Friday, May 31, 2013

Recommended Reads: Down the Rabbit Hole

Down the Rabbit Hole by Peter Abrahams 

Ages: 10 and up

Awards: Nominated for the Edgar Award, a prize awarded by the Mystery Writers of America for distinguished work in the mystery genre.

Plot: Thirteen-year-old Ingrid has a lot going for her. She’s a star soccer player and a great actress -- so good that she lands the leading role in an upcoming community production of Alice in Wonderland. But Ingrid’s life turns complicated when a pair of her shoes goes missing and turns up in a crime scene! A local woman has been murdered, and it turns out that Ingrid was the last one (other than the killer, of course) to see her alive. Anxious to avoid dealing with the police, lest they get the wrong idea about her involvement, Ingrid puts her pluck, smarts, and sleuthing skills (learned through an obsessive reading of Sherlock Holmes’s mysteries) to work to track down the killer. The end is suspenseful and satisfying, and readers will be hooked from the first chapter.

Adult themes: There’s not too much that’s overtly objectionable in this book. Ingrid shares her first kiss with Joey Strade, but it’s an innocent scene that’s fittingly charming and awkward. On a darker note, Ingrid’s brother Ty is working out a lot, building muscle fast and behaving increasingly aggressively, but the suspicion that he may be using performance enhancing drugs is not broached overtly until the second book in the series.

Our Take: Ingrid is ridden with just enough teeny-bopper angst to make her believable, but enough wit, courage, and poise to make her likeable to both adults and kids. The mystery is well-paced and, even for an adult reader, full of enough twists and turns to make the solution tough to guess until near the end. We’d expect nothing less from bestselling mystery author Peter Abrahams; though this is his first novel for young people, he’s clearly a seasoned craftsman of the genre. The suspense in this book is well-balanced with quirky, ironic humor, however, which is an unexpected touch in a mystery that should especially appeal to young readers. Bookish types will appreciate the clever literary allusions that pepper the book, from the more obvious references to Sherlock Holmes and Alice in Wonderland to the more subtle Shakespearean references. Readers will love following Ingrid’s search for the truth in this novel, all the way to its nail-biter ending.

Sequels: Down the Rabbit Hole is the first of a three-part series called Echo Falls Mysteries. Its sequels are Behind the Curtain and Into the Dark.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Ten Signs: When To Seek Help for Difficulty In School

How can a parent know if the time is right to seek help for difficulty in school? The honest answer is that every child (and every situation) is different, but if you are having significant or persistent concerns about a student, no matter their age, academic level, or context, we strongly recommend speaking with a qualified professional to ensure that your child is receiving the appropriate support he or she may need to excel in their educational pursuits. Sometimes, it can be important to seek help from professionals working independently of your child's school if you have concerns that the school is not meeting your child's needs, and especially if faculty and administrators do not share your level of concern.

The Yellin Center has compiled a list of ten signs parents and educators should be on the lookout for in students who are experiencing some difficulty in their day to day school or home lives. If more than a handful of these statements are accurate depictions of a student in your life, Dr. Yellin recommends you seek out professional care.

Ten Signs: When To Seek Help for Difficulty In School

  1. Stomach aches, headaches or other symptoms of minor illness that occur consistently on Sunday nights, Monday mornings, or when working on projects or preparing for school
  2. Feeling stressed or generally anxious
  3. Homework and school projects taking much longer than expected on a regular basis
  4. Not reading for pleasure, and not feeling joyful about learning or new experiences, generally
  5. Diminished self-esteem
  6. Low motivation
  7. Grades and test scores are not reflecting effort (especially), or knowledge
  8. Evidence of strong verbal skills paired with poor writing
  9. Knowing subject material one week but completely forgetting it in the following week
  10. Seemingly performing well in school, but completely "falling apart" -- emotionally, academically, or otherwise -- at soon as at home

-Jeremy Koren

Friday, May 24, 2013

Connect with The Yellin Center on Goodreads

We have written quite a few posts referring our readers to outside sources that help young readers find books they’ll love. Now, we’re proud to point you toward a resource of our own! If you have a Goodreads account, you can sign up to follow The Yellin Center and take advantage of our large list of recommended titles!

