The Last Kids on Earth

The Last Kids on Earth by Max Brallier is a basically, the walking dead for kids.

Jack Sullivan was just a normal thirteen-year-old kid before the monster apocalypse. An orphan, being bumped from foster home to foster home, but still keeping things light. Now, he is “Jack Sullivan Post-Apocalyptic Monster Slayer!” He lives in a tricked out tree house, fights zombies and photographs it all.

But it gets lonely being a solo monster slayer. Thankfully, Jack teams up with his best friend, a brainiac scientist, and a reformed bully whose basically the muscle of the group. Together they fight monsters and help Jack with his ultimate “Apocalyptic Feat” of saving June Del Toro.

Can this ragtag group of kids survive the monster apocalypse?

Last Kids on Earth is basically a humor/action/end of the world novel all put in to one. Jack’s witty, tween narrative keeps the story light and relateable even though we’re reading about people eating zombies and monsters.

It’s very accessible to those middle grade readers who like Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Big Nate. Sort of a graphic novel/chapter book hybrid. Maybe not the most well written book in the world, but I think it’s intended to be that way because it’s supposed to be a thirteen-year-old’s boys diary basically.

I actually think this would be a really fun read for children, especially boys, who are in foster care. This theme is definitely touched upon but in a way that’s upbeat. And I know grownups are going to ask about the violence but it isn’t overtly violent. Yes, they kill zombies and monsters but it’s nothing worse than you’d see on tv or in any other action book.

This is probably a solid 4th grade read. I think it’d be too easy for any higher and just a bit too much for lower. It was a quick, easy read that boys, especially, and girls would enjoy. Four stars from me.

That’s all for now!

-M-

STEM Book Club: The Nebula Secret

For this months STEM book club, I decided to go with an action adventure book all about explorers.

Explorer Academy: The Nebula Secret by Trudi Trueit is the first book in a new juvenile adventure series.

Cruz is one of 24 kids across the globe that has been chosen to attend the elite Explorers Academy. Taught by leading researchers, wildlife experts, survivalists and conservationists, Cruz and his fellow explorers are training to become the next generation of great explorers.

But for Cruz this is more than just a dream, this is his legacy. When his mom died when Cruz was just a boy, he knew he would follow in her footsteps at the academy. But no sooner then he receives his acceptance letter, do weird and dangerous “coincidences” seem to dog him.

Can Cruz handle the pressures of Explorer Academy and can he find out who is out to get him and why?

Discussion Questions / Further Reading 

  1.  What is this book about? What are the main themes?  
  2.  What do you think about Explorer Academy? Would you like to see an institution like this? How would a place like this help in today’s environmental struggles? 
  3.  Explorer Academy is extremely competitive, but Renshaw tells Cruz, “My brother says … everybody helps everybody else. The teachers encourage that.” [Page 40] How do you feel about this—knowing that with your help, another student might succeed over you? In this kind of environment, would you hesitate to help a classmate? Why? Why not? 
  4. We saw a lot of different “tech” in this book—some of it real and some of it embellished. What was your favorite technology in this book and why?  
  5. The young explorers are required to wear their OS bracelets at all times. What if the band was available to the general public? What would the benefits be to the health and well-being of the people wearing it? What if people were required to wear it? In what ways could this seemingly beneficial device be abused by an agency responsible for viewing and using its data? 
  6. Why is it so important for Explorer Academy students to study “the characteristics of humanity—why different cultures eat, speak, dress, think, believe, live, and act the way they do.” [Page 111] How will knowing this enhance their experience as explorers? 
  7. The CAVE is a major part of the explorers training. What did you think about this method of training? How far away do you think current technology is toward this goal?  
  8. What is “Cryptography?” Give a few examples of how cryptography was used in this book. 
  9. MAV was Cruz’s robotic honey bee. If you could design your own MAV what would it look like and why? 
  10. This is the first book in a seven book series. Do you have any predictions about where this series could be heading?  

 DIY Cipher Wheel

kids-cipher-wheel

Supplies: Cardboard; Scissors; 1 brass tack; markers; template; glue.

A cipher wheel is an enciphering and deciphering tool developed in 1470. It consists of one stationary wheel and one “moveable” wheel. A cipher wheel can code and decode messages as long as one has the cipher key. There are many variations of cipher wheels but today we are going to do a basic substitution cipher.

