Mrs. McGriff's Reading Blog

Happy reading!

April 2, 2014
by Mrs. McGriff

Full Ride by Margaret Peterson Haddix

imageMargaret Peterson Haddix has created a thrill ride full of secrets and deception, danger and intrigue, and suspense and tension.  Full Ride (Simon and Schuster 2013) delivers on every page.

Becca and her mother fled their hometown and comfortable life in Atlanta in order to start over with new identities after Becca’s father was convicted of embezzlement.  They protect the secrets in their past in order to avoid discovery. But now that Becca is a senior in high school, she needs to apply for financial aid in order to go to college.  (One benefit of giving up her social life is that she is now a straight-A student.)  But applying for financial aid might reveal their secrets to the world.

Stubborn Becca applies for a local scholarship anyway because of the potential for it to pay her entire way to college.  As she digs deeper into the past of both her family and her new hometown, she discovers secrets that might endanger her life as well as her privacy.  To what lengths will she go to learn the truth?  Will the truth set her free?

April 2, 2014
by Mrs. McGriff

Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

imageI was captivated by Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and have been waiting for the release of the second book, Hollow City (Quirk Books 2014).  Ransom Riggs did not disappoint.  Hollow City picks up just where the first book ends–with the peculiar children rowing the boats across the sea to reach the mainland and escape from the wights who are chasing them.

Once they reach the shore, their troubles have just begun.  Jacob, our hero, is now stuck in 1945 unless they can find an ymbryne who can open a time loop and send him back to the present.  While they search, the other peculiar children look to Jacob to lead them to safety–at least some of them do.  Others, including Jacob himself, aren’t sure he is up to the job and are sure he will never live up to his grandfather’s legendary feats.

Not only does Jacob discover the strength and power of his peculiar talent, but each of the children learns the strength they have.  Each of them is given the chance to be a hero and rescue the rest from near disaster and destruction.

Every page uncovers new secrets and reveals unexpected twists.  New characters from gypsies to peculiar animals help the children on their journey to London.  Along the way, nothing is what it seems to be.  The story races along, full of mystery and suspense.  The pictures that accompany the text are eerie and propel the story brilliantly.  I can’t wait for the next installment.

April 1, 2014
by Mrs. McGriff

Here come the books!

imageI’m taking part in the weekly Slice of Life Challenge sponsored by  Two Writing Teachers, where teachers write and share each Tuesday. Join in yourself or head over to check out what’s happening with other slicers. If you’re taking part in the SOL, leave a link to your post. I’d love to read it.

What is the best way to come back to school after spring break?  Why by taking my classes to the book fair all day!

If you could see the piles and boxes of books I have stacked around my house and classroom, you would know that the book fair is the last place I need to to spend my day.  But what could be better than spending time every period browsing the new books, pointing out favorites to my students, and discovering new titles that look intriguing.  To make it even better, this is the BOGO book fair.  How can I turn down a deal that lets me get a free book for each one I buy?

I also had chance to look at next year’s Young Hoosier Book list and buy some of the titles for my classroom.   I can tell I am much more aware and current with my reading.  When I first started promoting the Young Hoosier books through our book club at school, most of the books and authors were new to me.  When I looked at this year’s list, I realized I already owned eight of the titles in my classroom library already, and several of the other titles have been on my wish list.  I am looking forward to discovering a few new books and authors as well.

The more books and authors I know, the better I am able to recommend the right book to my students.  And my students have been reading up a storm this year.  I currently teach 113 students.  Those 113 students have read a grand total of 2,121 books so far this year.  I think that rocks!

March 31, 2014
by Mrs. McGriff

March Books Read

32) Guys Read:  Thriller edited by Jon Scieszka – a collection of stories to scare and disgust

33) Inside Narnia by Devon Brown -

34) ** Hollow City by Ransom Riggs – just as strange and peculiar as the first adventure.  I can’t wait for the next one.

35) **Full Ride by Margaret Peterson Haddix – This is a wild ride, full of secrets, lies, and heart-stopping suspense.

36)  **The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis – Deza is back for her own story, and it is a story indeed.

