Summer Reading Recommendation: Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone

photo by Amazon

If you devoured the twisted ending of E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars, then you’ve got to read Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone. This YA book is a standout because it confronts teen mental illness head-on and without apology. On the exterior, the protagonist, Samantha McAllister, has it all–a reserved seat at the lunch table with the Crazy Eights, her high school’s most popular girls, a slew of potential hunky hookups, a promising collegiate swimming career, and a potentially explosive secret she doesn’t dare share outside of her family–or her weekly counseling session. Samantha has Purely-Obsessional OCD; her overactive mind whirs nonstop with poisonous thoughts.

     Thankfully, serendipity intervenes, and Sam meets Caroline, a devil-may-care outsider who knows exactly what the popular girl most longs for–real connections. Caroline leads Sam to the underground Poet’s Corner, a secret meeting spot for a group of outsiders bound together by their passion for poetry. Sam struggles mightily to find her balance: Can she join the poetry crowd and still maintain her Crazy Eights public facade? Will AJ, the shy, guitar-playing poet, ever be able to accept Sam into his world?

     I thoroughly enjoyed this book from start to finish. I especially applaud Stone for her determination to shed light on a subject that we all need to be talking about–and doing so in an authentic, carefully crafted manner that’s both respectful and thoroughly entertaining. I recommend Every Last Word to mature readers who are at least in the eighth grade. High school and adult readers, too, will find this book is an engaging, thoughtful read that’s generously seasoned with mystery, suspense, romance, and heartbreak. Topics covered include mental health, suicide, depression, bullying, poetry as therapy, and first love. In case it matters, there’s one sex scene similar to Hazel and Gus’s in John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars

Watch for more book recommendations shortly. I’ve been reading like crazy. I simply need to spend the time to write the reviews! 🙂

Keep on reading!

Mrs. Rombach


Rule Number One: Read The Rule of Three!

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four-stars_0Before reading The Rule of Three, I didn’t have one Eric Walters YA novel on my sixth grade bookshelf. Shame on me! After gulping down the 405 pages of this high velocity book, I’m ready for a refill. Here’s why: Eric Walters knows his audience well. He understands the challenges we middle and high school teachers sometimes have convincing a student to read, much less finding a book that will hold a young man’s attention past the first three chapters. Rest assured, dear teachers, there will be no abandoning The Rule of Three.

Sixteen-year-old Adam Daley is going about a typical high school day–eyeing a pretty girl, ribbing his best friend Todd, and trying to get a little classwork done. Without warning, a catastrophic power outage turns their world dark. Not only is electricity lost, but everything from cell phones to modern-day cars are rendered useless. Everything comes to a standstill in Adam’s hometown, and–as they eventually discover–across the globe.

Humans can survive three minutes without air, three days without water, and three weeks without food. Author Walters nimbly goes to work decimating creature comforts. Within hours, looting begins. Within days, widespread panic consumes the region. Riots over food and water erupt. Chaos ensues, but Adam, his police chief Mom, and former CIA agent neighbor design a radical plan to protect the people within their hastily constructed barriers.

What if today, in your neck of the world, the electrical grid went dark, computers died, and communication satellites shut down? What if the only operable vehicles were antique automobiles, gas-powered go-carts, and the occasional private airplane? Eric Walters plants the terrifying seed of possibility in the minds of all his young (and not-so-young) readers. How would we as a nation react? Probably not unlike the citizens of Walters’ fictional world.

I highly recommend The Rule of Three for both middle and high school audiences–particularly young males searching for a high-octane adventure in paperback. The book reads like a video game. Yes, there is violence and death, as to be expected when fighting for survival, but its content is not overly graphic or disturbing. I would say other dystopian novels dip a little deeper into the violence well. As of January 2016, Walters delivered a second and third book in this series. Go get ’em: Rule of Three: Fight for Power and Rule of Three: Will to Survive.



