The Sisters Grimm

Author: Michael Buckley

Age Range: 10-12 (Kirkus)

Interest Range: 8-12

Genre: Fantasy, Mystery

Plot: Sabrina and Daphne are pros at breaking out of foster homes. Ever since their parents disappeared, they’ve been escaping from each bad situation and getting back to the orphanage as quick as possible. But this time it’s different. This time, the woman they’re going to be living with claims to be their real grandmother. But that can’t be true, because Sabrina and Daphne have known for years that their grandmother is dead. That’s what their parents said. And this lady also seems to believe that fairy tales are real. Not only real, but that she’s surrounded by them. Granny Relda believes that the town of Ferry Port Landing is crawling with fairy tales, and that it is her job to sort out all of these Everafters’ mysteries. Is she really their grandmother? Will she be able to help the girls find their parents? And just WHAT is going on with all these fairy tale reminiscent characters? Is anyone in this town sane?

Review: Being a huge fan of fairy tales, I absolutely loved this book and the others in the series that I have read so far (at this point I’m on #4). Sabrina and Daphne are two very different girls, and both very set in their ways. Sabrina is skeptical, often so much that it can blind her to the truth. Daphne is trusting, and wants very much to settle into this amazing new existence that she has found. As the books progress, they begin to deal with the issue of prejudice. Sabrina believes that all of the Everafters are horrible and not to be trusted. This often comes back to bite her and is a big part of the third book. I’m curious to see how this plays out over the course of the series. They also deal a lot with the idea of right and wrong with respect to the use of magic, which is interesting since magic is such a popular topic in much middle grade fiction right now. Lovers of fairy tales will have more fun with this series than those who are not as familiar with folklore. Many references will go over readers’ heads if they don’t already have a working knowledge of the best known fairy tale stories.

Themes: Changes at Home, Homelessness, Building New Relationships,

Additional Info:

Series Info: This is book 1 in a 9-book series, which has been completely published at this writing.

Main Characters:

Sabrina Grimm: The older of the two sisters, Sabrina is focused on finding their parents and interested in nothing else. She refuses to believe that this new woman is their grandmother and cannot believe that she would be silly enough to believe that fairy tales are real.

Daphne Grimm: Daphne wants very much to believe that Granny Relda is really their relative and that Ferry Port Landing is really full of Everafters. She delves into the detective work and wants very much to take on the family job of keeping the Everafters in line.

Granny Relda: The mother of the girls’ father, she really is their grandmother. Relda wants to convince the girls to believe her and have them help her with her detective work. She is slightly odd, but who wouldn’t be when they’ve spent their life surrounded by real-life fairy tales? She also wants to find her son and his wife, but is taking a more careful approach, which is not enough for Sabrina.

Bibliographic Info:

Buckley, M. (2007). The Fairy-Tale Detectives. New York: Amulet Books.

Tagline:

The Grimm sisters are about to realize that their family history is not as simple as they thought. When faced with real-life fairy tales, what would you do?

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The Red Pyramid

Author: Rick Riordan

Age Range: 10-18 (Kirkus)

Interest Range: 10-14

Genre: Fantasy, Adventure

Plot: Carter and Sadie have grown up as practically strangers. When their mother died, their father continued traveling the world and studying Egyptian history with Carter in tow while Sadie stayed with their grandparents in England. On Christmas eve, the only time of the year when the three of them are together, their father manages to let lose an ancient Egyptian god who wants him dead. Carter and Sadie are amazed to find that the Egyptian gods are not only real, but after their own family. And now, with the disappearance of their dad they have to learn to work together for the first time in their lives if they have any hope of saving him. As their adventure advances, the brother and sister realize their own powers and unlock the history of their family that goes all the way back to the time of the pharaohs. Can they learn to work together in time to save their dad and the world as we know it?

Review: Riordan seems to have cornered the niche of Greek and Egyptian mythology at the middle grade level. His writing moves quickly, and he throws in lots of history and facts about the different gods and the history and culture of these regions. It’s easy to see why readers enjoy his multiple series, but I can also see how they might get old quickly. Since I have a love for mythology, these books appeal to me and my excitement at seeing young kids excited about reading in this genre. These books could be a good starting place for teaching mythology: a fast paced story to draw them into the topic, and then other materials could be introduced for more depth with different myths or gods.

