Thursday, August 11, 2016

Salt to the Sea -- A Novel Study

Thirty-three years after the sinking of the Titanic, which claimed over 1,500 lives, came the loss of another passenger ship.  This one may have claimed over 9,000 lives.  Yet we never hear about this significant tragedy with its loss of life.

It was the Wilhelm Gustloff, which went down in the Baltic Sea on January 30, 1945.  On board were German soldiers as well as civilians who were escaping from the Soviet Army as they marched across Lithuania and East Prussia.  

Ruta Sepetys has created a novel that will bring this event out of relative obscurity.  It is called Salt to the Sea.  In this novel, there are four main characters and their stories are told together in alternating short chapters.  Joana is a Lithuanian woman who has been trained as a nurse.  She has a family connection to the characters in Sepetys other historical fiction story, which is called Between Shades of Gray.  Florian is East Prussian and has been working as a apprentice to the art conservator in Konigsberg and is carrying something in his pack that he will not let out of his sight.  Emilia is a young Polish girl with a secret of her own.  And Alfred is a German youth who has been drafted very late in the war to serve as a sailor in the Kriegsmarine. He dreams of glory that is unlikely to come his way.  

This is such an important and interesting book and it deserves to be studied and enjoyed.  So I've created a novel study that might help teachers and homeschoolers to work with this book.  

Salt to the Sea - A novel study has a lot of content, including: 

-- A character tracker that invites students to reflect upon the three different types of literary conflict and potentially write an essay sharing their findings, 
-- An information skills lesson that helps students to identify an author's purpose in publishing Web information, 
-- Discussion or essay questions
-- And a comprehension quiz,

It also has a Google Earth Tour Builder lesson that brings to life the journey of these four characters.  You can access this Tour Builder for free. 

And because it is so much easier to teach something when students have a something to help them orient their learning, I have created a FREE Google Doc lesson with a location chart as well as an answer key. Feel free to view, make a copy, and use. 

Salt to the Sea

Salt to the SeaSalt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Chronicling the end of World War II and a massive catastrophe that has been overlooked in history, this story follows four individuals and some of their companions as they band together in the hopes of surviving and reaching safety. Florian is a Prussian with a secret that he keeps in his pack, Joana is a Lithuanian girl who has become a nurse, Emilia is a Polish girl who is carrying secrets of her own and Alfred is a German sailor who has been drafted very late in the war.

I picked up this book after one of my students said that it made her cry and I decided that it was exactly what I needed to enjoy on a rainy day in May. It didn't disappoint. All the characters are real and you will feel for their struggles. The cover art of empty life preservers floating on a choppy sea makes you realize that many of them are likely doomed in some way or another.

In the end, it is a hopeful book that I was glad to have read.

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Saturday, August 6, 2016

The Memory BookThe Memory Book by Lara Avery

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Senior debater and valedictorian-to-be Sammie discovers that she has a rare genetic disease called Niemann-Pick and that she is likely to develop systems of dementia, mental retardation, seizures and --eventually-- death. This is completely against Sammie's plans of college at NYU after graduation and an eventual career as a lawyer. Even as she struggles against the diagnosis, she decides to create a memory book, which she writes for her future self as a way to relate what is important. She types the memory book onto a laptop and it becomes a diary of how the disease tries to break her and how she attempts to fight back.

In her corner, she has her mom and dad, three younger siblings, a childhood best friend who she has grown apart from in high school, and a crush that has recently returned to her small town in New Hampshire from New York City. She also has a poster of feminist icons in her room who she selects to help her focus on her goal of beating this disease.

The reader gets clues from her parents, local doctor and Mayo Clinic specialist on speakerphone that Sammie is not going to beat this and that at some point she is going to have to accept this as well.

By this time, I was expecting to go through the whole emotional process of Sammie turning into a drooling vegetable, stuck in a hospital bed by the end of the book. What I didn't expect was just how much Sammie would continue and how her personality would evolve throughout the book. Very occasionally, Sammie gives control of the keyboard over to another character so you get some outside perspective on her as well.

Readers who like very real stories about rare medical situations like Last Leaves Falling by Sarah Benwell, None of the Aboveby Gregorio and Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon will like this book. This book could easily be considered a downer and I could see readers shying away from it because it seems like it would be too sad. I think that this would be a mistake. The book has some really funny points and there's definitely some good romantic moments in it as well.

