Friday, October 31, 2014

Website Review: Khan Academy

KHAN ACADEMY contains over 3000 free videos and interactives on subjects including math, science, economics, arts, humanities, computing, test prep, and other topics. These short, self-instructional videos and interactive lessons help children and young adults with specific, foundational skills. The test prep section is particularly helpful for teens seeking assistance in preparing for the SAT.

This not-for-profit website is an excellent way to help K-12 youth succeed. Students can work at their own pace. There’s even a way for teachers to track student progress.

To learn more, go to KHANACADEMY at

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Book Review: The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus

THE RIGHT WORD: ROGET AND HIS THESAURUS authored by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Melissa Sweet is a picture book biography for children focusing on the life of Peter Roget and his magnificent thesaurus. Known for their award-winning work A SPLASH OF RED, this author-illustrator team once again delivers an inspiring masterpiece.

This beautifully written biography celebrates the power of language. Through brilliantly selected words, this author/poet is able to bring the life of Roget alive for young readers.

The creatively illustrated book uses the technique of collage to tell the story of the author’s life. The picture book focuses on the author’s passion for making lists and selecting just the right words. The illustrator does an exceptional job incorporating visual representations of words and word lists into the story.

A timeline, information sources, further readings, and an illustrator’s note add depth to the work.

I highly recommend this book for library collections. Look for this book on Caldecott shortlists this year.

To learn more about the author/poet, go to Jen Bryant’s website at
To learn more about the illustrator, go to Melissa Sweet’s website at

LibraryThing ARC used for review

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Website & App Review: Professor Garfield

PROFESSOR GARFIELD is a free website containing interactives that allow students to explore, create, read, and play. 

The READ! section includes a wonderful selection of e-comics such as theaward winning THE BIG NO-NO!, the 2010 Theodor Seuss Geisel Award Winner. These e-books are available in five languages. The Storyline Online section contains dozens of videos featured celebrities reading favorite picture books aloud.

The CREATE! section provides a variety of online tools children can use to create their own comics.

Of particular interest to teacher librarians are the many interactives in the EXPLORE! section focusing on topics related Cyberbullying, Forms of Media, Fact or Opinion, and Online Safety. Many of these lessons are also available at the iTunes App Store as apps.

To learn more, go to PROFESSOR GARFIELD at

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Website Review: Stem and the Common Core

STEM AND THE COMMON CORE is a project of Science NetLinks. This website provides lessons that connect nonfiction science trade books with hands-on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) activities. Many of the books featured are winners of the AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books and other literary awards.

Dozens of lessons connect books like AN EGG IS QUIET by Dianna Aston, SISTERS & BROTHERS by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page, WHERE IN THE WILD? by David Schwartz and Yael Schy, LOOK UP! BIRD WATCHING IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD by Annette LeBlanc Cate, and THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS by Rebecca Skloot with STEM activities.

To learn more about these K-12 activities connecting STEM with English language arts, go to STEM AND THE COMMON CORE at

Monday, October 27, 2014

Book Review: Finishing School Series

I hate jumping into the middle of a series? With the third book in the popular FINISHING SCHOOL series by Gail Carriger coming out November 4, I thought I’d go back and review the first two books to get you up to speed in case you missed it. Steampunk is a popular genre with teens and young women will immediately be attracted to Sophronia’s likable personality.

ETIQUETTE AND ESPIONAGE by Gail Carriger is the first book in this exciting new series. This whimsical adventure establishes an alternative Victorian-era world filled with quirky characters including robots, vampires, and werewolves.

Most fans of fantasy will immediately see connections between Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality and Hogwarts. Most teens (as well as adults) love the idea of going to a school where they learn skills in espionage, interact with interesting creatures, and go on daring adventures.

Carriger’s skillful narrative makes even the most ridiculous situations seem plausible. Like most “first books” in a new series, this one spends most of text establishing the setting and characters leaving the plot elements surface level. However, the author weaves an entertaining tale and leaves enough untold to entice readers to seek out the next book in the series.

