Goodreads Challenge: Balancing Reading & Writing in the New Year

I don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions, but this year I resolve to balance my reading and my writing. In past years, I’ve made reading a priority, setting my Goodreads challenge at 75 or even 100 books for the year. This year, I’ve decided to make a moderate challenge for myself in the reading area so I can balance that out by doing more writing–poetry, professional writing, personal writing, and even some fiction.

One of the motivators for me was a recent tweet from the Boston Globe citing the likelihood of winning powerball (1 in 292 million) versus the likelihood of writing a NYT bestseller (1 in 221). I don’t need to write a bestseller, thank you very much, I’d just like to write something a few other people want to read.

So here’s to a new year filled with plenty of reading and writing opportunities!

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Posted by Kate, VP Secondary, PCTELA

Goodreads Challenge: Balancing Reading & Writing in the New Year

Up Late with Victoria Schwab’s The Archived


Imagine a place where the dead rest on shelves like books. Each body has a story to tell, a life seen in pictures that only Librarians can read. The dead are called Histories, and the vast realm in which they rest is the Archive.

Da first brought Mackenzie Bishop here four years ago, when she was twelve years old, frightened but determined to prove herself. Now Da is dead, and Mac has grown into what she once was, a ruthless Keeper, tasked with stopping often—violent Histories from waking up and getting out. Because of her job, she lies to the people she loves, and she knows fear for what it is: a useful tool for staying alive.

Being a Keeper isn’t just dangerous—it’s a constant reminder of those Mac has lost. Da’s death was hard enough, but now her little brother is gone too. Mac starts to wonder about the boundary between living and dying, sleeping and waking. In the Archive, the dead must never be disturbed. And yet, someone is deliberately altering Histories, erasing essential chapters. Unless Mac can piece together what remains, the Archive itself might crumble and fall. 

In this haunting, richly imagined novel, Victoria Schwab reveals the thin lines between past and present, love and pain, trust and deceit, unbearable loss and hard-won redemption.

So happy to be writing about this book. I stumbled upon it a few months ago and finally had the chance to sit down and read it. And when I say sit down, I actually mean that I read while working out on the elliptical machine while my infant son slept and late at night after he’d gone to bed.

So, the blurb totally hooked me and practically begged me to read, and as I started the novel, I thought, “please don’t let me down.” And guess what? Victoria Schwab did not disappoint with this young adult novel. She has created a fresh and exciting premise with vivid, well-drawn characters.

I’m going to quickly name the things that I enjoyed most about The Archived.

1. It ended up being a murder mystery. I love murder mysteries!

2. There is a little romantic sub-plot that I did not see coming.

3. The relationship Mac had with her grandfather was super sweet. (Told through a series of flashbacks)

4. There were a few twists near the end that I did not see coming.

5. There is a sequel. (And I am going to order it NOW!)

For a mysterious and fun read, pick up this book!

Happy reading! 🙂 Jennie, PCTELA President @jenniekaywrites

Up Late with Victoria Schwab’s The Archived

Friday Five: Top 5 places for finding books in the summer

I don’t know if ya’ll are on summer break yet, but here are some tips for finding books this summer–for yourself or your classroom. I’m halfway through the final day here…happy book hunting and happy reading!


