You are currently browsing the archives for February 2008.
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Personal Learning Networks

  • Posted on February 29, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Jim Lerman wrote a lengthy blogpost on Personal Learning Networks. I desire stronger organization of my own Personal Learning Networks so I have joined his PLN ning and intend to spend some time gathering my thoughts, activities, and searches for meaning on my PLN. Interested? Please join us.

View my page on Personal Learning Networks :: PLNs

Scary Places Insane Asylums

  • Posted on February 28, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Abandoned Insane Asylums by Dinah Williams. Bearport Publishing, 2008. Part of the Scary Stories series, this is the one title that I recommend waiting until sixth grade and up to share with students. I believe this book should be part of high school sociology classes and English classes where they discuss various viewpoints. I do not believe there is another book like this out on the market which can be used to seriously examine the issue of treatment for the mentally ill. So, yes, this title is well-done and respectful, but, no, I’m not ready to put it in my elementary library for my particular students. 

When I spoke with Adam Siegel, Bearport’s Editorial Director and the editor for Scary Places, about this title in depth, we discussed that this title stands apart because of the amount of background knowledge of mental illness, asylums, medical history, and more needed to comprehend the seriousness of this issue. This is the most sophisticated of the series and is aimed at the upper range of interest in the series.

These places are not scary to me because they treated the extremely ill patients, but rather because the methods of treatment are considered cruel and inhumane in today’s society. The introduction to this title shows the authors’ approach was framed very carefully to be sympathetic to the patients. Mentally ill people were not understood in the past and most medical providers didn’t know how to treat them. The proper care and respect of the mentally ill is so important to me and  I want to say I think the author did a good job of being horrified at the abuses in the recent past. The editor and author aimed to educate the public about the history of these places while raising consciousness of the horrors that occurred. Balanced treatment is attempted with the discussions on electric shock therapy and how medical opinions have changed. 

I do think teacher and parent guidance would be helpful for this book. As I share this with children, I will be sure to point out that all of these places have been closed hence the word abandoned. I will point out that many of these places began to help other people, with activities, and the most current treatments at those times. Many of the reasons treatment went downhill revolve around funding cuts, staff cuts, and poorly trained staff. In order to avoid any places like this in the future, society does need to be educated and aware of the abuses of the past. I still have strong reservations about including this topic in the scary places series. I know there are legends and myths of ghosts in these facilities, hence their inclusion. I know the publishers and editors were not trying to be disrepectful, but I have a personal history and a personal bias against "insane asylums" instead of modern "psychiatric hospitals." Perhaps using that terminology will help distance the good and the bad.
 
I grew up near the Mental Health Institute (MHI) in Cherokee, Iowa. My grandparents had worked there and my mother used to skip in and out of the kitchens there. They often would bring people home for Sunday dinners so my mother grew up with a very compassionate attitude towards the mentally ill.

When I was in college, I would drive international college students through the grounds and even tour the museum buried deep in the basement. Yes, we even tried on the straight jackets.  We explored the museums because they were testimonies to the history of mental health care and how it had changed over the last hundred years. Not all countries around the world treat their patients in the same manor. (Oops, the facility looks like a manor, but I meant to say manner)

During the Christmas holidays, we toured the grounds looking at lights and discussing the various buildings and their functions – the different kinds of homes and wards, stables, carpentry shops, gardens, kitchens, greenhouses, water treatment facilities, powerplants, dental offices, and more. We appreciated the MHI and it’s role in the history of the town.

With my mother around, we grew up RESPECTING the person and recognizing the illness without the fear of "insane", "crazy" or "mentally ill" people.  I have dealt with  family members being hospitalized for care in modern facilities and seen caring and compassionate health care doctors, nurses, and social workers try their best to help the entire family, not just the patient cope.

There are so many degrees and types of mental illness. Some illnesses are easily treated with medication and combinations of therapies. Others can be more debilitating. Some have short durations, others impact families the rest of their lives.  For teen and adult family members, I still highly recommend the book "Stop Pretending: What Happened When My Big Sister Went Crazy". Education and support groups are what enabled me to help my family. There are groups in every community and online to support all types of illnesses. 

What would I need to see available in a classroom that was discussing this title? 
GOOD EXAMPLES of HEALTHY MENTAL HEALTH TREATMENT

I found the web pages for this series very interesting. Different cultures have varying interpretations of what is appropriate for children. Explore the sites given, particularly the kids site in New Zealand. I think you’ll agree that the crossword puzzle is definitely written for a higher level student. 

