Unsinkable Walker Bean

The Unsinkable Walker BeanThe Unsinkable Walker Bean
Written and illustrated by:
Aaron Renier
Publisher: First Second
Format: Softcover, 7.5 x 10, 208 pages, Black and White, $14.99
ISBN: 978-1-59643-453-0
Lesson plan by Dr. Katie Monnin

Following up on the heels of his first graphic novel Spiral-Bound (Top Shelf, 2005), Aaron Renier's second graphic novel, The Unsinkable Walker Bean, is sure to – once again – enchant and delight readers of all ages! In fact, while I read an early release copy of The Unsinkable Walker Bean I heard echoes of what Craig Thompson (graphic novelist of Blankets) said about Spiral-Bound: "It reminds us of the joy of discovery, and of finding oneself."

I second that, Craig! With a natural and delightful narrative style, Renier's The Unsinkable Walker Bean will once again remind readers of the joy of discovery and of finding oneself. Published by First Second Books, The Unsinkable Walker Bean tells the swash-buckling tale of a young man who must go on a life-changing adventure to save his grandfather. Despite adversaries and obstacles, which include his own father (his Grandfather's son), numerous pirates, and some super-scary sea witches, Walker Bean must not only learn friend from foe, but also learn to trust himself. Will he be able to outsmart the greedy pirates? Stand up to his father? Save his grandfather?

Not wanting to give away one juicy piece of this engaging pirate tale, I plead the fifth. Librarians and teachers will just have to read The Unsinkable Walker Bean themselves. Once they do, many students will be telling their parents about their latest, newest and treasured graphic novel tale. 

English Language Arts Elements of Story

Plot: Walker Bean, boy inventor, is about to go on the adventure of a lifetime. Along the way, he will encounter some new friends, some not-so-friendly pirates, and some super-creepy sea witches.

Setting: The high seas, of course!  

Characters: Walker Bean, an enchanted skull (it's a pirate-tale!), sea witches, pirates, William (Walker's father and his grandfather's son), Doctor Patches, Captain Bean, Admiral Bean (Walker's grandfather, Captain Bean's father), Shiv, Nettle, Perrogi, Gen, Saag, Taro

Themes: Journey/Quests, Self-Identity, Friendship, Family, Urban Legends and Folktales

Traditional Literature Pairing Suggestions: Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift, Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and/or The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, Aesop's Fables, Homer's The Odyssey

Some Teaching Recommendations For Middle School & High School English Language Arts

Suggested Alignment to the IRA /NCTE Standard(s):*

- standard #s correspond to the numbers used by IRA/NCTE

1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment.  Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works. 

2. Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.

3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate and appreciate texts.

4. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.

5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.

6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and non-print texts.

11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.

12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Suggested Reading and Writing Ideas for Teachers and Their Students:

·KWL Chart (Ogle, 1986)

Pirate tales have always seemed to generate young adult attention. They are exciting, adventurous and full of action. Thus, teachers can build upon student schema about pirates stories by asking them to fill-out a KWL chart (Ogle, 1986).


What do you Know about pirates and pirate stories?

What do you Wonder about pirates and pirate stories?

What did you Learn about pirates and pirates stories?









Before reading, students can respond to the first two columns, which focus on what they Know and Wonder about pirates and pirate stories. After reading, students can respond to the third column, which asks them to consider what they learned about pirates and pirate stories from the graphic novel. 

·Alternate Ending

To build upon student engagement with pirates and this new graphic novel, teachers can next ask students to work through a writing strategy called "alternate ending." To start, students need to choose a specific moment from the story; a turning point is recommended (it may be a good idea for teachers to have a few suggestions in mind). Once the students have chosen a specific turning point from the story, ask them to consider what they know about the characters, setting, plot and so on (up to that point), and, based upon that knowledge, write a new or alternate ending to the story. 

When students are done writing their alternate endings, they can share and explain their ideas with the rest of the class. By asking students to share and explain their alternate endings, teachers will be able to assess how well students comprehended the original story.

*NCTE/IRA. (1996). Standards for the English Language Arts. Urbana, IL: NCTE.

*Ogle, D. (1986). KWL: A teaching model that develops active reading of expository

            Text. The Reading Teacher 32, 564-570.

Katie Monnin, PhD, is an assistant professor of literacy at the University of North Florida and author of Teaching Graphic Novels: Practical Strategies for the Secondary ELA Classroom (2010) from Maupin House. To learn more about Teaching Graphic Novels or Katie Monnin, please go to this link: http://www.maupinhouse.com/monnin.php.