Mrs. McGriff's Reading Blog

Happy reading!

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 1, 2014
by Mrs. McGriff

February Books Read

20) The Raft by S. A. Bodeen’s – a gripping story of survival at sea

21) God Got a Dog by Cynthia Rylant and Marla Frazee

22) Olympians:  Poseidon, Earth Shaker by George O’Connor

23) Olympians:  Aphrodite, Goddess of Love by George O’Connor

24) True Talents by David Lubar – Lubar may not have wanted to write a sequel to Hidden Talents, but I’m glad he did.

25) Cress by Marissa Meyer – Well worth the wait, and it may be my favorite of the series so far.  Each fairy tale is better than the last.  I can’t wait to see how they all come together in Winter.

26) The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman – I want a job at the New York Circulating Repository

27) Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell – How do I count the ways I love this book?

28) Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller with Susan Kelley – another book that has transformed my thinking and will continue to transform my teaching

29) Trash by Andy Mulligan – a compelling mystery set against the horrors of children living in a large trash dump to survive

30) When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Rights Leaders by J. Patrick Lewis – beautiful and thoughtful

31) Wolf Storm by Dee Garretson – danger and adventure packed into the filming of a movie that turns all-too-real

It is so hard to pick favorites from the books I read this month. I loved Cress and Fangirl and The Grimm Legacy.  Reading in the Wild inspired me.

February 1, 2014
by Mrs. McGriff

January Books Read

It’s a new year, and I’m looking forward to the new worlds the books I read will take me to. Here are the titles that started my year.

  1. **The Lord of Opium by Nancy Farmer – It was totally worth the wait to find out what happened to Matt and the few people left in Opium.
  2. “The President Has Been Shot!” by James Swanson – Not as good a s the Lincoln books, but I did learn much about this defining event.
  3. **The Darkest Path by Jeff Hirsch – scary and thought-provoking story
  4. Baltimore: The Plague Ships by Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden, Ben Stenbeck – graphic novel meets horror in a hunt for a vampire
  5. One Good Deed a Day:  A Journal – Yes, I read it, but this book is not done until I do and record throughout the year.
  6. **See You at Harry’s by Jo Knowles – This one broke my heart…so good and so sad
  7. Flat Broke by Gary Paulsen – Kevin is back with even more schemes–this time to get rich quick–and provides many laughs along the way
  8. **The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson – Wow! Such a powerful story of courage and fierce love
  9. Risked by Margaret Peterson Haddix – It’s back to 1918 and the Russian Revolution for Jonah, Katherine, and Chip–and Anastasia and Alexei, of course
  10. **Champion by Marie Lu – a stunning conclusion to the trilogy.  I’ll miss June and Day
  11. Sisterhood Everlasting by Ann Brashears – I didn’t see this one coming, but I’m glad I listened to it
  12. The Fun of It by Amelia Earhart – Just as charming as the first time I read it!
  13. **Unsouled by Neal Shusterman – There is much to think about in this third book in the Unwind Dystology
  14. Coming On Home Soon by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by E.B. Lewis – a poignant story
  15. **The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by E.B. Lewis – Sometimes change starts small and close to home
  16. **Feathers  by Jacqueline Woodson – Frannie’s story is a quiet story, but hope gives it power.
  17. **Me, Him, Them, and It by Caela Carter – My daughter recommended this powerful book to me.
  18. From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun by Jacqueline Woodson – another powerful story
  19. Crush by Gary Paulsen – My favorite of Kevin’s stories.

Thanks to quite a few snow days and the rest of Christmas break, January was a good reading month.  I had so many favorites!  I put an asterisk by my top books, but I had to restrain myself from putting one by all of them.

What were some of your favorite books from January?

January 9, 2014
by Mrs. McGriff

How did I do with #bookaday?

How did I do with the #bookaday challenge I shared with you before we left for our holiday break?  I didn’t quite make an entire book every day, but I came close.  With the extra days for snow and ice and cold, we were out nineteen days.  As you can see from the list below, I finished eighteen books.  A couple of them I started before the break and finished up during the break.  I ‘m also currently reading four other books that I hope to finish soon.  I’m even nearly caught up on writing book reviews!

  1. Son of Sobek by Rick Riordan
  2. Madeleine L’E’ngle’s A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Noveladapted and illustrated by Hope Larson
  3. Carter Finally Gets It by Brent Crawford
  4. Resistance:  Book 1 by Carla Jablonski and Leland Purvis
  5. The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde
  6. The Circus Comes Home by Lois Duncan and photographs by Joseph Steinmetz
  7. Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
  8. Pandemonium by Chris Wooding and Cassandra Diaz
  9. The Nazi Hunters by Neal Bascomb
  10. Bewitching by Alex Flinn
  11. The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt & illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
  12. Smoke by Ellen Hopkins
  13. The Lord of Opium by Nancy Farmer
  14. “The President Has Been Shot!” by James Swanson
  15. The Darkest Path by Jeff Hirsch
  16. Baltimore: The Plague Ships by Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden, Ben Stenbeck
  17. One Good Deed a Day:  A Journal
  18. See You at Harry’s by Jo Knowles


The best news is that I finally had time to read some books that I had been looking forward to.  They didn’t disappoint.  Some of the best books I read this year came during my #bookaday reading challenge.  What were some of your favorite reads over the break?