Advantage Alexander: Kwame Scores Another Power Shot with BOOKED

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     Through his two best-selling verse novels, The Crossover and Booked, author Kwame Alexander is telling us something very important: Kids connect with poetry.

     As a teacher, I find that my students, with round-the-clock schedules rivaling our President’s and hypnotizing little black hole screens, aren’t reading much outside of the classroom. I’m working overtime to change that, but it all boils down to the book. Does it hook my student? Is it “cantputdownable”? Could it potentially cause Mom or Dad to holler about reading past your bedtime? Will my student open the book to sneak a few sentences when there’s think time in the classroom? For The Crossover and Booked, the answers will always be “yes”.

     Over the past two years, I’ve found myself recommending verse novels to all my students–regardless of their reading ability. From kids who just can’t seem to finish a straight-up prose novel to those reading a book a day, verse novels deliver universal appeal. Kwame Alexander gets it. My middle grade students crave the heavier subject matter. Even in sixth grade, they’re already deep thinkers. They just don’t want to start a book that’ll take them 2-3 weeks to finish. In come verse novels, the year-round champions of my classroom bookshelf. The topics are thought-provokingly real. The characters are multi-racial, multi-dimensional kids dealing with the same junk that’s cluttering up the mind of any 12-year-old: fitting in and standing out, school struggles and successes, romance, self esteem, bullying, friendships, and tough family issues like chronic illnesses or divorce. Despite weighty topics, the pages of a verse novel b  r  e  a  t  h  e  with white space. In Alexander’s case, the black words artfully placed on the vanilla page pulse with the rhythm of humanity.  The laughter and tears his stories generate are 100% authentic. Did I fall in love with Booked? Definitely–just like The Crossover!  Yes, I have a book crush on literary fraternal twins. 🙂

     What’s all the fuss about Booked? Nick, a middle school, travel team soccer standout, has a linguistic anthropologist for a father. Big plays are Nick’s forte, but his professorial pop is obsessed with big words. In fact, he insists that Nick read a dictionary (his Dad’s) every day before he does anything else. That anything else includes soccer or hanging out with his best mate and fellow soccer phenom, Colby. Nick’s daydreaming about the girl of his dreams and an invitation-only soccer tourney in Dallas, but trouble is brewing in paradise. Bullies are on his back, and Mom and Dad’s perfect marriage isn’t storybook after all. Life is messy, and Nick’s is no exception. What is exceptional about this verse novel is that Alexander’s meticulously crafted words magnetize us. I was hooked on Booked from page one. Twenty-four hours later, I ordered another copy for my classroom bookshelf. I know exactly which book I’ll be promoting on Book Talk Tuesday. I plan to have a drawing to see which two lucky students will be the first to read Booked!

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                       I found an NPR interview with Kwame Alexander that I have to share. “How to Get Kids Hooked on Books? Use Poetry!” Check out the transcript by clicking here. Or, simply listen to the audio here!


The Nest by Kenneth Oppel: Worth Buzzing About!


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Springtime is wasp time. I don’t know about your house, but a day doesn’t go by that my kids aren’t hollering, “Mom, there’s a wasp in the house.” Thanks to Kenneth Oppel’s The Nest, I have an entirely new, somewhat menacing, perspective on  these ubiquitous flying insects. My GoodReads review on this  phenomenally engaging book follows.

The obsessive compulsive handwashing has started up again. Steve’s baby brother has arrived, and something’s just not right. While his parents aren’t elaborating on the baby boy’s heart trouble, Steve knows one thing for certain: his once-attentive parents are exhausted from sleepless nights and countless hospital visits. Hushed voices whisper behind closed doors, and Steve feels his normal existence crumbling apart.

After allergic-to-everything Steve is stung by a wasp, the dreams of a black-eyed angel begin. The gossamer-winged creature promises to “fix” everything, and normally nervous Steve is mesmerized by the angel’s rhythmic voice. Every night, the angel appears, at first soothing Steve’s fears. Then, fueling them by feeding into the young boy’s deepest fears. What if the angels could replace Steve’s critically ill baby brother with a perfect model? One little three-letter word is all it takes to unleash a horrific chain of events: y-e-s.