About Goodreads

Goodreads, for those who don’t yet use it, is an online networking site for book lovers. After creating a free account, users have lots of options. They can add friends to get updates about books their connections are reading and learn about what books their friends loved and hated. The site is also a great way to keep track of book lists; users can search for books by title or author or by browsing themed lists created by other users, then save books that they've read or books they want to read. Completed books can be rated, and users can even write their own reviews. It’s also possible to create share-able lists (some titles are “Zombies!” and “Books a Middle Schooler Should Read”) using the Listopia function. One the most fun aspects of this feature is that other users can vote on the books in your list, which will rank the titles accordingly. Each user will have the option of using pre-named shelves (Want to Read, Currently Reading, and Read) and also adding shelves they name themselves.

The Yellin Center on Goodreads

Our Goodreads account is designed to share our favorite books with a wide audience. After “friending” us you can browse through our list of more than 350 (and growing) titles. We've placed our books on shelves according to reading level, genre, and theme, and included other information such as whether there is a movie adaptation of the book available. We also have shelves for books that are great for reading aloud, books about parenting, books about teaching and learning, and books about the brain. And we've actually read all of the books on our list, which means we can confidently stand behind our categories, ratings, and reviews.

We hope you’ll investigate our page and take advantage of this resource! Feel free to share it with others, and let us know what titles we should check out next.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Turn Back to Poetry with Poetry 180

We have one last blog to share from our April celebration of Poetry Month.

During his tenure as the Poet Laureate of the United States (2001-2003), Billy Collins dedicated much time and energy to his conviction that poetry should be a part of people’s daily lives. With this in mind, he developed and publicized a project called Poetry 180. His plan: that students hear a poem on each of the 180 days of the school year to derive both enrichment and pleasure from relevant, contemporary poets. In a statement introducing his project, Collins writes, “By just spending a few minutes reading a poem each day, new worlds can be revealed.”

The poems Collins selected, which include work from poets like Philip Levine, Naomi Shihab Nye, Sharon Olds, Paul Zimmer, Lucille Clifton, and Collins himself, can be purchased as a collection (Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry), but the collection is also available for free on the Library of Congress’s website. While many of the poems would be appropriate for a wide range of ages, Collins selected the poems with high school students in mind. They are meant to be read to students, and the website includes a helpful link containing tips on reading poetry aloud. Collins was so pleased with the success and impact of Poetry 180 that he assembled a second collection, called 180 More: Extraordinary Poems for Everyday, which is also available in bookstores.

Whether or not they encounter it in school, Poetry 180 is a fantastic collection for young people. The language is both frank and beautiful and the themes are varied and germane. Students who groan at the prospect of having to dissect yet another ancient sonnet will find Poetry 180 to be a breath of fresh air. Do not miss this collection, whether you read one poem a day or devour the whole thing in just a few sittings.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Changes to New York State Diplomas

As graduation approaches for high school seniors, it is important for parents and students who will be in high school next year to be aware of significant changes to the diplomas available in New York State for students with learning and related challenges. We last wrote about changes to New York diplomas back in May, 2011.

Photo credits: Jeff Meyer and
For many years, New York had a three tier system for diplomas: students could earn a Regents diploma (and later, a Regents diploma with honors) by taking and passing a series of Regents Exams; for students, including those with Individual Educational Programs (IEPs), who could not meet the challenge of Regents Exams, there were Regents Competency Exams, which were less challenging and which led to a "local" diploma; and, finally, for those students with significant learning difficulties who could not manage even a local diploma, there was an "IEP Diploma" which was not really a diploma at all, but a certificate that simply noted that the student met the goals set forth in his or her IEP.

As states, including New York, worked to raise standards for all students, the Regents Competency Exams were eliminated. Students with IEPs could still earn a local diploma by passing a lesser number of Regents Exams with lower scores than typical students. This option remains in place for the time being.

