Book Review: Refugee

Refugee by Alan Gratz

refugee

Published by Scholastic in 2017

Alan Gratz is incredible at telling a historical story in a way that forces you to care about the characters, with a storyline that never drags. Refugee is the story of three teenagers a different times. Josef lives in Germany in 1939, Isabel lives in Cuba in 1994, and Mahmoud lives in Syria in 2015.

Josef’s father is sent to a concentration camp and is released if his family leaves Germany. Josef and his family get on a ship and he notices how his father has changed. As they get closer to Cuba, there are rumors that they may not be let into the country. Where will they go? What will happen to them?

Isabel’s father is being targetted by the police. Isabel teams up with a neighbor and her family to take a small boat to Miami. If they get caught before they hit the beach, they will be sent back to Cuba.

Mahmoud’s family is apartment is destroyed by a mortar strike. He and his family leave Syria to get to Turkey and then Greece. Mahmoud has learned that you survived in Syria by not being noticed, but that may be the death of them as refugees.

Although these stories take place at different times, they have common threads. And I’m struck by how Gratz weaves these stories together and shows how easily everyone’s tables can turn.

There was one thing that annoyed me. Each character has a different religion, and instead of having the Muslim character talk about Allah, the Jewish charcter talk about G-d, and the Christian character talk about God, he has them all talk about God. A part of me realizes that he is trying to show that all these characters are very similar, but I worry that he’s not being thoughtful of these character’s identity.

Overall, I loved this book! It is a fast paced story that tries to humanize a crisis that is hard for our students to wrap their mind around. In the author’s note, he makes a point to tell readers what they can do.

Quotes:

“What if her life was a song? No, not a song. A life was a symphony, with different movements and complicated musical forms. A song was something shorter. A smaller piece of life. This journey was a song,” (p. 155)

“You can live life as a ghost, waiting for death to come, or you can dance.” (p. 239)

“It was better to be visible. To stand up. To stand out.” (p. 282)

*I recieved this ARC from the publisher, I recieved no monetary compensation for this review. Quotes may change in the final publication.

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Reflections: Year 1 of using ebooks

I know I’m a tech savvy librarian, but ebooks scare the living daylights out of me. There’s something about the terror of hosting costs, legal issues with how long you own the books (multi-user, can I download it, can I print pages?), and the feeling of diving into the unknown with someone else’s money. I’m easily overwhelmed by the thought of taking a leap into the ebook fray and investing in something that my student may not use.

For this reason, I avoided the ebook question for my first few years. At the time, I didn’t think my population was interested and more importantly, I didn’t know how to take the leap in a way that my population would respond to it. Then the PA ebook consortium idea appeared. I was cautiously optimistic as I tried to learn more.

As I did research, I was really happy with what the organizers of the ebook consortium and Mackin were offering.

  • No Hosting Fees
  • You had the purchasing power of the whole state
  • Focus on fiction/high interest titles
  • Mackin allows you to keep the books you purchase
  • They were asking for librarian input
  • Google Single Sign on

Now, it took a few months to get going but I did some heavy promoting of the ebook through various scavenger hunts and hyperdocs. We’ll see how the program progresses, but I’m optimistic. We’ve gotten several teachers onboard, promoted to students, and found a way to embed these resources in our lessons. I’ve been happy with the usage and how easy it is for students to access the ebooks. I can’t wait to try a few ideas for next year!

Book Review: Race to the Bottom of the Sea

Race to the Bottom of the Sea by Lindsay Eager

race to bottom

Published by Candlewick Press, expected release date 10/17.

Fidelia’s parents are successful scientists studying sharks, and are killed in a freak story when the submarine capsized. Fidelia feels responsible, because she encouraged them to put off coming the the surfaceand the submarine was one she designed. While staying with her aunt, a trio of pirates led by Merrick the Monstrous come to rob her home and kidnap her. In order to earn her freedom, she has to go underwater to a cave with poisoned flowers to retrieve a lost treasure. As they get closer to the cave, Fidelia learns the backstory of the pirates. It turns out that there is more to Merrick than meets the eye. Will they successfully find the treasure? What is Merrick’s secret?

