Thursday, August 18, 2016

Our Dav Pilkey Yarn

In honor of one of my favorite writers, Maggie Stiefvater, I borrow her brilliant line from The Raven King: "Depending on where you began the story, it was about ____."


Depending on where you began the story, it was about The Yarn's 25th episode with Dav Pilkey.

An eight-year-old boy and his stepmom listen to the podcast in the car, grinning at each other in the rear view mirror.


Depending on where you began the story, it was about a school visit. 

An eight-year-old boy and his stepmom meet Daddy and Little Brother at a middle school in Naperville, Illinois, to see Dav Pilkey. The eight-year-old brings some of his artwork to share. He gets an advanced reader copy of Dog Man signed by his hero.


Depending on where you began the story, it was about being picked up from school. 

An advanced reader copy of Dog Man awaits an eight-year-old at the curb, produced from his stepmom's bag. They are on their way to an author visit at a middle school.


Depending on where you began the story, it was about a chance run-in. 

A #nerdybookclub follower bumps into Colby Sharp and Travis Jonker at Book Expo America, a copy of Dog Man in her bag, an eight-year-old about to be dismissed from school.


Depending on where you began the story, it was about Book Expo America. 

A stepmom is determined to find a copy of Dog Man for Dav Pilkey's #1 eight-year-old fan. She stops by the Scholastic booth first, to no avail. 

A second visit to the booth sees a man walking away from the table, the last copy of Dog Man in his hands. 

The angel behind the Scholastic booth table sees it all happen, and without a word, walks behind the magic curtain and produces a single copy of Dog Man to present to a stepmom. 


Depending on where you began the story, it was about a budding storyteller. 

An eight-year-old is drawing scenes on a napkin, copies of Captain Underpants lined up on his bookshelf at home.


Depending on where you began the story, it was about a speech. 

The stepmom of an eight-year-old listens, cries, and laughs as an author tells teachers and librarians the story of a boy who grew into a man who wrote stories that matter. She tells him this at the book signing after the speech and brings home autographed copies of Captain Underpants books.


Depending on where you began the story, it was about a boy.

Thank you, Dav. Thank you, Colby and Travis. 

This stepmom and an eight-year-old boy

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Storyteller by Evan Turk
"There's nothing else like it!" This is exactly what I wrote on a sticky note after reading Evan Turks's The Storyteller. This book is a gift in more than one way. First, the artwork (yes, I would gladly frame each page and hang them in my home library) is stunning.
On one page, I left a sticky note that said, "I can barely follow the story; mesmerized by the illustrations/artwork!" At that point, I truly did lose track of the story because I was swimming in the art. It's a trip all in itself. One of the final pages is below. You could study it for days and find new intricacies to admire.

In addition to the beautiful artwork, the story itself is one book lovers, writers, and teachers will appreciate: the magic of storytelling and its power to transform.  This is one to share with your students!

Friday, July 15, 2016

Defender by Graham McNamee

Defender by Graham McNamee is just what I'm looking for to hook my seventh-graders! It takes less than 15 pages (of quick-paced writing) to get to the DISCOVERY OF THE DEAD BODY IN THE BASEMENT! I mean, what more can a girl ask for? 

Tyne (aka "Tiny") lives in a Toronto apartment building where her father is the super. As the oldest, Tiny does odd jobs around the building to help out. After the discovery of a dead body in the basement, Tiny runs to her dad, who goes to check it out alone, only to return to tell Tiny that there was no body to be found. However, when Tiny's dad starts acting suspiciously, she and her boyfriend Ricky (aka "Stick") start tracking clues, including going back to the scene to discover A FINGER!! 

It's so great. This would have been on the shelf of my tween bookcase next to R.L. Stine's Fear Street Saga and my Christopher Pike books. So thankful to have discovered this at my public library! Buying a copy to book talk when school starts!

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Teachers Write Tuesday Quick-Write

Today's Prompt led me to notice an ant carrying around a dead comrade. I had so many questions! Where was he taking him? How did he die? Are they going back to the colony or away? Here is what I wrote in my notebook:

I looked this up (arrow to my note: "Ant carrying another ant (dead)") to see if this was a common
ant "thing". It turns out scientists have discovered that ant colonies that don't remove their dead have higher mortality rates than those that do. I'm curious how the ants themselves discovered this. Is it a natural instinct? Where do they take their dead? Just "away"? Or do they have a "spot"? Is there an ant cemetery?

