Author Feature-Donna Cooner (2017)

Spirit of Texas Reading Program-High School

Featured Author

Julie Murphy 

Donna Cooner

Can't Look Away


 Donna Cooner lives with her goat dog, Roxanne, in Fort Collins, Colorado, where she also works as a professor of education. A former gastric bypass patient, Donna was inspired to share some of her experiences with readers.  


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Book Trailers


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Book Quiz/Discussion Questions

Printable Copy

  1. In the first few chapters, despite the tragedy that has occurred in her family, Torrey is not a sympathetic character at times, both in her attitude and actions. Why do you think that is so? How does she become more sympathetic, and what are some of the reasons for this change?

    2. In the beginning of the story, no new videos have been posted to Torrey’s YouTube channel, but her stats have skyrocketed. Do you think this is a good kind of fame? Why or why not?

    3. There is a distinct contrast between the way Torrey and her mother initially deal with her sister Miranda’s death. Her mother is wracked with grief, while Torrey does not know how to act and is more focused on the way her life has changed. Why might this be so?

    4. In what way do some of the Day of the Dead rituals that Torrey learns from Luis help her in coping with her sister’s death?

    5. Discuss why Torrey finally decides that her mother should be the one to address the court, and how this might help both of them, and their family.

    6. What does Torrey learn about her sister and their relationship over the course of the book? How do these realizations help her in dealing with her sister’s death?

    7. Discuss how Torrey’s views of popularity and being famous change over the course of the book. Do you think she may go back to vlogging at some point? If so, how might her vlog be different in the future?

    8. Facing tragedy and difficulties often force people to grow and mature emotionally. Discuss how Torrey and her family change from the beginning of the book, both in the way they relate to each other and the way they deal with Miranda’s death. Also, how is Torrey’s growing maturity as the book progresses apparent in the way she acts towards others outside of the family?

    9. Luis is extremely patient with Torrey and does not try to push her in any way. Why do you think this might be so?

    10. The bracelet that Torrey gives her sister becomes increasingly more meaningful throughout the book. How does Torrey’s attitude towards the bracelet change from the way she describes it in the beginning to what happens to it towards the end? How is the bracelet symbolic of the way that Torrey’s view of her sister and their relationship change over the course of the book?



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Academic Programs

Printable Copy of Program


The first two activities in these programs work well in the classroom as well as in the library. They incorporate project-based learning (PBL) and AVID strategies and utilize educational technology programs that students will find engaging, including blogging apps, animation programs such as Powtoons or Moovly, and multimedia program VoiceThread. All three lessons could also be used in advisory or SEL classes, as they help students with issues that go beyond the classroom, such as digital citizenship, grief processing and cyberbullying. The first two activities have formative and summative components, and rubrics could be easily created using the provided rubric tool, if desired.


Activity 1: Your Digital Footprint and Digital Citizenship



In Can’t Look Away, Torrey Grey’s video blogging and internet fame are a double edged sword. Initially it provides her with fans, high status and satisfaction, but after her sister’s death, her online fans turn on her, criticizing and commenting in a mean way on every aspect of her life. How can a teenager maintain an online presence in a way that is safe, constructive and enriching? What pitfalls can be avoided? Which online activities are constructive, and which are destructive?


Formative: Students learn the difference between positive and harmful online activities, develop an awareness of their digital footprint and the effect it can have on their lives today and in the future, and learn what kind of online presence is desirable.


Summative: Students improve their digital footprint in one of two ways: 1) Designing and publishing a blog in Google Blogger, Wordpress or EduBlog (depending on preference of school) that follows the rules of a positive public digital footprint; OR 2) Creating an animated video that explains the concept of digital footprints and how to be a good digital citizen. 



