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I eat up books set in my geographic region: Alaska and the Circumpolar North.

These recent reads are both young adult novels.

From the backcover of The Trap by John Smelcer: Seventeen-year-old Johnny Least Weasel knows that his grandfather, Albert, is a stubborn old man and won’t stop checking his own traplines even though other men his age stopped doing so years ago. But Albert Least-Weasel has been running traplines in the Alaskan wilderness alone for the past sixty years. Nothing has ever gone wrong on the trail he knows so well. When Albert doesn’t come back from checking his traps one day, and with the temperature steadily plummeting, Johnny must decide quickly whether to trust his grandfather or his own instincts.

From the jackflap of Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick: In an isolated cabin in an Arctic wilderness, 14-year-old Sig is alone with a corpse: his father, who has fallen through the ice on the lake outside and frozen to death only hours earlier. Then, out of the Arctic darkness, comes a stranger: a terrifying giant of a man claiming that Sig’s father owes him a share of a horde of stolen gold–and threatens awful violence if Sig doesn’t reveal the gold’s whereabouts.

Both of these stories take place over the course of just a few days where well-developed characters drive relentless plots. And, the clencher for me in terms of what separates good from great–they both make full use of the setting in haunting and beautiful ways.

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Recently an author friend who was scheduled to speak at a school asked for my input on how to connect with both struggling and reluctant teen readers—the student population I worked with for fifteen years.

I realize that different teachers will have different styles and also may be somewhat limited in what their school will allow them to do. Given that, here are some things that worked for me in my classroom full of 13 to 19 year-old struggling and reluctant readers.

1. Read out loud to your students w/out requiring them to follow along. Just require that they listen. Make sure it is a good book or short story with a lot of action. Make sure you know how to read out loud. Nothing kills a story easier than a reader who hasn’t taken the time to hone up on their read aloud skills.

2. Have quiet reading time every day at the same time where the students can choose what they want to read. Do not require them to keep a reading journal. No strings attached, just read a book, the newspaper, a magazine, whatever. (My goal is to eventually get them to read books but forcing that up front creates the opposite result. They need to choose it.)

3. Have a wide variety of books available and be an expert on what those books are by having read many of them yourself. You want your students to have confidence in you as someone who knows what they are talking about when it comes to books.

4. Do frequent book talks/teasers where you read a snippet and talk a little about the author or story and then make the book available.

5. Bring the books in that you are reading and share them.

6. As the teacher or person in charge, you also need to read during the silent reading time. This shows your students that you value reading. And, if other adults happen to be in your classroom during silent reading time, they need to read too.

7. Let kids stop reading a book if they want to, just like us adults do when we want to.

8.  If you have a book in a series, make sure you have the rest of them. (I once had a student eat up 13 books in a series he started.)

9. If a student is having trouble connecting with a book, hand-pick a few based on what you know about him and set them on his desk. This personal touch goes a long way.

10. If you see a student is really engrossed in a certain book you might mention another book that is related or similar when they are almost finished.

11. If a student actually wants to read a book that she’s already read, let her.

12. Bottom line—you have to meet the kids where they are and not try to impose some program on them and expect them to fit into it.

13. Allow your students the time to develop into readers. Every time you get into a power struggle with a kid about reading you are potentially driving them away from reading because of that negative experience.

Thanks for stopping by. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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This week I read Purple Heart by Patricia McCormick.

 

From the Jacket Flap: When Private Matt Duffy wakes up in an army hospital in Iraq, he’s honored with a Purple Heart. But he doesn’t feel like a hero. There’s a memory that haunts him: an image of a young Iraqi boy as a bullet hits his chest. Matt can’t shake the feeling that he was somehow involved in his death. But because of a head injury, he can’t quite seem to put all the pieces together.

Eventually Matt is sent back into combat with his squad. He just wants to go back to being the soldier he once was. But he sees potential threats everywhere and lives in fear of not being able to pull the trigger when the time comes. In combat there is no black-and-white, and Matt soon discovers that the notion of who is guilty is very complicated indeed.

Purple Heart is a page-turning, gut-punching read that gives you an inside look at modern war through the eyes of an eighteen year-old boy.

