Confessions (and Reviews) of a Teenage Readaholic, part 2

She’s back….High School senior Maris takes time out from college applications to review Stiefvater’s Shiver series…

Confession:I have to admit—when I first heard about Maggie Stiefvater’s Wolves of Mercy Falls series (Scholastic), I was not planning on liking it. I was done reading the slew of paranormal romance that came out after the success of the Twilight series. I had heard good things about these books though, from my friends and others, so I decided to give it a try. I’m glad I did.

Review: The Shiver series revolves mainly around two characters: Grace and Sam. [Note: Not a spoiler, I promise.] After being attacked by the wolves that live in the forest near her house as a young girl, Grace develops a fascination with the creatures, especially the wolf that saved her from being killed in the attack. Through a sequence of events, she discovers that the wolves that live in the woods of Mercy Falls are werewolves. These werewolves do not change at the full moon though; they change when it gets cold outside. In the summertime, the wolves are regular people. When Grace comes across the human form of Sam (the wolf that saved her) they begin a romance that is complicated with some obvious problems.

Forever is the last book in the series, and in my opinion, the best. Stiefvater alternates first-person perspective of multiple characters throughout the books and the characters are at their most developed in this final installment. Strangely enough, my favorite character is not the main hero or heroine, but the former drug addict and musician Cole St. Clair who struggles to find a scientific cure for his lycanthropy. Stiefvater has more range than just writing about two teenagers in love—although she does that skillfully as well, so that people who are less than romantic can handle it. In Forever Stiefvater faces head on the problems that Grace and Sam encounter as a teenage couple. Will they split up when Grace goes to college? How do they convince Grace’s parents that they are seriously in love? Is their relationship strong enough to last forever?

This series offers escapist fantasy that is definitely worth your time if you’re in the mood for romance and adventure. However, one issue I do have with Forever is something incredibly picky, but bear with me. The text in the book is not black, but instead, a glaring red to match the front cover. This distracted me from the story at times and I felt it was too much of a gimmick. Yet the story managed to draw me in, even with all my preconceived notions about werewolves and romance. So for those of you looking for a love story or just a unique twist on classic werewolf lore, check this out.

In the meantime, I’m going to start working on those college applications—Grace’s worries about going to college next year have made mine even worse.


If you would like to contact Maris with any suggestions or questions about books please send an email to [email protected]

PS Thanks to author/NYJB reviewer Connie Goldsmith for the recommendation!


Snapshot *a Monday morning warm-up activity inspired by Max and  Jo Knowles:

1. Find a photo that makes you happy. (OK I picked happy / sad. I hope you’ll understand.)

2. Describe the scene by making a “list poem” of the feelings, thoughts, smells, sights, tastes, etc. of the captured moment.

Max the wonderdog.
Faithful writer dog.
Crisp October morning.
Rain clouds on the horizon.
Reds and golds paint the trees.
You sniff your favorite scents:
Doe with her grown fawns,
Cat mousing on our hillside ,
Fall-crazed squirrels,
That dang pesky gopher, digging up your lawn…
You’ve taught us walks feed the soul.
To go outside, stop and look, breathe morning-fresh air…
You’ve taught us love without judgment,
Of unconditional dog-kisses,
To wag our tails at life,
Run to those we cherish,
Be the first in the stream…
You’ve taught us that water—not coffee–will keep us going
even when our bodies no longer want food…
Go peacefully, my old friend.
Always faithful.
Forever loved.
Down the road.
This last time.

3. Share your Snapshot on your own blog. Leave a comment with the link either here or with Jo Knowles so we can find it! 🙂

By Book or by Classroom: how we hook kids

My new school visit pal, Sammy the CheerREADER, came with me ( and Goldie and Bo Peep) to The Reading Bug last weekend for a Get Ready for Back to School storytime. It’s that time of year, my friends.

The Reading Bug–and the classroom-preparation conversations on Twitter–made me realize Hooking the reader is like starting a new school year. Think about it.

As teachers and librarians–and book store owners–, we want our space to be a place that kids want to come back to–a welcoming, comfortable, safe-but-exciting place to take risks. A place that promises. Isn’t that what we love about books?

Bulletin boards are like first pages of a manuscript–harbingers of things to come; affirmations that someone here (teacher, author, main character) gets you. We can learn from each other. Take risks. Find adventures! Come on in!

I’ve spent a lot of time agonizing over The Hook. (Come on–I even wrote a rap about it. ) I used to think it meant starting your story in the middle of the action. Bop! Zing–off we goooo! But that’s like having new student transfer into your class in December. Or arrive in the middle of storytime.

What I didn’t realize until recently is that YES, it’s best to start the manuscript where your character’s world changes (or right before)–but consider this…

A hook can be tone–like a welcoming smile on the first day of school. The tone of The Reading Bug promises adventure and discovery and fun: You’ve come to the right spot. Books do this too.

