand adventure tale involving a bear, rattlesnakes, the Appalachian Trail, river pirates, mountain men, the search for a legendary hero, Billie Holiday when it’s raining, and just to make things interesting, the number pi—you know, 3.141592653589…

In Navigating Early, we meet Jack Baker, a young man who is moved from Kansas, following his mother’s death, to a Maine boarding school, by his naval officer father. It’s the end of World War II and Jack suddenly finds himself at the edge of the world in a strange new place, looking at something he’s never seen before—the ocean. The book opens with his reaction. “The first time you see the ocean is supposed to be either exhilarating or terrifying. I wish I could say it was one of those for me. I just threw up, right there on the rocky shore.” (This is the first book I’ve read that begins with vomit. Remember the Smuckers Jam slogan—With a name like Smuckers, it’s got to be good? Well, if a character vomits in the first few lines, I’ve got to keep reading!) When Jack looks up from being sick, he notices a boy up the shore putting sand into bags and building a wall. Jack doesn’t know it, but this is his first encounter with Early Auden, “the strangest of boys.” The oddly charismatic Early, who sees the digits in the number pi as colors, and reads their progression like a story about the character Pi, somehow pulls Jack into an Odyssey-like adventure into the woods of northern Maine. It’s a blend of realism and mystical realism, which is just what you want when two characters head off on their own in a small boat on a big river.

For more about Clare Vanderpool:

And here are a few more recommended titles for you to explore on your own:

9780375971426_p0_v2_s260x420Twerp. 2013. Mark Goldblatt. New York: Random House Books for Young Readers. 275 pages. Genre: YA realistic fiction Ages: Grades 6-8

9780385742443_p0_v3_s260x420Paperboy. 2013. Vince Vawter. New York: Delacorte Press. 224 pages.

Genre: YA realistic fiction Ages: Grades 6-8


9780763658106_p0_v1_s260x420After Eli. 2012. Rebecca Rupp. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press. 245 pages. Genre: YA realistic fiction Ages: Grades 6-8

Coming up on Gurus . . . 
Coming summer-soon (a bit more leisurely than school-year-soon): Vicki will review Zebra Forest by Adina Rishe Gewirtz and then continue the ongoing discussion of machine scoring, a frightening topic. Thanks for visiting. Come often—and bring friends. Don’t forget: We can customize a workshop, classroom demo, or other writing consultation to suit the needs of your classroom, school or district. So, for the BEST professional development blending traits, common core, workshop, and writing process, call 503-579-3034. Give every child a voice.