Sunday, November 30, 2014

Book Review: Plastic Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

PLASTIC AHOY! INVESTIGATING THE GREAT PACIFIC GARBAGE PATCH by Patricia Newman tells the story of scientists investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The narrative unfolds as a mystery being solved by a team of scientists lead by three female researchers.

Written for grades 4-8, this highly illustrated work of nonfiction contains photographs, diagrams, and a map to help readers understand the science behind the exciting research project. Up-close photos show scientific experiments in action. “Trash Talk” sidebars provide important insights into the the scientific method being employed and the problem of plastic pollution. The book concludes with ideas for how youth can take action in their own community. Notes and ideas for further reading round out this excellent educational resource.

Similar in style to the SCIENTISTS IN THE FIELD series popular with older children, this book is a great way to introduce younger readers to the world of science and scientists. It will be a popular addition to the school library collection.

Go the Five Gyres Institute at and the NOAA Marine Debris website for lots of background information.

For more visual information about the garbage patch, do a Google Images Search to locate dozens of visual containing maps and infographics such as the one at at Ask students to pick the visual that they think best represents the problem and explain why.

To learn more about the book’s author, go to Her blog contains lots of book extension ideas. Go to

Publisher ARC used for review

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Website Review: Gooru

GOORU is a web-based resource that contains over 70,000 collections of free, K-12 web resources. 

The mission of GOORU is to provide personalized learning for teachers and students. The website allows users to FIND standards-based learning materials, REMIX the resources to create custom collections, SHARE collections, and MONITOR student use of online materials.

Built-in, online tools make this a unique environment for librarians to collaborate with classroom teachers. Educators can create pathfinders and even design questions for students to address.

A dedicated webpage can be created for classes that can be used to build and manage assignments. Images, handouts, and slides can be added to enhance the learning environment.

Begin with a search for a topic such as “erosion” or “American Civil War”. It’s possible to narrow a search by resource format, subject, grade level, standard, publisher and mode. The search returns interactives, lessons, and other web-based resources. Each resource also indicates whether it’s “mobile friendly.” Users can then examine any Gooru collections that contain the resource. In many cases these collections contain a gold mine of ideas and additional resources.

The Gooru iPad app is easy to download and use for school with iPads.

To learn more, go to

Friday, November 28, 2014

App Review: Toontastic

TOONTASTIC is an award-winning app that encourages children to create their own animated, puppet show-like stories.

What makes Toontastic particularly appealing to educators is the use of a story arc for storytelling. Designed for ages 5-10, creators identify turning points in their narrative related to the story arc elements of setup, conflict, challenge, climax, and resolution.

Children begin by choosing from among a variety of settings, then pick their characters. They can edit their characters using paint and draw tools. Finally, creators animate the scene by moving around their characters and adding audio narration. The final step in the process is to add background music. The projects can be saved and shared online at ToonTube.

The Toontastic Jr. edition helps young children design stories with a beginning, middle, and ending. The free download includes 12 animated start starters.

The app is available in both an individual edition for free and a school edition at a small charge. The School Edition includes hundreds of additional characters and dozens of extra backgrounds.

A teacher’s guide and common core aligned lessons are also available.

To learn more about the app, go to

For a teacher’s guide, go to

For lots of example projects, go to ToonTube at

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Website Review: National Archives

The NATIONAL ARCHIVES features key Congressional Documents of interest to young history scholars. 

Did you know that the first Federal Congress passed a resolution recommending a day of thanksgiving in 1789? Or, that in 1941 Congress established a fixed-date for the holiday? The National Archives contains dozens of digitized documents associated with the holiday of Thanksgiving.

These documents are a fun way to focus on primary source documents throughout the year. Create a bulletin board featuring a different document every few weeks. Whether remembering the anniversary of the Homestead Act of 1862 to celebrating the Civil Rights Act of 1942, primary source documents can bring history alive for students.

To locate the Thanksgiving documents, go to

For a list of featured documents, go to

For many more ideas for using primary source documents in the classroom, go to

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Book Review: Brown Girl Dreaming

BROWN GIRL DREAMING by Jacqueline Woodson has been named the 2014 National Book Award winner for young people’s literature.

