Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Sneak Peeks with K.E. Weeks: The Hunger Game Series

This feature is presented by guest blogger, K.E.Weeks.
 The Hunger Games movie comes out on March 23, 2012 (http://www.thehungergamesmovie.com/index2.html). I always like to read a book before I see a movie, so I asked for The Hunger Games trilogy boxed set for Christmas (Book I $5.37; Book II $9.68; Book III $9.95; Scholastic Press; July 3, 2010).

The first thing that struck me about The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins was its similarity to the short story “The Lottery” by American writer Shirley Jackson (http://www.classicshorts.com/stories/lotry.html). The premise is similar: youngsters are drawn via lottery to be “sacrificed” for the greater good.

The Hunger Games is a science fiction novel, set in the future when North America has become a new country, Panem, where the frivolous Capitol politicians living in what used to be the Rocky Mountains control the citizens living in the other twelve districts. To pay homage to the Capitol and repent for revolting 74 years earlier, the outlying twelve districts annually must send one boy and girl between 12 – 18 years old to the Hunger Games where they must fight to the death with the other tributes. The Hunger Games are shown on TV nightly to the entire nation and are mandatory viewing.

Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen is barely scraping by in District 12—what was once called Appalachia—with her mother and younger sister Primrose, when Prim is chosen to be the district’s female tribute during a ceremony called The Reaping. Katniss volunteers to take her sister’s place, an almost unheard of act.

Katniss is a survivor, who has been hunting in illegal poaching grounds since her father died several years earlier, but she still has little chance of surviving the bloodthirsty “Careers” from other districts who train and desire to be tributes. Her male counterpart is Peeta, the son of the town baker, who is friendly, kind, and charismatic, but whose primary talent is decorating cakes, not killing. They are thrown into the arena with 22 other tributes and the game makers “twists,” such as strange man-made beasts, like muttations. Throughout the game, Katniss feels conflicted over her feelings for Peeta and Gale, her childhood hunting friend back in District 12. Of course, she cannot allow her feelings to overshadow her survival instinct, as, according to the rules of the Hunger Games, at best, only one of them—Peeta or she—will be permitted to survive.

The Hunger Games is a well-constructed science fiction world with well-developed main characters and interesting twists. It presents intriguing political and socio-economic questions with connections to the present. It is a page-turner with action and romance, destined to be well-liked by both boys and girls middle school age and up.

Romantic scenes are restricted to kissing and snuggling together at night for warmth. The book is violent—seeing as one of the main premises’ is killing—but not gory. The violence moves the story along and is smart and interesting, such as death from Tracker Jackets (a type of killer hornet). It is not violent for violence’s sake. At its heart, it is a survival story, and those who like survival TV shows like Man vs. Wild with Bear Grylls would enjoy it.

As is the case with many series, the author ends the book with a key question unanswered, which is somewhat irritating for the reader. Despite my mild disenchantment in the ending, the book is clever and intelligent, and I recommend it heartily with five stars (out of five).


Spoiler alert! Some of the details in this review and the next one will give away parts of the first book.

The second book in the series is called Catching Fire, and here Katniss returns to the arena with Peeta for the Quarter Quell, a special Hunger Games held every 25 years. The 75th Quarter Quell is populated by past Hunger Game winners, sort of a “Survivor Favorites” idea. There is talk of a rebellion against the Capitol, and small signs of it as Katniss and Peeta embark on a Victory Tour, but neither Katniss nor Peeta realize what is in store for them in the arena. The violence in this book is grittier, including a public whipping. This book is interesting, but like many sequels, is not as compelling as the original. The ending is odd and unsatisfactory. I rate it four stars (out of five).


The final book in the trilogy is Mockingjay, named after a new breed of bird, a cross between a Tracker Jay and a Mockingbird. The book is about life in District 13 and the new rebellion, of which Katniss is the symbolic head. Katniss works with the leader of District 13, Coin, but often feels left out of the action and strategy, a pawn for both sides.

