Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Boy Who Dared by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

Helmuth had ideas from the start. He did all of the correct German boy
activities…was a part of the Hitler Youth, participated in school activities, was a good Mormon boy…but he didn't believe. In fact, in his heart, he knew that the Fatherland was lying. It was something that gnawed at him and forced him to do reckless things. Through a shortwave radio, he listened to broadcasts about the war from the BBC and he drafted up leaflets to warn the German's about the propaganda his own country was serving up. He invited his friends to listen and to help him circulate the handouts. He even wanted to translate them into different languages. Silence was not going to find a home with Helmuth. The truth was. All of this cost him his life. At age sixteen he was put on trial as an adult for treason and he was executed to make an example for others.

This work of historical fiction is based in reality. These events all happened and Bartoletti put them together and speculated on what Helmuth might be feeling, a sixteen year old put on trial for his perceived wrong doings. We have all read the concentration camp stories, we know how the Jews were persecuted and what horrific things they went through at the hands of Hitler and the Nazis. What people probably don't know is the story of how German's treated their own citizens during this period in history...the paranoia, the fear, the lies. This book is fascinating and compelling.

Friday, June 19, 2009

I Heard God Talking To Me: William Edmondson and His Stone Carvings by Elizabeth Spires

William Edmondson's story is one I was not familiar with, but a story that is inspiring and fascinating. One of the things I loved most about his book was the interspersing of Edmondson's stone carvings paired with the photographs of the artist working away or resting or taking time to enjoy life.

When he began his career as a stone carver, he only used a railroad spike and a hammer to get going. As his career progressed, he carved tomb stones, which then evolved into birdbaths and things for people's yards. He began working for $5-10 a statue and now his work sells for over $300,000 a piece. Son of two former slaves, Edmondson believed that God gave him visions of what to carve and it was his duty to carry out the Lord's work.

My favorite thing is the picture of Edmondson's hands at work, dust and bent from chiseling...absolutely beautiful, as is this story! Part factual and part whimsical, I enjoyed learning about this man's life and career through Spires' careful telling.

For an insightful interview from author Elizabeth Spires, click here!

To view some of Edmonsdon's art from the novel, visit B&N's site and preview the book by clicking here!

Waltz With Bashir by Ari Folman and David Polonsky

A few weeks ago Jason and I were watching one of our netflix movies and a previews came on for this animated adult film called Waltz With Bashir. Neither of us had heard of it, but the story looked intriguing. A couple of days later, the graphic novel arrived in one of my TAYSHAS shipments...and today I got around to reading it.

It is an incredible story and one that I don't think our students today are acquainted with. The main character can't recall his part in the massacre in Beirut. He hardly even remembers the war at all, except a friend comes to him for help, explaining the hardships that he's going through. When Ari hears that, he gets pulled into his own hellish nightmare of remembrances, but some of the pages are blank. Employing the help of friends and specialists, he is able to piece together what happened and the impact his past had on what he was taking part in. The story is solid and worth being told for sure.

More than the words, however, Waltz With Bashir gives us pictures to drive it all home. Done in graphic novel format, the weaving of emotion and fact is masterfully done. Each picture is framed up to contain the most amount of detail possible, aiding the story incredibly...and the switch from drawn art to photographic art is stunningly done.

Due to some nudity and drug use, this graphic novel will probably be better suited to the public library, or liberal school library collections. It is so well done, however, I hope that it will be on shelves somewhere!

Click here to watch the trailer for the movie, which mirrors the book!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Web 2.0 -

Lesson Plan: Toon Doo
Audience: English Classes/Reading Classes - at any level. This is the group for which I wrote this lp, however, I could also see this being used in history classes to cement an idea about a specific event, etc…almost political cartoon style.
Objectives: Before students begin this project, they should have read a novel of their choosing. Instead of presenting a book report format, students will be able to use creative means to present what they have learned.
Technology Tool (s) Category: ToonDoo (
Overview: ToonDoo is a site that allows users to create their own comic strips. Students will create a comic strip that involves the book that they read.
Resources: Students will need access to a computer, the ability to create a log-in on the toondoo site, access to a printer, and access to the internet
Preparation: Before sitting down in front of the computer to begin, students should have read a book of their choosing. They will then need to gather some ideas of how they want to present a synopsis/evaluation of the book within three frames or less. Since this requires some logic and some organization, students may need some brainstorming time. Once a student has a solid idea of how to go forward, student should visit and get started.
Instruction and Activities:

Depending on the age group with which you are using this site, the teacher may want to offer a classroom preview by modeling the steps beforehand…

Depending on applications for this comic, teacher may want to create a list of usernames and share them with the students so that they can view each others work.