One thing I struggled with was the geography. When I read contemporary books, I try and look at where in the world the story takes place and to be aware of the culture when reading. I had a hard time figuring out where in the world the story takes place. Some preliminary searches of some of the locations in this book produced limited results. The author does a good of blending modern life with the traditional notion of pirates, but it didn’t jive when you look at modern day piracy.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. It blends modern life and the folklore that our teens love with “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

Quotes:

“Sorry was a blanket that left your feet cold, a thin soup that couldn’t fill the aching hunger in your bones. Sorry was the only thing people could offer, and it was a cruel, false replacement for what she had lost.” (p. 206)

“What’s life without a few scars?” (p. 228)

“people don’t always act the way you expect them to.” (p.268)

*I recieved this ARC from the publisher, I recieved no monetary compensation for this review. Quotes may change in the final publication.

What’s all the Hype about Hyperdocs

Earlier this year, I had the chance to participate in the Hyperdocs Bootcamp. When I first learned about Hyperdocs, I was a skeptic. In my eyes, it was a glorified google doc, but as I worked with the teachers in my building through this bootcamp, I realized yes, it may be a glorified google doc, but it’s so much more. By using hyperdocs in my instruction I have been able to:

  • Provide a more organized workspace for students
  • Have students use a variety of technology tools in one space
  • Better organize my lessons
  • Present topics using a variety of media to accommodate more learners

So…What is a Hyperdoc?

A hyperdoc can be a variety of of platforms, but it is a living document where students are able to bounce to different types of medias and technology tools, interact with the teacher, and record their work. It seems very similar to a webquest, but it allows for teachers to give feedback more efficiently and keeps the students more organized.

How have I used Hyperdocs?

My first hyperdoc was made to prepare my students for an author livestream. Unfortunately, weather cancelled the event, but the students responded well. I was able to use Google Classroom as a delivery method for the students and Google Docs to create it. I have been loving Google Classroom’s “Make a Copy for Every Student” feature. This allows teachers to watch students as they work and provide feedback to students before they turn their assignments in.

The goal of this hyperdoc was to have students explore Ruta Sepetys and her book “Salt to the Sea.” We didn’t have the time to read the whole book, and this assignment helped students develop their curiosity. The students asked great questions and it have them a little more freedom than a traditional lesson would have. Hyperdocs encourage teachers to embed different types of media and technology tools/assessment measures in the document.

The teacher I worked with really enjoyed how the students responded to the hyperdoc, so we planned a holocaust exploration together. This activity went with “The Diary of Anne Frank” and allowed them to develop background knowledge.

Then I was getting ready to do a project with one of my special education teachers. Her students have always been really successful with their Thinglink projects, so she wanted to do something on space spinoffs. We were looking at her successes and failures with past projects and realized that hyperdocs could provide more scaffolding for her students, embed other questions in the project, and allow her to track their progress as they worked.

Do you want to learn more?

I would check out http://hyperdocs.co/ to learn more. There is also a book available called “The Hyperdoc Handbook” that is super helpful! You can also follow @TsgiveTs on Twitter. The goal of the hyperdoc website is that teachers can post hyperdocs and search for hyperdocs that they would find useful!

Book Review: Wizards of Once

The Wizards of Once by Cressida Cowell

wizard of once.jpg

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers in October 2017

When I was growing up, I was a big fan of Roald Dahl (especially The Witches). I didn’t know what to expect when I picked this book up, but the writing style and illustration style brought me back to intermediate school when I was gobbling these books up.

This is the story of a world where there are two main “tribes,” the warriors and wizards. There was a war where witches were removed from the face of the earth. (witches are not what we think of with broomsticks and hats. These witches are monsters). The wizards control the magic and the warriors control the iron and the groups stay away from each other. We are challenged in the book to find the “unseen” narrator and figure out how they fit in the story. (I have my suspicions, but we’ll see as the series progresses 😉 )

Our story follows 2 characters, Xar (a wizard who hasn’t gotten his magic yet and will do ANYTHING to make it happen) and Wish (a warrior who has found a magical object). Both characters don’t fit in in their communites. Xar is trying to catch a witch, even though everyone knows all the witches are dead. He’s hoping he can steal some of it’s magic (knowing full well that he will be cursed forever). Wish has found a magical spoon and a magic sword that says, “There once were witches, but I killed them…”

Wish goes for a walk with her bodyguard and is captured by Xar. It turns out that he has found a feather with some witch blood on it. Some of the blood drops on Xar and his sprite Squeezjoos. It turns out it didn’t affect Xar, but it is affecting Squeezjoos. He will die or turn evil if he can’t get rid of the blood. Wish informs them that her mother, Queen Sychorax has a stone that takes away magic. Can they break into the warrior’s fort to save Squeezjoos? What’s going on with the witches? Are they back? Read to find out!

