YA Fiction

The Rule of Three. (2014). Eric Walters

Prolific writer Eric Walters never fails to surprise. “A person can last 3 minutes without air, 3 days without water, 3 weeks without food.” What happens when the internet shuts down? Not just the internet, but anything electronic? What happens when you have one of the few old cars in the neighbourhood that still runs because there are no computer chips in it? One’s world becomes smaller and smaller and people will do almost anything to protect what is dear to them. A frighteningly possible dystopic world, desperately held together by the ingenuity and perseverance of three people.

All the Truth That’s in Me. (2013). Julie Berry.

Two girls disappear and only one returns, mutilated and refusing to tell her story, shunned by the religious community who fears her and blames her for the loss of the other girl. At times reminiscent of The Scarlet Letter and The Crucible where silence creates misunderstandings and people believe the worst. Chilling and suspenseful – a very worthwhile read.

Shadow Baby. (2000).  Alison McGhee

An eleven year girl, Clara, discovers that she had a twin who died at birth but her mother refuses to tell her anything about her father or about the circumstances of her birth and has cut off all connections with her grandfather who was also present at the birth. She meets and interviews an elderly man for a school project and invents a life for him as he also will not willingly talk of the past. Beautifully written.

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Thrice Told Tales: Three Mice Full of Writing Advice

A writing book by Catherine Lewis, illustrated by Joost Swarte, 2013.


The title of this book may seem elementary, but the content is definitely not. Based on the iconic tale of “Three Blind Mice”, Lewis and Swarte entertain with both their illustrative descriptions of literary terms and aspects of writing and the clever drawings depicting them. At the bottom of each description is a “Snip of the Tale” (allusion to the nursery rhyme of course) with a brief definition of the term. This captivating book contains more than 80 terms and writing tips accompanied by a more detailed Appendix .Literary terms include allegory, metaphor, verisimilitude and denouement, while writing tips are as varied as red herring, suspension of disbelief, bildungsroman, and the sparing use of swear words.
A must-have for aspiring writers and English departments.

Pamela Hansen
LD/Literacy Consultant

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Rose Under Fire, 2013

Rose Under Fire 2A plucky female protagonist, an experienced pilot with the Air Transport Auxiliary during WW II, makes a bad flight decision and ends up being grounded by the Luftwaffe and sent to the notorious concentration camp, Ravensbrueck, where she befriends a damaged group of young women amid unrelenting Nazi horrors.  Grippingly written by  American writer, Elizabeth Wein, herself an aviator, this novel is a testament to the perseverance, ingenuity, and courage of the many camp survivors.

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Wonder of Reading Event at John Oliver Secondary



These well-known characters greeted 900 elementary students visiting John Oliver on September 25, 2013 for their outstanding Wonder of Reading Day.

The Giving Tree was built in the gym and a video of Shel Silverstein’s poem shown on the big screen and as it was read and beautifully danced to.

And then with  costumes made by  John Oliver students and drummers from the school music program, the whimsical tale of Where the Wild Things Are was performed.



Thousands of books were donated and these wonderful bookshelves made with smaller ones donated to numerous families filled with books – a truly collaborative and outstanding event by John Oliver Secondary, its feeder schools, and community organizations. Events of the day were too numerous to list, with an afternoon of interactive activities for all the students.  Without a doubt, a model participatory event for Vancouver School district.






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YA for soccer fans


Self-admittedly, I am a soccer fanatic.  I have watched my children play at Select/Metro levels for over 15 years. I subscribe to cable television only once every four years in order to watch the World Cup.  I have risen at unbelievable hours in order to watch games on the other side of the world, then go off to work.  Yet I have never heard of the Homeless World Cup until I read this novel.

Now is the Time for Running (2009) is the harrowing tale of a young boy forced to run from his native Zimbabwe after his village was attacked by government soldiers for not having voted the right way in the last presidential election, only to face worse discrimination over the border in South Africa.  South African author Michael Williams, horrified by the xenophobic attacks in South Africa in 2008 and inspired by the stories of refugees he worked with in a soup kitchen in Cape Town, set his novel against the backdrop of the life-saving game of soccer and the Homeless World Cup, https://www.homelessworldcup.org, an event that has been going on since 2003. While the story of Deo, the young Zimbabwean whose story is featured, is deeply engaging, so is the author’s biography. A very special YA novel written by a very special person.

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Differentiated Instruction – how to Start Where They Are

I am currently running a professional book club with Karen Hume’s book, Start Where They Are (2008). There are many "bon mots" in the book as well as practical ideas for the classroom, but her assertion that curriculum for adolescents must be relevant, challenging, and integrative (p. 117) really hits the mark. BC’s "renewed" curriculum (see curriculum drafts for K-9 at https://curriculum.gov.bc.ca/curriculum), focusses our instruction on big ideas and essential understandings (BC’s Core Competencies), terms which originated with Wiggins and McTighe (1998). They are now part of universal pedagogical parlance. It’s hard to imagine why a teacher would not want their teaching to be relevant and challenging, but the integrative piece presents more challenges at the secondary level because of the way schools were traditionally built and organized. Elementary students used to integrative units quickly become inured to the idea of cross-curricular integration as their day is organized into 75 minute distinct segments. Curricular combinations have often been limited to the Humanities (English and Social Studies). The huge challenge for today’s teacher – and the focus of most of Karen Hume’s work – is the widening gap in their students’ ability and the consequent need for teachers to plan for differentiation in their classroom instruction (DI). Excellent resources for DI can be found on Alberta Education’s website at http://education.alberta.ca/media/1234045/makingadifference_2010.pdf and a wonderful and evolving site from Ontario http://www.edugains.ca/newsite/di2/index.html. While I am very excited about the new direction BC curriculum is taking, it will not be successful without the teachers’ ability to meet the ever-increasing diverse needs of their classroom. Challenge and engagement for every student involves knowing how to make the learning outcome for the class accessible and relevant for all.

