Author: Robin Talley
Genre: Historical Fiction
Tags: LGBTQ+, coming of age, punk rock, religious issues, family issues, growing up, romance
Release Date: 03/31/2020
I received Advanced Reader Copy of this book for free through Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.
An enjoyable romp through 1970s LGBTQ+ San Francisco, Music From Another World is a historical fiction story told through the eyes (and letters) of two young girls deciding how far they’re willing to go to be themselves. The characters, settings, and ESPECIALLY the music in this book took me right back to the cool punk my 15-year-old self desperately wanted to be. Seriously, the soundtrack to this book is 🔥🔥🔥.
The story itself is told through a mix of letters and diary entries from two alternating perspectives. Tammy is a heavily-closeted lesbian trying to survive in Orange County with her evangelical gay-bashing family, while Sharon in San Francisco is coming to terms with the recent knowledge that her older brother is gay. The girls cross paths as pen pals through a school assignment, and their shared fascination with punk music turns a project into a true friendship at a time when both of them just might need it.
There were several things that worked well in this story, and a few things that didn’t. I expected the format of letters and diary entries to grow stale quickly, but for the most part I found I didn’t mind it. Sometimes the letters came across a bit stilted or awkward, especially when Sharon was recounting entire scenes with dialogue to Tammy. I also feel like the initial friendship between Tammy and Sharon lacked development. The pen pal program felt a bit like a convenient plot device to bring these characters together, and the development of the friendship felt a bit rushed and forced. I really liked Peter, and thought his character was the most developed and well-written. The adults in the story largely felt superfluous and, in some cases, cartoonishly stereotypical; something to be generally feared, and of no use to our teen heroines. I adored the scenes at the bookstore, marches, and punk concerts, though I could’ve used more vivid setting descriptions- especially as this book is geared toward an audience who definitely won’t have experienced 70s San Francisco.
I would also feel remiss if I didn’t point out that there are multiple instances of forced outing of multiple characters in this story, as well as negative reaction to some characters coming out. While there is obviously a historical context, I know these things can be triggering to some folks.
Overall, there was a lot of nostalgia in this book, and the story drew some clear modern parallels as many young LGBTQ+ people can relate to the difficulty of being accepted for who you are. A fun romp for the 15-year-old punk in all of us.
Author: Carrie S. Allen
Audience: Young Adult
Genre: Sports Fiction/ Realistic Fiction
Tags: sports, hockey, strong female lead, gender issues, discrimination
Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ /5
Release Date: 10/01/2019
I received an Advanced Reader Copy of this book for free through Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.
“This is the separate-the-men-from-the-boys part. Lucky for me, I’m all girl.”
Gosh, I loved this book. As an avid hockey fan and someone who really enjoys strong female leads in traditionally male settings, this book checked so many boxes for me. The story centers around Michigan, a female hockey player devastated to learn that her high school’s girls team has just been cut due to budget issues. While her teammates find various ways to move on from the blow, Michigan, who is not ready to leave her beloved sport behind, makes the bold decision to try out for the boys team instead.
Her drive to succeed and her hockey know-how quickly make Michigan the team’s top scorer and bring a positive spotlight to the program, but things in-house aren’t so hot. Team captain Daniel and several of his buddy teammates make it clear from the start that they believe Michigan has no place on the ice with them. As their antics escalate over the season, Michigan is forced to decide whether her love of the game and fear of losing it are worth continuing to be the victim of increasingly dangerous harassment.
There was much to love about this story, starting with Michigan. Throughout the book I found myself frustrated by her decisions regarding the harassment she experienced at the hands of her own teammates. “Just tell someone!” I raged. But in reflection, these repeated poor decisions are what makes Michigan such a believable character.
So many women in male-centric environments believe that they have to be independent, that harassment or aggressive behavior from male colleagues must be dealt with independently. There is a strong fear of the consequences of being seen as weak. Michigan perfectly embodies that rock and hard place in which many girls and women find themselves, and her story shows all the things that can go wrong when implicit bias and pure sexism continue to pervade.
We also get to see Michigan’s journey to recognizing a big character flaw, over-independence and a refusal to rely on others, which nearly costs her literally all the things she cares about. This includes her relationship with swim team hottie Jack, a character with just enough depth to be enjoyable. Sometimes he just feels like the generic boyfriend character- that is, until later parts of the story, when Michigan (and the reader) is forced to remember that Jack is his own person with very real feelings and opinions.
This book had an enjoyable cast of characters. Even the minor C-List characters, mainly Mich’s old hockey teammates, all manage to feel like unique and interesting people in the brief moments we see them. Mich’s family also felt pretty real. I was also very pleased with how everything was wrapped up in the end.