Written in verse, this inspiring memoir traces Woodson’s life as an African American child growing up during the turbulent 1960s and 70s. From her experiences with the Civil Rights Movement to her religious upbringing as a Jehovah’s Witness, readers get a glimpse into the life of an ordinary child that will grow up to be an extraordinary voice for a generation.

Through short powerful poems, readers become immersed in Woodson’s world. Many children will empathize with her struggles with reading and writing.

BROWN GIRL DREAMING would be a wonderful addition to a literature circle exploring the lives of well-known authors. It would also be an excellent shared experience for a class exploring the genre of autobiography, biography, and memoir.

This three-time Newbery Honor author has written some extra-ordinary books for young people. Use this memoir to jumpstart an exploration of all her works such as LOCOMOTION, FEATHERS, and AFTER TUPAC AND D FOSTER.

To learn more about the author, go to Her website contains a useful research guide providing helpful hints for conducting inquiries related to the topics associated with her books.

Publisher ARC used for review

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Website Review: National Geographic Kids

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC KIDS is an outstanding source for informational reading materials. In addition to the print magazine, readers can also access thousands of articles at the National Geographic website without a subscription. 

This week, be sure to enjoy the “First Thanksgiving” article. It provides an excellent overview to the history of the holiday including dispelling myths. Links are provided to related articles.

A search of the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC KIDS website provides numerous articles on many topics making it a great resource for informational reading activities. The short articles generally include high-quality photos to engage readers. In addition to articles, the website also includes games and other interactive content.

The app version of the magazine contains rich opportunities for reading as well as engaging interactive content for subscribers. Print subscribers get complimentary access.

There’s also a National Geographic Kids YouTube channel. With both free and subscription-based content, this video resource is a great way to stimulate an interest in animals, adventure, and science

To read the First Thanksgiving article, go to

To go to the first page of the website, go to

To download the free app, go to

To explore the YouTube channel, go to

Monday, November 24, 2014

Book Review: The Luck Uglies

THE LUCK UGLIES by Paul Durham is one of the books you may have missed earlier in the year with the spring flood of new offerings. With the second book in this popular new middle-grade fantasy adventure trilogy coming out in March 2015, it’s time to catch up!

With elements of mystery, adventure, and monster thrills, tweens will quickly become absorbed in this fantasy world set in a medieval-style village. Both boys and girls alike will enjoy the intelligent writing and engaging characters. The short chapters move quickly as the story builds to an exciting climax that involves intriguing monsters and a mysterious secret society.

Not your typical “good vs evil” storyline, this book will appeal to young readers who are beginning to explore the layers of life, power of secrets and fear, and the fine line between hero and villain.

Fans of Holly Black, Rick Riordan, and Brandon Mull will all enjoy this fantasy trilogy.

To learn more about the author, go to

Check out the book trailer at

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Website Review: Google Cultural Institute

GOOGLE CULTURAL INSTITUTE is an astounding online resource focusing on art, history, and world wonders. It even contains powerful tools for creating online galleries and exhibits.

The Art Project section includes art collections from around the world. Users can browse the exhibits, zoom in for an up-close examination, and take virtual tours of art museums. Artwork can be searched by creator, medium, event, place, person, media, and date.

The Historical Moments area contains online exhibitions focusing on significant moments from human history. Exhibits represent the photos and historical artifacts of museums and personal collections. Historical materials can be browsed or searches. Don’t miss the new First World War and World War II: D-Day exhibits.

The World Wonders section brings both the modern and ancient world heritage sites to life using Google Street view. Like the other exhibits, the materials can be searched or browsed.

Tools allow users to share, compare, and save the collections. Those interested in building their own collections can “request an invite” to participate.

To learn more about the exhibits, go to
To build your own exhibit using their powerful online tools, go to

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Website and App Review: Biodigital Human

THE BIODIGITAL HUMAN is an outstanding 3D human anatomy interactive. Available as both a website and app, it’s an excellent way to explore the human body and health topics. Although a premium version is available, the free version is all most students will need. The free version contains over 1000 anatomy and health condition models, detailed descriptions, editing tools, and interactive quizzes. The premium version contains more models, tools, and customization.

