Sunday, April 26, 2015

Book Review: Challenger Deep

CHALLENGER DEEP by Neal Shusterman plunges readers into the powerful and authentic world of mental illness through the perspective of a teen teetering on the brink of insanity.
Unlike works for young adults that view mental disorders from the outside in, Shusterman immerses readers into this disturbing universe from the very first page. Sensitively told through short chapters that flow between Caden’s imaginary world and his perceived reality, readers experience a young man’s ongoing struggle with sanity. This gripping prose will hold the attention of young adults from beginning to end as they grow to understand the stark reality of Caden’s condition.
The book is illustrated with amazing artwork by Shusterman’s son Brendan. The “author’s note” at the end of the novel explains the author’s close ties to this very personal story.
While some readers will empathize with Caden’s plight because of their own experiences with mental illness, others will gain new insights and compassion for those dealing with schizophrenia and similar disorders.
Librarians will find this to be an excellent selection for students interested in the psychology of mental illness. Young adults will appreciate the authentic characters and the author’s eye for detail.
This extraordinary work of realistic fiction has had lots of positive buzz. It’s likely to be on the “best of 2015” lists, so be ready for ongoing interest in the title.
To learn more about the author, go to
Published by Harper Teen on April 21, 2015.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Website Review: Morse Code Day

MORSE CODE DAY is April 27th in commemoration of the birth of inventor Samuel Morse in 1791.
For a simple Morse Code Translator, go to
Learn a little about the history of Morse Code at the White River Valley Museum. Also, try their translator at
Boys’ Life provides a Morse Code Machine that contains both the visual and auditory elements of morse code. Go to…/morse-code-machine/. It also has built-in practice.
Connect Morse Code to science. Involve students in building their own Hila Code Key device. Hold a contest in your library to see who can decipher a message first! Go to
Do you want to get serious? Download the 99 cent app called Morse-It by Francis Bonnin. This app allows users to translate, interpret, type, and convert Morse code. It also provides lessons to learn Morse code. Go to
For a great April Fool’s Joke featuring Morse Code, go to Gmail Tap at

Friday, April 24, 2015

Book Review: Jack: The True Story of Jack & the Beanstalk

JACK by Liesel Shurtliff is an imaginative retelling of the classic story Jack and the Beanstalk.
Like Rump, the first book in “the true story” collection, this fast-paced adventure brings the beloved tale alive for a modern audience. Set in the same fairy tale world as Rump, JACK tells the story of a farm boy whose father disappears into the world of giants. Jack must figure out a way to save his father as well as his kingdom.
This middle-grade fantasy is brimming with memorable dialogue and interesting characters. Shurtliff’s engaging writing style fills the pages with interesting vocabulary without overwhelming reluctant readers. Although the book lacks illustrations, youth will be drawn to the colorful book cover.
Both Rump and JACK will be popular in school library collections. Boys and girls alike will enjoy the extended versions of the classic tales. These books would work well in a literature circle environment featuring fairy tale retellings.
Librarians will have endless fun with Shurliff’s fairy tales. Pair them with the classic versions of these tales found in picture books. Involve youth in writing their own adapted versions of fairy tales. Be sure to include the many other fractured fairy tale books in the library for additional fun. Look for Shurliff’s Red: The True Story of Red Riding Hood in Spring 2016.
To learn more about the author, go to
Published by Alfred A. Knopf and Random House Kids on April 14, 2015.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