More recently, notice was given that IEP diplomas were being eliminated, and the Board of Regents has put in place a temporary replacement in a credential they call the “New York State Career Development and Occupational Studies Commencement Credential.” Like the IEP diploma, this certificate of graduation is not a diploma. The position of the Board of Regents is that this certificate will be more meaningful than a IEP diploma, because it will indicate what courses a student has completed towards occupational competency. Some parents are concerned that employers will not consider this any differently than an IEP diploma -- neither is actually a high school diploma -- and will not hire students who can present only this credential.

The New York State Board of Regents notes that the new credential is in place only temporarily, "in order to ensure that the proposed credential is available to students with disabilities effective July 1, 2013 when the regulation providing for an individualized education program (IEP) diploma sunsets." There is information available on the Board of Regents website about the ways this new credential was developed and how it is expected to impact students. There is a comment period, ending June 7, 2013, for the public to let the Board of Regents know what they think of this new credential. Click here to obtain the comment form.

Photo credits: Jeff Meyer and

Friday, May 17, 2013

Recommended Reads: Classic Humor for Young Readers

Our Recommended Reads series continues today with a look at some classic humorous series for young readers.

New offerings to the overflowing children’s books genre abound, and some of them are worthy indeed. But with all these flashy newcomers, it can be easy to forget about some of the time-tested classics whose humor will continue to motivate and appeal to children even decades after they were originally published. Below are some of our favorite series, which are as delightful and relevant today as they were when they first hit the shelves. Of note, while girls will certainly enjoy the books below, they will be particularly appealing to boys.

The Nate the Great series, by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat, illustrated by Marc Simont
Ages: 6 and up

Believe it or not, this boy detective made his debut in 1972! Along with his trusty dog Sludge, Nate the Great solves more than twenty mysteries in this wonderful series. The narration is in first person, allowing readers to enjoy Nate the Great’s cool, Sam Spade-like detachment. The deadly serious tone of the writing contrasts brilliantly with the fun illustrations and decidedly undignified situations in which Nate finds himself, making the books laugh-out-loud funny. Children will enjoy attempting to solve the surprisingly tricky mysteries alongside this great sleuth.

The Fox series, by Edward Marshall, illustrated by James Marshall*
Ages: 6 and up

This easy-to-read series, which debuted in 1982, is the brainchild of the incomparable James Marshall, who gave us the Miss Nelson and George and Martha series, among others. The books chronicle the exploits of Fox, a somewhat devious youngster who loves nothing more than skateboarding with “the gang.” Alas, Fox’s plans are often thwarted by the demands of school and helping out around the house. Fox often attempts to skirt obligations like minding his younger sister Louise or shopping for items on his mother’s endless grocery list, but things usually don’t turn out quite the way he plans. Kids will love reading about his hilarious antics, and the tongue-in-cheek illustrations add to the humor.

The Time Warp Trio series by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith
Ages: 7 and up

We agree that you can’t judge books by their covers, but with titles like Knights of the Kitchen Table, Your Mother was a Neanderthal, and Viking It and Liking It, kids will be hooked before even opening these enjoyable chapter books. Scieszka’s series, complete with funny illustrations, tells about the adventures of Joe and his friends Sam and Fred. Joe’s magician uncle sends him a mysterious book for his birthday that allows the three to travel through time. They visit places/eras like Medieval England, Renaissance Italy, the Stone Age, and Ancient Egypt, and even flash forward in time to the year 2095 for madcap escapades that always nearly end in disaster and always definitely end in laughter. The first book in this series was published in 1991, but all of the titles remain timelessly enjoyable. While your kids may not have a magician for an uncle, they can have just as much fun as the Time Warp Trio by traveling back in time with these series!