So, am I censoring this title based upon my personal beliefs and past experiences? Or am I making a judgment call on the appropriateness of this title for my particular audience? If I taught in high school, I’d buy this. What will you do?

Scary Places

  • Posted on February 28, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Scare these kids and they love it. They rush in with the scary books and relish telling me they had nightmares. My students can’t get enough of scary stuff so I welcomed Bearport Publishing company’s new Scary Places series.  Sarah Parvis has written Haunted Hotels, Ghost Towns, and Creepy Castles, while Dinah Williams wrote Haunted Houses, Spooky Cemeteries, and Abandoned Insane Asylums.

Intended for the interests of Grades 4-8 these six are a must have for middle schools. As for elementary schools, I’m going to suggest five of the titles. The sixth one should be in every high school also. Read on in this post and the next to see why I say this. Am I censoring that title? Ooo, you’ll have to decide for yourself.

When it comes to the elementary grades, I had some reservations about only one of the titles so I spoke with Adam Siegel, Bearport’s Editorial Director and the editor for Scary Places, about this series. I may be intimidating to editors when I ask them why they wrote certain series and for whom they’re aimed, but Adam stayed late at work to chat.  He explained the series was created to engage students in learning about historical places through history, legend, culture, and folklore. "Kids love scary places!" Adam added. Bearport aimed to get kids excited about reading while learning at the same time without realizing it.

The format of this series is perfect for  this age group. Each title contains the top eleven scary places in their category with each on a two-page spread. The Haunted House title includes Lizzie Borden’s House, the Winchester Mystery House, the Myrtles Plantation and 8 other equally mysterious homes from the United States. Spooky Cemetaries includes places in Asia, Africa, and Europe, while Ghost Towns has the greatest variety of places around the world with Roanoke Island, the Anasazi cliff dwellings, Angkor, Cambodia, Pompeii, Uxmal, and six others.

Each title has a map at the end showing where these scary places are in the world. A creative educator can take advantage of student interest to inspire discoveries in geography. I found that wherever I carried these titles teens and adults would take the books from me to examine them. Students were rubbing their hands with anticipation of reading. Two of them took turns reading about scary places from their books – each trying to top the other with the fear factor. Interest is high and these titles meet a need.

Stars, Heroes, and Audie Murphy

  • Posted on February 27, 2008 at 10:48 AM

Audie Murphy: War Hero and Movie Star by Judy Alter. Illustrated by Patrick Messersmith. 

Audie Murphy was the most decorated solider in WWII and in American history. He received every decoration for valor that this country had to offer (some more than once) including the Congressional Medal of Honor given for "conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty." Belgium and France recognized his heroism and awarded him 5 additional medals.

Audie’s story is a rags-to-riches tale with heroism, PTSD, a Hollywood film career, and tragically short life ending in a plane crash. The Fort Benning Infantry museum featured several displays with Audie Murphy and inspired me to ask questions about this hero. Why doesn’t my generation know much about Medal of Honor winners and heroes of WWII? Do we risk forgetting the amazing accomplishments of these heroes? Why aren’t there biographies and history books for elementary students on war heroes?

Audie Murphy was an imperfect man whose greatest claim to fame resulted from his killing such a large number of "the enemy." (See interview with author Judy Alter)  In a pacifistic society where we gloss over how someone achieves heroism in war, how can we present a biography for fourth graders? In a time of war how can we honor our current soldiers by respecting the past? Should we be keeping the stories of war heroes alive with each new generation? I say, yes. 

I realize in our efforts to teach skills and pass tests, we have lost a sense of our history, the people, and the stories that formed our historical values. How can we be "proud to be an American" as the song goes, when we don’t share the stories of our past and what has been overcome with the next generation?

Judy Alter’s biography was written as part of a series to aid fourth grade students who need information about historical Texans. There are free workbooks available at www.mcwhiney.org/press, also. No Name on the BulletWhile there are many books out about Sam Houston, Davy Crockett, and Stephen Austin, in Texas students are required to learn about many other characters. This is a problem in many states where the curriculum dictates study and there are no age appropriate resources. I’m taking note how Texas solved this problem and wondering what other states have local printers creating materials that could be shared around the country. If you know of any, please share with all of us. 

