Blog Archives

Cold Cereal or Splendors and Glooms?

Hello Fantasy Lovers,

Now that we are just two meetings from the end our school year, we wanted to pick one more story to help us through these end of grade times.  We are deadlocked between Cold Cereal by Adam Rex and Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANow I propose a different way to break our book deadlock.  I think we ask Mr. F (our namesake) to choose our final read and we invite him to read along with us.  He constantly complains about not being invited to a club that bears his name.

So I’m off to see which of these fine books MR. F is most interested in reading, hating and talking with us about.

Wish me luck.

Mr. H


The Unwanteds Spell Parade

Hello Fantasy Lovers,

Recently we finished The Island of Silence, the second book in The Unwanteds series by Lisa McMann.  As we were reading we came up with the idea of creating our own spell ideas, much like the students of Atrime do in the novel.  So here is a video with a parade of AFFL students and one AFFL teacher explaining their spells.

I personally thought the ending of Island of Silence was outstanding.  It was a perfect second novel in a series.  I am now eagerly awaiting the next installment, as I need to know what is going on with the island of silence, the weird neck barbed wire thing and what is going to happen to Artime.

I would love to hear some AFFL thoughts on the end of the book and some predictions for the next story.  Hit that comment button and let me know what you are thinking.

Mr. H

ps.  I think we might have found our next AFFL book.  Goblin Secrets by William Alexander just won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.  It looks right up our alley.

An AFFL T-Shirt Presentation and Theme Song

Hello Fantasy Lovers,

Yesterday we were graced with an impromptu visit from a very special pseudo-member of AFFL.  Our namesake Mr. F chose to visit at the most perfect time that he possible could.  We had plans of storming into his room to do the following presentation, we didn’t need to, he came to us.

After the presentation tumult died down, two members calmed themselves and presented an AFFL theme song they had written over the track out break.

We also asked members to take pictures of themselves reading over break.  We only got a few pics, but more could come in soon.  Check them out.

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It was a big meeting.

Read on,

Mr. H

Nerdy Book Club Post

Hello Fantasy Lovers,

The following is a copy of a post I wrote for the kid lit blog, The Nerdy Book Club.  It was a lot of fun to reflect on our AFFL reading group.  I am posting it here as well so folks can see the pictures I included, but didn’t make it on the Nerdy Book Club site.


I got an intimidating email in my in-box the other day. It was from Colby Sharp asking if I was interested in writing for the Nerdy Book Club blog. Now I had signed up to be considered for the guest blogging role, so I knew I might get tapped, but still being asked to write for a blog and community that I have always just lurked near was daunting.

I was asked to write a post for the tag “Pay it Forward.” I’m still not sure exactly want that means so I have spent the last few days thinking of how I would respond. My first thought went to my work with SMS Guys Read, a reading club I started nearly six years ago to champion boys reading and highlight the books that appeal to guys. I love working with my guys read club, but a digital friend of mine, Mr. Shaffer wrote both eloquently and elaborately on the subject of Guys Read and even gave our club and our Intercontinental Ballistic Reading Group a cool shout out.

So what was I to write about? After looking back over some older posts and thinking about what else I manage to do in the reading lives of my students and school I have decided to talk about my AFFL group. Even now, nearly a year since its inception that joke still gets me smiling… my AFFL (pronounced awful) reading group. Still funny.

So let me go back to the beginning and set the stage for you. I teach sixth grade social studies on an interdisciplinary team of four teachers. We teach the classic four core subjects of Language Arts, Science, Math and Social Studies. Even though I am the social studies teacher and not the traditional reading teacher, my love for children’s literature has pushed me to become more of a champion for reading on our team. I have pushed, I will say without much resistance, for the role of reading to be a shared responsibility and not just the focus of our language arts teacher on our team. We now each take a day of the week to have silent free reading session and do with the students what we will. That means that students on our team will have SSR in Math, LA, Science and SS once each week. It is now so ingrained in the minds of our teachers that we look forward to our SSR day as much as the students, sometimes maybe even more.

We also used this sharing of responsibility and the focus on championing reading from lots of points of view to the area of circulation and the media center. Normally the Language Arts teacher is the only instructor allowed in the media center for student’s circulation time. We decided to share the responsibility between the science and social studies teachers. Now both my science colleague and I had once taught language arts so we both felt comfortable in the role of sharing books, and wanted our student the experience to hear our thoughts on books and reading as well.

My science colleague is an old friend and we have playfully disagreed on my subjects over our teacher careers, but after we jumped head first into reading we found we had one gigantic reading difference. I told a student they should read Percy Jackson and The Lighting Thief, My science buddy over heard this advice and thought he might need to see what all the Percy Jackson fuss was about. He read the book and hated it. In fact he decided right then and there that he hated all fantasy books and went about telling any sixth grader within ear shot how bad fantasy stories were.  The battle lines on our team started to form.