*Interesting Fact: Marshall’s full name was James Edward Marshall. He wrote the Fox books as Edward Marshall but illustrated them under his more well-known name, James Marshall.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

College Savings Day is May 29

Parenthood is full of uncertainties, but there’s one thing that parents can count on: college tuition is likely to keep rising. To spare themselves and their children from years of loan repayments, parents need to understand the many ways to save for college tuition and to reduce college costs.  There are plenty of options for saving beyond the coffee can hidden under the bed: Coverdell Education Savings Accounts (cover K-12 expenses in addition to college, and are limited to $2,000 annual contributions), standard personal savings and investment accounts (generally subject to state and federal income taxes), and 529 plans (college savings plans that are free from federal taxes) are all good options. In honor of College Savings Day on 5/29, we’ll focus this post on 529 plans. Future posts will look at other aspects of paying for college.

First, it’s important to know what costs your child will face. Take a deep breath and visit the College Cost Calculator for an estimation based on your child’s age, the type of school s/he will likely attend, and average tuition inflation.

Now that you know what you’re up against, the next step is to choose a 529 plan. All 529 plans have two things in common: they’re investment options, and they’re free from federal income tax. Most states offer several plan options, and some of them have further benefits that may make withdrawals free from state tax too, or qualify students for state grants and s

529 plans fall into two categories. The first, a prepaid tuition plan, is currently available in 11 states. It allows parents to buy tuition ahead of time, based on today’s costs. The money is then passed on to the college when the child enrolls down the road. This is a great option for students who know they’re going to stay in-state because it locks them into tuition rates that are almost certain to be lower. The second variety, the savings plan, is a bit more versatile. The 529 savings plan works a bit like a 401(k) retirement plan: money contributed into the account is invested, typically in mutual funds (either by a fund manager or by the account holder, depending on the plan), and can later be withdrawn for qualifying education expenses without being subject to federal taxes.

Here are some good things to know about 529s:

  • While enrolling in your state’s plan may offer you particular benefits, you can enroll in any plan in any state, regardless of where you live or where your child ends up enrolling. Be sure to research all state plans to find the best one for your family. 
  • Anyone can contribute to a 529, so spread the word to grandparents, aunts and uncles, etc.
  • Almost all plans allow the account to be transferred to another beneficiary without penalty, so if your child is drafted to the NBA and no longer needs your help paying for college down the line, the account can become his younger sister’s college fund instead. 
  • Most financial advisors recommend that parents who can afford only retirement savings or college savings choose the former. Your child can always borrow money for college, but you can’t borrow money for retirement. allows visitors to research their plan options by state or by feature. Consider whether a prepaid tuition or savings plan is best for your family first, and be sure to consider other factors like the minimum initial contribution and maximum total contribution limits; state tax breaks and other state-specific benefits; and enrollment and other annual fees charged by the plan. 529 plans are considered to be assets of the parents, not the student, in calculating Expected Family Contribution for financial aid under the FAFSA form, the universally utilized calculator of college financial aid. This means that it has less of an impact when total family assets are considered.

A note about using a 401(k) or IRA retirement account as a college savings fund: Most financial advisors seem to steer people away from this option. Even though account holders can withdraw from these funds without penalties after the age of 59 1/2, the withdrawals still count as taxable income, unlike funds from a 529. Additionally, the amount withdrawn will be added to your annual income, meaning that you will fall into a higher income bracket and your child may not qualify for financial-based student aid next year.

Important Note: The information above is intended to get you started thinking about these issues -- not to be financial, investment, or accounting advice. Please see an appropriate professional for specific guidance, tailored to your family's needs.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Poetic Language for Tots

Chris Drumm
When it comes to reading poetry with kids, start young! Even little ones who are still developing language can benefit enormously from hearing poetic language. The rhythms and rhymes in poetry draw kids’ attention to the sounds and patterns in English. This translates to oral language development, and to an important awareness for language sounds (called phonemic awareness) that’s a precursor for reading skills. Exposure to poetry builds vocabulary as well. But perhaps most importantly, poetic language written with kids in mind encourages children to be playful with language and emphasizes the fun aspects of literacy. Milton and Chaucer use some great poetic language, but if you’d rather start your little one with something a bit more child-friendly, here are some ideas:

  • Read nursery rhymes to your kids. The simple language is full of appealing rhythm and rhyme. 

