Review of Illuminae by Kaufman & Kristoff

Illuminae (The Illuminae Files, #1)Illuminae by Amie Kaufman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was an extremely unique sci-fi book for young adults. The story is told using various documents put together by the Illuminae group that tell the story of the attack on Kerenza, the destruction of starship Copernicus, and the plight of the Alexander and Hypatia, which hold Kerenza's survivors. You don't find out until the end of the book exactly who Illuminae is and what their purpose is. The story centers on Kady and Ezra, a teenage couple who were in the midst of breaking up when Kerenza was attacked and then end up separated on different vessels- Kady on the Hypatia and Ezra on the Alexander. The Artifical Intelligence of the Alexander is designed to protect the people of Kerenza but can no longer be trusted. Both ships are waiting to be attacked by the same people who attacked Kerenza the first time and the same company who has unleashed a virus on them. Thanks to this virus, even the survivors aren't safe. I would say the most interesting character in this book is actually the AI-Aidan, but I don't want to reveal anything by saying why. Additionally, there are several "drop-jaw" moments with the kind of plot twists you usually don't get in Sci Fi. Even though the length of this book seems daunting, there is a lot of artwork, and the book is made up of documents, so it is not as long as it seems. Also, it flows very well and is extremely engaging. I would suggest this book for students who loved Avalon, are fans of Star Trek, or who are ready to be introduced to sci-fi. This is one of those times I'm excited to know a book is part of a series because there are still questions to be answered by the end of the book (although if you only read #1, it does have a sense of completeness, and major plot lines are resolved).

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Maker Space Madness: Glades Central’s First Project

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GCHS’s First Maker Space Project

Maker Space Madness. If you are in education, especially technology or library media, you have probably heard A LOT about maker spaces over the last year.  Although I’ve been excited to read about all the wonderful things people are doing across the country, it has also been overwhelming and, sometimes, to be honest, discouraging. I saw a lot of people doing very interesting, but very expensive, projects in their libraries. I was impressed, but I knew I could not replicate their success. Why? Lack of money. However, I really felt like the problem-solving skills and engagement factor were so important, that I didn’t want to give up based on a  lack of finances. So I sat down with one of my favorite colleagues, Jennifer Hall, and had a little brainstorming session. We needed a project. It had to be interesting, support curriculum, not time-consuming, tactile, and CHEAP.

We found this video: http://makezine.com/2015/02/24/beautiful-weeds-preserve-a-dandelion-in-resin/

Being in South Florida, we didn’t have access to live dandelions, nor do I have the time to go gathering wildflowers, so we modified the project a bit. I ordered a few items that could be placed inside the poly resin (plastic sunflowers and foam footballs <btw, I don’t suggest foam – it floats!>), but after a student asked, we also allowed them to bring special items from home. For example, a graduating student put a 2015 penny in their paperweight. Another brought a pendant.

We also knew we would only have enough money to purchase one round of supplies so we wanted the project to be self-sustaining. Therefore, we decided to charge $2 per project and then the students would keep the product.

Due to students missing class for testing, added mandated EOCs (Thank you, State of Florida), teachers were very reluctant to bring their students into the library for collaborative projects this year. Plus, the library was closed 49 days (again, thank you testing)! Therefore, this maker space project was completed by students during lunchtime and after school.

This was only my first maker space project and we had a few fails, but I truly believe that is part of the learning process.

Here are the directions students used to complete the project: GCHS Makerspace Project #1

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Book Review: “Challenger Deep” by Neal Shusterman

Challenger Deep Book Cover Challenger Deep
Neal Shusterman
Young Adult, Contemporary, Mental Illness
HarperCollins
April 21, 2015
Audio Book

Caden Bosch is on a ship that's headed for the deepest point on Earth: Challenger Deep, the southern part of the Marianas Trench.

Caden Bosch is a brilliant high school student whose friends are starting to notice his odd behavior.

Caden Bosch is designated the ship's artist in residence, to document the journey with images.