December 31, 2013
by Mrs. McGriff

December Books Read

December has been a fabulous reading month, thanks to Bookaday over the holiday break.  It’s hard to choose favorites, but I loved The Last Dragonslayer, Eleanor and Park, The Day the Crayons Died, and Smoke.

158) Michael Vey: Rise of the Elgen  by Richard Paul Evans- I’m lucky to get my hands on this title after a student donated it to our class library.  It’s one hot book.

159) Truth by Julia Karr – as thought-provoking and as exciting as the first one

160) Mind-Rain edited by Scott Westerfeld – A variety of YA authors give much to think about in their reflections on the Uglies series

161) Son of Sobek by Rick Riordan – Percy and Carter make a great team.  I hope this is a preview of books to come.

162) Madeleine L’E'ngle’s A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel adapted and illustrated by Hope Larson – I hope this beautiful edition points readers to the original

163) Carter Finally Gets It by Brent Crawford – a funny look inside the mind of an ADD 15-year-old boy trying to survive his freshman year

164) Resistance:  Book 1 by Carla Jablonski and Leland Purvis – a graphic novel that explores the complexity of history through the French Resistance under the Nazis

165) The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde – I love the fusion of humor and fantasy–and dragons and magic!

166)  The Circus Comes Home by Lois Duncan and photographs by Joseph Steinmetz – magical pictures and prose bring the glory days of the circus to life in a behind-the-scenes look at its winter headquarters in Sarasota, FL

167) Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell – Wow.  Just wow.  What a love story!

168) Pandemonium by Chris Wooding and Cassandra Diaz – a darkly fantastical tale of mistaken identity

169) The Nazi Hunters by Neal Bascomb – thrilling account of spies and survivors who were relentless in their zeal to bring one of the leaders of Germany’s Final Solution to justice

170) Bewitching by Alex Flinn – a rollicking good mash up of fairy tales and witches

171) The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt & illustrated by Oliver Jeffers – I had so much fun

172) Smoke by Ellen Hopkins – I am so glad to know the rest of Pattyn’s story, and boy, is it satisfying!

What have been your favorite books to end up the year?

November 30, 2013
by Mrs. McGriff

November Books Read

Another light reading month for me.  I must be grading too many papers and projects and blogs.  At least the books I did read were all good.  My favorites were Wake Up Missing, This Is What Happy Looks Like, and Code Name Verity.

151) Theodore Boone:  The Abduction by John Grisham – My students love this series.

152) Wake Up Missing by Kate Messner – I can’t wait to share this exciting mystery with my students!

153)  Theodore Boone: The Accused by John Grisham – another Boone case closed

154) More Adventures of Thunderfoot by Dan Bomkamp – a hit for the hunters and fishers in my classes

155) This Is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith – a quirky romance

156) Code Name Verity by Elizbeth Wein – My mind is still spinning from all the plot twists.

157) Death Cloud by Andrew Lane – I enjoyed meeting the young Sherlock Holmes in this audio book.

What books did you read this month?  What were your favorites?


November 19, 2013
by Mrs. McGriff

Why Read for Pleasure?

I’ve been growing more and more concerned with the discussions roiling around literature and reading with the coming of new Common Core State Standards.  Voices are clamoring that students engage in close reading (not a bad thing–as long as it’s not the only kind of reading students engage in) and that teachers increase the rigor (Do we really want more rigidity in schools?) of their classes.  In the debate over how much nonfiction versus fiction students should read, the whole idea of reading for pleasure seems to be forgotten or outright rejected.

If we reject reading for pleasure and teach in such a way that turns students off of reading all together, we are making a grave mistake.  As Mark Twain is credited with saying, “A man who doesn’t read has no advantage over a man who cannot read.”  Encouraging students to read for pleasure is crucial in getting them to choose to read, even long after they leave our classrooms.

The good news for those who champion increasing rigor and accountability is that reading for pleasure has definite advantages.  It only makes sense.  How can you get better at doing something if you don’t practice it?  Students are much more likely to practice reading if they enjoy it.  Several studies have come out recently that illustrate the academic benefits of reading for pleasure.  Scholastic published a study done in the UK that links reading for pleasure with increases in  reading and writing attainment, text comprehension and grammar, and breadth of vocabulary as well as increases in general knowledge, understanding of other cultures, and insight into human nature.  Jeffrey Wilhem and Michael Smith echo these findings in their study of fourteen eighth graders, reported in The Atlantic.

I am constantly enticing my students to read:  I talk with them about the books they are reading.  I share with them the books I am reading.  I book talk books and share book trailers.  I get to know my students so I can match their interests to books they just might love.  I give students opportunities to talk with each other about the books they are reading.

I also challenge my students to read more than they ever thought possible.  I borrowed the 40-book challenge from Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer.  (No, I haven’t yet read Reading in the Wild, but I hope someone will get it for me for Christmas.)  I still have former students come back to me and brag about reading 40 books in one year–and they are still reading.  I have students this year who are already surprised that they have read 10 or more books before Thanksgiving.  Check below for the updated totals so far this year.