In the book Audie Murphy: War Hero and Movie Star, Judy Alter notes there are few books that deal with Audie Murphy’s life. His autobiography and film To Hell and Back is too violent and adult for students. Don Graham’s 573 page book No Name on the Bullet (1989) just won’t do for my clientele. Fortunately there are a couple websites out there with information:

There is an  Audie Murphy website established to ensure he is not forgotten.
The JROTC program has a
biography on Audie Murphy.
Warfoto.com’s memoirs by Sgt. William Heller detail the 3rd ID and
Audie Murphy.
The Official Congressional
Medal of Honor site has detailed information about all recipients.
A flash show with photos of Audie Murphy can be found on oldBlueJacket.com

Stars Interview with Judy Alter

  • Posted on February 27, 2008 at 9:50 AM

Judy Alter is the author of five books currently in the Stars of Texas series illustrated by Patrick Messersmith and published by State House Press. She writes fiction and nonfiction for readers of all ages. In 2005, she received the Owen Wister Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Western Writers of America. She is the director of TCU Press and lives in Fort Worth, Texas.

The Stars of Texas series focuses on important people in Texas history who might not be as well known (and heavily published about) as Sam Houston, Stephen F. Austin, and David Crockett. The series is aimed at fourth graders studying for the Texas history section of the TAKS test. There are free activity books and teacher’s guides available on-line.

In examining the series, I discovered that these biographies can be very useful for students beyond the Texas borders. The covers are not dramatically illustrated to appeal to today’s students (in my opinion) so if I don’t draw your attention to the series, you might never discover something of use to you.  I emailed and chatted via cell phone with Judy today while enjoying my "snow day" in Nashville.

Diane: Did you develop the concept of this series or did the publishers seek you out?

Judy: The idea for the series actually came from the then-sales rep for Texas A&M University Press. He talked to a school wholesaler who said they really need books about the "second-tier" Texans who are on the TAKS test fourth graders take. He knew I was a children’s writer, so came to me–wanted me to write the books and TCU Press to publish them. I explained that this was sort of incestuous, and we couldn’t do it. So we went to State House Press and they liked the idea.

Diane: Who chooses the topics? Are they strictly limited to people tested on the TEKS for 4th graders or will you be expanding the series? I know Ann Richards’ biography will be released this May, 2008. Who is next? Is Lyndon Johnson upcoming? Who would you like to include?

The press chooses the topics, and I don’t think they’ve moved beyond the test list, but that’s always a possibility. There is one book coming out this season about the late former governor, Ann Richards that has been written by April D. Stumpf.  I’m currently writing a biography on Ninnie Baird.
[
see this website if you are unfamiliar with Ninnie Baird]

Diane: I was most interested in reading about Audie Murphy because his impact extends beyond Texas school curriculum to encompass military heroes, Hollywood actors, and more. What was the hardest aspect of writing about Audie?

Writing about Audie was indeed difficult–I’m not keen on praising a man whose biggest claim to fame was the number of men he killed. Then when he went to Hollywood, he wasn’t always what you’d call likeable or admirable–womanizing, drugs, drink, etc. But what made it all palatable was to think how unprepared this kid from the cotton fields of East Texas (a poverty stricken and uneducated family) was for where life took him.

Diane: Do you "like" all the characters you write about? Okay, I confess. I disliked Miriam "Ma" Ferguson: First Woman Governor of Texas. I think she was presented fairly, but after reading about her, I was able to form my own opinion on her and I don’t like what she represented. Tell us how you felt.

As for liking the people, yes and no. I probably liked Ma better than Henrietta (who was so strait-laced!) but Henrietta was also a woman of great strength. I identified with Ma as a mother but did wish she’d
stood up to Jim more. I didn’t particularly like Mirabeau Lamar because of his Indian policy, his failed finances, etc., but I really admired his stance on education. I guess it’s a mixed bag–I admire lots about
them, but lots of these people also had great flaws, as we all do. We’re trying to show them realistically.

Diane: I was most intrigued with the information on Martin de Leon: Tejano Empresario. We don’t have many biographies on Mexican descendants’ discriminations during this time or about empresarios.

Judy: I agree. Martin de Leon was fascinating. When you learn how his family suffered, you can understand some of the origins behind racial tensions in Texas today.

