Illinois’ Teen Readers Choice Book Award (Abe)

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Looking for some great YA reads?

I have chaired Illinois’ Abraham Lincoln High School Book Award Program for the past three years and volunteered on the selection committee several other years. This readers’ choice award is sponsored by the Illinois School Library Media Association (ISLMA).

I am a YA Lit Lover and Book Pusher, a term I was introduced to by my friends at Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville.

Some of my favorites are on this list and though Divergent and Fault in Our Stars were likely list toppers from last year’s list, I’m  not so sure when all the student votes are tallied which of these will be at the top of the heap come March 2015.

Here’s the 2015 Abe Lincoln High School Book Award List

Here’s a link to a PDF of all the author’s  and titles for this year’s list.

  • The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
  • Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake
  • Ask the Passengers by A.S. King
  • The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider
  • Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
  • DJ Rising by Love Maia
  • Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
  • Escape from Camp 14 by Blaine Hardin
  • Into the Wild Nerd Yonder by Julie Halpern
  • The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Sheperd
  • A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
  • Out of the Easy by Ruta Septys
  • The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
  • Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
  • The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith
  • Stolen by Lucy Christopher
  • Swim the Fly by Don Calame
  • The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau
  • The Selection by Kiera Cass
  • Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas
  • Unbroken by Laura Hildenbrand
  • Winger by Andrew Smith

Flipping Senior Comp Research-Watching Documentaries First

A Senior Composition teacher became outraged and had a visceral response after she watched the documentary Pink Ribbons, Inc. Seeking a project that would elicit that same response for our students we set-out to collaborate and revitalize the Senior Composition research unit. 

She had raised money and participated in a Komen 3-day walk only to learn about the pharmaceutical companies that sponsor these walks and have a vested interest in only finding cures/treatments that require patients to use drugs. The filmmaker also raised important questions like why after all these years do we only have slash (surgery), burn (radiation) and poison (chemo) as treatment options? Why is so little money spent on prevention? Why are women dancing and celebrating at these pink events instead of angry and outraged? These types of questions would make great research topics and so began a revitalization of the research unit.

After talking with her response to that film,  I said, great, “Let’s start with a documentary.” I loved the idea.

I began creating an Amazon wishlist of films. I scoured 3-5 years of nominated and award winning documentaries. The Sundance film festival was a prime source of inspiration. I selected films, like I do books for the library. Is there a teen character? Is it a topic that teens like: war, drugs, health, environmental, alcohol, mental illness, video games, art  etc…

For the complete student movie list, click here.

Students choose from a list. The movies would provide background knowledge and a topic to help get them started on their own research journey.  Some of the most popular titles for the project were: Boy Interrupted (Suicide), Black Fish (Whales in Captivity), The Cove (Dolphin Captures/Slaughter), Born into Brothels (Children of Prostitutes), To Hell and Back Again (Wounded Soldier/Oxycontin Addiction), The Invisible War (Women in the Military) and We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks.

I purchased all the movies prior to Spring Break and now, we (Two Sr. Comp. teachers, Instructional Coach and I) had to divide them up and watch them. Many were unrated and a few were rated R. One of the Rated R (for language) films passed inspection- The Dixie Chicks: Shut Up & Sing. Sadly, we were unable to include Murderball, a film about a Para-Olympic sport- wheelchair rugby due to its sexual content. We followed our School Board policy for unrated and R-Rated films.

We watched, Pink Ribbons, Inc as a model in class. We began with guided notes and we talked about credentials, bias, claim and evidence.

After the project when asked if watching Pink Ribbons, Inc. was helpful, one student said,

It’s a documentary that gets you thinking and gets your emotions roweled up a bit which makes you want to get into another controversial documentary and speak out about it.” – Senior Student, B.Z.

Wow- that was our intention! To be fair, however, not all students found it helpful. Some pointed out, like the New York Times review that there were simply too many messages and that it wasn’t like most of their films that tended to have a much clearer focus. We encountered another problem, too, when we learned that one student’s mother had just been diagnosed with cancer. Consequently, we need to select a different, and maybe even shorter film for the class model. I’m still looking.

Stage 1 of flipping this project involved beginning topic selection by watching a film. The four of us led a movie talk, much like a booktalk and let students select their films.