Increasingly, library computers and iPads are offering a cluster of high-quality, subject area references and resources. This visually rich informational resource is perfect for middle school and high school science students.

An iPad version is available through iTunes.

To learn more, go to BioDigital Human at

Friday, November 21, 2014

Book Review: Glory O'Brien's History of the Future

GLORY O’BRIEN’S HISTORY OF THE FUTURE by A.S. King is a thought provoking young adult novel with a fantasy twist. 

A touch of magical realism turns this starkly realistic coming-of-age story into a provocative exploration of the past and future. Glory is a fascinating and intelligent narrator with a wonderful streak of dark humor. Focusing attention on a wide range of issues including suicide, feminism, and activism, King does an outstanding job balancing Glory’s everyday struggles with a compelling exploration of a troubled future. From Glory’s tormented father to her long-time friend, King is a master at developing authentic characters.

Little things can make a big difference in YA literature. King’s use of very short chapters with brilliant titles, alternating chapters building the backstory of the future, and engaging, humorous dialogue reflect the exceptional skills of this popular author.

Readers who enjoy King’s new book should be reminded to revisit her other outstanding works including REALITY BOY, ASK THE PASSENGERS, EVERYBODY SEES THE ANTS, and PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ.

This one is going on my Printz short list.

To learn more about the author, go to Discussion guides are also available at King’s website.

Publisher ARC used for review

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Website Review: Digital Literacy

DIGITALLITERACY.GOV is a U.S. government initiative providing resources to assist practitioners including librarians in delivering digital literacy training. This interagency project is intended for all age groups and stages of learning.

The “Find Educator Tools” area provides a quick way to search for resources by skill, topic, or keyword. The “Learn the Basics” section contains an overview of basic technology skills. The section on Child Online Protection links to dozens of quality, online resources on topics including cyberbullying, privacy, and other topics related to child safety. The “Learn Job Skills” provides practical resources related to finding a job, career exploration, creating a resume, and other valuable information.

To learn more, go to

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Book Review: The Madman of Piney Woods

Christopher Paul Curtis provides a wealth of literature that connects historical fiction with fact.

THE MADMAN OF PINEY WOODS by Christopher Paul Curtis is an outstanding followup to the award-winning ELIJAH OF BUXTON. While both are set in Ontario Canada, Curtis’ latest work of historical fiction takes place in 1901 forty years after the first novel. The story follows two children one African Canadian and the other Irish Canadian living in nearby towns. After a chance encounter, the boys become friends and ultimately connect with the mysterious man living in the woods.

Like ELIJAH OF BUXTON, Curtis’ latest work weaves together a series of short adventures connecting the themes of friendship and family. Humor is used to bring these anecdotes to life for readers, while elements of intrigue keep readers engaged.

Although the two books can be read separately, youth will have a more rounded experience by reading both books while exploring the history of the area. The region is known for it’s involvement in the Underground Railroad and abolitionist movement of the early and mid 19th century. Also during this time period, many immigrants arrived from Ireland to escape the Potato Famine. This history lays the foundation for this turn-of-the-century story.

The areas of Buxton and Chatham Ontario play an important role in this story. Use Google Maps to visit this area online. Find the Buxton National Historic Site. Visit their virtual exhibits at

To learn more, explore the Scholastic Discussion guide at

Publisher ARC used for review

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Book Review: Fizz

Professional development doesn’t require a costly workshop or expensive consultant. Instead, look to new books across disciplines for ideas to help you grow as a library professional. 

FIZZ: HARNESSING THE POWER OF WORD OF MOUTH MARKETING TO DRIVE BRAND GROWTH by Ted Wright explores the promise and pitfalls of using conversations between customers to promote products and services. Although aimed at the business community, this book has lots of implications for librarians too. Let’s explore the book chapter by chapter.

Influencers. Seek out influential users and provide them with a powerful message to share. In the case of libraries, think about how to get your key youth in each social group and teachers sharing that message. Where influencers lead, others will follow. They need the right story at the right time. Wright provides lots of suggestions for identifying and making use of these key people.

