Saturday, January 31, 2015

Book & App Review: Noisy Sing-along Collection

The NOISY SING-ALONG collection by John Himmelman is a wonderful way to connect children with science and nature. Available as both print books, e-books, and apps, you’ll want to get all three for your library.
Designed for pre-K through grade 3, NOISY BIRD SING-ALONG is the latest addition in this nature awareness series. The print book and e-book includes large, colorful illustrations of robins, sparrows, owls, mallards, and more. Colorful text is used to introduce the sound of each bird. In addition to information about the bird and sound, the habits and habitat of each bird is described.
This easy concept book would be an effective way to introduce young children to informational reading. In addition, the text is easy enough for primary grade readers to enjoy independently. The Fun Facts and Things to Do pages are useful for older children, teachers, and parents.
In addition to the print version, an app version is available for NOISY BUG SING-ALONG and NOISY FROG SING-ALONG. One advantage to the app is that children can hear the sounds. App designer Malachi Bazan successfully adapted the print books to the app environment. Users have two easy-to-use options for reading: Read to Me and Read to Myself. The Read to Me option highlights each word as it’s read by an engaging narrator. Clicking on the illustrations generates simple animation. A matching game builds in the facts found at the end of the print version of the book and actively involves readers with the sounds.
Active listening is an important skill. Getting children involved with identifying creature sounds is an excellent way to develop observational skills using the auditory channel. This book series would be an outstanding addition to an elementary school library collection.
To learn more about bird sounds, explore Songs & Calls athttp://www.allaboutbirds.org/page.aspx?pid=1059. Their free bird guide contains hundreds of sounds to explore. Go tohttp://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/search.aspx.
The Noisy Sing-Along collection is published by Dawn Publications

Friday, January 30, 2015

SPIC-AND-SPAN!: LILLIAN GILBERT’S WONDER KITCHEN by Monica Kulling tells the inspiring true story of an ingenious woman who used creativity and perseverance to succeed. From factory assembly lines to kitchen layouts, Lillian Gilbreth spent her life looking for ways to make everyday tasks more efficient. The mother of eleven children, she applied what she learned at home to inventions and ideas that everyone could use.
Monica Kulling’s narrative skillfully weaves useful facts into a fascinating story, while David Parkins’ appealing illustrations match perfectly with the tone of this informational reading experience.
SPIC-AND-SPAN is Monica Kulling’s latest addition to her popular “Great Idea” series featuring the lives of inventors and their inventions. Use the books in a literature circle focusing on informational reading, biography, and inventions.
Unfortunately, children aren’t likely to pick up this book on their own. Teachers librarians will need to think of creative ways to market SPIC-AND-SPAN with children. Consider ways to connect the book with other science and engineering books. Or, focus on the biographical elements and connect them with other books about people. This would be a wonderful book to feature during Women’s History Month. Build a display focusing on woman engineers.
There are some excellent websites focusing on the life of Lillian Gilbreth. Develop an activity that asks students to compare the book to information they find on the web about this exceptional woman. Talk to children about comparing three different sources of information.
Download a Teacher’s Guide for the book at https://tundrabooks.files.wordpress.com/…/spic-and-span_gui….
Published in 2014 by Tundra Books. The publisher provided a print copy for this review.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Book Review: Member's Only

MEMBERS ONLY: SECRET SOCIETIES, SECTS, AND CULTS - EXPOSED! by Julie Tibbott profiles over fifty mysterious organizations. From cults and clubs to secret societies, young people will love the facts and folklore surrounding these exclusive and secretive groups.
Tibbott’s work of nonfiction is well-organized. Each chapter focuses on a different group. A brief outline includes the date it was founded, it’s status, exclusivity factor, secrecy factor, threat factor, and quirk factor. Along with a photo, a brief history and background start the chapter. Readers then learn about what it takes to become a member and what it’s like inside the organization. Many chapters include icons, logos, and other visuals associated with the group. The chapter concludes with a discussion of related topics from zombies to doomsday prophets.
The author’s conversational approach will appeal to young readers who are made to feel like they’re insiders in this “members only” world. Teens who enjoy reading about conspiracy theories, the lives of the rich and famous, and scary cults will all enjoy reading about the fascinating world of exclusive locations and groups.
Although many of the groups will be new to readers, others will be familiar. Secret handshakes, hazing, murder, and magic are just a few activities that will keep readers immersed in the short narratives. Many students are likely to use the book as background information to jumpstart their own investigations.
While many works of nonfiction sit on the library shelf, students will check out this one along with books about celebrity gossip, magic, and ghost hunters.
Available February 3, 2015 and published by Zest Books, a NetGalley ARC was used for the review.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

