Friday Five: Literary Halloween Costumes

Happy Halloween.

In celebration, we compiled 5 clever literary costumes for your viewing pleasure:

Humpty Dumpty (how cute is this kid?)


Harold and the Purple Crayon family:


Who can resist Gregor Samsa from the Metamorphosis?


This is a clever Book Fairy costume, which is apparently popular on Pinterest.


And my personal favorite, Edgar Allen Ho.


Friday Five: Literary Halloween Costumes

Up Late with Tuck Everlasting, by Natalie Babbitt

This week’s review comes to you from Ava Schreier, a sixth grade student at the State College Delta Program.

Natalie Babbitt’s Tuck Everlasting takes place in 1880. It begins with a ‘touch-me-not cottage,’ a little girl, and a toad. The little girl, Winnie, who happens to live in the touch-me-not cottage, feels caged in, imprisoned in her own home. Through the jail-like fence of her backyard, she muses to a toad across the unpaved road on a dull, hot, and dry day in August. And upon speaking to this toad, she announces to herself that she will run away the next day. However, Winnie need not run away, because she discovers the Tucks, a family who drank from a stream in the wood, her wood, 84 years prior, and are now immortal. And the Tucks embark Winnie on a journey that opens her eyes to the world.

Although the toad is, well, a toad, I believe it plays a much larger role in the book than seems at first glance. The toad symbolizes everything that Winnie should or wants to be; at the beginning, simply free. Tuck Everlasting is full of these metaphors and symbols, and this is one of the reasons I liked it, though given a choice I probably wouldn’t have read it. I don’t usually read fantasy, because it all seems just too unrealistic to be satisfying sometimes. This book is beautifully written, however, and while I wouldn’t say I particularly enjoyed the story, I definitely enjoyed the book, if that makes any sense. Natalie Babbitt gives a magnificent amount of detail with everything, and while at times this can add to the wonderfulness (yes, that is now a word) of the book, it can also at times seem a bit pretentious and excessive. This could sometimes downplay an emotion that the story was trying to conceive in the reader.

I did like the ending, though. The rest of the story, I found, was very predictable, and if there had been a happy ending I think it would have been too much. The fact that Winnie never went back to the Tucks gives it a little originality (though not much). I also liked the fact that Natalie Babbitt felt that she could destroy the stream as well. (In fact, looking back, she was quite merciless with a few characters… the man in the yellow suit comes to mind first.) Another thing I appreciated was that Winnie’s parents had very minor roles. They’re only mentioned a handful of times, and I think that’s all that’s needed.

One of Winnie’s main themes is want, and I think this holds true for the rest of the principal characters as well. In some characters more than others, but still. Winnie wants adventure. Her life is routine and full of fences, literal and figurative. The Tucks are perfect for Winnie in this way, and although at first she may not realize it, Winnie is perfect for the Tucks as well. Mae wants to feel like a mother again. After 84 years, her sons certainly don’t need one anymore. And Winnie, who always had a mother, but never really a mom, is perfect for her. (I believe that there’s a difference. A mother is the woman who gave birth to you, a mom is a woman who loves, wants, shows affection toward, and takes care of you.) Mae gets to fuss over Winnie, and Winnie lets her. Jesse wants a friend, and Winnie, who never really had one, is perfectly open to this. Miles doesn’t fit into this quite as well, but he definitely wants his children back, and although he never says this, I think that Winnie reminds him of his daughter. Something about the way he speaks to her makes me suspect this. Angus Tuck is harder to analyze. He’s the one of the Tucks who you get to know the least often. But I think that he is similar to Mae; he too wants to feel like a parent again. Or, maybe better put, feel that he is needed. I think his eternal life was wearing down on him, that he was starting to feel useless. And I think Winnie helps him along with that.

I would recommend this book to readers who read a book not only for the story, but for the writing as well, who like going deeper than the surface with things, and who can appreciate detail as a major part of what makes a story just that.


(Have a review you’d like to share? Email us at and we’ll post your review).

Up Late with Tuck Everlasting, by Natalie Babbitt

Up Late with Deception Point by Dan Brown

Today’s post is by high school senior Jordan Santillo, a student at State College High School in State College, PA.