Two-Ounce Culture. Wright suggests providing samples and freebies to draw interest. In other words, you need to get books into the hands of teachers and youth. If you can get people to visit your website to find a cool new resource, they’ll return on their own. Get them to try something new like your iPads, then reintroduce them to your traditional resources.

What Makes You Talkable. A product or services needs a story that can be shared. What makes people love the library? How can you turn this into a story that people will want to share? Wright suggests that the story needs to be interesting and authentic.

Strategic Corporals. Wright suggests that you need to recruit and train brand ambassadors who will share your story. Wright suggests looking for people who are interested in new things, like to share stories with friends, and are intrinsically motivated. Who hangs out in your library? Who attends your book clubs? These are people who make great ambassadors.

Patience. Once everything is in place, Wright notes that it take patience to wait and watch for word of mouth marketing to work. In addition, it’s important to measure the impact of this type of marketing.

Big Data. Rather then just relying on local marketing efforts, Wright suggests looking at big data. In the library setting this means following national research from organizations like ALA and PewInternet. He suggests looking for patterns in the data and comparing this to what’s happening locally.

The last section of the book explores topics such as ways to saving money, dispelling marketing myths, and ideas for talking to administrators about marketing.

Although not specifically aimed at the library profession, Fizz contains some great ideas for using word of mouth marketing regardless of the setting. While most of the strategies aren’t particularly new, they are presented in a way that’s enjoyable and easy to follow.

NetGalley ARC used for review

Monday, November 17, 2014

App Review: Shakespeare in Bits

SHAKESPEARE IN BITS from MindConnex is an engaging way to immerse young adults in the plays of Shakespeare. Titles include Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Romeo & Juliet, Macbeth, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Teens will be impressed by the hours of high-quality animation, professional audio, and easy-to-follow, unabridged play text. Built-in tools provide in-line translations to help students understand difficult words and antiquated phrases.

The depth of content is outstanding including plot summaries, detailed analysis and study notes, character and relationship data, and other resources.

Keep in mind that these apps aren’t designed for children. They’re created for high-school students. The apps contain the violence, sex, drinking, and language of the original plays.

The apps are available in different purchase options including single and multi-user versions. The content can be accessed on both computers and mobile devices.

To learn more, go to

Sunday, November 16, 2014

App Review: DK Readers

The DK READERS app is aimed at getting children excited about reading. Users can browse through a library of ebooks by reading level. The app is free to download and a few books are free, but over 100 books are available for purchase at $1.99 to $2.99 each.

Designed for children aged 6-8, dozens of leveled books are available on a wide range of topics including the popular Star Wars and LEGO books. Like the print versions of the DK books, the works are identified by one of 5 levels from learning to read to proficient readers. Individual accounts can be set up for different children with specific reading needs. eBooks show up on virtual shelves by reading level.

The eBooks look identical to their print counterparts. Readers swipe to turn the pages forward or backward. One advantage of the DK READERS eBooks for beginning readers is the read-aloud audio option. Users click the words to begin reading. The word being read aloud turns red making it easy for children to follow along. Readers can click pages in the index to access particular pages. Pages can also be accessed through thumbnail images.

Parents often need help selecting books at the right level for their children. This app makes it easy by organizing offerings by reading level. The large catalog of option provides many choices. Finally, the eBooks are much less expensive than paperbacks making it a cost effective choice for parents.

An increasing number of school libraries are offering tablets for student use in the library or classroom. Although each app is stand-alone, the option of organizing books on virtual shelves by level for specific users may be useful for students with special needs or classrooms dividing children into reading groups.

Available for iPad at the App Store at
Available for Android on Google Play at

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Book Review: Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption

UNBROKEN: AN OLYMPIAN’S JOURNEY FROM AIRMAN TO CASTAWAY TO CAPTIVE by Laura Hillenbrand is part of trend toward young adult adaptations of popular adult works. Based on the award-winning novel, UNBROKEN: A WORLD WAR II STORY OF SURVIVAL, RESILIENCE, AND REDEMPTION, the book traces the real-world experiences of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic athlete who becomes a prisoner of war in Japan during World War II.

