Walk Two Moons – Sharon Creech

walktwomoonsReading level: 4.9

Genre: Realistic fiction, mystery

ELL-Friendly: Mostly

Library recommendation: Middle school

This book was read to my 3rd grade class many years ago, so as I re-read it, bits and pieces of plots and characters came back to me. Yet the ending caught me off guard; I really didn’t see it coming (which I suppose was kind of obvious for someone who hadn’t even read the book), and then crying ensued.

It’s quite a beautiful story of loss, friendship, love, and family. As Salamanca narrates her story as well as her friend Phoebe’s, she comes to understand herself. I really disliked Phoebe because she was just not a likeable character, but Sal likes her because Sal knows what’s it’s like to be in her shoes. That’s a good lesson for anyone: don’t judge a man till you have walked two moons in his moccasins.

The “love” between Sal and Ben is just precious – awkward, beautiful, teenage love. And nothing too graphic to¬† keep the book off the school shelves! Yay! Or, as Gram would say, “Huzza, huzza.”

Sal is part Native American/Indian and there are bits throughout the book about various Native American controversies. At once point, Sal mentions that if a Native were to demand that the land they were on was his, she would give it back…because it belonged to the Natives. At one tourist town, she explains how the Natives prefer to be called Indians and how a place with the word “Injun” was crossed out and re-written to say “Indian.”

Sal gleams over these bits because she is young and it’s not something she’s focused on, but there is much that students could discuss and write about. Walk Two Moons could also be an excellent mentor text because there are two stories happening at once that are separate yet come together at the end.

The book is basically ELL-friendly except there’s quite a bit of colloquialisms like “catching fish in the air.” If the book were read as a class, those phrases could be explained. I would worry about ELLs reading the book without some oversight. Perhaps the teacher could tell the student to write down any phrase she didn’t understand (give some examples) and turn it into a mini-assignment about guessing and researching what those phrases mean. Gramps pronounces words in interesting ways (carburetor becomes car-burn-ator or something) which might also through off some ELLs. But there’s not enough of those to hang students up and make them miss meaning.

I might recommend the book to a student who has moved or will move, or a student who has lost a family member. While the book is sad at the end, it’s all about Sal coping with the losses.


WebQuests are structured, online group assignments that lead students through the process of completing a multi-step project. The WebQuest website has examples and templates. Rather than using one of the website’s templates, you may use Microsoft PowerPoint’s kiosk feature and create a WebQuest that way while following other examples from the website.

WebQuest pros:

  • students work collaboratively
  • students gain research/computer skills
  • students get to use technology…which is exciting!
  • the entire process and expectations are laid out clearly for students

WebQuest cons:

  • takes a long time to set up
  • computers are necessary
  • links that you put into your template may not be active when students need them

25 Websites for Educational Equity

Here is a link to an article from edchange.org written by Paul Groski in which he lists and explains 25 websites related to educational equity. If the link is broken, search for the author’s name and “I don’t want to live without them: Twenty-five web sites for educational equity.”

The author gives sufficient explanations about how to best use each resource he lists, so I don’t do the same here. The article was written in 2005, so some resources may be outdated, but it’s a good starting place.

The Fellowship of the Ring – J.R.R. Tolkien

fellowship of the rinReading level: 8.1

Series: Book 1 of The Lord of the Rings series

Genre: Fantasy, adventure

ELL-Friendly: No

Library recommendation: High school

I have mixed feelings about this book. The good: it’s a well-crafted adventure story, and the reader can feel the urgency of the situation and the importance of the mission. The interaction between the different members of the fellowship is interesting, and I’m just starting to get to understand who these characters are. Is Boromir such a jerk all the time or is he a legitimately good guy? Why does Sam love so much Frodo so much? Does Frodo return the sentiment? Must keep reading…

What I didn’t like: Tolkien is more a linguist than a novelist, it seems to me. He name-drops like nobody’s business, and I got lost in all the names of people and places. Tolkien seems to have a very clear picture of the land that he tries to help readers visualize, but I just couldn’t keep up with the strange names and directions. The maps didn’t help all that much for specific and in-depth descriptions of most places. The made-up words made my reading slower than usual, and I struggled to keep interest. There’s a also a lot of time committed to planning the next steps of the Company. I understand that planning is of course important, but I think that some of that dialogue and explanation could have been cut down.

Taking the good and the bad, I think high schoolers would like this book more than younger readers, and even high schoolers would need to be strong readers. In addition to made-up words, there are lots of real words with which I wasn’t familiar, and my reading level is far above 8th grade…or so I’d like to think. Die-hard fantasy fans (no matter how young) could certainly power through and learn some new words along the way.

