Monday, April 25, 2011

Earth Day, Better Late Than Never

Good Friday and Easter took priority over Earth Day, so now that the holiday and time with family is over, here's an awesome Earth Day article about bottle schools.

Basic premise - don't cut down trees or dig up materials from the earth to create buildings; stuff small soda bottles with your trash and create walls (a bit "Tetris" in style).  I suppose the buildings may not be the most beautiful if not covered with cement to hide the bottles, though I would guess that some sort of tinting or stucco could be used to solve that problem.  I'm not sure how insulating trash-filled bottles are, but for a cost of less than $10K to build a two-room school, I don't think a little insulation will throw off your budget.

Years ago I worked as a counselor at a day camp.  We made a raft for the pool and a small bench out of bottles.  The raft floated, and the bench was strong enough to support my seven-year-old campers (though it wasn't very comfortable).  They didn't stay together as well as the schools are holding up, but we weren't engineers or contractors, so we'll blame any design flaws on that.

Mother's Day and Father's Day are both coming up.  Know someone who wants a shed for the backyard (or a raft or a bench)?  I'd be happy to send you some bottles!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Book of the Week, Easter Style

Spring Break started yesterday -  a chance for rest, relaxation, and refueling before coming up to the end of the school year, and high-stakes state testing for many.  It also means Easter is only a few days away, so I thought it apropos to pick a religious book of the week (in case some Easter baskets are looking a bit empty).

Gigi is a little girl who wants to be a princess.  Good news for her - Mommy and Daddy say she already is!  Gigi, God's Little Princess has a Fancy Nancy princess/royalty feel, while sharing that we are all princesses in God's eyes.  The message is there without being over the top, and Sheila Walsh finds a way to tie everything together without losing the sweet, innocent little girl quality that Gigi has.

The book is one in a series, and, while I haven't read any of the others, I'd love to see how Walsh incorporates other sweet, child-like components into the love of God, explaining so children will enjoy without feeling "lectured to."  This is definitely a book to consider if you know a little girl who will soon be making her First Holy Communion.

Need something for a boy?  Don't worry - Walsh has a series for them too - Will, God's Mighty Warrior.

Happy Easter!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Mysterious Benedict Society

A friend's seventh grade daughter recommended I read The Mysterious Benedict Society.  I was looking forward to another good MG/YA (middle grade/young adult) read, though I'll admit, I was a little surprised by the 485 pages (not including the excerpt from Book #2).  I finished the book last night, and it definitely makes the list of good reads for kids.

Premise of the book? Four children are chosen to help Mr. Benedict stop an up-and-coming world menace.  It may sound a bit "Harry Potter-esque" to you, and the main characters do face some pretty difficult challenges, but they attack them with ingenuity and creative logic.  Major themes include: thinking for yourself, friendship (what MG book isn't about friendship somehow?), and perseverance.

I've been teaching my students a lot about endings of stories, and how important it is that everything adds up at the end, details throughout the book resurface at the conclusion, and the reader is left with that "cool jazz cat 'yeah'" feeling.  As I've been reading on my own, I've found a surprising number of books published recently that haven't been fulfilling, and let me tell you - that's really frustrating!  Not the case with The Mysterious Benedict Society.  While there were two minor components that seemed a little forced and "trying to tie everything up in the end," overall, the book leaves you satisfied and wanting to read the second in the series.  After spending 485 pages focusing on how to use logic and creative intelligence to solve problems, author Trenton Lee Stewart sums up the entire feel of the book with a letter from Mr. Benedict, urging readers to find and break "the code" to determine his real identity.  485 pages is too many to read again, but if you pick up the book and figure out who Mr. Benedict really is, please tell me!

Favorite part of the book: "discombobulated" is used on pg. 477.