Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Nazi Hunters by Neal Biscomb

I finally had the time during Winter Break to give this book the attention it so deserves. What an amazing story about the mission to bring Adolf Eichmann to justice. I was literally on the edge of my seat when the men were finally able to put their plan into action. Just an unbelievable, powerful, emotional story. A must-read. 

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

What a beautifully written book. Like Lois Lowry's Newbery speech, describing the streams of stories that flowed into the river that became The Giver, this book makes me want to go back go all of the little streams of stories that have built the river of my life. Jackie grew up in the 60s, but I saw myself in her. The many branches of her family, the uncertainty of home. Beautiful. 

Thursday, December 25, 2014

El Deafo by Cece Bell

El Deafo is a cleverly written graphic novel about Cece Bell's childhood and the hearing aides that impacted her every interaction.  I learned several things from Cece about living with hearing loss. I loved how brutally honest the narrator was with the reader in regards to how she felt about how people treated her. A great read!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Scorpions by Walter Dean Myers

Jamal's older brother Randy has been sentenced to jail time after being in cover a murder. Randy is the leader of the Scorpions, a gang who runs drugs, and now Randy wants Jamal to run the Scorpions while he is away. Jamal gets into trouble in school, and wants to help out his brother and family, so he accepts a gun that is offered to him as the new leader. He gets in way over his head and quickly finds out that he is not cut out for the Scorpion life. This is a good book for readers who enjoyed Monster by Walter Dean Myers and The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Writer's Notebooks in the ELA Classroom

Reading List

Word Part List

Word Part Work

Tier 2 Vocabulary Notes

Writer's Craft lessons

Writer's Craft notes

To Read Next List

Genre Notes

Reading Conference Teacher/Model Fishbowl Notes

Read Aloud Response Notes

Text Analysis

Text Analysis 

Envelope stapled into the notebook for handouts 


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Unstoppable by Tim Green

Readers will like the strength that Harrison discovers in himself. The short, semi-cliffhanger chapters (there are 100!) will keep reluctant readers going. It had a satisfying ending.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Watch That Ends the Night: Voices from the Titanic

Beautifully written and well-thought out. Students will need some scaffolding on the shifting narrators and flash forwards. At times heartwarming and heartbreaking, this tale is an important one to discover. I still have to read the notes at the back of the book. Fascinating!

Genre Chats

Students discuss what they already know about realistic fiction, mystery, science fiction, and nonfiction genres. 


I wasn't very sure about this graphic novel at first, since I was unfamiliar with the story. Students will struggle with the background/ intro information load -- I did (unless they already have background knowledge of the topic). But, once I got into their journey, I really enjoyed the little narratives of the jokes, struggles, and activities that passed the time. I was audibly surprised at the many acts of courage and ingenuity of these brave men. Fascinating! It left me wanting more. 

Genre Notes

Our flip-up genre notes in our notebooks. Ready to be filled with what the students already know. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

THE FALSE PRINCE by Jennifer Nielsen

This book is so smart! I love a main character with sarcasm. Short, cliff-hanger chapters make it a great pick for a kid who needs some motivation to keep reading! I listened to the audiobook of this and really enjoyed (and laughed out loud at) the wonderfully unique voices the narrator created. It made me want to step up my own read aloud game. Loved how all the pieces of this puzzle fell together. 

BLOODY TIMES by James L. Swanson

I actually read BLOODY TIMES: THE FUNERAL OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN AND THE MANHUNT FOR JEFFERSON DAVIS, which is the "special adaptation for young people" published by Scholastic. I learned so many things! For one, I didn't know that the South had a president during the Civil War, Jefferson Davis. I felt so ignorant when I announced that fact to my husband while he was driving and I was reading. He, a history buff, couldn't believe I didn't know that. There were a lot of details about Lincoln's funeral train that were fascinating, and seeing the images of his Springfield house and tomb bring back memories from my many years chaperoning 7th graders on a field trip to visit. It made me see those places in a different light after seeing the vintage photographs of each place decorated for his memorial. Fascinating!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

DOGS ON DUTY by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent

I teared up a few times reading about the bonds that develop between the dogs and their handlers. Especially the story of the soldier who was shot and his dog who laid over him to protect him though he died. The dog comforted the family at the soldier's memorial without ever having met them before. He could sense the connection. Wow. A great pairing with Letters from Wolfie. 


