Saturday, February 6, 2016

Try iMovie or WeVideo For Your Next Book Report

Hokey Pokey by Jerry Spinelli

There are many words to describe Jack He's smart, friendly, a leader, and a roll model for kids of all ages in the neighborhood.  In fact Jack might be considered a legend. Don't legends have to be gone in some way? Well, Jack is not gone, but something is happening to Jack. Jack feels it.  Everybody senses it, and some are afraid.  Jack and his friends try to make sense of what is happening. In fact, it is happening to all of them, and they can't seem to stop it.  They've heard about it.  There has been rumors.  How are these kids going to stop the mysterious developments that will eventually take them from the life they love so much?

I think this is one book of Jerry Spinelli's could be a lost gem on the bookshelves.  I really enjoyed Spinelli's perspective of a kid's world being separate from  the adult world.  I hope there are still neighborhoods around like Jack's and his friends.  I get the feeling that as young kids strive to be adults sooner and sooner, kids like Jack will be gone before they ever get the chance to become legend.

Next time you need to give a book report in class, think about different ways the information can be shared.  This is a simple video made with iMovie using the pictures from the text.  WeVideo allows you to do the same thing.  There are many new ways to consider presenting information in class.  Google slides are still a great way to plan your presentation, but why not consider something a little more engaging and fun to watch?

Monday, December 21, 2015

Good Cold War Stories Are Difficult to Find

A Night Divided by Jennifer A. Nielsen

Nightdivided_XLGIn middle and high school social studies classes, a lot of focus is put on the the two world wars and the first half of the 20th century.  Once in awhile I come across a book that covers these events from a new perspective.  Many stories of the battles, torment, and survival of the great wars are written and shared in young adult literature.  Some are the works of nonfiction, shared by characters and authors that experienced the tragedies of war first hand.  Many other great stories fall under historical fiction.  Even though the characters are not real, they are confronted with authentic storylines that have been researched by authors. These stories can only be shared in fiction since many of the original characters have since passed away, or their real names, or complete story were never known. The only way to share the context of some of these horrific events in terms for young readers is through young adult fiction. A Night Divided by Jennifer A. Nielsen is a new book that I can add to my list. In order to understand the story, a short history lesson is needed.
East Berlin border guards add barbed wire to the top of the Berlin Wall

A Night Divided is a story about Gerta Lowe and her family.  They lived in East Berlin at the end of World War II.  As part of the Treaty in Europe, Berlin, the capital of Germany, was divided into four regions. Since France, Great Britain, the United States, and Russia were the leading countries of the allied powers,  each controlled a region.  Russia had a different idea of what should happen to Germany and Europe at the end of war.  Promoting Communism throughout eastern Europe, Russia separated themselves from their western allies. These differences brought political strife to the region, and almost took everyone back into another world war.  The term, Cold War, was given to the time period between the end of World War II, and 1991 when the Communists in the Soviet Union fell from power.
The Berlin Wall was not meant to keep the West in.
It was meant to keep anyone from Germany or East Berlin out.

Gerta's dad is a member of a resistance group in East Berlin.  This is a group that did not agree with the Communist government of the Soviet Union. So when the Soviets decide to build a wall around West Berlin, it just so happens that Gerta's dad and brother are trapped in the West. Even though  twelve-year-old Gerta was sheltered from her father's illegal activities, his strong will was not.  Gerta did not believe that the government of the Soviet Union and East Berlin should have so much power over their free will.  Gerta heard about the opportunities in the West, and nobody is going to stop her dream of being free.

This picture of the Berlin Wall and Death Zone
shows the distance that Gerta was expected to dig
in her attempt to be free.
As the prospect of being separated from her father forever looms over her family, Gerta holds onto the vision that she will see her father and brother again. Then one day, Gerta sees her father on the other side of the fence across, "the death zone." She also receives a secret note from her dad that she interprets as a desperate plea for her to try to escape by digging under the wall.  Because of her father's status in East Berlin, the Berlin police are forever watching Gerta and the fence near her home. Failure means certain death. How can Gerta accomplish what her father has asked? Besides her brother, Who can she trust to help her out?

I enjoyed Nielson's book, A Night Divided, because of it's fresh look at the events of World War II. There are many books about the Holocaust and the battles of the war.  This book takes different perspective on how the conditions of peace after World War II lead to more turmoil in Europe.  The story about the Berlin Wall is one that may be left on the shelf as history classes need to curate what makes the curriculum and what might not.  As technology changes how students research their topics, maybe there will be a resurgence of interest in topics like the Berlin Wall and the Cold War.