#1: go to and spend some time looking at the work other people have created/familiarizing yourself with the layout of the webpage.

#2: create a log in that will only be used by you. At the top right side of the page you will see the word “register”. You will create your own user name and password at this point. You might want to write this down so that you remember it in case you need to come back and edit your work. Sign in and get started.

#3: Once you are signed in, on the right hand side you will see a blue box that says “ToonDoo Maker”. Once you click on this, it will load up the basic template you will be using for your book review. Select the layout that best fits your presentation.

#4: You will now be moved to the slide layout you selected. There are eight choices at the top for getting started with your comic. They include: backgrounds, characters, props, texts, brushmen, special, open text art, and my galleries. Take some time to look through each selection so that you get a good idea of what to do next.

#5: Select the backgrounds you want to use. Once you find a suitable background, click/drag/drop the background on to your blank white layout. If done correctly, the layout will stick on the white background. You can then move on to adding characters. Once you have completed your characters, which work the same way (drag and drop), you can work with props/other effects to fill out your comic strip.

#6: If you decide you don’t like a feature that you have added, you can delete the feature by clicking and deleting. If it is a background, you can drag/drop another background on top to change the feature.

#7: Text – to add the text option, select the speech bubble that you would like to use from your given options, drag and drop it to the appropriate place on your comic. Once your bubble is in place, you can start writing inside. If the text goes off the page, press enter to move down to the next line. Remember that your speech bubble offers limited space, so you should be succinct in what you want to say.

#8: When you have completed your work, on the left hand side, go back to the ToonDoo icon. Drag your mouse over the top until your options pop up. Select “Save As”. Type in the title of your work, type a description of your work, where it says tags you should type in one word descriptions of the themes involved in the book. Please unclick the option to let others change your work as this will be a graded assignment based on what you are presenting. Select “Share with friends” and type in (teacher’s name) so that teacher can view work. You can also print screen from this point and turn in a hard copy to the teacher.

#9: Once you have published your work, you will be directed back to the main screen. You can select the aqua colored box that says “Toons” and then “My Toons” to see the work you have created.
Web Resources: Students will each need a computer and access to
Student Assessment/Reflections: Once students have created their usernames, they would be able to share their comics with other students. If teacher divided students into groups who read the same book, it would be interesting to see how each student’s presentation differed.

Also, if student did the print screen option, a later activity would be for students to critique the work of their classmates – is this a book you would want to read? Did this comic strip make you interested in the novel? What would have made this comic strip more enticing? What do you think the author of this comic strip was trying to say? In this way, the student would get direct peer feedback on their work.
Possible Technology Constraints: Problems could occur if this site is blocked/filtered by the district. If the internet is moving slowly that day, students would not be able to easily navigate the site, causing frustration. If this was a time when testing was prevalent, students would not have access to computers. Also, since it is a web based application, there is always the security of the student issue.

Instruction Sheet Template
Definition/Overview: see above
Basics about the site: this site allows students to express ideas in comic strip form. For people who can’t draw, etc…this gives the option of artistic expression sans artistic talent. It is a user friendly site that can be as basic or as complicated as the student would like. Savvy students are going to be able to navigate the more advanced features while basic users should be comfortable using the basic provided templates and formats.
Best Classroom Practices:
This site has functionality for most or all of the major disciplines. I can see science using this to have students showcase their ideas on a principle. I can see English using this tool to layout/storyboard student ideas on plots and themes. History could use this application to create political-esque cartoons either for events in the past or even present day events.
see above
students will need an independent reading book, access to computers, and access to

