Posts Tagged mysteries

Getting a Head Start on your “Mysterious” Summer Reads

So, I know summer is a bit of a ways off. In fact, with all of the cold weather across the country, it hasn’t even felt like spring much. But now is the time to change all that. Close your eyes. Imagine warm sunlight shining across your face. A warm summer breeze ruffling the curls in your hair. And a nice, comfortable lawn chair– preferably at the beach– or at least near a bit of water, even if it’s your local pool. Stretch out and settle in. Today is the day you relax and… READ!

The big question is, WHAT kind of books do you like to read for fun? For me, hands down, it’s mysteries. I LOVE mysteries. Following clues, catching the bad guys, saving the day. That’s what makes me dive into a book. Here are the top 5 mysteries on my to-be-read list for summer:

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls by Beth McMullen (Aladdin)

After a botched escape plan from her boarding school, Abigail is stunned to discover the school is actually a cover for an elite spy ring called The Center, along with being training grounds for future spies. Even more shocking? Abigail’s mother is a top agent for The Center and she has gone MIA, with valuable information that many people would like to have—at any cost. Along with a former nemesis and charming boy from her grade, Abigail goes through a crash course in Spy Training 101, often with hilarious—and sometimes painful—results.

But Abigail realizes she might be a better spy-in-training than she thought—and the answers to her mother’s whereabouts are a lot closer than she thinks…

 

Smack Dab in the Middle of Maybe by Jo Watson Hackl (Random House BFYR)
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All her life, Cricket’s mama has told her stories about a secret room painted by a mysterious artist. Now Mama’s run off, and Cricket thinks the room might be the answer to getting her to come back. If it exists. And if she can find it.

Cricket’s only clue is a coin from a grown-over ghost town in the woods. So with her daddy’s old guidebook and a coat full of snacks stolen from the Cash ‘n’ Carry, Cricket runs away to find the room. Surviving in the woods isn’t easy. While Cricket camps out in an old tree house and looks for clues, she meets the last resident of the ghost town, encounters a poetry-loving dog (who just might hold a key to part of the puzzle), and discovers that sometimes you have to get a little lost . . . to really find your way.

 

Willa of the Wood by Robert Beatty (Disney Hyperion)
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Willa, a young night-spirit of the Great Smoky Mountains, is her clan’s best thief. She creeps into the homes of day-folk under cover of darkness and takes what they won’t miss. It’s dangerous work-the day-folk kill whatever they do not understand–but Willa will do anything to win the approval of the padaran, the charismatic leader of the Faeran people.

When Willa’s curiosity leaves her hurt and stranded in the day world, she calls upon an ancient, unbreakable bond to escape. Only then does she discover the truth: not all day-folk are the same, and the foundations that have guarded the Faeran for eons are under attack.

 

The Alcatraz Escape (The Book Scavenger series) by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman (Henry Holt & Company)
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Legendary literary game-maker Garrison Griswold is back in action―this time with “Unlock the Rock.” For his latest game, Griswold has partnered with the famous–and famously reclusive–mystery writer Errol Roy to plan an epic escape room challenge on Alcatraz Island.

Emily and James are eager to participate, but the wave of fame they are riding from their recent book-hunting adventures makes them a target. Threatening notes, missing items, and an accident that might not have been an accident have the duo worried that someone is trying to get them out of the game at any cost.

 

Bob by Wendy Mass (Author),‎ Rebecca Stead
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It’s been five years since Livy and her family have visited Livy’s grandmother in Australia. Now that she’s back, Livy has the feeling she’s forgotten something really, really important about Gran’s house. It turns out she’s right.

Bob, a short, greenish creature dressed in a chicken suit, didn’t forget Livy, or her promise. He’s been waiting five years for her to come back, hiding in a closet like she told him to. He can’t remember who―or what―he is, where he came from, or if he even has a family. But five years ago Livy promised she would help him find his way back home. Now it’s time to keep that promise.  Clue by clue, Livy and Bob will unravel the mystery of where Bob comes from, and discover the kind of magic that lasts forever.

 

Breakout by Kate Messner (Bloomsbury Children’s Books)
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Nora Tucker is looking forward to summer vacation in Wolf Creek–two months of swimming, popsicles, and brushing up on her journalism skills for the school paper. But when two inmates break out of the town’s maximum security prison, everything changes. Doors are locked, helicopters fly over the woods, and police patrol the school grounds. Worst of all, everyone is on edge, and fear brings out the worst in some people Nora has known her whole life. Even if the inmates are caught, she worries that home might never feel the same.

Told in letters, poems, text messages, news stories, and comics–a series of documents Nora collects for the Wolf Creek Community Time Capsule Project–Breakout is a thrilling story that will leave readers thinking about who’s really welcome in the places we call home.