Overall, this was an enjoyable read that provided a nice treatment of some serious themes of gender bias and discrimination. I really recommend this book to anyone who likes sports stories, strong female characters, and realistic issues in young adult fiction.
In the past, I’ve talked a lot about building a classroom library from scratch. If you don’t have a classroom library, get one! The benefit to your students as readers is simply unparalleled. But how can you start the year off right to maximize student use and enjoyment of your library and get all of your kids reading? Let’s talk about a variety of ways to hook students on reading right off the bat.
Back-to-School is always a whirlwind of get-to-know-yous, sharing expectations, and creating classroom culture. Getting kids reading and using your library should be included on your very first day of class to make reading a clear part of your classroom culture! On Day One of class…
If not on day one, then definitely by day two, every student in your room should have a reading book from your library. Getting books in kids’ hands right away immediately builds a culture and expectation of reading in your classroom. Reading is important, and it’s what we do here, so we’re diving into it right away. No need to wait for your class’ first checkout in the school library- you’ve got books all ready to go, because reading is just that important.
Bonus points if you give students 10 or 15 minutes of class to read it- this doubles as casual observation time for you to start identifying kids who might be struggling readers or “fake” readers.
But how do you hook kids right away with books they’ll love? Let’s explore how you get each of your new students connected with right-fit books from your classroom library.
Donalynn Miller talks in The Book Whisperer about giving a reading interest inventory on the first day of school to every student. She then uses the inventory to stay after on that first day and individually select a book that each and every student might like, based on their inventory. Not only is each student immediately connected with a book they might click with, it shows right away that she cares about her students and their reading lives enough to take the time for each of them. Powerful stuff!
If Miller’s method isn’t a viable option for you, it is still more than worthwhile to give your students an interest inventory, for several reasons. One, it gets kids thinking about themselves as readers, what interests they have, and what they know about their own reading preferences. Two, you can use the data you collect to shore up areas of your class library that students may be more into this year. (For my group of kids this year, it was horror and thrillers- not something last year’s group read a ton of.) Three, an inventory gets students talking to each other about their preferences and reading lives- circulate and eavesdrop while they’re working, and you can learn a lot about your students right off the bat. I would have students complete the inventory before you introduce them to your classroom library so they’ve already activated their thinking about reading preferences.
There are hundreds of pre-made reading interest inventories out there for all grade levels, so this is one less first-day activity you’ll need to sweat. Here are a few great (free!) options for every grade:
Once students have started thinking through their reading preferences, introduce them to some high-interest options from your classroom library with a basket pass. Even if you don’t use book baskets in your library, if you can get your hands on enough book-holding containers to have one for each group, you’re all set for this activity! Students can start their “Books I Want to Read” list for the year with some high-interest titles straight from your library shelves.
A similar activity to the basket pass is book “speed-dating,” where you start with one book per student and the students (or the books!) rotate once every two minutes or so! You can set this up all sorts of ways and get fun and creative with it; an idea is to require students to read each book for the whole two minutes, which forces them to really try it out and see if it’s a good fit! Again, students should record titles of interest on a “Books I Want to Read” list.
I’ll go more into detail about this super-fun bookish game in the future, but you can easily get setup with the free game kit from the makers of Bring Your Own Book to play with students on the first few days of class (Note: An email is required to access). Best described as “Apples to Apples” or “Cards Against Humanity” meets reading, students are given a prompt (“Find a line that could be straight from a teenager’s diary”) and have to find a line in the book they’re holding that fits that description. There’s a rotating judge for each round just like CoH and A-to-A who picks the best or funniest answer as the winner. You can keep points if you like, but this one is fun enough that students don’t tend to get too concerned with winning or losing. I like to combine this with the Basket Pass activity- they get a few minutes to peruse the basket, play a round or two of BYOB, then pass the basket and repeat. A super engaging way to get middle and high school students skimming possible reads- be sure to remind students to keep their answers school-appropriate, though!
Use bulletin board or wall space near your library to advertise some of the high-interest texts on offer to students. Pinterest is full of fantastic ideas here, and you can even include students from the year before by having them leave their recommendations behind for future students. Early in the year I like to advertise first books of series, books with Netflix adaptations they may have watched over the summer, and books from a variety of genres. You can even make the books part of the display with specialty-crafted bookmarks that advertise your favorites or popular titles.
