Want a free classroom resource from the NNWP? We're looking for teacher-written reviews of mentor texts that would inspire students to want to keep (and love their) classroom journals. If you know of a book that hasn't been reviewed yet on this page, send us your review. If we use it, we'll send you any of the publications found on the NNWP's Publications Page. Book reviews can be sent to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Look at the reviews already posted below for ideas on what we're looking for. These three example reviews were written during a writers workshop inservice offered in Northern Nevada in 2006 and a narrative writing inservice in 2009. Both classes were offered by the Northern Nevada Writing Project.
Review #1: If you want your students to fall in love with the idea of keeping a journal, have a copy of Amelia's Notebook displayed in your classroom. Author Marissa Moss has done an amazing thing with her first book, which has become a popular series. Writing in the voice of a young girl about to move away from her best friend and school, Moss captures the emotions and everyday life that centers around a real-life experience.
The beauty of this mentor text is that it is published to look like a real composition book. We see Amelia's handwriting. We see the lines and margins one might see in a real journal. Amelia decorates the pages with drawings, side-bars, and artifacts. When I share this text with my students, they realize they're getting permission to decorate and personalize their writing, which is such a simple (but necessary) step in helping students love their journals.
Be sure to point out how Amelia writes about everyday kind of experiences and observation. Fights with her sister, the shape of people's noses, and cafeteria food are some of the topics she explores in her journal. This young journal keeper shows those students who think their lives are uninteresting that everything that happens can be written in an interesting way with an interesting voice.
The Amelia sequels that followed the success of the original are all great too. My personal favorite is the one where Amelia and her family go on a road trip and Amelia journals the whole experience. The tourist sites that Amelia visits seem very familiar to me, and they may remind you of places you and your family have stopped at.
And if Amelia doesn't inspire your boy writers, Marissa Moss has another delightful book to add to your mentor text library: Max's Logbook. Max is a bit more scientific and imaginative than Amelia (who focuses on narrative), but he writes and decorates his own ideas, and this could very well spark the imaginations of your reluctant boys!
--book review by Cathy Craik, Nevada teacher
Review #2: I use the book A Writer's Notebook: Unlocking the Writer within You by Ralph Fletcher. It's a fast read, and a true inspiration to anyone who wants to write or who thinks he/she should do more writing. I was given this book during an inservice class from the Northern Nevada Writing Project, and it has become one of the best books in my classroom library for inspiring students to take risks with their own writing.
A writer's notebook is a tool every writer should use. In its pages, a writer experiments with ideas and writing styles in a non-threatening way. A writer's notebook is like a journal or a diary, except that it relies rarely on daily narrations to fill its pages. Instead of daily accounts, each page in the writer's notebook can focus on a topic--past, present, or future--that the writer would like to some day explore more extensively; the notebook's writer explores topics in brain-friendly and creative ways.
I like to compare a writer's notebook to an artist's sketchbook. Artists fill their sketchbooks' pages with rough drawings of randomly seen things they may or may not use in paintings someday. Topics in a writer's notebook should be thought of as rough sketches, attempts by the writer to gain more perspective in a manner that isn't permanent and is totally disposable, if the writer chooses to never use it.
If you've never attempted to keep a writer's notebook, get this little book by Fletcher. It'll inspire big ideas in your classroom.
----book review by Diana Nielsen, Nevada teacher
Review #3: The chapter book, Diary of a Wimpy Kid written by Jeff Kinney, creates an interesting twist with journal writing. The main character, Greg Heffley, documents his experiences in a journal at his mother’s suggestion. He is mortified because his mom buys him a diary when he specifically requested a journal. Boys don’t keep a diary; that is a girly thing. Throughout his “journal,” Greg writes about things that have happened to him and his experiences at school.
I have found that my students can really relate to Greg and are always eager to hear his stories. For instance, on page 36, Greg sneaks down to listen to his brother’s CD and he gets caught by his dad. Greg finds himself in a heap of trouble when his dad calls him “friend,” which Greg knows is not a good sign. A memoir prompt for this part of the book might be something like, “Have you every done something you know you shouldn’t have and you got caught? What happened?” If students are unwilling to confess, then try, “Have you every done something that you know you shouldn’t have and you got away with it (didn’t get caught)? What happened?”
My students absolutely love this book and there are numerous memoir prompts that can be used to help students tap into their memorable moments. The series includes two other books that are chalked with many other “situations/experiences” that the students can also relate to and enjoy.
After reading and sharing a journal entry from the book, I have the students brainstorm their own ideas. To engage them further, I have the students share with a partner, group or whole group. I give them time to discuss their personal stories as part of the brainstorming session. Often, students will remember a story of their own by hearing the stories of others. I have them write two to four ideas during their brainstorming sessions. Once they have a few ideas, I have them choose one idea to transform into a longer piece or narrative writing. The students must make sure the writing piece has details that create an image and contain voice. The piece must sound like them and have their energy.
----book review by Julie Leimbach, Nevada teacher