Themes: Changes at Home, Building New Relationships, Magic, Coming of Age

Additional Info:

Main Characters:

Carter Kane: 14 years old, and often called “Wikipedia brain” by his sister, Carter is smart. He also happens to be a very strong magician, although he doesn’t know it at the beginning of this story. Carter’s main concern is finding and saving their father. Of note: Carter (and Sadie) have parents of two different races. His father was black and his mother was white. Carter’s skin color makes this fact much more obvious than his sister’s. People often don’t understand them to be related.

Sadie Kane: 12 years old, Sadie was born and raised for most of her life in Los Angeles but has been living with her grandparents for the past few years in England. She does not see her father often, and does not get along well with her brother because of a fight at her sixth birthday party.

Muffin/Bast: The cat that Sadie’s father gave to her when he lost custody of her, Muffin is actually the goddess Bast in housecat form. She eventually makes her presence known and helps Carter and Sadie in their adventures.

Bibliographic Info:

Riordan, R. (2010). The Red Pyramid. New York: Hyperion Books.

Tagline:

What if one day you found out that your dad was an Egyptian magician? What if all of a sudden you were one too?

Revisiting Worldviews and Strategies of Inquiry

I’ve been going through Creswell again, in preparation for our final project (creating a research proposal) and was surprised at the new level of understanding I’ve gained over the course of the semester. I remember my first interaction with Creswell and his discussion on worldviews quite clearly, because I was very confused at the time. After reading the assigned chapter, I had no idea what my own worldview was and still wasn’t quite sure why I had to have one. Reading classmates’ comments about how they knew that they subscribed to one idea or another, or were certain that they were a combination of these two or those two, I felt very far behind and rather lost. I am proud to say that on this latest read through the material, my own ideas seem rather obvious to me now.

Overall, I feel I fit best into the Pragmatist camp. I definitely do not see the world as an absolute unity and often acknowledge that every situation is different and calls for a specialized interaction. I think that in my own future research this is how I will approach each situation, trying to figure out which methods will work best for the challenge at hand. I feel like mixed methods approaches will be my desired research methods, mixing equal parts of quantitative and qualitative research in an attempt to make sense of my findings in my own head and present as much evidence to others as I can. After this course, I have a much better understanding of how rich the qualitative research can be, allowing you to gain a level of insight that quantitative research just cannot touch. (As a side note, I never thought I would be saying that. Ever.)

For the research project in front of me, my approach will be from an Advocacy and Participatory worldview. My end goal would be a change in practice, making this my obvious choice for an approach. Creswell also says that this worldview “focuses on the needs of groups and individuals in our society that may be marginalized or disenfranchised” (pg. 9) and I do really believe that the youth I want to study fit very well into this group. Through my research I have strengthened my belief that Digital Natives learn differently than those who have come before them, and we need to make new technology equally available for all members of our society. Libraries really are, in my opinion, the best way to institute this idea. They are already organizations that are trying to level the playing field for everyone, giving equal access to books and other media, why not add video games to that mix? Many already have, and have seen success. Many don’t want to try because they don’t want to fail. This brings me to my initial idea for my strategy of inquiry for this final assignment.

Because of the Advocacy approach, I want to do a mainly qualitative study. My current thought is a case study of school libraries (middle and high school level) that have already attempted integrating video games into their collections and their learning environment, culminating in a list of best practices and things to avoid for schools that want to try similar programs. Many schools are interested in new technology and advancements in their curriculum, but simply don’t know where to start. My research could serve as a guide for them, showing them potential pitfalls and giving them a starting point for their planning. I was also interested in the Narrative Research approach, and would pursue this just out of personal interest. But I don’t think it would help to support my worldview and my own endgoal for the project. Ethnography was another choice, and certainly something that I’m still considering as I move forward with the project.

Before starting the final project, I was worried. My learning process this semester seemed so gradual that I felt (before sitting down with Creswell again) like I had no idea where to start for putting things together and coming up with a plan. But I haven’t even made it all the way through my second pass on the first chapter and I’ve already got a potential plan in place. I’m amazed at how my ideas on research have grown and evolved over the semester. In the beginning, research terrified me and all I could think about was writing papers. Now, I can see the process behind it and all of the details that have to go into consideration for even just the planning let alone the carrying out of the actual research. I definitely have a new appreciation for all of those research articles I have read and will continue to read in the future.