 

There are MANY more awesome books out there for summer. In fact, mysteries may not be your thing. (gasp!)  So let us know below YOUR list of  to-be-read summer books, perfect for relaxing in your beach chair. Maybe if we think about summer reading together, we can make the next few months fly by. At the very least, we will be thinking warm thoughts!

STEM Tuesday Field Work — In the Classroom

Exploring “In the Field”

When you think of scientists working in the field, what do you imagine? I imagine them venturing to remote, possibly dangerous sites. Then again, some field work is closer to home, less rugged. And, as this month’s books reveal, modern field work can sometime mean anxiously awaiting data and video feeds while a specially equipped drone or other remote sensing device ventures far from home. No matter what the exact circumstances may be, this month’s titles transport readers to many places and offer exciting tales of passionate scientists eager to answer their questions. Let’s begin diving into this theme with a look at underwater archaeology.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgSubmerge Yourself in a Science Mystery

Secrets of a Civil War Submarine is packed with possible science learning connections. Especially relevant to this month’s theme is the archaeological practice of studying objects in situ, carefully documenting and noting the physical relationships among the artifacts at a site. Readers witness  this practice as author Sally M. Walker takes them to the murky, underwater field where the 150-year-lost historic H.L. Hunley was discovered. Here scientists meticulously record the locations and orientations of the objects on the site before removing anything from the site. Later, scientists carefully record the sub’s interior objects’ spatial relationships before extracting them for study. The importance of preserving these details becomes clear when the data later prove important in answering scientists’ questions.

You can enhance students’ appreciation of the value of this information with a simple lesson involving different arrangements of a set of objects undergoing different events.

For example, imagine a site that includes a computer mouse, piece of paper, computer, glass, chair, desk. Ask students to sketch or create 3D scenes of these artifacts’ positions and orientations based on each of the following scenarios:

Scenario A: A left-handed person seated in front of a computer spilled a glass of water on a computer keyboard. Then the person jumped away from the desk, knocking over the chair.

Scenario B: A right-handed person seated in front of a computer fainted and fell out of the chair, knocking over a glass of water.

Scenario C: A left-handed person carrying a glass of water walked toward the desk, approaching it from the right, when a dog ran through the room from left to right, first toppling the chair, then bumping the person, which made the glass of water fall out of his/her hands.

Discuss how (and why) the layout of the artifacts varies in each of the representations, providing unique clues to each event. If you are feeling more adventurous, you might try either of these variations:

  • Before the activity, prepare secret assignment cards. On each card, print only one scenario but make sure A, B, and C are all represented in the class pile of cards. Randomly distribute the cards to student pairs, who must then sketch or use model artifacts to show the event. Next, each team can examine another team’s scene, making careful observations and beginning to make inferences about what happened to result in the objects’ arrangements.  After revealing the three scenarios, challenge students to infer which of the scenarios each student representation seems to match (and why). Discuss the observations and inferences that are related to the spatial relationships among the artifacts, and how they provide clues to a prior event.

 

  • For a more open-ended challenge, ask student pairs interpret other sketches as much as possible, without telling them what the three scenarios are. Support student thinking with questions such as:
    • What’s similar/different between the scene you are looking at and the one you just created? Do you think the scenario implied here is the same or different from the scenario that informed the scene you created? Why?
    • If different, what details about the event can you infer from the scene? What evidence supports your ideas? What is unexplained?

Looking at the entire set of scenes in the classroom, students might infer how many different scenarios are represented, using evidence to make arguments that support their claims. You might decline to tell students the answer, as archaeologists can never go back to the original witnesses and check their ideas.

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgStudy Primates in the Field

As a biography of a groundbreaking field scientist, Anita Silvey’s Untamed, the Wild Life of Jane Goodall covers a lot of territory, including an exciting glimpse into this pioneer’s experiences as a field scientist.

Help students envision a primate scientist’s field work by comparing their own daily routines to their understandings (based on the text) of Jane’s early work in the field. Students might log where they eat, what they have to do to get their food and water, and where and when they sleep. They can break the day down into an hour-by-hour log of activities. For comparison, they can read about Jane’s early field activities on pages 28-33. Pages 71 and 73-77 address some ways that chimpanzee scientists’ field work has changed. They won’t be able to make exact correlations between their days and details about the scientists’ experiences, but they’ll get a flavor of the differences. Ask students to reflect on what aspects of being a field-based primatologist might be most exciting and challenging.

An engaging way to convey the lure of primatologists’ field work is watching videos of primates in their habitats. Show students one or more of these clips (with or without the narration) and discuss their observations (what they see and hear) and inferences (what sense they or the narrator/scientists make of what is observed). You might use some of the ideas in December’s STEM Tuesday In the Classroom installment, which focused on zoology.

