Tuesday, August 14, 2018

You Choose Greek Myths The Epic Adventures of Odysseus

You may wonder why I keep choosing to review the You Choose series. I have no connection to the publishers or any of the authors. However, I do find the concept to be an intriguing one. Children exploring, history, mythology, and traditional tales and determining if any of their choices actually change the outcome of their stories. If they have the opportunity to write this kind of format would they make greater changes or would they realize it changes the books from learning opportunities to alternate history fantasies? It is a unique format and I'm continuing to enjoy exploring. Clearly if your child shows not interest I wouldn't suggest forcing the books. Equally, I wouldn't suggest You Choose as a curriculum. The books were never designed for that. However, they are an interesting support that allows students to look at situations just a little differently.

In this volume we explore the myth of Odysseus after the Trojan Horse on his way home to Ithaca. This is why I suggest these books are better as an add on than a curriculum. This book is far more interesting for students who know the story of Odysseus and how the story is supposed to happen. As one contemplates making choices, it is easier to see if any choices made will ultimately effect the story or is fate set, the fix is in so to speak. The first choice the reader is given is to choose which God to make an offering to as Odysseus heads home to Ithaca as a thanksgiving for having won and for a safe trip home. You can choose Poseidon, Athena, or Zeus. Those familiar with the story will understand the choices and may still have fun selecting a risky choice. However, being familiar they will also be more likely to understand the outcome of that choice as well.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales Big Bad Ironclad!

As I've mentioned in previous reviews graphic novels are not my favorite form of reading, but when written well they are an excellent means of motivating readers to explore information they might not be as readily interested in when presented in traditional print formats. This has led me to explore the Nathan Hale series to see how useful it would be to educators and parents looking for historical resources that would appeal to readers already interested in graphic novel formats.

Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales: Big Bad Ironclad!is the second book in the series and set in the Civil War. If you are familiar with the naval history of the Civil War than you can probably guess the subject matter of this book, if not the book is likely better read after having read a little bit about the topic as it jumps right in to the war and this part of the war quickly. While some students might adapt quickly without any background knowledge of this part of the war, it may leave others less interested.

The book brushes over Lincoln's election and the opening of the war and moves right into the Naval history of the Civil War. The book is unique in that most children's books on the Civil War focus heavily on land not on naval encounters beyond that referenced in the title of the clash between the Monitor and the Merrimac. The information is interesting, but I'm not sure if it is my challenge with the graphic novel format or the way I look for material to be laid out for students to process it, but it felt like there was lots of information just bursting out everywhere and not as organized as some of the other books in the series. The book is dense with factual information and it isn't stuff common to the topic for kids books, but it just was too dense and not as well laid out as I'd hoped. Again it could be my challenge with reading the graphic novel format, although I haven't had that problem with other titles in the series. The other titles flowed more smoothly and the information seemed to not burst out all at once but come out in an organized flow across the pages. Not sure I worded that well, but I walked away thinking this book was worth reading, but it took more effort than the other books I've read in the series.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

The Story of the First World War for Children 1914-1918

The Story of the First World War for Children: 1914-1918sets out to explain WWI in a child friendly format that actually makes it a good resource for many age groups.

What impressed me first was the two page spread that explains the origins of the war. This has often been my biggest complaint about children's books that cover wars. In an effort to make the material accessible to children the causes of any war, but specifically this one seem to be very vague and confusing.

Using small panels and lots of photographs this is the best of the books I've reviewed so far in discussing the origins of the war. I was amazed to see a small panel that goes back and explains the tensions between France and Prussia left from the Franco Prussian war and tying this to future alliances. I've rarely seen the Franco Prussian War mentioned in a children's book and it was wonderful to see them use it in a format that has such limited space.

I'm a huge fan of books that include relevant maps for children. Some are obscure and hard to read, thus are often ignored. This map laid out the alliances and neutral countries of Europe in 1914. The map is accompanied by text boxes that explain the alliances and why different countries were drawn to different alliances. I was impressed that the author managed to sum up the material in a child friendly format without over simplifying the material. The maps were tied directly to the information being presented and thus more likely to be read and used by parents, teachers, and students using the book to understand the physical relationships of the countries prior to the war

The book is set up in two page topical photograph spreads. The following topics are included Europe Divided, Gearing Up for War, The Peace is Shattered, Europe Goes to War, The British Army, The Fighting Begins, The Eastern Front, The Western Front, The French Army, Digging In, Trench Warfare, The Great Guns, The German Army, The Gallipoli Campaign, The War at Sea, War in Africa, Chemical Warfare, Italy Enters the War, War in the Air, 1916 A Year of Battles, The First Tanks, America Joins the War, 1917 No End in Sight, War in the Desert, Women at War, 1918 The Last Great Battles, 1918 The War Ends, Animals at War, Legacy of War, and The Art of War. I try to include the topic headings as these are not often available when you are looking to buy a book and if you don't have the chance to preview before you buy it is nice to know what the book covers.