Once you’ve done some work in getting students thinking about their reading interest and maybe perusing some selections from your collection, it’s almost time to set them loose in your library. First, though, it is key to clearly state your expectations for library use, including procedures for check out and check in of books, when students can browse, how to re-shelve books, whether books can be taken home, and how books are to be treated. I am upfront with my students about the fact that I bought all of these books with my own money. They are always stunned, given the size of my library, but this creates another great opportunity to explain to students how much I value reading and their lives as readers, and how much I love books myself. To that end, I also make clear that I made this investment because I want every student to have a rich reading life, and that means I need their help in making sure that books stay present and accounted for and in good shape so we can all benefit from this library.
Then, once my spiel about rules and procedures is done, I let small groups of students browse a few at a time, with the expectation that everyone is required to check out something. This is the first day of class, so it could be anywhere from 3-5 more days until we’ll hit the school library for the first time. Some students could have finished a whole book in that time! Start early, read often! I make myself available to recommend books to students and record initial book checkouts on my checkout log.
Setting your expectations and creating a culture of reading from Day One of the school year can go a long way in keeping your students reading for the whole school year. The sooner you put books in your kids’ hands, the more you communicate the message that reading is what we do here, and the more you’ll get students to buy into reading. Next week I’ll explore some ways to keep students hooked on reading all year long, to make sure students are challenging themselves, and to avoid fake reading and book burnout. Stay tuned!
One of my favorite school experiences was when my 8th-grade teacher encouraged us to create our own blogs on Xanga, an early-2000’s service that sadly went the way of Myspace- still around, but no longer relevant. I loved the experience because the creativity and the freedom to post about things that mattered to me were just fun.
Hoping to recreate that experience and engage students in multimedia-inclusive writing, I scoured the internet for a student-friendly blogging service. I wanted the features available from traditional blogging platforms, including posting and commenting; however, the lack of adult oversight inherent in having students create independent accounts for commonly-used sites such as WordPress or Blogger left me wary. I wanted open communication between my students, but I needed to be able to moderate content. I also wanted to easily access students’ blogs in one place. A further challenge was to avoid platforms students might find childish, as middle schoolers (especially 8th-graders) can be sensitive to content that feels condescending.
Months after I began searching I randomly stumbled upon EduBlogs, which turned out to be everything I’d hoped for and more.
EduBlogs, a WordPress subsidiary, operates like any typical blogging service- in fact, the interface is pretty identical to WordPress, creating an authentic experience for students. The skills they learn by creating a blog through EduBlogs are directly transferable to WordPress and similar sites. Additionally, the site has that more ‘adult’ look I wanted for my students.
A side-by-side comparison of WordPress user interface (left) and EduBlogs user interface (right)
EduBlogs offers me all the control and moderation I’d been looking for. With a free account, I’m able to moderate my students’ comments on each other’s posts. The free account does not allow me to moderate the actual posts before they go up, but that’s irrelevant- I have total access to student blogs and can edit or delete any of their posts with ease, essential when working with impulsive, emotional middle schoolers.
Students have creative freedom in setting up their blogs, including changes to theme, background photos, text colors, etc. Each blog becomes a reflection of the student, and students love making their blog their own space. This may lead to some… unconventional design choices, but while we talk together about the importance of presentation, these blogs are not meant to be professional and stuffy- I want my students to feel comfortable here. This is their space.
Just a few of my students’ customized blogs.
I can view all student posts in chronological order from my dashboard, making it easy to click through posts without having to open each student’s individual blog. In the same window I’m also able to view other students’ comments. I can even leave private comments only visible to the author, making feedback a breeze. Massive time-saver!
You can embed all sorts of media into posts, including photos, YouTube videos, and even Spotify playlists! Pretty much any media that you can grab a direct link to can be embedded. (Note: Using actual embed HTML code is a premium feature- a bit limiting, but not something my students and I have missed terribly). I try to model incorporating different types of media for my students in my own blog posts.
EduBlogs offers support and instructions to optionally transfer ownership of student blogs to parents or students at the end of the school year. They even provide an informational letter you can send home to parents to help them decide if keeping the blog is something they want for their student. No more months of work down the drain when the school year ends!
While I love EduBlogs’ authenticity, less-comfortable tech users may struggle to adapt to all of the features in the user interface. I am an experienced blogger and have used WordPress for years, so it was a seamless transition for me; I knew how to help students from day one. Someone less familiar with the setup of traditional blogging platforms may want to spend some time learning the site before using it with students. However, EduBlogs offers lots of useful videos, PDFs, forums, and instant chat to support teachers as they learn to navigate the site.