::looking up more info::

::found an NPR interview from 2006::
(By the way, the opening to this story is fantastic)

One woman's name keeps popping up: Deborah Gordon (Stanford Professor of Biology). She is often interviewed by NPR, does TED talks about ants and so forth.

Apparently there is an ant cemetery. It's underground and there are ants that pile up dead ant bodies just to take the pile down again, move it, pile it up, take it down, and move it back again.

This could be because successful ant colonies have a surplus of ants and they just need something to do to fill the time! Fascinating.

Read more here about lazy ants:

Monday, June 6, 2016

Two White Rabbits by Jairo Buitrago

Two White Rabbits by Jairo Buitrago

Two White Rabbits by Jairo Buitrago, illustrated by Rafael Yockteng, reads, at first, as a simple children's book about a young girl and her father and their time spent on the road as migrants. The text is spare since it is told from the young girl's perspective, but as this review from Smithsonian's Asian Pacific American Center's BookDragon blog points out, the details emerge in the illustrations. 

I read this book three times in a row and I am itching to reread it to pull out whatever details I couldn't catch in the first three readings. You will want to read it over and over as well, because there is more than one story going on here. On their journey, they encounter other travelers, soldiers, and symbolic figures that add depth and layers. I can't wait to analyze this with my students next year to discuss the symbols and perspectives shown.

Some other resources I incorporate into my 7th-grade World Geography class when we discuss migrants and refugees include:

Turning Refugee Crises Into Country Music

The devastating cost of closed borders, in one map

Where the Streets Have No Children

Border Challenges: Responding to the Global Migration Crisis

Tracking Four Decades of Refugee Migration [Interactive Map]

The World’s Congested Human Migration Routes in 5 Maps

And, of course, there are many excellent articles from Newsela.

I borrowed this from my public library's *New Books* display, but I will be purchasing it to pair with my copy of Migrant for my Social Studies collection. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

10 Steps to Pull Off a Beach Book Bash

10 Steps to Pull Off a Beach Book Bash

1. Pick a spot

We have a pond on our school grounds that is perfect for this event. Find any space that works for you (water body or not) with plenty of shady spots nearby!

2. Promote

I usually create a digital flyer to pull up in class and use on social media and email to promote the event and remind students and parents. I used to use good old Microsoft Publisher, but now I love Canva for its beautiful images and fonts. 

3. Request contributions

You can't go to the beach without a stocked cooler! I set up a Google Form with Choice Eliminator (Volunteer Spot works too!) for parents to sign up for drinks, snacks, and gift cards to Anderson's Bookshop and B&N for prizes. Here is an example of our sign-up from this year: Beach Book Bash Sign-Up

4. Gather prizes

It wouldn't be a Beach Book Bash without book-related prizes! Throughout the year, I'll use Scholastic Book Order points to snag some books to raffle off. I'll also keep my eye open for freebies from book stores like bookmarks promoting summer reading programs and YA author visits. This year, I hit the jackpot when I attended Book Expo America in Chicago. I was able to add a lot of promotional goodies to the Beach Book Bash prizes like stickers, pins, posters, water bottles, and even some autographed items! 

5. Plan games

While some students will just want to chill on towels, we wanted to have some games and activities planned as well. This year, we used the Build Your Own Deck feature on the HeadsUp app on my iPad to build a deck of our favorite authors, titles, and characters from the year. This is one of my favorite moments to watch! There's something about a thirteen-year-old jumping up and down screaming, "He wrote Booked and The Crossover! He visited Granger!" at the top of his lungs. In the past, we've also gathered old t-shirts and showed students how to make a no-sew t-shirt book bag

6. Prepare students

Sunburns are no fun, so we remind the kids (and parents) verbally and through emails and social media about the importance of bringing sunscreen and hats. We show them pictures from previous years of kids chilling on beach towels with their friends and favorite books. I'll bring some extra beach towels and sunscreen, too.

