Thursday, June 28, 2018

Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood

World War I can be a complicated topic to cover with students. More than one teacher has been told the war made no sense. Just why did these people end up going to war? Finding resources that don't lie about the horror of the war, but are still age appropriate regarding the subject matter can be challenging. It can be hard to find a balance.

Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood (Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales 4): A World War I Tale uses a graphic novel format to tackle the subject.

For those not familiar with the Nathan Hale format reading the first book Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales: One Dead Spyis not a bad idea. It explains how and why Nathan Hale, the Executioner, and the British soldier appear at different historical sites. There is a brief introduction at the beginning of this book, but while I don't believe you need to read all the books in order, reading the first one prior to any of the others is not a bad choice.

The author chooses an interesting approach to explaining the participants in the war. At the behest of the Executioner, each country participating in the story is assigned an animal to represent that country throughout the graphic novel. I'm not generally a reader of graphic novels. That doesn't mean I don't see the value in them, but they just aren't generally a style I enjoy. When the author first introduced the idea of each country being represented by an animal I was concerned it was going to be rather silly and distracting. This however, demonstrated my lack of knowledge of graphic fiction. As the story continued I realized unlike the previous novel which had colonial soldiers and Red Coats which could easily be distinguished in graphic pictures, using animals in a situation where many of the uniforms would be hard to distinguish from each other in graphic format made sense. As the story continued I found myself relying on the animals to help me remember which countries were represented in the story. While I began not liking the idea, I found very quickly that it was quite useful.

I was impressed with the explanation for the reasons for the war. For the length and format of the book it didn't stick to the general explanations one often sees in children's history of this period. The discussions of the negotiations for peace while done in an amusing included information often left out of other children's books.

The book moves on to the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and provides a fairly accurate description. Two things stood out for me about the writing regarding the beginning of the war. The first was how the author took time to describe the beginning of the war without diving into trench warfare right off the bat. The author explains how and why the war evolved into trench war, but spends a significant amount of time describing the war before the advent of trenches. The second area was the role of Belgium. Belgium wanted badly to remain neutral and this book focuses on why Belgium was not going to be able to continue this course and what there role was as a result of their geography.

The book moves on to the challenges of trench warfare, the massive casualties, the use of gas, and the overall path of the war. Due to the length of the book it lightly addresses the exit of the Russians from the war due to the Russian Revolution and the entry of the United States into the War. At one point the author even has the narrator explain which topics they didn't get to due to time constraints in story telling. I liked the honesty of this. It tells the reader there is more to discover.

I continue to be impressed with this history series. It is a great way for students to explore history while enjoying a graphic novel format.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Free Fun Fridays in July 2018

The Highland Street Foundation has a busy month scheduled for July.

July 6

Boston Children's Museum
Peabody Essex Museum
Cape Cod Maritime Museum
Battleship Cove
Amelia Park Children's Museum
Gore Place
Falmouth Museums on the Green
Hancock Shaker Village
Pilgrim Hall Museum
New England Quilt Museum

July 13

Edward M. Kennedy Institute
Charles River Watershed Association
Larz Anderson Auto Museum
The Telephone Museum
Venfort Hall and Gilded Age Museum
Sports Museum
Children's Museum of Holyoke
International Volleyball Hall of Fame
Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center

July 20

Museum of Fine Arts
Gloucester Stage Company
The Gardens at Elm Bank
Chatham Shark Center
New Bedford Whaling Museum
Nantucket Maria Mitchell Association
Spellman Museum of Stamps and Postal History
Springfield Museums
Discovery Museums
The Hall at Patriot's Place

July 27

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
Commonwealth Shakespeare
JFK Hyannis Museum
Fitchburg Art Museum 
Old Colony History Museum
Boston Athenaeum
Sandwich Glass Museum
Arnold Arboretum
Museum of Russian Icons

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Secrets of American History World War II Secret Agents! Sharks! Ghost Armies!

Secret Agents! Sharks! Ghost Armies!: World War II (Secrets of American History)is a Level 3 Ready to Read non-fiction book.

I am always pleased to see authors taking on the challenge of providing accurate age appropriate history books for children. Ready to Read has developed the Secrets of American History series to address this need. This is the first one I've encountered and I was interested to review it.