CURTSIES & CONSPIRACIES by Gail Carriger is the second book in the FINISHING SCHOOL series. This book picks up six months after the first book with Sophronia completing her first formal exams. As her training continues, she’s forced to test her skills in the dangerous city of London and an unexpected love triangle adds to the adventure.

Gail’s crisp, humorous writing style will appeal to young adult readers. Like many sequels, the characters and setting seem less fresh and innovative than the first book. However this quick, quirky story will keep readers coming back for the rest of the series.

It’s time to start reading the first two because the third book in the series WAISTCOAT & WEAPONRY (Book 3) is coming out November 4, 2014.

Whether you’re new to steampunk or looking for a great way to get started with this exciting genre, ETIQUETTE AND ESPIONAGE by Gail Carriger is an excellent choice. Other books in the series include CURTSIES & CONSPIRACIES and WAISTCOATS & WEAPONRY. To learn more about the series, go to Finishing School at

For more light-hearted, steampunk fun, look for Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series. 

To learn more about Gail Carriger and her books, go to

NetGalley ARC used for review

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Website Review: SAS Pathways

SAS Curriculum Pathways is a free resource for educators and students. Containing hundreds of interactives in English/Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies, Spanish, and more, the online service is easy to use and search. The tutorials include text, images, audio, and video elements. In addition, most tutorials end with a quick quiz or self-check. In addition to the tutorials, the system also includes interactives and tools such as an Interactive Atlas that allows users to create their own maps. The Data Depot provides a long list of datasets that students can download on topics such as Carbon Dioxide Emissions and Population Trends.

Of particular interest to school librarians are tutorials in the English/Language Arts section related to topics such as “how to read nonfiction”.

In addition to the website, SAS Curriculum Pathways has an increasing number of Apps available through the iTunes App Store.

To learn more, go to the SAS: Curriculum Pathways website at

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Book Review: Patient Zero and Red Madness

PATIENT ZERO by Marilee Peters tells a series of engaging true stories of the world’s scariest epidemics. Focusing on the courageous pioneers of epidemiology, each case follows the quest of a scientist to identify “patient zero”, the first person to contract and spread the disease. In each of the seven deadly diseases examined, scientists were able to build on the work of others to extend our knowledge in the hopes of preventing future catastrophes.

More people have died of disease than wars or natural disasters. The epidemics chronicled in this text include The Great Plague (1665), The Soho Outbreak (1854), Yellow Fever in Cuba (1900), Typhoid in New York City (1906), Spanish Influenza (1918), Ebola in Zaire, (1976), and AIDS in the U.S. (1980).

Peters’ writing style incorporates elements of mystery and horror to bring these compelling stories to life. Whether focusing on sympathetic victims like the infant in London who started the cholera epidemic or over-the-top characters such as Typhoid Mary, the cases are certain to jumpstart interest in other books related to disease and disaster. The glossary, index, and suggested readings are useful for youth readers.

Although students may be attracted to the layout and use of clipart, the book suffers from the lack of authentic primary source documents. Although the book points out that John Graunt collected health statistics, readers don’t get the chance to see his work. This omission would be a great opportunity to connect with online resources such as digital collections. Samuel Pepys’ diary accounts provide exciting insights into The Great Plague of 1665.

Maps play a central role in the world of many scientists seeking the elusive “patient zero.” Probably the best known is Dr. John Snow’s Mapping of the cholera epidemic of London. Check out an interactive map at

Seeking online photographs is another way to enhance the book. The Library of Congress contains many excellent documents and photographs related to the Spanish Influenza epidemic of 1918. Chronicling American contains fascinating newspaper articles published during the epidemic at For more ideas, go to The Great Pandemic at

PATIENT ZERO mentions Google’s Flu Trends at Use this opportunity to introduce youth to this exciting source of data.

This book is particularly timely given the recent Ebola epidemics in Africa. Encourage youth to keep up-to-date on an interactive map from Healthmap at

Another, recently published book RED MADNESS (2014) by Gail Jarrow focuses on the pellagra epidemic of the early 20th century in the American South caused by vitamin deficiency disease. Scientists found that enriching the diet with niacin helped to resolve the problem.