7. Inform staff

We let our teammates know well in advance when the Beach Book Bash is so they know how it may impact their math and science plans. We've done it as a whole team before (120 kids) and we've done it with just concurrent class periods (about 60 kids). 

We also check with the P.E. staff to make sure that the area isn't being used for P.E. classes that morning and also to borrow a few outdoor items like footballs and volleyballs.

We love to involve our LMC Director, too, because she is the heart of summer reading in our building. After textbooks and library books have been collected, she reopens the LMC for Summer Reading Checkout. On the Beach Book Bash day, we stop in the library first to stock up! She even orders shopping bags for the kids to take home their book stack! Readers can check out as many  books as they like! And even during those hectic last days, she finds time to stop outside to visit the Bash and snap pictures of readers with their books inside her big picture frame. I love those photos!

8. Document!

Speaking of photos, either designate a parent volunteer or make sure you have lots of room on your phone to snap tons of pictures. I share them on Homeroom for parents to see, on my class Instagram account, and add them (last minute!) to our end of the year slideshow. 

9. Celebrate!

Don't forget to relax and have fun with your readers! It takes some planning and coordination to pull this day off, but we like to kick off our flip flops and chill on a beach towel for a few minutes with the kids before it's all over! 

Other ways to celebrate: share reading totals for the year, talk about summer trips and plans, and get excited about new books being published over the summer and at the beginning of the school year (Harry Potter, anyone?!)

10. Party on!

Don't let the fun end at the Beach Book Bash! Share your summer reading plans with students! I stay connected with my readers through my class Instagram account and document my summer reading adventures there. You can find us at @walsh204ela on Instagram. After all, we do the Beach Book Bash to keep our reading momentum going!

Do you host a Beach Book Bash? I am always looking for new ideas! I'd love to see what you do! Connect with me on Twitter @storiestoldinsf

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco

Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco might have been a bad pick for my first summer read. Here's why:

It was awesome. I feel bad for the rest of my to-read list. My next books have big shoes to fill. Fancy, blood-spattered 19th-century shoes. 

When I saw this book at BEA, I had two thoughts: 1. Gorgeous cover. 2. Gorgeous title.
I mean, Jack the Ripper? You had me at hello. 

Stalking Jack the Ripper was everything I needed in a good YA Ripper book: a smart narrator, spooky London setting, and scalp-tingling JtR murdery grisliness. Some chapters featured a grainy black and white photo or diagram from the time period to set the mood and chapter numbers were set off with a blood spatter. Super creepy.

The plot was tight, the dialogue was witty, there was great tension between the main character and her love/hate interest. I actually giggled out loud in one scene. It was smart, scary, and suspenseful. 

I loved it. I can't wait for the final version. I can't wait to share it with my students in the fall! 

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Diviners by Libba Bray

I loved, loved, LOVED this book. Holy cow, it was long, but just so beautifully written. A masterpiece. I think Libba Bray has a deal with the devil when it comes to writing books. How can one person have so much talent?

The audiobook was performed brilliantly. Truly the best way to experience this book!

Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson

I started reading this book 10 minutes after I bought it from Boswell Bookstore in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and didn't stop until I was done. A beautifully written novel in verse! My favorite lines:

You have a poet's heart, Lonnie.
That's what Ms. Marcus said to me.
I have a poet's heart. 
That's good. A good thing to have.
And I'm the one who has it. 

Yes, Jacqueline Woodson. Yes. 

Monday, February 8, 2016

2/8/16 It's Monday What are You Reading

This week, I was able to finish an audiobook, a football fiction, and a novel in verse. 

The one I'm most excited about finishing is The Knights of Hill Country. Not because it was my favorite, but because it was purchased with a certain student in mind who hasn't been able to find a text he could connect to yet this year. My goal was to get it in his hands today, so that motivated me to get through it. 

Up next is a student recommendation, Pivot Point by Kasie West, and I'm continuing to listen to Libba Bray's The Diviners on audio. I'm loving it!

Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Knights of Hill Country by Tim Tharp

The January slump almost killed this book for me, but I got back into it in February, and I'm glad I did. 