Caden Bosch pretends to join the school track team but spends his days walking for miles, absorbed by the thoughts in his head.

Caden Bosch is split between his allegiance to the captain and the allure of mutiny.

Caden Bosch is torn.

A captivating and powerful novel that lingers long beyond the last page, Challenger Deep is a heartfelt tour de force by one of today's most admired writers for teens (via Goodreads).

 

BOOK REVIEW: Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman

First of all, I want to say that I listened to this via audio book. It took me longer to get through it that way, but I thought the performance was very good. Unfortunately, that meant I missed Brendan’s illustrations, but I have looked some of them up online.

As someone with mental illness in my family, and who has suffered from depression myself, I was very interested in reading this book from the moment I heard it was coming out. Not only is Neal Shusterman one of my favorite YA authors, but I had the opportunity to spend time with him a few years ago at April is for Authors, follow him on social media, and have great respect for him. I know that his experiences with his own son, Brendan, helped to fuel the writing of Challenger Deep, and I think that makes it an even more personal and touching story to read.

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April is for Authors, 2012

I believe this book is an important read. Mental illness is looked at with such a stigma and the subject is so often swept under the rug. This causes those who suffer to feel shame and makes them less likely to seek help. Chances are most young people are going to know someone in their family with a mental illness or suffer from one themselves at some point in their lives; this book can bring this topic to life for them.

The book, of course, is extremely well-written and engaging. The symbolism in it is chilling, at times. There were so many moments that broke my heart for Caden and for all who suffer from a schizoaffective disorder. To think you are being victimized by people around you, to not be able to trust your own parents, to live part of the time in a world that only exists in your mind – it’s more than any person, much less teenager, should have to endure. Even once on the road to stability, it would be more than many could handle to leave your home, live amongst strangers, take medicines with horrific side effects, and feel the guilt of how your illness has affected your family members.

I hope this book will remind all of us that those who suffer from and seek treatment for mental illness are courageous. We need to stop abandoning the mentally ill (how many homeless or imprisoned suffer from a mental illness?) or making those who struggle feel ashamed. I believe this book can help us accomplish that long-overdue goal and introduce the subject of mental illness to young adults, who may not have had the opportunity to learn about this subject previously.

This is a must-read.

To download the Challenger Deep teaching guide, click here: http://www.storyman.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/2p_ChallengerDeepDiscussionGuide.pdf

Book Review: “Hope In Every Raindrop” by Wesley Banks

Hope In Every Raindrop Book Cover Hope In Every Raindrop
Wesley Banks
Romance, Dog Lovers
May 26, 2015
e-book, paperback

“Small towns have big stories.” That was a lesson Katie’s father taught her years ago. A lesson she’s taken to heart. And right now, Katie is desperate for a big story. Reeling from the recent loss of her father and with her agent breathing down her neck for the next book, the twenty-one-year-old writer picks a spot on the map and finds herself bound for a middle-of-nowhere town called Bishopville, South Carolina.

Taking a chance on the words of a local grocer, Katie stumbles upon a rare breed of dogs raised by the town doctor and his nephew Kyle. The only problem? Kyle isn’t interested in telling stories—especially not to a big-city girl who can’t seem to sit still. In an attempt to win him over as the clock winds down, Katie finds herself immersed in Kyle’s world, doing everything but writing.

When inspiration finally strikes, Katie is faced with an unforeseen catastrophe and a truth she can no longer ignore. While she has come to love the dogs, the real story may be about Kyle Walker (via Goodreads).

ISBN: 9780986193408

Book Review: Hope In Every Raindrop by Wesley Banks

As a librarian, member of Florida Teens Read committee, blogger, and avid reader, it is not uncommon for someone to ask me to read their book. It’s an honor to be asked to read something someone has poured so much time and effort into and it is truthfully a little terrifying to know that they are then expecting to know what you thought of their work! As a writer myself, the last thing I would ever want to do is write a negative review, but I also don’t want to lie if asked my honest opinion about a book. So, when my friend contacted me to say her husband had written a book, I admit I was nervous to read it. “What if I don’t like it?” I thought.