Even though Steve realizes it isn’t an angel that visits his dreams, but rather a wasp queen, he gives into the temptation. Soon, a wasp nest is abuzz outside of his bedroom window. It isn’t long before Steve begins to see a baby forming inside the nest. When the wasps are done, all Steve must do is open his window and let the angels replace his damaged brother (who Oppel brilliantly leaves nameless for most of the book) with a flawless copy, carefully crafted by thousands of yellow-striped workers.

I couldn’t put this thriller of a little book down. The Nest stings the soul. It got me thinking about the potential repercussions and moral tightrope of genetic engineering. In fact, months later, The Nest is still buzzing around my brain. Toss in a little sister whose plastic toy phone receives incoming calls, and a knife sharpening salesman that shows up at only one house on the street: Steve’s, and you’ve got mega middle school creepiness. I so loved this book that I put two hardcovers in my classroom library. After I showed the publisher’s book trailer to my class, a swarm of students raided both my class library and the school library (We need more copies both places!).

The best endorsement: Owen, one of my first student readers, said he couldn’t put down the book. In fact, for the first time ever, his mom actually yelled at him to stop reading and go to sleep. For any author, there’s no greater compliment than a 12-year-old boy who willingly gets scolded just to keep turning pages. 🙂  Fly out and pick up a copy!

Fish in a Tree: Six Word Memoirs

Thank you, Lynda Mullaly Hunt,

for giving my sixth graders a community-building novel

with characters of the utmost character–

authentic young people with whom we’re all identifying.

photo credit: nerdybookclub

photo credit: nerdybookclub

I typically read two chapters of Fish in a Tree daily–before we have independent reading. Each day, I look out into the eyes of my students, and I see engaged learners who’ve begun to feel as though Ally, Keisha, and Albert are classmates, even friends. (Shay, for the time being, isn’t well-liked, but I have a feeling  we’ll start to understand that mean-spirited young lady soon enough.)

Today, after we wrapped up our typical two chapters, I introduced six-word memoirs as a way to give all the Fish in a Tree characters a voice–and show what we know about characterization. Students crafted their own six-word memoirs in their choice of character. Then we shared out, trying to guess which character “authored” the memoir. I’m posting some of these inventive memoirs that crystallized fictional characters in a way that made this teacher mighty proud. Any fellow FIAT devotees who happen upon our blog, we encourage you to try your hand at naming the character behind each six-word memoir. By all means, leave us a comment with your guesses.

When it comes to teaching, there isn’t impossible, only possible. Thank you to all of the gifted authors who enter our classroom and in a few hundred pages alter how we view one another and our world.

Can you guess which Fish in a Tree characters “penned” these six-word memoirs?

1. I am the queen bee, loser. – Sam

2. I am alone. You can’t help. – Michael

3. I am not who she says. – Derek

4. One day, fish will climb trees.  – Zoe

5. Mean is cruel. Add some sugar. – Mackenzie

6. Stuck in a spider’s web. Alone. – Thiviya

7. There are mean people in life. – Amanda

8. Cars and tools are my life. – Ananya

9. Ally is smart. She’s something else. – Cecilia

10. Mr. Daniels is the kindest person. – Bryan

11. I don’t know what I’m writing! – Minahil

12. Star Trek. Star Trek. Star Trek. – Sean

13. Pickle color is my new style. – Kayla

14. The world of chess is unpredictable. – Alexa

15, Stuck under a hovering black cloud. – Rylie

16. Am I doing the right thing? – Spencer

17. Everyone is equal. There’s no favorites. – Owen

18. There’s more inside her, I know. – Rachel

19. Wooden nickels. Silver dollars. Love coins. – Jordan

20. Mental capability isn’t defined by writing. – Marissa

21. Dreams are determined by your will. – Kayce

22. Old things have lots of value. – Andrew

23. Broken. Being fixed by Mr. Daniels. – Ella

24. Why do people pick out differences? – Amanda

25. You can do it. I believe. – Ashrita

Until the next chapter,

Mrs. Rombach




The Thing About Jellyfish – New Book!

