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Book Review – Black Dove White Raven

February 22, 2015

Black Dove White Raven by Elizabeth Wein, release date 3/31/2015

Black Dove White Raven is the story of Emilia Menotti and Teodros Gedeyon, whose mothers were barnstormers during the 1930’s.  Frustrated with the discrimination Teo and his mother Delia faced as “negroes” in the Jim Crow south, Delia dreamed of someday going to Ethiopia, where Teo’s father was from.  After a terrible accident claims Delia’s life and leaves Teo an orphan, Emmy’s mother Rhoda realizes Delia’s dream and moves them to the African country.

Life in Ethiopia is idyllic at first.  They live on a coffee farm cooperative, where Rhoda works as a nurse in the health clinic.  Rhoda flies the plane that Emmy’s father, himself a pilot in the Italian air force, gives her.  Teo and Emmy learn the local language, run barefoot, and write stories, which Wein uses in a foreshadowing manner.  However, the specter of imperialism falls over Ethiopia, and Teo, Emmy, and Rhoda are caught in the middle of it.  While Mussolini begins to amass Italian troops and planes on the borders of Ethiopia, Rhoda realizes she needs a plan to ensure their safety.  While she has avoided teaching Emmy and Teo how to fly, she comes to see that as a way to save Teo from being forced to serve as an Ethiopian soldier by nature of his father’s heritage, and teaches both of them to be successful pilots.

Elizabeth Wein has written a story full of paradoxes.  Emmy and Teo themselves, one white and one black, live as brother and sister.  Rhoda, raised as a Quaker, finds herself in the midst of a war zone.  Ethiopia, proud of its history as the lone African nation to escape colonization, comes under attack from Italy.  Delia’s dream to escape discrimination realized, only to subject Teo to something far more unjust.

Wein manages to write about familiar subjects in a setting that transforms them into something new.  Although the build-up to the central conflict is a bit long, it is worth it in the end.  And while the ending is satisfying, it illustrates the true cost of war, and manages to leave the reader with lingering questions:  what is Rhoda’s ultimate fate; what happens to Teo and Emmy; what is the true nature of Rhoda and Delia’s relationship?  In the end, Black Dove White Raven is another beautifully told story that I would recommend to students.

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Book Review – We Were Liars

May 8, 2014

Image    We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, release date 5/13/2014

Cadence (Cady) Sinclair Eastman comes from a wealthy family, the kind of family that has a private island off of Cape Cod.  Every summer is spent on the island amongst the extended Sinclair family, including her grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.  Cady is especially close with her cousins Mirren and Johnny, and friend of the family Gat, and the four become known as “The Liars”.  Although Gat’s Indian heritage and dark skin mark him as “different” to some in Cady’s family, Cady has an instant bond with him that grows through the years.

Summer fifteen (the summer Cady was 15 years old) is when cracks in the idyllic facade of island life start to show through.  Cady’s father leaves the family for another woman, throwing Cady’s world out of balance.  Granny Tipper Sinclair had eight months before summer fifteen, which left the whole family out of balance.  Cady’s mother and aunts start quarreling over Granny’s possessions and other matters of the Sinclair estate, and Granddad Sinclair is content to let them fight.  One night in late July, Cady goes swimming by herself and suffers some kind of terrible accident.  She wakes up in the hospital unable to remember exactly what happened, her pain made worse by the fact that The Liars have abandoned her.  Cady spends the next year plagued by migraines, and is eventually diagnosed with post-traumatic headaches caused by brain injury.

After spending summer sixteen on a European vacation with her father, Cady finally returns to Beechwood Island for summer seventeen.  Things are different now – Granddad has torn down his old Victorian house and built a sparse, modern house in its place.  Cady is thrilled to see The Liars again for the first time in two years, but they hold a grudge against Granddad and the aunties, and stay at one of the smaller houses.  As Cady feels a nagging unease at the separation from the others, she gradually begins to remember the circumstances of the accident that happened in summer fifteen, revelations of a tragedy much bigger than Cady could ever imagine.

Lockhart’s stunning writing captures Cady’s voice – typical narrative alternates with incomplete, starkly written sentences that convey the sadness and pain that Cady feels.  Cady composes fairy tales trying to make sense of what has happened, and each new version reveals more and more of the terrible truth.

In the end, The Liars accomplish what they set out to do, although in a way they could have never foreseen.  They helped their aunties and Granddad understand that all the possessions, trinkets, expensive homes are not as valuable as loved ones.  As Cady comes to realize the true consequences of the events of summer fifteen, she also realizes the inner strength she possesses to keep on living.


