Review: Olive’s Ocean

Olive's Ocean

Olive’s Ocean by Kevin Henkes


Martha and Olive were not really friends – not the way real friends should be if you are in middle school. Olive hardly knew who Martha was. Until Martha is hit by a car while riding her bike home from school. Martha’s mother brings Olive something that makes her realize that perhaps in Martha’s mind, they were friends. Olive struggles with her own feelings about what this means in her relationships in the present – and what it meant to Martha who is part of the past. Olive’s usual life, full of normal and ordinary moments, is suddenly cast in a different light and although she is ready to spend her summer once again in the waves off Cape Cod, she cannot escape the invisible presence of the dead girl. Not even blossoming romance on the Cape can pull Olive from her emotional ocean.

This is a very interesting story in the way Henkes brings Olive’s struggle to deal with the death of a classmate and her own guilt that she may have wasted the chance to have a real friend. It is not a ghost story but young readers will feel Martha there in the pages.

Greenwillow Books (2001)

ISBN 9780060535452

Price: $7.00

Quantitative: Lexile Level: 680; ATOS 4.7

Qualitative: Middle Grades (4-8)

Common Core Standards: RL.5.3, RL.5.4, RL.5.6, RL.5.9

Literary A wards: Newbery Honor (2004)

Annotation: When someone’s memory haunts you, it feels like a ghost is walking with you, speaking to you, questioning you. Life is like an ocean and emotions can feel like waves. This story brings to life the impact of a school mate’s death for one young girl who struggles to understand the nature of her own life.

Personal Note: Kevin Henkes is one of my favorite authors and his works range from picture books for very young readers up to wonderful stories for middle grade readers, such as Olive’s Ocean. His series with Lilly (Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse) and Chrysanthemum are wonderful for read alouds with lower grades. Kevin Henkes’ latest is The Year of Billy Miller (Greenwill Books, 2013). Check it out!



Review: Bat 6

Bat 6
Bat 6 by Virginia Euwer Wolff
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Bat 6 is a very unique novel and almost reads like a non-fiction recount of eye witnesses who were on the field the day the two 6th grade girls’ softball teams met for the first and only time to play the traditional game for the 50th time in the history of the their two home towns. For all the girls, this game is the culmination of an honored tradition for their grade. Nine girls are chosen from each town to represent it and play a friendly softball game. They have all year to prepare for this one game and then the torch is passed on to the next group of 6th grade girls. But this year is different: it is 1949 and for some, the scars of WWII are beginning to heal; for others, the wound is still bleeding. The two towns in this story represent the to polar ends of the reality of a recovering nation following the war, particularly in the west, where Japanese families returning from internment camps were faced with both welcoming arms and resentment from their neighbors.

This story is told by all 21 players who were there for the game, including Shazam, whose father was killed at Pearl Harbor, and Aki, whose family has just returned to her home town after several years in a Japanese internment camp. That these two have something to fight about seems obvious after the incident, but leading up to the game, none of the players would have guessed there would be a conflict on the field. Now that they all are forced to admit there is something wrong, they all must see the point of view of both of these players and acknowledge their own feelings in the process.

This book is really fascinating in its use of the voices of these 21 6th grade girls. Author Virginia Euwer Wolff uses these authentic perspectives to draw in young readers and give the story its authentic and true-story feel. This story presents the difficult issues of intolerance, injustice, prejudice, and racial discrimination in a way that tweens can understand. Some of the characters had some clues about how Shazam felt about Japanese people but they did not know how deeply those feelings ran or how violently they might be axpressed. For Aki’s friends, they were happy to have her back – a missing part of their community and their school, she is welcomed home after her family is released from their imprisonment.

This story and others like it open up a conversation about discrimination and unfair treatment that gets tweens thinking of their own feelings and perspectives. Aside from conveying important facts about the Japanese internment camps and life after WWII, this story brings up basic things like actions and consequences, prejudices, fairness, conflict and anger, and gives young readers an opportunity to consider where their own judgments and conflicts might be. Multicultural novels like Bat 6 are critical in providing perspectives other than our own, and this is especially valuable for tweens and teens. By placing young people in the shoes of others, they are given a glimpse into that person’s feelings and experiences. This is one of the most effective ways to experience empathy and this type of literature plays an important role.

Age Range: 8 – 12 years
Grade Level: 3 – 7
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Scholastic Paperbacks; Reprint edition (April 1, 2000)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0590898000
ISBN-13: 978-0590898003

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The Difference Between the Ideal and the Reality of TECH in our Schools

 A critical review of an interesting article:
By Ben Kamisar
December 4, 2013 6:00 AM
During a recent Library Sciences class, we spent a great deal of time discussing the huge potential that technology holds for education and the future of students as they develop their skills and knowledge in the world. The focus on tools for learning and collaborative development, the virtual world of education and the library in particular, and the promise that can be nurtured into power when students are given every imaginable resource is an inspiring ideal. The ideal learning environment where collaboration and collective learning replaces guided instruction and modeling learning targets becomes the norm.
This article by Ben Kamisar is in the Education Week Blog in the Digital Education Page and it is both exciting and in some ways frightening. On one hand, it is amazing and miraculous that individuals with wealth beyond comprehension would choose to share it with young people in our country to help provide the Internet access needed to fully realize the potential of the technology available in our time. But when you look closely, you may notice a something chilling about the $9 million being put up by the Gates Foundation and Mr. Zuckerberg – that money is going to private sector non-profit start-up companies: “The recipient of those investments, EducationSuperHighway, will use the money to help train schools to use and manage broadband connections while cutting down on costs…. Most recently, the organization joined with Gates’ foundation to lead $4 million in seed funding for Panorama Education, the Cambridge, Mass.-based company which creates and analyzes surveys for K-12 schools.” So who is the real beneficiary of this philanthropy? That is a question we all should consider. Does the benefit to students justify the benefit to the investors and the future return on that investment that they are counting on. These non-profits will not “profit” by way of cash or financial gain in this transaction; the real profit will come from the positioning that will result and the increased leverage as these companies lobby the Federal Government for faster broadband across the country and easier and cheaper access to it.
Regardless of the financial in’s and out’s of bringing real technology solutions and infrastructure to our schools, two particularly chilling points come to light as a result of the research done in preparation for Gates’ and Zuckerberg’s seed money.  From the blog post:
1)  Based on information it has gathered through partnerships with 26 state departments of education, the organization’s research found that more than 70 percent of public schools lack the bandwidth required for digital learning.

2)  While interest in 1-to-1 student-to-digital-device programs and other digital-learning efforts continues to grow, education technology experts estimate that 40 million students lack sufficient broadband access in their schools.


Doubling the FCC E-rate program funding (currently at $2.4 billion) is another option for increasing the connectivity in our nation’s schools, but this funding is discretionary for school sites with little oversight and few standardized guidelines for universal tech spending. Schools spend it in what ever way they believe will work best at their school site – the opposite of good connectivity planning. The essence of the Local Control Funding Formula is one of the biggest pitfalls for student outcomes.

So while we have looked at the ideal of amazing possibilities of technology in the library and the limitless roles of the school librarian and physical and virtual learning commons that can be the heart of learning within a school, the reality is that for 70% of schools in the U.S. having a well-appointed school library and a well-trained and valued librarian ready to meet students where they are and help them find the resources that will open the doors of their mind may be the real ideal for right now.

Check it out!

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