Friday, August 28, 2015

The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart

The Honest Truth,9780545665735After reading R.J. Palacio's Wonder I thought that I would be hard-pressed to find a middle grade novel that would affect me as profoundly as that one did. Boy was I wrong. The Honest Truth moved me to tears on a few occasion and is a fine debut novel indeed.

It is always terrible to read about someone suffering from an incurable disease.. When the someone is a kid however it is many times worse. Books such as Wonder feature the protagonist having to deal with the quotidian effects on their family. Where Gemeinhart's novel differs from those is that the protagonist takes his destiny into his own hands.

Mountains symbolize so many things for different people. Some folks like the peace and serenity. Others ponder their life and still others think of the sense of accomplishment. For Mark, the protagonist of the story, climbing Mt. Rainier will perhaps be all of those things as well as being one of the few things that he will have control over.

Running away is not advisable even if one were a healthy kid much less one suffering with a serious illness. For Mark, a young boy travelling in harsh terrain in the dead of winter, the journey is even more treacherous. Armed with meager supplies, his trusty pooch Beau and an unshakable will he presses on. As a parent, I could well understand how worried his parents were but at the same time after learning about all he had gone through in his short life I was definitely rooting for him to complete his quest.

This novel is a good story in that it does not have a happy ending in the true sense of the term. Also readers of different ages may derive differing meanings from the text. The novel made me ponder my own life and my many responsibilities. I admire Mark for throwing caution to the wind because sometimes in life one must take risks in order to achieve great things. The Honest Truth  is a fine read for grades 4 and above.

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Fire Children by Lauren Roy

The Fire Children by Lauren Roy (new YA fantasy) 1 day 13 hours ago #1Throughout history people have worshiped different faiths and carried out acts such as human sacrifice and temple building to appease their gods.  What if a god actually came to earth?  What if you could talk to the god or dance with him?  Lauren Roy explores just this in The Fire Children.

    Set in an ancient civilization in what I am guessing is somewhere in the Middle East, Yulla lives with her older sister Kell and their loving parents. The girls work hard to help their parents with the many chores. There is another reason too...the Darktimes will soon be upon them.

True to its name during this time the people go below ground after leaving offerings for the gods. Yulla gets tired of living in utter darkness and begins to explore the underground caverns. She discovers something she is not meant to see and she meets a fire  child called Ember. They don't get long to make pleasantries for they soon find themselves working together to rescue the rest of his siblings from an evil force.

The teenage years are usually when we begin to look at the world differently so I think it is no coincidence that Yulla meets Ember at this stage of her life. She is too old for the stories her elders tell but she is still a firm believer in the codes of conduct. Thus at first she is unsure of just how to interact with this being who is made of heat.  He is a child of the sun but he is not invincible however for there are some evil people who want to annihilate all of his kind.

When I picked this book up I was wondering if a story about children made out of fire could go well and I was pleasantly surprised. Roy does a fantastic job of creating a world that draws you right in and the mythology is entirely believable. This book is not as action-packed as some others but it is still a very good read. The Fire Children is a story of redemption, forgiveness, family and first love. I recommend it for tweens and above.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Learn español with music!

I used to be a Spanish teacher and I was fortunate to have a smartboard with huge speakers which I would use to blast tunes for my kids. Over the years I found that kids of all ages liked to listen to and sing along with music. The younger kids like bright, funny videos with simple lyrics while the older students, especially after studying the language for a few years could handle slightly more nuanced songs.

Some Spanish teachers start by teaching every one the alphabet. If you are looking for a good vid for that I recommend this one by PreRaph. The singer's voice isn't the most melodic but this song is extremely catchy and I also like that it also breaks down the vowel sounds as well.

There are many ways to say Hello in English and just as many ways to do so in Spanish. This video from Plaza Sesamo (a version of Sesame Street set in Mexico) introduces many ways to say hello with a catchy song that little ones are sure to be singing for a while. With older students you can talk about the ways in which the phrases differ and the context.

Many young ones are kinestehic learners and let's face it, Spanish class has to have a little fun every now and again right?  A good way to teach verbs in a way the students are sure to remember is through a song where the singers or characters do the actions. I am yet to meet a child who did not engage with the vid below. It is a winner.

For the basic greetings and daily phrases I like this video. It shows the words on the screen which is always a good thing.

For other vocabulary I like this video because not only does it show the body parts but the song is also catchy. There is also a karaoke version on Youtube.

In terms of conversation and dialogue between characters this next set of videos are fantastic. This one is created by PBS and features a tween called Noah who has many zany adventures due to his inability to fully comprehend Spanish.

