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August

The Voice Heard Round the World

The Voice Heard ‘Round the World


By Marian R. Carlson

Schoolmaster Press

I have to admit, I was never a big fan of history lessons as an elementary or middle school student. In fact, it wasn’t until I was an adult when I developed a fascination with history. I can now appreciate where we are today – the good the bad and the ugly. I attribute a good part of my ennui as a kid to all things historical to the lack of good textbooks and materials to engage me in the learning process. If only Schoolmaster Press had been around for my teachers.
The Voice Heard ‘Round the World, by Marian R. Carlson, in collaboration with the Boston Landmarks Orchestra History Through Music Series brings history to life through text, narration on CD, and orchestral music. This particular book is the story of John Adams and the creation of The Declaration of Independence. It is a thin paperback, in color, and on very attractive glossy pages. The pictures are photographs of authentic documents and portraits. The text is written in a variety of fonts to help bring the reading process to life. The book itself can be read on its own or as a read aloud with the CD. However, if you choose to read along with the CD or only listen to the CD, take note that the text is interspersed with the orchestrations. Sometimes, the orchestrations are too long between text and the flow of the story may be lost on readers. As an educator, I would suggest a picture walk with the book and then continue with the guided reading model. I would then wrap up the lesson with the full read aloud on CD with orchestrations. This would also be a good time to introduce a music lesson into your home curriculum. The entire process should take place over the course of a few days. The materials can then be enjoyed over and over by your child independently.

Happy Reading

Kathleen A. Hunter
Ostrich Boys

Ostrich Boys


By Keith Gray

Random House

Ostrich Boys is Thelma and Louise meets Thirteen Reasons Why. Keith Gray has written a very authentic story from the point of view of a 15-year-old boy named Blake and how he and his two buddies, Kenny and Sim, fumble their way across the English and Scottish countryside to lay their best friend’s ashes to rest. Sure, Ross’ family gave him a proper funeral service but Blake and his buddies believe the funeral service and everyone who attended were a complete hypocrisy to their best friend’s legacy. Take the teacher who ran his car into Ross while he was riding his bike - how could he even think to show his face? After all he did kill their best friend. Or the sister who shared Ross’ journal to a cafeteria full of schoolmates. That would make any teen just wanna die. What was she thinking? Or the parents – each with a path in mind for their son to follow in life but not taking the time to listen to what he wanted. Yet they mourned guilt free of any wrong doing in their son's short life. In the eyes of Blake, Kenny, and Sim, there is only one thing to do. Kidnap Ross, or rather his ashes and the urn they sit in – and take him on a road trip to Ross, Scotland!

Thus begins the adventure! What could be more appropriate than an intimate memorial with your best buddies in the town dreamed of by the friend in the urn? If only things were that easy. But then we wouldn’t have much of a story to read if it were. Luckily for us as readers, the author takes the three friends on a road trip via train that is complicated by lost tickets and no money. The day gets brighter when the trio meets two blokes driving a taxi cab as their main source of transportation and offer them a ride – until their plans take them in a different direction. Eventually Blake, Kenny, and Sim befriend the cute local girls who fortunately have a couple of scooters to loan the wayward travelers. Good thing because by now the police back home are moving in closer on their trail and threatening to put the kibosh on their plans. But that dose of luck runs out when one of the friends goes missing from the back of the scooter! (How do you lose your passenger on a scooter without knowing?!) While they search for their friend, the remaining two face their consciences straight on. They learn more than they ever imagined possible – about Ross, about each other and as a group. One lost friend is found literally. But one is lost forever - the one lying in the urn. The boys will never know for certain what was going through Ross’ mind on the fateful day his life ended.

I won’t reveal if Ross took his own life or if it was taken from him. But what I will tell you is that sometimes what you most want to know about people and life is right in front of you from the very beginning. Unfortunately, human nature nudges one to burrow in the sand - a safe refuge. Eventually, even an ostrich needs to come up for air. Will the friendship of Blake, Kenny, and Sim survive their own misgivings about their role in Ross’ death? Will they be able to rise out of the sand to forgive each other? Only time will tell, and if we’re lucky, time will provide us with a second book by Keith Gray so that we may continue our journey with Blake, Kenny, and Sim and whatever their futures have in store.

Happy Reading

Kathleen A. Hunter
Conspiracy 365

Conspiracy 365


By Gabrielle Lord

Scholastic

A few words to describe the Conspiracy 365 series by Gabrielle Lord: Consuming, heart-racing, action-packed, thrilling and just plain Wow. I have to say that I was not at first sure about these books. It seemed as if they might be another in a long line of series with an interesting concept, but with little to keep them going past the first book. After reading the first two in this series, however, it is safe to say that I am hooked. My only regret is starting to read the series now since the final book won’t be released until the end of the year!

Callum Ormond’s father died, leaving him with his mother, sister and uncle. One night on New Year’s Eve, Callum is confronted by a creepy man on a dark street. The man tells him, “They killed your father. They’ll kill you. You must survive the next 365 days!” The man is quickly caught by some paramedics and sedated, then dragged away. Shortly after the incident, Callum and his uncle become stranded while boating, Callum’s lifejacket having been sabotaged along with the boat, and he finds himself stranded in the ocean, in a storm, being attacked by sharks. Within 24 hours, his home is broken into and he is accused of an attempted murder in which he had no part.

