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


Haiku for Poetry Month

Girl On Old Boat In Vietnam

Trey Ratcliff via Compfight

Summer beckons me

warm breezes, cold water

toes in the Atlantic sea

We wrote haiku poems in class today, and I have to share out a few from the nearly 100 that blaze a colorful patchwork of sticky notes across my bulletin board.

The swishing b-ball

The squeaking of people’s shoes

The cold, hard defense



The trees danced softly

together in the crisp breeze

laughing happily


A fish ate my shoe

then he swam off feeling blue

now I am shoeless


Skateboards, pennyboards

flip tricks and pure speed cruising

skulls and red and blue




Waves dance across the 

blue floor like ballerinas

in the Nutcracker.



Stretch into the splits

air whirling past as I turn

curtsy gracefully



Haikus are trouble

You must count on your fingers

Now my fingers hurt



The willow tree sways

with deep grace and sadness

the makes me love life.



Clouds form in odd shapes

Cats, dogs, hamsters, a bright face

What is up above?



Those furry felines

Twirling tumbling, and playing

They never stop meowing.



The crack of the bat

The smell of grass, sweat, and dirt

The cheers from the crowd.



Sand scatters the beach

Waves crash on the sandy shore

Blue water shimmers



The Nest by Kenneth Oppel: Worth Buzzing About!


photo credit:

photo credit:

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.

photo credit:

photo credit:

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.

photo credit:

photo credit:


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.

Student Blogging Challenge Week #8: Let’s Travel!

Let’s Travel..It’s Time to Explore the World!

Imagine you’ve just graduated from high school, and you have several months of freedom before college starts. Wanderlust, the down-in-your-bones hunger for travel, is consuming your every thought. So, you’ve decided to spend all your graduation gift money on a whirlwind trip abroad. Where will you go, who will you visit, what will you see and do during your globetrotting adventures? For this week’s challenge, take us to the places highest on your travel bucket list. Or, if travel doesn’t float your cruise ship, write a post about any country that mesmerizes you.

Better yet, follow in Namitha’s footsteps and devote an entire post to offering encouragement and hope to the earthquake survivors in Nepal. To read more about the earthquake, click here.

Please use one or more web tools you haven’t used before Glogster, Storybird, Flipbook, Bitstrips, Kizoa,, or Animoto – there are lots of tools to use  here  and the Edublogs staff  has put together a great list including how to embed the end products into your blog.

Planning your trip

  • Find out the requirements for passports, visas, or work permits for 3 countries you would like to visit.
  • Create a map showing your proposed journey. Try this mapmaker or this one.
  • What will you need to pack? Remember weight limits when flying. (Try writing using enumeration/listing text structure!)
  • How will you travel?
  • Where will you stay?
  • Create a realistic budget for a day of your journey. What will you spend money on?

On your way

  • Check out international signage for toilets etc, signs on roads – find pictures to share!
  • What will my money buy?- explore exchange rates – How much is a cup of coffee in 3 different countries?
  • Contacting Mom and Dad – know your time zones; explain how to use Skype or similar tech, or insert an international clock!
  • Flight times – using 24 hour time – how long are flights between major cities?

Visit at least one country in each continent (include Antarctica in Oceania)

  • Make a collage of where you visited. Try this collage maker, which is free and doesn’t require registration.
  • Teach us some of the language of at least three countries. For example, how would you say “How much is a cup of coffee?” in Mandarin or “Where are the toilets?” in Bengali?
  • Create a story of your journey.
  • Interview some of your employers or relatives you visit.
  • Create a playlist of 9 pieces of music or dance from your journey – not in English.

Home sweet home

  • How will you tell your friends about your journey?
  • What were the highlights and lowlights of each country?
  • Where would you visit again and why?

Add travel photos

Images make every post better. Remember only to use free photos or clipart that are licensed under creative commons. Use Compfight or Getty Images.

I can’t wait to travel to the far corners of the world with you. Let’s pack our bags and get moving!

*Here’s another student’s travel blog post to visit for inspiration!

Mrs. Rombach



Happy 451st Birthday, William Shakespeare!

According to historians, the Bard of Avon, the mastermind behind Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet, was born 451 years ago today. In honor of Mr. Shakespeare’s birth, I’ve shared Sonnet 18, undoubtedly among the most famous of his 154 sonnets, Best of all, Mr. Rombach and I worked together to pen our own Shakespearean sonnet. On Friday, after you finish the first of three standardized tests (ugh), I invite you to investigate the man who, according to The European Graduate School, “altered the course of European and World literature.” 