Deception Point, by Dan Brown

rated 3.75 out of 5 stars

Dan Brown strikes again in this science fiction thriller of a novel! An entertaining read, it hooks the reader from the very beginning, and pushes that intrigue to the last few pages, leaving the reader salivating for more. The story begins in the office building of Senator Sedgewick Sexton, where his daughter, Rachel, discusses his plans for the upcoming election with him. The Senator is campaigning for President of the United States, and hopes to employ his only daughter, even though her support is clearly lacking. Within the first few chapters of the novel, Rachel is whisked away to her place of employment–the National Reconnaissance Office–to meet with her supervisor and be sent to see the current President, Zachary Herney. The President informs her that she is to be sent up to the Arctic Circle to assist in validating a NASA discovery. Deep within the deserted tundra, Rachel discovers something amazing that will change mankind’s view of the universe forever.

Forever a geek at heart, I thoroughly enjoyed the scientific information thrown into the writing. The plot kept me deeply enthralled and simultaneously educated me in the methods of modern glaciology and marine biology testing and experimentation. The intellectual aspect of the novel drew a few “oh”’s and “wow”’s from my mouth as I was reading. The four-hundred pages felt like one hundred, letting me zip through the text and enjoy the story without getting bogged down by wordiness.

The characters are likeable and relatable, letting the reader become engrossed in their decisions and feelings. My emotions were moved by the conflicts of each scientist and the heartache that bled out of a select few. The characters work to show the cut-throat, knife-split, sucker-punch drama of political competition. The ending of the novel is both satisfying and unsatisfying; it chilled my bones with irony, yet let me believe that grief can be mended by the love of another. The people in the story that I had come to be fictitious friends with wrapped up their stories and moved on with their lives, but the epilogue left some questions unanswered. This is one book that has no sequel, but leaves that nasty taste in the reader’s mouth, thinking “what now?” Well done, Dan Brown!


Up Late with Deception Point by Dan Brown

Nourishing NonFiction–Releah Lent’s Common Core CPR: What About the Adolescents Who Struggle . . . or Just Don’t Care?

Releah Lent will be a keynote speaker this Saturday, October 25, at our PCTELA conference. Check out her book description from Amazon:

Common Core CPR is needed. Urgently. Because if we continue to insist that all students meet expectations that are well beyond their abilities, these kids will only decline faster. We must cast aside what we know harms students and apply the teaching methods we know work.

Embracing what is best about the standards, Lent and Gilmore explicitly connect ideal outcomes to practical classroom strategies, including how to

  • Consider choice and relevance in every assignment
  • Plan and spot opportunities for success
  • Scaffold students’ comprehension of fiction and nonfiction
  • Model close reading
  • Teach students to use evidence


Nourishing NonFiction–Releah Lent’s Common Core CPR: What About the Adolescents Who Struggle . . . or Just Don’t Care?

Up Late with Vision Quest by Terry Davis

Few YA novels provoke nostalgia in me the way Robert Cormier’s do–I’ve read and re-read Fade so many times.  Recently, though, a friend recommended Vision Quest, a 1979 YA novel by Terry Davis.  She had recently re-read it and was reminded of the compelling protagonist and the strong story line.

Louden Swain, an 18 year old wrestler who plans to graduate early, has to prepare for his match, write his senior thesis, and negotiate a reorganized family as his parents recently split.  This story chronicles a boy on the cusp of manhood–a gentle, compassionate boy who loves his girlfriend Carla, and also loves her kitten Katzen.  There were a number of things that stood out to me as I read this book where nobody owns a cell phone, rival athletes greet each other with civility and respect, and young people go out into the Pacific Northwest to camp.


The two things I particularly appreciated about the storyline were the preparations he made for his match and the research and thinking he did for his thesis.  Louden has to drop about 30 pounds but keep his muscle in order to beat a rival wrestler.  He spends all summer working towards his goal, reading books on the human body and nutrition, and even seeking a doctor who will help him do it in a healthy way.  I was impressed with the single-mindedness toward his goal–how many teenagers today have a singular goal and apply themselves to it with dedication?  Although his nose keeps bleeding and he seems to only eat spinach, Louden remains committed.  His commitment also appears in his quest to finish his senior thesis, titled “The Mean Goodness” after a line in James Agee’s “Knoxville: Summer 1915.” He reads all kinds of things to write this thesis on the meaning of life.  Once, he quotes a character from Tom Robbins who says “If our style is masterful, if it is fluid and at the same time complete, then we can recreate ourselves.” He also discovers the meaning of life is not in finding ourselves, but in defining ourselves. 

