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My Top 5 Staycation Destination Spots of Summer 2013

[Our last writing unit of the year was “Play, Passion, Purpose.” Students chose topics that were fun, personal, and meaningful. They were then encouraged to explore a new genre or push their writing in a new and exciting direction. They wrote dystopian stories, personal essays, lists, comics, blogs, and even made videos. Most importantly, they took chances and were proud of their writing work. Here’s my contribution – a take on the ubiquitous “Top 5 Vacation Destinations” that appear every summer. Enjoy!]

It’s June – almost time for summer vacation. Now, I don’t know about you, but I can’t hear the word vacation without thinking of the Go-Go’s song from the 1980’s. If you’re currently in seventh grade and therefore too young to know what I’m talking about, check it out here:

Looks like fun, doesn’t it? Well, I love the idea of vacation. In fact, my wife and I purposely bought a small house that was easy for us to afford so that we’d have money to travel and take vacations all over the world. We’ve been to England, Scotland, Ireland (North and South), and all over the Northeastern United States. Next year, we plan to go to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon.

This summer, however, there will be no vacation. We’ve decided to save some money and do some work around the house. It’s going to be a “staycation” holiday instead. That’s ok though. In fact, I’m looking forward to a couple of months at home with my family.

So, I don’t have a fancy list of destinations this summer. What I do have (in no particular order) is my…

Top 5 “Staycation” Destination Spots of Summer 2013

#1) Royal Park  

sign pic

This was my childhood park. It’s where I played baseball, tennis, and, for a couple of summers, even went to day camp. I had forgotten all about it until one day last summer. Will and I were looking for a place to play baseball, and all of the diamonds at the park near us had games going on. We drove to Royal Park, and had three diamonds all to ourselves. We’ve been going ever since. It’s become our “home field.”

It’s been raining so much lately that we haven’t been able to go too many times yet this year. But I’m sure we’ll be there quite a bit this summer – playing catch, batting, playing hockey in the tennis court. I think it’s neat that Will and I will both have childhood memories of the same park.

#2) Our Basement “Music Room”


Music has always been a big part of my life. I love listening to music, learning about music, and creating music with other people. The finished room in our basement is the newest addition to our house, and it’s where I keep my guitars and a small drum set. It’s a great place to relax, play some music, watch a little TV – and it’s the coolest room in the house in the summer! It’s not quite Daryl’s House yet, but I love it.

#3) My Backyard


I love the outdoors – not so much in a camping sort of way. I’m more of a backyard patio person. Our backyard is the perfect place to hang out in the summer mainly because there’s lots of shade. Our street is filled with enormous silver maples, and there’s one right in the center of our yard. It can be a nuisance sometimes, but I’m always thankful for it in the summer when the sun is too hot.

Also, I don’t know if you can see it from the photo, but my wife is an incredible gardener. The garden grows a bit every year. She plans everything out to look its best and even chooses flowers that attract butterflies and hummingbirds. There’s nothing more relaxing than sitting in our  backyard on a quiet morning with some coffee and a good book. Speaking of books, that brings me to spot #4…

#4) The Reading Chair in Our Study

study pic

This chair is easily the most comfortable chair in the world. Our good friends have a chair just like this in their house, and after using it once when we stayed there, I knew we had to get one. It’s not a very expensive piece of furniture, but it’s designed perfectly. Those Ikea furniture makers know what they’re doing!

The study is also one of my favorite rooms in our house. There’s something about being surrounded by books that comforts me. When I look over the shelves, I remember the story behind almost every one of my books – when I read it, where I bought it, who recommended it to me… I love reading on my iPad, but browsing my digital library isn’t quite the same. 🙂

And finally…

#5) The Gym

gymI put this one last, not just because it’s like the “vegetables” portion of my summer destination spots (which I always eat last), but because it seemed fitting for this writing project. In my experience, exercise is a lot like writing. It takes discipline. Sometimes it’s painful. Sometimes (rarely) you hit your stride and it seems like the easiest thing in the world. You always feel good when you finish.

~Enjoy your summer vacation!

Mr. Kelly


Book Talk Monday! (10/9 Edition)

Book Talk Monday Tuesday!

Son by Lois Lowry~

I was so excited when I found out that Lois Lowry was publishing another book in The Giver trilogy. I picked up Son on Sunday and am already halfway through it. Reading about the world of The Giver again is like picking up a conversation with an old friend; it doesn’t take long to get the chemistry going again. So far, it seems like Lowry has created yet another character, Claire, who is as real and fascinating as the others she’s created in this series. It’s inspiring to begin this book as we enter our character unit this year.

If you’re interested in this series, you should definitely start with The Giver. It sets the tone for the others, and will help you understand them more completely. It’s also a fantastic book on its own. It won the Newbery Medal in 1994. Here’s a great amateur book trailer that captures some of its big ideas nicely without giving too much away:

If you decide to read The Giver, you HAVE TO talk to me when you finish it. Some of my favorite conversations with readers are about the ending to this book. Personally, I love how Lowry wrote the ending – but not everyone does! 🙂

Monday Book Tally 10/1

Last week, I mentioned Rebecca Stead’s Liar and Spy during a mini-lesson. I finished it this week, and my post-it work involving Seurat’s painting definitely paid off! It will be in our class library this morning. I’m eager to hear some of your opinions about the book. I would also encourage you to follow the trail of post-its that I started with you in class.

This week, I’m reading some non-fiction. I bought Tony Wagner’s new book called Creating Innovators. I’m going to hear Wagner speak later this month, and his new book sounds interesting. I bought the e-book version that also has embedded videos and links. I like how a book about innovation is itself innovative!

