Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin




Tuesday, April 22, 2014

If Not For Them...

Living in northern Michigan there are two things you simply can't ignore, trees and water.  One of my favorite hikes is through the woods along the shore of Lake Michigan.  When no one else is around, early in the morning, I've seen white-tailed deer playfully jumping in the water along the beach and a bald eagle soaring above the treetops.  By climbing a series of hills on paths winding among pines, oaks, maples, poplars, beeches and ferns, I can see two different arms of Lake Charlevoix.

It would be easy to take such abundance of both for granted, but I don't.  Reverence would be an apt description of how I feel about trees and water, knowing they could disappear if not protected.  In 2012 a book garnering a Golden Kite Honor Award, Picture Book Text, placement on the International Reading Association Teachers' Choices 2013, Primary Readers, the position of a Minnesota Book Award Finalist 2013, The John Burroughs Riverby Award for 2012 and listed on the National Council of Teachers of English 2013 Notable Children's Books in the Language Arts titled A Leaf Can Be... (Millbrook Press) written by Laura Purdie Salas with illustrations by Violeta Dabija spoke (still speaks) to the youngest of readers (which means all of us) about the place of leaves in the natural realm. 

A leaf is a leaf.
It bursts out each spring
when sunny days linger
and orioles sing. 

After these introductory poetic phrases which truly make you feel like singing yourself (go ahead, read them aloud now), you read the title of the book followed by twelve, rhyming, two-word defining sentence finishers; one set per page.  Then the first sentence of the volume is repeated with three new lines moving from spring to fall.  Again two-word, lyrical, rhyming descriptions depict the ever-changing potential of leaves in the lives of many.

Clearly Laura Purdie Salas is a keen observer of the out-of-doors; noticing the multiple purposes of leaves.  Her true gift though lies in her combinations of words.  Not only are they true but absolutely beautiful. Here are two sets of couplets.

Tree topper
Rain stopper

Wind rider
Lake glider

After the narrative concludes, she takes each of her two-word phrases, explaining them in more factual terms. This is not only an invitation for learning but for readers to challenge themselves to think of their own two-word portrayals of leaves.  The final page includes a small glossary as well as a list of four books containing more information.


Fortunately for readers three short weeks ago Laura Purdie Salas and Violeta Dabija released a new collaboration bringing us a second stellar title, Water Can Be... (Millbrook Press).  Having watched the levels of Lake Michigan fall to their lowest in my memory, this ode to the splendor of water in all its forms is timely and timeless.  From drop to downpour, it's never been more eloquently depicted.

Water is water---
it's puddle, pond, sea.
When springtime comes splashing,
the water flows free.

As in the previous title we readers are treated to twelve representations of water in the world.  Each pair's cadence creates a melody not dissimilar to the sounds water can make; almost silent to a roar.  We are magically moved to each location.

Water is a birthplace and residence, a mirror, a source of food and drink, a land shaper, a cycle maker, a disguiser, a temperature changer, a color coordinator and a source of destruction.  Its capabilities, like a leaf, change with the seasons.  We can see its distinctive values in the outer world as well in our homes and workplaces.

When you read the word choices of Laura Purdie Salas, you want to grab a pencil and paper as fast as you can, to start jotting down what you notice about water in the spring, summer, fall and winter.  She makes you realize you need to pay closer attention, to be more appreciative.  Her use of language challenges you to stretch beyond the obvious, renaming what you see, hear, smell, touch or taste.  Here are several twosomes from this title.

Thirst quencher
Kid drencher

Salmon highway
Eagle flyway

Four pages are devoted to clarifying water's role in the double word phrases.  Her sentences are enlightening and entertaining at the same time.  Salas is careful to speak as if in conversation with her readers.  Here is a single sample.

Rainbow jeweler: Did you know that without water, we would have no rainbows? They form when sunshine meets water vapor in the air.  The sunlight hits the water vapor, bends, and travels to your eye.  The light makes different colors depending on how it bends.

A glossary and list of five books ends this title.



Of Violeta Dabija the publisher's website says:

She works in both traditional and digital media and often mixes them to produce delicate and atmospheric illustrations with a traditional feel.

The matching dust jacket and book case on each volume features an altered version of a visual from within the pages.  On the back is a smaller illustration framing or highlighting a question to the reader about a leaf or water.  The endpapers are a solid color, taken from the front of the jacket and case.

The shapes and hues on the title page blend and extend into the verso and first page, softly stunning, so lovely you wish you were standing beneath the tree branches filled with singing birds or next to the rapidly moving stream.  For each set of words, Dabija has created lively, graceful images endearing and expressive, favoring shades of green in the first and of blue in the newest title.  That is not to say she does not use other colors to great effect.

 She adds her unique, skillful brand of marvel and magic on every page.  The final two pages, a single illustration in both books, show men and women creating topiaries from shrubs and trees and a castle, crescent moon, rabbit and dragon from ice.  In A Leaf Can Be... one of my favorite pictures (nest former) is of a flock of white birds gathering leaves to make homes in a single tree.  The combination of greens, blues and browns, tiny white blossoms surrounding the shape of the branch ends, is life affirming, full of peace and hope.  Featuring a cascading stream, white-tipped waves forming, falling down through the spring forest with snow-capped mountains in the distance, Dabija pictures Downhill speeder from Water Can Be...  You can almost hear the racing sound of the water.  This is one of several favorites of mine.