This book is greatly disappointing and not worthy of the other two. Despite her pledges of love, Katniss barely pays any attention to her mother and sister. What is most annoying, however, is the fact that Gale, Peeta, Haymitch, and even Katniss act completely out of character. There is a lot of mental illness and drug usage, both illegal and prescription. The story just takes a turn for the strange. Eventually, the characters act out a “real-life” Hunger Games on their way to take the Capitol, which adds some interesting action, but up until that point there are pages upon pages of teenage brooding and moodiness.

Mockingjay is a substandard ending to an otherwise interesting story in a clever fantasy-world. I struggled with how many stars to give this, since fans of the series will probably enjoy it, just because they are able to “live” in Panem for a little longer. However, the book is so unsatisfactory, that some fans may feel cheated (I did). In the end, I settled for three stars (out of five). I’d almost recommend readers stop reading the series after the second book.

Disclaimer: The purpose of this review is to guide parents into selecting appropriate, significant, high-quality literature for their teens and tweens. I have no connection with the author or publisher of this book. I am a home educator of two children, 12 and 14, with a Master of Art degree in American Literature and a keen interest in young adult fiction and nonfiction.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Off to Oz!

I posted last week about how sending my daughter off to take a class at the local public school was sort of like sending Dorothy to Oz (...or maybe prison!), and my reservations about our decision.  The public school is a culture of its own, and most of it isn't representative of real life. Dd was coming in with a completely different perspective from the other students.

Today was the day...dd's first day of classes at a public school.  I must say, after nearly ten years of homeschooling, it felt a bit strange seeing her walk up to the school building.
So, how did the first day go?  It went just fine!  The teacher was expecting her as a new student and introduced her to another student, who then got her settled and introduced her to the others, as soon as dd walked in.  Her class (choir) is all girls.

The only slightly awkward moment was when the others asked, "Where are you from?" and my dd replied with the name of our hometown.  Of course, this was a reasonable answer in any other circumstance, but the the other girls, who spend more of their waking hours in a school building than at home, were really inquiring what school she attended previously.  When she answered that she was homeschooled, there were none of the negative responses she has occasionally experienced in the past from public schooled kids.

Overall, stepping into a public school classroom has so far been a pretty smooth transition. I'll be sure to share occasionally for the benefit of anyone else deciding to give this a try.  Later this week, I'll also share our personal reasons for our shift from our homeschooling norm to "go to the dark side".

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Review and Giveaway: Grapevine Studies Timelines

 I first heard of Grapevine Studies when I was given the opportunity to review their Old Testament Overview Level 5, which I found to be a straight-forward, chronological study.  You can read the full review here.  One of the things I mentioned in the review is the fact it started with the student writing on a timeline what they already new about the Old Testament, then concluded the study with the same exercise. I'm a big picture person.  I need to see how it all fits together first, before I can get to the details. Of course, timelines are a perfect visual for the big picture. 

Grapevine Studies has just released several new timeline products that coordinate with their studies, or one of your own.  Both student and teacher editions are available for two new timeline books, the Old Testament Timeline and the New Testament Timeline.  Printed and ebook options are both available.

The Teacher Timeline Books include a narrative, either to be used as a guide or read directly, along with instruction on colors, symbols, and stick figures to be drawn to correlate with the event.  The Student Timeline Books include a pre-labeled black and white timeline that the student fills in during the lesson. When they are completed, the student will have a ten-page timeline booklet of either the Old Testament or the New Testament.

Each timeline can be completed in one longer lesson, or five short (10-15 minute) lessons, depending on your needs.

For some children, seeing a timeline stretched out on the wall ready as an always-available reference to touch and feel is very valuable.  Grapevine Studies has three new Wall Timelines: Old Testament, New Testament, and Blank.  The Old Testament and New Testament Wall Timelines come in color, and are over ten feet in length when the 8 1/2" x 11" sections are pieced together.  They look like an old scroll with all the appropriate labeling for the study. The content is the same as the in the Student Timeline Books, but in a nicer format for displaying on the wall.  The Teacher Wall Timelines are the completed timelines with all the stick figuring in color.  There are no lessons included in the Wall Timelines.  The Blank Wall Timelines, which are simply non-labeled scroll timelines that can be used for any study, are available in both color and black and white.