So, now it’s your turn… I know from our discussions that many people finished books in the last week. Here’s our tally:

Core 1: 9

Core 2: 12

Core 3: 21

Core 4: 10

Here are a few popular titles:

Amulet series

Bone series

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Little House on the Prairie series

Cirque Du Freak series

Loser List series by H.N. Kowitt

The Elements by Theodore Gray

Love, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen

Monday Book Tally 9/24

Last week, I mentioned that I was almost done with Patrick Ness’s Monsters of Men. Well, I finished it this week. I have to say that I was a bit sad to finish this series. I’ve gotten to know Viola and Todd – and even Mayor Prentiss – so well over these three books that I’m going to miss them. That just goes to show you how great Ness is as a writer. There are powerful scenes from these books that have stayed with me – Manchee’s final scene, the end of The Knife of Never Letting Go (book #1), 1017’s final look at Todd as he flees New Prentisstown – and all of them deal with characters I grew to care about. Who are your favorite characters? Do you have any characters that you miss? Be sure to leave a comment and tell us about them!

This week, I also finished reading the short story prequel called “The New World” that Patrick Ness gave away for free. An amazing writer who gives a story to his fans for free… It doesn’t get much better than that!

So, what books did you finish this week? I can’t wait to hear about them!

Here’s our class tally:

Core 1: 12

Core 2: 9

Core 3: 18

Core 4: 15

And here are a few of the titles that we finished:

Nothing But the Truth by Avi

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick

Lost Hero by Rick Riordan

Loser by Jerry Spinelli

Power of Six by Pittacus Lore

Eragon by Christopher Paolini

Bone series by Jeff Smith

Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi

Bang! by Sharon Flake

Keep the titles coming! Check back next Monday to see what your classmates are reading…

Monday Book Tally 9/17

First book tally of the year!!!

I’m almost finished with Patrick Ness’s Monsters of Men – the final book in the Chaos Walking trilogy. Ness is quickly becoming one of my favorite YA writers.

I also read a very cool picture book about the life of Charles Darwin. It’s called The Tree of Life. It’s a very creative book that uses a multi-genre approach to storytelling – illustrations, bits of his journal, letters. If you like science or biographies and are looking for a unique and informative read, check this book out. It’s available in our class library.

Here’s our book tally for this week:

Core 1: 17

Core 2: 12

Core 3: 12

Core 4: 3

Here are a just s few of the books that we’re reading:

39 Clues series

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

The Secret of the Fortune Wookie by Tom Angleberger

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos

Camp Wild by Pam Withers (Orca book)

Kicker by Michelle Martin Bossley (Orca Sports book)

Mango Shaped Space by Wendy Mass

Found by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Keep the titles coming!

Welcome Back!

I hope your summer was as nice as Trinket’s and Nelson’s!

What is a “workshop” classroom?

In a nutshell, a workshop classroom is an individualized approach to teaching and learning. While there are still daily whole-class lessons, much of the instruction is delivered in individual conferences and small groups.  You will spend most of the time in class doing the actual work of literacy – talking, reading, writing, and studying language. You will have to make many decisions for yourself in a workshop class. You are given individual responsibility over choosing your reading books and making writing decisions. This makes for a rigorous classroom where you will truly have an active role in your own education.

It is important for you to know that the most important thing you can bring to class is not a reading level or test score; it is a willingness to work and learn. There are no passengers in a workshop classroom!

How is the class graded?

40% – Writing

40% – Reading

20% – Habits / Effort

Being prepared for class:

You need to bring your independent reading book with you every day. Here’s what I’m reading right now:

You will need two composition notebooks: one for reading and one for writing. Here are mine:

You will also need two folders. These will stay in the room and hold important writing and reading artifacts.

Don’t forget the Team Endeavor expectations…

  • Have a Voice!
  • Be Involved!
  • Take Responsibility!
  • Pursue It… Own It!

Quick Tip: The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen

I bought a copy of Nielsen’s The False Prince at the bookfair yesterday. I started reading it today and couldn’t put it down! It’s narrated by an interesting character named Sage who has a distinct voice that draws you right in.

Our class copy is already on loan, but the school library may get some copies soon. There are also 8 copies in circulation in the public library system – including one at Audubon that’s on the shelf as I write this… What are you waiting for? 🙂

Here’s a short trailer to give you a sense of the book:

Spring Book Fair Is Here!

It’s that time of year again – time to get some great books at an awesome price, while also supporting your school… What could be better?

Click HERE for the link that I showed in class that has many of titles available this week. Click on the books with the green play button to see a book trailer.

Here’s one that looks good to me.

And another.

What are the highlights of this bookfair? Leave a comment below.

NPR Interviews R.J. Palacio

I wrote recently about how much I enjoyed R.J. Palacio’s Wonder. Other people are also taking notice. I woke up the other morning to hear a great interview with Palacio on National Public Radio. In case you missed it, just CLICK HERE to check it out.


Author Spotlight: R.J. Palacio

It’s a cool thing when a friend recommends a book saying, “I think this is my new favorite book of all time!” When your friend also happens to be a smart, voracious reader, you know you’re in for a treat.

The book recommended to me today, which I’m now passing on to you, is from a new author named R.J. Palacio. The book is called Wonder, and it sounds like it’s as powerful as it is well-written. Here’s the book trailer. If it sounds interesting, check out the class library next week. I’m sure my copy will be there by then!

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