  • Sing songs like Raffi’s "Willoughy Wallaby Woo" or "The Name Game." Kids will get some great practice with a skill called phoneme manipulation; that is, they’ll practice substituting sounds in words to make new words, which is important for developing reading skills later. They’ll get a good giggle out of using their names and names of their friends and family in the songs, too. 

  • Tongue twisters aren’t exactly poetry, but they help hone kids’ attention to language sounds. Try "Peter Piper" or the classic woodchuck twister, or challenge your kids to say, “She sells seashells by the seashore.” 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Highlighting Audiobooks Makes It Easy to Follow Along

We often recommend that struggling readers make use of audiobooks. Listening to books does more than simply allow weak readers to access information. The benefits of audiobooks are many and varied: they expose listeners to literary language, improve decoding skills and word recognition, increase vocabulary, and model fluent oral reading. We have an extensive list of audiobook resources on our website - and recently collaborated with Learning Ally, a nonprofit which is among the leading producers of audiobooks for students with learning challenges (as well as visual impairment).

Of course, decoding skills and word recognition are best improved when a listener follows along with a written text. Seeing the word while hearing it can enforce a student’s letter-sound associations and sight word recognition. But following along can be difficult for struggling or emerging readers.

Fortunately, there are several services that highlight each word of a digital book as it is read by the device. In this format, the reader listens while looking at an electronic version of the text on a mobile phone, tablet, or computer. The audio track is synced with the words on the page so that each word is highlighted as it is read, allowing readers to follow along easily. Here are a few of our favorite options:

For Beginning Readers

  • A subscription to the One More Story website allows readers to choose from a large library of quality picture books. Little readers can listen to and read along with a book of their choosing; favorites like The Snowy Day, Stellaluna, The Poky Little Puppy, How I Became a Pirate, and many more are displayed on digital pages with the original illustrations. For kids who are ready, echo reading mode is available, and kids can choose to hear tough words read aloud for them with a click of the mouse.

For Everyone

  • Amazon’s partnership with has yielded Immersion Reading for Kindle Fire users. After purchasing the Kindle and Audible versions of a book, readers can simply tap the Play icon to begin the professional narration, and words on the screen will be highlighted for them in real time as they listen. All Kindle Fire devices come with this capability. Visit Audible’s FAQ page  for more information.
  • Users of the accessible media distributor Bookshare can purchase an app called Read2Go to enable real-time highlighting of any book in Bookshare’s library as they listen. The app can be used on any iDevice.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Scholastic’s Book Wizard Makes Choosing Books Magically Easy

Helping kids choose books can be a perplexing experience. Many parents hear buzz about titles for young people, but it can be hard to know whether particular books will be just right for their children. Sure, the book got great review on Amazon, but will it be too hard or too easy? Are the themes going to be over the child’s head, or will he find them juvenile? And what the heck is this book about anyway? Thanks to Scholastic, however, parents don’t need a magic wand to divine important information that will help their children find the perfect match; with a quick trip to Scholastic’s Book Wizard,  parents’ book questions will vanish.

Book Wizard provides information about virtually every book you've ever heard of. Simply type in a title and - poof! - information appears, like the book’s grade level equivalent and interest level (grades 1.0 to 12.9) and genre. Users can also learn whether the book is part of a reading motivation program like Scholastic Reading Counts, Accelerated Reader, etc. Those who are well-versed in other measures of reading ability can choose to view a book’s Guided Reading or DRA level, or its Lexile measure, too.

Another valuable feature of the Scholastic site is the BookAlike search, which allows readers to find books similar to titles they've enjoyed. For example, a search for Harriet the Spy reveals that The Wednesday Wars, Surviving the Applewhites, and Do the Math: Secrets, Lies, and Algebra, along with many others, have the same reading level and themes and so would appeal to students who enjoyed reading about Harriet’s exploits. Not sure whether a particular book on BookAlike’s list sounds captivating? Click on the title for a plot summary and other information.

There’s no need to register or pay for this service, but it might be a good idea to create an account for yourself or for your child. Registered users can make lists of books that look intriguing and save them for later reference. Trust us, you’re going to find this feature indispensable when you see how many great suggestions the site provides.