Quotes:

“That’s the problem with adventures. They bring out parts of you that you never knew were there.” (p. 201)

“The trouble with stories is: you have to know what they mean.” (p. 295)

“Actions have consequenses, you must pay the price of making amends, and some things happen that cannot unhappen.”  (p. 319)

“This isn’t the dark ages you know…’ (well it was, actually, but nobody ever thinks they are living in the dark ages)” (p.327)

*I recieved this ARC from the publisher, I recieved no monetary compensation for this review. Quotes may change in the final publication.

 

Theme: Intellectual Property

Intellectual property is always a concept that is fuzzy to our teens. As much as we try and relate it to their lives (imagine someone stole your project…), sometimes it’s good for them to see an example in a nonschool setting. Lately, I’ve been reading some great books that hit on intellectual property, copyright, and plagiarism in a way that isn’t preachy.

Girl versus Boy Band by Harmony Jones

girl v boy band

Published by Bloomsbury USA Childrens in 2016.

Lark has been dealing with her parent’s divorce, but her mother makes life more painful. Her mother is an agent trying to discover the next big music group. She’s convinced it’s this boy band from the UK named Abbey Road and invites them to move in with her and Lark as they try to make it in the music business. Lark loves music and writing, but is crippled by stage fright. She and her friends are trying to help her overcome that when one of the boys steal her lyrics!

Sasquatch in the Paint by Kareem Abdul-Jabar

sasquatch

Published by Disney-Hyperion in 2015

Theo is a quiet, smart kid who enjoys the “Acalympics” with his friends. In 8th grade, he has a growth spurt and everyone wants him to join the basketball team. The problem is something that many teens face, it’s fun to be involved in many different things, but it’s hard to do something extremely well when you are stretched thin. In addition, Theo also has to deal with his father beginning online dating after the death of his mother. Even though some teens would assume this is just a sports book, there’s a lot of subplots with Theo’s friends and family. The part that stuck with me was about Theo’s cousin, Gavin. His cousin had a mixtape stolen and leaked online by another artist. Gavin is not a likeable character, but everyone admitted that he was good at music. How will our characters set things right?

Slacker for Gordon Korman

slacker

Published by Scholastic in 2016.

Cameron is has one dream…to make it to the East Coast Gaming Championships and defeat his nemesis Evil McKillPeople. He doesn’t care about anything else, and that gets to be a problem when he almost burns his parent’s house down. Now, he is grounded from video games until he can prove that he is doing good for the community. So he and his buddies Pavel and Chuck make a fake page on the school website called the “Positive Action Club” and put themselves as the club’s leaders. Unfortunately, the school and community think it’s a real club and they have to start doing community service to keep up the ruse. Then things get really out of hand when someone else starts editing the page and making the boys do more and more community service. Who could have possibly outwitted our heroes? Then the high school students want to compete with our middle school heroes to see who helps the community more!  This book isn’t as directly related to copyright and intellectual freedom, but it does have a hilarious way of informing that you can’t get credit without doing the work.

National Poetry Month: Blackout Poetry

Last year, I celebrated National Poetry Month by bringing poetry to lunches for “Poem in your Pocket Day” This year I wanted to add to our celebration.

I gave study hall students a chance to stretch their brain by creating black out poetry. I really enjoy the examples Kwame Alexander uses in “Booked.” I was planning on putting the ebook up on the screen as an example, but as sometimes happens in the world of technology, my projector broke. I was really lucky to have the MackinVia app on my phone and surface and held that up as an example.

poetry.PNG

We used weeded books to create our blackout poetry. We started by circling words that described our topic or told a story. The results were incredible! We then put our finished products on our “poet-tree!” These poems were mixed in with actual poet books.

Overall, it was a super easy display to make, while still fun and interactive for our students!