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.

> 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 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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To eRead or not to eRead: Is that the question?

I will admit, I am addicted to YA literature. I even mark the release dates of the second and third books of series in my calendar. My daughter’s 16 year old friend and I are constantly exchanging titles (a passional animal lover, she recently sobbed that I had recommended a book in which a dog was killed – never mind all the people who had died as well . . .). However, in the interests of economy and the environment, I do not buy books, but am an avid library user, so much so, that I sometimes have to return books before I’ve read them as I’ve gotten too many out at once, a common problem of a bibliophile.
I am disturbed by the trend in some school districts to replace books in libraries with eReaders. In the rabid age of choice inherent in personalized learning, the buzz word in education these days, my question is: Where’s the choice in that? Not everyone prefers an eReader to an actual book in the hand. Personally, I have only read one book online, and that because it was an exceptionally large book and I ride the bus, so it was impractical to carry it. If I travelled a lot by plane, I would definitely download books rather than carry them, but otherwise, I am a confirmed book-in-the–hand lover. Unfortunately, there are people in education who feel that just because it’s technology, it must be better. The ads for eReaders are seductive: koboauraHD – "The eReader re-imagined"; koboarc – "Reads like a book"; koboglo – "Read comfortably, day or night"; kobomini – "Small is a big deal"; kobotouch – "The most natural reading experience" (, and that’s only one company. I am not averse to technology – I have an iPhone, an iPad and a Macbook and use them all with pleasure. My job is Literacy, in all its forms.
Books or eReaders? Students should be given the choice.

Pamela Hansen
LD/Literacy Consultant

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Great Reads

I am ridiculously behind in my Literature posts, but work sometimes gets in the way.  Here are my top picks.

First, some outstanding Young Adult fiction.

Such Wicked Intent (2012) by Kenneth Oppel follows This Dark Endeavour (2011), the story of a teenaged Victor Frankenstein intent on discovering the mysteries of alchemy with tragic results.  In this book, he and his brother’s betrothed, young Elizabeth, enter a spirit world to once again investigate a way of bringing the dead back to life. Very suspenseful.

At last! The third book in Caragh O’Brien’s Birthmarked trilogy, Promised (2012), which concludes female protagonist, Gaia Stone’s quest to have the power-hungry and powerful Enclave live in harmony with her people, but needless to say, they have become more ruthless in their drive to end the problems of infertility with methods reminiscent of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Perfect introduction to dystopic fiction for young readers .

Promise the Night (2011) by Michaela MacColl was an unexpected find.  The story chronicles the early life of the famous pilot, Beryl Markham, who became the first woman to fly a plane east to west across the Atlantic.  Beryl Markham wrote her own biography in 1942 called West With the Night. Recognized by none other than Ernest Hemingway for its beuatiful prose, the book was re-issued in 1983, three years before her death, and received wide acclaim. In MacColl’s book, Markham, then Beryl Clutterbuck, presents as a wild child growing up with little parental supervision on a farm in Kenya, spending most of her early life with the local tribes and trying to foil any attempts to turn her into a lady. A thoroughly enjoyable read, and very suspenseful when it comes to her trans- Atlantic flight.

Rebel Heart (2012), the second in the Dustlands series, follows Blood Red Road, where Saba rescued her brother and defeated the Tonton – or did she? She fiercely defends her beloved Jack until mounting evidence makes her doubt her faith in him. Some say this is better than The Hunger Games . . .

Now for some senior student favourites.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (1999) by Stephen Chbosky – obviously not a new book, but the movie (also very good) inspired me to read the book – very much a teenage angst book – relationships, dark secrets, homophobia – I can’t say much more or I will give away the story. Very well drawn characters.

The Headmaster’s Wager (2012) by Vincent Lam – a gripping tale set in Vietnam  from the time it was part of Indochina through the horrific Japanese occupation of WW II, to the Vietnam War – describes the comfortable life and later the plight of a womanizing, gambling Chinese businessman, Percival Chen, who runs a prestigious English Academy in a small community outside Saigon. Somewhat the stereotype of the Chinese national living in Vietnam, Percival believes he can buy his way out of any difficulty. Until he can’t.


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A Model for Re-Do’s and Reporting

Carolyn Durley’s post, Re-Do’s and Rolling Grades presents a manageable way to allow teachers to have their marks represent a student’s most recent and most consistent performance of Learning Outcomes for any course.
It is followed by the compelling youtube video of renowned educator, Rick Wormeli, on Re-Do’s, Re-Takes, and Do-Overs.

Pamela Hansen
LD/Literacy Consultant

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What Assessment and Learning should look like

Thanks to Joe Bower in Alberta for this post.

Pamela Hansen
LD/Literacy Consultant

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