All of the Grapevine Studies' new timeline products are currently ON SALE, and will remain so throughout January. Sale prices range from $3.25 - $10.95, depending on the item and format (print or e-book). To sweeten the deal even more, use coupon code JANFS for FREE SHIPPING until January 31, 2012!

Grapevine Studies has provided a Teacher and Student Wall Timeline of choice (in either print or e-book) to one lucky reader! There are eight ways to enter.  Be sure to leave a way for me to contact you with each entry should you be the winner.
  • Leave me a comment telling me your favorite Bible story (mandatory)
For additional entries:
  • Like Grapevine Studies on Facebook.
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The giveaway will end on February 10th at 6 p.m. EST and will be chosen by a random number generator.

Disclaimer: I was provided the above products for review at no charge by Grapevine Studies.  No other compensation was received.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

We're Not in Our Homeschool Anymore, Toto

A few months ago I posted that in the near future, my oldest would be heading to the local public high school to take a class.  It was a decision that came with a lot of thought.  I still think it is the right decision based on our circumstances, but I'll admit to having little doubts here and there. Last week I got a little dose of reality.

The last couple of weeks, I've been meeting a friend up at the high school to walk at the indoor track.  Since I plan to walk (or eventually jog) the track every day while my daughter is in class, I figured an early start couldn't hurt.  As I pulled into the driveway, around the time I will be dropping my daughter off next week, I saw four police cars, with several officers and police dogs entering the building. As I entered the building, there was a sign that announced a "non-emergency lockdown".  Basically, they were doing drug searches of the student lockers. Sigh.

I am not ignorant to what goes on in the schools, nor is my daughter. If I didn't think she'd do just fine, I wouldn't have her attend. I was less bothered by the fact they were doing drug searches than I was with the fact that a student couldn't leave the building for the hour it took place. I was sort of symbolic of the parallel the public school system has to a prison!  The regular students there know no different, but my student has experienced more freedom in her learning environment. She's had school in her PJs at home, in casual situations with friends at co-ops, in online classrooms, and at a university campus.  None of those situations have involved drug busts and lockdowns.  We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto.

My daughter knows that the environment of the school system is mostly smoke and mirrors, and not really any resemblance of real life. Her perspective and life experiences are completely different than the munchkins students existing within those walls. I'm fairly certain she'll enjoy the instruction of her choir class, but I do hope that she can connect with at least a couple students that aren't trapped in a suffocating mentality of the high school world. After all, this experiment with the local high school is a path from one point to the other.  It will be more enjoyable if she has some pals with which to travel down the road, and help her keep watch for lions and tigers and bears (oh my!).

Our countdown has now gone from months, to weeks, to DAYS.  I have no idea how this trial semester will go, and but I am comforted by the fact that we have options on whether or not to continue.  A click of the heels (and signing of papers) and she'll be home.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Sneak Peeks with K.E. Weeks: Between Shades of Gray

This feature is presented by guest blogger, K.E.Weeks.
I saw an audio CD of Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys at my local library, but was unable to locate a print copy ($11.98; Philomel; March 22, 2011). Thus, I swam deeper into the sea of eBooks and ordered it for my Kindle, just as I was leaving on a trip. I discovered, while it is convenient to read on a Kindle while traveling, it is difficult to extract information from an eBook for a book review because the reader does not have a page number for the MLA citation, only a percentage of the book finished. Thus, I must use chapters for the MLA citation at the end of quotations, instead of proper page number format.
The historical fiction book begins, “They took me in my nightgown” (Sepetys 1). This cliff-hanger is one of many. “They” refers to the Soviet NKVD officers (eventually known as the KGB) who knock loudly at the door in the early evening in June 1941 and snatch fifteen-year-old Lina, her younger brother Jonas, and her mother from their Lithuanian apartment. Lina’s father, a professor at the university, has been trying to find a way for the family to escape to the west when the Soviet Union takes control of the small Baltic States of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia and begins sending “anti-Soviets” to labor camps, also known as gulags, in the east. The book tells the story of an often-forgotten segment of WWII—the genocide and cultural elimination of people of the Baltic States by Stalin, as he and Hitler battled for control of Europe.

