Sunday, June 30, 2013

the Queen

I read the book Doll Bones by Holly Black... mostly because of the creepy cover. I have always been afraid of old, china dolls... especially when they come to life.

But, Doll Bones was actually a wonderful book about the power of storytelling and creativity... with just the right amount of creepy thrown in for good measure.

For middle grade readers who are struggling with the pressures to leave childhood behind, Doll Bones explores the idea that storytelling shouldn't be given up. Creativity is just as important for teens and adults as it is for children.

So, of course, I loved it.

From GoodReads:
Zach, Poppy and Alice have been friends for ever. They love playing with their action figure toys, imagining a magical world of adventure and heroism. But disaster strikes when, without warning, Zach’s father throws out all his toys, declaring he’s too old for them. Zach is furious, confused and embarrassed, deciding that the only way to cope is to stop playing . . . and stop being friends with Poppy and Alice. But one night the girls pay Zach a visit, and tell him about a series of mysterious occurrences. Poppy swears that she is now being haunted by a china doll – who claims that it is made from the ground-up bones of a murdered girl. They must return the doll to where the girl lived, and bury it. Otherwise the three children will be cursed for eternity.

Favorite Quotes:
If they were real, then maybe the world was big enough to have magic in it. And if there was magic - even bad magic, and Zach knew it was more likely that there was bad magic than any good kind - then maybe not everyone had to have a story like his father's, a story like the kind all the adults he knew told, one about giving up and growing bitter.

He had read lots of stories where heroes succeeded in spite of long odds, where they accomplished a task that everyone else had failed at. He wondered for the first time about all the people who'd gone before those heroes, about whether they'd been heroic too or whether they'd been at each other's throats, before everything had gone wrong. He wondered if there was a point where they realized they weren't going to make it, weren't going to beat those long odds - that in the legend that would follow, they were going to be the nameless people that failed.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

once upon a time there were two girls

I just read The School for Good and Evil at V's insistent prodding. 

Saying that it was the best book she's read this year, V and I both read it quickly despite its 488 pages. 

Sophie and Agatha are as different as night and day. Where Sophie is blonde and fair and does her best to look perfect, Agatha is dark and dirty and lives in a cemetery. Yet, they are best friends.
Good in pink. Evil in black. The School Master’s perfect pair.
The School for Good and Evil is dark, funny, enchanting, and entertaining. It asks great questions for tweens and teens about the nature of good and evil.
It's not what we are. It's what we do.
Full of characters and creatures that populate fairy tales... along with fantastic world-building... this is a brilliant book. There is a lot of space between good and evil, and it is somewhere in that space that most of us reside.
"You're not evil. You're human."
A wonderful tale, artfully told – both V and I recommend it unreservedly!

They didn't realize that villains are the ones closest to us. They didn't realize that to find a happy ending, a hero must first look right under his nose.

Soman Chainani's debut novel The School for Good and Evil is the first book of a trilogy. Universal has purchased the movie rights... so get your copy now.

Friday, June 28, 2013

BOMB Part 2: Chain Reactions

Part 2 was quite a bit to read, but the intrigue and fast-paced chapters kept my eyes glued to the page. 

Would Jens Poulsson and the Gunnerside Team be successful at Vemork? Would Enrico Fermi and The Chicago Pile Team create the first nuclear chain reaction? Can Robert Oppenheimer be trusted? And, who is Klaus Fuchs (that's one unfortunate last name) and is he a traitor? 

Each chapter ended in suspense, propelling me on with the thought, "I have to know what happens next!"

Some of my favorite cliffhanger quotes:
"Oppenheimer wasn't fit to be a soldier, Groves acknowledged that. But he just might be able to win the war."
"The dispatcher shouted, 'Number one, go!'"
"He told them: 'Stand by for a particularly dangerous enterprise.'"  
And my absolute favorite cliffhanger:
"It was a decision that would haunt him for the rest of his life." 
I love reading the extensive dialogue drawn from primary sources (check the back of the book for quotation notes and primary source notes). The men and women from the 1930's and 1940's seem to 'come alive' and I feel like I'm sharing this extraordinary moment in history with them.

In the chapter entitled Operation Gunnerside, the team was told that they had a fifty-fifty chance of doing the job and only a fair chance of escaping. Why did Colonel John Wilson think that the Germans would not take any prisoners? What must it be like to go on a mission where you are issued a 'death pill'?

Map of Norway

Hardanger Plateau and Vemork

If you want to read more about the Vemork Action, you can read about it on the CIA's website. The reports are now unclassified.
Hardanger Plateau in winter.

What did you think about the U.S. government acquiring the Los Alamos Ranch School? What would your school director do if he/she opened a letter from the Secretary of War (note that back then it wasn't called the Secretary of Defense) and read: "You are advised that it has been determined necessary to the interests of the United States in the prosecution of the war that the property of your school be acquired for military purposes."?