I also borrowed the reading homework from Penny Kittle’s Book Love.  It helps me keep track of what my 120 students are reading, and it reinforces for them that reading needs to become a daily habit.  The record keeping is fairly simple (no more signed reading logs!)  Every Friday, students read for 10 minutes and record their starting and ending page.  They do some simple math to determine a reading goal for the week.  It looks like this.

  • Subtract the beginning page (10, for example) from the ending page (15).  That means the student read 5 pages during the 10 minutes.
  • Multiply the number of pages read in 10 minutes by 6 to determine how many pages could be read in an hour (5 x 6 = 30).
  • Multiply that answer by 2 to determine how many pages could be read in two hours (30 x 2 = 60).
  • The student’s reading goal for the week is to read 60 pages.
  • I figure the students’ grades based on what percentage of their goal they reach.  If the goal is 60 pages and the student reads 60 pages, the student earns 100%.  If the goal is 60 pages and the student reads 30 pages, the student earns a 50%.

I love that this individualizes the homework for each student.  Slower readers aren’t “punished” by having to spend twice as long on an assignment.  Faster readers are challenged to keep reading.  Neither are students penalized for attempting to read a more challenging text.

Each day in class I pass around a sheet listing each student and the title of the book they are reading.  Students simply write down what page they are on while they are reading.  I can scan the sheet to see who is nearly finished with a book and who is bogging down in the middle or having difficulty sticking with a book.

By reading just 15-30 minutes a night for homework, along with the in-class reading, students are reading more than they thought possible.   Just check out the totals so far:


  • 1st Period:  24 students have read 220 books, for an average of 9.2 books per student.
  • 2nd Period:  19 students have read 185 books, for an average of 9.7 books per student.
  • 3rd Period:  21 students have read 228 books, for an average of 10.9 books per student.
  • 4th Period:  19 students have read 200 books, for an average of 10.5 books per student.
  • 6th Period:  20 students have read 198 books, for an average of 9.9 books per student.
  • 7th Period:  15 students have read 105 books, for an average of 7.0 books per student.


That’s a grand total of 118 students have read 1,136 books, for an average of 9.6 books per student!

I don’t know about you, but I think that’s an impressive amount of books to read before Thanksgiving!  What have been your favorite books so far?

November 13, 2013
by Mrs. McGriff

Theodore Boone by John Grisham


I just finished two more books in the Theodore Boone series by John Grisham.  If you missed the first book in the series, let me introduce you to Theodore Boone, a kid who is already well on his way to being a lawyer.  He even takes on cases to defend in Animal Court (where no law degree or bar exam is required).  In fact, the Animal Court scenes are some of my favorites in these books.

In Theodore Boone:  Abduction (Dutton Juvenile 2011), Theo’s best friend April disappears one night, and Theo is probably the last person who talked with her.  While the town searches the streets, an escaped convict (and distant cousin of April) is the number one suspect.  While the police pursue false leads, Theo and his Uncle Ike try to track down April themselves.  Will they find her before it’s too late?

The tables are turned in Theodore Boone:  The Accused (Dutton Juvenile 2012).  Some one is after Theo.  He finds his bike tires repeatedly slashed.  Then the police find stolen computer tablets in his locker.  The final straw is a picture sent out over the Internet of Theo leaving the police station after being questioned.  Theo knows he is innocent, but even he can see that all the evidence is pointing right at him.  Can he figure out who robbed the computer store and framed him for the crime?  If not, he may get to experience the courtroom from a different side.

Readers looking for a smart kid detective who knows the law will enjoy these mysteries.

October 31, 2013
by Mrs. McGriff

October books read

136) Game Changers by Mike Lupica – typical Lupica story and characters introduce a new series

137) What Americans Really Want…Really by Frank I. Luntz – thought-provoking

138) The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater – Oh my…I love book 2 even more than The Raven Boys.  Now I want to listen to the audio as well.

139) Dragon Castle by Joseph Bruchac – Not only can Bruchac write outstanding historical fiction, he totally rocks with fantasy!

140) Rotters by  Daniel Kraus – This is one of the stranger–and darkest–stories I’ve listened to.  I’m not sure what I make of it–masterful yet disturbing

141) The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens – Wow! What a ride through a magical land where love overcomes evil in the end.

142) Outlaw by Stephen Davies – packed with action, adventure, and concern for the poor

143) Skinny by Donna Cooner – heartbreaking and inspiring

144) Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks – high school drama, friendship trials, and a spooky haunting

145) The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die by April Henry – Once I started, I could not put it down.

146) House of Hades by Rick Riordan – another wild ride filled with monsters and surprises

147) We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March by Cynthia Levinson – Who said children are too young to make a difference?

148) Sea Monster’s First Day by Kate Messner – Yes, I read books for Christmas gifts before wrapping them!

149) Sea Monster and Bossy Fish by Kate Messner – My nephews are going to love these signed copies!

150) Al Capone Does My Homework by Gennifer Choldenko – my favorite so far in the series