App Review: The Echidna and the Dress

THE ECHIDNA AND THE DRESS is a charming, comic-style picture book app exploring Aboriginal life. Set in the Australian Outback, the app tells the true story of the relationship between a boy and his grandmother. A small spiny creature who is able to foretell both good and bad news, the echidna plays a central role to this compelling cultural story. The echidna is a popular creature in Australian appearing on the 5-cent coin and serving as a mascot for the Olympics.
While many apps overwhelm readers with quick-moving animations, loud sounds, and distracting interactives, this delightful e-book tells a sweet story in a pleasant, nurturing way.
The beautifully illustrated e-book app includes just enough animation to make the story come alive for readers. The simple background music and sound effects contribute to the appeal. The voices perfectly match the needs of the story.
While this linear e-book app doesn’t include extras or activities, it’s a great example of the beauty found in a simple story. Perfect for cultural studies in the primary grades, the app would be an excellent addition to a school library’s collection. It could easily be shared with a class using a whiteboard.
Other digital story apps including Ngurrara and Warlu Song are also available as part of the Yijala Yala Project created by Big hART in Australia. This cultural project is intended to connect people across generations.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Book Review: Ares: Bringer of War

ARES: BRINGER OF WAR by George O’Connor is the latest addition to the popular OLYMPIANS graphic novel series designed for middle grades and young adults.
Although each of the graphic novels in the OLYMPIANS series stand alone, those new to Greek mythology may want to read them in order because ARES assumes that readers are familiar with the backstory of the gods. Each volume focuses on one of the gods in the Olympic pantheon including Zeus, Athena, Hera, Hades, Poseidon, and Aphrodite. In addition to the story, each book contains an afterward, family tree, discussion questions, and source notes.
The fast-paced, action-packed stories are drawn from primary documents. The seventh book in the series, Ares: Bringer of War, focuses on the gods’ interference in the Trojan War. This book is a great way to jumpstart an exploration of classics like the Iliad. Although the classic story is filled with violence, O’Connor keeps the gore to a minimum so it’s unlikely to bother readers.
George O’Connor is known for his beautifully illustrated graphic novels with historical themes. In Ares, he does an excellent job helping readers visualize the relationship between the gods and humans through the use of shape and color.
For those students who enjoy the historical aspects of the graphic works, suggest O’Connor’s first graphic novel titled Journey Into Mohawk Country based on to a seventeenth-century historical journal.
Fans of Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson & the Olympians and Heroes of Olympus series will be attracted to this graphic novel series. Use Riordan’s website to explore the Greek Gods and explore mythology. Go tohttp://goo.gl/Gfj82N.
To learn more about the OLYMPIANS series and background information about the Greek Gods, go to http://www.olympiansrule.com/. To extend the Ares reading experience, explore the online activities at http://www.olympiansrule.com/the-books/ares/.
NetGalley ARC used for review

Monday, January 26, 2015

Website Review: PBS Kids Writers Contest

The WRITERS CONTEST from PBS Kids is a fun way to get primary grade children excited about writing. The website includes information about entering a writing contest, an opportunity to read stories, and the chance for children to create and save their own story.
The ENTER CONTEST section provides information about the contest, rules, prizes, and a chance to meet the judges. The 2015 event is for children from Kindergarten through Grade 3. It runs from January through July. A “Story Writing Fun Guide” is available with lots of writing ideas to guide children through the writing process.
The READ STORIES section of the website contains both contest entries and online stories to explore. They can be viewed by station, grade, prize, and year. Over 1695 stories are available to view. Check out the Story Stats to read the most popular stories.
The START CREATING section provides objects and backgrounds to jumpstart writing. Children can use the text and paint tools to enhance their story. Story Sparks provide starters to stimulate writing. Students can create a sign-in that allows them to store and share their stories online.
Teaching ideas are also available including a writing guide, caption writing activity, and get-ready-to-write worksheet. An illustration worksheet, brainstorming worksheet, and revising checklist are also available.
To visit the website, go to http://pbskids.org/writerscontest/.
For teaching ideas related to the contest, go to http://goo.gl/fb4CYf.
To download a Story Writing Fun Guide, go to http://goo.gl/7ZaQvf.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Book Review: Tunnel Vision

TUNNEL VISION by Susan Adrian is a heart-pounding paranormal suspense that will keep young adult readers engaged from beginning to end.
Jake has a secret. When he holds an object, Jake he can see through the eyes of the owner. A party game reveals his talent and sets in motion a string of events that include government surveillance, rouge agents, and underground scientists.
A talented storyteller, Adrian does a masterful job layering the lies and deceit. Readers will quickly become caught up in the intrigue wondering who our protagonist should trust. Adrian’s description of the tunneling experience makes the phenomena seem real. Her vivid descriptions of captivity and escape contribute to this nail-biting suspense.
Containing a hint of romance and just enough paranormal elements for fantasy lovers, this fast-paced adventure will appeal to a wide range of YA readers.
This YA novel serves as an excellent bridge to adult thrillers. It also opens the door for paranormal readers to explore related sub-genres involving government espionage and spy novels.
Published January 20th, 2015 by St. Martin’s Griffin. Edelweiss ARC used for review.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Website Review: Social Explorer