A major missing feature I hope to see integrated in the future is account compatibility with either Google or Clever. I have found it simplest at this point to manually create my students’ accounts, but this is obviously time-consuming. You can have students create their own blog accounts and then join your class, but it’s not a perfect process and may end up giving students access to a separate blog that you can’t moderate. For my students, who are prone to interpersonal drama and for whom cyberbullying is a persistent issue, this wasn’t an acceptable tradeoff for any time savings.
This year, I have used EduBlogs to have my students do book reviews and podcast reviews. Apart from that, students are required to post something on their blog once a week. I provide suggested prompts each week that are broad and high-interest, but students are not obligated to use these (though most do).
Next year, I want to expand my use to include more assignments such as reading responses, quick writes, etc. that are traditionally done in student notebooks or turned in directly to the teacher. I hope to encourage a more collaborative learning community where dialogue occurs between a student and their classmates, not just the student and me.
The end of the year is upon us, and it can be a slow, slow crawl to the finish line. Grades are due and kids are checked out and admin has sent out yet another ‘friendly reminder’ about keeping kids learning until the last day. Fortunately, there are plenty of engaging, low-key, low-prep activities to do with your ELA students in the last days of the school year. Not only will they keep your kids productive, you’ll even get a head start for next year! Great, right?
You can do some of these activities as stations, create a hyperdoc for students to move at their own pace, or just have the whole class work through one at a time.
Take some time to have students transfer files that they may wish to keep from the school year to a personal email with cloud storage, such as Gmail. This is especially important if your students are in 8th or 12th grade, or if they won’t be returning the following school year. If you use EduBlogs, you can follow their handy directions to transfer ownership of your class’ blogs to students or their parents, and some other platforms you use might offer similar transfer options.
Hopefully, by this point in the year each of your students has read at least one book. Hopefully. Turn that reading experience into motivation for next year’s readers by asking each of your students to review their favorite book of the year. You can use bookmark book reviews and have students leave them sticking out of the reviewed book, or do half-sheet or quarter-sheet reviews an use them to create a bulletin board display for next year. Here are some ready-to-go templates!
In a similar vain to book reviews, create a ready-to-go bulletin board display for next year by having your students fill out an index card or one of the templates below with their best piece of writing advice. Remind your students that they’ve learned a lot this year, and this is a chance for them to share some of the ideas that were most helpful to them with future students. Get a ready-to-go kit over at my co-store, Two Bs in a Pod! (And, check out our end-of-the-year writing activity bundle!)
Have students put together a writing portfolio or general ELA portfolio with their top three or four pieces of work from the whole school year. Then, use Flipgrid or video recording software to have students reflect on why each of these pieces represent their best work, or why they are most proud of these pieces. Encourage students to consider picking pieces that show their growth over time. Students can put together their portfolios digitally using Google Slides, Google Sites, EduBlogs, or any presentation or website software. Ask students to share their portfolios with parents or family members at home! This activity is great because students can put as much or as little work as they want into their portfolios and reflections depending on the time available and your expectations. Below are tons of great options listed with grade level, price, and paper or digital format (as of this post).
Don’t have the time (or energy!) for students to put together a whole portfolio? Ask students to pick their very best piece of writing from the year (or an excerpt, if it’s a long piece), and do an author share celebration. Each student shares their piece orally with the class (or in small groups), and you could bring in some cheap cookies and juice pouches to make it feel like a real party. Between students selecting, polishing, and rehearsing pieces before they present, this could easily take you 2-3 class periods.
Doing some year-in-review activities can be a great way to get students reflecting on all the positive and interesting things that happened during the school year. Here are some ready-to-go templates for one-page reflections and memory books.
Have students make a summer bucket list of all the things they want to do over the break. They can create their lists either digitally (consider Canva or another graphic design software) or paper-pencil. Either way, encourage students to get creative and use color! You can get 3 free summer bucket list templates included with Two Bs’ end-of-the-year writing activity bundle (link below)! Here’s some inspiration and some additional templates.
Give your students an anonymous end-of-the-year survey about their experience in your class. It can be nerve-wrackingly vulnerable to open yourself up to this sort of feedback from students, but as teachers we know that feedback is essential to improvement for us as well as our students. Here is a copy of my end-of-year Google Forms survey to get feedback from my 8th-graders about their ELA experience, and some other pre-made surveys for elementary, middle, and high school.
Have students spend some time writing thank you cards to teachers, staff, and parents who have had a positive impact on them this school year. It may be useful to do a quick mini-lesson with a mentor text or two on how to write a great thank-you card, which is an important life skill students of any age can take with them when they leave your class. After the mini-lesson, set out some construction paper or cardstock, markers and coloring utensils, any other crafty materials you’re itching to get rid of at the end of the year, and set students loose. Here are links to some ideas and mentor texts for an easy lesson, as well as some printable thank-you cards if your students aren’t feeling particularly artsy.
