It’s April already?!

Sheesh, time is flying.  RJHS students have just returned from spring break, and we have 6 weeks of the school year left!  Amazing.

There’s still lots to be done before the year is over.  Next Wednesday is the libraries’ annual Poetry Slam, a new experience for me.  I started poetry readings at my previous school but, at RJHS, this is the libraries’ 8th annual Poetry Slam!  Our guest slammer, SATA a.k.a. Avery Kirk, is booked; cookies and coffee are in the works; talented students are signing up to perform their own slam poetry or songs with their rock bands…it’s all very exciting.  Select teachers and the guest slammer will judge the slam, and prizes will go to the top 3 poets.


Mrs. Whitley and I are working on interactive library displays to celebrate National Poetry Month.  We’re thinking spine poet-trees, among other things.  This week we are wrapping up March Madness, which was put on hold because of two snow days right before spring break.  The final game is The Perks of Being a Wallflower vs. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone — you can easily guess which is in the lead!

Bye for now,


Inquiring minds want to research…Frankenstein!

Firstly, happy 2016!  It’s been a busy start at RJ with history projects, a huge Theology project for all freshmen, and juniors and seniors out of school on service projects for a full two weeks!  What a cool school I work at, where students are given extensive opportunities to immerse themselves in solidarity with those in need.

During those two weeks of service, the sophomores were hard at work on inquiry-driven research projects.  Half of the sophomore class is writing a research paper on Frankenstein.  They were given five topics to choose from:

  1. Advances during the 1800s. What were some of the latest techniques and discoveries? More specifically, consider cloning and stem cell research. (Just how weird WAS Victor’s idea that he could make a human being).

**Remember, you are not simply researching and presenting these discoveries, but ALSO applying them to Frankenstein.

  1. Choose one of the scientists whose work Victor Frankenstein is said to have admired (Luigi Galvani, Allesandro Volta, Cornelius Agrippa, Albertus Magnus, or Paracelsus). What were their discoveries or areas of study? What influence did they have on Victor?
  1. Crime and punishment during the 1800s. For example, various characters in the book are accused of murder. What kind of trial and punishment could they expect? Were accused women treated differently than men? How is this portrayed in Frankenstein—accurately or inaccurately? OR, consider grave robbing. How much of a problem was grave robbing? Why? What were the punishments?
  1. Consider the role of women in society of the day. Where were the expectations placed upon them? What were their goals and pursuits? What jobs were open to them? Were Justine, Caroline, and Elizabeth “typical”? ALSO, consider the role of Mary Shelley’s actual life throughout the novel. What influence did her life have on her characters and overall story?
  1. What is the “Nature versus Nurture” argument all about? Consider what might cause the creature’s personality to develop the way it does. Along these lines, look into studies of “Wild Children” (Wolf Boy, Wild Peter, Feral Children, ETC). What happens to children that are completely isolated from human society?


What I love about these options is that each topic can be open to interpretation, and variations on these topics will be accepted by the teacher.  I find that this sort of guided inquiry goes over well with students; they want choice and they want to be free to explore, but they like having a bit of guidance.  I showed the girls how to use the Pocket app ( as a tool for curating sources.  It’s one of my favorite apps for research because in addition to saving web articles, it finds and saves the permalink for database articles!  Kudos, Pocket.

The research paper has to be 5-7 pages in length and include an annotated bibliography.  I like the idea of reforming a traditional research paper by being more flexible about deadlines, paying close attention to purpose and audience, writing to appeal, offering freedom for outline format, and making the annotated bibliography experience more authentic (Brainstormed in  Each of these is a longer conversation than I’ve had with the English department since I have been here, but I sense that they’re open to change if it translates to college readiness and a more joyful experience for the students.  Things to work on next year.

#BookReview of Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler

Junior Minerva Green and senior Ed Slaterton are over.  Done.  In order to get over her ex-love and explain to him why they broke up, Min is returning a box of momentos she hoarded over the course of their two-month relationship.  The novel is one long, sad break-up letter from Min to Ed, split into chronological segments based on the artifacts illustrated and detailed events that led to the couple’s destruction.  I use the word destruction so dramatically because that’s how Min comes across–annoyingly, but relatably, dramatic.  This was definitely not one of my favorites, but I finished Handler’s Printz honor book a week ago and I am finding Min Green and Ed Slaterton…indelible.  Every person can relate to this story about falling in love, heartbreak, miscommunication, cheating, and the painful realization that love doesn’t always last forever.