This became a year of banter back and forth between us, him championing nonfiction and me championing fantasy. After one relatively heated confrontation about Colin Meloy’s Wildwood, I decided I need to something more than banter; I had to band all of our fantasy loving students together, so I formed the AFFL reading group. AFFL stands for the Anti F(our fantasy loathing teacher’s last name starts with F) Fantasy League. Our role was to champion fantasy reading and blow razz-berries and anyone who claimed fantasy was silly or dumb.

We started meeting once a week during our school’s enrichment time and started out reading Colin Meloy’s Wildwood. After reading and meeting for a few weeks, we actually decided that this was more than just a one off club and we need to become more of a permanent group. We then created a blog and started meeting regularly at lunch.

After Wildwood, we started reading the Unwanteds by Lisa McMann and started making videos to go along with our readings. Those videos were the highlight of our time together and really probably one of the reasons so many students kept coming around, even if that meant not eating in the lunch room with the other students.

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After a few videos, my flip camera started to die. The video sound kept coming out all fuzzy and I made a half joking comment asking if anyone would like to donate a new camera. Lisa McMann saw our videos about her book and responded that she would be willing to share a camera with us as well as some really fantastic sway from her great Unwanteds book. My AFFL students were over the moon. Not only had the author of this book we loved written to us, but she loved what we were doing and was willing to share cool stuff with us. Powerful!

We even asked Lisa McMann what we should read after The Unwanteds. She demanded (her words) that we read The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen. After reading some of The False Prince and making more fun and fantastic videos Ms. Nielsen saw what we were up to and wrote us a very kind and incredibly powerful letter, she included with the letter some stones to go along with the plot of her fantastic story and some autographed stickers.

Three books read and two very powerful reading experiences met. We finished The False Prince right as our school year was ending, but we living the slightly strange world of year-round schools, so the end of last year was the end of June and we have already been back to school for about three weeks. As I see my now 7th grade AFFL members in the hallways they ask continually what is up with AFFL? So this school year we have made AFFL a legit after school club meeting twice a month. Our first meeting was last week and it was almost like a family reunion, even though we had only been gone a few weeks.

We have an author visit from Kenneth Oppel happening at the end of the month so AFFL will be reading his Silverwing novel and hopefully having a grand conversation with him and maybe some local bat experts. T-shirts are being planned and the members of AFFL are just as committed and excited about our group as they were when it first formed. In fact I now have to decide what to do with this year’s group of 6th graders. The word is out there that we have this AFFL reading group for students who love fantasy and current 6th graders are starting to ask me, “When can I join AFFL?” I think this AFFL group might have legs.

So what is my point in all of this rambling, really I think it boils down to championing reading wherever you can. Finding a hook and running with it.  I have found that middle school students crave the club setting and if structure the club around books and reading you can be successful with students.

I am lucky to teach in a school and on a team that love to read. I am lucky to have a friend who can push me on my love of fantasy and then handle me pushing back with a club named in his honor. I am truly honored to work with groups of students who love to read and are willing to give up their personal free time to meet with me and talk about books.

Read on,

Mr. H

A Fantasy Challenge

Hello Fantasy Lovers,

I just completed a fantastic fantasy read that might just challenge and delight a few of you AFFL readers.

The book is The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In A Ship Of Her Own Making by Catherynne M Valente.  That’s right, the book we gave our illustrious namesake on the occasion of his birthday.

I call this book a challenge as it really did push me when I was listening to the audiobook version.  It is not easy, but just weird and wonderful at the same time.  If you have read and enjoyed The Chronicles of Narnia, The Wizard of Oz or Alice in Wonderland you will see some similarities and connections here.  I also found it was similar in ways to Neil Gaiman stories, remember he wrote about it on the front cover, and the voice of main character really reminded me of the voice of Lemony Snicket.

I really challenge a few of you to give this book a look.  I know we have one copy in the school media center and I bet Mr. F would let you borrow his copy if you asked nicely.  It certainly will not be an easy read, but easy reading isn’t what AFFL is all about right?

Take a look at this excerpt, I just love this idea…

The Leopard of Little Breezes yawned up and farther off from the rooftops of Omaha, Nebraska, to which September did not even wave good-bye. One ought not to judge her: All children are heartless.  They have not grown a heart yet, which is why they can climb tall trees and say shocking things and leap so very high that grown-up hearts flutter in terror.  Hearts weigh quite a lot.  That is why it takes so long to grow one.  But, as in their reading and arithmetic and drawing, different children proceed at different speeds. (It is well-known that reading quickens the growth of a heart like nothing else.)  Some small ones are terrible and fey, Utterly Heartless.  Some are dear and sweet and Hardly Heartless at all.  September stood very generally in the middle on the day the Green Wind took her, Somewhat Heartless, and Somewhat Grown.

How about that language?  As an adult and father I know exactly what she is talking about.  As a child how do you read this?  Does it mean anything to you?

Hit that comment button and let’s get a conversation going.

Think on,

Mr. H