App Review: Think Like Churchill

THINK LIKE CHURCHILL is an outstanding biographical app produced by Touchpress. This high-quality app tells the engaging true story of Winston Churchill, a statesman from Britain who had a major impact on world history.
The app begins with an introduction by Boris Johnson explaining that the app is intended to focus on Churchill’s most difficult dilemmas. The biographical experience is divided into chapters beginning with THE BRIDGE in 1893. As users move through the short, true stories, they learn about the increasingly difficult decisions Churchill faced in his life and career.
At the end of each chapter, readers are asked to “stand in Churchill’s shoes” and make a decision. Users then learn how their choice was like or unlike the decision Churchill actually made. Participants are invited to identify the reasons for their decision, learn about traits involved with this type of decision, and examine how they compare to Churchill. It’s also possible to “challenge a friend” using social media to see how they would react in the same situation. This sharing aspects has many possibilities for teachers who could ask students to email them about their thoughts and actions. Each chapter concludes with an archive showing primary source materials related to the incident. This emphasis on historical documents connects well with the Common Core standards.
Displayed using an interactive, graphic-novel style approach, this beautifully illustrated app incorporates audio narration, sound and music effects, along with animation elements that contribute to the appeal of the experience. Hot spots woven throughout the app display informational pop-ups associated with the narrative. Orange boxes indicate Churchill’s own words.
Each fast-paced, thought-provoking chapter brings Churchill’s experiences to life. From a daring prison escape to making difficult war decisions, each new, dramatic situation draws readers deeper into the life of this fascinating statesman. The app is regularly updated and the producers plan to continue adding episodes to the experience.
THINK LIKE CHURCHILL is a stunning example of the potential of apps as engaging environments for learning. It’s an important addition to middle school and high school library app collections. Ask students to use this app as a model for writing their own story about another important figure and the decisions he or she made.
Touchpress is known for their high-quality, content-rich apps. Check their website for other apps for you library at
To learn more about this app, go to

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Book Review: The Rat with the Human Face

THE RAT WITH THE HUMAN FACE by Tom Angleberger is the second silly adventure in The QuikPick Papers series.
In a followup to the infamous Poop Fountain incident, the Qwikpick Adventure Society trio investigate an abandoned research facility looking for a rumored rat with a human face. The story is told as a semi-official report detailing their exploits along with the consequences.
The book’s scrapbook appearance with taped in photos, drawings, typewritten pages, handwritten notes, and other visually interesting elements will be popular with young readers.
Fans of Tom Angleberger who enjoy tales of harmless troublemaking will be eager to jump into his latest, fast-paced adventure. However, young readers looking for literary depth won’t get past the title and first few pages. With the popularity of the first title in this series as well as the Origami Yoda books, librarians are sure to find readers for this book. The combination of light realism and humor are perfect for reluctant readers.
To learn more about the author and his books, go to
Published by Amulet Books on April 21, 2015. ARC courtesy of NetGalley.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

App Review: The Mouse and the Meadow

THE MOUSE AND THE MEADOW by Chad Wallace is an interactive storybook app following the experiences of a mouse as he explores a meadow.
The “Read to Me” option reads aloud each page while displaying basic animation. The animated, interactive elements reinforce the story, so they aren’t distracting. Readers can follow along with the audio narration. Each word is highlighted as it’s read aloud.
The “Read to Myself” option is the same as the read aloud option, just without the audio support. Unfortunately, the font size is small and sometimes difficult to read against the colorful background.
From scary confrontations with a snake and great horned owl to quiet moments with fireflies, the storyline features believable situations and encounters among the creatures. The author skillfully weaves in nature facts making this an excellent science experience as well as an engaging story. The realistic flora and fauna contribute to the impact of the story. The colors and details of each creature are exceptional.
After reading the story, users are immersed in an informational reading experience focusing on facts and trivia about the habitat and creatures encountered in the book. They also learn about how animals communicate and help each other. Readers will also enjoy learning about the author. These special informational aspects are always available through a small icon on each page.
The book would be a wonderful addition to a collection of storybook reading apps for children.
This book is also available as a paper and electronic book. A Pop-Up App can be downloaded to go with the paper book.
To learn more about this app, go to
Published by Dawn Publications. Review copy courtesy of Dawn Publications.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Book Review: Lost in NYC: Subway Adventure

LOST IN NYC: A SUBWAY ADVENTURE written by Nagja Spiegelman and illustrated by Sergio García Sánchez combines an exciting urban adventure with a fascinating informational reading experience for young learners.
A TOON Graphics book, the story features a school field trip that goes awry for a member of the class when he gets lost in the subway on his way to the Empire State Building in New York City.
This beautifully illustrated book features subway maps, collages with historical photos, subway symbols, and visually stunning graphic story elements.
Spiegelman’s carefully researched children’s book contains both a realistic fiction element along with carefully researched information about the history and geography of New York City and it’s unique subway system.
Available in both English and Spanish versions, this is a must-have book for elementary libraries. Both urban dwellers and those longing to visit the city will find the authentic story and background information appealing.
This outstanding graphic work is excellent for both visual and verbal literacy activities. It’s likely to be on lots of “best of 2015” lists this year.
Download an outstanding teacher’s guide to go with the book at
Published by Toon Books on April 7, 2015. ARC courtesy of Edelweiss.