“I’ve written about astrophysicists and athletes, cosmologists and Arctic conservators, geologists and psychologists and farmers and awesome children. What I enjoy, above all, is telling a good story.This world of ours is complex, but  it’s filled with plenty of wonder and sparkle.”

– Ali Benjamin

credit: Good Reads


Sometimes, I get really lucky and simply stumble on the kind of book I found in The Thing About Jellyfish, the 2015 debut novel from author Ali Benjamin. On one of my many weekly trips to Amazon’s virtual bookshelves, the stunningly beautiful cover of this book populated my screen. I clicked on the image, read the description, and instantly clicked Add to Cart. I finished The Thing About Jellyfish about two weeks ago and it continues to thump  around in my still-in-awe brain like a damp beach towl in the dryer. 


After her best friend dies in a drowning accident, Suzy is convinced that the true cause of the tragedy was a rare jellyfish sting. Retreating into a silent world of imagination, she crafts a plan to prove her theory–even if it means traveling the globe, alone. Suzy’s achingly heartfelt journey explores life, death, the astonishing wonder of the universe…and the potential for love and hope right next door. 


The Thing About Jellyfish should be on every adult bookshelf, too. Who hasn’t ever hurt or been hurt by a friend, struggled with inexplicable grief, or wanted an impossible happy ending? We’ve all been there, like Suzy and Franny, trying to find our place in this physically and emotionally challenging world.  Plus, there’s real science poured into every delicately moving page.  The Thing About Jellyfish , recently named a National Book finalist, will touch your heart. Below are two videos about the book, one from me, and one from the author. I discovered Kizoa this morning  through Edublogs’ Student Blogging Challenge. I’ve given it a try so I can show my sixth graders  one way they might create a book trailer. See what you think.


I Wonder — Teachers Write Day #1

Teachers Write!

Yesterday, I walked the concrete paths of Cornell University, contemplating my son Bryan’s college future. Could I see him in the faces of the backpack-toting students who crisscrossed the campus? This Ivy League school, with its soaring stone clock tower, stretches across a seemingly endless green landscape overlooking Cayuga Lake.  As Amanda, the bubbly campus tour guide with bouncy chestnut curls, rattles off her freshman year favorites, I watch my six foot three son’s face for reactions. Trying to read his expressions is like rereading the same page in a book five times when you’re falling asleep. Hopeless.

My husband, 15-year-old daughter Cady, and our rising seventh grader, Sean, join me in the back of the pack. I wonder…what does Bryan think of this place, nearly six hours from home. Could he be a Cornelian? Does he even want to be a Cornelian? Can we even afford such thoughts? How do we help our children stretch for their dreams–and still put five kids through college? When these doubts, like ricocheting pinballs, start to spoil a perfect summer day in Ithaca, New York, it’s time to shut down the worry. One day at a time. One child at a time. One dream at a time. Today, it’s Bryan’s dream up against Dad’s impending deadline.

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Our time on campus is limited, as a flight from Dulles is on my husband’s evening agenda. There are 327 miles (5 hours and 36 minutes, according to Google maps) between us and Leesburg. With every toll of the clocktower, the urgency for departure grows, as do the snippy comments and irritability. We are all tired. We are all hungry. A 36-hour trip up and back to Ithaca, New York, is quite an adventureI Add in yesterday afternoon’s spontaneous vertical hike alongside Buttermilk Falls, and now there are five slightly sore campus visitors whose exhaustion has morphed into impatience. The clock is ticking as Bryan decides to stay after the Engineering info session to trail yet another happy-faced Cornelian around campus. Mom feels Dad’s tension as he calculates the countdown to takeoff. I wonder…how can someone’s tone of voice completely change the way we receive information? How do we recognize the stress, understand its implications, and yet are unable to deflect the crabby comments that dig a little too deep?