ELA/Reading 1- 9C, 12C, 12D

ELA/Reading 2- 9C, 12C, 12D

ELA/Reading 3- 9C, 12C, 12D

ELA/Reading 4- 9C, 12C, 12D

Fundamentals of Computer Science-2A, 2C, 5B, 5D


Books to Display

The Future of Us by Jay Asher

Little White Lies by Brianna Baker
Can’t Look Away by Donna Cooner

serafina67 *urgently requires life* by Susie Day

Managing Your Digital Footprint by Robert Grayson

Girl Online by Zoe Sugg


Supply List

Online device and Internet access (PC, laptop, tablet, iPad or smartphone) for viewing websites and videos

Handouts - either paper or via online links

1) 10 Things Your Students Should Know About Their Digital Footprints;

2) Kaplan Test Prep Survey: More College Admissions Officers Checking Applicants’ Digital Trails


KWL forms printed out

Pens or markers for KWL charts


Detailed Description of Activity


Your Digital Footprint (Group Activity, Formative)

[NOTE:  A K-W-L Chart tracks what a student knows (K), wants to know (W), and has learned (L) about a topic, and can be used before, during, and after projects.]


Working in a group of 2-4 (larger groups for larger classes), students in each group fill out the first two columns of the K-W-L chart for the topic Digital Footprint. Students should leave the “L - What You Learned” Column blank (one chart for each group). One student should be the scribe.


Teacher distributes one of two handouts to each group and asks them to read the handout silently to themselves, marking the text for important points as they go.

Students then share with each other within their groups what they found important about the articles.

As a group, students complete the last column of the KWL chart.

Each group briefly presents to the class their KWL chart.


Good Digital Citizenship (Individual, Group activity, Formative)

Students view (as a class or individually, depending on resources) Flocabulary video - “Oversharing - Digital Citizenship - top ten things to think about before you post to social media platforms”.

Students individually take notes on most important points of video as they watch/listen.

Teacher projects Flocabulary Quick Review Page and asks class to supply answers (this can also be done individually).

Teacher displays Flocabulary Lesson Review Chart and Discussion Questions and moderates a class discussion on the questions.


Creating a Positive Web Presence (Individual, Summative, Students choose one):

Students design and create a blog that could be used as an ongoing positive web presence suitable for viewing by colleges, employers, scholarship organizations, etc., OR

Students design and create an animated video using Powtoon OR Moovly that explains Digital Footprint and Good Digital Citizenship.


Activity 1: Activity Resources

10 Things Your Students Should Know About Their Digital Footprints-

Kaplan Test Prep Survey: More College Admissions Officers Checking Applicants’ Digital Trails-

KWL Chart - 

Flocabulary Lesson Review Chart and Discussion Questions -


Activity 1: Resources for Teens, Teachers & Librarians

Flocabulary unit “Oversharing Think Before Post”-

Flocabulary Video on YouTube Oversharing  Digital Citizenship”-

Flocabulary Quick Review Page-

ReadWriteThink - How to Start a Blog -

Tips for the Teen Blogger -



Rubric Creator -



Activity 2: Teens Grieve Too - Understanding the Grieving Process and its Stages



In Can’t Look Away, Torrey Grey cannot begin to heal from her sister’s death until she finds a way to grieve and accept the situation. Torrey experiences all of the five stages of grief as identified by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. Grief is a natural reaction to many events that occur in a young adult’s life - not only death, but parental divorce, romantic breakups, loss of friendship, moving and sudden change.


In this activity, students learn about the Five Stages of Grief, and reflect on their own experiences with grief. They will then use the VoiceThread web program or VoiceThread mobile app to create an audio/visual presentation in which they describe their own experience with grief, discussing one or more of the Five Stages.



ELA/Reading 1- 13A, 17A, 17B, 17C

ELA/Reading 2- 13A, 17A, 17B, 17C

ELA/Reading 3-13A, 17A, 17B

ELA/Reading 4- 13A, 17A, 17B



Activity 2: Books to Display or Book Talk

Can’t Look Away by Donna Cooner

Tears of a Tiger by Sharon Draper

hold still by Nina LaCour

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Love You Hate You Miss You by Elizabeth Scott

The Last Summer of the Death Warriors by Francisco Stork


Activity 2: Supply List

Handout “The Stages of Grief”

Handout “My Stages of Grief”

Internet access via PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone

Computer mic - built-in or separate

Projector for instructor to show slideshow

Sticky notes


Large easel/pad for display to class and Markers



Detailed Description of Activity

Class is given handout “The Stages of Grief”.