To learn more about maps in nonfiction literature, check out my articles in the October and December 2014 issues of Teacher Librarian.

Publisher ARC used for review.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Website Review: Wonderpolis

WONDEROPOLIS is a website that encourages imagination, creativity, and inquiry. Launched in 2010, this free website is overflowing with ideas that promote creative and critical thinking. The Wonder of the Day section features over 1300 topics asking questions like “How are pickles made?”. These “Wonders” can be searched by grade level and subject area. In addition, they’re aligned with the Common Core State Standards. Educators can share ideas in the Educator Sandbox area.

Teacher librarians can use this website to jumpstart inquiry-based learning projects and get students thinking about questioning. The tagline for the website is “where the wonders of learning never cease”. It’s a wonderful message for people of all ages.

To learn more, go to WONDEROPOLIS at

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Book Review: The Witch's Boy

THE WITCH’S BOY by Kelly Barnhill is an imaginative fantasy combining an engaging adventure with classic story elements. Without the wands of Harry Potter fame or the black caldrons of classic witch tales, the magic in this story comes alive to readers as a haunting, volatile character.

The plot revolves around the son of a witch who escapes near-drowning only to be bound by a dangerous magic and the daughter of a bandit who is also subject to magic’s dark side. Both boys and girls alike will be drawn to the characters of Ned and Áine, while animal lovers will enjoy the young wolf. From small villages and grand castles to the enormous boulders awakened in the dark woods, the setting plays a central role in this enchanting story.

Barnskill’s skillful prose makes this an excellent choice for read-aloud, however it may be a bit slow and wordy for some children.

This book is an excellent opportunity for teacher librarians to think about magical themes in their library collection. Rather than lumping everything into the classic fairy tale or the world of medieval wizards, consider the broad range of magical elements that attract young readers. It’s also important to examine books for potential as read-alouds.

To learn more about the author, go to Kelly Barnhill’s blog at

Publisher ARC used for review

Friday, October 17, 2014

Book Review: Dreaming in Indian

DREAMING IN INDIAN: CONTEMPORARY NATIVE AMERICAN VOICES edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale is an outstanding anthology sure to engage youth in discussions about 21st century Native American culture. The beautifully illustrated text includes the perspectives of over 50 contemporary artists. The predominately young adult authors challenge traditional stereotypes and encourage youth to think about what it means to be an Native American in today’s society.

The individual pieces featured in the collection address authentic issues facing Native American youth. While some works explore problems such as residential schools that are unique to Indian culture, others contain universal themes such as bullying that will resonate with all young adults. Many of the works focus on issues of acceptance, prejudice, self-esteem, and tolerance through everyday experiences like sports, dance, and fashion.

The stunning layout and visual display will immediately attract the attention of teen readers. Photographs, sketches, paintings, comics, and collage are just a few of the many types of illustrations that so effectively convey the artists thoughts and insights of the artists. These illustrations are expertly woven into the engaging poetry and prose. Readers will be fascinated by the cultural references from food and family to music and medicine.

Along with their names, the tribal affiliation of each artist is identified. This information is particularly useful for students who wish to learn more about individuals with particular tribal affiliations. The book is divided into four sections focusing on the themes of roots, battles, medicines, and dreamcatchers. These areas would provide a rich starting point for group discussions.

This original work is a valuable resource for any library seeking to expand its cultural collection. Although aimed at young adults, there are aspects of this book that would appeal to both younger and older audiences too.

For many teens, reading THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN by Sherman Alexie is their only exposure to Native American culture. Through this book, young people may gain a better appreciation of the diversity of interests and experiences of indigenous youth.

NetGalley ARC  used for review

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Book Review: In Real Life

IN REAL LIFE by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang is aimed directly at young online game players who may be unwittingly drawn into the hidden world of virtual economics and illegal gold farming. In this compelling graphic novel for youth, Anda is faced with the real-life consequences of what at first seems to be a fun new online game. The book’s cover does an exceptional job illustrating the dual worlds of online gaming and the real-world.