The series is broken down into twelve parts, one book for each month of the year, starting in January 2011. The books also count backward, each novel’s pages moving swiftly to 001, making the series feel even more urgent as it goes on. The writing is well-paced and not overly technical, often using Callum and his friend Boges to define difficult words and themes without the text feeling instructional or purposely educational. The series is not specifically written for a reluctant reader audience, but the pacing and action will keep most readers engaged from the start.

There is nothing of note to object to in the books either, as there is no language, sex, drug use or explicit violence, though there are some frightening moments, as in the case of the shark attack in January. Young readers who enjoy the first book will have a series to keep them busy for a while and I have no doubt they will be as hooked as I am.


Wolves at the Gate

Skinwalkers


By E.L. Thomas, D.M. Ouellet, C.A. Rainfield

H-I-P Books

High Interest Publishing has done extensive research with teachers and students to create books formulated for reluctant readers and those with reading difficulties, and the Skinwalkers series is the result of this partnership. The Skinwalkers series takes into account word choice, typeface and formatting along with plot and character development in order to create books that are easy to read and meant to engage reluctant readers. The books are short; each told in under 110 pages, and focus on moving the story forward rather than developing characters. Fast-paced action prevails, and little time is spent describing scenes or creating memorable or realistic characters. The books use a lot of repetition to bring the theme into focus both through description and dialogue. The series doesn’t shy away from violence; readers that appreciate a darker fantasy world may enjoy the grittier aspects of the plots, while younger readers won’t find it too frightening. Teachers can also purchase a Teacher’s Guide to complement the series.

Each book begins with a prologue that explains the premise of this fantastical world. There are two types of people: the One-Skins (humans) and the Skinwalkers, a magical group of people who can transform themselves into animals at will. In the past, the prologue tells us, One-Skins and Skinwalkers lived in harmony. However, the One-Skins became more powerful, and started to believe that the magic of the Skinwalkers was evil and they were not to be trusted. The One-Skins began killing the Skinwalkers and forcing them to live away from villages in secret forest camps. From this prologue, each book begins, telling the story of one individual who must bridge the gap between the two now faraway worlds.

Wolves at the Gate (E.L. Thomas)


Ren, a young pickpocket, is caught stealing during a public hanging, and finds himself in prison, awaiting his trial with Connor, a Skinwalker who takes the form of a wolf. When Connor’s sister Teresa breaks Connor and Ren out of jail, Ren is taken to the Skinwalkers’ secret camp. Here Ren learns of his true nature as a fox Skinwalker, and finds himself embroiled in a plot to kill the One-Skin king, a man who is trying to kill all the Skinwalkers. However, plans turn to disaster, and Connor and Ren find themselves once again in danger of being hanged because of their true natures.

Legend of the Ring (D.M. Ouellet)


Ross is a poor orphan boy who unwittingly becomes a hero by saving a young girl, Cat, from Lord Damon’s soldiers. Due to his uncle’s fiery temper and selfish nature, Ross hides Cat in the barn at the farmhouse where he lives, but finds that Cat disappears at night. It is only in following her that he realizes her true nature as a Skinwalker who takes the shape of a panther. Through the help of Cat, Ross discovers that he is one of the last Fire Stallions, a rare breed of Skinwalker, and also considered the Prince of the Skinwalker clans. However, Ross must stop the evil Lord Damon, a snake Skinwalker himself, from killing all the humans and taking over the world with Skinwalkers, and regain his authority as the true Prince of the Skinwalkers.

Walking Both Sides- C.A. Rainfield


Claire, a One-Skin, is hunting one day with her cousin Kelsey, when they spot a young deer. Claire immediately senses that this deer is a Skinwalker, but Kelsey kills the deer anyway, in an act of vengeance for the deaths that have recently taken place in their village. The Skinwalkers come and take Claire and Kelsey for their crime, placing Kelsey on trial for murder. Claire is kept at the Skinwalker camp, but falls in love with Ned, a young deer Skinwalker. Through conversation and action, Claire and Ned forge a bond of understanding, and when war breaks out between the One-Skins and the Skinwalkers, it is up to this young couple to stop the violence and develop a truce between the villagers and the Skinwalker clan.

Stacey Matson
How They Croaked

How They Croaked — The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous


by Georgia Bragg
Illustrated by Kevin O'Malley

Walker Books


The three most-important things to know about this book are:

1. It displays a skeleton doctor on the cover and a skull-and-crossbones on the inside flap, along with the warning: "If You Don't Have the Guts for Gore, Do Not Read This Book."

Right away, you know every kid is going to love it!

2. It describes, in graphic detail, how Henry VIII's toxic remains exploded, how bloodsucking leeches were used on Mozart, and how Einstein's brain spent decades in a beer cooler and made a road trip years after he died.

Just the kind of weird and graphically gory stuff to keep even the most reluctant reader engaged.

3. While the stories are presented in chronological order (starting with King Tut and continuing through historical figures such as Galileo and George Washington), it's really a book for dipping in and out of various chapters spanning history on a search for the "the good stuff."

It's a fast read. The writing is compelling; the stories punctuated by humorous and fascinating details about the lives every character. So in a sense, these stories about "awful ends" are most important as a way to introduce young readers to the lives and accomplishments of many of history's extraordinary people. A good concept; a fun read.
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