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Tuesday, August 2, 2016

These Shallow GravesThese Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I assumed the wrong thing from the cover of this book. I thought that it would be a modern mystery thriller with a main character unearthing dead bodies in the middle of the night. I was so wrong. It's a Victorian mystery thriller with a weathly female main character who unearths dead bodies in the middle of the night and also falls in love with an unsuitable boy who is not in her high society world and visits a lot of inappropriate places in New York City without her mother knowing.

Josephine is the girl and her father has recently been found dead from a gunshot wound. The family initially believes that he committed suicide but Jo soon learns the truth from a young medical student who works at the morgue and has started to learn forensic science. That might be the best part of the whole book; when he starts to describe bodies in the morgue using forensic science techniques.

Anyway, I love murder mysteries set in Victorian times and this one was fully entertaining, if pretty predictable. I think that fans of romance and historical fiction will like this one a great deal. I appreciated the fact that it had some gritty elements to it. There's even an insane asylum called "Darkbriar" because nothing is scarier than being locked up in an insane asylum when you are still in your right mind.

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Monday, August 1, 2016

Trying to make sense of video streaming for schools and libraries

My school recently went through a long process of trying to figure out whether we should continue paying for a subscription database for streamed media.  I wrote about it in my column on VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocates) Electronic Eye August 2016.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Fine Motor Skills - Dots Around the Country

My son and I are continuing to work on his handwriting skills this summer and we've created this tracing workbook that features sights from all of the 50 United States!  We are calling it "Dots Around the Country" since there are dots embedded into each one of the pictures.  We use a metallic Sharpie marker to complete each dot picture as well as the handwriting ruled title for each.  There is also a small caption at the bottom of each picture that describes it in some way.

It's a rather simple idea but my son and I have not found nearly enough tracing practice out there on the World Wide Web and very little that appeals to him as an eight-year-old getting ready for third grade.  He loves travel and helped me choose the locations!

Dots Around the Country is available on my Teachers Pay Teacher's Web store for only two dollars! That's like 4 cents a state.
Amelia Earhart: The Mystery SolvedAmelia Earhart: The Mystery Solved by Marie K. Long

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have been on an Amelia Earhart kick lately ever since I read Amelia Lost by Candace Fleming. Here I thought that I had learned everything that there was to know about this brilliant flyer by reading lots of biographies of her as a child. She is definitely a person that people use with children to celebrate all kinds of different values.

But Candace Fleming and also the Longs' book paints a somewhat different picture and more complex picture of the woman. After reading both, there is little doubt in my mind that she was incredibly brave and an amazing risk taker and definitely knew how to fly a plane long distances. One of the more challenging aspects of long distance flying was figuring out how to make the fuel last and there were things that a pilot could do to "lean" the mixture and she seemed quite adept at that.

This book by Marie K. Long and Elgen Long, who was a former flyer who often had to fly over Howland Island when he was in the Navy, reveals something that I think is shocking.

She didn't know Morse code. And her navigator didn't either!

Maybe that isn't so shocking to you. After all, Earhart had a radio and did communicate with ground radio stations using her voice almost all the way around the world. But here's the problem. The Itasca, which was the Naval ship tasked with helping her to find and land on Howland Island, her two-mile wide Pacific Island refueling stop, assumed that she did and they had a plan to help her use her radio detection finder to locate it using a Morse code frequency. Even days after she disappeared, many people in the Navy still tried to communicate with her using Morse code.

In this book, Elgen and Marie Long have come up with a solution to the mystery of Amelia's disappearance that makes sense to them based on what they know about her radio, her fuel reserves, and the weather on that day and they make a very compelling scientific argument about where we can find Amelia today.

The book was published several years ago and, so far, no one seems to have taken them up on looking for her in the place where her plane might be.

The book was sometimes a bit of a slog because of the amount of technical information that has to be shared in order for the final solution to make sense but I was immersed in it, especially learning more about how challenging it was to attempt to fly in and out of all the different countries that she had to visit. There were times when she had to be concerned with outrunning a typhoon or how soggy a landing strip was. There were times when she had to be concerned with how to get a part to fix her plane before she could take off again.

Adventurous and will shine a light on the real Amelia Earhart, who might be a bit different from the Earhart that we think we know.

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