Some of these topics are covered in almost any children's book about World War I and I don't plan on discussing where this book duplicates other's efforts. However, it does have some unique content I quite liked. While most mention the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand as one of the final acts that lead to war, this book actually explains again using photographs and text boxes what happened and why. The discussion of the Black Hand being part of the Bosnian separatists movement is just not something you find in most children's books on the topic of World War I. While keeping the content accurate the authors manage to present the information in a way most elementary students could grasp. Again I also think this makes it a strong resource for older students, too.

I found the section devoted to Russia's role in the early part of the war interesting as well. When we hear about Russian it is usually about Russia making peace with the Central powers as the Revolution over takes the country. It is almost as if knowing the outcome we skip the story of how we got there and do little to address Russia's role in the war. This book devotes a two page spread to how things fell apart for the Russians on the Eastern front. Clearly it isn't an in depth study but it is a good fit for a picture book format and honestly more than you will find in longer children's books devoted to the topic of WWI.

The section on the Gallipoli Campaign was also unique to this book. Turkey's role in the war is also not as well covered as the Europeans in children's history books. This is only one battle, but it does remind us to discuss the role of Turkey as a central power in the war.

War in Africa was another important section as World War I was really the beginning of the end for European Colonial power in Africa. This book did a good job in addressing how Germany lost its colonies. One thing I appreciated was the author including the colonies" names for historical reference and the modern countries names. My one criticism is while the author included a colonial map of Africa with a key to demonstrate which European countries controlled the colonies, it would have been extremely beneficial to have a modern map showing where those colonies had evolved into modern countries. While the names help, maps are always a useful tool.

The role of Italy in the war was also interesting and might surprise children since they switched sides in the next war. The book provides a summary of the battles and does a nice job of explaining the choices made by Italy which were complex. The author does a great job giving a general explantion of the role of Italy without over simplyfying.

Last I thought showing the children the recruitment posters and one picture painted by a soldier from the time was unique and important as it demonstrates what governments were using to motivate people to join the fight and how that fight was expressed in the art of those who fought. I wished they had access to more art from those who fought.

The other sections were equally strong, but not unique. The material does appear in other children's books on the topic and one can argue which children will appreciate, understand, or process better. I chose to focus this review on what I found to be unique about this book. While a picture book it is a powerful way to educate children about World War I.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The Read Aloud Handbook

I went and borrowed a copy of The Read-Aloud Handbook: Seventh Editionback in June because while he's retired, I knew he'd updated the book since I'd last read it and I wanted to see what he had to say about reading aloud. This last edition was published in 2013, but he had come into the modern age of the Internet and technology. I'd originally read his book as an undergraduate and purchased it as part of a number of shower gifts for people. Then for some reason I'd stopped.

What I've always liked about his premise is that it is a positive one. It always starts with the premise it isn't too late to start something with your kids. If you didn't start when they were babies, don't panic you aren't an evil parent, you can still work on it. He's also realistic, if you have a high school student you've never read to and the teen isn't interested it probably isn't a battle you want to fight.

He rights a balanced approach for parents and teachers. You will find advice throughout the book geared to both parents and teachers and he often explains how techniques can or can't be used across both areas. I specifically liked his discussion about getting primary teachers to read chapter books along with picture books to children. Equally, I found the discussion of SSR or Sustained Silent Reading at home and in school an important one. It is one he's refused to back down on regardless of how the times have changed since I first read his early book and I admire that about him.

I honestly don't remember the advice to Dad's in the earlier book I read, but in fairness it's been a long time and my copy is long gone to someone else who needed it. This I found to be an important chapter. He spoke kindly to Dads in a way that would encourage and empower them to get involved and become a part of their children's literacy process rather than trying to abuse or shame them into taking part. I think encouragement tends to yield longer term goals then shame. Some father's may not read or take his advice, but for those who want to do better but aren't sure how to get started, I thought he wrote a couple of supportive sections that could lead a father to understanding the importance of his role in helping his child to want to learn and to enjoy reading.

There are lots of book lists out there, free and in other paid formats both print and online. I've always thought his selection was a great way to encourage parents to read. My one disappointment is the original reader had more suggestions for the upper elementary student. I remember discovering Goodnight Mr. Tom after reading through the book the first time for a college assignment and needing to choose books I hadn't read for a project. The books in this last book don't seem to have quite the range of the older book I had.