37) The Journey Back by Priscilla Cummins – a strong companion to The Red Kayak

38) Grave Mercies by Robin LaFevers – I was captivated by this audiobook about one of death’s handmaidens.

39) **Divergent by Veronica Roth – Wow!  Now I see what everyone is raving about!

40) **Insurgent by Veronica Roth – I did not see these twists coming.

41) **Allegiant by Veronica Roth – I am overwhelmed now that I’m done.

42) **The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine – a powerful story of friendship

43) **The Real Boy by Anne Ursu – a magical fantasy

44) The Center of Everything by Linda Urban – a quiet story of love and loss and life

45) **Counting by 7′s by Holly Goldberg Sloan – quirky, heartbreaking, and inspiring.  I love Willow.

46) **Doll Bones by Holly Black – creepy, but not too scary.  More than a ghost story, it is a story of friendship and growing up

Thanks to spring break, March was a good reading month.  I put asterisks by my favorites.  As you can see, there were a lot of books I loved!  What were your favorite reads from March?

March 31, 2014
by Mrs. McGriff

31 Days

imageI’m taking part in the weekly Slice of Life Challenge sponsored by  Two Writing Teachers, where teachers write and share each Tuesday. Join in yourself or head over to check out what’s happening with other slicers. If you’re taking part in the SOL, leave a link to your post. I’d love to read it.

For the second year in a row, I have joined Two Writing Teachers in the month long Slice of Life blogging challenge.  For the second year in a row, I wasn’t sure I could actually pull it off–write and share every day for the month of March.  For the second year in a row, I did it.  I wrote, posted, shared, and commented every day.  For the second year in a row, I have learned more than I could have imagined before I started.  What have I learned?

  • Writing is sometimes hard, but I can still do it.  There were quite a few days when I had no ideas, no words.  Those were the days I dug through notebooks or read posts (especially the inspiration posts–Thanks, Stacey) from other writers to find ideas when my brain was empty.  One day I even wrote about having nothing to write about.
  • Somedays I wrote better than other days.  I cringed as I published some of my posts, but I am grateful for the kind words of people who encouraged me to try again the next day.
  • I can find time to write every day.  Usually how long it takes me to write a post depends on the amount of time I had available.  On busy days, I could crank out a post in less than 30 minutes.  During spring break and weekends when the entire day stretched before me, it would take me an hour or two to write a post.  The posts on those leisurely days weren’t necessarily better than the others.  They just took longer.
  • I have readers I didn’t know about.  Throughout the month, I would run into people at school and church who would comment on my posts or ask me a question about something I wrote about.  I usually share my posts on Facebook and Twitter, and sometimes responses would come there as well.
  • I love comments!  I still get excited when someone takes the time to write a comment about my posts.  I also love reading and leaving comments for others.  I could spend hours reading and commenting if I had the hours to give each day.  Sometimes, though, it is hard to know what to say.  Sometimes I wish I could be there face to face instead.
  • I am glad to have found and become a part of this community.  The slicing community is filled with some of the most dynamic and passionate teachers, literacy coaches, administrators, and parents that I’ve ever met.  I have learned so much from what you have shared from your classrooms and homes.  I am inspired to become an even better teacher and mother.

I stand in awe of those of you who have classrooms of students slicing with you.  By next year I am going to figure out how to organize and keep up with 120 language arts students so I can share the excitement with them as well.

I will be back tomorrow for the weekly round up of slices each Tuesday!  I hope to see you there, too.

March 30, 2014
by Mrs. McGriff

Right Now

imageI’m taking part in the weekly Slice of Life Challenge sponsored by  Two Writing Teachers, where teachers write and share each Tuesday. Join in yourself or head over to check out what’s happening with other slicers. If you’re taking part in the SOL, leave a link to your post. I’d love to read it.

I was inspired by yesterday’s inspiration of the Right Now post written by Terje.  As I am enjoying the last day of spring break, I thought it would be a perfect way to capture the end of the week before jumping into the whirl of the last eight weeks of school.