Class views “Stages of Grief” Slideshow.


Think-Pair-Share activity:

Students break into pairs (by color of shirt, closest student to elbow, or teacher’s choice).


Instructor gives each pair a card with one of the stages of grief on it.


Timed for 1 minute each, taking turns, students describe to each other a situation in which they or someone they know experienced one of the five stages of grief. Students should be reminded that this does not necessarily have to be about death, it can be another kind of major loss. 

Teacher should have five large sheets taped to wall with one stage listed on each.

At end of exchange, each student pair shares their experiences with the class.

Teacher writes experience on appropriate sheet, OR alternately, students can write their experience on a sticky note and affix it to appropriate large sheet.

Students are then each given handout “My Stages of Grief” and asked to write down their experiences under each category.

Students use their thoughts generated on “My Stages of Grief” handout to generate ideas for VoiceThread presentation.

Students create a VoiceThread presentation using web based or mobile app.


Activity Resources

Handouts and Worksheets on Grief from The Stages of Grief, My Stages of Grief, The Grief Letter

Handout on “Do’s and Don’ts” for helping those who are grieving

Stages of Grief Slideshow -


Activity Resources for Teens, Teachers & Librarians (cost: $79 for one year or $15 month for single teacher access)

Grief Speaks - Teen Grief - a website for teachers and teens about resources and activities to help deal with grief. - worksheets and handouts dealing with grief and other mental health topics -

Helping Others Grieve From Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Bereavement Support page

The Bereavement Team at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center provides “Do’s and Don’ts” for helping those who are grieving. -

The Grief Recovery Method - ”Over 40 life experiences you might have that cause grief” by

Rubric Creator -



Activity 3: Cyberbullying



Cyberbullying is any form of bullying that takes place online. Cyberbullying is a serious issue experienced by many teens worldwide and can cause devastating effects, from depression to suicide. In this activity, participants learn about different types of cyberbullying and what they can do to overcome it. Being bullied, teased, or picked-on happens every day in schools, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay or can’t be changed.



ELA/Reading 1- 13A, 17A, 17B, 17C

ELA/Reading 2- 13A, 17A, 17B, 17C

ELA/Reading 3-13A, 17A, 17B

ELA/Reading 4- 13A, 17A, 17B

Computer Science 1- 5B, 5C

Computer Science 2- 5A, 5B


Books to Display

Teen Cyberbullying Investigated: Where do Your Rights End and Consequences Begin?

By Thomas A. Jacobs

The Bullying Workbook for Teens: Activities to Help You Deal with Social Aggression and Cyberbullying by Raychelle Cassada Lohmann, Julia V. Taylor, Haley Kilpatrick

Cyberbullying: Bullying in the Digital Age by Robin M. Kowalski, Susan P. Limber, Patricia W. Agatston

School Climate 2.0: Preventing Cyberbullying and Sexting One Classroom at a Time by Sameer Hinduja, Justin W. Patchin


Supply List

Online device and Internet access (PC, laptop, tablet, iPad or smartphone) for viewing websites and videos

Handouts - either paper or via online links

Posted infographics about Cyberbullying:

Provide link to Overcoming Bullying

Process journals or blank paper for students to take notes, reflect, jot down ideas for discussion

Student Polling Handout - Does it Happen Here?

Student Google Form Handout - Stop the Drama



Detailed Description of Activities

Address each definition and suggested solutions for the following by discussion and watching the linked videos:

How to Identify Bullying

How to Handle Bullying

Parent/Child Relationships

Causes of Bullying

Watch video: Think Before You Text


Begin the lesson with a reflection exercise to stimulate your students’ awareness. Ask them to think about two situations they have personally experienced within the past year: 1) A situation in which they felt harassed, bullied, or hurt by the actions or words of another 2) A situation where they felt supported, reassured or uplifted by the actions or words of another Give them 5 minutes to write about the situations in their journal.