ToonDoo - The Uninvited by Tim Wynne Jones

The Uninvited

So I started some work with Web 2.0
this afternoon and one of the tools
was this site where
you can create your own comic strips.
I played around with it and...vooom hour was sucked away. However,
I did make a brief (and possibly
horrible) comic on Tim Wynne-Jones'
latest novel, The Uninvited. I hope
the author will forgive my over-
simplification. This has some cool
implications for the classroom for sure!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


As a side note, I met this little girl today while I was volunteering at the SPCA and think she is adorable. Jason says I always pick out animals with crazy hair because they remind me of my earlier years. Not sure, but I am sure this girl is precious!! Look at those eyes! I can't bring her home because the dogs would flip out, but you can!!

You can check out Sophie or any other pets up for adoption at

Everything Beautiful by Simmone Howell

You have to love the Riley Rose's in the world.
She is flawed and knows it.
She gets into trouble, she doesn't give a fig.
She has a tough attitude and it's out on display.

But Riley's dad has had enough. Spurred on by his new girlfriend's religious fervor and Riley's most recent hair brained scheme, dad ships Riley off to summer camp.

The problem: It's a Christian summer camp and Riley doesn't believe in...well...anything.

This camp is zany, though...not your typical Christian camp. Riley chooses not to get involved with things at the camp, knowing that she is going to busting out half way through...but things never quite go as planned.

Riley ends up saving some kids from bullies, making begrudging friends with her cabin mates, and falling in love with the wheelchair bound youth leader, Dylan. None of it is easy, however, and as Riley takes us on her journey of self discovery, readers will find them selves cringing, laughing, and maybe even tearing up.

Riley is a tough old bird. She has some wickedly funny and insightful statements, but she is rough around the edges for sure. Her life of "Sex, Drugs, and Rock n Roll" shocks church campers and maybe some readers...but she is authentic.

For more info on this author, click here!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Breathless by Lurlene McDaniel

Lurlene McDaniel is the queen of tearjerkers that make you think. Her latest book, Breathless, is no different.
In Breathless we are introduced to Travis. Travis is a star diver. He loves the water. Colleges all over are trying to recruit him, he has won medals, he's at the top of his game. While out at the lake one weekend, he climbs to the top of a bluff in order to make a dive. Sure his leg is bothering him, but it has been for awhile - he just motors through the pain. But on this particular day, the hike plus the dive cause his leg to break. As he hits the water, he cries out. His sister, his best friend, and his girlfriend are all there with in seconds. They get him into the boat and to the hospital...where it is discovered he has osteosarcoma, bone cancer.

They have to amputate Travis' leg, forever changing his fate and his life.
However, as time progresses, Travis must face more than just a leg amputation.
Readers are left to question the morality and the ethics of euthanasia. Should a person have the right to choose? What if that person is underage? Do parents know better?

McDaniel puts us right in the middle of an emotional conundrum that is not easily solved, leaving the reader to ration out their own truths. Told from four different points of view, she makes sure that all ideas are represented, but doesn't push what is "right". Very good food for thought.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Uninvited by Tim Wynne-Jones

Mimi is looking for a place to escape. She had an affair with her college professor and things have gone badly - he's turned stalker. Her father has a place on a river where she can lose herself, so that is the plan. She is going to live in this little cottage on the river and write a screenplay - possibly become famous. In the meantime, she is also going to film snippets of her life so that she can use it for film fodder.

The reality of the cottage on the river is immensely different.
When Mimi first arrives, someone already lives in the cottage. That someone is her brother, Jay. A brother that she has never met and had no idea about. They both deal with the shock of finding a lost sibling...but there is more.

Someone has been breaking into the cottage and doing odd things...leaving a dead blue jay, leaving a snakeskin, interfering with the music tracks Jay has been recording, and taking odds and ends. Jay is worried about leaving Mimi there for the summer, so they agree to share the cottage, especially when her video camera shows recorded footage of Mimi in the cottage - something she did not shoot, something she knows nothing about.

As the summer progresses, things get more and more out of whack and Jay and Mimi are pulled into a crazy game that neither of them understand upfront, a game that will change their lives forever.