The story alternates between Lina’s family’s struggles en route in boxcars and life in various labor camps where they are almost constantly exhausted, cold, and hungry, and her “pre-World War II” life where her brother cannot finish his dinner, they visit art museums, and Lina’s cousin Joana studies medicine. The memories are in italics at the end of some chapters, and are in stark contrast to her current life. Other chapters end with suspenseful statements, like “I shut the bathroom door and caught sight of my face in the mirror. I had no idea how quickly it was to change, to fade. If I had, I would have stared at my reflection, memorizing it. It was the last time I would look into a real mirror for more than a decade” (Sepetys 3).

Lina keeps hope alive for herself and her family by drawing what is happening and where they are going on scraps of cloth and pieces of wood, in hopes that her drawings will find their way to her father in a Soviet prison and he will rescue them. The family works with other deportees, including a seventeen-year-old boy named Andrius, whom Lina alternatively likes and hates.

The book is divided into three sections: “Thieves and Prostitutes,” “Maps and Snakes,” and “Ice and Ashes.” There are some nice maps at the beginning for the reader to see Lina’s travels through Eastern Europe, Asia, and, eventually, the Arctic Circle, as well as a timeline of the story and locations.

The historical novel, based on family memories but not a memoir, is compelling and well-researched. Sepetys took two trips to Lithuania to interview family members and survivors of the gulags. Overall, the book is interesting and well-written. It is a story of forgiveness and compassion for mature 7th graders and up. While the violence is mild, considering the subject matter, there is violence, cruelty, and adultery, such as a woman who sleeps with her captors for food and improved living conditions.

Unfortunately, I was sorely disappointed in the ending, which resorts to a flat “vision of the future” and an epilogue to tell what happens to Lina and her family. The weak ending does not do the well-developed book justice. For this reason, I give the book four stars (out of five). Yet, for a first novel, Between Shades of Gray is a substantial contribution to young adult fiction, and I’m looking forward to reading more of the author’s work.

Disclaimer: The purpose of this review is to guide parents into selecting appropriate, significant, high-quality literature for their teens and tweens. I have no connection with the author or publisher of this book. I am a home educator of two children, 12 and 14, with a Master of Art degree in American Literature and a keen interest in young adult fiction and nonfiction.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Lapbooking Giveaway from Pear Educational Products!

Home Educating Family is featuring Pear Educational Products this week.  Head on over to their new review website and check it out.  While you are there, enter to win the giveaway package, valued at $30, which includes:

(1) 6x8 Blank Project Book
(1) 9 x 11 1/2 Blank Project Book
(1) 12 x 12 Blank Project Book
(1) Winners choice of Things That Go for grades K-2 or Transportation Firsts for grades 3-8 Project Pack eBook from Hands of a Child

You will also find a coupon code for 20% off! Be sure to stock up for all your lapbooking and creative projects for the rest of the year.

Visit Pear Educational Products to see the full product line (there are also some non-lapbooking items), as well as project ideas.

Is There a Way to Stop Birthdays?

Oh how I wish there were!  Dd is 15 today. 15! One year from a driver's license and three years from being a legal adult.  How in the world did we get here so quickly?

Since she has an evening class tonight, we celebrated a little early with some family over the weekend.  As usual, Grandma made a fabulous cake.

Those that have been reading this blog for a while know that theater is a huge love!  This smile isn't acting though!