Next, conduct a quick electronic poll or survey (Poll Everywhere, Poll Daddy)  to find out more about your class with 1-3 questions such as: How do your students define the term “cyberbullying”? (i.e. texting, tagging someone, spreading rumors, excluding, posting mean comments, emailing embarrassing photos, scaring or threatening people online, etc.) When are such actions just “teasing”, or just “drama”? When does it “cross the line”? Have students ever offended or hurt someone else?


Using Teen Cyberbullying Investigated, teens discuss when they might be “one click away from the clink”? In Teen Cyberbullying Investigated, Judge Tom Jacobs presents a powerful collection of landmark court cases involving teens and charges of cyber bullying. These charges include: sending insulting or threatening emails, text, or instant messages directly to someone; spreading hateful comments about someone through emails, blogs, or chat rooms; stealing passwords and sending out threatening messages using a false identity; and building a Web site to target specific people. Each chapter features the seminal case and resulting decision, asks readers whether they agree with the decision, and urges them to think about how the decision affects their lives. Have students create an online survey using one of the court case in a Google Form. Students send the form through a link to classmates and provide a report of results when the survey is complete.


Conclude with statement: Just like the permanent marker in our digital citizenship bag can’t be erased, anything we put online, tweet, or text is permanent. Even if we delete it, someone else may get it and forward it or keep it.  Just like the toothpaste that you can’t put back in the tube…once you say something, text something, tweet something, or send or post a mean comment or picture.


Ask for responses and discussion from students. What discoveries did you make? Is bullying more or less prevalent than you thought? What is the biggest learning you gained from your survey? Where should you go from here?



Poll Everywhere-

Poll Daddy-

A Thin Line-

No Bullying-

Own Your Space- 

Think Before You Text-

Cyberbullying Research Center-


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Active Programs

Printable Copy of Program


The programs for Can’t Look Away are hands on and engaging, from constructing colorful Day of the Dead sugar skulls to video blogging, or “vlogging,” to a teen fashion show.


Activity 1 Day of the Dead Art



Day of the Dead, called Día de los Muertos in Spanish, is a Mexican holiday that falls on November 1 and 2 of each year. On the Day of the Dead, the boundaries between life and death begin to blur. Men, women, and children of all ages honor and celebrate their loved ones who have passed away by participating joyously in a festival that has roots nearly 4000 years old. It is a colorful and distinctive artistic tradition that continues to inspire people to create sugar skulls. Sugar skulls, called calaveras de azúcar in Spanish, are among the holiday's most iconic symbols. The skulls can be created from many different materials decorated with multi-colored items, shiny foil, sequins and glitter. The purpose of this active program is to explore artful ways to create colorful sugar skulls and drawings that honor the mystery and energy of our earthly existence, and tap into the question of what's beyond.


Books to Display

A Sudden Silence by Eve Bunting

The Tequila Worm by Viola Canales

Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaria

A Work in Progress by Connor Franta

Marty Noble’s Sugar Skulls by Marty Noble


Supply List

Sugar Skull Coloring Books

Art Supplies: Colors, Watercolor Paints, Markers


Detailed Description of Activity


Keeping with the true spirit of Day of the Dead, sugar skulls are not meant to be creepy, morbid, or scary. Rather, they are cheerful, grinning reminders that we should embrace life and enjoy our earthly existence while we can.

How to Draw Skulls: Easy drawing tutorials demonstrate 9 different ways to draw and color sugar skulls:  



Resources for Teens, Teachers & Librarians


Day of the Dead Art: 

Many more images available on website.


Activity 2 - Me, A Vlogger? Teen Video Blogging Beyond Fashion Tips


Activity Introduction

Torrey Grey is an active beauty and fashion vlogger. There are many teen vlogs on YouTube about a variety of subjects. This activity will allow students to safely create and have reviewed video vlogs on a variety of subjects, beyond just fashion and beauty. Students will be encouraged to think about creating different types of vlogs, especially those with social value.


Books to Display or Book Talk:

The Pointless Book by Alfie Deyes.  