Individual animals’ “personalities” and their relationships with other group members are important.  Field scientists often learn to identify individuals by sight. Your students might enjoy trying to learn the names and details about the chimps pictured on pages 84-87, perhaps by creating flash cards with copies of their pictures on the front.

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgJourney into Meteorology and the Eye of the Storm

Of course, field studies extend beyond the bounds of biology, as you will see in Eye of the Storm: NASA, Drones, and the Race to Crack the Hurricane Code, by Amy Cherrix. While you might appreciate the extensive teacher’s guide  that offers many ideas for discussions and classroom activities, you might want to focus specifically on field work. If so, you might show NASA videos featuring drone missions to hurricanes, such as NASA Hurricane and Severe Storm Sentinel (HSE) – Studying Storms with the Global Hawk UAV. You can also sign up to connect your classroom to NASA’s airborne missions. If you do, you will gain access to the same video that NASA scientists see when they run the drone flights, and receive additional support.

As you might imagine, classic field-based weather observations make a great connection to this book. For example:

  • Your class might commit to participating in a citizen scientist group of weather watchers, (which may require modest investments in standard equipment), such as the CoCoRaHS Network.
  • For independent observing, students might build and use their own weather stations. Build Your Own Weather Station, published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, offers instructions.
  • If you prefer, challenge students to engineer their own instruments (based on designs that they research), as described in a free Integrated STEM Lesson Plan by R. Bruno.

 

The books on this month’s list offer many opportunities to jump into field work. How might you involve your students in actual or simulated field studies? What suggestions do you have to expand upon the ideas in this post? Please share your comments and questions!


portrait of author Carolyn Cinami DeCristofanoSTEM author Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano is also a STEM education consultant who supports teachers, librarians, schools, and organizations by providing curriculum development and professional development services. Find out about her books at http://carolyndecristofano.com and her consulting at http://bhstemed.us.

Kirkus book picks for Middle School readers

Have you ever Googled yourself? Be honest.

I never have, and during a spell of boredom while watching Big Ten football last weekend, I did.

I’ve been blessed to wear many hats throughout my life, including children’s book festival founder, former city councilwoman and now, children’s book author. As I scrolled through various articles from over the years, a wonderful surprise popped up on my cell phone screen.

An article from Sacramento Parent shared a list of the Top 19 book picks for Middle School readers from Kirkus. It begged me to question why not the top 20 book picks, but I’m rolling with it.

What is most amazing is that my biography, Virginia Hamilton: America’s Storyteller is included in the list. Pinch me.

Since this list was buried in my search, I thought it might be news to you as well. As opposed to listing all of the books, I’ve opted to highlight those that received a Starred review from Kirkus.

Some are older releases, some newer. If you have not read them, make sure to add these to your must-read list!

Wonder

R.J. Palacio, Knopf Books for Young Readers

The movie comes out in November, and if have yet to read this modern classic, make sure to pick up a copy before then!

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The book that inspired the Choose Kind movement.

I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.

August Pullman was born with a facial difference that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid—but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face. WONDER, now a #1 New York Times bestseller and included on the Texas Bluebonnet Award master list, begins from Auggie’s point of view, but soon switches to include his classmates, his sister, her boyfriend, and others. These perspectives converge in a portrait of one community’s struggle with empathy, compassion, and acceptance.

Ghost

Jason Reynolds, Caitlyn Dlouhy/Atheneum
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A National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature.

Ghost wants to be the fastest sprinter on his elite middle school track team, but his past is slowing him down in this first electrifying novel in a new series from Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award–winning author Jason Reynolds.

Ghost. Lu. Patina. Sunny. Four kids from wildly different backgrounds with personalities that are explosive when they clash. But they are also four kids chosen for an elite middle school track team—a team that could qualify them for the Junior Olympics if they can get their acts together. They all have a lot to lose, but they also have a lot to prove, not only to each other, but to themselves.

Running. That’s all Ghost (real name Castle Cranshaw) has ever known. But Ghost has been running for the wrong reasons—it all started with running away from his father, who, when Ghost was a very little boy, chased him and his mother through their apartment, then down the street, with a loaded gun, aiming to kill. Since then, Ghost has been the one causing problems—and running away from them—until he meets Coach, an ex-Olympic Medalist who sees something in Ghost: crazy natural talent. If Ghost can stay on track, literally and figuratively, he could be the best sprinter in the city. Can Ghost harness his raw talent for speed, or will his past finally catch up to him?

Quicksand Pond

Janet Taylor Lisle, Atheneum

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Newbery Honor winner Janet Taylor Lisle’s gorgeous and profound new novel about a pivotal summer in two girls’ lives explores the convictions we form, the judgments we make, and the values we hold.

The pond is called Quicksand Pond.

