Books

Books for all ages

The Baseball Card Kid (kinda sorta)

Strangely enough, The Baseball Card Kid is much less about baseball and baseball cards than the cover art portrays. Even time traveling to 1912 seems likely to connect to some baseball, but it does not.

 Even without baseball, Osterweil sets up and executes a very readable and enjoyable action packed mystery. Perhaps his best writing is displayed in the episode aboard the luxury liner Titanic where the characters alter the course of history as the countdown to sideswiping an iceberg approaches.

The time travel gimmick works so well that Time Quest or Time Quest 2 might be a more appropriate title. The title fails and it misleads potential readers, but that can be overcome by talking about the fun and frustration shared by the characters. The time travel is fun, clever, and well planned to engage the reader’s mind well beyond the page. The characters possess the charisma to leap into almost any situation and emerge unscathed as evidenced by their encounter with a Transylvanian vampire. 

Add this book to a classroom or library bookshelf with confidence, but know that those searching for only baseball will not find it here.

 

3 of 5

 

John Parker

Media Coordinator

Andrews High School

50 HS Drive

Andrews, NC 28901

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Need a Pet Sitter? Try Max

Julie Sykes’ The Pet Sitter series offers a pleasant transition from the world of mundane chores. Readers who are searching for their first career moves will do well to consider the adventure filled world of pet sitting. The mishaps, difficulties and responsibilities encountered with routine pet sitting duties make for more than interesting reading. Whether caring for a witch’s cat or an inventor’s dormouse, the books should offer a fun-filled experience for most readers in second through fourth grades.

Nathan Reed’s illustrations help the reader develop a sense of the story, but they also enlarge the characters and their escapades. There is no doubt in the reader’s mind that they are dealing with fictional characters, but these characters exhibit many of the same joys and frustrations that accompany childhood. The consistency of the illustrations across the series also breeds familiarity with the main character, Max, and the styles of animation that children are accustomed to viewing on television. The cover art reinforces those media connections and that makes the series have great shelf appeal.

The playful series would be a good candidate for classroom and elementary libraries. Communities that are hypersensitive to witches, wizards, and spells might want to avoid Tiger Taming.  On the other hand, books that kindle the imagination are always dangerous and this series delivers.

4 out of 5

John Parker
Media Coordinator
Andrews High School
50 HS Drive
Andrews, NC 28901

www.slamguy.wordpress.com

Little Oink Is Not A Nasty Pig

Little Oink does not make much noise because he is the anti-pig. Instead of the stereotypical ham he is a neatnik, and that is such a contradiction that it makes for a nice diversion.  Little Oink may or may not be the favorite book of parents or adults because it might remind them of their own litter.  Young children should identify with the character and will certainly be able to draw some comparisons of their own.  Everyone will applaud the ending.

 

The illustrations are bright, intriguing and well organized to accompany the cleverly written text. The movement of the illustrations and the ample use of plain white pages reinforce the cleanliness of Little Oink even when he is trying to be messy.

 

The best uses of this book are likely to be in homes, daycares, and pre-kindergarten classrooms because of the subject and the topic. In its most basic form Little Oink is a concept book that will receive occasional use.  One possible extension might include the book as part of a larger unit on pigs. Everyone needs to know why pigs like mud, right? Pigs need to wallow in the mud to stay cool because they do not have sweat glands. Read this book aloud with some children and see if it stirs up a stink in your neighborhood.

 

John Parker

Media Coordinator

Andrews High School

50 HS Drive

Andrews, NC 28901

Donors Choose Teachers Win

In these lean days it is imperative that teachers are equipped to provide resources for important classroom projects. Recently two colleagues have had projects funded through donorschoose.org.  This ororganization gives educators a chance to pitch their proposals to a wide variety of potential donors.

The network of donors is extensive and applicants are sure to find someone with a heart for their project. Sometimes, one donor will provide all that is needed while larger projects may utilize multiple donors and matching gifts.

The application process is fairly straight forward and guided. Applicants with a project in mind can usually complete the process within thirty minutes or less.

Requests can be made for books, technology, and even some field trips. Low wealth and rural schools often receive priority from many donors. As one might expect, hot-button projects dealing with the environment, literacy, and college preparation make many appearances on the list.

One strategy employed by my colleagues is to develop a proposal that hovers around $400. For more tips and information make sure to review some proposals that have received funding on the web site.