Both the original nonfiction narrative and the adaptation chronicle Zamperini’s life by highlighting key events including his time as a high school runner, Olympian, bombardier, crash survivor, and prisoner. The use of a series of short, focused narratives keeps the reader engaged. More than one hundred photographs from the time period along with personal photos from the Zamperini family collection immerse readers in the story.

Although the adaptation lacks some of the depth of the original, it maintains the emotion of this breathtaking odyssey. While some of the beauty of Hillenbrand’s writing style is lost in the book’s attempt at brevity, the feelings of desperation, suffering, and hope still ring true. Background information woven through narrative help young readers understanding the context of story.

While many high school history teachers focus on the European Theatre, this book provides a wonderful opportunity for educators to explore the war in the Pacific Theatre. Consider offering both the adult version and the adaptation as options for student readers.

Teens enjoy making connections between books and movies. The movie version of the book titled UNBROKEN rated PG-13 opens December 25, 2014. To learn more about the movie, go to The movie website encourages visitors to add their own stories of resilient heroes. Learn more at

To learn more about the author, go to
An interactive map shows Louie’s Journey, go to

Although Zamperini died recently, his memory will live on through all three versions of his story: the original book, the adaptation, and the feature film.

Publisher ARC used for review

Friday, November 14, 2014

Website & App Review: News-O-Matic

NEWS-O-MATIC is a subscription-based app that provides engaging nonfiction reading experiences for elementary students. Each weekday, readers are provided with standards-aligned, grade-appropriate news stories to read. The high-interest resources are a wonderful way to promote life-long reading habits. From covering science discoveries to sporting events, NEWS-O-MATIC provides exciting informational reading experiences across the curriculum.

Although the articles are brief, they’re a great starting point for class discussions and may stimulate interest in a more in-depth investigation. In addition to reading experiences, the features often include slideshows, puzzles, games, timelines, maps, or video clips. A read-aloud options is useful for students with special needs. In addition, a Spanish translation is also available.

Student accounts allow youth to take quizzes, write, draw, and record their results.

Available as both an iPad App from iTunes and an Android App from Google, go to for more information.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Book Review: When Lunch Fights Back: Wickedly Clever Animal Defenses

From the compelling title to the extraordinary illustrations, WHEN LUNCH FIGHTS BACK: WICKEDLY CLEVER ANIMAL DEFENSES by Rebecca L. Johnson is an informational book that immediately grabs the reader’s attention. Even the chapter titles like “slip-sliming away” and “here’s blood in your eye” are designed to shock and entertain.

The author uses a short narrative to introduce each creature. Then, a “science behind the story” segment describes the species’ method of defense featuring a scientist who studies how the defense system works.

Quality photographs and informational boxes bring attention to each featured creature. The glossary at the end of the book defines key vocabulary. Suggested books, websites, and videos are provided to extend the experience.

Aimed at upper elementary grades, this book will fit well into the school library collection. Containing a balance of entertaining narratives along with quality informative segments, it’s is sure to attract a wide range of readers.

To learn more about this author, go to Rebecca L. Johnson’s website at

For additional materials related to animal defenses, try the following online resources:
Animal Defenses from PBS LearningMedia -
Top 5 Animal Defense Tactics from National Geographic -
Animal Arsenal from Fact Monster -

NetGalley ARC used for review

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Website Review: Rosetta ESA

ROSETTA is the name of an international space project lead by the European Space Agency (ESA). Most Americans are familiar with NASA, but don’t realize that NASA collaborates with the ESA for important missions like Rosetta.

Launched in 2004, Rosetta arrived at Comet 67P in August 2014. This is the first mission to rendezvous with a comet, deploy a lander, take close-up comet photos, and run experiments. On November 12, 2014, Philae successfully landed on the surface of the comet and will be conducting experiments until its batteries and solar power are depleted or until the comet gets close to the sun.

The mission website contains up-to-date information about the mission including exciting photos and video. Their blog contains timely photos of the mission. The ESA Kid’s page provides background information about space and space travel. For more information about NASA’s involvement, go to the NASA Rosetta page.