Hampton Green (Hamp) is a star senior defensive player on his small town Oklahoma school's football team. His best friend Blaine is on offense and just like his father before him, he believes football is life. As the team tries to maintain their undefeated season, Hamp struggles with the effects his dad's departure left on his mother. Bouncing from guy to guy, she changes her interests to suit whomever she is currently dating, and Hamp is an afterthought. Unlike Blaine, Hampton does find more to life outside football, including Sara, who isn't the typical girl a Kennisaw Knight dates. She hangs out in the library, isn't wealthy, and doesn't look like she stepped out of the pages of a magazine. But Kennisaw Knights don't date girls like Sara, as Blaine reminds Hamp. As Hamp excels on the field and Blaine attempts to mask the intensity of last year's knee injury, the stress of college scouts begins to take its toll on the boys' friendship. Then a new man (an ex-Football player from town) comes into Hamp's mom's life, and Hamp begins to see that the culture of winning in Kennisaw may not be as perfect as they have been raised to believe. But he has his sights set on college and the world outside of Kennisaw. 

Hamp reminds me of Ponyboy Curtis. The story is told from Hamp's perspective, written in the same Oklahoma-style that Hinton gave to Ponyboy's voice. ("Man alive, did them stands explode in cheers then.") And Hampton may look like the other guys on the outside, but inside he is a deep thinker, thoughtful and sensitive. And I haven't come across another character who could be Dallas Winston reincarnated like Blaine Keller. He has a fire, intensity, and recklessness that would make those two character fast and dangerous friends.  

This would be a great read for any kid who knows what it's like to see your parents make bad choices or who feels the pressure to fit into the role your community or family has placed you in. There is a lot (a lot) of football dialogue and play-by-play narration during games, so a reader really needs to know their stuff to get through those scenes. This book has a lot of heart and when readers get to the final scene with Blaine and Hampton, it's hard not to go back to the Outsiders scene under the street light where a boy has to make a choice that could change his life forever. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Slice of Life 2/2/16

Today is 2-2. Twenty-two is my favorite, lucky, perfect, even, balanced number. 

Today was not my favorite. It was not lucky, perfect, even, or balanced. Today was the perfect opposite of those. Today was a drainer. I was about to slide into bed and end this imperfect day when I remembered it was Tuesday and I RESOLVE to write a Slice of Life post on Tuesdays.


So close. 

And then it happened. I realized I could fill myself up just a little bit before I call it quits. Because writing does that for me. Writing isn't like my number 22. It's not perfect, but it balances me. Sometimes I get lucky with it and dig out a new phrase or thought. 

Today wasn't perfect. Today wasn't even close. But on a scale of 1-10, I think I'm at a 2.2 now. 

I can live with 2.2. 

Monday, February 1, 2016

Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi

Aria lives in a domed world that protects her and other Dwellers from the Aether storms and Outsiders who roam the wastelands of Earth. After losing communication with her mother (a scientist researching on location) and an incident that implicates a high-ranking official's son, she is sent away to perish in the outside world. She meets Perry, an Outsider/savage, who is on a quest to rescue his nephew. 

I feel like I was just getting interested when the book ended. I had just started to like Aria and suddenly, the book stops in the middle of a scene. Optimistic about Book 2!

For fans of Scott Westerfeld's Uglies series. 

Monday, January 25, 2016

Slice of Life 1/25/16: Peal


1. ringing of a set of bells, especially a change or set of changes rung on bells.
2. set of bells tuned to each other; a chime.
3. loud burst of noise: peals of laughter.

I hope I can always remember the exact pitch of his peals of laughter. The ones that escape him as I get him ready for bed at two years old. In 16 years, I want to hear his parrot-pitched squeals reverberating still in my eardrums, painful now, but a welcome echo of life and love from this tiny creature. I feel it slipping through my fingers. If I can cling to those peals I'll be able to hold on for just one more moment.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams

Written by Jen Bryant 
Illustrated by Melissa Sweet

Image from

This is a beautiful picture book. I fell in love with the story of William Carlos Williams and his poems. I fell even more in love with Melissa Sweet's illustrations. With a mixture of paintings, sketches, and collage work, this book begs to be read at least twice. Once for the story, again for the art.