How To:

  • Using your template, cut out the two circles.
  • Trace your circles on cardboard and cut them out as well.
  • Glue or tape the template to the cardboard.
  • Place the smaller circle atop of the larger one. Carefully using a scissor or pen, poke a hole in the middle of each circle.
  • Take your brass tack and secure the two cardboard circles together. The circles should still be able to move.
  • Your cipher wheel is ready for use.
  • To use your wheel, decide which letter on the smaller circle will be your cipher key. Let’s use “R” as an example. Turn your wheel so that the letters A, on the big wheel, and the letter R, on the smaller wheel line up.
  • You can now write your messages in code and give the cipher to those you want to read it.

Observations:

  • You could also create a cipher wheel with symbols on the smaller wheel.
  • How else could you use a cipher wheel?
  • Can you think of other ways to decode and encode messages?

Sources:

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/content/dam/books/pdfs/explorer-academy-1-ed-guide.pdf
https://www.savvyhomemade.com/making-a-cipher-wheel/

How’d it go:

This one went pretty well. It was a “cleaner” and easier STEM activity then some of my others, so I wasn’t scrambling to help 20 kids at once. We finished a little early, but overall it was a successful program.

That’s all for now!

-M-

Flip the Silver Switch

Flip the Silver Switch by Jackie Yeager is the second The Crimson Five book.

The Crimson Five–Kia, Ander, Mare, Jax, and Jillian–have soared through nationals and earned a spot at the Global Piedmont Championships. At Global’s they will complete against 99 other international teams and the top three teams will have their inventions created.

Kia is determined to win and get the ancestor app built, but are her teammates just as motivated? Has The Crimson Five travel to Quebec for the two week competition, they will encounter a whole new set of problems and will have to lean on each other more than ever!

Will The Crimson Five buckle under the pressure or will they meet the challenge and win the day?

I enjoyed Spin the Golden Lightbulb a lot. I thought it was a great book about sparking ideas and, especially, working together as a team. But Flip the Silver Switch was basically more of the same. Yes, there were a few unanswered questions from the first book that were resolved here but the team was pretty much dealing with the same problems/issues they had in the first book.

I did like that the team had to create something new and, on top of that, they had to fight Principle Bermuda. It was also nice to see how the team, teammates, reacted to the tour verses leaving their families behind. This is something kids do worry about.

As with the first book, the end wrapped up really quickly. There was a lot of build up to the story and then I felt like the competition itself went really fast. Maybe the pace picks up and I didn’t notice it but it felt quick.

Overall, this was a nice read and I think many kids will enjoy falling back into the story after reading the first book. This one gets three stars from me.

That’s all for now!

-M-

The Earth Keeper’s Gift

The Earth Keeper’s Gift by Tara Langella and Maria Langella Sorgie is a easy reader for 2nd-4th graders but would be a nice, quick read for just about anyone.

Nimue has a special gift; she can communicate with animals and the natural world around her. She feels most at home in the wild, especially with her horse, Cloud. As with most people who are different, Nimue is treated unkindly by her peers, even her parents scold her for “living in a fantasy world.”

When Nimue has an accident in the woods, she wakes up to find that the natural world she so loves is in danger and the only way to save it is to unlock The Earth Keeper’s gift. But unlocking the truth will require Nimue to find her own truth along the way. Can she do it? Or will fear cripple Nimue?

The Earth Keeper’s Gift is unlike any book I’ve ever read before. From the moment you start the first page, you are enmeshed in the story. Don’t expect to be eased in, be ready to jump in right from the get-go.

Above all, I think this book is about the journey toward finding the truth about oneself. With each spirit creature Nimue visits, she learns more about the world around her but more importantly more about herself. This book is setting Nimue up for more adventures. It almost feels like this book is setting the stage for more.

One of the interesting things about this book is how the authors allow us to glimpse Nimue’s “real world” life, without leaving the magic of the forest. We are told that she is crippled, made fun of, and is a strange and lonely child. The reader knows Nimue has a life outside of the forest, but for the purpose of the story, it is on the periphery.

I am intrigued to see where this one is going. A very high 4.5-5 stars from me.

That’s all for now!

-M-

STEM Book Club: The End of the Wild

This month, I decided to go in a whole different direction with my STEM Book Club. Instead of science fiction, I went with some realistic environmental fiction. The book I chose was: The End of the Wild by Nicole Helget.