  1. Goodwill.  Most towns have a Goodwill or other thrift store.  In my town, I’m lucky enough to have 3 thrift stores, but really, the Goodwill has the best book selection.  In fact, I have begun to refer to the Goodwill as the Goodwill Bookstore. Hardcovers are $2, and softcovers are $1.  This is a steal! I try to go once a week, and if I find 5 books for $5, then I don’t worry so much if a student borrows a book and doesn’t return it.  Also, I’m more inclined to snag a book for a colleague and hand it to him/her and tell them to keep it or pass it along when they’re done. 
  2. Yardsales. During the summer, yardsales crop up like mushrooms in spring after a rainstorm (ok, that was a terrible simile, but I’m almost on summer break here, so cut me some slack). I find at yardsales if you tell people you’re a teacher, they’ll often try to unload heaps of books on you and not charge you much.  Yardsales are also a great place to find office supplies, costume closet props, and random classroom supplies.
  3.  I hate to promote a large conglomerate, but in many ways, functions because of the little guy.  Individuals and small bookstores list gently used books and you can find a number of books for only 75 cents.  Of course, there are shipping fees, but if you order more than one book from the same person, shipping goes down.  I like to use this for books I really want a copy of but do not care if it is a new edition. I’ve also sold some of my books on here, which is a nice way to make back some money from books.
  4. Exam Copies.  Can’t make it to NCTE this year? Order exam copies now.  They are only $3 (usually) and you can order them either via mail or online
  5. Swap with Friends. I’ve got an amazing group of colleagues and we constantly swap books and recommend books and share books.  For example, when I mentioned after reading This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett that I really wanted to read Lucy Grealy’s Autobiography of a Face one of my colleagues lent it to me the next day.

Posted by Kate, VP Secondary

Friday Five: Top 5 places for finding books in the summer

Up Late with Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone


Today’s review comes to you from one of Jennie’s students – Abby D. Thanks for contributing, Abby!

Around the world, black handprints are appearing in doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky. In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grown dangerously low. And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war. Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real, she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious “errands”, she speaks many languages – not all of them human – and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she?


When you read a lot of young adult fiction, there are some things you just come to expect. Such as, there will always be a love story (often involving a love triangle); the main character will be your average, everyday girl from Anytown, USA; and, almost always, everything will be resolved happily and neatly. Although there’s nothing wrong with these tropes, it’s often nice to read something without them. Daughter of Smoke and Bone, for example, is one of those books without the aforementioned tropes. While there is a romance subplot, it’s just a small factor in a story that expands far beyond our main characters. Set in Prague, the book contains a large cast of vibrant, quirky characters whom you are not going to forget, including a blue-haired art student raised by monsters, a tiny “rabid fairy” puppeteer, a creature that forms wishes (and other things) out of teeth, a violinist, and an angsty angel with some serious history. In addition, the book contains some absolutely gorgeous prose that gives it an almost fairytale-like tone, but don’t be fooled: this is not a happy story. Filled with twists that will keep you guessing and set in an absolutely unique world, Daughter of Smoke and Bone is an incredible story that will keep you hooked.


Happy Monday, all! 🙂 Jennie @jenniekaywrites

Up Late with Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Friday Top 5: Positive Outcomes of Giving Students CHOICE of the Books They Read!

After discussing the topic of student choice with my English class, and then piecing together what I’ve observed over the years, I’ve come up with the TOP FIVE positive outcomes that come from students having choice when it comes to reading.

You’ll look at reading as more of a fun activity to enjoy, instead of thinking of it as an assignment. – Morgan Z.

 1. Enjoyment. This one is a no-brainer. When students have a choice in their reading, they more than likely are going to choose books that they will enjoy. This enjoyment continues on beyond that one book, as they will find a certain author or genre that they like more than others, and continue to pick up books because they KNOW they will enjoy them. It’s apparent that my own students find joy in reading because when I ask them to get out their independent novels (novels that they select), there is an audible and collective “YES” from the group. They think reading is fun. Period.

 When a teacher gives us a choice, I feel like s/he has more trust in us, as students, and that makes me enjoy the class and respect the teacher even more. – Olivia M.

 2. Respect. By allowing choice, not only will students gain a greater respect for reading, they will also gain a greater respect of you – their teacher. When we allow our students to choose their own novels, learning is placed into their hands. No longer do the students have a teacher who “forces” them to read one novel in particular. They are in control. They have choice. They can read whatever they want. And most importantly, they garner respect for you for allowing them to do so. And when students respect their teacher, they will work harder. Win-win.

 My passion for reading ever since I was little has grown with my teachers giving me choice of independent novels. While I get to learn more and expand my knowledge with reading, I’m also enjoying it and motivated to read more. – Alyssa B.