After making a quick trip to the Cornell Dairy Bar for grab-and-go sandwiches (and a single dip of ice cream for three of us), we hit the road close to 2pm, an hour later than planned. The five hours and 29 minutes forecast by Google Maps turned into six hours and 42 minutes with construction traffic, backroad detours, and emergency pee breaks. My salvation? Eye of the Storm by Kate Messner. My sixth graders closed out the year with rave reviews for their book club selections, including Wake Up Missing and All the Answers. I ordered Eye of the Storm for my own rising 7th grader; but guess who reads it first? Me, which keeps me chasing down monster storms with Jaden, Alex, and Risha instead of stressing about the climate inside our SUV during our own race against time. (I wonder…what really happened to grandma?) So I start yesterday at the storied Cornell University and land smack in the middle of a twisting, turning story by Kate Messner. I wonder if coincidences are really coincidences, or if there’s something more spiritual at work.

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Climbing out of bed this morning, I spend a few minutes fiddling in the kitchen and then plop down in front of the computer, a computer I’ve banished myself from since June 16th when school ended. Today, in the productive silence of a sleeping, husbandless house, I troll Twitter and listen to a few awesome podcasts. I order more books, including How Children Succeed, so I can inspire courage, curiosity, and persistence in my classroom. Next I shuffle some papers on my desk and find Kate Messner’s 59 Reasons to Write staring back at me. Do I really need 59 reasons? I could probably use just one. I start reading, and I am quickly reminded about Teachers Write!, the summer online writing workshop for teachers like me. I’d checked earlier in the year, but the details weren’t post yet. This morning, after yesterday’s car ride glued to Kate Messner’s story, I type “teachers write” into the Google search bar and discover I’m already one day behind. That’s okay; I am now signed up for another heart-pounding Kate Messner adventure.

Today, it’s my dream, and there isn’t any deadline. I wonder what I’ll write about in the month ahead. I wonder what prompts will give my fingers freedom to clatter across the keyboard. I wonder how my writing will evolve.  I wonder if there’s a storm of stories percolating inside of me. I bet the answer is yes.

March Book Madness Begins March 1st!

March Book Madness Starts Here…#2015MBM



Mrs. Rombach loves a little hoop action. Who doesn’t stare wide-eyed when a player swishes that silent, sinking, nothing-but-net ball?

Well, March Madness is in full gear–on and off the basketball court.  Fifth grade teacher Mark Jones, from Columbus, Ohio, started March Book Madness last year–and it’s spread across the globe in just 12 months. Wondering who besides Eagle Ridge’s awesome sixth graders might be participating? Click here to see Mr. Jones’s map.

In true March Madness fashion, it’s all about the brackets. Every week, we’ll be voting on which Middle Grade books to move forward. We’ll take part in crowning the champion! I’ve inserted the bracket so you can scout out the competition. Whether you’ve read the competing books or not, we need your vote! Scroll down to see my “collage players”. Then, beginning March 4, take the poll to determine which books move on. Come back every week–the competition is bound to heat up. This could be one for the history books (or the romance books, or the mystery books, or the dystopian books, or the adventure books, or the…you get the idea!). Now head to the library and practice your mad reading skills. 🙂

Presenting The Sweet Sixteen

March Book Madness Sweet 16 pizap.com14249691835611
piZap on

Here are two book trailers to check out. Want to see more? You know your way to YouTube! 🙂

Vote for your favorite books! Scroll to click done.

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Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey , the world’s leading questionnaire tool.

Book Talk Tuesday – 1/6/2015

Presenting a volley of verse novels…

What books were your hands wrapped around this holiday season?