SOCIAL EXPLORER is a website and app that provides access to current and historical data in a visual way.
The easiest way to get started is by choosing the Maps option. Users can explore 220 years of data from 1790 to the present. For instance, students can see how the population centers in the United States have shifted over time. Powerful tools allow users to see maps side-by-side, swipe maps, and annotate maps. The storytelling features allows users to create multi-map presentations that incorporate text, images, video, audio, and annotations.
Users can also explore the Table option to display and download tables of data. The professional version provides access to many more data sets.
The Help section includes excellent instructions for using the website to generate maps and tables.
Although not specifically designed for K-12 students, Social Explorer has lots of potential for teaching and learning across the curriculum. Use the website’s blog to gather lots of ideas for integrating this interactive tool across the curriculum.
American Migrations at http://americanmigrations.uic.edu/ is a project that uses Social Explorer to study African American and Latino migrations through American history.
Census Explorer at http://www.census.gov/censusexplorer/ uses Social Explorer to bring U.S. Census Bureau data alive for learners.
Students can use either the website or app to explore the resources. For access to some features, users need to get an account. Additional resources are available with a subscription to the professional edition.
For the website version, go to http://www.socialexplorer.com.
For the website blog, go to http://www.socialexplorer.com/blog/post.
For the Apple iTunes version, go tohttps://itunes.apple.com/us/app/id731993525.
For the Android version, go to https://play.google.com/store/apps/details….

Friday, January 23, 2015

Book Review: Story Thieves

STORY THIEVES by James Riley is an action-packed fantasy that blurs the line between real life and fictional worlds.
What if you could literally dive into a good book? Bethany can. As the child of a real mother and fictional father, she’s able to disappear into any paper book. Bethany has spent years carefully exploring library books for her lost father. When Owen discovers her secret, they begin an adventure that breaks the “fourth wall” mixing the real world with fantasy universes.
This clever new fantasy series will be a hit with a wide range of book lovers including those who enjoy fairy tales, magic stories, and science fiction. With many references to popular works of fiction, youth will be drawn into the premise and easily imagine themselves in the shoes of the main characters.
Known for his fractured fairy tales, James Riley provides just the right balance of action and suspense to keep readers engaged in the story. He skillfully weaves together silly subplots, humorous dialogue, and witty references into a storyline perfect for middle grade readers. Youth will easily empathize with the well-developed characters who have dreams and desires that sometimes get in the way of making good choices.
Fans of books like Fablehaven and Inkheart will enjoy the book’s premise, while science fiction and steampunk fans will love the characters from Owen’s favorite fictional series.
Like Bethany and Owen, your children will want to dive into this exciting fantasy adventure.
Edelweiss ARC used for review

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Website Review: The Why? Files

THE WHY? FILES: THE SCIENCE BEHIND THE NEW is an outstanding science website exploring the science connected with interesting and important news stories.
Sponsored by the University of Wisconsin-Madison with support from the National Institute for Science Education and National Science Foundation, the website features its newest stories on the entry page. Each story contains background information about the news story, a connection to the scientific topic of interest, related stories, and a bibliography. In addition, the stories incorporate interesting photographs, video clips, charts, diagrams, and other compelling images. A print-friendly version of each page is provided making these articles perfect for informational reading activities in the classroom.
The website includes the following key areas:
The Archives section provides a chronological list of articles by subject area including Arts & Humanities, Biology, Earth & Space, Environment, Health, Physical Science, Social Science, and Technology.
The Weather Guys section addresses questions related to weather science.
The Interactives section provides engaging games and other interactive experiences for youth.
The WHY-TV page displays short video clips on science topics.
The Book Review section focuses on book of interest to high school students and adults.
The Cool Science Images page provides a compelling image along with the back-story related to the visual. These would be wonderful images for scientific investigations or story starters.
The Teaching section is divided into Grades 5-8 and Grades 9-12. Educators can find stories that support the National Science Education standards. The classroom activities page provides discussion questions, activities, and quizzes related to science topics.
The built-in search engine can be used to locate articles by key word.
The website also connects to social media including Facebook and Twitter. The RSS feed makes it easy to incorporate into your library or school website.
To explore the website, go to http://whyfiles.org/.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Book Review: Gabi, A Girl in Pieces