Tim Wynne-Jones' writing builds and builds the suspense all the way through. He masterfully plants clues that lead us right up to the surprising finale. Students who want a good solid mystery will enjoy this well thought out and well developed novel. Older readers will appreciate the beautiful scenery that Wynne-Jones sets up in the midst of creating a thriller of a story.

For more info on this author, please visit his page by clicking here!!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Fairy Tale by Cyn Balog

This weeks TAYSHAS shipments included Fairy Tale by Cyn Balog...and the cover is so interesting, that I had to get involved with it immediately.

Cam and Morgan have grown up together their whole lives, ever since they shared the same birthday in the hospital. Now that they are in high school, the are the perfect couple. Cameron, the star of the football team, is pretty much adored by everyone. Morgan has a psychic ability that allows her to see into the future, and while that doesn't make her exactly popular, it also doesn't make her a pariah. People are intrigued by her gift.

One night Morgan uses her ability to see into the future with Cam. The vision she has startles her and she convinces herself that it cannot be right.

The next day at school, a new boy arrives on the scene, Pip. Pip is a tiny nerdy little fellow who even carries a pencil box. Morgan takes pity on him and decides that he needs a little help navigating high school. She doesn't yet know how Pip fits into the larger picture.

You see, Pip is from The Otherworld. He is a human who was kidnapped at birth and has lived with the fairies for fifteen years. He and Cam were switched at birth and it turns out that Cam is the heir to the fairy throne...and now the fairies want him back. The only time the switch can be made, however, is on the evening of the sixteenth birthday.

As the birth date rapidly approaches, Cam, Pip, and Morgan begin to devise a plan that will keep Cam on earth and send Pip back in his place. However, Cam has begun to experience the physical changes that fairies go through: wings, pointy ears, tiny stature. Morgan knows that Cam will be viewed as a freak, but she is unwilling to let him go.

Pip, Morgan, and Cam find themselves embroiled in a love triangle that will keep readers guessing right up to the final page.

I was compelled enough to keep reading this book, despite it's flaws. Perhaps readers will be able to get over the oddly timed love triangle? I am sure this book will find a home with Melissa Marr/Cassandra Clare/Stephanie Meyer fans...those who are intrigued by a love that cannot be!

For more info on this new author, click here!
Happy Reading!

Friday, June 5, 2009

King of the ScrewUps by K.L. Going

Ya'll, I'm not even kidding...this is one of the best books I've read. Ever.
Liam comes from a successful fashion model turned business woman mother and a super-successful businessman father. Liam, however, thinks he is a screw up. After he gets caught fooling around with a girl on his father's desk, the line is drawn.

Liam is sent to live with his Aunt Pete. Pete and Liam's father have had a falling out over some unknown issue, so Liam's father is angered that Liam is going to live with Pete...but he doesn't care enough to really do anything about it. He just wants Liam out of his house.

Liam is plagued by the fact that he is popular. He isn't studious. He isn't a part of a club. In order to garner favor with his father, he decides to start fresh at his new school - to be unpopular, to study hard, and to join the AV club. However, none of these things work like he thinks and he, of course, skyrockets to the top of the popularity charts. He perceives it all as another screw up.

In his search to make his father happy, Liam realizes that is never going to happen. Drawing strength from his Uncle Pete and the new friends that he has made, Liam is able to make his own decisions and finally realize the truth about his father.

This book is so moving because all Liam wants is approval from his father and he works so hard to get it and perceives that he falls short of the mark every time. It is painful because the writing is so genuine and raw that you feel the turmoil Liam is going through.

I picked it up this morning and read it straight through. Amazing work, as is all of Going's writing. She does such a fabulous job of involving the reader in the situation. You can't help but feel connected to the character. Highly, highly recommend!!

In other news, Going is running a pretty cool promo for this book on her website until June 30th.
Check it out by clicking here!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Waiting for You by Susane Colasanti

Marissa had a really bad year last year. She planned on reinventing herself over the summer and coming back as someone new and shiny. Things rarely work that way, however, and as school beings, Marissa finds that it is more of the same.