It’s a shadowy, hidden place, full of chirping, shrieking, croaking life. It’s where, legend has it, people disappear. It’s where scrappy Terri Carr lives with her no-good family. And it’s where twelve-year-old Jessie Kettel is reluctantly spending her summer vacation.

Jessie meets Terri right away, on a raft out in the water, and the two become fast friends. On Quicksand Pond, Jessie and Terri can be lost to the outside world—lost until they want to be found. But a tragedy that occurred many decades ago has had lingering effects on this sleepy town, and especially on Terri Carr. And the more Jessie learns, the more she begins to question her new friendship—and herself.

The Unexpected Life of Cromwell Pitts

Avi, Algonquin

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High adventure from a master storyteller about one boy’s attempt to fend for himself among cruel orphan masters, corrupt magistrates, and conniving thieves.

In the seaside town of Melcombe Regis, England, 1724, Oliver Cromwell Pitts wakes to find his father missing and his house flooded by a recent storm. He’s alone in his ruined home with no money and no food. Oliver’s father has left behind a barely legible waterlogged note: he’s gone to London, where Oliver’s sister, Charity, is in trouble. Exploring damage to the town in the storm’s aftermath, Oliver discovers a shipwreck on the beach. Removing anything from a wrecked ship is a hanging offense, but Oliver finds money that could save him, and he can’t resist the temptation to take it. When his crime is discovered, Oliver flees, following the trail of his father and sister. The journey is full of thieves, adventurers, and treachery–and London might be the most dangerous place of all.

York: The Shadow Cipher

Laura Ruby, Walden Pond 

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From National Book Award finalist and Printz Award winner Laura Ruby comes an epic alternate history series about three kids who try to solve the greatest mystery of the modern world: a puzzle and treasure hunt laid into the very streets and buildings of New York City.

It was 1798 when the Morningstarr twins arrived in New York with a vision for a magnificent city: towering skyscrapers, dazzling machines, and winding train lines, all running on technology no one had ever seen before. Fifty-seven years later, the enigmatic architects disappeared, leaving behind for the people of New York the Old York Cipher—a puzzle laid into the shining city they constructed, at the end of which was promised a treasure beyond all imagining. By the present day, however, the puzzle has never been solved, and the greatest mystery of the modern world is little more than a tourist attraction.

Tess and Theo Biedermann and their friend Jaime Cruz live in a Morningstarr apartment—until a real estate developer announces that the city has agreed to sell him the five remaining Morningstarr buildings. Their likely destruction means the end of a dream long held by the people of New York. And if Tess, Theo, and Jaime want to save their home, they have to prove that the Old York Cipher is real. Which means they have to solve it.

Joplin, Wishing

Diane Stanley, HarperCollins
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A heartfelt and magical middle grade novel in the tradition of Tuck Everlasting and Bridge to Terabithia,about family, wishes, and the power of true friends to work magic.

While cleaning out her reclusive grandfather’s house, Joplin discovers pieces of a broken platter in a cookie tin. After having the platter repaired, Joplin wishes that she could both find a friend at school, and befriend the girl pictured in the platter. The next day, Joplin befriends a boy named Barrett, and also notices a girl outside her apartment. A girl who looks remarkably like the girl in the platter…

The girl introduces herself as Sofie, and she has a terrible secret. Cursed to grant wishes for the owner of the platter for all of time, she has been trapped for centuries. Joplin and Barrett vow to help her, but freeing Sofie is more complicated than they could have imagined, and the three friends end up against a sinister foe who could put them all in terrible danger.

The Quest for Z

Greg Pizzoli, Viking Books for Young Readers

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From an award-winning author comes a picture book biography that feels like Indiana Jones for kids!

British explorer Percy Fawcett believed that hidden deep within the Amazon rainforest was an ancient city, lost for the ages. Most people didn’t even believe this city existed. But if Fawcett could find it, he would be rich and famous forever. This is the true story of one man’s thrilling, dangerous journey into the jungle, and what he found on his quest for the lost city of Z.

Virginia Hamilton: America’s Storyteller

Julie K. Rubini, Ohio University Press
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Long before she wrote The House of Dies Drear, M. C. Higgins, the Great, and many other children’s classics, Virginia Hamilton grew up among her extended family near Yellow Springs, Ohio, where her grandfather had been brought as a baby through the Underground Railroad. The family stories she heard as a child fueled her imagination, and the freedom to roam the farms and woods nearby trained her to be a great observer. In all, Hamilton wrote forty-one books, each driven by a focus on “the known, the remembered, and the imagined”—particularly within the lives of African Americans.

Over her thirty-five-year career, Hamilton received every major award for children’s literature. This new biography gives us the whole story of Virginia’s creative genius, her passion for nurturing young readers, and her clever way of crafting stories they’d love.