Creswell, J. W. (2009). Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Discussion: Tweens as a Media Construct

I find this idea intriguing. The category of “Tween” is most definitely something that the media created. We’ve read that point in multiple articles this semester. It was created as a marketing strategy to try to reach a new and more specific niche. Publisher’s realized that there was an age group that was between Children and Teen and wanted to capitalize on it, and Tweens were born. Now bookstores cater to these readers with categories called things like Young Readers (at Barnes and Noble) and Middle Grade (at many independent bookstores). This can still be quite the mix bag of fiction titles, since they tend to span readers from ages 8-14 and cover many different reading levels.
What I find so interesting based on readings from this unit is the fact that even though the media created this market, motion pictures have a really hard time figuring out how to successfully portray this most awkward of age groups on the big screen. Before reading Paul’s article, this was a fact I hadn’t thought of much before. But magazines and television shows can represent this age group just fine (as written about by Olson). Magazines like Bop, Twist, and J-14 chronicle the stars that spring forth from Disney and Nickelodeon programming and seem to bolster each other’s standing with the tween crowd. These types of media can play off of each other easily and continue to be successful, even in the Internet age. I don’t quite understand the disconnect when it comes to movies, but it’s true: I don’t remember many really good movies that feature leading roles in the 9-12 age. I think Matilda was good, but she had superpowers and that was many years ago. And Kick-Ass had a young lady character who was probably 11 or 12 and quite admirable, but she was slicing people open and that was definitely a teen/adult film. Granted, I haven’t been on the lookout for tween films over the past few years, but it shocks me that nothing comes to mind without some really hard searching.

Paul’s take on how girls in this age group are portrayed on-screen is telling:

“Even battling evil warlocks, when tween girls leave the page for the screen, they largely hew to an awkward caricature of preadolescence. They tend to be sassy beyond their years but at the same time resolutely presexual. They are usually tomboys. And often, as in the case of both the Nancy Drew and Judy Moody movies, they have more visible male friends than female ones. Hollywood tweens are also, oddly, antiheroines. Rather than smart, they are smarty-pants: smug, priggish and set up for a pratfall.”

And who really wants to watch that for multiple hours? And maybe the awkwardness of the tween years just is too hard of a topic for us to want to sit through again after we’ve already experienced it or are currently going through it. If movies are supposed to be an escape, why would anyone want to revisit that often dreadful time of their lives? Paul also observes that “Portraying the delicacies of a girl’s first period is hard enough on the page. It’s quite another challenge on the big screen. Whereas the humiliations of preadolescence are fodder for comedy in male characters — the squeaking voice, the pimples, the delayed growth spurt — in girls it’s an age often avoided.” And I understand why. After spending this semester revisiting writings directed at this age group for the first time since being a part of it myself, I am reminded of what a tumultuous time in our lives these years really are. I don’t think anyone really enjoys going back to it in the very public and in-your-face way that movies can and do visit tough issues.

At least there are the independent films out there. The Little Miss Sunshines that give us an honest, awkward young lady who is admirable in her struggles and even manages to make us laugh along the way. Maybe the major studios should just stop trying to produce things other than High School Musicals. Leave the adolescents to the creative types that linger as the outliers in the medium. For now they seem to be the only ones making any real progress in that area.

Olson, E. (2007, May 28). OMG! Cute boys, kissing tips and lots of pics, as magazines find a niche. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/28/business/media/28fanzine.html?pagewanted=1&sq=tween%20magazines&st=cse&scp=4

Paul, P. (2011, June 3). Girls of a certain age challenge hollywood. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/05/movies/hollywood-challenge-portrayals-of-tween-girls.html?_r=1&adxnnl=1&ref=movies&adxnnlx=1353776443-YYzvao5YxXyS/Qq+XENEoA

 

