Saturday, July 11, 2015

Fantasy Book Reviews - The Ones Kids Will Shiver Over

Witherwood Reform School by Obert Skye  Illustrated by Keith Thompson

     This is a wonderfully scary, creepy, dark fantasy that kids will love. A brother and sister have carried their pranks just a little too far this time and no governess will remain to look after this motherless pair. The father is at his wits' end and decides to try one last thing to get them to behave – the trick that worked for him when he was a wayward child.
“Get in the car!” he yells at his terrible twosome, as the rain pours down outside and the dark descends for a scene that you know is going to end up badly. When they drive up to the top of the mesa that has been foreshadowed at the very beginning of the book, Tobias and Charlotte Eggers are uncertain what to expect. They have never seen their father in such a state.
     As he orders them out of the car and into the pounding rain, leaving them alone, they can’t believe he will truly do this to them and he really doesn’t intend to, but fate has a funny way of interfering and as the children look around, realizing that he is not coming back, they head toward the only light they see – that of Witherwood Reform School. Making the mistake that they are expected, they are welcomed in and Tobias and Charlotte soon learn that things are very wrong at this “school” with dangerous mutant animals guarding the gates at night, older children disappearing and mind-control stopping their plans of escape.
Children will delight and shiver with fright as they quickly turn the pages of this book, wondering why the father hasn’t come for them, where is he and what the outcome will be. Will the children get out . . . before it’s too late?

The Thickety: A Path Begins
The Thickety: The Whispering Trees
By J. A. White   Illustrated by Andrea Offerman

     I adored these two books and can’t wait for the next installment. I believe this is going to be a four-book set.
     Book One starts out quickly when our main character, Kara Westfall, is dragged out of bed to see her mother hanged as a witch. The island she lives on will abide no witchcraft and fights daily to keep the “thickety”, the dense growth of forest, cut back from their village. Kara’s father falls into a depression and we next meet her as a 12 year old taking care of, not only her father, but also younger brother, who is in poor health. Practically ostracized from the village, she gradually learns that she, too, has magical powers, but keeps them secret. Believing she can use her grimoire reasonably and for good she soon learns that it has taken control of her. The story rolls towards a terrible show down when we learn that Kara is not the only one in town with magic. Who will come out on top, what will it take from each of them and who will be collateral damage?
     If you think Book One is entrancing, engaging and wickedly spellbinding, then wait until you open the pages of Book Two: The Whispering Trees! Once I started this book, I couldn’t put it down. The action starts and never stops! Kara and her brother Taff are forced to escape into the forest. We got a taste of Sordyr, the evil forest demon, in the first book, but we are really going to know his wrath in book two. Can Kara and Taff survive the untold dangers in the Thickety as well as this evil demon? And what about Mary Kettle, the infamous witch all the village children heard terrible tales of
 . . . and the things she had done?


The Iron Trial (Book One of Magisterium)
By Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

     I picked this book up because I liked the scary looking cover and it didn’t fail my anticipation. Many say this book reminded them a bit of the Harry Potter books, but since I didn’t read them, I can’t compare the two - (no, don’t gasp, I didn’t read them because I didn’t need to – kids were doing that on their own, no book pushing needed!). The evil looking ghostly figure on the front pulled me in and didn’t disappoint. This is high fantasy and will definitely entrance those readers who love magic, contests, a training school and treachery.
     We meet our main character, Callum Hunt, at a typical high school, doing typical things. But we soon learn he isn’t typical. He doesn’t have a typical father and he actually has been told to fail at magic. Yes fail. He is dragged away to perform at an entrance exam for the Magisterium and his father warns him to do his worst – do everything wrong, do anything he can to fail, he should NOT get admitted. But try as he might, not even knowing he is gifted with magical powers, he finds that he can do things he never knew he could do . . . and certain people take notice. With his father grabbing him, trying to keep him from going, he is dragged from his father’s grasp and taken to the Magisterium. There he learns that not only is he quite good but also quite out of control. He must master this even if he doesn’t want to  . . .
     Not only does he learn to control his magic, he learns about his past, a past he didn’t realize he had, a past he didn’t know his father had, and a future he might not want to have.
     One caveat I do offer to our young readers is I found the prologue a bit wordy and difficult to understand. When I handed out this book to my 4th and 5th graders, I told them to read it but to then realize that the rest of the book didn’t “read like these pages” and when they finished reading the book, they should go back and read these first pages again and it would make a lot more sense. I think it might be off-putting to readers that aren’t as astute because it is more difficult to read then the rest of the book.
     With that being said, the rest of the book is fast-paced, exciting, and with a twist at the end that no one, I mean no one, will see coming and makes you very excited and longing for Book Two: The Copper Gauntlet, which comes out September 1st and which I have had on pre-order ever since!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Two Great K Literacy Apps!

     I don't profess to be a great technology person or be "in the know" about the best apps, but I do let my kindergarten intervention groups occasionally use the IPads on Fridays for a special treat. The apps they use MUST be educational and linked to literacy. Since so many of them are still learning their letters and sounds, I want them to be using apps that are helping them with this skill. I have found apps in the past that match capital letters to lowercase or apps that tell students which letters to touch or drag. My students will appear to like them  . . .for about five minutes and then ask, "Can I play something else?"
    I have recently found a couple they will play over and over again however, never getting bored. The all time favorite this year is, without a doubt - AVOKIDDO ABC RIDE !! This is an app that teaches students letter recognition and is extremely engaging and very well done. When my students are given a choice of four or five apps, they choose this one again and again.  They begin by choosing either a boy or a girl to put on a bicycle,which they can then ride down a path to each letter. At each stop, they must complete an activity to get the letter to appear. For instance, at "A", they must move their avatar boy or girl to catch the apricots in a basket as they fall from the tree. When all of them have been caught the word "apricot" appears at the top of the screen. The colored letters of the word "apricot" will drop to the bottom of the screen, out of order, leaving behind the shadow of the word, spelled correctly. The student will then drag the letters back up to the top to spell the word correctly again. What I really like is that as the student touches the letters, the letter names are spoken aloud for reinforcement.You are also able to adjust the settings for upper or lowercase letters as well as letter names or letter sounds. Each letter presents the student with a different activity for them to complete and they are all so much fun and funny! For example, for the letter "i" they must use a hair dryer (complete with sound effects!) to blow dry an igloo until it melts enough to reveal the letter Ii! They must use a sponge to clean a dirty pig and a hose to wash the bubbles off! How cool is that? Each letter is just as much fun as the next but is also always followed up with the word to hear and spell. 
Cost: $2.99
The next app that my students really love is LETTER SCHOOL. This app helps students with letter recognition as well as proper letter formation - again in a wonderfully fun and engaging way. First a picture that begins with the letter selected appears and is spoken, along with its sound as well. Then the letter, either capital or lowercase (you can make this determination) appears with three "buttons" at the bottom of the screen. When you tap on the first button - dots appear that the student taps, which will show them the correct formation - but with really fun things, like beads, a rocket ship or a chain, complete with motion. The second button also has dots but the student must draw with his/her fingers to get the actions to happen, which are different from the first ones. The kids love the one that has grass which is then mowed! Finally the student gets only the dots and must try to trace the letter from memory. However if they fail to do it after several tries, a yellow dotted line appears to help them. Again, this is an app that they will play over and over again, fascinated by the motion and movement of the letter formations. It can also switch to numerals. 
Cost: $4.99
I hope your students enjoy these as much as mine do!