This series was featured on HBO Latino several years ago but thanks to the interwebs it has gained new life. Perro (dog) y gato (cat) are two friends who speak in English and Spanish to each other as they go on zany adventures. Each episode teaches a variety of vocabular (verbs, nouns, adjectives) and the words are shown in English and Spanish so that is good.

That's all for now, I will post some more of my favorites in the next few months.  Hasta luego!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Back to School crafts

Believe it or not summer is over and the kiddos are going back to school. For the little ones, the first few days are usually spent teaching the rules, getting to know each other and practicing routines.

Some teachers incorporate crafts into those first days because it helps build hand muscles that will be used to practice writing letters and numbers later on. I have scoured the web to find some crafts that will appeal not only to teachers but also to homeschoolers, librarians and those of that ilk.

I did the pencils below last week at craft hour and they were delightful. Parents and kids alike found them to be very cute and of course they can be personalized to suit individual desires. In the pic below the pencil tip is drawn on but I glued a piece of construction paper onto the pallet stick and used a sharpie to color the tip and it looked just fine.


For tomorrow's craft I plan to decorate pencils and pens with yarn, here are two of the samples that I have to show. I added the pom poms as a pièce de résistance!

Pencil toppers are always a nice idea and you can use chenille sticks and any number of materials. But I found these pretty simple crafts using craft foam, scissors, glue and some markers.

Crafts aren't only for little ones however and for this craft you can get older kids to help out although I think that when they see the colorful duct tape they will want to dive right in. I have seen duct tape wallets, pouches, bracelets and such but this duct tape lanyard is perfect for kids who may have to have keys, school ids and such within easy reach (somehow putting things in bookbags doesn't always work). These simple duct tape lanyards are useful, colorful and original.

Often on social media I see parents post pics of their little ones holding signs saying "I'm a 4th grader" etc so I wanted to find some cool signs since I myself am thinking about doing that this year with my two sons. This link has a ton of  them in all colors and some can be customized as you like. Be careful however as it is easy to spend an hour or more just browsing. Until next time, happy crafting!

Friday, August 7, 2015

My Brother is a Superhero by David Solomons

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Any serious comic book aficionado can probably tell you the backstory of most of the main superheroes and probably a few of the other lesser known ones as well so well known is the mythology behind these fictional characters. The proliferation of summer blockbuster films has also helped propel the characters into the zeitgeist.

In some of the superhero-themed novels I have read, the main character acquires some sort of superpower and then has to learn to use it but My Brother is a Superhero however is different because, true to the title, the main character's older brother is the one given powers.

Luke is an ordinary kid who likes comic books a whole lot. He hangs out with Serge, a French kid who is always hungry. Life is normal for him until one night when while hanging out in their tree house his older brother Zack is given super powers.  As if that wasn't bad enough, Zack gets really cool powers and he soon turns into the city's hero despite the fact that (in Luke's mind anyway) his chosen name of Star Guy is kinda lame.

Soon however two things derail Star Guy. One is a mysterious force called Nemesis who he must defeat and two, he may have super powers but in school he is just a regular fourteen year old kid who is tongue-tied when it comes to talking to girls.  Luke, though younger is able to one-up his brother in this regard as he soon starts hanging out with their junior reporter neighbor.

Solomons does a good job of balancing the superhero stuff with the other story threads. The result is a book that has it all-action, laughs, sibling rivalry and a generous sprinkling of superhero trivia. This was a great little read and I recommend it for ages 9+.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Foam Crafts

Last week in our craft hour I decided to do a simple foam craft with various foam shapes glued on to foam rectangles that I cut. I decided to make them small so the kids would have to maximize  their effort and also because I knew that a large surface would have taken longer to fill. I wanted to strike a balance between the kids having just enough fun without being overwhelmed and getting frustrated.  I kept it simple and used:
1. foam shapes   2. foam squares  3. glue  4. scissors                                                                         

My son made this creation to show his love for all things ninja turtle. He did way more cutting than I thought he would; he actually cut a piece of another larger foam bit to make the bo staff and he cut the TMNT letters as well.  I love how he made the shell out of a circle and then wrote Donatello on some small foam pieces.  I don't expect a younger child to be able to do this craft without some serious help but I just wanted to show what can be achieved with just the right bit of ingenuity. Bear in mind too that he is right at that age where he is still interested in doing crafts; I know that soon he will begin to view them as ¨baby stuff¨.

Here are some other simple designs we came up with. These are all things that can be done by a smaller child with perhaps just a small bit of grown up help for the gluing part. Remember that crafts such as this one are a good way for preschoolers and young kids to build fine motor skills.  Notice that the creations below are made with shapes; there were foam animals and other creatures but I deliberately used shapes because I think that doing so forces little ones to use their imaginations more.

Until next time, happy crafting!