Thanks to the magic of Book Wizard, you don’t need to be a librarian, or a magician, to find great book choices for your child!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Technology Allows Teachers to Communicate with Students With Ease and Privacy

Teachers who want to be available to students after school hours face a conundrum. On one hand, the best way to communicate these days is via text messages, which are even more efficient than emails. On the other hand, most teachers are understandably loathe to share their personal cell phone numbers with students, and also to pay for the messaging fees their phone companies will charge for all those text messages. Luckily, some innovative services are revolutionizing teacher-student communication, making it faster and more private than ever before.

Google Voice

Teachers who have Google accounts may be interested in setting up a Google Voice account, which can be used to stay in close contact with students while maintaining an all-important layer of privacy. The service will assign teachers a new phone number, which they can link to their current cell phone if they choose. When a student sends a text message to the number, the teacher will see the message on his/her private phone (or computer, if the teacher prefers) without the student being able to access the teacher’s personal number. Replies sent via phone to the student’s number will show the Google Voice number, not the teacher’s private phone number. Teachers can also choose to use their computers to sign in to their Google accounts and reply to text messages via the computer; their students will receive teacher responses as text messages on their cell phones. Texts replies to students, whether sent by phone or by computer, are free. And if, at the end of the school year, the teacher chooses to unplug from school responsibilities for a while, s/he can change the Google Voice settings so that student messages will not be accepted.


Another intriguing service is Remind 101. Each group a teacher sets up (Debate Team, First Period, Parents, etc.) will be assigned a unique code. Students who wish to sign up for teacher texts simply text that code to Remind 101 and they’ll automatically be added to the list of phone numbers for that group. When the teacher sends out a message, such as reminding kids that there’s a test on Tuesday or modifying a homework assignment, the students, or their parents, will receive the information as a text message. A teacher can even set a schedule so that messages to go out at a predetermined time, so a teacher can leave work for the day with the assurance that the message will be received during prime homework hours. Students are identified on teacher contact lists only by name, not by phone number, and the teacher’s phone number is not shared either. It’s easy to opt out of the messages, and students or parents can receive the messages as emails instead of texts if they choose, to avoid messaging fees. Currently, Remind 101 is in beta and so is a free service for teachers, too. While it doesn't allow for the kind of back-and-forth that Google Voice makes possible, Remind 101 is a great way to communicate with whole classes or groups of parents at once.

Services like Google Voice and Remind 101 break new ground. And teachers may find themselves breaking new ground, too, as they encourage their students to check their text messages instead of to put away their phones!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Recommended Reads: Just Listen

Today, we pick up again with our Recommended Reads series, which highlights book recommendations for children and young adults. Today, we review Just Listen by Sarah Dessen, originally published in 2006 by Viking Juvenile.

Purchase on Amazon

Ages: 8th grade and up; will likely appeal primarily to girls

Plot: Annabelle Green begins her junior year of high school as an outcast. On paper, she has everything: loving parents, a fancy house, a modeling career, and older sisters beautiful enough to be models in New York themselves. But below the surface, things are not what they seem. Annabelle’s mother struggles with depression and her sister Whitney has been forced to move back home as she works with a series of specialists to battle her anorexia. Shy, conflict-averse Annabelle wants to quit modeling but doesn't want to disappoint her mother. Worst of all, due to a misunderstanding at a party at the end of the last school year, Annabelle’s best friend Sophie refuses to speak to her, and she’s the topic of much mean-spirited gossip around school. Just when it seems no one will ever speak to her again, however, Annabelle meets Owen, another outcast. Owen is obsessed with

music and has his own radio show, and these topics serve as a catalyst for conversation and eventually friendship between the two. Dessen alludes to the cause of Annabelle’s falling out with Sophie throughout the book, but it is only toward the end that we learn what actually happened. (Discontinue reading here if you want to avoid spoilers.) What appeared to be a tryst between Annabelle and Sophie’s boyfriend Will was actually a rape. Ashamed, Annabelle told no one what really happened, but when Sophie’s friend Emily falls victim to Will as well, she goes straight to the authorities. Annabelle finally makes the wrenching decision to testify against Will, too, and the book ends with Will behind bars, Whitney on the road to discovery, Annabelle’s mother displaying strength Annabelle has never seen in her, and Annabelle and Owen launching a romantic relationship.