Thing #13 – Media Skills

March 23, 2014

ImageI will admit that my media skills are not as strong as they could/should be, although they have gotten better over the past few years.  And I don’t think this is necessarily a technology problem, as the many photos I have stuffed away in envelopes and shoeboxes waiting to be put in albums will attest to.  There are so many tools in this week’s post that will keep me busy long after this session of Cool Tools is finished.  For this week’s post, I made some posters to put in my library and enhance some of my displays.  I used the Keep Calm-o-matic, and found it very easy to use.  I picked some different photos that I uploaded to them, and changed the text to what I wanted.  This was an easy way to make signs that students will recognize, but it could also be used for classroom activities as well.  I could see students creating posters that would reflect the main ideas of their independent reading books, they could be used to establish classroom rules, just about anything.

Beyond this post, my goal is to get better at photo editing.  I use PhotoBucket for many of my photos, but I will definitely try out some of the options suggested in this week’s post.

This is the poster I created using our school colors.  I tried to find a good tiger to include our mascot, but that didn’t work out.  But this is printed out and hanging in the entry to the library.

Thing #14 – Social Reading & Book Stuff

March 22, 2014

This is a great topic, and really speaks to me as a librarian who strives to blend reading and technology.  I am already active in several of the tools discussed this week – I have accounts on both GoodReads and Shelfari, although I use them in slightly different ways.  I use Shelfari in school, and have several students and faculty who have joined in.  It’s fun to discuss books with students, I’m always surprised at how much feedback I get from them!  I use my GoodReads accounts in a more professional manner.  That is where most librarians in my PLN seem to be, and I participate in a Mock Printz group there.  One of the best features of both GoodReads and Shelfari is the ability to set reading goals and track them.  All of our ELA teachers will be incorporating an independent reading component to their curriculum for the fourth quarter of this year, and then into next year.  I’m contemplating using our school Shelfari account to help students stay on track, and also allow teachers to monitor student progress.

I also have OverDrive in my library – we have 36 nooks in our library which are circulated to students for both pleasure and assigned reading.  Right now I only offer the titles available on our BOCES account, which is pretty extensive.  I require students to select and download books to the devices before they leave the library, and it’s worked well so far.  Our circulation numbers have held steady over the last two years, and I’m hoping to do more with OverDrive ebooks next year.

The new activity I chose for this week’s topic was to participate in my first Twitter chat.  I heard about the #yalove YA Lit chat on LM_Net, and it was a great opportunity to talk about YA lit and expand my PLN at the same time.  The genre we discussed was fantasy, and I’ve never really considered myself a fantasy reader.  But when we started talking about titles and authors, I realized I have read more fantasy than I’ve previously thought.  And I got some great new titles to add to my library wish list!  Since this was my first time participating in a Twitter chat, I felt a little slow at first, but it was easy to get the hang of it.  And the chats are being archived on a wiki, which will be nice to look back at.  Definitely a good experience, and one that I’ll do again!

Thing #12 – Social Learning & Learning Management Systems

January 5, 2014

This week’s topic was great for me to explore, as I haven’t really tested out any LMS’s, although I did use Blackboard as a grad student and found that pretty easy to navigate.  I can see many applications of this, especially as I have a few teachers who are starting to flip different portions of their classroom.  Right now they use our current website platform (eBoards), but this type of platform would be much more interactive than eBoards.  The Facebook-like interface would be very appealing to students, and the ability to provide instant feedback would be so beneficial for both teacher and student.

The biggest obstacle I could see in implementing this type of tool in my school would be time (always an issue!) and redundancy.  The time issue is self-explanatory; the redundancy would be an issue because we currently use eSchool data, and teachers are required to enter their grades in their.  I don’t know if it’s possible to import/export data from one system to the other, but I can’t think of many teachers in my school that would be excited about doing that task more than once.  In my dreamworld, if we could take the interactive features of either Schoolology or Edmodo and insert them into the required portal that every school district has, it would be the best of both worlds!

Thing #11 – Mapping & Geolocation Tools

January 4, 2014

Wow, is it January already? I am decidedly behind in my Cool Tools so far, but determined to catch up. Unfortunately, this topic is one that I can easily lose several hours without even realizing it (which the 11:30pm posting time can attest to).

