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Holy Bat House Batman

Hello Fantasy Lovers,

Now that we are about a week into our October track out break, I thought I would share some progress on my track out projects.  I mentioned at our last meeting that I was going to attempt a Silverwing project with my daughter.

Check out the video introduction by my daughter.

The one picture with my head a little cut off what taken by my three year old son.

So the next step is for all of the AFFL members to sign the Bat House and then we will find an appropriate location to hang the house and hopefully fill the night sky around our school with bug eating bats.


We also talked about our next read at that last meeting.  Lisa McMann‘s sequel to The Unwanteds, called the Island of Silence was the overwhelming choice.  Over track out members were to try and obtain the book and get started reading.  They were also charged with taking either video or pictures of them reading the book in strange and wonderful places.

I decided to take some pictures at the NC Museum of Art.  The art in the park section of the museum is one of my favorite stops during our track out breaks.

Here are some pictures of the bat house and me reading Island of Silence at the art museum.

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I hope the break is going well for you all.

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

Echolocation…The Game

Hello Fantasy Lovers,

Yesterday we had another AFFL meeting and talked some about finishing our current read, Silverwing by Kenneth Oppel.  So far many of us are nearing completion, or have had the book finished for a long time.  I am currently 72% finished, according to my Goodreads account.

We have all really enjoyed reading about bats and finding out more about them.  The big debate at yesterday’s meeting dealt with Goth and Throbb eating other mammals.  Most of us thought that bats only ate bugs, and in come cases drank blood, not ate other creatures including other bats!

After a little online research we did discover that one species of bats, the Spectral Bat, is carnivorous and does sometimes eat rodents, birds and other bats.  Check out this picture of a Spectral Bat eating a bird.

Not only were we interested in the feeding habits of bats, but we were very interested in their abilities to “see” with their ears.  An ability called echolocation.

So at our meeting we decided to play a version of Marco Polo and convert it for AFFL and Silverwing.  Check out the video…

We hope you enjoy the game.  Feel free to play it on your own.

Check back soon as we complete Silverwing, create new videos and move on to our next read.

Mr. H

AFFL Meets Kenneth Oppel

Hello Fantasy Lovers,

Yesterday we were honored to welcome author Kenneth Oppel to SMS.  He is on tour promoting his very entriguing prequels to Frankenstein, This Dark Endeavor and Such Wicked Intent.  His presentation was all about those two books and boy he did a great job talking them up.  I was super excited to get them on my reading list.

We here at AFFL decided to read a Kenneth Oppel book in honor of his visit, and as you know we chose Silverwing and Airborn.

We also learned that today, August 31, is Mr. Oppel’s birthday.  We thought that was a good enough reason to get him a small birthday cake from AFFL.

I, of course, don’t have any pictures of said cake, but I do have a video of our meeting.


We look forward to finishing Silverwing and starting to create some cool bat themed videos.

Read on,

Mr. H

New AFFL Year

Hello Fantasy Lovers,

Welcome back, it seems like it has been forever since we last met.

Today we had our first meeting, and it was memorable to say the least.  The major news is all about our new book selection and the special visit from Kenneth Oppel.  We are lucky enough to have Mr. Oppel visit our 7th graders and all of the current members of AFFL just happen to be 7th graders.

Today we tried to decide between Oppel’s Airborn or Silverwing.  The vote was not unanimous, but the majority was interested in Silverwing.  I think everyone was excited about both books and will be happy with Silverwing.  We will work on getting Silverwing and get into the adventure before Mr. Oppel’s August 30th visit.

We also talked about creating an AFFL t-shirt…I think we have a good plan and the shirt will be a simple, but effective advertisement for our club.

The end of the meeting had us handing out the last bit of the Jennifer Nielsen swag.  At the end of our last school year, we received a fantastic package from Jennifer Nielsen, the author of the absolutely fantastic novel The False Prince.

I handed out the stones she sent us at our honor assembly, but didn’t have time to hand out the signed labels she sent.  I handed out those cool labels today and then we got to hit something with a hammer!

We were actually one stone short in the package.  We had 21 members last year and the package had 2o stones.  It did have another surprise though.  In a small green bag was a very boring brown rock that was actually a geode.  Our final member spent our month off wondering what she was going to get.  Today she got to hit the stone with a hammer and screamed with excitement as the parts flew apart revealing the crystals hidden within.

I wanted to film the hammering, but the video camera was on the charger and in the excitement at the end of the meeting we all forgot, but here is a picture of the final result.

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Thank you Jennifer Nielsen for making our first meeting of the new school year a memorable one.

Read on,

Mr. H