The power in this book lies in the voice of the protagonist, and the way Davis captures the feelings of a young man about to cross the threshold to adulthood.  An enjoyable read, and I will certainly return to it again.

Posted by Kate, VP Secondary PCTELA

Up Late with Vision Quest by Terry Davis

Up Late with Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

You can’t always judge a book by it’s cover, but you can judge a cover by it’s book. Until I finished reading it, I didn’t catch the significance of the cover of Haruki Murakami’s newest novel. The main character, Tsukuru, has four best friends in high school, all of whom have a color associated with his/her last name–except for him, whose name means “to make.” On the cover, a hand with four fingers–all in the color of the last names–are balanced with a thumb showing a map of a train station. Tsukuru, as an adult, works to redesign train stations–something he’s been fascinated with his entire life. At one point in the novel, a character explains how the five friends were like the digits on a hand. The background of this cover is gray–how Tsukuru often feels. All in all, it is possibly one of the most accurate book covers I’ve seen.


Beyond the cover, though, the story captivates the reader. I read it not knowing what it would be about, so it unfolded for me without expectation. I love Murakami’s writing, and whenever he has a new book out, I want to read it. This novel explores one man’s search for peace with his past so he can live in the present fully. We learn early on that Tsukuru and his five friends were inseparable until he went away to Tokyo for college, and inexplicably, they refuse to speak with him and drop all contact. When he asks why, they all just say “you know.” While he has no inkling of what he may have done, he stops contacting them and loses the most important relationships in his life. This sends him to a deep depression. He thinks to himself at one point: “If there had been a door within reach that led straight to death, he would’t have hesitated to push it open, without a second thought, as if it were just a part of ordinary life.”

However, he learns to live without his friends, meets a new one, and pursues his career. In his mid-thirties, he meets a woman he wants a relationship with, and she tells him he must go talk to his old friends and resolve the past issues. Otherwise she thinks he will not be available to her fully. The book follows his conversations with these former friends and also weaves in flashbacks from his college days.

Reading Murakami is like experiencing dreamy verisimilitude. I suppose you could call his writing magical realism, but the tone of it feels a little different than traditional magical realism. His prose is precise and some sentences ask to be re-read, or written down, or just ingested and understood. I’ll end the review with a few gems from the book.

  • “You can hide memories, but you can’t erase the history that produced them.”
  • “One heart is not connected to another through harmony alone. They are, instead, linked deeply through their wounds. Pain linked to pain, fragility to fragility. There is no silence without a cry of grief, no forgiveness without bloodshed, no acceptance without a passage through acute loss. That is what lies at the root of true harmony.”
  • “Still, being able to feel pain was good, he thought. It’s when you can’t even feel pain anymore that you’re in real trouble.”
  • “Everything has boundaries. The same holds true with thought. You shouldn’t fear boundaries, but you should not be afraid of destroying them. That’s what is most important if you want to be free: respect for and exasperation with boundaries.”
  • “The human heart is like a night bird. Silently waiting for something, and when the time comes, it flies straight toward it.”


Posted by Kate, VP Secondary, PCTELA

Up Late with Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

Friday 5: Things to do in Pittsburgh when you’re at PCTELA next week!

1. Need food or want to stretch your legs? Go check out the Strip District, where food, art, and fabulous people intermingle.  Also a fun place to grab a kitschy souvenir. Right around the corner from the strip you can pick up a mini-donut at Peace, Love, and Little Donuts, and not feel too guilty because they’re small.


2. Like all the new books at the conference, but interested in old ones? Check out Caliban Books, where you can browse used and rare books.  They also have a music shop in the store where you can buy some vinyl.

3. Maybe you are more interested in a specific genre of books–like mystery? Go to Mystery Lovers Bookshop, one of the largests speciality mystery bookstores in the country.  They will have a booth at the conference, but nothing compares to going to the store itself. On Saturday afternoon, they even have an ARC giveaway.


4. Feel like you need some art to round out your trip? Or are you craving some Campbell’s Soup? Go to the Andy Warhol Museum. They even have gallery talks with artist educators on weekends.

5. Go to Point State Park and see all the impressive landmarks distinguishing Pittsburgh. The park is located where the three rivers converge.

imagesSee you all in just one week if you’re attending the conference! If you aren’t going to be able to make the conference, follow the conversation on twitter by looking for the hashtag #pctela14.