Watching the students as they watched their films was so much fun that even though we all could have been doing something else we were mesmerized by their reactions.

Some worked with a partner and they raced each other to look up a related fact on their phone or a nearby computer. Others muttered out loud angrily- “Why doesn’t anyone know about this?” The girls watching The Cove, were moved to tears. These movies got our students thinking and feeling in ways that no other research topic ever had. We were off to a great start!


E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars- What to read next…

E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars is by far my favorite YA summer read!


I found myself thinking today, what would I recommend next for students who love it too?

Matt DeLa Pena’s I Will Save You
This one has an unexpected twist that surprised me, just like Lockhart’s We Were Liars

I will save you

The story begins with the end-of-summer specatular silver-shimmering California beach scene brought on by the grunnion fish riding the waves to shore. Moments after the beach turns silver, one boy shoves another off the cliff, to what surely must be his death.

Kidd tries desperately to escape his tragic past and genetic death drive, beginning with running away from Horizon-the place he’s lived and received therapy since his mother killed his father and turned the gun on herself. Leaving Horizon, also meant leaving Devon, a friend who his therapist recommended he detach from.

Kidd had to push Devon off the cliff. He had to save Olivia. Kidd, an unreliable narrator, tells us the story by taking readers to the beginning of the summer, before Olivia wrote a song, before Kidd learned to surf and before Kidd followed Devon.

Kidd, Devon and Olivia are characters that stay with you long after finishing the final page.

Nora Price’s Zoe Letting Go

Zoe’s story, like Cadence’s is all about remembering the past…


Zoe knows she’s not sick.  She’s not like the other girls at Twin Birch, a mansion turned into a small group home for girls with eating disorders. She has to follow all their ridiculous rules, attend cooking classes, learn about protein sources when all the while she just wants to see her best friend Elise. But no one will let her. All she can do is write Elise letters.

Zoe is mired in her past, confused by her present and as her sad truth unfolds you will find yourself compelled to turn each page.

John Green’s Looking for Alaska

In Looking for Alaska, like We Were Liars is suspenseful…something big is going to happen. The chapter titles are counting down to it.


You can follow me on twitter: @DianeMankowski

Fight the Zombie Librarians

Get inspired. Catch Jennifer Lagarde’s (@librarygirl) Keynote from ISTE 2014.

It will motivate you and you will begin to ask yourself some important questions beginning with the first and most important one: Are you a zombie or a zombie fighter?

Zombie fighters always ask: Is this best for kids? Not, Is this what’s best for librarians.

It’s long, but definitely worth spending an hour on this summer!

You can follow me on Twitter @DianeMankowski

Humor-Teens Want Funny Books

HumorPDF of all titles in my Humor collection

Several years ago, students, often reluctant readers would request funny books. The requests didn’t come all at once, so every time a student asked me, I’d need to remember them and the non-fiction titles that were shelved all over the library.  It was the first time, I decided Dewey didn’t know it all. Between 0 and 100 was basicly a Dewey wasteland with very few titles, so I made up an unused number (080) and started moving all the funny non-fiction books here.

Some titles include: The Guinea Pig Diaries, Bossypants, Stephen Colbert’s I Am America and So are You, Dave Barry’s books and more. It made it so easy to pull these titles for booktalks and to direct students when they asked for a funny book.

Now that I’m in the middle of genrey-fying fiction, it provided me with another opportunity- to shelve the fiction and non-fiction funny books together.

The bottom shelf of this short book case is the beginning of the non-fiction titles.


Close-up of bottom shelf.



Jennifer Lagarde (@librarygirl) in her Zombie Fighter ISTE 2014 keynote speech defined Dewey essentially as an inaccessible secret code that students need to crack in order to access books. In fact, the Dewey structure often gets in the way of students’ browsing and finding books that they might love. I definitely agree.  Access to information has changed and libraries and librarians need to evolve too.

The same humor sticker and shelving these together will make it easier for students interested in funny books to find them. I can’t wait to see how this collection circulates. Here’s hoping a #titletalk upcoming twitter chat will be on funny YA books! I have a feeling that these shelves will be looking pretty empty by early October.

You can follow me on Twitter @DianeMankowski