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YA Literature

Wounded by Eric Walters, 2009

There is hardly any topic that Eric Walters has not written about. This one deals with a returning soldier from Afghanistan and the effects of his tour of duty on himself and his family.  He appears to be all right, but he is not.  Walters carefully describes the exclusiveness of the military family due to the fact that they live on a base and move frequently.  At one point the young boy, who is “the man of the family” when his father is away and who is expected and wants to enter the military like his father and grandfather before him, questions whether he will in fact follow suit, given the current actions of his father. 

Doubtless, this is a difficult topic to tackle and Walters skims over key issues, one being the tripling of military personnel leaving the forces between the years 2005 and 2009 due to the nature of the mission in Afghanistan, as well as the myriad of problems veterans have faced getting help for Post- Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)  and other mental health issues upon their return.  To read Wounded, one would think that getting help was no issue; the issue is admitting to needing help. Nonetheless, it is a good, if somewhat superficial read.

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New YA Literature

Time for my Fall posts of what I’ve read recently.

Three Little Words: A Memoir by Ashley Rhodes-Courter,

Non-fiction par excellence. A gruelling tale of life in the foster care system in the south eastern United States.  You may think you can guess what the “three little words” are, but you will be wrong. Research says that without a strong sense of attachment to a parent, autonomy (strong sense of self), and challenge, a child is unlikely to develop intrinsic motivation.  By the time she was seven, she had been in thirteen foster homes. Ashley was extremely intelligent, held on to her love for her mother despite innumerable disappointments, and was able to maintain her strong sense of self in the face of abusive situations. What she achieved is nothing short of a miracle.  

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Letter Grades No Longer Make the Grade (Part 2) | Abbotsford School District

How Abbotsford and Maple Ridge have changed their grading practices to improve student learning.

>http://www.sd34.bc.ca/blog/letter-grades-no-longer-make-grade-part-2 Thanks to my colleague, Jacob Martens, for passing on this post. >

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New Reads for Adolescents

Many more books to add since last post.
Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them. (1999). The Freedom Writers with Erin Gruwell
Obviously not a new book and yes, I’ve seen the movie, more than once. But my decision to read this book speaks to the adage that it’s important to give readers a purpose for reading. I am about to embark on a process of teaching some willing secondary teachers how to teach reading to very low adolescent readers, readers traumatized by life experiences, convinced they are not able to "do" school, and boiling over with destructive behaviours, to name a few of the challenges. And so this book and its many stories came to mind and I thought, if this teacher could effect change amongst not only intransigent youth, but also with a department head who refused to give her books because "those students" would ruin them and wouldn’t read them anyway, then anything was possible. From one of her students, the first in her family to graduate:
Diary 139:"I have learned that it doesn’t matter if your inspiration in life comes from negative or positive events. The most important thing is to learn and go on."
I hope in four years time, we will have a record of our students’ achievements.

Requiem (2013) by Lauren Oliver
The third in the Delirium series, the battle of the Invalids vs. the "cured" intensifies and grabs our interest by being told from both Lena’s point of view and her former best friend, Hana, now married to the psychopath mayor of Portland. Lots of suspense, if a somewhat inconclusive ending.

Orca books are written by well-established Canadian writers for reluctant adolescent readers. Please visit their website http://www.orcabook.com for more information.

Haze (2012) . Erin Thomas, Orca Sports
A very suspenseful story about dangerous hazing practices on a high school swim team, with implications for the teacher in charge.

Boarder Patrol (2010). Erin Thomas, Orca Sports
Sixteen year old Ryan wants nothing more than to be a professional snowboarder, but his beloved cousin is making more money than his job pays. Where is it coming from? When he suspects what is happening, he is dogged by his father’s reputation as a whistleblower.

Th1rteen R3asons Why. (2007). by Jay Asher
A young girl commits suicide, then writes letters to thirteen people who contributed to her decision. Any one of the actions might have been inconsequential if the subsequent actions had not occurred . Heart-wrenching and important for students to reflect on how they treat their peers.

You Against Me. (2010). By Jenny Downham
A date gets out of hand and a young girl is raped; her brother swears revenge. Siblings are pitted against each other – protect my brother or do what’s right? Difficult decisions of right and wrong and how those decisions make you feel, intertwined with a complicated romance.

A Long Walk to Water (2010).by Linda Sue Park
Based on a true story, this simply written book describes the difficult life of a girl, Nya, in the Sudan who must make a long arduous walk daily to fetch water and one of the Sudan’s "lost boys", Salva, who endures dreadful hardships through refugee camps to a new life. How their lives intersect makes for powerful conclusion.

Pamela Hansen
LD/Literacy Consultant

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