GABI, A GIRL IN PIECES by Isabel Quintero is an outstanding work of realistic fiction with a strong Mexican-American cultural perspective. Gabi is a typical high school senior confronting teen issues including human sexuality, drug addiction, teen pregnancy, and binge eating. The story revolves around her friendships, family, and romantic relationships.
Written as journal entries, the story unfolds in a refreshing conversational style with a spattering of Spanish, witty reflections, and a growing self-awareness connected with Gabi’s heritage and family values.
Beyond the diary format, Quintero effectively weaves the use of poetry and letters throughout the narrative making the work a distinct contribution to young adult literature.
Isabel Quintero’s first novel presents an unforgettable character that reflects an entire generation of young women coming of age. Many teens will see themselves in this honest portrayal of everyday experiences from first kisses to weight concerns. What makes this novel particularly moving is the way it so effectively conveys today’s cultures within cultures from discussions of skin color to questions about religious belief.
Quintero provides a fresh new voice in contemporary Mexican American literature. This book should be on all the Latina awards lists, but more importantly on the mainstream best of 2014 lists.
Edelweiss ARC used for review

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

App Review: Atoms

ATOMS by Kids Discover is a content-rich science app useful for upper elementary through middle school.
This easy-to-use app is divided into 11 sections. The first eight sections use text, photographs, diagrams, line drawings, videos, 3D models, and animation to present information about the parts of an atom, major discoveries, elements, the periodic table, fission, nuclear energy, and lasers. While some of the pages are static, others contain interactive elements such as pop-up windows and interactive diagrams.
Youth will be most interested in the activities section. The most interesting interactive involves building molecules by dragging oxygen, hydrogen, and carbon atoms around the screen.
The quiz provides a nice review of the key concepts informing students of the correct and incorrect answers. Additional resources are also provided.
The variety of visual elements will keep readers interested. However it’s likely that some students will simply flip through the pages rather than read them. Requiring users to interact with the screen to move from page to page would increase student involvement.
Although some sound effects are included in the app, the learning experience could be enhanced with a more effective use of sound. For instance, a read-aloud option would make this app more appealing to reluctant readers.
While the app does a nice job providing an overview to the key concepts, additional depth would be useful on some pages. For instance, clicking the element Fe on the Periodic Table provides detailed information about iron. However, a pop-up for each element would increase the value of the app.
Overall, ATOMS would be an excellent addition to your library’s science app collection. It contains explanations of key concepts along with providing visually interesting demonstrations and examples.
The app is available for purchase through the iTunes store athttps://itunes.apple.com/…/atoms-by-kids-discov…/id907120915.
A free teacher’s guide and vocabulary sheet are available for free at the Kids Discover website at http://www.kidsdiscover.com/shop/issues/atoms-for-kids/.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Book Review: Audrey (Cow)

AUDREY (COW) by Dan Bar-el is a charming farm animal story.
When Audrey the cow realizes that she’s destined for the slaughter house, she enlists both animals and humans to help her escape. With dozens of narrative voices ranging from cows and sheep to a rowdy rooster, readers will quickly become engaged in this heart-warming tale of a cow-on-the-run.
The nontraditional writing style is what makes this book distinct from the other farm animal books already in your library. Written as a series of short oral accounts, children will enjoy the various personalities and viewpoints of the farm animals. Bar-el’s wonderful descriptions and beautiful use of language add to the appeal.
However at over 200 pages, the book is quite lengthy for young readers. While the content will be of interest to younger children (grades K-3), the reading level is high (Lexile 450L; grades 3-5). Like Charlotte’s Web and Babe, this humorous story is perfect as a primary grades read-aloud. It would also be fun as a reader’s theater-type experience with groups of older children reading to younger listeners in a library setting.
LibraryThing Early Reviewer ARC used for review

