Archive for September, 2012

Getting Away with Murder: The True Story of the Emmett Till Case by Chris Crowe

September 28th, 2012

Emmett Till is not a household name, but his death impacted the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s in the United States. Chris Crowe, author of the award-winning Mississippi, 1955, set out to inform his readers in Getting Away with Murder about the controversial murder trial of J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant. Till, a young black man, whistled at Roy Bryant’s wife. That much can be verified by other witnesses. Whether Till said or did more, only Till’s accuser can tell. Roy Bryant found out about the situation and decided to “teach that boy a lesson”. Bryant and his half-brother, Milam, grabbed Till from his great uncle’s house in the middle of the night, kidnapped him, beat him, and then shot him. Milam and Bryant tied a length of barbed wire around Till’s neck and to a gin fan and then threw Till’s dead body into the Tallahatchie River.

Emmett Till’s gruesome murder was followed by a trial riddled with injustice. Sheriff Clarence Strider locked up two witnesses to the murder and filed their paperwork under different names so that they could not testify at the trial, for instance. Milam and Bryant were found innocent of the murder of the 14 year-old boy. Years later, when Milam and Bryant could not be convicted of the same crime again because of double jeopardy, the two sold their story two a magazine and admitted to everything.

Crowe’s book does a good job presenting the facts. The second chapter does make a couple of guesses about what Emmett would like to do for fun based on what other boys his age enjoyed, but other than that it sticks pretty closely to interviews and media records.

At 121 pages, it’s a quick read that I recommend to introduce students to the civil rights movement. There are a ton of pictures, which is a necessity for nonfiction for the middle grade target audience. I’m proud of Crowe for including the photo of Till’s disfigured corpse because it’s that photo that caught people’s attention to what atrocities racism can lead to.

Using Hitchcock’s storyboards to address Common Core standards

September 24th, 2012

Reading Standard for Literature 7.7 in the Common Core reads:

Compare and contrast a written story, drama, or poem to its audio, filmed, staged, or multimedia version, analyzing the effects of techniques unique to each medium (e.g., lighting, sound, color, or camera focus and angles in a film).

When I think of effective (and just plain downright cool) use of lighting and camera angles, I think of Alfred Hitchcock. That’s why I was excited to see’s collection of storyboards from 13 of Hitchcock’s greatest films.
Using something like the storyboard from The Birds will help illustrate the effect of angles. Have students come up with other ways that they could have shot the scene from different angles and discuss how those changes affect the feel. (When the bird attacks Lydia, why do we want to be zoomed in on her face? Why not be side-on from a distance?) Where’s the emphasis of the action? What’s the pacing of the action? How do those factors impact characterization? This will help add a common vocabulary for you and your students which will hopefully in turn create an informed discussion when you discuss other adaptations from print to screen.

The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen

September 21st, 2012

I’m learning more and more that plotlines and tropes can be re-used/re-mixed but that it’s a quality cast of characters that still makes for an enjoyable read. The False Prince is about a missing/dead prince who is next in line for the throne and the main character who is going to try and take the prince’s place. The whole “Is this the heir?/Is this an impostor?” plotline has been done before – and done well – in stories like Palace of Mirrors. What sets False Prince apart is its main character, Sage.

At first glance, Sage reminds me of Disney’s take on Aladdin – complete with the reader first seeing Sage as he’s caught stealing for a good cause. Sage is his own hero, though, and it’s his dialogue that will endear you to him, or at least help you be a little more sympathetic towards him. The fact that Nielsen based Sage on two of her students made me more interested in the book. It also made me want to read a story about those students, but that’s for another time, I guess.

Much like Icefall, I would classify False Prince as a fantasy, but there’s no magic or mythical creatures or any of that. It’s an interesting world at war and I’ll be interested to see how the series develops – if we’ll see more about the other realms or not. I’d be willing to read more.


Overdrive Media Console

September 18th, 2012

If you have a smartphone/tablet and haven’t downloaded the Overdrive Media Console, you need to. I hadn’t until last night because I’ve been researching ways for our campus to incorporate ebooks with what we already have. Yesterday, though, I decided to try out the public library’s catalog for MP3 audio books. I was wondering how the library could deliver an MP3 to a user’s device and still respect copyrights.

The Overdrive Media Console reminds me a lot of the TED Air app that streams TED Talks near seamlessly. (It’s a beautiful app and the content is always intriguing if you needed my recommendation.) Overdrive downloads a buffer file that is then played through the app. The big plus to using the app versus downloading a straight MP3 file is that you can add bookmarks to the audio file. This was a huge feature for me. The app creates a data file that says how many minutes and seconds the player was into the MP3 file. When you click on that bookmark, you can skip straight to where you were.