I really do love having a teenager in the house, but each year is a reminder of how close the next phase - adulthood - is creeping up. I'll save my panic for another post. Today, I'm just going to give my teenager a big birthday hug and celebrate the beautiful (both inside and out) young woman she's become. HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Review and Giveaway: A Mile in His Shoes

Only a miracle can help baseball coach Arthur “Murph” Murphy (Dean Cain) and his losing minor league baseball team.  As Murph sets out to recruit a new talent for the team, he stumbles upon Mickey (Luke Schroder), a young farmer with an incredible pitcher’s arm.  However, Mickey’s parents are reluctant to allow him to join the team because he has Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism.  Murph convinces Mickey’s parents that life in the minor league will benefit their unique son, but he doesn’t realize just how much his new recruit will help the team’s game and, amore importantly, their spirit. 
A Mile in His Shoes, adapted from a novel by Frank Nappi, is based on a true story.  In addition to clean entertainment, the story also gives the viewer an insight into the challenges of autism.

The viewers are able to connect with the challenges of Mickey, who has Asperger’s syndrome, through a glimpse into his coping mechanisms though flashbacks to the farm and familiar places, “seeing” though his eyes of blurred vision when under duress, and his struggles to pick up on cues in social situations.

Dean Cain stars as Murph, the encouraging coach to Mikey. After watching the whole film trying to place the actor who did an excellent job playing Mickey, I quickly discovered why the familiarity when I saw his name was Luke Schroder, son of Rick Schroder. Another familiar face was the actor who played Pee Wee (Jarod Joseph of Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief), a player on the team who was quick to accept Mickey.

This made-for-TV movie is suitable viewing for the entire family. (Note:  There is one suggested scene of violence, but not very graphic.) Themes of acceptance, overcoming obstacles (both internal and external), and faith are woven throughout the story. Overall, it is an excellent choice for your next family movie night.
Closed!  Congrats Charla, comment #2

One lucky reader will win a certificate to claim their very own copy of A Mile in His Shoes. See below for how you can enter.  Please make sure to leave a way for me to contact you, should you be the winner.

Mandatory entry:
  • Simply leave a comment….easy peasy!
For additional entries (leave a comment for each):
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The giveaway will end on February 3rd at 6 p.m. EST and will be chosen by a random number generator.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Sneak Peeks with K.E. Weeks: Chasing Lincoln’s Killer

This feature is presented by guest blogger, K.E.Weeks.
Recently, I watched The Conspirator, a 2010, PG-13 movie, directed by Robert Redford and starring James McAvoy. It is an historical drama where Frederick Aiken (McAvoy) defends Mary Surratt against charges of conspiring to kill President Lincoln. It’s an excellent, historically-accurate film that brings to light some of the lesser-known figures in the Lincoln assassination.
Thus, when I saw the book Chasing Lincoln’s Killer: The Search for John Wilkes Booth by James L. Swanson, I was interested in learning more about this period in US history ($11.55; Scholastic Press; February 1,image 2009). Chasing Lincoln’s Killer is historical non-fiction that reads like a thriller novel. Swanson does an excellent job of drawing the reader into the story and telling the tale one cliff-hanging scene at a time, even when the reader knows how it all ends. The story begins March 4, 1865, at Lincoln’s inauguration for a second term and continues to his assassination and the subsequent manhunt for the 9 conspirators (Booth, plus the other eight). Swanson does an excellent job of jumping between events that are happening simultaneously. Such skipping around could be confusing, but it isn’t because Swanson deftly glides back and forth between scenes.

The text is meticulously detailed and well-researched. All dialogue in the book comes from original sources: letters, trial transcripts, newspapers, etc. The book contains dozens of photographs and drawings from the era, and the text is illustrated with old newspaper-type font and brown ink for an “old-fashioned” look. At the very end of the book, it also has a map of the route the conspirators took. I wish I had known that as I was reading the story because it would have been helpful for placing the scenes in context while Booth flees to Virginia, back to Maryland, and then to Virginia again.

