Friday, May 29, 2009

Friday Featured Blogger (9): MssJos!

I first got to know Melanie (who goes by MssJos online) of Reviews of Young Adult Literature (now Royal Reads) when she won my contest for Don Calame's book Swim the Fly. We both enjoyed it immensely, and since then I like going to her blog to read short but sweet reviews of books that may or may not work well in the classroom, which is a great selling point for me since I plan to become a teacher! Thanks, Melanie, for agreeing to be a featured blogger on my site!

1. Welcome, Melanie! Tell us about yourself in a few short sentences.

I’m MssJos on my blog (that’s my initials and my husbands’) but most everyone knows my name is Melanie Sullivan (if you have e-mailed me and I have responded). I am currently finishing up my master’s degree in secondary education so that I can teach high school English (it’s looking like 10th grade again but possibly 12th at this point--still waiting to hear). I live in Birmingham, Alabama with my husband and our 2 dogs Roxie and Reese. I spend what little extra time I have reading, cooking/baking, going to the movies, and running with my dogs (if being dragged behind them counts as running).

2. Tell us about your blog. When did you start it and why? What interesting things can visitors expect?

I began my blog initially as a way to keep track of some of the books I was obtaining in an effort to build my in-classroom library (sadly, many school libraries are outdated). After attending a Scholastic Warehouse sale in December of 2008 I spent an entire winter break reading and realized I was having trouble remembering which characters and themes were in which books so I started my blog as a reading log for myself. Also, I wanted parents to be able to read my reviews of any book I was sending home with their child, and what’s more accessible than a blog?

Visitors can find reviews of YA novels both new and old, suggestions for the classroom for each book (when applicable) and links to author websites and teacher guides if available. I also have a featured Book of the Month giveaway every month and author interviews and guest posts every now and then.

3. As a teacher, do you try to incorporate YA lit into your classroom, and if so, how do you do so? Can you share with us your class's reading list, so that we can all be jealous and want to be your students? :)

There is a great deal of debate about this currently--I am pro-YA lit in the classroom so that’s a resounding YES! I try my best to link themes of the classics to current YA lit such as Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter and Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak based on the theme of ostracism/outcasts. YA lit can provide a sturdy bridge of relevance between the themes in canonical literature and current issues in students’ lives, not to mention teens are typically quicker to pick up more modern books when given a choice. I always say reading is like anything else--you have to practice to get better and I find that students who frequently read YA lit on their own generally perform better in school required reading as well. I love to incorporate modern re-tellings of the classics, like Jody Gehrman’s Triple Shot Betty novels for instance, or Shana Norris’ Troy High, to help students see themes and concepts without getting bogged down by language and to illustrate the ability of these stories to transcend time.

As for my reading list (we’ll go with 10th grade though I am still waiting to hear which grade I will actually teach this fall) I am required by the state of Alabama and my school district to have students read: Julius Caesar, The Scarlet Letter, A Separate Peace, The Crucible, Lord of the Flies, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. My personal summer and independent reading list is super long and students just pick three to read throughout the year and complete independent projects on. In the name of saving space I will just tell you the 5 most commonly chosen are: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, The Gospel According to Larry by Janet Tashjian, The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom, and of course, Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. (Though you might be surprised how many male readers pick up Twilight—I was!)

4. Quick! Name 3 favorite books and why you think everyone should read them.

Ahhh, “Quick!” made my mind go blank! Geez, there are a ton of books I think everyone should read but the top 3 in the YA lit category that come to mind would have to be:

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson - because it is such a beautifully written honestly raw perspective that will make teens think twice about the way they treat each other and the “outcasts.” This was also the book that got me back into reading YA lit as an adult.

13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher – again, wonderfully written and gripping, this tale of teen suicide sheds light on the (sometimes damaging) ripple effects teen behaviors can have on others.

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton – this one is kind of random, but it’s a classic that, in my opinion, built the foundation upon which YA lit still stands.

5. What is your dream pet?

This is really weird but if I could have one as a pet I would love to have a dolphin, I love them and I think they are precious!

6. It's not weird; dolphins are adorable! So what do you enjoy doing on a rainy day?

READING of course! :) Actually to be honest, I get a lot of writing and grading papers done on rainy days, if I lived somewhere like Seattle I might have a novel published by now, or at least have finished my master’s thesis!

7. What books are you most looking forward to reading?

Along with the rest of the world, I am on the edge of my seat for Suzanne Collins’ Catching Fire. I was so impressed with The Hunger Games and how well young adults took to it that I can’t wait to see what’s next. I am also trying to get my hands on Beth Kephart’s Undercover because I hear the language is beautiful and relevant for language arts. This is another list that could go on forever, I can’t say enough about how impressed I am with the vast amount of YA lit being produced right now.

8. Ohh you definitely need to read Undercover. Now what are some things you just LOVE to receive for presents? :)

Sadly no one gets me these anymore because of my overflowing bookshelves, but gift cards to bookstores make me beyond happy! Free movie tickets are nice too! :)

9. And finally, tell us 2 interesting/strange things about yourself that can spark conversation.

Oh wow. Hmmm well, I have won some cooking/baking contests so if I ever tire of teaching I would like to start my own cafĂ©/bookstore. And let’s see (how bad is it that I am struggling to think of 2 interesting things about myself?)…I once got stuck in an elevator in the Louvre with my college roommate…it was humiliating but it’s a funny story I suppose :)


Well, if anyone is writing a scene in which their characters get stuck in an elevator, you know who to go to for a primary source! :) Thanks for answering my questions, Melanie, and for being a supporter of YA lit! You should definitely stop by her blog at Royal Reads to say hello and tell her I sent you!


  1. Thanks for allowing me to participate Steph!Great pics too, I think I want that specific dolphin! :)

  2. P.S. Troy High will be my July Book of the Month so keep an eye out for the giveaway! :)


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