And maybe it comes down to one thing: You. Do you like your job? Do you love your job? Your students? Your main character? Find a way. The  positive energy that comes from YOU is a powerful hook.

Happy Back to School.

Happy writing.

Happy Readers!

Hook ’em, Dano…

No More Picture Books? You might as well not believe in Santa!

Season’s Greetings!

Last fall, when the New York Times declared picture books were “so unpopular these days,” I was surrounded by eager readers at the Oakland Parents Literacy Project’s Family Night where, after teachers and volunteers read aloud to different age-groups, each child received an age appropriate, NEW book. Yes there were chapter books and middle grade novels, but imagine dozens upon dozens of PICTURE BOOKS clutched tightly in the hands of young readers as if they were made of gold.

Fast forward to our local Santa Parade this December, where I got to be a BookMobile Elf. IMG_1765 @ (Yes, Virginia– a Bookmobile Elf) Thanks to our wonderful public LIBRARIES and the generous donation from Raley’s, we elves handed out NEW children’s books–one for each kid along the parade route–instead of candy! Imagine 1.5 miles of happy children with a new book in hand, hundreds of which were PICTURE BOOKS and BOARD BOOKS. Several young mothers exclaimed to their tiny newborns, “Ooh, look! It’s your very first book!”

The recent article by Karen Springen in Publisher’s Weekly, is a fabulous rebuttal to the NYTimes’ no-good-very-bad assertion, including picture book opinions of editors, book sellers, publishers, authors, and librarians. As Springen points out, todays’ parents grew up on PICTURE BOOKS and want to share that experience with their kids. And there is a place for PICTURE BOOKS in the lives of older readers too.

I would like to add that there is a place for PICTURE BOOKS in the classroom as well. Students who read below grade level must still read biographies and do state reports. Cross-age tutoring where upper grades read PICTURE BOOKS to the younger kids, not only improves reading but increases self-esteem and teaches cooperation and diversity. Can these experiences be just as successful with e-readers? Possibly–if your child attends one of those rare schools where teachers don’t already shell out their own money for boxes of tissues and school supplies no longer in the “budget.” And watch a teacher cringe just thinking about how they would monitor a class set of e-readers so nothing gets broken. I’d opt for PICTURE BOOKS any day.

No more PICTURE BOOKS? Bah Humbug! Ask the parent or grandparent who treasures each snuggle-up-and-read moment with their little ones. And yes, even the tiniest fingers love to play with your iPhone, but they can’t pocket call your friends with a PICTURE BOOK.

Consider this quote from another very famous 1897 newspaper article by Francis Pharcellus Church in the New York Sun, with just one or two changes: Yes, VIRGINIA, there will be PICTURE BOOKS. They exist as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no PICTURE BOOKS. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Hopefully, some time in the next eight days, you will settle down with excited little ones, and you or a friend or family member will read aloud a holiday favorite, like ‘TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS or THE CHRISTMAS STORY, or perhaps something new like Kim Norman’s TEN ON THE SLED, or Anna Dewdney’s LLAMA LLAMA HOLIDAY DRAMA. And then you’ll know PICTURE BOOKS are here to stay.

Happy Holidays! May 2011 be filled with peace, good will, and books for all.

Hyper kids? Use their energy to teach VERBS!

Seriously! Turn that energy into a grammar lesson with my Verb Song! (below)

But first, a quick Thank You to CRA for the opportunity to share some of my fluency games last weeknd. I had a great time meeting teachers, reading specialists, and administrators at your California Reading Association conference in Riverside!

But OK–back to the topic–since it’s Friday and the kids are about to burst. (Or possibly their teacher? : ) Been there, done that!)

Erin’s VERB SONG is based on an old favorite Come on and Join Into the Game (author unknown, public domain) I bet you’ll recognize it instantly.:


Let everyone laugh like me.
Let everyone laugh like me.
Come on and join in to the game,
See how many verbs you can name.

(Now have a student try…)

Let everyone skip like __________(Name of student who contributed verb/ex. James)
(skip around)
Let everyone skip like James.
(skip around)
Come on and join in to the game,
See how many verbs you can name.

Let everyone sneeze like _________(ex Vivian).
Let everyone sneeze like Vivian.
Come on and join in to the game,
See how many verbs you can name.

Let everyone yawn like _________(ex. Jesse).
Let everyone yawn like Jesse.
Come on and join in to the game,
See how many verbs you can name.

Let everyone jump like__________(ex Jose).
Let everyone jump like Jose.
Come on and join in to the game,
See how many verbs you can name.

(Always end with a summary:)

Let everyone laugh like Erin, (ha-ha)

Let everyone skip like James, (skip)

Let everyone sneeze like Vivian, (achoo!)

Let everyone yawn like Jesse, (yawn)

Let everyone jump like Jose, (jump)

Come on and join into the game!
See how many verbs you can name!

See how simple that is? Have fun! I need to go work on my middle grade novel revisions now….

Let everyone rewrite like Erin… : )


And Happy almost Halloween from me and Pocahontas.