I’ve read two other YA novels by Patricia McCormick. Sold, which was a National Book Award finalist, and Cut, which was a bestseller. If you’re looking for realistic characters dealing with intense situations in contemporary times, check out any of her books.

Patricia was trained as a journalist and writes like a poet. That combination makes for some powerful writing.

Thanks for stopping by.

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I first met Carol Lynch Williams in 2007 at the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Conference she organizes every year. After the conference Carol and I continued our friendship via email and it’s still going strong today. She’s always there with a kind and encouraging word, or a joke. And now, by a stroke of luck or fate, we are agency mates, and call each other cousin. I’m looking forward to the next family reunion.

Carol is the author of more than twenty middle grade and young adult novels. Her most recent is The Chosen One (2009 St. Martin’s Press).

 The Chosen One grabbed me around the throat and wouldn’t let go. It’s an edgy, poetic, page-turning YA novel with a killer voice. It’s one of those books that keeps you up way past your bedtime. I read it in one fell swoop and then was sad that it was over. I wanted a sequel right away.

 From the jacket flap of The Chosen One:

Thirteen-year-old Kyra has grown up in an isolated community without questioning the fact that her father has three wives and she has twenty brothers and sisters, with two more on the way. That is, without questioning them much—if you don’t count her secret visits to the Mobile Library on Wheels to read forbidden books, or her meetings with Joshua, the boy she hopes to choose for herself instead of having a man chosen for her.

But when the Prophet decrees that she must marry her sixty-year-old uncle—who already has six wives—Kyra must make a desperate choice in the face of violence and her own fears of losing her family forever.

Carol published her first book, Kelly and Me, with Delacorte in 1993 and is still going strong. She is a four-time winner of the Utah Original Writing Competition and winner of Nebraska’s Golden Sower Award, and a 2009 recipient of a PEN/Phyllis Naylor Working Writer Fellowship.

Her newest book, Glimpse, will be released in June by Simon & Schuster. Glimpse is about two sisters. One has tried to kill herself and the other is trying to figure out why.

To learn more about Carol, stop by her blog and say hi. Or better yet, attend her Conference.

I’m giving away a copy of The Chosen One. Leave a comment between now and noon est. on Thursday and you’ll be entered in a random drawing.

Amanda Bonilla over at Swords, Boots and Shadows is reviewing Silver Borne by Patricia Biggs. And, if you click on Recommended Reads you’ll get links to over sixty other blog reviewing books today thanks to Elana Johnson. But first remember to leave a comment so you’ll be entered in the give away!

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One of our bookshelves

When I was teaching, I read close to a hundred books a year, mostly YA. The more books I read, the easier it became to recommend books to my students, who were mostly reluctant and struggling readers. Plus, I love to read.   

     

However, as a writer, I sometimes find it difficult to read when I’m writing. Sometimes the voice of the book I’m reading creeps into the book I’m writing. This happens more in early drafts than in later drafts. Maybe this means I just haven’t found the voice for my book yet, I’m not sure.    

I once had a seventh grade student who came to school all excited about a story he had written. He handed me five notebook pages filled with his neat hand writing, a big smile on his face. And the writing was amazing: He’d copied word for word, the first chapter of Treasure Island.  

What happens to me isn’t that extreme. I’m not starting my novel with: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Or, Call me Ishamel.    

  

However, I’ve had more than a few writers tell me they can’t read when they are in the middle of a writing project. Others just keep devouring books non-stop.     

Then yesterday, via a link from Natasha Foundren’s blog, I found this quote by Will Self regarding reading while writing: 

Stop reading fiction – it’s all lies anyway, and it doesn’t have anything to tell you that you don’t know already (assuming, that is, you’ve read a great deal of fiction in the past; if you haven’t you have no business whatsoever being a writer of fiction).  

Right now, I am reading every night, enjoying some great YA novels, as I plow through a rewrite of my current WIP during the day. 

However, when I wrote Placement, I didn’t read anything. That story was buzzing in my head, inhabiting me. I’d wake up at night with a plot solution and scribble it down, or with a piece of dialogue, or a new scene idea. No way could I pick up another book. 

What about you? Do you read while you are writing? If so, are you reading in your genre or outside of it? Are there specific times in your writing process when you just cannot pick up a book? Are there other times when reading is helpful for you while you are writing? In what way? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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