Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Review: Air Awakens

Air Awakens by Elise Kova.

Summary from Goodreads:

A library apprentice, a sorcerer prince, and an unbreakable magic bond...

The Solaris Empire is one conquest away from uniting the continent, and the rare elemental magic sleeping in seventeen-year-old library apprentice Vhalla Yarl could shift the tides of war.

Vhalla has always been taught to fear the Tower of Sorcerers, a mysterious magic society, and has been happy in her quiet world of books. But after she unknowingly saves the life of one of the most powerful sorcerers of them all—the Crown Prince Aldrik—she finds herself enticed into his world. Now she must decide her future: Embrace her sorcery and leave the life she’s known, or eradicate her magic and remain as she’s always been. And with powerful forces lurking in the shadows, Vhalla’s indecision could cost her more than she ever imagined.



Review

I will admit that I picked this up because it was about a library apprentice and that alone intrigued me, but I'm so glad I did. This book was so much more than I expected.

Air Awakens felt a bit like Avatar: The Last Airbender only in an academic setting, with the war off screen (so far). Sorcerers specialize in a specific element (fire, water, earth, air) and as such, are better at different sorts of magics. Sorcerers of air have been all but eradicated (sound familiar?) until now. Unlike Avatar, where the magic is given form by some seriously awesome Tai chi moves that would not translate very well into a novel, the magic of Air Awakens is brought about by concentration and lots and lots of practice. That said, one could argue that this series certainly pulls from Avatar but not enough to feel like a clone. This is very much a unique story. 

The characters are beautifully written, and the relationships are well rounded. For each one, there is much more than meets the eye. Vhalla's decision to either embrace her magic and become what she's always feared or remain safe in the library is something that plagues her throughout the book. What I loved is that she has the answers at her fingertips because she is a library apprentice (and yes, I'm biased since I'm a librarian) and so she can find more information on sorcery and what it means to have magic. However, even reading books about magic is considered taboo among her peers, and that brings a danger all of its own. The decision is not just something that effects her, but her relationships with her friends and with the kingdom as a whole. 

There is definitely much more going on in this world, and I'm very excited to read what happens to Vhalla next in the second book, Fire Falling. 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Review: Mermaid in Chelsea Creek

Mermaid in Chelsea Creek by Michelle Tea with illustrations by Jason Polan. 

Summary from Goodreads:

Everyone in the broken-down town of Chelsea, Massachusetts, has a story too worn to repeat—from the girls who play the pass-out game just to feel like they're somewhere else, to the packs of aimless teenage boys, to the old women from far away who left everything behind. But there’s one story they all still tell: the oldest and saddest but most hopeful story, the one about the girl who will be able to take their twisted world and straighten it out. The girl who will bring the magic.

Could Sophie Swankowski be that girl? With her tangled hair and grubby clothes, her weird habits and her visions of a filthy, swearing mermaid who comes to her when she’s unconscious, Sophie could be the one to uncover the power flowing beneath Chelsea’s potholed streets and sludge-filled rivers, and the one to fight the evil that flows there, too. Sophie might discover her destiny, and maybe even in time to save them all.


Review

I have been out of touch with YA and children's literature lately for a variety of reasons but recently I had a conversation with a fellow book lover and she mentioned this one so I ordered it through interlibrary loan to give it a try.

Mermaid in Chelsea Creek is a mix of magical realism and modern folktale rolled into one, and manages to mix the two beautifully. The illustrations are simple but charming, and suit the storytelling well. Sophie is a likable heroine with a strong voice, even as she struggles to figure out just who she is and what her purpose in life is to be. There is a great deal of responsibility that is heaped onto her shoulders, and her struggles with it are what you would expect.

My only real issue with the book is that the point of view switches from Sophie to other characters without warning and can be a bit jarring until you get used to it. It isn't difficult to tell whose head you're suddenly in, but I would have liked a bit of an acknowledgement that there had been a change, even if it had been just an additional space between the paragraphs. 

That said, I'm looking forward to book two, Girl at the Bottom of the Sea

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Review: 14 Cows for America

14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy, in collaboration with Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah and illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez.



Summary from Goodreads:

In June of 2002, a very unusual ceremony begins in a far-flung village in western Kenya.
An American diplomat is surrounded by hundreds of Maasai people. A gift is about to be bestowed on the American men, women, and children, and he is there to accept it. The gift is as unsought and unexpected as it is extraordinary.
A mere nine months have passed since the September 11 attacks, and hearts are raw. Tears flow freely from American and Maasai as these legendary warriors offer their gift to a grieving people half a world away.
Word of the gift will travel news wires around the globe. Many will be profoundly touched, but for Americans, this selfless gesture will have deeper meaning still. For a heartsick nation, the gift of fourteen cows emerges from the choking dust and darkness as a soft light of hope and friendship. 
Review
I came across it by chance and, because I was curious about the title, I sat down to read it. This is one of the most powerful children's books I have read in years. Beautifully illustrated and with a heart warming message, 14 Cows is a book that I believe should be in every classroom. A message of love and compassion from the Maasai people for Americans in response to the attacks on September 11th that proves that, even though we have so many differences, empathy can still exist and thrive between our people.
Even if you have not been affected directly by the events of September 11th, this story will still resonate strongly with you. Give it a try and I am sure that you will find it as beautiful as I did.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Making reading fun using The Hunger Games

For any and all teachers out there, check out this amazing website that contains lesson plans for making reading fun using contemporary young adult and children's novels in the classroom. Here is an introduction to Teach.com written by Michelle Manno.


Does popular fiction have a place in the classroom? How can we harness students’ interests to keep them engaged and active participants in their learning? We look to The Hunger Games.

The success of this young adult series is no secret. Now a multi-million dollar movie franchise, Collins’ stories of post-apocalyptic Panem have engaged readers of all shapes and sizes. Aside from the sci-fi trilogy’s entertaining moments, The Hunger Games Is also full of valuable teaching moments.

Teach.com and Hunger Games Lessons have partnered up to create “Sparking Their Interest – Engaging Students with The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” – a collection of creative teaching resources that demonstrate the important role of pop culture in education, providing innovative Common Core-aligned activities for using The Hunger Games in the classroom.

Hunger Games Lessons was created by Tracee Orman, a high school English teacher who immediately recognized the educational value of the series. Teach.com is an educational resource that is dedicated to the discovery and engagement of great teaching around the world. They work closely with USC Rossier Online, a top-ranked teacher preparation program from the University of Southern California, and are strong advocates of providing teachers with creative and innovative resources for teaching in the 21st century.

Aligning your curriculum with student interests is a key in keeping students motivated and engaged in the classroom. Integrating popular literature across content areas is a valuable teaching tool, allow students to strengthen their comprehension skills through material that is engaging and accessible. These skills are especially valuable under the Common Core Standards, which reinforce English-Language Arts skills in all subject areas.

Scroll through the guide and see how you can use The Hunger Games and popular culture in your classroom!

Sparking Their Interest-Engaging Students With Catching Fire

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Michelle Manno is an Associate Editor at Teach.com where she writes about education reform, disability advocacy, and pop culture pedagogy. Join the @teachdotcom community on Twitter.


I have looked through several of the lesson plans and, while I'm not a teacher, I know that I would have loved these class activities as a student instead of trying to understand how the book Great Expectations related to my life and why I should even care what Pip was going through. Take a look through the lesson plans and through the blog and I can guarantee you will find some new things to incorporate in your classroom. Happy hunting!
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