 3. Motivation. What I am learning is that when students have a choice in regards to reading, they are more motivated to read even more books. That makes sense, right? This motivation factor also ties into the enjoyment factor. By giving students choice, they have the opportunity to select books that appeal most to their own interests, hobbies and tastes. Because they are reading books that appeal to these interests, the outcome is increased drive and motivation to read even more books similar to that last one. And get this… according to Guthrie and Wingfield, authors of Handbook of Reading Research, providing genuine student choices increases effort and commitment to reading. Two things that all English teachers want to see. Now, that’s awesome.

Lets us find new books through each other. – Abby D.

 4. Collaboration. I love when students argue. Over books, that is. Not only have my students argued over who gets to sign out my one and only copy of Divergent next, but they bicker over whether or not they found an ending of a novel/series good or bad. (Allegiant, anyone?) Because a variety of books are getting into the hands of students, there are more student recommendations floating around. This leads to novel discussion. When I have book talks in my classroom, all students are excited to hear about the latest trending books. And these book talks continue outside of the classroom, in the hallways, on the bus, over the weekend, and beyond…

5. Life-long Love of Reading. A student of mine wrapped this one up perfectly when she wrote, “By being able to choose your own novels, you are more likely to come across a genre or author you like, which only makes you want to find similar books to continue reading in your free time.” (Alyssa B.) She certainly hit the nail on the head. Giving students choice in their reading instills a life-long love of it, and what’s better than that?

When I asked my students what they feel the positive outcomes from having complete CHOICE regarding the books they read, I received the following responses.

(Note: many of these fit into the TOP 5 above!)

 You can choose something you’re interested in, instead of being told what to read.

 You connect to the story and get more into what you’re reading. –Morgan Z.

 It’s nice to have a teacher who gives you some freedom. We can look forward to class. – Carrington M.

 Makes reading more fun when it feels like you’re choosing to read rather than being forced. -Abby D.

 Does not seem as much like a project, but just a fun hobby. – Cole W.

 Choice can guarantee that the reader will like the story. You can pick any genre, any style. Plus, there are thousands of options. –Carrington M.

 I enjoy the book more. –Brad B.

 Makes reading more enjoyable. – Gabby C.

 Gives freedom to find our own books and develop our own favorite types. –Abby D.

 I have more respect for my teacher. She doesn’t just throw a list of books at you and say, “here. Pick one.” – Maia G.

THANKS FOR READING! 🙂 Jennie  @jenniekaywrites 


Friday Top 5: Positive Outcomes of Giving Students CHOICE of the Books They Read!

Up Late with Veronica Roth’s Divergent!

 A student of Jennie’s was awesome enough to write this Monday’s review of Divergent. Thanks, Mallory!


Tris Prior has waited her whole life for the day she gets to choose her faction, and home, for the rest of her life. But when she takes the test she discovers that she does not easily fit into one of the five factions. She is labeled as Divergent, but must keep it a secret as it is considered an anomaly in her seemingly perfect world. Through her new faction she faces struggles and people that either want to help her of kill her. Along the way she meets Four, a secretive initiation leader that catches Tris’s eye. He helps her see the flaws in the world around her, flaws that force Tris to make a choice far harder than any she’s had to make before. By the end, Tris knows little about who to trust and wonders how one choice could possibly transform her life as much as it does.
Action –packed and thrilling, Divergent starts with a fast pace that continues to the very end. The action never stops for even a second and Roth keeps you on your toes the whole time. Tris is a strong female lead and throughout the novel she relies little on others for help. Her character development is immense and she nearly transforms by the end. Four and Tris’s relationship grows and develops and takes a unique turn, as many of her relationships do. There are many surprises along the way that turn the plot down new and unexpected paths. Readers looking for a new type of dystopia will devour Divergent and the rest of the books in the trilogy.
Up Late with Veronica Roth’s Divergent!