Diane: It brings light to discrimination and would be a very useful inclusion in Hispanic culture studies.

Thanks for the great insights, Judy. We had a great discussion of all the characters in the series and how they were imperfect people yet had served important roles in history. We agreed that Mirabeau B. Lamar had committed atrocities to the Cherokee, that Ma Ferguson should have stood up to her husband more, that Henrietta King didn’t respect the drinking and dancing of her workers’ cultures, and that we’d both like to see a biography of Barbara Jordan next. Readers, you can contact her by email to continue this discussion.

Yours for Justice, Ida B. Wells

  • Posted on February 26, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Yours for Justice, Ida B. Wells: The Daring Life of a Crusading Journalist Yours For Justice, Ida B. Wellsby Philip Dray and illustrated by Stephen Alcorn. Peachtree, 2008.
"The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them." – Ida B. Wells

Ida B. Wells is a complex character who is often overlooked when teaching American history. Philip Dray has created a picture book that informs yet provokes. I confess to not focusing on Ida B. Wells in the past, but I have changed after reading this book. Not only did Wells write and speak against the practice of lynching throughout the country, she exemplified our value of the press providing the truth to enable us to make decisions to keep us free. The truth can be unpleasant, but Wells knew it must be shared openly to stop the injustices of oppression and discrimination through violence and lynching. These are complex thoughts and concepts. How can they be conveyed in a picture book?

Quite well in this balance of text and illustration. The illustrations are amazing. The cubism of some of the drawings impressed my art students. My favorite illustration is of the Whites Only sign oppressing the young worker because it makes me react. 

Yet it is the text that impresses me most. The afterword with More About Ida, the timeline, and More About Lynching sections are worth reading and studying in more depth. Don’t simply read these immediately after reading the story. Take some time to extend teaching this book to enable students to contemplate and THINK about what they are reading. 

The Bibliography includes not only the sources Philip Dray consulted, but also three levels of further reading lists for ages 4-8, 9-12, and 13 and up. The titles are worthy of inclusion in every school library (as age is appropriate), but here again the publishers don’t indicate the copyright dates. I’m going to keep asking for this to enable librarians to build better collections. 

So how did it work?
I took this title to school intending to read aloud to fourth graders in my highest group. One of my second grade teachers saw the title and volunteered to share it with her students first. Rhonda Field’s second graders have reported in. They love the illustrations in Yours for Justice, Ida B. Wells. While some of my most reluctant readers said it was a long read-aloud for them, many of them ambled over to biographies to find out more about this remarkable woman. Several of them sat down with me to chat about the serious topics of lynching and discrimination. One of the boys promised to be a crusading journalist starting now. He was going to keep his eyes open and write about what was wrong. 

While this was more than I thought would happen, sharing this title with others can be eye-opening. We need to inspire thinking and action. These students will be the leaders of tomorrow.

What is the web saying? 
Check out Readia’s posting.
Read Philip Dray’s interview on Childrenslit.com
Through the Looking Glass Children’s Book Reviews
Go to the Digital History site to read more from Ida B. Wells

Nonfiction Peas, Nests, & Hives

  • Posted on February 25, 2008 at 2:16 PM

Monday has arrived. Time for a few nonfiction titles that you might overlook from Weekly Reader Publishing. When someone says Weekly Reader, what’s the first image to pop into your mind? Did you say those little classroom newsletters delivered each week? Sure, that’s what I recall from being a student and from teaching. I counted on Weekly Reader and its competitors to provide up-to-date news stories at the appropriate reading and content level of my students. I could count on learning something new each week and knowing that at least one child was inspired by something in the newsletter to look at his or her world through new eyes. I still believe strongly that children need to receive reading materials in their homes each week and month throughout the year.

Did you know that Gareth Stevens Publishing has now converged to offer three major brands: World Almanac, Weekly Reader Publishing, and Gareth Stevens? No longer can I picture Weekly Reader as temporary news, but now as serious hardcover contenders in the nonfiction publishing industry for grades Pre K–3 . Gareth Stevens focuses on nonfiction for grades 3–8. One of my favorite parts of the Gareth Stevens website is their resources for librarians including Research White Papers, a Guide to Leveled Readers, and State Standards Correlations. 

I’m hoping they finish updating the Weekly Reader publishing part so it is easier to search for particular series. In the meantime, you should really request one of their catalogs to look at some of the series out there leveled for younger readers. 