The leveled reader format is always a limiting one, as it forces the author to control the reading level, vocabulary, and format of the material. With that in mind this book was strongest when it focused on limited topics. The introduction to the war was weak as it was hard to explain within the limits of a leveled reader format. However, the sections that explained the attempts at shark repellent and the Ghost Army were strong. I recently read an adult book about the Ghost Army, I haven't seen much in children's lit that addresses this so I found the information presented here quite interesting and it was written in an age appropriate manner that students could understand.

The section on the female spy Virginia Hall was strong because it took the limited time it had to focus on one spy instead of spying as a general topic. It also addressed a topic not generally found in children's literature women in World War II, which makes it a unique resource for World War II literature for children.

Sadly, the book ends on a weaker note going off topic with a page about sharks and then trying to move back on topic about with two more short biographies of Josephine Baker and Roald Dahl's spying during the war. If I'd been an editor I'd have left out the sharks and increased the information on Baker and Dahl, which was relevant and interesting.

While I think the series could be improved with some editing, I am pleased to see a move towards more non-fiction leveled readers. It gives children access to material written at levels they can read. I do think with editing these books can get better and be an even better resource for educating children about a variety of non-fiction material.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Canobie Lake AAA Discount 2018

This always seems to be one of my favorite postings, but until recently I couldn't find updated information on the discount. It magically appeared in my email and I thought I'd share the information. The AAA $6 discounted tickets still do exist and you can purchase them here if you are a member. These are only ADULT tickets. I found no offers for AAA children's discounted tickets. As I've mentioned in the past this discount is only good if you purchase your tickets in advance, it is not a show your card at the entrance discount as some are with AAA.

The current prices listed online at Canobie Lake's website are $39 for adults under the age of 60 and $29 for children who are less than 48" tall and adults 60 and over. Clearly if you are over 60 the senior regular price is better than the discounted AAA price. Something to keep in mind if you are bringing extended family or if they are the ones taking the kids to the park. Children under the age of 3 are free. So with the AAA discount adult tickets are $33 each. You have the option of ordering your children's tickets through AAA or buying online through Canobie lake or at the gate.

For those of you who aren't AAA members Canobie Lake does offer a page with the discounts and specials currently being offered here.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

How to Live Like a Stone-Age Hunter

I've been looking for some Prehistoric resources that are age appropriate but accurate for helping elementary aged students understand the time period. Anita Ganeri's How to Live Like a Stone-Age Hunteris one such resource that provides a great overview of the Paleolithic Age in a picture book format.

The book is illustrated with cartoon characters and follows the story of a clan of hunter gatherers living around 15,000 years ago. Dax, a son in the clan, is our narrator in the story and he introduces us to life in the "Stone Age." The author also has text boxes that allow her to add more information that would not fit into knowledge her narrator might have. In the first section one box introduces three parts and names of the period. In order to give the reader more understanding of the historical period the author then provides a time line of history from the Lower Paleolithic to the Bronze Age.

The author then returns to life as a hunter gather using language that children might more readily relate to than more technical terms. For instance the migration of the clans is titled as a camping trip. Most kids think of camping trips as weekend or longer vacations. The title is a little misleading, but the author quickly explains what "camping" meant to the clans.

Moving on we learn about how and why cave paintings were made. There are even descriptions about how paints were made and what the people used for brushes.

The book focuses heavily on hunting. The book describes what and how the people hunted and then how they used what they killed for clothing, shelter, and food. The author introduces the development of tools and the clashes between clans over food, leading to the topic of death and burials.

I found this to be a great introduction or supplemental to a unit on prehistoric man.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Rapunzel's Revenge

Rapunzel's Revengeis an alternate retelling of the Rapunzel story told in a graphic novel format.

The authors chose a western setting to provide a more natural transition for Rapunzel from being a princess in need of a prince to rescue her into a strong female character who eventually meets and works with an equally strong male partner. I know many authors are trying to rewrite fairy tale female roles into stronger more independent characters.

However, what I appreciated about this version is that they did that with allowing the male role to be an equal partner, which is what people have been pushing for in women's roles in these stories. They didn't just flip the roles making the woman the strong character and the male a weak incompetent or useless character in order to make the comparison an easier one. It took more effort to write the characters as having different strengths, but as equal partners, but it made for a stronger book.