Chasing Lincoln’s Killer is actually based on another (adult) book by Swanson, Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer, a New York Times bestseller. Swanson does a good job of not watering down the adult book for the young adult audience. Instead, he changes the vocabulary slightly and shortens the overall story considerably (496 pages to 208 pages). In the acknowledgements, he says that several children were his “test readers,” and it shows. His niece’s second-grade classmate advised him to “Keep in all the blood and gore, but not so much that our parents flip out.”

Swanson appears to have taken that advice to heart. He maintains the detailed descriptions of Lincoln’s wound —the blood and brain grey matter that leaked out of the bullet hole — but does not carry on about it. Of course, there is some violence. In addition to Lincoln’s assassination, there is the attempted murder of Secretary of State William H. Seward and his family, Booth’s leg wound and subsequent shooting death, and the murdering of a pair of horses (this is a simple, one-liner; no description. I can’t take animal cruelty).

Despite its short length, the book is neither childish nor condescending, and is appropriate for mature 4th graders through adults. It is a significant contribution to the “living books” movement. Students who are studying the Civil War or love history would find Chasing Lincoln’s Killer fascinating. I rate the book five stars (out of five) for making history come alive for a young audience, keeping the story simple without being simplistic, and scrupulously maintaining historical accuracy.

The author was born on Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, February 12th. It would be appropriate, then, to read Chasing Lincoln’s Killer as we approach that milestone.

Disclaimer: The purpose of this review is to guide parents into selecting appropriate, significant, high-quality literature for their teens and tweens. I have no connection with the author or publisher of this book. I am a home educator of two children, 12 and 14, with a Master of Art degree in American Literature and a keen interest in young adult fiction and nonfiction.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Eight Glasses and Eight Tweets a Day

My husband and I were out shopping for refrigerators this evening.  In our seventeen years of marriage, we've actually never purchased a refrigerator, since both homes we've purchased included appliances.  As we were browsing the many options and designs (and prices!), I came across a feature that I would have never considered for a refrigerator - the ability to Tweet.
If Tweeting isn't enough for you, you can browse photos, type up memos, look up the weather, and read the latest via AP News, all while you fill your glass up from the water dispenser.

Don't get me wrong.  I'm quite the fan of technology.  I love my iPhone that gives me access to information while away from home. But, really?  Are we this attached to instant access of information that we need to have it located on the refrigerator as if it is some sort of food source?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Sneak Peeks with K.E. Weeks: R My Name is Rachel

This feature is presented by guest blogger, K.E.Weeks.
When my daughter recommended a book for me to review, I knew I had to read it. R My Name Is Rachel has become her latest favorite book ($15.99; Wendy Lamb Books; August 9, 2011). When I saw that it was by two-time Newbery Honor-winning author Patricia Reilly Giff, I knew it would be good. I wasn’t disappointed.
In 1936, twelve-year-old Rachel is confronted with moving from the city to an abandoned farm in North Lake, near Canada, with her father and younger brother and sister. The dire circumstances of the Great Depression force their father to leave the children on the farm alone in the spring to seek a construction job on one of President Roosevelt’s New Deal work projects. The children are forced to contend with loneliness, bickering, a looming rent deadline, and a dwindling pantry, consisting mainly of canned tomatoes and green beans.

The story is structured around the seasons, beginning in late winter and ending in summer. Rachel tells much of the story through letters written to a family friend. The book contains a lot of discussion of sibling rivalry and discord, with forgiveness and graciousness being the salve. Rachel fails to understand her sister Cassie, likening her to an orange rose in an arrangement of pink and white flowers. It’s a good description of sisters who are “different spirits” and how they can attempt to appreciate each other’s strengths.

The book also teaches readers to admit wrongdoing and take the consequences because that is better than suffering with guilt. As Rachel’s friend, Miss Mitzi says, “Look in the mirror and tell yourself what you did wrong, Rachel. Then figure out how to fix it no matter how hard that is. Know that I love you” (Giff 104).