Monday, October 19, 2015

What Do Fish Have To Do With Anything? - by AVI

What Do Fish Have To Do With Anything? and other short stories by AVI

AVI is the author of many popular children´s and young adult books for over 25 years. His best known genre has been historical fiction. He eventually won the Newbery Award for his book, Crispen, a book about a boy trying to survive mid-evil England. AVI is also known for his children's books like, Things That Sometimes Happen. Its a group of nine short illustrated stories about some sad, happy, and surprising things that sometimes happen. It is illustrated by Caldecott winning illustrator, Marjorie Priceman.

In this book AVI uses seven different short stories to demonstrate lessons learned by a variety of young characters. Bad kids who don't necessarily learn how to be good, sad kids who might learn how to be happy, and scared kids who try to be brave. Taking risks and seeing things from a different point of view can be a powerful element of change.

AVIƛ book is a great one for the reluctant reader.  Each story may have its own appeal to the young reader, and will leave the reader to synthesize the future of each charcter as they tend to end with a lot of unanswered questions.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Orphan Train - a novel by Christina Baker Kline

 Orphan Train - a novel  by Christina Baker Kline

orphanNon-fiction and historical fiction reading for young adults has improved greatly in the last few years.  The variety of books that try to portray actual events throughout history offer so many perspectives for so many different kinds of readers.  Some of the most recent I can think of off the top of my head include, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys, and Tangled Threads: a Hmong Girl's Story by Pegi Deitz Shea.  These don't even include many great realistic fiction books that help build reader empathy as characters have to deal with challenges of life such as poverty, bullying, physical and cognitive disabilities, and other social issues.

In the book Orphan Train, author Christina Baker Kline combines two characters and their stories simultaneously to explain the history of the Orphan Trains in America during the 1920s, and the social dilemma of being a teenage orphan in 2011.  Seventeen year old Molly Ayer is all too familiar with the social service system. She is a juvenile delinquent, most recently for stealing a book, and probably in danger of being relocated into another foster home. Her sentence is to serve community service, cleaning the attic of ninety-three year old Vivian Daly.  Vivian is also familiar with the social service system in her day.  As an orphaned Irish immigrant, Vivian was placed on the Orphan Train on the east coast, and was sent to America's growing midwest region with the hopes to finding a safe home, and possibly a family.

These two unlikely friends eventually develop trust in each other. They begin to share their experiences as participants in the social system of their time. Kline intertwines the past stories of Vivian's life as an orphan in 1930 with the present day predicament of Molly Ayer.  The reader begins to see a change in both characters, as they become dependent on each other, Vivian trying to curate the events of her past, and Molly her present and future.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Small as an Elephant by Jennifer Richard Jacobson

Small as an ElephantSmall as an Elephant by Jennifer Richard Jacobson

Jack Martel has been abandoned and is now on the run.  He needs to find his mom before anyone else, or he will most definitely be taken away.

On a camping trip in Acadia National Park, Jack wakes up one morning to find that his mother has packed up her things and left him in the middle of the night.  You might think that is unusual, but unfortunately for Jack, she has done this before. In an attempt to find his mom, Jack's adventures lead him across the state of Maine ending at an animal park, and a chance meeting with, Lydia, the elephant that motivated him through some of his most darkest times.  Along the way Jack meets a variety of characters that assist him on his journey.  As the news of a runaway boy spreads, and the search for him intensifies, Jack has to determine which of these characters he can trust, and who might turn him in to social services.  After some close calls, potentially dangerous situations, and very hungry nights, Jack finds some allies in some most unlikely places.

Jennifer Richard Jacobson certainly took a different angle toward this adventure story.  Jack is not your typical runaway, and probably would not have made it as far as he did, had it not been for similar experiences with his mother in the past. Her certainly had to be resourceful. I still had a hard time figuring out what was wrong with Jack's mom.  She had some kind of mental illness that caused her to abandon her son.  It seems that whatever it was, it was explanation enough to excuse her from responsibility for what she did. Fortunately for Jack, as he matures along his trail, he starts to realize the resources that have been put in place to help him.  I wonder how many kids in Jack's shoes never realize who the people are that want to help. For some reason they don't see it, don't want to see it, or have told so many times that there is no help.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Oshkosh Students Meet New Local Author

Freya and the Dragon Egg by K.W. Penndorf

In my years of teaching literacy, I have tried to model for my students the importance of pre-thinking before choosing the book they plan to read for literature circles or reading workshop.  I liked to demonstrate a variety of strategies for the students that included author research and book reviews before they settled on one that would make them critically think about all the plot details. They were going to be assessed using this book, so they'd better make it a good one.  Even still, toping the list of criteria I needed them to understand when choosing a book, was that they needed to ask themselves, “Will I enjoy this book?”  