The story begins with more background than we find in the traditional tale of Rapunzel. That makes sense as this is a longer graphic novel and thus we have more time to learn about the characters. In this version we begin with a preteen Rapunzel living in a villa with Gothel, whom she believes is her mother. However, she is beginning to have flashbacks of a different life and another family. She longs to see what lies beyond the villa walls, but is forbidden to go there. As with all fairy tales, we know if it is forbidden she will be headed off to seek it.

Gothel however, didn't gain the power she has by being foolish. She knows the girl will at some point seek freedom and when she refuses her offer to join her freely and Rapunzel attempts an escape we finally see the tower of the original tale. As a resourceful girl, Rapunzel begins to find ways to utilize her long hair and it becomes and effective tool and weapon, eventually using it as her means of escape. It is at this point the story introduces and dismisses the western version of her prince. Rapunzel does not need a Prince to help her escape and he is afraid of Gothel. They part ways and she heads off to find her mother who she remembers was working in Gothel's mines.

Along her journey, she does meet a more suitable companion, Jack of Jack and the Bean Stalk fame. He too is on a quest to help his mother. They each have different talents that make this relationship a strong one allowing them to help others as they travel on their journey to rescue Rapunzel's mother and defeat Gothel. Jack's story is saved for the sequel Calamity Jack where Rapunzel has agreed to repay Jack for his assistance by helping him solve his problem.

This was a creative retelling of the Rapuzel story that finally puts Rapunzel at a place of strength and stops her from being manipulated by others. The mash up of Rapunzel and Jack and the Bean Stalk is an interesting one. If I'd been asked about what story to mash up with Rapunzel I'm not sure I'd have chosen Jack, but with the move to the Western theme it works. I also love the way they've moved the hair from being about beauty to a valuable lethal weapon and tool for Rapunzel. I'm looking forward to reviewing the sequel to see if the balance in the character's roles remains when the plot moves to Jack's world.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Wooden Toys and Crafts Store

Wooden Toys and Crafts is a place to take your kids to make wood toy kits in Marlborough, Massachusetts. You can buy the kits to make them at home or make them on site and have the benefit of kid sized tools, tables, and access to paint and brushes to finish off their creations. The kits are pine and the directions are easy to follow. Bob cuts all the kits himself. There is an amazing selection of projects and we've found the prices to be quite reasonable for wood kits. Tables are set up to help children keep track of all their parts, have water for the paint, etc. It is a well designed set up.

These projects were chosen after last year's visit to Collings Foundations Battle for the Field. The boys had learned about camouflage at the event and wanted to recreate the effect on their tanks. Bob was very helpful in showing them how to get the effect they were hoping for giving them suggestions for selecting paint and how to use their brushes to get the effect they wanted.

Lots of local Scout and other groups have events here so if you want to build there it isn't a bad idea to call ahead and find out if there are groups booked for events. We try to get here at least once a year for a wood toy build.

Wooden Toys and Crafts is located in the same building complex as Trombetta Farms at 655 Farm Road in Marlborough, MA. Try Trombetta's homemade ice cream while you are there or take in a game of indoor mini golf. There is no website for the store, but you can checkout the Facebook page here even if you aren't a member of Facebook.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

See and Sew

See and Sew: A Sewing Book for Children is a craft book designed to teach children how to hand sew.

The book begins with an introduction to the tools of the trade, giving child and parent ideas about what types of tools and materials are needed to begin to learn to sew. The suggestions are practical and a good introduction to a basic understanding of materials.

The book continues on with basic sewing and embroidery stitches, before moving on to buttons and trims. The pictures and descriptions were quite useful and I found there were a couple things I found helpful with my doll donation projects. Sometimes it doesn't hurt to review your early techniques.

The book continues with projects and the final chapter is on finishes and trims. The tassel directions were particularly helpful for a graduation project I'm making.

This is a nice book to have on hand as your child is learning to sew as a reference. I've given this as a gift to family members interested in beginning sewing. The patterns for sewing cards were particularly useful.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales: One Dead Spy

Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales: One Dead Spyis the first book in the graphic history series. I came across this series when it was requested as a birthday gift. While purchasing the books I found myself interested in reviewing them and checked the first out from our local library to see if it was as interesting as I'd been told. I am open to pursuing a wide variety of materials that engage children in learning as long as the material is accurate and relevant. Graphic novels do provide engagement, the key is making sure they are providing relevant and accurate information to move them beyond entertainment into actual valuable educational tools. I think this book achieves that goal.