Doctorow’s powerful introduction to IN REAL LIFE provides an overview of the timely issues discussed in the book. From Minecraft for younger children to World of Warcraft for teens and beyond, Massively Multiplayer Online Role-playing Games (MMORPGs) are popular with youth. Recently, some of these online games have morphed into examples of living economics with millions of dollars of virtual merchandise being traded. Although many game developers have banned gold farming, it continues to be a real problem impacting both game play and the illegal activities often associated with taxation and labor issues. Cory Doctorow has tried to raise awareness of these issues in previous works like the short story ANDA’S GAME and novel FOR THE WIN.

Jen Wang’s beautiful, bold illustrations will appeal to the target audience. Her portrayal of authentic body-types in the real-world sequences and visually-rich fantasy elements in the gaming segments make the illustrations perfect for young people.

The focus on girls-only gaming along with a thought-provoking message will make this graphic novel an outstanding addition to the growing number of works for youth that explore the fascinating world of online gaming.

Learn more about Cory Doctorow at

Follow illustrator Jen Wang on Twitter at

NetGalley ARC used for review

Friday, October 10, 2014

Book Review: Strike! The Farm Workers' Fight for Their Rights

STRIKE! THE FARM WORKERS’ FIGHT FOR THEIR RIGHTS by Larry Dane Brimner explores the complex history of farm workers movement. Like many works related to this topic, union leader César Chávez plays a central role in the story. The narrative traces the creation of the United Farm Workers union and the use of protest techniques such as boycotts along the way.

What makes this work of nonfiction for youth exceptional is its focus on the cultural, social, and political tensions of the time period. Brimner’s well-research narrative and balanced approach addresses controversial topics such as racial tensions and issues of religion related to the movement.

The book’s design will appeal to middle grade readers. Visual elements can be found on almost every page and quotes from key players are woven into the text. However, additional headings and subheadings could be useful in assisting readers in locating information within the chapters.

The inclusion of photographs, maps, and other primary resources (e.g., telegraph message, cartoons paintings, posters, sketches) make it a useful book in addressing Common Core Curriculum standards. In addition, the author’s note, timeline, further readings, source notes, index, and other elements add to the quality of the text and its usefulness in student research.

Larry Dane Brimner is known for his well-researched, visually rich works of nonfiction for youth. Other titles include Birmingham Sunday, We Are One, and Black & White. Learn more about the author at

This book would be an excellent addition to any nonfiction collection for youth.

Publisher ARC used for review

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Book Review: Economics Through Infographics

ECONOMICS THROUGH INFOGRAPHICS by Karen Latchana Kenney is the newest book in the SUPER SOCIAL STUDIES INFOGRAPHICS series aimed at upper elementary school youth. Economics is an aspect of the social studies curriculum that can be difficult for youth to understanding. Visual representations are an effective way to convey key concepts related to trade, currency, spending, markets, and business. In this work of nonfiction for youth, the author uses “the money trail” to help readers understand how the cycle of money works. Questioning is woven into the text to stimulate student thinking. Blocks of text introduce key concepts and useful examples. While many of the examples explore topics connected to the every-day world such as iPhones, others are connected to social studies topics like the fur trade. From Australia to Israel, examples are provided from around the world.

The author points out that professional economists use graphic elements to convey their ideas. Illustrator Steven Stankiewicz uses infographics to present the key concepts visually. Bright, attractive colors will immediately attract readers. A wide variety of visuals are incorporated including pictograms, charts, concept maps, flowcharts, timelines, and maps.

Like any book focusing on economics, the book is likely to become dated in a few years. For instance, a section discussing the minimum wage ends with data from 2010, a dated flip phone is used as an example, and the cost of services like movies are likely to change. However, the book should remain current for the life of the book.

The book concludes with an index, further information, and a glossary. Other books in the series focus on culture, geography, government, and history.

To learn more about integrating infographics into the school library, check out two new articles in Teacher Librarian.