Everything seems to get off kilter fast. She finally lands the primo real estate of boyfriend land, Derek. He is everything she has wanted and pined for. He kisses her in public, he takes her on dates, he is gorgeous. But Marissa suspects that he is still in love with his ex-gf and she can't let go of that thought, driving a wedge between them.

Her best friend, Sterling, has changed. She is into her on-line relationships and Marissa thinks Sterling is jealous of the time she spends with Derek.

To top it all off, her parents, who anchored her during her hard time last year, have decided to separate.

So even though some of her stars are aligning, other parts of her life are in extreme turmoil. Lucky for Marissa, she has another friend in her next door neighbor, Nash. Nash and Marissa grew up together and then eventually grew apart. But now, when she needs someone the most, Nash will offer her support...will it be more?

Colasanti deals with some serious issues in this one, yet still sustains a comfortable mood throughout. She does the love triangle with such a deft hand, you can't help but appreciate her writing. To view more about this author and her work, click here!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Ghostgirl: Homecoming by Tonya Hurley

Fans of Tonya Hurley’s debut novel, Ghostgirl, will not be disappointed in her latest installment, Ghostgirl: Homecoming. Charlotte is still the lead character and she is still struggling with her un-life. After Dead Ed, she moved on to answer phones at a phone bank, hardly her idea of Heaven. However, the appearance of a new friend, Maddy, helps to soothe Charlotte’s hurting heart. Maddy seems to understand Charlotte and when all of Charlotte’s Dead Ed friends abandon her to take on their new “lives”, Charlotte and Maddy bond and even become roommates. There is something more than meets the eye with Maddy, though. Meanwhile, Petula has gone into a coma due to a staph infection caused by a bad pedicure. In her quest to get her sister back, Scarlett has also entered a comatose state. Will Charlotte be able to guide the girls back home while managing the events going on in her own life?

I didn't read the first part and admit that I felt a little like I jumped into something in the middle. However, that didn't detract from the story. It isn't anything complex or life changing, but it is just a fun little read...perfect for summer and perfect for your fans of the undead.

Tonya Hurley also has a very graphically amusing webpage, so make sure that you don't miss out on viewing that!! Click here to see it for yourself!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Love You Hate You Miss You by Elizabeth Scott

Elizabeth Scott is pretty much a YA goddess.
Usually she writes love stories, and I appreciate her work because it is so much fun - the excitement, the woe, the anguish!!! But today I read a love story of a different kind...the best friends kind of love.

When Amy's best friend, Julia, dies in a car accident, Amy feels responsible...and incredibly sad.
Her therapist recommends writing down her thoughts, which morphs into letters to Julia. Amy figures out some important details during her letter therapy, details about friendship and about relationships in general: the relationship she has with her parents, the relationship her parents have with each other, her relationship with Patrick (and what THAT all means), as well as the relationship that Julia and Amy shared.

A voyage of discovery and healing, you can't help but be mesmerized by Amy's story...and you kind of want to call your BF when it's all said and done. Scott has done it again!

Definitely worth reading!!

As a side note, I follow Elizabeth Scott's blog, which is amazing. She always does the neatest promotions, gives away a ton of free books, and pretty much lets her cool personality shine through. Check out her website by clicking here. Check out her blog by clicking here. Enjoy!! I sure have.

Monday, June 1, 2009

If The Witness Lied by Caroline Cooney

You are hooked from the start when you pick up Cooney's latest title, If The Witness Lied.
This family lost their mom when she chose having a child over fighting her aggressive form of liver cancer. This made the news. People thought she was making the wrong choice. The family never got any peace from the media. When the baby was two, they lost their father when he was crushed by his car in their driveway. The only witness to the accident said that the baby released the parking break, the baby that killed it's mother now killed it's father.
The family couldn't survive together, so everyone splintered apart - some to boarding school, some to live with godparents. But now...a year later...there is more to the story than meets the eye. As each of the children return home, they will find their family in crisis and they will each bring something necessary to the table. However, will they be able to solve the mystery before it's too late for baby Tris?
Cooney is a master. Everything she writes is a page turner, is interesting, is fast paced and easy to get in to. This is no different.
To read more about this author and her books, click here!