I was intrigued at first about the artist's severe dyslexia and his struggles in school, but when it got more into his process, I was fascinated. The grid process he uses to create his art is unbelievable - genius, really, for him to devise a way to combat his natural tendencies that could be self-destructive. I love his discipline - 3 hours of work in the morning, and 3 hours in the evening. Even though he has parameters for his work, I appreciated that he leaves space (NEEDS  space) for his creativity. He also understands how the human brain works; that our brain will fill in the unanswered gaps. This is why he leaves some work for the viewer in some of his paintings - he doesn't draw a nose, or an eye. He draws a blob, that when viewed as part of the whole (the landscape, as he calls it) creates for your brain a symbol of a nose or eye. My two favorite lines: "In life you can be dealt a winning hand of cards and you can find a way to lose, and you can be dealt a losing hand and find a way to win. True in art and in life: you pretty much make your own destiny" (47) and "I think problem solving is highly overrated. Problem creation is much more interesting" (51).

Sunday, August 10, 2014

NOTHING CAN POSSIBLY GO WRONG by Prudence Shen and Faith Erin Hicks

I love pretty much everything Faith Erin Hicks touches. She can do no wrong. I laughed out loud more than once and I appreciate that this story doesn't get too babyish with its message of "can't we all just get along?" I can think of many students who would devour this and come back up asking for more F.E.H.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

FISH IN A TREE by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

I wish I could give this six stars! Loved all of the characters in this book. Albert's one-liners are perfection. And Ally. Kids everywhere will connect with her. Teachers everywhere need to know her story.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Will & Whit by Laura Lee Gulledge

Loved the style of this graphic novel -- black-and-white, bold lines, interesting use of the page. Students may need support understanding the unique use of storytelling when they come to scenes where the typical "frames" are not used. Those were some of my favorite pages, though. The barrier that I usually feel when reading graphic novels melted away as I read this one. I loved the message of creativity. 

Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge

What a wonderful book for the comfortably quiet, in-her-head girl (like I was! Wait, am!)  I can't wait to give this to the artist, daydreamer, doodler, creative spirit, new student in my class. I always struggle with finding non-series, age-appropriate, engaging GNs, and this one fits the bill!

Bad Boy: A Memoir by Walter Dean Myers

I love that Myers so honestly shared the trials of his childhood, particularly the challenges he faced at home and the struggles of feeling different from his family and friends as a reader and writer. And some of the "bad" classroom behavior will surely slip into some of those teacher nightmares we dread. It's hard to believe he came out of some of the situations he faced alive! I loved reading about Harlem in the 50s and the big names that Myers came across growing up: Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Billie Holliday. I didn't love the writing; some of the chapters jumped around to a bunch of different topics: basketball, school, reading, girls, gangs. I think some students may struggle with the lofty literary allusions (this former English major did!) but if they can accept their confusion and read past it, it could be an enjoyable book for the right kid.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper is a book on our 7th grade Battle of the Books list. It was a new addition last year so I was excited to read it this summer. I decided to snag the audiobook from my library so I could listen to it on my car ride to the All Write conference in Indiana. The drive was about 7 hours round trip so Sharon's words and Sisi Aisha's voice rode along with me. Loved this story! I found myself happy to get stuck in Chicago traffic on my drive back because it meant a better chance of finishing the book before I got home. Highly recommend experiencing the book this way. 
Happy Reading!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Book Totals

Today was the big day: totaling up our reading records from first and second semester! 

My first block read 584 books, averaging 19.6 books per student!
My second block read 894 books, averaging 27.1 books per student. 

I love the excitement with which they jump in to count their titles and how even my struggling and often resistant readers are surprised and proud of their number. They are always surprised at how many books they have read. It's one of my favorite moments. I can't believe I went years without having my students keep track of their reading!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Dear Students 2014

Dear Students,

In the fall, you wrote letters to me. You shared the basics: who your 6th grade teacher was, how many books you thought you read last year, and anything you thought I should know about you. You all mostly kept it safe. You weren’t sure what to expect of seventh grade. In my eight years of teaching, I have welcomed almost one thousand 12-year-olds to their first day of seventh grade. Saying hello on the first day may seem scary, but for me, it’s saying goodbye that’s the hardest.