Sssh! Secret Keeper

The Secret Keeper is a nice introductory piece for those wanting to explore the mysteries of the land that lies between the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal. The form of the story is not foreign, but some of the conflicts that arise might not be so familiar to all readers. The idea of the next living male relative taking responsibility for the family is not totally unfamiliar. The basic story could be lifted out of this setting and put into another culture. The results could be the same, but the journey would take a few different turns.  The ability for a story to be able to cross cultural boundaries says a lot about the basic ideas behind the writing. Mitali Perkins is able to make that happen.

 

One element that always hangs in the balance with books set in another culture is the decision to include or omit various concepts, traditions, and vocabulary. Their use adds color and brings a sense of authenticity that is often unachievable by any other means. What does not work well is to depend solely on a glossary or appendix to provide such details. Perkins uses both, but only as an additional resource at the end of the text. Although preferences vary, finding a way to embed this extra information in the text would have been sufficient.

 

A decent story with some cultural information is what one should expect from this book. Creative teachers might develop the family issues and even find a way to share the book with an entire class. Other possible uses include an investigation into gender roles in sports and education.

 

Add this book with confidence, but be prepared to talk it up among students to get them started.

 

A Weak 4 Out of a Possible 5

 

John Parker

Media Coordinator

Andrews High School

Andrews, NC  28901

 

www.slamguy.wordpress.com

Chanetel’s Quest: Join Now

Some kids really enjoy fantasy, and I guess they always will. They can entertain the complex relationships and organize the worlds in which the characters interact with ease. And then there are the rest of us, who often feel alienated by the genre. We often carry our own preconceived notions of dragons and sword-wielding-do-gooders to the page with us. And if you have read one of these series then you have read them all, right? Wrong.

 

Chantel’s Quest for the Golden Sword should satisfy any reader. It does not take long to get into the plot. The casual reader should be involved by the time they turn the first page. The action is necessary, but not overly descriptive, and the story stands on its own as a well-conceived literary piece.

 

Oliver Neubert has provided the beginning of a series that should attract boys and girls that may not necessarily gravitate to this type of literature. Once landing in Neubert’s four worlds the readers might develop a quick affinity for Chantel and her compatriots. 

 

Any story involving a quest usually is filled with much deeper meaning related to self-discovery. This book is no exception to the rule. Neubert uses light and dark skillfully to examine the human spirit and his characters have some profound statements about the choices we make on a daily basis. According to Chantel,“I don’t have to run any longer. I will not accept this future. I know who I am.” It is this type of resolve when coupled with failure makes characters both believable and identifiable. These are characters that can lead us into an examination of our own world and how we can better engage it.

 

Older elementary and middle school students will find the book most appealing, but do not be surprised to see a high school student or adult picking up this new series. Be willing to discuss the book with the students on a moral level and be ready for them to make comparisons with the other literature they read. Or better yet, let your students see you reading this book.

 

5 of 5

 

John Parker

Media Coordinator

Andrews High School

50 HS Drive

Andrews, NC 28901

 

http://www.slamguy.wordpress.com

Poetry SlamGuy Style

Poetry does not seem as popular as it once was in schools. For that matter, creative writing in most forms does not exist like it did in the days before high stakes testing. Enter Lois Lowry and Gooney Bird Is So Absurd. 

 

Lowry has written a gem that is multi-faceted and should be required reading for all those who plan on spending time in an elementary school. Not only does Lowry create memorable characters, but she consistently creates characters that reflect an innate love for learning.  Mrs. Pigeon, the teacher of Goony Bird’s second grade class reflects the qualities of a master teacher that integrates the curriculum with life, and does so with great sensitivity and respect. Only a Mrs. Pigeon could make poetry so enjoyable for her kids.

Teachers like Mrs. Pigeon also inspire learners beyond the formal setting. The second grade class understands that and delivers a memorable multi-voiced performance as a tribute to Mrs. Pigeon’s mother whose own poetry had served as an example for many of the students’works.

Poetry needs creative teachers who embrace poetry for the sake of poetry and know that everyone has the heart of a poet. Add this book to the classroom collection, but better yet, read it aloud to your class and enjoy the lines of poetry that will be created as a result. The book is that instructive and inspiring.

 

6 out of 5 – It’s that good

John Parker

Media Coordinator

Andrews High School

Andrews, NC  28901

 

www.slamguy.wordpress.com

 

How Music Saved a Life

Music may not make the world go around, but it does provide many people with a connection that cannot be broken.  It is this type of strategy that Arn Chorn-Pond used to survive the violence of the Khmer Rouge. It is the many facets of music that Arn still uses to reconnect an entire culture of musicians to their heritage.