In Real Life: My Journey to a Pixelated World by Joey Graceffa

The Amazing Book is Not on Fire by Dan Howell

Binge by Tyler Oakley

Girl Online by Zoey Sugg


Activity Supply List

Computers, laptops or tablets with Internet access

Webcam to test technology

Pen & Paper for brainstorming ideas

LCD projector with laptop for showing current blogs



Detailed Description of Activity

Librarian shows different example of YouTube video blogs, from fashion, jokes, travel, etc. to more serious vlogs (warning: be sure to preview sites and turn off comment displays in advance! Some have cursing!).

Group discussion led by librarian about what kind of vlogs could be created, and discussion of digital footprint. Librarian shows free online video editing webpage, resources for free vlog editing programs. Timed brainstorm period for participants to decide on types of vlog, and chance to look up similar vlogs.


Group discussion about proposed vlogs; participants have a chance to team up or work solo.

Timed activity: Teens write a proposal for their vlog and sketch out ideas for pilot and episodes. Each proposal is presented to the group who will offer feedback and constructive comments; moderated by librarian to keep discussion positive.


Remember that vlogs should follow good digital citizenship, providing a positive digital footprint. Discuss that concept again if any participants are not clear.


Participants write initial brief script outline for vlog pilot. Participants then uselaptops/PCs/tablets/smartphones with webcams to film their web pilot (3 mins or less), in which they discuss the mission and purpose for their vlog. Additional sessions can be held in which students edit their videos, publish vlogs to YouTube, bounce ideas off the group, etc. This activity could morph into a regular Vlog Club, meeting once or more a month.


NOTE: Due to public nature of Vlogs, discuss with your library director/principal as to whether parent/guardian permission will be required. Activities could be adjusted to rules/restrictions of your institution. Vlogs could be shared only within school, or workshop could be a “how-to” & brainstorming session without actually going live. Blogs should abide by all rules of institution and follow good citizenship practices.



Activity Resources

A school/library announcement or school related flyer to publicize could be easily created using whatever medium is most common to institution - Word, Google Docs, Smore, etc.


Activity Resources for Teens, Teachers & Librarians

Vlog Nation - How to Start a Vlog

Teen Vogue’s best fashion/lifestyle vloggers:

Best free online video editing programs:

Sonia Opala - Vegan & Lifestyle Vlogger:

The Haunting of Sunshine Girl Channel -

“10 Things Your Students Should Know About Their Digital Footprints” -


Active Program #3 Teen Organized Clothing Drive


Activity 3 Fashion Show/Swap: Clothing Drive

Torrey Grey is an internet beauty vlogging sensation. Thousands of girls watch and copy her every hairstyle and outfit choice. However, Torrey comes to understand how fashion and appearance don’t define the whole person. Some of her new “friends” in Texas accept her as she is, while others limit Torrey’s worth to her ability to look good and dress right. In this activity, a clothing drive widens the perspective on how others see us and how we want to be seen. This activity also provides a practical way for teens to contribute positively to the community service or helping those in need. This activity is based on the national Threads for Teens’ is a program that attempts to help young, less-fortunate girls build their self-esteem, confidence, and give them hope.


Books to Display

Wear This, Toss That!: Hundreds of Fashion and Beauty Swaps That Save Your Looks, Save Your Budget, and Save You Time by Amy E. Goodman

Generation Change by Zach Hunter

Teenagers and Community Service: A Guide to the Issues by Maureen Kenny, Laura A. Gallagher, Laura A. Gallagher

Self-Esteem for Teens: Six Principles for Creating the Life You Want by Lisa Schab

The List by Vivian Siobhan

Girl Online by Zoe Slugg


Supply List

Storage closet for donated clothing

Application form for students interested in participating and contacting vendors to ask for new donated clothing items.

Nomination Form for Teens to receive clothing

Nomination form will ask for teen’s name, top size, pant size, and dress size.


Detailed Description of Activity

Inspired by the book Generation Change by Zach Hunter, Threads for Teens was founded to provide new clothing to nominated teens who meet certain criteria. This activity adapts the Thread for Teens program into a student-organized clothing drive that provides new clothing for deserving teens who wish to participate in the program. Student volunteers contact vendors to gather new clothing for deserving teens.