Sunday, January 18, 2015

App Review: Loose Strands

LOOSE STRANDS by Darned Sock Productions is an amazing e-book app for children. Demonstrating the full potential of the interactive reading environment, this full-length fantasy novel for middle grades will keep young people engaged for days.
The gorgeous artwork combined with the perfectly matched introductory music and animations makes this an interactive novel that children will cherish.
The story revolves around Roland Bartholomew Dexter the Third, a boy who lives with his parents in a mysterious barbershop. Trapped in world filled with hair, censored books, and realistic dreams, young Roland discovers the reality of his universe while readers unlock pages of this amazing book.
The instructions page informs readers to “follow the strands of hair” to move forward and backward through the story. Clicking the screen replays the animation. On some pages, readers have their choice of which direction to follow the strand of hair. Readers can also save bookmarks as they go. Much like a Choose-You-Own-Adventure book, readers decide their own fate. The story provides suggestions and hints along the way. There’s something incredibly fun and engaging about swiping different directions to reveal each new electronic page in this exciting adventure.
Readers are in control of this mesmerizing story that includes 20 hidden pages, 3 hidden diaries, and the option to explore Roland’s village. A built-in map allows readers to track their reading experience, explore Roland’s house, and revisit areas of the story. In some cases, readers see the consequences of their choices when options and pages disappear from the map.
Much more than your standard adventure, the story explores complex concepts about life choices, decisions, and consequences both in the real and imagined world. While readers are making decisions about how they will explore the story, the characters are making their own connections.
I’ve read dozens of interactive novels over the past several years, however this is the ultimate reading experience combining nonlinear reading, optional adventures, simple gaming, and a compelling story into one visually stunning app.
To download the app for iPad, go to https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/loose-strands/id867732804…
To download the app for Android, go tohttps://play.google.com/store/apps/details…

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Book Review: Owl Diaries #1: Eva's Treetop Festival

OWL DIARIES #1: EVA’S TREETOP FESTIVAL by Rebecca Elliott is the first book in a new series featuring a lovable young owl named Eva.
In the first episode, Eva plans a festival to celebrate spring. The book uses a diary-approach to tell the story and explore topics including friendship, planning, and helpfulness.
Interesting visuals support the simple text. Rather than complete sentences and paragraphs, some pages contain words and phrases to label images drawn into the diary entry. While some teachers may not like this non-traditional approach, young readers are likely to enjoy the variety in story presentation.
The illustrator uses a digital collage technique to create the adorable characters and other visual elements. Each diary entry is presented on white, pink-lined paper using an easy-to-read font. The use of pink and other pastel colors along with the female protagonist is likely to attract more girl than boys readers.
Designed for ages 5-7, this short book lends itself to discussion and learning activities. For instance after Eva introduces herself in the first diary entry, children can write their own introductory diary entries. Eva’s “to-do” list provides the opportunity to practice making task lists. The story’s cupcake recipe can easily be connected to a lesson related to math and following recipes.
The Owl Diaries is part of a recently introduced Scholastic series designed for newly independent readers. The target audience has been successful with leveled readers, but may not be ready for traditional chapter books. These books bridge the gap by providing “easy-to-read text, simple plotlines, plenty of context clues, and purposeful illustrations that aid reading comprehension”. Other Branches series include Boris, Kung Pow Chicken, Missy’s Super Duper Royal Deluxe, Princess Pink and the Land of Fake-Believe, Dragon Masters, Eerie Elementary, Looniverse, Lotus Lane, Monkey Me, and The Notebook of Doom. Each series features distinct storylines and visual elements that will appeal to different types of children. There’s something for everyone.
Young readers will be looking forward to the second book in this fun new series, Eva Sees a Ghost.
ARC Edelweiss used for review

Friday, January 16, 2015

Website Review: Reading Rockets

Kick off the year by launching young readers! Use the READING ROCKETS website for ideas that promote a passion for reading. Go to http://www.readingrockets.org/.
Launched over a decade ago by WETA, Reading Rockets is a multimedia literacy initiative focusing on how children learn to read and ways adults can help support young readers. Supported through grants from the U.S. Department of Education, Corporation for Public Broadcasting and others, the website provides free, evidence-based information about reading.
The Teaching Reading section explores literacy topics, reading strategies, and resources to help beginning readers succeed.
The Helping Struggling Reader section features ideas for working with struggling readers.
The Reading Topics A-Z section provides a rich collection of research-based information and best-practices associated with reading.
The Children’s Book & Authors section contains endless resources on children’s books and authors including author studies, video interviews, themed and summer booklists, nonfiction book ideas, selection suggestions, buying guides, and activities.
The Research, Guides and Resources section includes an extensive collection of reports, guides, and directories that are useful in professional development and grant writing.
The Librarian section at http://www.readingrockets.org/audi…/professionals/librarians provides topics of particular interest to teacher librarians such as the Common Core, children’s books, and authors.
With themes from gardening to robots, the Reading Adventure Packs for Families at http://www.readingrockets.org/…/reading-adventure-packs-fam… pair themed fiction and nonfiction books with interactive activities. Consider creating these packs for circulation in your library.
Use the E-Cards for Readers activity at http://www.readingrockets.org/books/fun/ecards to involve youth in sharing their passion for reading with others using images from favorite children’s book illustrators.
To extend the experience, join the Reading Rockets Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr, and iTunes Podcasts social media resources.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Book Review: The Ghosts of Heaven