Part 2 ends with the sentence:
"Not a single one of the Norwegians was ever caught."

I think that's a good place to leave it for now. 

Interactive Website -
Check out PBS's NOVA articles on Military & Espionage:

Read World War II Spy Messages

Nazis and the Bomb: How close were the Nazis to developing an atomic bomb?

Have Part 3: How To Build An Atomic Bomb read by July 12th. The plot thickens as the race to build - and steal - the world's most dangerous weapon continues.

Friday, June 14, 2013

BOMB : Prologue and Part I

"There is a great deal more to this story. It goes way back," he said. "I would like to tell it all."

Right from the Prologue, Steve Sheinkin throws us into the tension filled moment when Harry Gold, an American spy for the Soviet Union, is frantically destroying evidence and then fielding questions from FBI agents. With such an awesome hook, how could you not keep reading?! I couldn't stop turning pages to find out what events had lead up to this final moment. I forgot that I was reading narrative nonfiction because I was so taken in by the exciting story line.

On the jacket flap, Steve Sheinkin refers to himself as a “story detective.” Doing research often feels like detective work, which is one way to think about engaging in real world explorations and research. 

Within Bomb, Mr. Sheinkin specifically balances three narratives: America’s efforts to build the bomb, America’s efforts to impede the German’s attempts to build the bomb, and the Soviet’s efforts to steal the bomb research from the Americans or the Germans. Often times, we consider events only from one point-of-view... typically the point-of-view of the United States. Maybe we can become "story detectives" like Mr. Sheinkin, and the next time we are researching a single event we can use a variety of perspectives to examine that event from an international, interconnected context. Think about a current or historical event. How does your understanding of the issue change when you look at it from multiple, international perspectives? 

What do you think of the book so far? Leave your thoughts in 'comments'.

Next, read... Part 2 : Chain Reaction by June 28th.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Fiction / Non-Fiction Pairing

I finished writing all the posts for the summer group reading of BOMB by Steve Sheinkin. I had such a great time reading that book and writing the posts (which I'm sure you'll love), that I've decided to try it again.

This time, let's read a pair of books: one historical fiction and one non-fiction on the same topic. For our first pairing, I chose The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine and Little Rock Girl 1957: How a Photograph Changed the Fight for Integration by Shelley Marie Tougas.

By combining these two books, we will get the background knowledge we need to better understand the fictional story, while at the same time exposing us to multiple genres and content. And who doesn't love that? :) 

The Scoop on The Lions of Little Rock:
The Lions of Little Rock takes place in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1958--a year after the incident with the Little Rock Nine. It accurately portrays the controversial integration and segregation that occurred in the South. It is a very well-written story about friendship, courage, racism, and overcoming your fears to speak out against what you know to be wrong. Marlee literally finds her voice in this story, and uses it to speak out against prejudice. Ultimately, this is a touching and inspiring coming of age story about a girl trying to make sense of a world that, at the time, made no sense to her. Marlee has a loving and supportive family. Readers of this book will get a little history lesson about racism and the Civil Rights Movement. Real events are mentioned (such as the death of Emmett Till), some of which are very unpleasant. The "N" word is used a few times and a stick of dynamite is thrown into an African-American character's home as a scare tactic (no one is harmed). While this is primarily a story about friendship and courage, it is an excellent book for middle graders to read (age 10 and up) and discuss this important topic. Very beneficial conversations could be had about this dark time in America's past, bigotry, racism, etc. The Lions of Little Rock would make a great choice for a classroom read-aloud, book report, or book club selection.

The scoop on Little Rock Girl 1957:
Little Rock Girl 1957, focuses on the Civil Rights Movement and how a photograph of a high school student brought about changes in public opinion. The famous photograph (as seen on the cover) shows African American student, Elizabeth Eckford, followed by an angry mob of white people as she walks outside Little Rock Central High School on September 4, 1957.

Elizabeth and eight other African American students, known as the Little Rock Nine, were supposed to meet and walk into the school together. It would be the first time African American students attended Central High School. Elizabeth arrived at school early and alone. She faced an angry crowd of protestors, and her entry into the school was blocked by National Guard troops. As Elizabeth turned to leave, protestors followed her down the sidewalk as they venomously hurled insults and racial slurs. Will Counts, a local photographer, took photos as the events unfolded.

"But Counts had no idea that a single photograph would become a magnifying glass for race relations in the United States." (pg. 31)

Let's read The Lions of Little Rock first. We will plan to have the book finished by August 2nd (I know you'll be busy reading BOMB). Come back to this site on August 2nd and we'll discuss what we read. Then we will read Little Rock Girl 1957. Let's finish that book by August 9th. Same thing: come back to this site and we will discuss what we read.

Then, school will start and you will be ready to jump right in with all your new, awesome information to share.