The book is a sweet, overcoming hard circumstances tale well-suited to girls in 3rd – 6th grade. While older girls may like it, the book is short (166 pages) and relatively simple, so it would be a quick read for an older student. If you have a reluctant reader, she may have difficulty with Rachel’s letters, which are printed in italics. The correspondence is key to the story and appears in nearly every chapter, so be prepared to help your struggling reader or make it a read aloud.

The only thing I dislike about the story, and it is such a small quibble that it is hardly worth mentioning, is one comment about polar bears lumbering around at the South Pole. Of course, there are no polar bears at the South Pole, so that comment is inaccurate. However, the comment is said by Rachel, who may not realize there are no polar bears at the South Pole, and it may be that Giff put that in so that the reader would know that Rachel is not very worldly. However, it irked me nonetheless, since many young readers would not know that either.

Despite this minor irritation, I recommend R My Name Is Rachel by Patricia Reilly Giff as a solid contribution to tween literature and give it four stars (out of five).

Disclaimer: The purpose of this review is to guide parents into selecting appropriate, significant, high-quality literature for their teens and tweens. I have no connection with the author or publisher of this book. I am a home educator of two children, 12 and 14, with a Master of Art degree in American Literature and a keen interest in young adult fiction and nonfiction.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Review: Z-Guide to the Movies (Zeezok)

Do you ever have those days where you just want to ditch the textbooks and watch a good movie snuggled up on the couch with the kids instead. Who doesn't? And with this cold, wintery weather upon us, add some tasty hot chocolate and a warm blanket along with the buttery popcorn.

While watching movies for school sounds a bit guilt-producing, it doesn't have to be.  Many movies have great educational value in addition to being entertaining.  Better yet, Zeezok Publishing has made tapping into all that education-waiting-to-happen easy-peasy with their Z-Guide to the Movies series.

With dozens of guides from which to choose, my high school daughter selected the Driving Miss Daisy Z-Guide.  This review was actually perfect timing for her upcoming film review assignment for her AP U.S. History class. 

Each Z-Guide is available as a PDF file, purchased as a download or on CD.  Most of the
films are available on Netflix or the library. We found Driving Miss Daisy and many others on the Z-Guide list available at our small town library.

Ten educational activities related to a specific film are included in each guide.  The student is first given a topic overview and a synopsis of the film to review before watching.  Then, as they watch the movie, they are provided a series of review questions that are intended to keep them engaged and paying attention while viewing.  The ones in our guide ranged from simple fact questions to those that hinted at the larger themes in the movie.

Following the questions, our guide had four activities that involved some extra study and reflection, such as further study of Martin Luther King or writing an essay on whether Miss Daisy was prejudice. Hands-on activities, an art project, a discussion of the movie's worldview, and exploration of the art of filmmaking (foreshadowing, for example) round out the activities. There is a 37-page sampler that includes activities from a variety of Z-Guides for your viewing.

The recommendation for the guide is to do two activities a day, with completion in about a week, making it an ideal supplement to other materials exploring the same time period. There are individual guides for movies covering Ancient Civilizations all the way through post-World War II. 

Overall, I really liked the Z-Guide we reviewed.  We didn't do all the activities, but the ones we did were a great starting point for discussing the depth of the movie and underlying messages that may have been overlooked otherwise.

Add a little edutainment to the day, and browse through the Z-Guide selections, which are available through Zeezok Publishing for $12.99. Then, break out the popcorn and hot chocolate and declare an official Movie Day in your homeschool.

Disclaimer: This review was provided as a result of my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine Crew. I was provided the product free of charge in exchange for my honest review. I have received no other compensation. I strive to give a balanced overview of each product, detailing my opinion of both pros and cons and how the product worked for my family. What works for one family may not work for another. I encourage you to read reviews of other Crew members and research sufficiently to determine if any product will be a benefit to your homeschool. You may read more reviews on this product by visiting here.