For the European Space Agency Rosetta mission page, go to

For the Rosetta Project Blog, go to

For the Twitter Feed go to

For the ESA Kids page, go to

#CometLanding #67P #Comet67P

For the NASA Rosetta project page, go to

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Special Event Website Review: Veteran's History Project

In honor of Veteran’s Day, spend some time exploring the Library of Congress Veteran’s History Project.

The VETERAN’S HISTORY PROJECT from the Library of Congress gathers the personal accounts of American war veterans and makes them available online. First-hand accounts from U.S. veterans from World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Persian Gulf War, and the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts have been posted. From Army medical volunteers to Air Force pilots, a wide range of military positions are represented. Primarily an oral history program, most of the interviews are available in audio- or video-recorded formats along with transcripts. In many cases, memoirs and collections of photographs, letters, diaries, maps, and other primary source documents have been digitized and are included.

Since the project began nearly fifteen years ago, thousands of interviews have been uploaded to the database. Users can search by era, branch of service, gender, media type, and other categories. It’s also possible to search within fields such as location of service and highest rank.

Encourage students to seek out areas of interest such as female nurses of the Vietnam War, African American airmen of the Korean War, or Japanese American soldiers of World War II.

Visit the website at

Monday, November 10, 2014

Book Review: Nick and Tesla's Super-Cyborg Gadget Glove

How do you connect students interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) with fiction reading? Look for science adventures. Get started with the NICK AND TESLA series. Each book contains an engaging adventure revolving around a “build-it-yourself” science project.

NICK AND TESLA’S SUPER-CYBORG GADGET GLOVE by Bob Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith is the latest book in this popular science mystery series for middle grade youth. In this installment, the twins must figure out what’s making the animatronic scientists in a special museum exhibit go haywire. The amateur inventors add gadgets to their cyborg glove to help them solve the mystery. Young science lovers will enjoy references to everyone from Marie Curie to Albert Einstein. They’ll also enjoy building their own gadget glove complete with an LED signal light, ultra-loud emergency alarm, digital sound recorder, and UV secret message revealer.

Be sure to check out the other books in the series including HIGH-VOLTAGE DANGER LAB, ROBOT ARMY RAMPAGE, and SECRET AGENT GADGET BATTLE.

To learn more about the books as well as the science projects, go to the Nick and Tesla page at Educators can also download guides for using the books with students.

To see Science Bob demonstrate projects from the books, go to The videos are an excellent way to learn to make the projects described in the books.

Looking for more? The HowToons website at endless D.I.Y. project comics. Each comic contains an engaging science project.

Edelweiss ARC used for review

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Website Review: Commonsense Media

COMMON SENSE MEDIA is a website providing information related to media and technology for parents and teachers. In addition to a great place for educational ratings and reviews, it’s also an effective way to keep up with the movies, games, apps, TV shows, websites, books, and music of interest to youth of particular ages.

Their K-12 Digital Citizenship Curriculum and interactive learning games are outstanding. The free materials are available as iBook textbooks or as printable lessons with online videos and interactives. Topics include internet safety, privacy and security, relationships & communication, cyberbullying, digital footprint & reputation, self-image & identity, information literacy, and creative credit & copyright. You can even download colorful posters for library displays.

Graphite is their new service that helps educators find the best apps, games, and websites for the classroom. This website is aligned with the Common Core State Standards and provides lots of tools for searching and organizing websites.

To learn more, go to COMMON SENSE MEDIA at

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Website & App Review: PBS

PBS has recently updated their web and app presence. Let’s explore some of the options.

PBS LearningMedia at provides standards-based lesson ideas organized by grade and subject. A suite of productivity tools can be used to create customized lessons, quizzes, and interactive web pages featuring PBS web content. A search for INTERACTIVE yields more than 1500 interactive tutorials and games for youth across the curriculum. Search for topics related to Standards for the 21st Century Learner. For instance, a search for COPYRIGHT yields videos, interactive, and lessons related to copyright law and youth.

PBS LearningMedia for Students at is a place where youth can access the materials developed by teachers. They can also used the online tools for creating their own online projects known as “storyboards”.

PBSKids at continues to provide access to videos, games, and other activities for youth.

PBSVideo at provides short excerpts as well as full programs from a wide range of PBS programs.

