Thursday, December 15, 2011

Trapped by Marc Aronson

How the world recused 33 miners from 2,000 feet below the Chilean desert.  Atheneum Books, 2011

Now, you may think, "Not another book about a sensational current event tragedy turned triumph again!"  and if you are, then you don't know Marc Aronson.  This is much more than the Chilean miners.  It's about mining, history, technology, current events, psychology, aeronautics, and politics, all of which Aronson delivers in a short but powerful book about hope. 

Aronson writes in tandem about the Chilean miners while giving back history on mining itself, from early Green and Roman mythology to current books about miners and their god Hephaistos.  What grabs the readers attention is the background details Aronson writes about, including the importance of mining and how the entire world rests with what miners bring to the top for consumers around the world.  Since the San Jose' mine was a copper mine, Aronson also goes into detail not only about the history of copper and its uses, but also incorporates a pictures of the small town of Copiapo, where the miners and their families lived. 
Aronson also gives the reader information on the psychology of the miners, and how they were able to stay months underground without any mental or physical damage to themselves or others, which is the true miracle in and of itself. 

Images are always a great part of the storytelling, and Aronson incorporates some powerful images, including an aerial view of a diamond mine in Alberta Canada, to the very first note that was pulled up from the miners when the first hole was punched through over 13 days later.  Diagrams of the drilling, pictures of the Chilean desert...they are all there to show how bleak this disaster could have become but thankfully didn't.  The world and its humanity pulled it out to make these men come back to life. 

Finally, the afterword is a must read for all librarians and/or teacher teaching research.  Aronson takes the reader through the process of researching and having to use the internet, which could definitely be something to share with students as they begin the reading process.  This author is always insightful, interesting, and intelligent.  This is an easy book to read, with only 111 pages to the story and afterward, but I agree with Aronson.  It'll make readers run to the computer searching for more.  I know I did.  Highly recommended for JH/HS

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Variant by Robison Wells

HarperTeen, 2011
Benson has lived in over thirty foster homes in the Pittsburgh area.  He's tired of it all, and wants out, wants some normalcy.  That's why he was so surprised when Ms. Vaughn came.  Filling out a scholarship to Maxfield Academy on his own, Benson was happy to learn he had been accepted and now he and Ms. Vaughn were on their way there.

As they pull up to this prestigious school, Benson is filled with anticipation.  Within the first hour there, he knows something is not right.  The door that closed behind him was locked.  Becky, the first person he met for initiation, is acting strangely.  And the kids beating on the windows?  What was that all about?

It doesn't take long for Benson to realize that he's trapped.  There are no teachers, no adults.  Just three factions of teens - Society, whose members run security; Havoc, whose members run the cafeteria; and Variant....those that do the maintenance.  Benson is being coerced to join Society and Havoc, but he places himself in Variant's group, all the while planning on how to get out....

Stories begin to emerge about those that try to escape.  No one ever has, according to those that have been at Maxfield Academy the longest.  But why would anyone want to leave?  They have food, warmth, education, which is much better than being in foster care or homeless.  But it doesn't dissuade Benson from plotting, even if it means facing detention....which no one ever comes back from.  But how to escape?  There are cameras everwhere, and the schedules vary - sometimes going to class at 7 am, sometimes at 10 am. Big brother is watching and listening to every action and word.  The Iceman is always there, handing out punishments and rewards on-screen, knowing exactly what's happening.  Benson has no escape.  Until.....

Lord of the Big Brother.  Wells serves out an excellent YA novel with twists and turns that the readers won't expect in a science fiction novel.  Wells's writing will take you from the first page to the last with a big surprise right when you least expect it.  He creates a dystopian world set in the real world, call it a world within a world, and provokes the reader to either love of hate those who want to stay or go.  For those guys who want a great thriller comparable to Kevin Brooks' Being, be sure to put this one in their hands.  This is just the first in a trilogy, and I can't WAIT for the next one (I have a love/hate relationship with cliff hanger endings)!!!!  Recommended for high school.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Kill You Last by Todd Strasser

Shelby lives a privileged life.  She drives a Jeep, shops whenever and wherever, and has a father who adores her.  Her best friend Roman and she are inseparable and it seems like they always have been - through the good times, through the bad times.  And it's about to get worse for Shelby.

Shelby's father, a photographer, has been called in question for two missing models whom Shelby's dad was the last to see after a portfolio session with each one.  What makes it worse is that Shelby's father already has a rather skeezy reputation with young models, which puts him and Shelby's mother at odds with each other.  But they continue to stay married, Shelby's mother hanging onto hope that her husband will leave it all behind.

Not only has her father been called in for questioning, but weird emails begin to come in, threatening Shelby,
"I like you Shelby Sloan.  if  I have to kill you, I'll kill you last."
At first, she ignores them but they keep coming, offering tidbits of information no one else could possibly know.  She tells her parents, her best friend, and now they're afraid for Shelby's life as well.

Who could it be from?  It seems the only person Shelby can trust is Roman, but can she?  What about Gabriel, the ex-model who now works for her father?  Or could it be Whit, a reporter who tries too hard to be Shelby's friend, but only wants to scoop?