I explored all the tools noted in this week’s topic, but the tool I tried out was Google Earth. I have wanted to do some kind of a lit trip since I heard about them in grad school, and I found the tutorials listed in the post to be very straightforward and helpful. It took longer than I thought, and I didn’t even take the time to do a complete storyboard. I think this step would make the difference between an okay lit trip (which is what I did tonight) and a good one. It would be even better if done in collaboration with a content area teacher, to make sure that the information they want their students to know is included. The other thing that took longer was that I’m working on a Mac for the first time in quite a while, and it was hard for me to figure out the different commands from the video. Also, I had trouble saving it to my desktop, but I was able to save it to my documents. And the final product did not include the pop-up description windows, even though I set that option in preferences. And lastly, my pictures are not showing up in the saved version, but are there in Google Earth (which I noticed happened in the tutorial video as well). I will troubleshoot later.

In the end, I think this is a passable demonstration for what lit trips can do. I could see these working for almost any content area, but it would definitely be a great tool for ELA and Social Studies. The trip I did was based on A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park, a book that my 7th grade students are reading in ELA. I’m hoping that my ELA teacher will want to explore this tool a little more, and I’m also hoping that Google Earth is on my computer at work.

The other sites listed in this post were lots of fun to explore. One of my social studies teachers is very involved in the local history of my school community, and I’m wondering if we might be able to work on something together with these sites. Lots to think about.

You can view my lit trip here – A Long Walk to Water Lit Trip   Just scroll down to the bottom of the page and open the last note; the file is attached there.  And having to go through this just to share the lit trip is kind of a pain, it’s too bad it isn’t easier to share – or maybe it is, and I just haven’t played around with it enough.

Final assessment – great tool, lots of possibilities, but a little time-consuming to become fluent.

Book Review – Hostage Three

November 20, 2013

hostage three

Hostage Three by Nick Lakerelease date November 12, 2013

Nick Lake’s title character (real name – Amy Fields) has a privileged life, living in an affluent London suburb with her workaholic father and stepmother.  When Amy gets expelled from school right before she is supposed to sit for her very last exam, her father decides to buy a yacht and plans a trip around the world.  Although Amy is skeptical that her father can take himself away from work long enough to embark on the trip, the family sets sail aboard the Daisy May in July.  They are accompanied by a crew of three, including the captain, the cook, and a guide who also specializes in navigating the pirate laden waters near the coast of Somalia.  Despite these precautions, the Daisy May comes under attack from a group of pirates.

Amy is terrified as the pirates board the ship, amid yelling, shooting, and general confusion.  Most of the pirates speak Somali, but there is one young pirate with grey eyes (the same color as Amy) that speaks almost flawless English.  The pirates settle in on the yacht waiting for the ransom deal to be negotiated, and they give the passengers designated names to make the situation less personal – Hostage One is Amy’s father, Hostage Two is her stepmother, and she is Hostage Three.  In the close quarters of the Daisy May however, Amy and Farouz find themselves getting to know one another.  The attraction between them is as involuntary as it is incongruous, both of them seeming to know it could lead to trouble.  As their friendship advances, Amy and Farouz discover shared pain despite completely different circumstances in life.  Behind the affluent lifestyle, Amy has had to deal with the secret pain of her mother’s trouble life and eventual death, as well as her father’s immersion in his work and quick remarriage.  Farouz tells about life with his parents who were both killed in one of Somalia’s many wars, how his older brother saved him, how he is working to earn enough money to free his brother from prison.  The tension between hoping for a happy outcome for both Amy and Farouz is balanced against the extreme danger of the situation at almost every turn.

In Hostage Three, as in 2012’s Printz award-winning In Darkness, Nick Lake has a talent for bringing headlines to life through his character driven stories.  Using Amy as a sometimes unreliable narrator, he is able to weave present events and past events (along with an alternate ending) into a seamless narrative.  Amy’s mother comes to life through Amy’s memories, which are interspersed throughout the story as both flashback and stories shared with Farouz.  The story is rife with issues such as social equality, the randomness of wealth and poverty, mental illness.

Ultimately though, this story is about love, abandonment, and forgiveness.  Will the occupants of the Daisy May, passengers and pirates alike, survive?  Will Amy and Farouz be able to forgive themselves for their perceived guilt they carry about the fate of their family members?  Will they be able to overcome the circumstances that surround their love and have a happy ending?  These are the questions that will keep you reading this compelling story.  I definitely recommend this book to grade 9 and up.

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