Thank God, and author Wesley Banks, that my fears were totally unfounded! Hope In Every Raindrop was far beyond anything I could have expected from a debut author. From the beginning of the book, I was wholly engaged by the characters. They were likable, yet flawed, and I loved the sense of mystery that came along with Kyle, King, and the dogs.  There is almost a sense that something magical is going on between them. Kyle and the dogs and their unique relationship were definitely my favorite part of the book. I read this book in two sittings. I probably would’ve read it in one, but I, unfortunately, require this little thing called sleep.

There are several scenes in the book that encompass rain. Maybe it’s just me, but I find rain to be very romantic. If it starts raining at home, I make my husband turn off the television so we can just listen to the rain fall. I realize that this may be a matter of personal preference, but I thought the use of rain added to the beauty and romanticism of the book.

Very often, adult romance novels are very corny. And that’s okay. I have certainly read my share of “beach reads” – books that I read through in an afternoon and that don’t make me think too hard! They usually have a plot you can see coming from a mile away and are sometimes too graphic for my taste. Personally, there are some things I prefer not to see in print. However, I felt like Wesley Banks did a great job of writing an elegant love story. Not only did it leave plenty to the imagination, it was well-written, and even quoted good literature.

The book is much more than a love story though. Readers will enjoy the beautiful imagery and the supporting characters, especially Doc. Doc is such a wise, caring, yet tough character. I was immediately enamored by Doc. Out of all the characters, he is the one I would want to sit on the porch with and have a cup of tea, one of those biscuits Katie loved so much, and a conversation.

Overall, the word “hope” that is found in the title, is a theme woven throughout the book. Life can be messy. Just like the characters in the book faced various challenges, both in their present and their past, so do we. This book is a reminder that there is always hope, no matter what comes our way.

Hope In Every Raindrop was an engaging, lovely, and masterfully-written book that I highly recommend. Congratulations, Wesley, on a job well-done. Thank you for sharing your talent with the world.

For more information on the author of Hope In Every Raindrop, Wesley Banks, visit his website: http://wesleybanksauthor.com/

 

My Top 5 for 2014-2015

As a high school librarian and member of the Florida Teens Read Committee, I have been doing a lot of reading over the past year. Matter of fact, if it seems my blog has been a bit abandoned, it has! Between serving as EMA President, being a high school librarian without a clerk, teaching two intensive reading classes, and trying to have a personal life, I have spent almost every spare moment with my nose stuck in a book (or with earbuds in listening to an audiobook or with the light of an iPad illuminating my face) and not a lot of time worried about my blog. But I’m not complaining. I have never loved my job more, nor have I ever been more inspired to share books with my students or talk to people about how books change lives. How books changed my life. But I digress. That is another post for another day.

A week from today, the Florida Teens Read list will become public. Although I love the list chosen by my colleagues (I really, really love it and think all of you will, too), I thought I would put together a list of my own. My list isn’t limited by any of the rules or bylaws FTR must follow. This is simply the best 5 books I’ve read over the last year. They can be Children’s, YA, Adult, anything…if I’ve read it, it’s eligible. So, with no further ado, here is my list:

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (Adult, Mystery, Thriller)

Gone Girl

Okay, I know, I know. It’s been a movie (insert flashbacks of inappropriate scenes here). It’s had a ton of press. I’m a follower, a drone, an unoriginal zombie walking stiffly behind the masses. But I can’t help it. There was something so engaging about this book. I was hooked on the story and the characters and I remember where I was sitting and how my jaw hit the ground when I realized the truth behind what happened to Amy Dunne. So, overplayed or not, if a book sticks with me like that, I have to mention it.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (YA, Contemporary)

We were liars

We Were Liars has hit high school libraries like a storm, and for good reason. Honestly, I was expecting a laid back read about some privileged kids and their privileged lives and their over-dramatized sob stories…blah, blah, blah. So, imagine my surprise when I found myself quite attached to the characters. I was invested in the storyline, for sure, when I had truly expected to be bored! By the time of the big reveal,  I was shocked and almost angry. At myself for not realizing what was going on. At the author for doing this to us, the beloved readers. At my husband, for breathing too loud while I tried to comprehend what the heck just happened (okay, maybe that last part is an embellishment). But really, again, just like in Gone Girl, I found myself slapped in the face with a reality I was not ready to accept. When you think you will have to read the book again just to see what you missed, you’ve got a winner in my opinion. So, it had to be on the list.