Sonnet 18 by William Shakespeare 

Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day?

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed,
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course untrimmed:

But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st,

So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Sonnet 155 by Mr. and Mrs. Rombach (with a little help from the Bard)

Shall I compare thee to a schoolhouse day?
Thou art more lively and more literate:
Loud bells chime to get classes underway,
Mere weeks remain ’til bathing suits must fit:

Sometimes too heavy the sharp pencil weighs,
Multiple choice brings on multiple pains,
The tests they stretch on for too many days
Our brains and our hands, every part complains;

But thy elusive summer shall not fade
Sandy beaches beckon, calling our name
Bags bulge at the zippers, travel plans made,
Come June 16th, our freedom we shall claim

So long, Eagle Ridge, our work here is done
Fare thee well, sixth grade, we’re off to have fun.


Eager to try your hand at creating a Shakespearean sonnet? Click here for step-by-step instructions.

My apologies to Shakespeare enthusiasts. My dear husband informed me that my original source for Shakespeare’s birth was dead wrong. In 2015, the Bard would be 451 (not 399 as previously posted). 

Quote by William Shakespeare




Mondays are Fun Days!

It’s Monday, and that means I’m not in class with you today. Please be shining stars for my substitute. So, what are you doing today? Let’s take a look:

(1) Vocabuary

You’re adding Week 20 vocabulary words to your spiral notebook. For each word, draw a picture that will help you remember the word’s meaning.



(2) Poetry

First, let’s read aloud Margaret Walker’s poem, Lineage.

Next, you’ll highlight words and phrases that are rich with imagery.

After that, annotate alongside your highlighted sections, jotting down connections, questions, or observations. Remember, imagery is a writer’s use of sensory words and descriptive details to paint a mental picture for the reader.

Subsequently, you’ll brainstorm content for your own poem about an adult who is special to you (parent, relative, teacher,  or coach).

Finally, you’ll write your own free-verse poem. You know we’ll be posting these on our blogs later this week! 🙂

Note: I’ll give a ticket to anyone who leaves a comment here on Monday to tell me which type of text structure I just used to tell you about our poetry workshop.

(3) Independent Reading

Catch up on your book club reading, if needed. If you’re where you need to be for tomorrow’s book clubs, read your own book. After reading, turn and talk to your table partner about what’s currently happening in your books. Ask each other about the changes you’re seeing in the main character’s thoughts and actions.

(4) Comma Rules or Text Structures Review

If you’re in Blocks 2/5 or 4/8, you’ll complete the two-sided comma rules review. If you’re in Block 3/6, you’ll review Text Structures in preparation for tomorrow’s test.

(5) Extra Time is Poetry Time

Here are a few poetry readings I’d like to share with you:


Wednesday, March 18 – A Problematic Day :)

Mrs. Rombach has teacher training today, so I’ll see you tomorrow.

Credit (creative commons)

Activity #1 Shark Video & Commenting

Today in class, we’ll watch a video about sharks. Afterwards, you’ll click on the title of this post, scroll to the bottom of the page, and you’ll leave a reflective comment summarizing your thoughts and feelings. For students in Block 2/5, this video may remind you of Xander’s compelling presentation about endangered sharks and whales. How does this video make you feel? What did you learn? How can you personally make a difference? As citizens of this world, how responsible are we for what happens to the creatures we share it with? How are land and sea creatures important to our own existence? Pay close attention to make sure your comment meets our class expectations:

1. Your comment is well-written and includes proper punctuation and capitalization. The pronoun I is always capitalized.

2. Your comment makes a connection or asks a question.

3. Your comment shows critical thinking. You’ve thought about the video and left a meaningful comment about its content.

4. Your comment includes your own blog’s URL, an active link back to your blog, as every comment should.

Racing Extinction – Why Sharks Matter from Oceanic Preservation Society on Vimeo.

Activity #2 – Vocabulary Story Time

Working with a partner, spend no more than 10 minutes collaboratively writing a short story using either a chronological or problem and solution text structure. Remember to use signal words to help your reader identify which type of organizational pattern you’re using. Include at least four vocabulary words from our list on the wall!

Activity #3 – Problem & Solution Paragraph 

Working in your writing groups, offer praise and polish comments on one another’s paragraphs. Pay attention to your writing mechanics (punctuation, spelling, grammar, capitalization). Next, revise and edit your paragraph and give it a creative title. We’ll print these out in the computer lab on Friday.

Extra Time?

Read quietly, work on a new blog post, or visit the Student Blogging Challenge and leave quality comments on a few class blogs from around the world.