THE GHOSTS OF HEAVEN by Marcus Sedgwick tells a quartet of stories spanning many millennium brought together through the symbolism found in spirals.
Sophisticated readers will enjoy the challenge of a book that pushes the traditional boundaries of YA fiction. The author begins with a discussion of the physics of the universe and informs the reader that the stories can be read in any order.
Written in verse, the first episode focuses on a prehistoric girl who discovers how symbols can be used for more than magic. This story moves quickly and is likely to engage teen readers. The second story takes place in England during the witch hunts. Unfortunately, the plot isn’t particularly unique but the symbolism fits well. An insane asylum is the setting of the third story. Although this thriller is engaging, it explores the inner demons of an insane asylum doctor rather than a young adult character. The final episode focuses on an astronaut traveling through space and time. Adult readers will immediately think of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Unlike most books for young adults, the protagonists aren’t all teenagers. Instead, they represent a wide range of characters that may or may not appeal to the youth audience.
Like Sedgwick’s award-winning Midwinterblood (2013), the interconnected thematic elements are designed for a sophisticated YA audience. Fans of Sedgwick will enjoy identifying and analyzing the reoccurring spiral themes woven throughout the novel. Unfortunately, the connections are less compelling than the reincarnation theme found in his earlier work.
The short story approach, use of symbolism, and interesting literary elements make The Ghosts of Heaven a great choice for a high school book club or class discussion. Its mix of historical fiction, science fiction, and literary fiction provide something for everyone in a discussion group. The book geeks will go wild trying to figure out the mathematical and historical title of the conclusion.
Sedgwick’s genre-bending package will be a hit with young adults looking for a thought-provoking reading experience, but keep in mind that it’s not for everyone.
Edelweiss and NetGalley ARC used for review

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

App Review: Chicktionary

CHICKTIONARY: A GAME OF SCRAMBLED WORDS is a fun spelling and vocabulary-building word game app. Students create as many words as possible out of seven letters. The game was been around awhile, but the 2014 version has many more levels and options such as timed and untimed modes.
While this free app is geared to elementary students, it’s fun for all ages. Although in-app purchases are an option, they aren’t necessary to play the game. Although the sound can be annoying, it’s easy to just turn it off.
Special chickens, golden eggs, and other surprises make the game fun as children continue to play over time. Bonus letter hints are available so players won’t get frustrated. Another way to avoid frustration is for children to work in pairs or teams.
Ads are displayed between games, but these can be removed by contacting the company about an education edition.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Book Review: Doable: The Girls' Guide to Accomplishing Just About Anything

DOABLE: THE GIRLS’ GUIDE TO ACCOMPLISHING JUST ABOUT ANYTHING by Deborah Reber is a practical, how-to book for teens. Featuring strategies for achieving both small and large dreams, Reber’s advice is “spot-on” for today’s busy teens.
From starting a non-profit animal shelter to passing college entrance exams, the Reber provides step-by-step instructions for accomplishing a wide range of personal goals. The book is organized into eight short chapters each focusing on a step in the process.
Are you a cliff diver, shooting star, or deadline chaser? Motivating questions, meaningful activities, and useful summaries are woven into each chapter to keep readers actively engaged. Rather than providing just one approach, Reber often features multiple ways to solve a problem or address an issue such as the use of both lists and mind maps. Of particular value is the last section of the book dealing with tracking progress, reflecting on accomplishments, and rewarding yourself for hard work.
What makes DOABLE distinct is its inspirational examples and encouraging tone. Young adults will relate to the author’s conversational style and contemporary success stories. Reber knows her audience. References to smartphones, e-readers, and mobile apps connect with today’s high-tech teens. The book is also outstanding from an instructional point of view. Both examples and non-examples are provided of each concept so readers can clearly distinguish clear goals from vague goals and effective from ineffective strategies.
DOABLE is an outstanding example of nonfiction for teens. Although the book is designed for empowering girls, the key elements could easily be extracted for use on a library bulletin board focusing on goal setting for all students. There are many books available for teens on planning, but this is the best I’ve seen.
Published by Simon Pulse/Beyond Words. Available January 20, 2015. Edelweiss ARC used for review.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Website Review: John and Hank Green Online Resources