If You Find ME

If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch (YA, Contemporary)

This book was released in 2013, so please forgive me for being late to the party. However, late or not, it was worth mentioning. This is one of the best books I have read – ever. It’s absolutely heartbreaking in so many ways, but the strength of the main character keeps hope alive. The story itself would’ve been enough to make it a meaningful read, but there is even an added twist near the end that adds another layer to the already complicated situation. In the end, it’s about love being able to truly conquer evil- the love of siblings, old and new friends, and parents. It’s a beautifully crafted book and I am so glad that I found it and can include it on this list.

Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein (Children’s, Middle Grade, Adventure)

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Two confessions about this book. 1) As a librarian, I probably have some kind of bias towards a book that turns going to the library into an adventure. 2) I have had the pleasure of working with Chris Grabenstein at April is for Authors over the last two years and met up with him at FAME, so…I’m once again probably a bit biased towards this book! BUT – it doesn’t mean it’s not magnificent. The creativity and imagination that Chris poured onto every page was better than any other adventure book I read this year. This was like going into another world. It may be a middle grades book but I think everyone should read it, especially if you are a librarian, go to the library, have ever been to the library, are breathing….  so that’s pretty much all of you. My dream is for Disney to buy the rights to this book and create a movie…and maybe a theme park attraction! Do you hear me, Bob Iger?

Coincidentally, this book was just awarded the SSYRA Award for Grades 3-5. Congratulations, Chris! Thank you for sharing this work of art with the world.

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Chris Grabenstein & I at AIFA in 2015

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby (YA, Contemporary, Magical Realism)

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This book. THIS BOOK. Unlike the books above which have already been widely critically acclaimed, I went into Bone Gap with no clue what to expect. I had seen it on a YA Release list and marked it as “To Read” so when the FTR committee wrapped things up last Saturday, I decided to give this book a shot. And boy am I glad I did. There are books you like, books you love, books that shock you, books that stick with you, but this book ENRAPTURED me. I don’t even know why. The writing is beautiful, the characters are interesting, and there’s something magical about it! It’s less like a book and more like an experience. A journey. An enchantment. A mystery. I loved it so much that I’m sad it’s over. I loved it so much that I tweeted the author 3 times in 2 days (stalker much?). I haven’t read a book this interesting and beautiful in a long time. I will be interested to see what others think of it but, for me, it is my #1 read of the last year. Someone tell Laura Ruby to release another book soon! Oh, and one more thing, I listened to this on Audible. I don’t know if that could’ve played a role in why I loved the book so much, but it was certainly well-performed.

Using QR Codes to Promote Florida Teens Read Books

I am humbled to be a part of a technology team in our district called Team TLC. Led by the amazing John Long, this team of librarians is committed to embracing literacy, media literacy, and information literacy by creating an engaging and collaborative environment at their schools. During our post-school meeting, we were challenged to incorporate QR codes into a project that we could use when school started. After some discussion, many decided to create QR codes for books on the SSYRA and FTR Lists in order to peak our students’ interest and encourage them to read the books. I used the Mac App, iQR (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/iqr-codes-qr-code-art-studio/id491390884?mt=12) to create QR codes for each of the books on the FTR List. iQR allows you to create colorful, custom QR codes. However, one could also use one of the many free web-based QR code creators that are available. The codes link to a book talk or trailer. I was able to find trailers for most of the books on the list but I did have two books with no trailer. What to do? Create your own! I used Animoto to create trailers for The Naturals and Thin Space (posted above). By the way, in case you don’t know, there are many free QR Code scanners available in the App store (or Google Play store). My plan is to use Follett’s FTR poster and attach the QR Codes to the poster. Then, hang the posters around school and spread the word for students to scan the QR codes to view the book trailers. This is the first time I have used QR codes to promote books (although I have used them for web hunts in the past). I’m really looking forward to seeing if students enjoy this approach and if it increases interest in this year’s FTR titles. I’ve posted the QR codes below. Feel free to use them. However, please check to make sure the link they scan to is still valid. 13/15 videos linked below are controlled by someone else and there is always the possibility they could remove their video or change their link.