 

A Song for Cambodia tells Arn’s story as a child exposed to the ravages of living in Cambodia and a refugee camp during the Vietnam War. It is a story replete with images crafted by Shino Arihara that amplify Michelle Lord’s inviting text. To learn about Arn’s journey is to learn about the plight of the Cambodian people under the Pol Pot reigme. Fortunately, the story is not just Arn’s, but that of the triumph of the human spirit and the importance of music for sustaining the fight.

 

While young readers might not always be held captive by the story, they will certainly develop a sense of basic human rights that includes a great emphasis on the preservation of culture. A Song for Cambodia’s best use may be as part of a unit on human rights, or that of music around the world. Or perhaps it might be part of a biographical sketch on a current person who is making a difference in saving the music. General music teachers need to have this resource available along with the sounds of the khim and the khloy. Perhaps a website and a link from the publisher is in order?

 

It is important that children understand that music is more than just something encountered on an mp3 player. For Arn, music was literally his escape from a world that made little sense. It was more than a diversion; it was a connection to family, friends, and a culture that was violently changed by others. Music in all forms will continue to provide that possibility, but without the stories of the Arn Chorn-Pond the chances are diminished.

 

5 of 5

 

John Parker

Media Coordinator

Andrews High School

50 HS Drive

Andrews, NC  28901

 

www.slamguy.wordpress.com

The Evolving Marriage of Charles Darwin

Charles and Emma: The Darwin’s Leap of Faith tends to be less contentious and more readable than one might imagine. Aside from a jacket illustration that pits silhouettes of an ape and Charles against a cross bearing Emma, the book is relatively free of such obnoxious notions.

The writing style is comfortable and does focus on the relationship of Charles, Emma and their families. At times the book reads like Jane Austen, but that only lends authenticity to the voice that Heiligman is determined to expose.

 

The Darwins lived in a very different world; one much more severe in terms of its tolerance for religious ambiguity. It was a world fraught with sickness, tragedy, and little medical science. As a result, lives that were hanging in the balance would be treated with over the counter medications today. Similarly, breakthroughs in the life sciences seemed years away.

 

Readers young and old should enjoy this book, but they must be prepared for a challenge. They must be prepared for an intellectual challenge that will serve to strengthen their beliefs as they reconcile God and science. And challenges are good.  They help us deepen our understanding and commitment to the reasons that drive us as human beings.

 

The book focuses most of its energy on the relationship of Charles and Emma. To this end, it was most successful and entertaining. As a broader biographical work the book also gives the reader some perspective for the times in which the Darwins lived.

 

Perhaps the single most impressive accomplishment of Charles and Emma is that it is a biography about a great scientist that should interest girls. In true Jane Austen fashion the story is resolved.

 

My grandson still thinks Heiligman’s best efforts were Fun Dog Sun Dog. But then again, he’s only three.  I kinda like it too, but I am imressed with anyone that can write well enough to please both of us.

 

4 out of 5

 

John Parker

Media Coordinator

Andrews High School

50 HS Drive

Andrews, NC  28901

Three Cups of Tea and Me

“Three Cups of Tea” might be a book that propels the reader into a broader and more enlightened view of the world; then again, maybe not.  There are few reasons not to like the book.  The jury has long since delivered its verdict. “Three Cups” provides adventure that ranges from alpine to urban. The story recounts one man’s struggle to make a difference, despite having little more than a vision that was incomplete. But, it is more.

 

The story could well be the story of most people and how they learn, or do not learn from their own experience. It is not a how-to manual for do-gooders, but Mortenson certainly shares some valuable insight about presenting his proposal in a variety of contexts.

 

Certainly, the story is about the power and necessity of literacy. That story is cross-cultural and it may not always play out in such exciting ways. However, it is just as necessary to realize that the need is not confined to a continent thousand of miles away. It exists in my school, town, and county where children do not have access to print materials in the home. Some have no access to materials in the school because of unavailability in their native languages.  Others have little desire and do not see the point because of generational deprivation.

 

What can we do? We can read “Three Cups” while asking the question, “How can I and this book make a difference in my community?” Is it trite to say that we need to think global and act local? We can buy this book, or one on a want list and donate it to a public or school library. We delight in accepting things from the community at Andrews High! We can be like Greg Mortenson and enlist the support of countless others to the cause. We can hope, because of the action we have taken together, that peace and justice will become a generational inheritance.

 

John Parker

Media Coordinator

Andrews High School

50 HS Drive

Andrews, NC  28901

 

The School Library and Media Guy

http://www.slamguy.wordpress.com