The story begins at the hanging of the namesake of the series, Nathan Hale. In a reference to Scheherazade of the Arabian Nights, Nathan Hale is able to put off his hanging as long as he entertains his hangman with the story of the American Revolution. The story begins at the site of the hanging with a British soldier marching Hale to the hanging site. The soldier has forgotten his orders to hang Hale, so he is forced to leave Hale with the hangman while he returns to get the orders that make the execution official. The hangman proceeds to ask Hale about his final words, attempting to inject some humor to the situation. A disturbance occurs finding Hale getting eaten by an American history book, filling him with the knowledge of not only what has happened, but will happen in history.

When the soldier returns he and Hale debate and argue about the events that have occurred leading up to Hale's hanging. The executioner acts the part of the audience asking questions for clarification and understanding. He also continues the part of jester, making jokes at times.

I found the book flowed well and gave an overall interesting account of the American Revolution with a fantasy spin. What intrigued me is that while it covered all the main events it focused less on events more heavily covered in traditional books about the Revolution and put more emphasis on events that tend to get less coverage, including the people of the period. For instance, I've always found Henry Knox to be an amazing Revolutionary figure. What he accomplished moving the canons from Fort Ticonderoga was an amazing feat for someone who had no previous military or transport experience. He was primarily self taught from what he read. The graphic version of Knox is quite entertaining, but it also provides the historical importance of why what he did mattered.

The book also describes the military tactics behind the Battle of Bunker Hill without it being dry and dull. While the argument between Hale and the British officer is funny, it also does provide some insight into how the British and the Colonial troops did see the battles differently. The British won the Battle. but their losses were significant. The Colonials were able to escape to fight another day with significantly fewer losses. This is all explained in graphic format in a way kids can read, process, and understand. It is accurate without being dry.

Another area of the war I've not often found well covered is the war in New York. This book does a remarkable job describing what choices were made on both sides, the battles, and the outcomes.

Then of course we come back around to the story of how Nathan Hale took up spying, got caught, and was sentenced to hang. For those of you concerned he doesn't hang in the book, he's put off his hanging by promising more stories.

The book is a graphic novel and it does have fun with characters to provide humor and engagement with the story. Henry Knox is very entertaining in this story, I sincerely doubt he was that entertaining in life. However, it is a way to engage readers to want to know more about the events, people, and outcomes mentioned in the story. It would be addition to any unit on the American Revolution or a fun read for kids who like historical fantasy in a graphic novel format.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Summer Reading Programs 2018

My first suggestion is always check out your local library. Ours has wonderful programs for little ones all the way up to adults every summer. The programs are generally free and involve lots of motivation and other enticements to engage your child in reading.

However there are other companies also looking to engage your kids in summer reading as well and I've updated my list from previous years to see what is still out there.

Barefoot Books
This is less of an incentive program and more of a program to help parents encourage their children to read over the summer.

Barnes and Noble
This program is for kids in grades 1-6. Download the form to participate in the program. Your child is required to read 8 books of his/her own choosing. After reading the books they need to list the book and a favorite part of the book on the form. When the form is completed, return the form to the store and receive one free book from the options listed on the form by grade level.

Books a Million
This has a restricted book list to choose from to qualify for the prize  The list is here..  You can find the form that needs to be filled out here. You need to read 4 books from the list and the prize is a pencil case.

Chuck E. Cheese
They offer a program that requires the child to read every day for two weeks and record it on a chart found on the website. The chart can be returned for 10 free tokens.

Denver Broncos Bookworms
June4-Agust 17
Read 5 books, submit your log, and receive the following:
Certificate of Achievement
Broncos Bookmark
Invitation to Exclusive On-Field Bookworms Recognition Event
Opportunity to win Broncos prizes

Dogo Books
Read and Review 3 books from a select list of what looks to be 50 books and pick a prize book from a selection of another 50 books. Looks like you can participate until prizes run out.

Half Price Books
This program is available to children under 14. The program requires 300 minutes of reading and a form that must be filled out and turned in at your local Half Price Book store.  If you have teens there is a program for teens that provide credits in return for book reviews.  Details for both programs are available by following the above link.