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

Author: e. l. konigsburg

Age Range: 9-12

Interest Range: 9-12

Genre: Realistic Fiction

Plot: Claudia Kincaid has decided to run away. In the weeks that she spends planning her departure she almost forgets why she wanted to run away in the first place, but she is a very determined almost-12-year-old girl and knows that it must have been something important. She decides to take her younger brother Jamie, because he is richer than any of her siblings and also the one she can stand the most, and that they will travel to New York City and stay in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Think that sounds crazy? Well, they manage to do it- and they make a few big discoveries along the way. Will Claudia and Jamie ever be able to get along? Can they manage to outwit the security guards and not get caught? And just who carved that mysterious new Angel statue, anyway? Hear the story as it was told to Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and learn why she’s now writing these two children into her will.

Review: This book was hilarious and also quite deep. I never imagined it to be a discussion on the kinds of feelings and needs a young girl sometimes has to feel different or changed in some way. Yes, it is far fetched in that two children running away from home and living in a museum successfully for a week could not happen today, and at times the text is rather dated (there’s an interesting discussion on drugs and drug pushers and mysterious candy that made me laugh out loud), but it is so well done that you hardly realize that you’re learning something along the way. The value of secrets, or the value of feeling different or changed on the inside even if others can’t tell on the outside. Claudia left home searching for something and was determined to stay away until she knew she could come home as a different person. And she found out she couldn’t force it- her decision to wear a sari and attempt at practicing the appropriate walk after visiting the UN proved that quite clearly. She had to figure things out on her own. And she managed to, in the course of a week. A tall order for the real world, but a valuable lesson to be given to the reader. Sometimes we as humans want to experience a change in ourselves. I’ve had that craving many times, and moved around the country because of it. It’s a desire for adventure and experience. Claudia gained both.

Themes: Adventure, The Importance of Secrets, Changes Within, Coming of Age

Additional Info:

Awards: Newbery winner in 1968

Adaptations: done as an audio book in 1969 (cassette tape), a movie in 1973 (released as The Hideaways, featuring Ingrid Bergman), and a made-for-tv film released in 1995.

Main Characters:

Claudia Kincaid: A very determined 11 year old girl (almost 12) who loved to plan, but is not very good with money. Claudia decides to run away, spends weeks planning it, and manages it rather successfully. They manage to live in a museum, keep themselves well-fed, and even do laundry and travel around New York City without having many problems at all. In the course of the story, Claudia realizes that she is looking for experience and a way to come home changed on the inside.

James Kincaid: Claudia’s 9-year-old brother, who is terrible at planning but very good with his money. He’s been saving every penny he ever earned, and manages the team’s finances while they are adventuring. He is a perfect fit for his sister’s strengths and weaknesses, and the two of them form quite the team while out on their own.

Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler: Mrs. Basil is a rich old woman (82 years old) who lives in Connecticut and owns a very vast collection of art. Her statue of the Angel was recently bought by the Metropolitan Museum of Art at an auction, and she holds the secret behind it very dear to her heart. She is the narrator of this story, since she has collected it as evidence and is presenting it to her lawyer to explain why she wants to include Claudia and James in her will.

Saxonberg: Frankweiler’s lawyer, to whom she is writing this story.

Bibliographic Info:

Konigsburg, E. L. (2002). From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Tagline:

Sometimes it’s not enough to come home safe and sound. Sometimes you need to come home different.

Website Review: Fact Monster

URL: http://www.factmonster.com

Main Purpose: Homework Help and General Knowledge
This site offers searching capabilities, but also categories of facts presented in easy to read tables, with many words hyperlinked to definitions. The main categories listed directly on the homepage are World, United States, People, Sports, Science, Math & Money, Word Wise, Cool Stuff, Homework Center, and Games & Quizzes.

Below these main categories is a broken out Reference Desk, with direct links to the Homework Center, Timelines, Almanac, Atlas, Dictionary, and Encyclopedia. There is also a portion of the screen that cycles through highlighted categories and features on the site to suggest timely materials to the site visitor (While reading this in late November, some of the highlighted categories here were Hanukkah, 2012 Current Events, a selection of popular games like Hangman and featured quizzes). Finally, there’s a Features section that offers the most timely information: the day’s featured quiz, a poll, a vocabulary word that is updated daily, an analogy of the day, a spelling bee challenge, and Today in History and a famous birthday of the day.