This latest mystery from Strasser will have you on the edge of your seat as you read this another excellent book in a trilogy of mysteries from this author.  A fast page-turner, the reader will connect instantly with Shelby all the while trying to fathom what is going on and who is the murderer.  For those of you who enjoy this genre, you will NOT be disappointed.  In my opinion, this is the best of the three.  It looks like Strasser hit the high note with this latest one.  Recommended.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Bad Taste in Boys by Carrie Harris

Publisher:  Delacorte Press, 2011
Kate Grable is a good girl.  She doesn't party, she does well in school, she knows what she's going to do in the future.  She has a best friend, Rocky, who is Kate's opposite - beautiful, talented, loved by everyone.  And to help supplement her career as a physician someday, Kate works with the football team as the manager as well as assists her teacher in a lab at school.

The trouble begins when Kate finds out that Coach has been giving the players steroids.  She decides to take matters into her own hands and get rid of the steroids, but before she can it's too late.  There's something in the vials that aren't what they seem, and soon most of the players, including Mike, the caveman, handsy one, are spewing black stuff from their mouths are turning the color of stinky cheese...and they are beginning to smell like them too.  And it all happens at the first party of the year.

Kate, who usually doesn't go, ends up going with Rocky, but when things go awry, she doesn't know who to turn to.  But quarterback Aaron does, and he turns to Kate for answers, as well as a date.  But are romance and zombies a good mix, or will Kate have to make a decision about her love life because of contamination?

If you've read serious books for awhile, pick this one up for a great refreshing read of humor, romance and zombies.  Harris takes a subject that has been on the forefront for awhile, but gives it a zippiness and gallows humor that makes it stand apart from other zombie books.  Harris's character run the gamut of typical teens from the cheerleader to the quarterback to the overly hormonal littler brother Kate has to deal with.  The adults only add to the books whimsy.  Fans of zombies will enjoy it as will girls who enjoy romance.  It's got a great cover too!  Recommended for JH/HS

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

Publisher:  G.P, Putnam's Sons, 2011
Rory was raised in a small town in Louisiana, but that doesn't mean her aspirations are small.  Before her senior year, her parents are offered a position in England, and Rory jumps at the chance to go to school there and soak in all of the culture.  And off  she goes to Hawthorne to live out her English adventure.  It's there that she meets her roommate Jazza as well as the handsome Jerome from the boys' school.  Rory tells them stories about her crazy family and their weird habits.  In turn, Jerome fills Rory in on the latest...the new Ripper killings...

Despite all of the security cameras in the city of London, a murderer is successfully killing people and Londoners as well as visitors are very much into Ripper-mania.  But not Rory and Jazza.  Both find it creepy, but it gets worse when a murder takes place near their school.  When lockdown begins for students, Rory's curiousity gets the better of her.

What she finds out is that she has a unique ability none of her friends have.  It's a gift she never knew she had until she came to London.  People she sees aren't necessarily the people others can see.  The murderer knows Rory has this gift, and now he's after her to stop her from finding out who he is and what he wants.

Talk about a mashup!  Johnson has done a fantastic job of creating a murder mystery book full of the supernatural as well as romance.  Readers of historical fiction will enjoy the book because of its setting and the intrigue of Old Lond and Jack the Ripper.  Others will enjoy it because of the ghostly presence and the gifts that Rory and other characters hold.  Mystery fans will read through this quickly to see who or what is killing people and why.  Recommended for JH/HS. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Tech Tool Twinkle - Just in time for the holidays!

Throughout this semester, I've been tooling around on the internet intermittently (try saying that three times in a row!) and found some wonderful new sites, some beta sites and  others your may know about already.  I thought I'd share them with you so if you get bored during the holidays, or if there's snow on the ground but your internet still works, these may be some things you'd like to incorporate into your transliteral world of co-teaching for the greater good of students, who seem to know more about social media than educational media online.

New Sites for Sore Eyes:
1. Projeqt - 
     This is a site du jour, where you can create the most visually beautiful presentations I've ever seen.  They call themselves the creative storytelling platform, and most certainly can be!  Find one of two themes you like, and start creating with your words and images.  Add sounds, RSS, twitter feeds, video and more.  Recommended that you watch the video tutorial first

2. Jux -
Beautiful presentations can be made here using a variety of settings to create a unique slideshow.  Create and mash together from six different templates from slide show, to video, to a top 10 list.  The images you place in your presentation will stretch throughout the entire slide...that's the only caveat to this site

3. Tripline -
This could be such a powerful tool for all curricular levels.  You map out a trip, and add details and the trip becomes interactive.  Includes nice music you won't have to download.  Think of the possibilities with this one!  This is also an app for iphone. 

4. Stixy -
This is an alternative to glogster - not as showy, but that's what makes this a quality site.  You can add photos, notes, documents (ie Word, Excel PDF), a to-do list and a calendar.  Website addresses become links.  Easy to use with younger students, but the simple template makes it pleasing. 

5. Popplet -
This bulletin-board type site is set to show off your creations from photos of a project to creating a flowchart of ideas that sync together.  You can use this alone or ask others to create with you.  The user can organize each "popple" by height, width, columnar or vertical as well as use multiple links to map each popple created.  Choose colors, add links and images....this is a great tool that can be used with ease. 

Two others I'm demo-ing:
9Slides -  Right now, it's in the beta stage and I'm on the list to test it, but haven't been successful is creating one yet.  In short, this is a mashup of video and powerpoint.  Looks to have potential

Masher -  Another interesting video creation site online.  Easy to use, it mimics moviemaker. 

So, here are some virtual jingle treats for you.  Enjoy!!