Eleven-year-old Fern, lives with her stepfather and her two brothers in a small, rundown house, on the edge of a poor town. Near their home is a grove of woods, where she and her family hunts and forages for food. The woods are Fern’s life and she often goes their when things get tough–empty pantries, past due notices, letters from lawyers and child services.

When a fracking company moves into town, Fern finds out that they want to cut down her woods and put in a wastewater pond. Fern is devastated but also conflicted because the company will bring jobs to her neighborhood and could help keep her family together.

Fern is determined to save the woods but she also wants to keep her family together. What can she do when being tugged in two very different directions.

Here are our discussion questions for this book:

  1. What is this book about? What are the main themes?
  2. What is fracking and why is it so controversial? Why is Fern worried about fracking?
  3. What is an ecosystem? How can they be threatened?
  4. What is deforestation? How could deforestation affect an ecosystem?
  5. (Page 163) Fern says, “Toivo thinks I don’t understand the constant itch of being poor, how it’s always a bug biting your back in a place you can’t reach.” How does her family’s poverty affect Fern? How does Fern use foraging to help?
  6. (Chapter 8) A major theme in this book is forgiveness and acceptance. What do you think Toivo means when he says, “One of these days, you’re going to have to cut the duck from Millner’s neck, too”?
  7. Fern has many responsibilities for an eleven-year-old. Do you think she deals well with these struggles? How do you deal with difficult situations or stress?
  8. (Page 193) – Toivo tells the social worker that the kids will struggle with him, “but it is an honest kind of struggling.” What does he mean here? With this in mind, would you rather a hard life or an easy life?
  9. Fern often seems to be stuck between “a rock and a hard place.” Give some examples of times when Fern gets caught in the middle between two points of view, and discuss how she tries to resolve these issues.
  10. A book like this gets us thinking about the environment and what we can do to protect it. Let’s reflect on this a bit…

Then we get into our STEM activity:

DIY Water Filter

Supplies: Water Bottle, Scissors, Coffee Filter, Sand, Charcoal, Dirt, Gravel, Water

How To:

  • Ask a grownup to help you cut off the bottom of your bottle. Should be about 2-3 inches. Put aside for later.
  • Take a cup of water and add a small amount of soil. Water should look dirty but does not need to be thick. Put aside for later.
  • Twist off the cap of your water bottle. Turn it so the drinking side is facing down and the side you cut off is facing up. Take a coffee filter and push it down toward the bottom, so it is just about coming out the bottom. You may need to trim your filter to fit.
  • Next, start layering your materials. Start with a layer of crushed up charcoal. On top of that, add your layer of dirt. Then sand. Then gravel.
  • Once you are satisfied with your layers, stick the whole bottle inside the piece you cut off. This piece will catch your water as it goes through the bottle.
  • Finally, take your dirty water and pour it into the bottle. The water will travel through each of the materials we placed until it catches in the bottom.
  • You just made a water filter!

Observations:

  • What happened to the dirty water as it went through our layers?
  • Do you think you could organize your layers differently for a better result?

The Science:

Your filter is like one of the stages in cleaning water in a water treatment plant. Particles of dirt in the muddy water become trapped in the layers of materials, which help to clean the water. The finer the material the water runs through, such as the crushed charcoal and fine sand, the more dirt particles are trapped, making the water even cleaner. We’re basically straining our water until it is clean enough to drink.

*Adult Supervision Required – DO NOT DRINK THE WATER*

Sources:

https://www.csfphiladelphia.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/The-End-of-the-Wild-Discussion-Questions.pdf

http://keepinggeologyalive.blogspot.com/2014/06/jello-fracking-experiment.html

https://longisland.madscience.org/news/Water-problems-494.aspx

How’d it go:

Not going to lie, I did not get a chance to practice this STEM activity beforehand. Mostly because this wasn’t one where you can get small amounts of tester supplies. At first we didn’t think my tester worked because nothing was draining out, so everyone tried something differently with theirs. Turns out mine worked the best, because it was draining the slowest. We think folding the coffee filter up is what did the trick.

This was a fun, but messy, project. The kids also told me that they prefer futuristic or science fiction to the realistic fiction of this book. It was good feedback to have for the future.

Finally, we did have to have a little chat, as one eventually must with 4-6 graders, about taking the club seriously. So hopefully, the weather clears up and we won’t be as stir crazy next month.

That’s all for now!

-M-