Handler’s story has inspired me to learn more about classic and independent films (almost all references in the text are over my head) and he has renewed my interest in oddball cookbooks.  Kudos.

why we broke up

#BookReview of Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand


I know I’m very behind on reading and reviewing this historical gem, but since Louis Zamperini passed away a little over a year ago, I figured it was finally time to make this one a priority.

First, I was impressed by how well-researched this biography was.  Laura Hillenbrand has real talent for finding nitty-gritty details and seamlessly weaving them into a beautiful narrative.  Unbroken reads like a novel, making it accessible to those who struggle through most non-fiction.

Louis Zamperini was born in Torrance, CA in 1917.  He spent his childhood causing mischief, stealing, and being the most unruly child ever encountered.  His older brother, Pete, told Louie something that would carry him through the roughest times of his life: “If you can take it, you can make it.”  Pete began training Louie for the track team.  With Pete’s coaching, Louie became the fastest high school kid in America.  He succeeded in qualifying for the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, where he raced the 5000m event and earned 8th place before enlisting in the army, where he became a bombardier. Louie’s plane crashed on a rescue mission, killing all but two others in his crew.  The men spent 47 days adrift at sea before being captured by the Japanese.

I finished Unbroken at 11pm on Saturday night because I HAD to finish it.  I couldn’t leave Louie in those camps any longer.  We were wasting away on the raft together, suffering on Execution Island, fearing for our lives at Ofuna…but all the while, Louie never gave up.  He was defiant and held to his incredible strength and, even when we thought we wouldn’t survive another minute, Louie persevered.  A few weeks ago I came across a Buzzfeed article titled “31 Books That Will Restore Your Faith in Humanity” with Unbroken making the list.  All the heartbreaking news lately about random and school shootings and ISIS attacks inspired us in the library to create our own list and display titled “74 Books That Will Restore Your Faith in Humanity”.  The list includes our favorite titles that remind us of the goodness in humanity.  Our collection includes books by Nicholas Sparks, some Laurie Halse Anderson, non-fiction by Fr. Jim Martin, and many more.

On Sunday, I had to see the film directed by Angelina Jolie.  Yes, reading the book before seeing the movie practically guarantees disappointment, but I had to know what many people’s only impression of Louis Zamperini would be.  Honestly, the film didn’t do Louie’s story justice.  I found myself commentating throughout the entire movie about Louie’s childhood mischief and the horrors that were left off the screen.  Poor Chris had to sit through my rants (He says that they made the movie better, but I think he’s humoring me).

Louis Zamperini was an inspiration to all.  Most of us will never know the smallest fraction of the pain that he experienced as a prisoner of war in World War II, and we can’t empathize with him, but we can recognize his unbelievable spirit and draw strength and comfort from his story.

Free Tech for Teachers: Read Write Think Timelines


From the website:

  • Looking to build skills or create new habits? Help children or teens make and manage a focused schedule of activities for a week.
  • After reading a book or story, review the events by helping children put them in order. Encourage them to record their reactions to enhance the review.
  • Before a big event such as a family gathering or vacation, help children or teens plan what steps need to be taken to get ready. Ask them to keep track of the steps as they are accomplished.


I’m sending this link to teachers who are participating in the RJHS “Year of the Top 30” project. Depending on the essential question they choose, teachers could use the timeline tool to present the top 10 works of American literature, the top 10 scientific theories that every American should know, the top 10 World History events that everyone needs to know, etc. This is an easy tool to create a visual representation of the class list.

Review of Dryland by Sara Jaffe


Life is mundane for Julie Winter, an average sophomore living in Portland, Oregon in 1992. She wanders the local craft fair regularly with her best friend, Erika. She cuts captions for the yearbook. She avoids parental interest like the plague.

Until one day when senior swim captain Alexis notices Julie. Julie’s broad shoulders and long frame are perfect for swimming. Plus she has a brother, Jordan, whose legend whispers from every trophy case in the school. Julie is suddenly included–she’s on the swim team, asked to be a photographer in yearbook, and finds herself invited to parties that she would never have dared to attend before. Or wanted to, for that matter. Except for the fact that Alexis will be there.

Jaffe’s writing is a sweet combination of Julie’s narration, objective correlatives, insightful descriptions, and understated sentences. The tale is incomplete, reading like a snapshot of Julie’s sophomore year of high school with little context or hint of what happens next. It is a perfect excerpt of teen awkwardness: confused sexuality, the search for identity, and family troubles. Recommended to adults looking to rediscover teen years and to teens looking for literary companionship.

Libraries and YA Literature