Brothers John and Hank Green are social media celebrities, but they also provide important content that young adults love. John is best known for his award-winning YA novels like The Fault in Our Stars, while Hank is the creator of endless online content. Over the past several years they’ve developed a staggering amount of online content.
The CrashCourse YouTube Channel feature short, live action and animated videos exploring key concepts from world history to biology. Go to https://www.youtube.com/user/crashcourse.
The SciShow YouTube Channel uses quick, enthusiastic videos to discuss science news, history, and concepts. Go to https://www.youtube.com/user/scishow.
The vlogbrothers YouTube Channel features videos on current topics of interest to teens. They do an outstanding job putting important global issues into language young people understanding. Go to https://www.youtube.com/user/vlogbrothers.
The Project for Awesome is a great example of social activism focusing on topics such as education and literacy. Users are encouraged to create videos to support their favorite charity. Go to http://www.projectforawesome.com/.
Are you a Nerdfighter? Teacher librarians should be aware of this online community popular with teens. Associated with the Green brothers, the subculture promotes togetherness and positive peer support. Their motto is DFTBA, “Don’t Forget To Be Awesome”. Nerdfighters is a community website that includes book and music discussions and engaging projects such as short story writing contests. Go to http://nerdfighters.ning.com/.
For John and Hank’s website go to http://nerdfighteria.com/.
For John’s Tumbler, go to http://fishingboatproceeds.tumblr.com/.
For Hank’s Tumbler, go to http://edwardspoonhands.com/.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Book Review: Stella by Starlight

STELLA BY STARLIGHT by Sharon M. Draper provides a realistic portrayal of life in the segregated South during the Great Depression.
The author skillfully conveys the reality of life in a world where people are treated unfairly because of the color of their skin. From a random beating to a house burning, the scenes that demonstrate the terror instilled by members of the KKK are chilling. Through her use of age-appropriate examples, Draper is able to create convincing scenarios that convey both the injustice as well as the courage needed to survive in this period of intolerance and fear.
Many readers will empathized with Stella’s desire to be a writer as well as her difficulty in translating her thoughts into words on paper. Her use of the donated typewriter to write news article may inspire some budding authors.
Aimed at the middle grades, this outstanding work of historical fiction should be added to your school library’s growing collection of quality works dealing with African American life in the 20th century.
Like the works of Christopher Paul Curtis and Jacqueline Woodson, Draper is able to draw on both African American culture as well as universal human themes. This combination makes it a great book for literature circles, social studies, and language arts activities.
The year is just beginning, but put STELLA BY STARLIGHT on your Coretta Scott King Book Award short-list for 2015.
Edelweiss ARC used for review

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Special Event Website Review: United We Serve

MLK Day of Service on January 19, 2015 is part of the UNITED WE SERVE initiative. Each year, Americans across the county address Dr. Martin Luther Kind Jr.’s call for service. He declared “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is “What are you doing for others?”.
The UNITED WE SERVE website at http://www.serve.gov/ calls all Americans to serve their community. Go to the special initiatives page for information about MLK Day of Service at http://goo.gl/Am3dtk.
The Getting Started page provides suggestions for service projects. Consider a focus on literacy and libraries. For ideas, go tohttp://www.serve.gov/site-page/toolkits. Think about sharing your project idea at AllForGood at http://www.allforgood.org/ and getting others to join you.
Create a MLK Day Challenge area in your library for the month of January. As a school, go to the Make the Pledge page at http://goo.gl/6sg5Ql and commit time to the community. Follow the official blog to see what others are doing at http://nationalservice.tumblr.com/. Share your successes athttp://www.serve.gov/site-page/share.
Scholastic’s The Spirit of Service page athttp://www.scholastic.com/mlkday/ contains lots of lesson plan ideas and activities.
For more information, LIKE the Facebook page athttps://www.facebook.com/mlkday.

Friday, January 09, 2015

Book Review: Rescue on the Oregon Trail

RESCUE ON THE OREGON TRAIL by Kate Messner is the first book in the newly released, action-packed historical fiction series titled RANGER IN TIME. Ranger the rescue dog is sure to be a hit with young readers.
Ranger is a time-traveling golden retriever. Trained as a search-and-rescue dog, he is transported back in time to the year 1850 to help the Abbott family on their journey west along the Oregon Trail.
The authentic historical details mixed with the fast-paced story make this an excellent book for young history fans who are just beginning to read chapter books. Using a rescue dog as the main character was a brilliant move and will easily draw dog lovers into the historical context.
Although the first book in the series focuses on the Oregon Trail, references are also made to the Mormon Trail and the California Gold Rush. The outstanding author’s note section contains excerpts from real journals, facts about training rescue dogs, and additional readings.
Written for ages 6-10, this series is perfect for fans of the Magic Tree House books. Teachers will find this book an excellent interdisciplinary resource for literature circles. It’s a great jumping off spot for a more detailed exploration of the Oregon Trail.
There are lots of great websites geared to children and the Oregon Trail such as Kids on the Trail. Go to http://goo.gl/amWduJ. For a great teacher’s guide, download http://goo.gl/UgTxn6. Check out a video at http://goo.gl/5OlRsN. Check out at cool interactive map at http://goo.gl/JbRonp.
There are also apps you can download with Oregon Trail games. Try http://goo.gl/tc38tx.
The second book in the series titled Danger in Ancient Rome due out June 30, 2015.
Edelweiss ARC used for review