Since this summer, when I stumbled upon National Book Award winner Brown Girl Dreaming via teacher Twitter chats, I’ve been on the lookout for more compelling, can’t-put-down verse novels. It wasn’t long after I polished off Brown Girl Dreaming that our librarian extraordinaire, Mrs. Becker-Sabik, put Locomotion and Peace, Locomotion into my open arms. Locomotion, another verse novel from prolific Woodson, delivered an achingly authentic story from the perspective of a teen boy forced into foster care after his parents die in a house fire. Then I read Peace, Locomotion, a collection of journal entries from the same parentless teen.  That trio of books cinched it. I am hooked. More verse novels, please!

I don’t always have the time to pour myself into million-page books, but poetry is refreshingly different. For this week’s Book Talk Tuesday, I present a rafter of richly crafted verse novels for the young adult crowd–for both male and female readers. Yes, that includes you, my book-hunting sixth graders! I’ve read all of these books except Sharon Creech’s twin tomes, Love That Dog and Hate That Cat. These two four-legged tales are next on deck.

Searching for something different? Give yourself the gift of poetry. Pick up one of these gripping verse novels today. You’ll find most in our classroom, but all can be pulled off the ERMS library shelves. What are you waiting for? Click on a book cover to watch the matching video trailer.


Mrs. Rombach

P.S. – I’ve ordered a few more verse novels. Keep any eye on the shelves!





What I loved: The strikingly delicate, somewhat surprising manner in which Woodson weaves words together. This story tells a truth in a way few other mediums dare.




 What I loved: The subject matter stole my heart: A gifted, barefoot runner who refuses to conform faces the uncertainty of her grandfather’s Alzheimer’s and her best friend’s percolating anger. Beneath it all, she finds the apple of her eye–art!



What I loved: Dressed in dreads and a lifetime of pain, young Locomotion slowly faces his fears through poetry. A fire stole his parents and placed his picture-perfect, deeply adored sister in foster care. Locomotion lands in a group home, where he’s struggling desperately to find his place and stay connected to his baby sister. Locomotion stays with you long after you’ve finished the book.



What I loved: Author Helen Frost rivets your attention on page one of Hidden. There’s a carjacking and an eight-year-old ends up trapped inside a locked garage. Her salvation? A faceless girl her own age–the criminal’s daughter–who tries to help. Flash forward six years. The girls’ worlds collide at summer camp, where they’re forced to face the truth about what happened all those years ago. Hidden roils with heart-racing twists.



 What I loved: Kasienka gives up everything–including her Polish name–to join her mother as they follow the lukewarm trail of the man who abandoned them both. Poor and on unfamiliar terrain, Cassie faces the crushing weight of sounding and looking different. Bullied by her new school’s popular girl, Cassie finds her battle armor as the fastest girl on her school’s swim team. With encouragement from a caring neighbor and an older boy, 12-year-old Cassie finds her voice and resurfaces stronger than ever.




What I am loving: I am in the midst of reading this verse novel, and the tension is palpable. Vietnam is moments from collapsing into chaos. A family is about to be torn apart by war. I have a feeling tears are in the forecast. What I am NOT loving: The cover! It fails miserably at conveying the combustible content smoldering behind this whimsical watercolor.         Dear Publisher, your cover choice stinks. Please reprint with a cover worthy of this author’s work.




What I love: The first page of Love That Dog, which reads:


Room 105 – Miss Stretchberry

September 13

I don’t want to

because boys

don’t write poetry.

Girls do.
















A Flurry of Three Frosty Books





 Glitter Text Generator

I was sledding through snowman photos tonight and came across a whopper. The town of Bethel, Maine, is credited with building the largest snowman on record. This frosty behemoth, constructed with 13 million pounds of snow, soared 114 feet skyward.

While flipping through Google images and belting out my own pathetic version of Frosty the Snowman, I landed on the idea for tonight’s #3 Countdown Post. You see, some of my best friends are flakes. That’s why I’m pleased to present my tribute to a trio of snowman-packed picture books. There’s a strong likelihood that you’ll be hearing one of these favorites this week.

Let it snow, man. The cold never bothered me anyway!

Mrs. Rombach