Each link has a seemingly endless amount of resources, making this site a very tempting black hole for clicking links and learning more at each turn. The timeline function is my favorite so far. It offers existing timelines on specific topics in a wide range of categories or gives you the ability to search year by year for specific events. You can even take quizzes on each decade of the 1900s up through 2009.
The Homework Center offers lots of resources to students with just a few clicks of the mouse. There are search functions for Almanacs, Atlases, Dictionaries, Encyclopedias, Biographies, and a link to a Kids Q&A search engine called Answerplease. Students can also go to pages for different subjects or skills for more specific help. Plus there is a link to online tutors that are available for real-time help with math and science. There are also lots of quizzes and online games available for breaks from the studying process when needed.

This website would be great both for tweens working on homework and for those students who love to read fact books like the Guinness Book of World Records.

 

Research Term List

The following is my final search term list from gathering articles for my literature review. At the end I’ve added a few more terms (in italics) that I plan on using when doing more research for my final project. These are based on feedback from my professor and just further ruminating on the subject.

Video Games

Libraries

Education

Learning

Youth

Children

Students

Video Gamers

Gamers

Computer Games

Electronic Games

Adolescents

Adolescence

Information Literacy

Educational Games

Literacy

Media Literacy

Digital Literacy

Qualitative Study

Transliteracy

School Media Center

Public Librar(ies)

High School

Middle School

Movie Review: Coraline

Written and Directed by: Henry Selick

MPAA Rating: PG

Interest Range: 10-adult

Genre: Fantasy, Horror

Plot: Coraline’s family has recently moved to a new house. It’s boring, and always raining, and Coraline’s parents are prone to ignore her while they both work from home. Her only form of entertainment is exploring- and watching out for Wybie, the grandson of the landlord who has taken to following Coraline around. One day Wybie drops off a surprise for Coraline, a doll he found in his Grandmother’s house that looks just like her: blue hair, yellow raincoat and boots, the only difference is a pair of button eyes. Coraline carries the doll around with her out of boredom, but assures everyone that she’s far too old to play with dolls…and then she finds the door. In the daytime, the tiny secret door opens onto nothing but a bricked up wall, but at night it’s a gateway into a whole separate world just like this one but better. Coraline’s other mother and father adore her and cook her delicious food and give her all of their attention, but now they want her to stay with them. Forever. Coraline must decide which world she wants to live in before it goes too far.

Review: I remember being struck by this movie when I saw it in the theater. It was done in 3D, and seamlessly so. Upon entering the other world, everything seemed to become interactive and beautiful, helping the viewer understand why this world was so much more appealing to a bored 11-year-old girl. It loses some of that when viewed in only 3D, but the story is still intense. While the book features a lot of Coraline’s inner struggles and monologues, allowing for the story to be mainly about her journey with bravery, the movie cannot do that. So the writer created Wybie, an odd little boy who stalks Coraline and eventually becomes her friend after helping to save her from the Belle Dame. Now, having read the book and seen the movie in close succession, I definitely appreciate the book more. But I can see how the movie would hook some children in a way the book could not. The design of the movie also creates some images that could be rather disturbing for some children, whereas the book leaves more to be interpreted in your own imagination. I included two different promotional images for the film in this post that show the juxtaposition of this film. I think that younger children will be interested in this because of the animation aspect, but may be scared off by the intensity of the underlying message and the last 30 minutes. Maybe this film is a good introduction to scary movies?

Themes: Changes at Home, Importance of Family, Building New Relationships

Additional Info:

Main Characters:

Coraline Jones: An 11-year-old girl who wants to stand out. She enjoys exploring, asking questions, and looking different from everyone else. When she discovers the door and the other world, Coraline is tired of being ignored. She gladly accepts the gifts and warmth of her other family, but quickly realizes the danger she’s placed herself in.

Wybie: The grandson of the Pink Palace’s landlord, and roughly the same age as Coraline. He’s not quite used to having other kids around, since his grandmother usually doesn’t allow for tenants with children. But Coraline intrigues both him and the feral cat he keeps as a kind of pet, so he follows her to keep an eye on her.