PBS for iPad can be downloaded from iTunes. This app provides easy access to thousands of full-length videos programs.

For access to all of these websites, go to PBS at

Friday, November 07, 2014

Book Review: Love is the Drug

LOVE IS THE DRUG by Alaya Dawn Johnson is a fast-paced mystery-suspense set in near-future Washington DC. 

Set against the backdrop of a global pandemic, prep-school teen Emily Bird becomes involved in a mysterious homeland security scandal made worse by her memory loss after an elite Washington DC party. This young adult novel involves a wide range of topics that will attract youth including romance, friendships, conspiracy, drugs, and disaster.

The plot moves quickly as the world dives deeper into chaos and our heroine tries to piece together the mystery of her memory loss. The author does a masterful job dealing with social problems, public policy, and contemporary issues facing teens such as drug use and college preparation.

The authentic, conversational writing style is likely to appeal to a young adult audience. Like many works of mystery/suspense, movement between the present and flashbacks can be temporarily disorienting. In addition, the story breaks down near the end as the author attempts to tie up all the loose ends. However, the overall plot is fast-paced and engaging.

The diverse cast of characters were skillfully developed and realistically portrayed. Teens will enjoy the strong female lead. Rarely do teen readers have the opportunity to see a realistically portrayed, independent, intelligent young black woman in a leading role.

Each chapter begins with a chemical compound. Careful readers will easily connect the chemicals to the chapter’s focus and students will be thrilled to apply their Chemistry class to the real-world.

With so many series books to choose from, librarians will be happy to see a stand-alone mystery-suspense.

Those readers who enjoy this type of mystery/suspense would also enjoy adult suspense novels by Michael Crichton and John Grisham.

With the Ebola scare making headlines and conspiracy theories everywhere, this book is likely to fly off the shelf.

Publisher ARC used for review

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Book Review: The Only Thing to Fear

THE ONLY THING TO FEAR by Caroline Tung Richmond is a fast-paced alternative history adventure set in a world where Germany won World War II. In this universe, Hitler's descendant along with his genetically engineered super soldiers and members of the elite Aryan race rule the eastern part of the United States known as the Eastern American Territories. As a mixed race teen, Zara along with her uncle live under the oppressive rule of the Nazis. However, Zara has a secret weapon she is about to unleash.

Whether dealing with the day-to-day life of a youth living in fear or describing the heroism of the Alliance, the author does an masterful job conveying the fear and frustration of injustice. The narrative flows smoothly weaving in enough background information to keep the reader informed without slowing down the pace. The plot is straight-forward making it easy for middle school readers to follow. However, more sophisticated readers may be disappointed by the lack of plot twists.

Alternative history is a popular genre with youth, however librarians need to be careful when suggesting books for teens. While some enjoy the science fiction and fantasy elements, others prefer works that feel more closely aligned with realistic fiction. In this case, the first half of the book immerses readers into a very real world, while the second half focuses on Zara’s special powers. Richmond’s approach works well for her story, but may not appeal to all readers.

This enjoyable piece of speculative fiction will be popular with middle school youth who have been learning about World War II and wonder, “what if”?

NetGalley ARC used for review

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Website & App Review: Starfall

STARFALL has been a popular educational website for more than a decade. Focusing on fun reading, math, and music experiences for preschool through primary grades, the website contains dozens of free activities and e-books that can be used on desktop, laptop, and tablet computers. Beyond the free website, hundreds of other wonderful interactives are available at a membership rate. Prices are available for teachers, labs, and schools. Additional print curriculum materials are also available.

Recently, STARFALL has created an App-based (Apple, Google, KindleFire) experience for youth. The app environment contains no ads and no in-app-sales for members. In addition, individual titles are available for a small fee rather than paying the membership price for the whole collection. Unfortunately, very few of the app-based resources are available for free.

In addition to their use in classrooms, these materials are also effective for special needs students and those needing extra help with reading. Consider how these tools might be integrated into the computers and tablets available in the library.

To learn more, go to

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Website Review: iCivics

The ICIVICS website provides interactive learning resources including lesson plans, games, and digital interactives. With local, state, and national elections being held around the country, it’s a perfect time to promote civic learning.