Lamb, Annette & Johnson, Larry (April 2014). Infographics Part 1: Invitations to Inquiry. Teacher Librarian, 41(4), 54-58.

Lamb, Annette & Johnson, Larry (June 2014). Infographics Part 2: Practical Ideas for Your Library. Teacher Librarian, 41(5), 64-67. 

NetGalley ARC used for review

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Book Review: Maddy Kettle: The Adventure of the Thimblewitch

MADDY KETTLE: THE ADVENTURE OF THE THIMBLEWITCH is the first book in an exciting new graphic novel series by Eric Orchard. 

When her parents are turned into kangaroo rats and kidnapped by evil spider goblins, Maddy goes in search of the Thimblewitch to rescue them. A one-of-a-kind floating spadefoot toad named Ralph is just one of the many unique creatures Maddy encounters on her quest. This fantasy adventure has just the right balance of exciting and creepy segments to maintain the attention of young readers without causing nightmares. Even the scariest characters turn out to simply be misunderstood.

The beautiful illustrations will be a hit with readers of all ages. Orchard’s use of vivid colors, interesting characters, and engaging, imaginary settings bring the story to life. The illustrations reflect the fast-paced plot and ongoing action.

This quirky new series is guaranteed to become a popular choice of young readers along with works by Roald Dahl and Neil Gaiman.

To learn more about Eric Orchard and his books, go to

NetGalley ARC used for review

Friday, October 03, 2014

Book Review: Jackaby

JACKABY by William Ritter is an marvelous way to introduce a new generation to a classic form of literature, the detective novel. At the same time, this compelling first novel joins an increasing number of quality works of historical fantasy. This combination of detective novel with historical fantasy is original and exciting for readers.

Set in 1892, Abigail Rook is fresh off a ship from Europe when she arrives in New England seeking adventure and more importantly a job. She gets both as she begins her first day as R. F. Jackaby’s assistant. Jackaby isn’t your ordinary investigator. He’s an eccentric who specializes in unexplained phenomenon and supernatural beings.

Ritter’s humorous, lyrical prose is captivating to read. Teens will immediately be attracted to narrator Abigail Rook’s situation and perspective. Each character in the story is well-developed and plays an interesting role in the progress of this engaging mystery. The plot is revealed in a tone reminiscent of classic detective stories from Arthur Conan Doyle to Agatha Christie. However the quirky characters and elements of supernatural will remind readers of more contemporary mysteries.

JACKABY will appeal to a broad range of readers including those who enjoy historical fiction, supernatural creatures, paranormal mystery, and a hint of romance.

THE MONSTRUMOLOGIST series by Rick Yancey would be a great read-alike for those who enjoy the horror and paranormal aspects of JACKABY.

Those that enjoy the historical fantasy aspects may be interested in THE DIVINERS by Libba Bray.

Use JACKABY as a vehicle to introduce a new generation to the classic detective adventure. Feature JACKABY along with other mysteries in a display including the “tools of the trade” from leather notebooks to magnifying glasses and a lab coat. Expand the paranormal mystery aspects with books featuring folklore and supernatural creatures.

JACKABY is Will Ritter’s first novel. If you enjoy language and YA literature, follow his blog at

Readers will be demanding a sequel to this unique series.

Publisher ARC used for review

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Book Review: Bird & Squirrel On Ice

BIRD & SQUIRREL ON ICE by James Burks is a followup to the hilarious Bird & Squirrel on the Run. This time the duo have crash landed at the South Pole and must find a way to avoid becoming Killer Whale food.

The Bird & Squirrel series provides a great entry into graphic novels for young readers. The easy-to-follow panels and the crisp, colorful artwork will engage beginning readers. The well-developed characters and humorous story will also appeal to children.

Although Scholastic doesn’t provide a Graphix Comic Builder specifically for this series, children would enjoy building their own comics using the characters from some of the other Graphix series. Go to to learn more.

Looking for other graphic novel style books for beginning readers? Try Toon Books at This website also have activities for kids.

To read more about author James Burks, explore his website at

NetGalley ARC used for review