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Website & App Review: USA Learns

Learning English as a Second Language may be a concern for both the students in your school as well as their parents. USA LEARNS is a free website that helps adults improve English skills. Low cost apps are also available.
Users go to USA Learns at http://www.usalearns.org and create a login. A pretest can help users unsure about which tutorials to complete. Three courses are available: beginning, low intermediate, and intermediate. Each course includes a series of units focusing on the use of English in everyday situations. Each unit includes lessons and activities. Users can read the screen and listen to the teacher’s voice reading the screen. The lessons incorporate both audio and video elements. Study tools are provided including a glossary with images and audio support.
ESL students may need help signing up and getting started with the program. Although the lessons are very effective, the tutorials don’t provide feedback for incorrect answers. It would be useful if a teacher or assistant was available to answer questions as users are working their way through the learning materials.
In addition to the website, four low-cost, learning apps are available. In addition to the lessons, the apps also provide the learner with opportunities to record words and hear them back. The apps contain lots of streamed videos, so an Internet connection is necessary. To access the apps for both Apple and Android devices, go to http://www.usalearns.org/apps/.
Consider how USA LEARNS could be part of an after-school library program that supports the ESL needs of both children and their parents.
The materials were developed and tested by the Sacramento County Office of Education with funding from the US Department of Education. Although the scenarios include workplace scenarios, the course materials would be very effective for high school students. For supplemental materials, check out the USALearns blog at http://usalearns.wordpress.com/. For an overview to the curriculum, go to http://www.usalearns.org/pdf/ScopeSequence.pdf.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Book Review: Hold Tight, Don't Let Go

HOLD TIGHT, DON’T LET GO by Laura Rose Wagner is an unforgettable young adult novel set in Port-au-Prince Haiti during and after the devastating 2010 earthquake.
The story begins with a chilling description of the Haiti earthquake through the eyes of a fifteen-year-old girl named Magdalie. As she searches through the rubble of her home, the stark aftermath of her collapsed world soon becomes clear. The chapters are named with months and years beginning with the earthquake on January 12, 2010 through 2011. The story concludes in January 2020, ten years after the disaster.
Wagner does a masterful job describing life for Magdalie including her frustration, resourcefulness, and hope. The author was working on an ethnographic study when she experienced the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Her experiences led to this compelling and realistic portrayal of Haitian culture.
While Magdalie’s experience with a vodou priestess and the funeral of her Manman may seem alien to readers, teens will empathize with her frustrations about lack of cell phone access and feelings of jealousy when her cousin leaves for America.
This beautifully written coming-of-age work of historical fiction would serve as an excellent focal point for a discussion of the human-impact of natural disasters. Consider building a literature circle containing books related to other recent disasters such as Hurricane Katrina.
For background information, go to Encyclopedia Britannica at http://www.britannica.com/…/1659695/Haiti-earthquake-of-2010. Wikipedia also has an excellent article about the 2010 Haiti earthquake that provides background information for readers. Go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2010_Haiti_earthquake.
Time Magazine also has an excellent series of articles. Go to http://content.time.com/…/…/packages/0,28757,1953379,00.html.
NetGalley ARC used for review

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Website Review: Weight Control Information Network

Many children and young adults make weight-control part of their New Year’s Resolution. It’s important to provide quality information so youth can make healthy decisions. Check out WIN (Weight-control Information Network) from the National Institute of Health at http://www.win.niddk.nih.gov/.

This government website focuses on “up-to-date, science-based information on weight control, obesity, physical activity, and related nutrition issues”. Explore resources specifically geared to youth.

Take Charge of Your Health: A Guide for Teenagers is an online booklet that discusses steps to becoming healthy including a healthy diet and exercise. Go to http://www.win.niddk.nih.gov/publications/take_charge.htm.

Charge Up! Is an online booklist focusing on healthy snacks and meals for teens. Go to http://www.win.niddk.nih.gov/publications/chargeUp.htm.

The Binge Eating Disorder online booklist provides information about the hazards and consequences of binge eating. Go to http://www.win.niddk.nih.gov/publications/binge.htm.

The Resources sections provides links to many more resources. Go to http://www.win.niddk.nih.gov/resources/index.htm. You can also follow the project at Facebook.

Promote healthy habits through library bulletin boards, displays, and activities. Keep in mind that weight concerns can be a sensitive issue with children. Read Helping Your Overweight Child at http://www.win.niddk.nih.gov/publications/over_child.htm for ideas. Check out an infographic on childhood obesity at http://www.win.niddk.nih.gov/infographic/childhood_obesity.htm.

The WIN project will send up to 100 copies of their booklets FREE to distribute in your library. They would be great for classroom informational reading activities.