Sunday, August 29, 2010

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

Minli is a cheerful and warm-hearted girl, despite the life of poverty that she and her parents lead in their small village in China.  However, her mother’s dissatisfaction with their difficult life and her father’s stories inspire Minli to search for the Old Man in the Moon.  She hopes he will tell her how she can improve her family’s fortune.  On her journey, Minli meets a dragon who cannot fly, a poor boy whose only companion is an ox, a king, and a family who knows the secret to happiness.  Many of these characters share Chinese folktales that the author has rewritten for this book and skillfully woven in with the events of Minli’s journey.

Visit Grace Lin's web site for more information about the book, including a book trailer.

Monday, August 16, 2010

City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

I love coming to a series a bit late - I don’t have to wait so long for the next book!  Given that the library isn’t open at 11:30 on a Sunday night, I do have to wait a few hours to get the second book in Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series.

I just finished City of Bones, in which 15-year-old Clary Fray learns that there is much more to the world, and in fact to her own history, than she ever realized.  This is an extremely difficult book to describe because of its many surprises and plot twists.  Clary discovers the existence of a variety of supernatural folk in the world--demons, vampires, werewolves, etc.--along with humans with special abilities to see and fight these creatures when necessary.  A terrifying call from her mother pulls Clary into the hidden reality of these Downworlders and Shadow Hunters.

In Clary’s search to find her mother, she faces danger, romance, lies, and disturbing truths about the family she never knew.  It is that mix of adventure, flirtation, and shocking revelations, along with a healthy dose of snarky adolescent humor that makes this book so much fun to read.

Generally understood to be a “young adult” book and therefore marketed to teenagers, I think mature sixth-graders would enjoy it.  There is a sprinkling of expletives, mild sensuality, and considerable amounts of violence and gore.  The quality of the story-telling and values of the main character outweigh those factors, in my opinion.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Interacting with Electronic Text

As we get more and more information online, we need to be able to read and interact with electronic text more effectively.  Lately, I’ve been exploring two tools make that easier: Readability and Preview.
  • Readability is a little application that pares web sites down to readable text without distracting graphics.*  That text can be saved as a PDF file which can be saved to a hard drive.
  • Preview is a Mac application that allows us to annotate PDF files with highlighting and comments, etc.

Using Readability:

To save the text as a PDF, click on the printer button that appears on the left.  Instead of printing, though, click on the PDF button and Save as PDF.

Other ways to create PDFs:
Many educational web sites such as online encyclopedias and databases already have “Print” button that clears away clutter.  Three examples:

We can also copy text from a web site and paste it into a Pages document.  Then export the document as a PDF.

Interacting with PDFs using Preview:
We can open a PDF in Preview and then use the Annotation tools to highlight, comment, etc.

Potential uses:
  • Teachers could comment on written assignments students turn in without having to print them out.
  • Students could use a "talk to the text" strategy.
  • Students could identify various kinds of words or phrases in a passage: proper nouns, similes, words they don't know, especially interesting words.
  • While doing research, students could highlight the most important parts of the text before taking notes.

Share your ideas in the comments.  And let us know if you have a way of doing this with a PC.

*Is it just me, or is it ironic that we go to all this trouble to design attractive web pages and then cut out all those graphics to make them easier to read?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick

Image from
Orphan Homer P. Figg is a dandy of a liar. He uses this skill as best he can in a search for his older brother Harold who was sent off to fight in the Civil War.  Along the way, Homer is threatened by slave catchers, discovers a stop on the Underground Railroad, becomes the Amazing Pig Boy in a traveling medicine show, and more.  Will he find his brother before Harold is killed on the battlefield?  Read this book of humor, danger, and history to find out!

Teacher notes: Fun, quick read! Homer has a clear voice full of wonderful expressions.  His adventure engages the reader from beginning to end.  Along the way, readers get a sense of life during the Civil War and the Underground Railroad.  Scholastic has some useful related resources: a video book talk, teacher activity guide about the Underground Railroad, and an interactive students activity about the Underground Railroad.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

So You Want to be a Wizard by Diane Duane

Nita is being chased by bullies when she takes refuge in the public library.  Waiting for the bullies to leave, she runs across a book she’s never seen before: So You Want to be a Wizard.  Reading it, she isn’t sure whether it’s an elaborate joke or a true invitation to learn powers that could help her protect herself, talk to trees, and help Life in all its forms.  Once she gives the “Wizard’s Oath,” tries the suggested beginning exercises, and meets another beginning wizard Kit, she finds herself on an adventure that shows that wizardry is very much alive in the world.  And she’ll need it to rescue something precious that’s been hidden by a force of death, darkness and evil often called the Lone Power.  This is just the first book in a series of magic and adventure that will take readers to the depths of the ocean and the vastness of the universe.

Personal notes: The most recent book in the Young Wizards series, A Wizard of Mars, just came out this summer.  After reading it, I just had a hankering to reread the first book.


My instinct is to use this first post to share a rationale for this blog. I've been wanting a platform for sharing good books and online tools. Something with more room and permanence than Twitter. My likely audience is school media people* and teachers.

*We really need to settle on a name for ourselves: school librarians? Teacher librarians? Media specialists or coordinators? Or the lengthy school library media specialist? My students just call me their library teacher. Works for me.