Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Face to Face: Children of the AIDS Crisis in Africa

AIDS continues to be a global epidemic, particularly in Africa. According to the foreward of the book Face to Face: Children of the AIDS Crisis in Africa, 22 million people living in the sub-Saharan African have HIV. 12 million children who live here have lost one or both parents to the epidemic. And they rarely get the help that they need.

Photographer Karen Ande stumbled upon the issue of children being affected by AIDS when she was already in Kenya on assignment. She quickly became involved in raising awareness and money to help the young children, visiting nonprofit organizations in the Bay area and grassroots organizations in Africa. Reaching out to friend and former roommate Ruthann Richter, a medical writer, she hoped to expand her reach. The result was this collaboration.

Ande and Richter spent time meeting people around Kenya, taking pictures and getting to know them. Each one shares his or her story about the virus, and how it has affected them. Focus is placed on the places that specifically help children, such as Mama Darlene Children's Centre, and Saidia Children's Home.

You can't help but be emotionally moved as you read the stories of these beautiful people who have loved and lost so much. Yet, they carry on day to day. I was particularly moved by stories, such as the young boy named Kevin. He was rescued by a man he called "Daddy", after his mother was murdered. Daddy gave Kevin a green jacket. Daddy also passed away, from AIDS. Kevin couldn't be persuaded to take the coat off for weeks, as he hoped wearing it would bring Daddy back. Accompanying this story is the somber, angry face of the young boy wearing the coat, followed by the smile of a boy who is adjusting to his new life.

The innocence shown on the faces of these children compel you to want to reach out and hug them, and do whatever it takes to help them. The happiness and joy captured as they settle into their new lives makes you grateful for every gift that you have. But you also have to wonder how, when faced with such tragedy and misery, they can still seem so happy. Many people who "have it all" cannot express such true joy. The creators wish to create emotions within the readers, and in this they have truly succeeded.

At the end of the book, contact information for each organization profiled throughout the book is provided. Also included are other organizations who can provide help. It is the hope of Ande and Richter that people will be moved to do something to help.

Find more information by visiting their website at

Purchase Face to Face: Children of the AIDS Crisis in Africa

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Great Little Book of Fun Things You Probably Don't Know About Ireland!

Ireland is one of those countries that people love, and we're not sure why. Robert Sullivan strives to feed our hunger for the Emerald Isle in his collection of trivia called The Great Little Book of Fun Things You Probably Don't Know About Ireland!

The collection is a smorgasbord of information from every aspect of Irish culture imaginable. Find out about their Irish traditions both new and old. Read about some crazy stories from Irish history. Learn the meaning of baby names for boys and girls. And of course, a whole chapter each is dedicated to those favorite Irish sayings and proverbs. Understand "Craic" and Celtic knots.

One of the oddest traditions I saw was a variation on the American tradition of spanking the birthday boy. In Ireland, the birthday boy (or girl) is lifted by his (her) ankles, and the head is bounced on the floor the same number of times as years of age, plus one extra for good luck.

You have seen images of the Irish throwing their waste water into the streets, in movies such as Angela's Ashes, right? The Irish continue to not take care of their aquatic systems, making a fair share of the water undrinkable. So heads up if you ever travel - prepare to buy some water!

Many Americans can boast Irish heritage, including possibly 40% of all Presidents, and of course, Tom Cruise, who is supposedly going to buy the family farm there. (He supposedly bought a plot of land for Katie in my hometown of Toledo, near her parents, so why not partake in his own heritage?)

A whole chapter is devoted to the Irish Christmas. And of course, there are all of the fun and weird traditions about marriage, divorce, drinking, and sobriety.

The book is perfect for those of us who take pleasure in learning as much trivia as possible. It could turn into a fun party conversation, or help you land a role on Jeopardy!

The book is a great deal of fun to read and to share. It's not meant to be a read-through book - unless you are that hungry for information. But it makes a great coffee table book, or even a fun bathroom read!

Purchase The Great Little Book of Fun Things You Probably Don't Know About Ireland: Unusual facts, quotes, news items, proverbs and more about the Irish world, old and new

A review copy of this book was provided by the author. The opinions expressed above are completely honest and my own.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Teaching the Story: Fiction Writing in Grades 4-8

Title: Teaching the Story: Fiction Writing in Grades 4-8

Author: Carol Baldwin

Publisher:  Maupin House

ISBN: 978-1-934338-35-3

Carol Baldwin's book Teaching the Story: Fiction Writing in Grades 4-8 is a beneficial asset to the upper elementary/middle school language teacher's collection. It provides a series of mini-lessons that can supplement the teacher's writing curriculum, in an easy-to-follow format that also incorporates technology into the lessons.

Within the first chapter, students learn how to brainstorm ideas and to outline their story. Important topics include deciding upon a genre, how to write in a detailed active voice, and how to do background research. Though it is possible for a teacher to change the order of lessons, and possibly even skip a few, these all should be taught, as they are the foundation of writing a story.

Next comes a section on creating a believable character. Lessons here reflect upon creating the character's personality, likes and dislikes, and even naming him/her, though use of questionnaires. A few of these points could be combined, if the teacher is short on time.

Setting and mood are essential to any plot. Teaching the Story spends the third chapter teaching children how to utilize the senses when describing a scene, to show the reader the story, as opposed to simply telling it. The abstract discussions in this section could also be served by real-life practice. For example, a recommendation is to take photographs of a scene to describe. The teacher could also bring in objects, or if possible take a short excursion outside of the classroom, to realistically use the senses to describe a scene.

When creating a conflict, the writer must create a believable problem that the character is capable of solving. This section provides more graphic organizers designed to allow the young author to outline her story. She is required to think out each situation, step-by-step.

Baldwin then takes the teacher through teaching how to write out the first draft. Children must collect all of the data thus collected, and assemble these building blocks into the structure of the story.  They also learn how to keep the story within a reasonable length. The length of time required on this part of the book is going to depend on each individual class. Some children will be able to simply whip right through it, while others may suffer from a bit of writer's block.

Once that first draft has been written, it is time to edit and correct any mistakes found within the story. Now is the time to focus on spelling, grammar, and punctuation mistakes.

In order for children to be effective writers, they will need to learn all of these building blocks. Some are going to find the process tedious. As a young writer, I often had this problem. Nevertheless, the lessons contained within are very beneficial. When possible, the teacher should streamline the process for the children who seem to grasp the concepts, and provide extra help and extra exercises for those who require them. The goal is to not deter children from wanting to write.

It is also refreshing to see such a detailed book on the art of fictional writing for kids. Because nonfiction writing is the trend throughout one's school career, creative writing is often overlooked. Many of the mini lessons taught within this book could also be used by older writers who wish to refresh their writing style.

Accompanying the book is a CD of overheads and printouts that are used to supplement the lessons. This eliminates the need to photocopy the graphic organizers within the book. They are also designed to be used with Smart Boards, keeping in line with the modern technology being used in classrooms all over.