Here goes.  Right now I am

  • waiting for warm weather to finally arrive.
  • appreciating the blue skies and sunshine we had all day today–along with the crocuses and daffodils that have started blooming.
  • thanking my family for all their help cleaning our house this weekend.
  • cooking hamburgers and french fries for dinner tonight.
  • anticipating the excitement my students will bring back from spring break.
  • reading Georgia Heard’s book on writing nonfiction, Finding the Heart of Nonfiction.
  • smiling because I feel rested and renewed after the past week of reading and relaxing
  • accepting that I didn’t get everything done, and that’s okay.
  • remembering and the amazing writing that I’ve read this month.
  • hoping that our test scores reflect the hard work my students have done this year.  I have faith in our work together, but not so much in the accuracy of the tests to measure it.
  • wondering where my daughter will end up for college and glad we have several years to sort it out.
  • wishing everyone a great end to the school year.


March 29, 2014
by Mrs. McGriff

A Rainy Day Equals a Clean House

imageI’m taking part in the weekly Slice of Life Challenge sponsored by  Two Writing Teachers, where teachers write and share each Tuesday. Join in yourself or head over to check out what’s happening with other slicers. If you’re taking part in the SOL, leave a link to your post. I’d love to read it.

I like living in a clean house.  I just don’t enjoy cleaning enough to make it happen on a regular basis.  But today several things conspired against me (or is it with me) to push me over the edge and finish cleaning.

A cold, quiet rain has fallen all day.  I can see the rain swelling the buds on the trees, but it does nothing to entice me outdoors.  I am also staring down the end of spring break tomorrow.  I know I will enjoy the last eight weeks of school much more if I can live in a house that at least starts out clean.

With the help of my husband and daughter, I began–digging out from under the piles of hats, gloves, coats, and boots that accumulated on the nearest surfaces through this winter’s weather; sorting through stacks of bills, letters, magazines, and newspapers delivered courtesy of the USPS;  putting away the detritus of completed and abandoned projects for furniture repair, picture framing, and sewing.  Now that I could find the furniture, I wiped away the layers of dust to discover that there was still wood under there.

Then all that was left was the floors.  A quick sweep of the broom gathered the dust and grime from behind doors and in the corners where Roomba can’t reach.  Neither Roomba nor the broom are any good at scrubbing the sticky spots off the floor, so it was time to get out my secret weapon:


Yep, I fell for the marketing gimmicks for the fuzzy-soled shoes, and I actually like them.  I put them on and spray the cleaner on a section of floor.  Then I’m off skating across the hardwoods (in my mind it’s an ice rink).  When I hit a stubborn sticky spot, I just stick my toe down and spin.  Voila!  The spot’s gone, and by the time I’m done, I’ve gotten in a workout.

Now I can enjoy my clean house for the rest of the evening.  I have dreams that I will be able to deal with the mess as it comes in the next few weeks, but I suspect the stuff that comes with living will overwhelm us once again.

March 28, 2014
by Mrs. McGriff

The Real Boy by Anne Ursu

imageOnce upon a time there was a city on an island that was protected by magic.  The magic ran deep through the roots of the wizard trees in the forest that surrounded it, but few knew the secret behind the magic.  Instead the people of the walled city and the village below were too busy using small magic to make their lives better.

In the middle of all this, Oscar knows his place in the world.  He is the magician’s hand, not as good as an apprentice, but Oscar knows the plants he gathers and prepares for the magician.  Oscar is content with his small world that resides in the cellar and the woods because he doesn’t quite fit in with everyone else.

Then when the magic starts unravelling on the island, Oscar must move beyond his comfortable life and explore what it means to be real and what it means to be magic.  Anne Ursu has created a magical story in The Real Boy that explores that power and magic of friendship and love and sacrifice.

March 28, 2014
by Mrs. McGriff

Where Are My Comments

imageI’m taking part in the weekly Slice of Life Challenge sponsored by  Two Writing Teachers, where teachers write and share each Tuesday. Join in yourself or head over to check out what’s happening with other slicers. If you’re taking part in the SOL, leave a link to your post. I’d love to read it.

I love many things about taking part in the Slice of Life Challenge–

  • being inspired by good writing and great teaching,
  • taking part in such a supportive community,
  • experimenting with different writing techniques,
  • having the discipline to write every day for a month,

–but one of the things I love the most is receiving comments on my writing.  Knowing that someone is reading my writing  motivates me to write more and more.  Those words of encouragement are like a trail of bread crumbs that lead me right back to more writing.  Thank you to everyone who has taken time to read and comment on my posts.