5th Wave ArisDante Blackbirds Burning Blue Camp 14 Chasing Shadows El and Park Meth Moon Pinned Second Impact Shadows StatProb The Living The Naturals Thin Space

Blackout Poetry

We had lots of fun during National Poetry Month in April. One of my favorite projects was Blackout Poetry. Twelfth grade English and my Mass Media class had a blast creating their blackout poetry. Some students struggled with the concept but many not only met the expectations of the assignment, but exceeded them. We even had some artists in the group! Enjoy our Blackout Poetry slideshow which was put together by some of my Mass Media students.

Holocaust Survivor Presentation

On April 24th, 2014, Holocaust Survivor, Norman Frajman, visited our school and spoke with almost 300 students. Most were 10th graders. Although our World History teachers had prepared the students for the subject matter, I have to admit I was nervous about how the presentation would go. Would they stay engaged for the entire presentation? Would they behave appropriately? Would they understand the historical significance of being in the presence of a Survivor of the Holocaust? Now, several weeks after the presentation, I can tell you that the students’ behavior surpassed my expectations. Mr. Frajman said he could “feel the intensity in the room” and requested to come back next year. We had students skip their lunch period to stay behind, shake his hand, and take pictures with him. Following his presentation, students were encouraged to write letters to Mr. Frajman, thanking him for his visit. One student’s letter reads, “I learned so much and it was a once in a lifetime experience.” I would have to agree with that student. Being in the presence of Mr. Frajman surely was a once in a lifetime experience. Bringing him to meet my students allowed them to literally touch history and it was one of the proudest moments in my career as an educator.

Following the presentation, my Mass Media students were having a class discussion and mentioned that not enough people are educated about the Holocaust. One student said, “What can we do about it?” What a perfect stage for jumping into a problem-based learning project! We ditched our lesson plan for the next few days and my students created a collaborative slideshow about the Holocaust. They want to share it with the World History teachers so they can show it to their students as an introduction to the Holocaust.

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Book Spine Poetry

As part of our celebration of National Poetry Month, I worked with two classes of students to create book spine poetry. Did I just lose you? Until a few weeks ago, I had no clue what it was either. So, if you already knew, here’s a gold star. gold_star_1

Book spine poetry is the process of creating poems using the titles on the spines of books. When done well, books that may be completely unrelated can be stacked to create a poem. When not done well, books that may be completely unrelated can be stacked to create a bunch of words that are also completely unrelated and make no sense whatsoever. While working with my classes, I saw both…

Here are a few things I learned from my experience: 1) Don’t assume students know what the spine of a book is…apparently, the parts of a book are not covered on the FCAT; they have no clue.  2) If you have a clerk, buy them a Venti Cinnamon Dolce Latte to thank them for all the re-shelving they will have to do. If you don’t have a clerk, like me, buy yourself a Venti Cinnamon Dolce Latte, which I did, because re-shelving all of those books is going to take awhile.

I did hear a wonderful idea from @librarian_tiff during #FAMEChat that will save you the headache described above. She went to the bookstore and took photos of various book spines. She blew them up, laminated them, and then distributed them to her students. Then, they arranged them to create their poems. Not only does this magnificent idea avoid the re-shelving issues, but you will have clean spines void of call numbers! What a great idea! Click to see an example.

In spite of the massive re-shelving and the occasional nonsensical stack of books, as you can see from the video, my students did enjoy this activity and it was a great way to publicize National Poetry Month.

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