Founded by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the website actively engages students in activities that promote democratic action.

The Play section provides a wide range of online games for youth. After completing a free registration process, learners can collect badges, follow the leaderboard, and collect impact points. Games include “Do I Have a Right?”, “Branches of Power,” “Supreme Decision,” “Argument Wars”, “Bill of Rights”, “Immigration Nation”, and more! Play time ranges from 5 to 30 or more minutes per game, perfect for a class period.

The Teach section provides standards-based curriculum units, lesson plans, DBQuests, and WebQuests along with other tools and resources for planning on a wide range of topics including Foundations of Government, Branches of Government, The Constitution, Civil Rights, and others.

Whether focusing attention on the elections or teaching to a particular social studies standard, ICIVICS is a great choice for librarians working with teacher to promote an awareness of the democratic process.

To visit the website, go to

Monday, November 03, 2014

Book Review: Waistcoats & Weaponry

A few days ago I reviewed the first two books in the FINISHING SCHOOL series in anticipation of the third book's release tomorrow. #FinishingSchool

WAISTCOATS & WEAPONRY by Gail Carriger is the third book in the popular FINISHING SCHOOL series. Now in her second year, Sophronia is more confident and independent than ever in terms of her intelligence skills, however she’s still learning how to react to the advances of two very different suitors. Once again, Mademoiselle Geraldine’s students find themselves in the middle of another madcap adventure.

While CURTSIES & CONSPIRACIES focused on vampires, this story delves deeper into the world of flywaymen and werewolves. The familiar characters and nonstop action made this third installment just as exciting as the first two. The book concludes with a shocking choice that has intriguing implications for the next book in this entertaining series.

From wielding lethal fans to practicing the art of seduction, readers will enjoy another round of Carriger’s witty steampunk prose.

With the popularity of steampunk, consider developing a library display focusing on popular series. The FINISHING SCHOOL website at contains lots of hilarious “lessons” that can be printed as part of the display. Get students involved in the fun. What’s the proper way to faint? How do you defeat a vampire? How do ladies ride a werewolf?

NetGalley ARC used for review

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Website Review: Native American Heritage Month

The NATIVE AMERICAN HERITAGE MONTH website celebrates the culture and heritage of indigenous people throughout the month of November. This US Government website hosted by The Library of Congress includes a list of events held across the United States.

The About the Month page provides an overview of the history of the event.

The Exhibits & Collections page includes links to resources available at the Library of Congress, National Archives, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, and Smithsonian Institution.

The Images page links to notable contemporary and historical images. A Pinterest page is also available with photos.

The Audio/Video page connects to webcasts, musical recordings, and unique sound artifacts and stories.

The For Teachers page connects to lesson plans and instructional materials that could be used in conjunction with the month-long event.

This outstanding website is the perfect starting point for teacher librarians seeking library and classroom integration ideas for this special month.

To visit the website, go to

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Book Review: Gracefully Grace

GRACEFULLY GRACE by Ami Polonsky is filled with well-developed, believable characters who represent the spectrum of authentic reactions to Grayson’s gender identity issues. While Grayson faces bullying, rejection, and ridicule from some, “she” is also surrounded by caring friends and an understanding teacher. Polonsky does an outstanding job helping readers see these different points of view from Grayson’s perspective.

From the first page, readers become immersed in sixth-grader Grayson’s secret life. The first person, conversational style helps readers see the world through “her” eyes. Grayson’s bravery in trying out for the girl’s lead in the school play is a powerful statement that leads “her” on a path to self-discovery.

The frustrations and insecurities of middle school children are realistically portrayed through short chapters that keep the story moving and build empathy for Grayson’s situation.

I’m happy to see the subject of gender identity being addressed in a developmentally appropriate way for middle school youth. In addition, there are many parents and teachers who would benefit from this realistic story about a timely topic.

The e-pages of this book flew by. This unique work is a book I’ll be thinking about long into the future.

Learn more about author Ami Polonsky at

NetGalley ARC used for review

Special Event: Book Lovers' Day

Saturday morning by the fireplace with a cup of coffee in hand... Which classic do you plan to re-read on book lovers' day?