School personnel (librarian, counselors, teachers) confidentially complete an application on behalf of teens who would like to receive the new clothing and collect names of students who wish to volunteer to contact vendors and solicit donations of new items for the program.


Students contact a school-approved list of vendors to request items for the program that will be stored in a school “boutique” storage closet.  Everything in the donated collection is brand-new, except for formal dresses, which may have been worn once or twice. Participating students understand the clothing drive does not accept donations of used clothing. The only exception are formal dresses. Many times formal dresses are worn once or twice and then tossed aside.


After the donated items are received, the volunteer students organize the storage area. By confidential appointment only, the nominated teens who receive the donated clothing visit the storage area “boutique” to receive their new items.


Nominated teens who meet required criteria will receive the following items: two tops, two bottoms, one dress (formal or summer), one pair of shoes, a necklace, a bracelet, a purse, some other miscellaneous accessories, and perhaps some seasonal surprises.


Activity Resources

Threads for Teens






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Passive Programs

Printable Copy of Program


Most people understand that there are differences among cultures about life’s most important transitions, such as birth and death.


Different Cultural Responses to Grief



Evaluate perceptions regarding death and dying from different cultures to understand the stages of grief and different coping strategies. The objective of this passive program is to investigate through different books how culture impacts personal grieving and traditions.


Books to Display or Booktalk

A Sudden Silence by Eve Bunting

Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaria

A Work in Progress by Connor Franta

Things We Know By Heart by Jessie Kirby

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

The List by Vivian Siobhan

Girl Online by Zoe Sugg

My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga


Activity Supply List

Books to display (listed above)

Small whiteboard near book display

Paper and markers, pens, pencils for activity


Detailed Description of Activity

Write the word DEATH on the whiteboard and leave a written invitation on the whiteboard to library visitors and students as follows:

Quick, without much thought, write down all words that come to mind in response to the word death. Then decide if the words are positive (+) ex. rebirth, negative (-) ex. suffering, or neutral (/) ex. Cemetery and assign a symbol to each word on your list. If unsure, just make a personal decision. Add up how many positives, negatives and neutrals you have. What did you think about your list? Do you think this gives you an idea of where you are in relationship with death? Do you think there are cultural and/or religious differences coming into play?


Activity Resources for Teens, Teachers & Librarians

Death and Dying:

Buddhist insights into death and dying primary mission is to improve the quality of compassionate care for people who are dying through public education

Hospice Foundation of America:

Elisabeth Kuble Ross:



Dia De Los Muertos Display


General Introduction to Passive Program

Halloween, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day are three traditional holidays that invite the living to honor the dead. The Hispanic culture also holds Dia de los Muertos parties after Halloween. Commonly known as Day of the Dead, this traditional holiday can be traced back to Mexican indigenous groups living 3,000 years ago.This passive display will invite teens to engage in the cultural celebration of Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead.


Dia De Los Muertos Display



With art images, books, and craft suggestions, this passive display will promote an active program that will involve actually creating sugar skulls related to Dia De Los Muertos.


Books to Display or Book Talk

The Tequila Worm by Viola Canales

Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaria

Diario de Oaxaca: A Sketchbook Journal of Two Years in Mexico by Peter Kuper

Vivian Divine is Dead by Lauren Sabel


Detailed Description of Activity

This passive program will be a display reminiscent of the altars and prayers for family members and friends who have passed. The display could include books about Dia De Los Muertos (listed above), marigolds, and images representative of the holiday. On the Day of the Dead, people remember and pray for family members and friends who have passed. Because special foods like mole and pan de muerto are made to celebrate this holiday, these recipes will be provided at the display.


Activity Resources for Teens, Teachers & Librarians

Oy Mexico - a free Día de los Muertos app

Day of the Dead Guide:


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Academic Program

Active Program

Annotated Bibliography

Discussion Questions

Passive Program


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Created on Mar 7, 2017 | Last updated April 17, 2017