Two of the series meeting needs of my students are the "How Plants Grow" and "Where Animals Live" sets. While the "How Plants Grow" series covers the traditional "apple" title to meet the needs of my K-1 Johnny Appleseed unit each year, it also focuses on some other plants that are not frequently written about — corn, tulips, grass, pine trees, and peas. The first child who looked at the cover of the book How Peas Grow asked me what they were and how they got in there. The child could not believe her canned peas came from a pod with bumps inside. What is the world coming to? Our students need to actually touch more fresh fruits and vegetables to experience growing, living things. I’ll be bringing in fresh peas for that classroom this week! I just wish it were summer so I could take them out to a working garden.

These titles are written for the beginner reader so they are simple, repetitive with photographs closely linked to the text. They are designed to be read within an instructional guided reading group. Susan Nations, an author, literacy coach, and consultant in literacy development, worked with the publisher as the reading consultant. I’m definitely going to have these on hand for my K-1 classes.

My criticism of the How Plants Grow series: The web sites listed in the back are best used with adult supervision. The Birds Eye Frozen Vegetables Kids Activity Pages indicated in the list of Web Sites, doesn’t give a link. I found the pdf file here which is for the educator to use. The site listed (http://www.fastq.com/~jbpratt/education/theme/food/veg.html) is written for an educator to use with recipes, lesson plans, and coloring pages. I was not pleased with that section, but if I were going to the web with K-1st graders, I’d pre-choose sites anyway. 

Another criticism I had was that the books listed in the "For More Information" section had no copyright dates listed. While the students wouldn’t miss those, as a librarian I’d like to know before beginning to find these titles for teachers, the age of the books. Perhaps I am nitpicking, but I think these are easy corrections for the publishers to make and they do not detract at all from the student experience with the book. This remains a very good, easy to read nonfiction series on the life-cycles of plants.  

On to the "Where Animals Live" series and two titles by Valerie Weber. These contain more information on the Guided Reading Levels. For example, Why Animals Live in Nests indicates GR. J; DRA: 18, El: 17-18 and a Running Word Count: 794. Why Animals Live in Hives indicates GR: K; DRA: 20, El: 19-20 and a running word count of 794. In addition to the author’s work, these each have a reading consultant and a science and curriculum consultant. 

These are very useful titles. They FILL their 24 pages with far more facts and value than you’d expect. Having gone into a 3rd grade classroom where the teacher was trying to explain what a hive was, I know that students AND teachers need this title for more information. Just wait until you read aloud that bees seal the larvae into cells where they become pupae and then adult bees who actually chew their way out of the cells. Cool!

I learned much from both of those titles and believe I can make teaching about animal homes more exciting now than before. I intend to puchase the rest of the series involving Burrows, Caves, Shells, and Webs

The websites indicated in the back are more appropriate for this series. The titles listed for more information are also current, despite the lack of indicated copyright dates. I did go doublecheck them because I am obsessive.

So, Weekly Reader did surprise me with two series worthy of my limited funds. I can easily use these titles with the curriculum, they are accurate, and they meet the needs of the students indicated. Stay tuned to this blog and I’ll update you with other WR titles as I find useful series.

Nick of Time

  • Posted on February 25, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Wow! Some books sweep you away. Ted Bell’s Nick of TimeNick of Time amazed me, dazzled me, and swept my imagination off to sea. The interweaving of pirate adventures at sea with the threat of German U-boats pre-WWII was accomplished so skillfully that I yearned to join them traveling through time. Ted Bell’s descriptions were so vivid, I could picture every scene in full-color. 

With the exciting action scenes,  I ignored the outside world to focus on this incredible tale. The history was so enticing, I found myself pouring through WWII texts on England’s preparations for war, Churchill’s struggles, and maps of the islands. I wanted to experience sailing and its dangers as Nick was able to do. Curse my landlocked childhood! 

I curled up with this book last weekend while battling the flu, but even the flu couldn’t keep me away from the pages of this story. I was compelled to keep reading until past midnight. The last line of the story gave me hope for many more sequels. Please, Mr. Bell, may I have some more? I know you have written books for adults, but this title was truly amazing and I want to experience it again. Someone will be snatching up the rights to make this into a film soon!  Give us hope that the sequel is on it’s way.