Adult themes: While the plot includes a rape, the scene is not graphic and shouldn't be troubling to girls in late middle school or high school. There are very occasional instances of mild cursing. Also, underage characters in the book occasionally drink beer, though drinking is by no means glorified. The main character, Annabelle, is portrayed as sipping beer on two occasions, and other characters who drink more heavily are presented in an unflattering light.

Our take:  Just Listen tackles a laundry list of tough topics with sensitivity and wisdom. Young people are often understandably resistant to reading books bearing overt “lessons,” but the values Dessen advocates are worked carefully into the narrative so that they seem organic and won’t be blatant to most young readers. Owen, an endlessly admirable character, teaches through example the importance of honesty—both with one’s self and with others—friendship, and individuality. Annabelle’s journey and some none-too-subtle analogies to the glass house in which she lives will cause girls to question whether they can really know everything about a person or a situation just by looking. As models, Annabelle and her sisters are very visible and many assume that they lead charmed lives, but this is far from the truth. This concept is strengthened with continuous references to Annabelle’s modern, window-dominated house, which seems to reveal the lives of her family to any passing observer but is actually filled with hidden spaces. This rather obvious symbolism is a great introduction to extended metaphor for readers with weaker skills. Note that this group may find the construction of the book slightly confusing, however. Scenes typically open on Annabelle at a photo shoot or in her bedroom and then launch into flashbacks so lengthy and developed that some readers may be disoriented when, suddenly, Annabelle is back at the shoot again. Just Listen lacks the gorgeous language and subtlety of a classic, but it’s readable and real and would be a great choice for most adolescent girls.

Similar books: Readers who enjoy Just Listen should also check out Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Lots to do? Get Finish

One of the most blogged-about new apps for iDevices is streamlined. It’s useful. It’s innovative. And it was developed by two sixteen-year-old high school sophomores.

Finish, which was released earlier this year, is a clever tool for managing to-do lists. Creators Ryan Orbuch and Michael Hansen came up with the idea when they were embroiled in finals and longing for a better way to manage all they had to do. Their brainchild, Finish, allows users to enter tasks to be completed and place them on one of three lists: Short-, Mid-, or Long-Term. Finish initially defines short-term as tasks due in 0-2 days, mid-term tasks as 3-7 days, and long-term tasks as
8 days or more, but these settings are adjustable.

Finish is nothing if not user friendly; simply type in the task you have to accomplish (e.g. “Email Prof. Chen re: paper”), select the deadline for the task, and that’s it! Finish will place the task under the appropriate heading. Users can scroll through the list under each heading and either edit, check off or star entries as needed. Finish keeps lists up to date, too. Enter a deadline for a paper due in two weeks and the task will automatically move from your long-term list to your mid-, then short-term lists as crunch time approaches. Users can enable push notifications to let them know when tasks are due, and it is easy to move tasks from list to list as needed, too. Finish even allows users to repeat tasks. Got a study group every Monday evening at 5:00? Simply enter it once and indicate that you want the task to repeat weekly. Finish will take care of the rest.

Finish is a fantastic app, but users should consider a few potential downsides. One is that it does not sync with other devices, so those who have well-established calendars on computers or iPads may not want to take the trouble to duplicate their agendas. For iPhone-reliant students, however, this may not be a problem. Also, while Finish’s simplicity is one of its best features, it is so basic that users cannot enter times, locations, or notes to accompany each task. This limitation can be skirted by typing “Tutoring @ 5 in library” as opposed to simply “Tutoring” for the task, but this takes a bit of extra legwork. Again, this may or may not be a deal breaker depending on your individual preferences. Updates to Finish have been promised that may address these issues.

Despite its minor limitations, we think Finish is an innovative, functional app that could be just the ticket for organizing a hectic schedule. Finish is available for $0.99 from the iTunes store.