HEB Reads

Read Between the Lines Patriot Place
This program runs from July 1-August 31 and is open to children ages 5-17. Students must read 1,000 minutes during that time. You can get more details about signing up and prizes at the website.

Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge

Showcase Cinemas Bookworm Wednesday

This program runs from July 11-August 1
Price of admission to a special movie each Wednesday is a book report. Find the book report form on the website.

Super Why PBS Right On Read a Thon 

TD Bank

TD Bank has a program in conjunction with their Young Savers Accounts. The program is available to students in grades K-5. They read 10 books, fill out the form found  here and they get $10 deposited in an existing or a created TD Young Savers account. Not a TD customer so I don't know anything about these accounts. Just listing the available summer reading programs.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Made with Dad

With Father's Day approaching Made with Dad: From Wizards’ Wands to Japanese Dolls, Craft Projects to Build, Make, and Do with Your Kidswas a tempting book to review. While some Dads naturally share hobbies and skills with their children others are looking for ideas and suggestions for connecting with their children. This book is written for those Dads and also provides plenty of craft ideas for others interested in working with their children on learning to use tools and creating crafts.

The book begins by discussing the types of tools and materials one will need to complete the projects found in the book. The author also discusses how to use modeling as a method to teach the use of knives and other tools as you introduce these to children prior to actually letting them use the tools themselves.

The projects are divided into Arts and Crafts, Waves and Wheels, Great Adventures, Final Frontiers, Happy Holidays, and Advanced Models. There are a wide range of projects in these topics and they build from the skills learned in the early projects into more complicated projects through the later projects. There are craft projects, cooking, models, science projects, and toys. Many use household items like bottles, but the later projects include more complex items.

While the target audience of this book is fathers working with their children, this is an interesting resource for anyone who is looking for interesting projects that provide a creative learning situation with the opportunity to begin to use tools.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Fly Guy Presents Castles

Fly Guy Presents: Castles (Scholastic Reader, Level 2)covered quite a bit more material than I'd expected. I'd been pleasantly surprised when I reviewed Fly Guy Presents: The White House (Scholastic Reader, Level 2)to find it was a well researched book that despite its short leveled reader format managed to provide a rather detailed description of the White House.

I came to the Castle book hoping for a similar treatment of the topic and wasn't disappointed. Castles is again a Level 2 Reader and it while the narrator is clearly fictional the information is actually quality non-fiction material for early readers. As I said in my previous review of the White House book, while this is a leveled reader, I do think most kids would benefit from either a shared reading or some discussion after the fact to understand all the material being presented. The author covers a wide range of topics.

The book begins with a description of what castles are and why they were built. The author uses photographs through out the book to help students realize that castles aren't just make believe stories but real buildings that had a specific purpose. The author continues with a brief history of the age of castle building and then moves on to the vocabulary and structures of castles. This is where using real pictures I though made a huge difference. Children can see where these places existed on actual castles. Once the author finishes describing the defences of the castle, she then moves on to how castles could be attacked, once again defining terms with pictures where possible.

This was the strongest part of the book. The author continues on to describe Medieval society, knights, servants, animals, and famous castles. These topics were a little more complicated and tough to cover in the two pages each was alloted. Still not a bad introdcution to each topic, just not as strong as the earlier introduction to castles.

I'm hopeful the author continues to explore non-fiction topics as I think they make strong additions to the options for history and science reading for students who need a variety of materials available with accurate information written at varied reading levels.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Free Fun Fridays in Massachusetts 2018

The Highland Group is back again sponsoring Free Fun Fridays this summer. The program provides free entrance each Friday to different museums, zoos, theater and other attractions to residents and visitors in Massachusetts during the months of June, July and August. The first event is June 29 the last is August 31. You can check out the Free Fun Fridays Website for the schedule of attractions on each date.

I would also suggest checking with the attractions to find out if there are any additional costs for specific programs you may be interested in at the location. I know with other offers only admission is covered additional programs are generally at the cost of the person attending. With some venues all that is required is admission and you have full access to everything. With others, like the Museum of Science there is plenty to see for the cost of admission, but more available at an additional cost. I have not read anything about specific events associated with attendees of Free Fridays. Calling ahead can provide you with more information.

For those who plan on utilizing other pass or discount options, you may also want to be aware of these dates as you can expect there to be higher traffic on these Fridays. If you have other options, you may want to choose another date for your visit to find a less crowded venue.