Another good way to choose a book, is to actually meet the author.  I have been fortunate enough to meet a few. Jerry Spinelli, Gordan Korman, Jacqueline Woodson, and Louis Saccar have all led me to great book discoveries. This past month I happened to visit a neighborhood rummage sale and was drawn to one yard advertising a new author and her first book.  It was there that I met K.W. Penndorf.  I couldn’t help notice how excited she was to meet me, and how enthusiastic she was about her story, not just about Freya, but her whole writing adventure. After establishing a few connections, I promised her I would read the book, and we both promised to set up a Google Hangout so that she could share her publishing story with my students. 

On June 4th, Ms. Penndorf was able to meet with three sixth grade classes at Merrill Middle School in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.  Using Google Hangouts, all three classes were able to participate in a discussion with the author at the same time, each from their own classroom.  Ms. Penndorf prepared a presentation describing her journey through the development of her first book that included the resources for her research, as well as the fateful events that inspired her ideas. Because Ms. Pennforf was able to see each room clearly, students were able to ask questions to her almost better than if they were all in one big room together.

I want to thank K.W. Penndorf, Mrs. Redlin, Mrs. Lubbers, and Ms. Frank for the time in preparation to make this an authentic experience for the students.  Their willingness to take a risk not only helped produce an experience directly related to the student’s year long writing process, but has also helped promote a great way for teachers to expand their classroom walls through technology. I also want to thank the students for their great questions and participation.  No matter how much we might question the reliability of the technology in an event like this, putting student behavior and performance in the public can be a concern, and the students didn’t disappoint us.

Judging a book by it’s cover is certainly one of the most popular ways for kids and adults to choose a book to read. Ms. Penndorf shared with us how important it was for her to consider when deciding a cover and physical make up for her book.  If you have enjoyed the Harry Potter series, or Percy Jackson series, I think you will enjoy K.W. Penndorf’s Freya and the Dragon Egg. Now that you have met the author and heard her story, she’ll tell you it’s ok to judge her book by it’s cover. It means you understand the thinking and work that went into the whole publishing process as well as a very entertaining story. 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Freya and the Dragon Egg (Book One) by K.W. Penndorf

A few weeks ago I had the fortunate chance meeting of author K.W. Penndorf. She was promoting her new book at a neighborhood rummage sale in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.  I was captivated by her enthusiam about her book and her writing adventure.  It was easy to consider purchasing the book, and I promised her that I would read it, and let her know what I thought.

12 year old Freya felt she was the neglected, and often misunderstood middle child of her family, much like a cross between Cinderella, Harry Potter, and Alice in Wonderland.  Even though Freya was not really abused, the feeling of being under appreciated weighed heavily on her.  Her connection to her father’s famous archeology, in particular the Viking era, was one of the few things in Freya’s home life that gave her pleasure. A verbal outburst with her sisters, led her to the museum where her father stored and displayed his most famous collection of Viking era artifacts.  Discovering that the museum was broken into, Freya’s father entrusts her with an artifact that he believes was the target of the break-in, and unknown to Freya at the time, holds a secret to protecting the world from some strange and dangerous power. 

Through a series of events, the artifact takes Freya back in time to the original Viking era where she meets actual Vikings and other characters from Viking mythology.  As her adventure evolves, Freya can’t help but notice how accurate, or in some cases inaccurate, her father’s research has been.  A special gift makes Freya “the chosen one” to save the nine realms from the evil of Ragnar, who would like to open the realms, and control all the power within them. Freya makes allies with not only real Vikings, but also some of the most famous characters of Viking lore in order to defeat Ragnar, his growing army of Groggers, and a Raedslen dragon. Like all good series books, K.W. Penndorf leaves the reader with some unanswered questions, and a growing suspicion that Freya’s Viking adventure has already dangerously effected the safety of her present day world.

I am happy to say that I enjoyed Freya’s story, not only for it storyline, but also for the connection I made with Ms. Penndorf. I look forward to reading the next book in her series, as well as learning the continuation of her new publishing journey.  It’s like getting two stories for the price of one.  I’d like to think that I have one of her first autographed copies.  Perhaps, like J.K. Rawling’s first book, I’ll be able to sell it back to her someday.  Unfortunately it will not be in mint condition, because I have since shared her book with others.  That’s one of the things I like most about good young adult literature. 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Could this be "The Last of Us"?

Greydon Wright shares his insights into the theory that current natural diseases may be evolving into popular science fiction apocalyptic reality.  Could this really be, "The Last of Us?"