The War Within: A Novel of the Civil War – Carol Matas

the war withinReading level: 6.1

Genre: Historical fiction

ELL-Friendly: No

Library recommendation: Middle school

The War Within chronicles General [Ulysses S.] Grant’s General Order #11 that forced Jews in Mississippi out of their homes, which actually happened. Far from being a reflection on the situation of Jews at the time, the book also reflects on the morality of North vs South and slavery.

I found the narrator, Hannah, hard to like because of her ignorance throughout most of the book, but that was the point. It’s all about her changing her life views, albeit slowly although realistically. What I really didn’t like was the submissiveness of the women who kept saying that they needed men, they would only listen to men, etc. However, the females in this story, including Hannah, her mom and sister, and their slave Jule, were pretty strong female characters and could (and did) hold their own, despite stating their submissiveness at times. To be fair, I suppose that was how society functioned in the 1860s.

There should be no problem putting this on middle school shelves, but it might prove difficult for ELLs due to the Civil War era writing and dialogue – very prim and proper. High school students may also like it too, but the book is definitely written for ages 10-14.

God is mentioned frequently in this book as it relates to the Old T estimate/Bible because the narrator and her family are Jewish. It’s not preachy, though, and I don’t think parents would have an issue with it. As a non-religious person myself, I found the God references important because Hannah struggled to see how God would create all people equally or not, and how God would want humans to treat one another.

My hope is that those who read this book may think about their attitudes towards those who are different from them, be it gays and lesbians, the homeless, or people of a different ethnicity. The War Within doesn’t state the “correct” way to think or act but points out that we must keep an open mind and to remember that we are all equal.

Beauty Queens – Libba Bray

beauty queensReading level: 5.3

Genre: Chick lit, survival, satire

ELL-Friendly: Yes

Library recommendation: High school (because of mature content)

This was my first experience with Libba Bray and I was not disappointed. I listened to the audio book which was read by Ms. Bray herself which may have had something to do with how much I loved it due to the voices she had for the characters and her natural ability to narrate. The way she made the voices of certain characters helped me love them (or not, in some cases), and I wonder how different my experience with the book would have been had I read a paper copy. Regardless, an excellent read.

There’s so much in this book: feminism, sexism, beauty, love, body image, family, friends, corporations, media… In some ways the book is true to life but at the same time outlandish enough to be fun yet deep. I also particularly liked the ending, where not everything was perfect – because our society isn’t perfect, and really that’s what the book is reflecting upon.

Beauty Queens, I am sad to say, has no place on my middle school bookshelf. Here’s why: there’s some swearing (okay, a lot) as well as a handful of F-bombs and references and descriptions of sex.

But wait – the language and sexuality bits are powerful and very deliberately written. The problem is that the language and sex is still there. Nobody expects beauty queens to swear like this! And the sexuality bits are about girls coming to love themselves while being in control. But if high school parents are going to panic about one scene in John Green’s Looking for Alaska, parents will have heart attacks over Beauty Queens. I don’t even know if I’d be okay with it in a high school class. I fully believe high schoolers to be mature enough to understand and appreciate these components, but I’m wary of parents. Parents might also flip out over the homosexual romance as well, but that’s a fight I’m willing to have.

Basically, it’s a truly wonderful, reflective book that high schoolers should read. Whether or not I want to risk getting in trouble for having teenagers read it is another question. But outside of school, kids (and adults), go for it.

Federal Resources for Educational Excellence

This website, sponsored by the US Department of Education, contains a crazy amount of resources, sorted by subject and then by smaller topics within those subjects. Most of the links seem to lead to other websites, but the information seems pretty good, not to mention plentiful. Actually, I found it difficult to find actual¬† lesson plans. Instead, I was lead to whole websites with a ton of information, which is great but overwhelming. Maybe it will be easier to navigate when I’m teaching about a specific subject or topic so I know what to look for.

National Council for…

Here are links to the websites of various councils of subjects I’ll be endorsed to teach:

National Council for Teachers of English

National Center for History in the Schools

National Council for the Social Studies

National Council on Economics Education

National Council for Geographic Education

One of these days I’ll do a comprehensive overview of nifty tools and resources on these websites. But today is not that day.


Engrade is a free website for teachers and admins (and apparently parents and students can access it) to make calendars, record grades, and take attendance. You can’t really look at any features without signing up, but it is free so there’s nothing to lose. The big downside I see is if you don’t have Internet access (such as when servers fail or when the entire school is testing and teachers cannot use the Internet). I guess that just stems from my lack of faith in technology. One of these days I’ll sign up and try it out so I can come back to this post and say some smart things.