The Belle Dame: Coraline’s other mother. A being that exists by feeding off of the lives of young children. She creates fantastic worlds to lure them into loving her, then ensnares them and uses their life up to maintain her power. She then traps the ghosts in her world, never to be released again.

Bibliographic Info:

Selick, H.(Producer and Director), & Jennings, C. (Producer). (2009). Coraline [Motion picture]. United States: Laika, Pandemonium.

Tagline:

“Be careful what you wish for.”

Dark Lord: The Early Years

 

Author: Jamie Thomson

Age Range: 9-14 (Kirkus reviews)

Interest Range: 9-14

Genre: Fantasy, Magical Realism, Humor

Plot: Dirk Lloyd has been hit by a car and lapsed into some kind of amnesia- at least that’s what he was told after waking up in a supermarket parking lot and being rushed to a hospital. But Dirk knows exactly who he is: The Dark Lord from the Iron Tower of Despair at the Gates of Doom, from the Dark Lands. The white wizard has sent him here to earth and trapped him in the body of a 12-year-old boy because it was the only way to defeat him, and now no one believes him. The child psychologists think he’s created some elaborate fantasy to deal with a traumatic event- they even try hypnotizing him to find out the real story! But after months of living in a foster home and learning how to navigate the seventh grade as a puny human boy, Dirk isn’t changing his tune. But he is managing to learn how to show affection and gain ::gasp:: friends instead of minions. Is Dirk faking, or is he really from another world, full of orcs and goblins?

Review: I loved this book! Between the humor and the references to movies and role playing games, there were very well done discussions on bullying, going to therapy, navigating inter-group relations at school, dealing with the powerless feeling of being a kid. It’s hard to be the nerd, especially when you’re so lost in your world that you can’t help but let it come out sometimes. Dirk lets his flag fly high, and gains friends in the process. His closest friends end up spanning three very different groups: a goth girl, a very normal boy, and the most attractive and popular jock in the seventh grade. His unwillingness to back down in the face of bullies is inspiring, and his interactions with the child psychologists are frustrating and (I would imagine) pretty spot-on for most kids. This book might appeal to a very different kind of kid- or at the very least let those who are always focused on the good guys take a walk on the dark side. Like Dirk always says “Why is it always for goodness’ sake? Why can’t it be for evil’s sake? For evil’s sake!”

Themes: Bullying, Illness, Changes at Home, Building New Relationships

Additional Info:

Main Characters:

Dirk Lloyd: The Dark Lord, or so he believes. The adults are trying to tell him he’s been hit by a car and just cannot remember his real name, parents, or anything about his past. But Dirk is convinced he was fighting a war in his home, the Dark Lands, and was banished by a white wizard. Now he’s been placed in a foster home and must start attending school like any other normal kid. But Dirk is anything but normal, and his teachers and fellow students don’t quite know what to think.

Christopher Purejoie: The son of Dirk’s new foster parents. Chris and Dirk eventually manage to become friends. Chris even earns the title “Mouth of Dirk” for his wonderful ability to act as translator between Dirk and his surroundings.

Susan Black: Upon first meeting her, Dirk mistakes Sooz for a vampire- even addressing her loudly as “Child of the Night” and disrupting class. But Sooz is a goth, not a vampire, and really likes Dirk. I mean, really likes him. She even decides to take the heat when the three of them (Sooz, Dirk, and Chris) get in some major trouble.

Sal Malik: The most popular jock in the seventh grade. His interests lie mostly in Baseball and Soccer, and Dirk only manages to earn his friendship when he displays his strength in tactics. Soon the two are meeting secretly to come up with plans on how to crush the competition. Dirk even promises Sal the position of Lord High Overseer of the Armies of Darkness, due to his physical prowess.

All three sidekicks are certain that Dirk is crazy and just coming up with stories. They know he believes every word he says, but none of them actually thinks he’s telling the truth.

Bibliographic Info:

Thomson, J. (2012). Dark Lord: The Early Years. New York: Walker Publishing Company, Inc.

Tagline:

Dirk Lloyd is from another plane of existence, but for now he’s trapped on Earth in the body of a puny 12-year-old boy. How’s a real Dark Lord supposed to take over anything when his magic stops working and he’s reduced to a child?