Another great perk is that you can set the player to rewind a few seconds automatically the next time you open the app so that you get a quick review of the last sentence or two. That saves some of the jarring “where was I?” that I’ve experienced with straight MP3s.

The app works well for ebooks, too, in much the same manner as the Kindle or nook apps do.

The biggest perk is that all of this content was free. I only needed a library card. I found my library in the app, typed in my login information, and then had access to the catalog. The only drawback was that the catalog ran in the browser instead of the app, so the interface was a little clunkier and took longer to load, but I guess that’s a trade-off. I would rather have that than have to wait while thousands of books were re-registered/catalogued each time I opened the app.

Google’s 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon

September 13th, 2012

Have you seen Google’s new Bacon Number search tool? Type Bacon Number and then a celebrity’s name. Check it out.

No more big ears

September 13th, 2012

Growing up, whenever I looked at political cartoons in the newspaper, I felt like the caricatures of politicians were these grotesque creatures with misshapen features. And every politician has big ears, I guess. That, to me, means political cartoons. There are still some of those around, but the essence of the political cartoon has changed with new media. The current trend is  to take a photo, whether of an angry cat or goofy chocolatier, and add some sarcastic text to it.

That’s not too new by Internet standards. Our current junior high students don’t know what it’s like to live in a world pre-I Can Haz Cheezburger. What’s new, though, is the huge influx of political versions of these pictures. These new political cartoons are more prolific because of three factors:

  1. Accessibility of creation tools
  2. Accessibility of audience
  3. A sense of duty for the artist

If you have Microsoft Paint or even Word, you can add text to a picture. Since the picture is already created, the words are usually the only thing that needs to be added. The site someecards illustrates this perfectly in that the pictures are already there for you to pick.

Distribution is even easier. The artist doesn’t have to impress any acquisition editors at a newspaper or get big enough for syndication. Nope. You just need a social media account to blast out whatever idea you have. Since Facebook is already established and has a variety of reasons why people will log in, that’s why you see the majority of these new political cartoons on Facebook. Most people check their accounts for updates from friends, someone posts a political cartoon, and the reader can then share the photo. do nothing, or comment in disgust. Even if the cartoon was created on another site, it will end up on Facebook. Since newspapers are losing subscribers, you’ll see more and more of these cartoons be the norm for political cartoons because of the ready-made audience.

The sense of duty in creating/sharing the picture is what intrigues me about the new political cartoons. Where a paid political cartoonist needs to produce something each week or more frequently, the new cartoonist does it without much promise of getting recognition. Maybe they’ll win a bunch of likes, but not if someone just makes a copy of the image and posts that. There’s an unspoken understanding of copyright with these images, many of which borrow and remix other images. It boils down to the image being shared to get a laugh/get the idea out there. But it’s the sense of duty of the people that re-post, that take that idea and feel the need to educate others about it, which is missing in current newspaper cartoons. The new artists are unpaid campaigners in a world where social media is gaining more and more influence.

The Red Umbrella by Christina Diaz Gonzalez

September 4th, 2012

The Red Umbrella is the story of Lucia Alvarez, a Cuban teenager in 1961 whose country has been taken over by Fidel Castro and his revolution. What I love about the book is how realistic it is, which makes sense since it is based on the experience of the author’s parents. From 1960-1962, 14,000 kids without their parents emmigrated from Cuba to the United States in what eventually was called Operation Pedro Pan. Many of these kids did not have any relatives to pick them up from the airport when they landed on U.S. soil, essentially making them orphans.

The first half of the book is set in Cuba and we get to watch more and more freedoms disappear. The second half is Lucia’s trip to the United States, specifically Nebraska. Nebraska being pretty different from Cuba, Lucia has a tough time fitting in. The dialogue is spot on and some of the assumptions that people make about foster children or race are statements that I’ve heard in real life. Her foster mother gives her tobasco sauce to put on her breakfast because she “read that people in Mexico eat it”. After Lucia’s tongue nearly catches on fire, she explains that Cuba and Mexico are different countries. Lucia is able to blend in better than a character like Fadi from Shooting Kabul, but there is still a drastic adjustment period.

The setting of communist Cuba is not talked about much in teen fiction, at least not that I’m aware of (please comment if you can think of other titles), so Red Umbrella was a fresh read for me and definitely one that I will recommend for students and staff.