In the fall, I left you to welcome my own child into the world, but I still thought about my kids at school – you all. I wondered what you were reading, what you were writing, and most importantly, what was going on in your lives. When I came back, you wrote me another letter. You updated me on what happened in your lives – there were many changes. Some good, some not so good. You were celebrating achievements – making sports teams, dancing on national television, welcoming new members to your family. You were experiencing heartache, too – divorce, cancer, and saying goodbye to loved ones. There were big changes, and you faced them with bravery.

But now it’s my turn to write you a letter. To let you know how proud I am of each and every one of you. You grew as readers, and you grew as writers. Most importantly, you grew as better people. You may not have seen it in yourself. But I did. Always remember that you have a lot to do in this world. So do it big.

And always remember what Coltrane taught us – you may be dropped in the middle of somewhere you think you don’t belong, but you are not your past. You are not your mistakes. You can make a difference.

And remember what Jeffrey taught us – that when we face the scariest battle, we can get through it with family and laughter.

Remember what Staples taught us – a person’s exterior can just be a mask to protect a scarred life.

Always remember what Luis Urzua taught us – no one gets left behind.

And please, please, remember what Zach Sobiech taught us – never give up when all seems lost. Smile, smile, smile. And you’ll go up, up, up.

This year, we laughed together and we cried. We questioned and sometimes we didn’t get along. But that happens in every family.

I hope you keep writing me letters. When I get emails or tweets from former students, the memories of that classroom community, of that year, come flooding back. Because each group that sits in these seats together is forever linked through the stories we shared in books and in our own writing.

Take care of yourself, and take care of each other.

And don’t forget to DIVE IN to a good story every once in a while.


With love,

Mrs. Walsh

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Favorite YA Character March Madness Tournament

When I first heard about doing a book spin-off of a March Madness Tournament from my Choice Literacy newsletter, I was all over it! 

Here's how it went down: 

1. Kids nominated their favorite YA characters. I compiled their list and was able to use every one of their nominees with one to spare (mine! Harry Potter anyone?) to create a 32-character bracket. 

2. Instead of worrying about seeds, I entered the names into a randomizer online and went straight down the list for the match-ups. They ended up being pretty good match-ups! I then created two divisions (blue and gold for our school colors).

3. To try to help with the vote tabulations, I created quizzes for the match-ups in my Socrative classroom so my students who participate in BYOT could vote electronically. Students without devices just voted on post-its! Results from Socrative print out in a nice spreadsheet! Kids could see the match-ups on a Google Presentation (like PowerPoint) I created and displayed on the Smartboard.

4.  I promoted our match-ups to the characters' creators on Twitter and received some responses, which motivated my students!

5. Finally, after 4 rounds, and MANY close calls, it came down to two: Katniss and Jonas (love!!). Kids voted, and even our literacy leaders -- our librarian and principal -- got in on the final vote action.  When the winner was announced, the cheering would rival any NCAA stadium crowd. It was book heaven.

Want to know the winner? Who would you have voted for? Comment with your vote to know our winner! :)

Bad Island by Doug TenNapel

Synopsis from Doug TenNapel's website:

Something on this island is up to no good . . .
When Reese is forced to go on a boating trip with his family, the last thing he expects is to be shipwrecked on an island-especially one teeming with weird plants and animals. But what starts out as simply a bad vacation turns into a terrible one, as the castaways must find a way to escape while dodging the island's dangerous inhabitants. With few resources and a mysterious entity on the hunt, each secret unlocked could save them...or spell their doom. One thing Reese knows for sure: This is one Bad Island.

My Thoughts:
Sometimes graphic novels are the gateway into a love of reading for some of my non-readers. I really enjoyed TenNapel's other graphic novels, Ghostopolis and Cardboard so when I came across this at the library this weekend, I had to grab it for a Spring Break afternoon read. It would require some scaffolding for struggling readers because of the split narratives, but overall it's an interesting story. I would definitely recommend starting with Cardboard though if you're first starting with TenNapel's works.