The message of heroism in Nick of Time has clung to me this week. I keep reviewing scenes and conversations from the story. Who are my heroes? What if I could travel through time to meet them? Would I have anything to offer them? Are there small roles in history that we could play that would impact others? How many of us could act as well as seven-year old Kate? Also, what has become of the villain Billy Blood? Where will he strike next?

Middle school students are going to be so hooked by this book. Perhaps I should change to being a MS librarian just so I can help boys in particular find this book. Don’t worry girls, you’ll love this as much as I did and there is plenty to ponder after you’re finished reading. Just don’t think you can read only one chapter before breakfast. I tried and glanced up 80 pages later to wonder what had happened and where I’d been. 

I’ve been craving an adventure story with a good mystery and this arrived in the nick of time to rescue me. Nick of Time will be released in May, 2008, but I can send out some Advanced Reading Copies now to the first ten people to email me. Let’s hope it’s you because everyone wants to be one of the first to read the next great book for kids. 

I’m off to pester the publisher and author for more information.
St. Martin’s Press /St. Martin’s Griffin
Pub Date: 05/2008
ISBN: 0-312-38068-2
448 pages
Size: 5-1/2 x 8-1/4
$17.95 Hardcover

Podcasting FOR YOU

  • Posted on February 24, 2008 at 6:30 PM

Stop feeling guilty. I know you have been WANTING to podcast, but you hesitate. What would you say? How can you convince a teacher to let you try this with his/her students? How can this impact your students’ achievement? How do you get started? Couldn’t somebody just come up with a simple book of ideas and techniques?

Yes, my friends, someone has. Kristin Fontichiaro’s new book Podcasting at School is now available from Libraries Unlimited. Kristin includes 125 potential podcasting lessons – some as simple descriptions, others detailed extensively. Wonder about permission slips? Distributing these vocal recordings? Vocal relaxation techniques? It’s all here.  You need to add this title to your professional collection. 

Perhaps you can start planning your summer workshops incorporating Kristin’s lessons?! Let us know how you will use this title. Will you begin a podcasting lunch club?

In the interest of full-disclosure, I should note that I did write a teeny-tiny foreword for this title because I have believed passionately in this project since Kristin first mentioned she was writing this book. I love knowing what titles are in the works. I’ve been bugging my friend Jill to detail what she has experienced with vlogs and students next. Come on, what are you working on? Tell us. Just whisper it in the comments. We won’t tell….. unless you record your ideas as podcasts and include the links for us to hear you tell your story.

Primavera

  • Posted on February 22, 2008 at 8:44 PM

Primavera by Mary Jane Beaufrand will be released this March by Little, Brown and Co. I can’t wait to hold the hardcover edition in my hands. Set in the Italian Renaissance, this novel incorporates much of history and the intrigue surrounding the Medici’s and the Pazzi’s. Art lovers will find Botticelli and many references to the fineries of Italian art and architecture. You really should start doing searches of the reviews on this SLJ website so you can read the beautiful reviewers’ language by educators like Jill Heritage Maza who revieved Primavera in the February 1st SLJ. I particularly enjoyed this sentence by Maza who wrote:

Political, historical, and art historical details provide a canvas on which this tale of murder, intrigue, and young romance is played out, but are painted with a broad stroke.

So really what’s going to happen with this title? Girls are going to gush happily at the ending. Along the way, you’ll be frustrated at the society that enabled such corruption to flourish. Do you get frustrated, as I do, with this phrase "INSPIRED BY ACTUAL EVENTS"? Now I have to go explore the Italian Renaissance, the Pazzi family, all the background characters mentioned in Primavera and the true historical timelines of happenings simply because I want to know what was inspired and what was created. All because I read a good book that made me wonder "How much is true?"

While this was written for the 12 and up crowd, the cover is fantastical enough that younger students will take a second look but there is plenty of detailed violence. Be sure you know what quartering is.  I think this book is very accessible for younger students, but may cause frustration at the "unfairness of life" faced by the main character in the beginning. I hope that more fans of historical fiction will take the time to read this and not dismiss the cover as a fantasy. I know that my library assistant "strongly prefers not" reading fantasies so I have to clearly point out the history embedded in this tale of romance, espionage, and coming-of-age. 

Check out the teen reviews throughout the blogosphere to read their reactions like this one at Teen ‘Zine.