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Thursday, 29 May 2014

Learnpads in the library

Our school recently invested in a set of Learnpads as a pilot project to see how we can utilise them to support teaching and learning. 

For those of you unfamiliar with Learnpads, they are android devices and are designed for use in schools. Pupils at our school are aged 3 - 13 and the devices allow us to limit the content pupils can access. I'm still getting to grips with them but this is how I've been using them so far.

App: Autodesk Sketchbook Pro
This was a paid app which I downloaded from Googleplay and then installed on each device. We used this sophisticated drawing app as part of our Kate Greenaway shadowing. We read This is Not My Hat and then using the app created a digital drawing of the Big Fish, Small Fish or Crab. This activity was suggested in the Looking Closely Guide.

App: Pic Collage
This was a free app in the Learnpad Store. Again we were using this as part of our Kate Greenaway shadowing. This time we were looking at Where My Wellies Take Me. We used the Pic Collage app to go outside and take photos of the natural world and living things in our local area. We also tried to link our photography to a "nature" poem as it is in the book.

App: RM Books
This was a free app through the Googleplay store. This term I signed our school library up to RM Books ereading platform. So we used the app to introduce pupils to the system and guide them on borrowing ebooks.

App: iMLS
This is a free app through the Googleplay store. It is the app which links to our library catalogue so pupils can search our catalogue, check what they have on loan and reserve books.

This is just the start of our journey into using Learnpads in the Library but I'm interested to hear how other librarians and teachers are using Learnpads successfully.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Review: And the Mountains Echoed

Author: Khalid Hosseini

Release date: UK paperback 8th May 2014
Genre: Contemporary Adult Fiction
Target audience: Adult
Publisher: Bloomsbury

And The Mountains Echoed is a story of family, of cultural identity. It’s about the ties that bind us and those that break us.

The story begins with a family in a small Afghan village. The times are tough for all the village families. They work long and hard. A father tells his son Abdullah a folktale before he goes to sleep. But the life of the family is soon in turmoil after their uncle helps to organise the adoption of Abdullah’s sister Pari. Abdullah will never stop looking for his sister.

What I had expected from this book was not at all what it was. I expected to journey through the story with Abdullah on his search but in fact the story takes a different direction. We read about many different characters and how their lives are linked to the story of Abdullah and Pari. We see the story through the uncle’s eyes, aid workers in Afghanistan, doctors, the children of Abdullah.

Although there were times when I really enjoyed reading this, especially the beginning, after a while it just became more and more frustrating to be introduced to yet another character. The impact of the beginning became less so because of the meandering format of the book. I ended out skipping sentences and paragraphs here and there just to finish it. I am not fond of books that swap viewpoints on the whole anyway. It makes it difficult to remember who is speaking. I read The Kite Runner about five years ago and I really enjoyed that (even though it is pretty bleak at times).

This was a staff book group pick so I’ll be interested to see if the other members enjoyed it more than me. Overall, it was too long and complicated for my taste but some of the themes were thought-provoking – the cycle of life – child becoming parent, the blessing and curse that our parents can be on our lives, the fear that controls our choices. This book will undoubtedly have its fans.

Source: Bought from WH Smith.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Review: The Boy on the Porch

Author: Sharon Creech

Release date: 7th Nov 2013
Genre: Family story
Target audience: 8+
UK Publisher: Andersen Press

The Boy on the Porch is a beautiful story of family, love and acceptance.

This is the story of a boy who appears one day on the porch of a young couple. He’s a mystery. Where did he come from? Who does he belong to? The couple don’t know but they are kind and they take him in and care for him. The boy doesn’t speak but he laughs a silent happy laugh and he brings joy into their lives. But surely one day someone will come for the boy and then what will John and Marta do?

This story is so poignant. It takes a challenging, complicated issue – child abandonment – and makes it accessible. There is a fairytale, whimsical feel to the book and it never feels like it weighs on the reader. That is not to say that there is not sadness in this story, there is indeed sadness. But the way Creech brings the young couple’s kindness to life just makes your heart swell.