I also enjoy reading and responding to the other slicers each day.  I come away amazed and inspired.  Earlier this week Betsy suggested a commenting game.  I haven’t played by those rules yet, but her post did get me thinking about how I decide which posts to comment on each day.  I will warn you that for my commenting game, I make up the rules as I go along, and they change from day to day.

My Arbitrary and Ever-Changing Rules for Commenting:

  • I volunteered to be part of the Welcome Wagon during this month’s SOL.  I signed up because last year’s Welcome Wagon did such a good job in making me feel like I belonged.  In return, I got to read daily slices from a group of new writers to this community.  I don’t know how Bonnie divided the new slicers among us, but I lucked out.  By reading slices from the same group of people every day (people who made me laugh, who inspired me, who shared incredible experiences with me), I feel like I got to know them so much better.  I want us all to meet somewhere over dinner and continue sharing stories.
  • At some point during the last year, someone (I wish I remembered who) shared that they always commented on the three people who linked below them on the call for slices at TWT.  I thought that was a good idea, so I’ve been doing that, too.  Somedays it’s the three people below my name.  Some days, I am able to read and comment on the five or more slices below mine.  Since I am not consistent on the time of day I slice, I’ve gotten to read more variety.
  • Sometimes I just scroll through the links.  I’m not looking for anything in particular.  Is there a name I recognize?  Does the title or intro to the blog post catch my eye?  Is it a topic I share an interest in or a topic that introduces me to something completely outside of my experience?
  • I try to visit the blogs of the people who leave me comments.  It doesn’t always work.  Sometimes I can’t find their post in the long list of links.  Some days I just get overwhelmed and run out of time.

No matter how I get to those posts, I hope those writers are as encouraged by my comments as I am by the ones I receive.

March 27, 2014
by Mrs. McGriff

Playing with Fire

imageI’m taking part in the weekly Slice of Life Challenge sponsored by  Two Writing Teachers, where teachers write and share each Tuesday. Join in yourself or head over to check out what’s happening with other slicers. If you’re taking part in the SOL, leave a link to your post. I’d love to read it.

Smokey Bear says, “Only you can prevent forest fires.”   For most people, avoiding forest fires is good, but some people would rather play with fire.  My husband is one of those people.  Since he needed an extra hand with a controlled burn yesterday, I got to go along.

We started by hiking across the corn field after the truck got stuck in the mud and snow.  The area of warm season grasses that we wanted to burn was bordered on one long side by a muddy cornfield and on the other by a wide ditch filled with water.  That’s good since mud and water don’t burn.  We’d have to watch the skinny ends a little more closely.

My husband started setting the grass on fire with a drip torch.  Picture a giant lighter combined with a portable gas canister that drips fire.  Now picture the fire moving across the grass.  It’s not like your average campfire or fireplace fire.  Most of the flames are only a few inches tall (until they flare up a standing shock of dry grass).  They don’t roar.  They creep and crawl–at least at first.

I walk along the back edge of the fire with a tool that looks like a mud flap off a truck attached to a long wooden handle.  My father-in-law calls them slappers, but we don’t really slap with it.  Slapping would give the fire more oxygen to burn faster.  Instead, we lay it over the flames we want to smother.  We work our way across the end and up the ditch bank.  It’s not too bad until the wind blows the smoke back over us, burning my eyes and stinging my nose and lungs.

Now that we had burned a border around more than three sides of the area, it was time for the big fire.  My husband dripped fire down the remaining side while while my father-in-law and I guarded the end.  This time the wind pushed the fire ahead of it.  The fire crackled with a sound like popping corn or splattering raindrops in a rainstorm as flames raced to meet the fire creeping from the opposite side.  With a roaring wind, smoke boiled up into the blue sky and blew away.  The fire was out except for a few tendrils of smoke pouring from pockets hidden under the blackened grass.

Now that the fire had done its job, we could leave the grass to regenerate and become a haven for wildlife along the edge of the field.