Friday 5: Things to do in Pittsburgh when you’re at PCTELA next week!

Up Late with Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood

This week’s book review comes from Sarah Rito, who teaches ninth grade English and journalism at State College Area High School.

Margaret Atwood is scheduled to speak in my town in November, an event I’m hoping I can escape from everyday busy to attend. I dove into Atwood’s books with Cat’s Eye in my early twenties, and have loved each thing I’ve picked up since then. Her gift for creating compelling characters and situations within the realm of real everyday life makes her stories accessible, but her thoughtful prose and eloquent turn of phrase leave my English-teacher-self feeling fulfilled.

So when I happened upon a copy of Stone Mattress, Atwood’s new book of short fiction, on display at the library, I had to pick it up. And it didn’t disappoint.

The stories in Stone Mattress follow a collection of eccentric characters as they navigate their later lives, reflecting on who they were and how they got to be where they are. Their reminiscences are at once funny, poignant and sorrowful, and serve as a reminder that whatever we are doing today, it will stay with us later in ways we probably won’t expect. With grace and care, Atwood explores the human dichotomies of connection and loneliness, youth and age and work and art through stories about writers, husbands, wives and, of course, jilted lovers.

Though each story stands alone, some center on a common cast of characters that make you feel like you’re dipping into different perspectives on the same slices of life. And fans of Atwood will recognize some voices from other novels echoed in later stories—a rare gift from a writer to see her imagination’s “where are they now” snapshots on characters whose books have long since been over.

Stone Mattress is worth the read even if Atwood won’t be speaking in your neck of the woods any time soon. It’s a meditation on lives passed and lives still in the living that leaves the reader with a sense of excitement for being in the now.


Up Late with Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood

Book review of My Life in Black and White by Natasha Friend

This week’s book review comes again from PCTELA member Amy Walter, an 8th grade reading specialist at Grove City Middle School, in Grove City, PA. Last week she reviewed North of Beautiful for us, and this week she follows that up with a comparable novel.


My librarian friend Jamie suggested that I read the book My Life in Black in White by Natasha Friend. Jamie and I are on the selection committee for a county wide book competition that takes place every fall in Mercer County. A few years ago I suggested North of Beautiful for this competition, and Jamie loved the book so much she not only passed it onto her daughter, but her daughter’s friend as well. Recently Jamie told me I should read My Life in Black and White because it reminded her of North of Beautiful, with a somewhat similar protagonist, yet a contrasting plot, yet nearly identical themes.

In North of Beautiful we have a gorgeous blonde protagonist with a significant facial “flaw” which serves as a metaphorical antagonist as she deals with the internal conflict of self-acceptance. In My Life in Black and White we have a similar gorgeous blonde who loses her beauty in a life-altering catastrophic event that renders her “unbeautiful.”

Lexi was more than just pretty. Ever since she could remember she was told how beautiful she was. On every outing as a child strangers would come up to her in awe, and remark on her butter-colored hair, perfect skin, and long fluttery eyelashes. Living her charmed life as the envy of many, Lexi had it all. That was until the night her face went through a windshield.

The novel examines the after effects of losing one’s own beauty, and coming to terms with the changes that quickly follow. The bones of Lexi’s face shattered in the accident, so readers see how she now must live her life rebuilding what was always held in such high regard. Lexi also has to come to terms with the night she had the accident, and if it was not for the betrayal of her best friend she never would have been in the car that caused the accident in the first place. The plot is a game of every small decision calculates a very different outcome.

I am such a sucker for good covers and I feel as though this was a great one. However, if this book had not been recommended to me I am not sure I would have read it. The back blurb does not give this book justice. On the surface this book does not seem like it would be a compelling read. It seems as though it’s a book about a pretty girl who has to deal with not being so pretty anymore. Boo-hoo to you, poor girl having to be average, right? But that is not at all what I took away from this book.

Like North of Beautiful, My Life in Black and White uncovers the gritty human truth of how important outward appearance is in society today. I would recommend reading this book alongside, or shortly before or after North of Beautiful. I would recommend this book to a strong reader for the literary quality, or a reluctant reader for the compelling story that gives definition to the term “page turner.”

Find Amy Walter at her website where she reviews books and talks about literacy, YA trends, and other literary things. The page is

Book review of My Life in Black and White by Natasha Friend