I loved how this book was short and had a real economy of style. Books don’t always need to be hefty tomes to move you or make you stop and think. The Boy on the Porch is another wonderful example of why Sharon Creech is one of today’s best writers for children. Her books are timeless, word-perfect and full of characters who make the heart sing.

Source: Copy sent by the publisher for review. Thank you.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Audio books: Turning the commute into a whole new world

Choosing an audio book to listen to is much more difficult than picking a fiction book to read. Not only does it need to be a good story but the performer also needs to bring the story to life. When you pick a good one, boy is it a rewarding experience. I think listening to a story taps into our childhood experiences and can give us great comfort.

I’ve been listening to audio books on my way to work since just before Christmas. I have to pick books which are easy to follow. (I have to concentrate on the road at the same time). So after a bit of experimenting I realised they had to be books set in the real world. Fantasy was too difficult to follow with all the strange names and places.

I love Nora Roberts’ novels so I tried Blue Smoke and it was fantastic. A little scary at times but the reader was great to listen to and the plot kept me wanting to hear more. I ended out listening to it even when I wasn’t in the car. So I’d be ironing and listening to it or cleaning the bathroom. My husband thought it was hilarious.

Then I was searching for James Patterson and James Herriot came up instead. I’d watched Young Herriot on TV and enjoyed it so I thought: why not?! I downloaded the first one and it was an absolute joy to listen to. I was laughing my socks off in the car and suddenly the Yorkshire Dales were all around me and suburbia had disappeared. I’m now onto his fourth book – Vet in Harness. I’m not sure I’d normally read a book about a vet. I’m pretty squeamish but being read to is entirely different. The books are full of charming anecdotes of life as a rural vet and they are highly entertaining.

I used to think audio books were expensive. A couple of years back I bought some on Audible. But now I’ve discovered that my public library is part of the London Library Consortium and using Overdrive I can download them for free for a period of a few weeks. Don’t forget you don’t have to live in a town to become a member of a public library so this service should be available to everyone in the UK which is why I wanted to write this post.

Also, I want to hear about which audio books you’ve enjoyed listening to. Share in the comments.


Monday, 5 May 2014

Review: The Final Empire

Author: Brandon Sanderson

Release date: UK Paperback 1st October 2009
Genre: High Fantasy
Target audience: Adult
UK Publisher: Gollancz
Series: Book 1 Mistborn series

The Final Empire is an epic fantasy novel with its own metallic fantastical twist.

Vin is one of thieves of the underworld. A young girl dependent on her brother and the crew he runs with for survival. She’s a wraith of a girl, half-starved and frequently beaten. She trusts no one as her brother Reen taught her and the beginning of the novel she is finally abandoned by him and is devastated by the betrayal. At the mercy of his crew, she’s instructed by the leader to accompany him of the next con. He thinks she’s his lucky charm but there’s something special about Vin and its about to endanger her life.

Kelsier is the leader of a different type of thieving crew. He’s not a lowly skaa like Vin. He’s a lowly nobleman. He’s also the only person to ever survive and escape the Pits of Hathsin. He has a plan to overthrow the Final Empire and the Lord Ruler who claims to be God. He’ll need his whole crew to pull it off and Vin too. But the Empire is strong and the Lord Ruler even stronger. It’s a dangerous plan.

I did enjoy this book but it took such a long time to get into it. There are so many characters – members of different crews, the Ministry, the Obligators, the Inquisitors. It took a long time to orientate myself to the different groups in this world. It also took a long time for me to care about any of the characters. Because the story is told in the third person roving narrator, you don’t really get to feel the emotions of anyone that deeply. It sought of makes you feel a step removed. It wasn’t until Vin became Valette that I was really engaged. And it wasn’t until the very end of the book that I decided I did want to read the next book in the series.

The idea of Allomancy definitely had flare and originality and so did the concept of the mists. I think it was really the style and viewpoint that held me back from really being immersed in the book. Overall, The Final Empire is a good read and there is great potential for the rest of the series.

Source: Bought from a second hand bookshop in Cornwall.