Find some picture books (you can check a bunch out from your local library for a few days!), poetry books, or high-interest non-fiction expository texts such as fact or world record books. Have students find a partner and a comfy place to sit and enjoy some buddy reading. Students can take turns reading aloud to each other and discussing the text. You might think older secondary students would find this a bit childish, but it’s so rare that they get the opportunity to enjoy picture books or read with a friend. Pick some high-interest titles (suggestions below!) and your kids will have a blast. For added fun, encourage students to try doing character voices as they read!
Speaking of books, have your students make some summer reading lists! Students over 13 can use Goodreads to create a Want-to-Read list of interesting books they might like to enjoy over the summer, or you can have students use any of the neat reading list templates below to record titles of interest. Where will they find these possible beach reads, you ask? Have students chat as they work and recommend books to each other, but give your students access to some lists of great books for their age group by perusing some book blogs. Below are links to book blog posts about great summer reads for every age group! Bonus points- spend a few minutes making sure students know how to access and use their local library, including how to sign up for a library card.
Because sometimes, we just need a break from hearing our students talk, consider giving a listening station a try. This works best as a center rotation and definitely isn’t something I’d recommend trying for a whole class period, but if you pick some shorter, high-interest listening materials and include a short graphic organizer or doodle activity, students can learn that podcasts and videos can be fun and engaging! Below are listening options for every grade level and sheets for students to doodle or color as they listen.
Have your students play around with flash-fiction and write some six-word pieces. Students who are over 13 and okay to view potentially YA material can publish six-word memoirs at SixWordMemoirs.com, or you can create a gallery walk of students’ work. You can have students give six-word stories a try as well; I like to prompt students by giving them a genre to write in (fantasy) or a word they have to include (balloon). You can also have students do six-word summaries of popular books or movies; students love to write these and then have peers guess what the book or movie is. No matter which option you choose, flash pieces are a great way to get students thinking about (and having fun with) word choice and tone. You’ll want to make sure students have access to a thesaurus, and my best piece of writing advice is to write long and then revise short, and remember the power of punctuation. Students who finish early can illustrate their pieces and rewrite their work in larger letters with their best handwriting.
Have your students create some virtual magnetic poetry on Storybird! With thousands of gorgeous pieces of artwork to serve as inspiration, Storybird is accessible for every student from about second grade onward. If your students have not used Storybird before, you will want to build in an extra 10-15 minutes for them to explore and get familiar with the site, but it is not a hard one to pick up. Choose the “Poetry” option to create magnetic poetry. You can also have students turn their short fiction into picture books using the “Picture Books” option. There are also various writing challenges your students can participate in. If your students are burnt out on writing, they can read other students’ work both in the class and the larger community. Storybird is super school-friendly and protects students’ privacy, only publishing work with first names.
This game is super fun and I never get tired of playing with students. Bring Your Own Book is a free print-and-play game that requires players to, as the title says, bring a book to play with. Best described as Apples to Apples or Cards Against Humanity for readers, the way it works is students in small groups take turns being the judge and reading a prompt to the rest of the group such as “The title of a murder mystery novel” or “Famous last words,” and the rest of the group has two minutes (or less, or as much time as they want- your choice!) to find a line in their book that fits the prompt. When time is up, readers share the lines they found, and the judge awards the best or funniest answer the winner. You can keep score or just play for fun- it’s engaging enough that students are fine either way. The game is best for 6th-12th grade students, and you’ll want to give a friendly reminder beforehand about school-appropriate responses. You do need to provide an email to access the printable game and instructions, but you’ll get access to four additional game sets that are a little more nerdy in nature if you have students who might appreciate that sort of thing! You can easily take up most of a class period with this game!
Finally, review some ELA terms (and maybe even some fun trivia) with Kahoot, Gimkit, or Quizlet Live. There are tons of pre-made questions or study sets- all you have to do is sign up for a free teacher account and search for the topic you want. All three are free for teachers and students, and if you have a candy or prize box you’re trying to get rid of before the last day, this will definitely help! Some possible suggestions to search for include Disney movies/ characters, general trivia, summer trivia, sports, clean popular music (Kahoot will have music quizzes with actual video), American history trivia, etc. You can also look for more academic topics such as figurative language reviews, vocabulary quizzes, parts of speech or other grammar topics, quizzes on specific novels your class has read this year, etc. Plenty of options to choose from, easy to set up and run!
Happy almost-summer! Hang in there, everyone!