Let us hope that A Leaf Can Be... and Water Can Be... written by Laura Purdie Salas with illustrations by Violeta Dabija are the first two of many collaborations.  These books are breathtaking in word and pictures.  Read them for the quiet pleasure they bring.  Read them for the information they provide.  Read them to see a leaf and water in a new light.  Most of all, share them with everyone often!

Please follow the links embedded in the author's and illustrator's names to access their official websites. Laura Purdie Salas has numerous extra features for educators; how the book began (for A Leaf Can Be...), reading guides, videos and activity sheets. Follow this link to the publisher's website for inside views of both books, and a PDF downloadable bookmark for A Leaf Can Be... At this link to Cynthia Leitich Smith's blog, Cynsations, view several videos about Water Can Be...

Do not miss the #SharpSchu Book Club tonight on Twitter which features these two books.  Be sure to check back here later for a link to the archive if you miss the chat.  Watch. Connect. Read. John Schumacher  Sharpread Colby Sharp






Monday, April 21, 2014

Plan R For Read This You Must

No matter how much care is given to the implementation of an idea, it sometimes does not work.  If another party is involved (your nemesis), it can be baffling as to how they seem to know exactly what your intentions are almost before you do.  They are indeed very clever or you may have discovered your soul mate; even if you are a child and they are an adult.

If you have read Lulu and the Brontosaurus or Lulu Walks the Dogs, you are familiar with this tenacious troublemaker whose mind never rests; continuously plotting to get her own way...always.  Lulu's Mysterious Mission (Atheneum Books for Young Readers) written by Judith Viorst with illustrations by Kevin Cornell, dust jacket illustration by Lane Smith, finds this manipulative maven facing her biggest challenge yet.  It seems Lulu's parents are about to do the unthinkable; take a trip without her.

But first let's go find Lulu, who is in the living room screeching "No! No! No!" although she doesn't screech much anymore. However, the news she was hearing from her mom and dad was so utterly, totally SHOCKING that it not only started her screeching but almost shocked her into throwing one of her heel-kicking, arm-waving, on-the-floor tantrums. 

Lulu is not about to take this news without a fight.  She fails to understand how her parents can enjoy themselves without her.  She wonders what kind of person could possibly take good care of her; said person might have ulterior motives like kidnapping her for ransom or starving and hitting her or locking her in the basement (the fact that their home has no basement is irrelevant).

Her parents assure her they've

hired the best babysitter in town---maybe the world---to take care of 

her.  Well, when Lulu hears the word babysitter that starts a whole new tirade.  Filled with fury she stomps up the stairs to her room when informed Ms. Sonia Sofia Solinsky will be arriving shortly as her parents are leaving the next day.  What? Tomorrow?  It gets worse and worse as far as Lulu is concerned.

Fuming she starts to hatch a plan which is executed quicker than anticipated when Ms. Sonia Sofia Solinsky loudly announces her presence, boldly walking into Lulu's bedroom despite her proclamation of being extremely ill.  Now if you are under the belief this caretaker of children is some sweet little old lady, think again.  Dressed in a military style uniform with a canteen and binoculars hanging from her belt, hair pulled back in a severe bun, combat boots on her feet, with a single glance anyone can tell she means business.  As soon as Lulu's parents are out of earshot, she tells her precisely how things are going to play out over the next week.

The next day when her parents have left, Lulu realizing plan A was an utter failure, decides it's time for plan B.   That strategy is a bust.  Plan C flops miserably.  When plan D appears to be working splendidly, Lulu gets stopped mid-argument by a single word from Ms. Sonia Sofia Solinsky.  It's time to call a truce and bargain with her archenemy.

Attached to that single word are other word groups, Repair and Restore, Disguise and Penetrate, Hacking and Codes and...those two words for which you've been patiently waiting...Mysterious Mission.  The days fly by as Lulu puts forth her best efforts (and believe me, knowing Lulu, it's not easy) to comply with the instructions of Triple S before her parents return.  Her mom and dad are absolutely bewildered when she insists they take more trips without her in the future, requesting that Ms. Sonia Sofia Solinsky stay with her. As readers you won't be the least bit surprised because Lulu gets her way...always.



Judith Viorst, as in the two previous titles, begins with a two page introduction of sorts, advising us of her unintentional deceit with the title.

STOP! Don't begin the first chapter just yet. There's something I need to tell you.  And I think I'd better tell it to you right now.

This one-on-one conversation, in a no-nonsense-let's-be-perfectly-clear tone of voice, with the reader continues throughout the story.  It's like we are getting extra information, the inside scoop, from the one person who knows everything.

You couldn't ask for characters, Lulu's mom and dad, Ms. Sonia Sofia Solinsky and Harry Potter, Lulu's trombone instructor, who play their parts any better.  Ms. Solinsky would have any other boy or girl raising a white flag after the first round but not Lulu. When a fictional character is over-the-top outrageous in their words and deeds, you can't help but laugh.  This is the Lulu, created by Viorst, whose escapades we have come to admire.

Known for not going with the flow, she still keeps us guessing as to her next plan of action.  Lulu's eeny meeny miney mo chant whispered under her breath, with a verse added after each loss and, in a twist of fate, success, definitely heightens the hilarity.  When she and Ms. Sonia Sofia Solinsky plot and converse, readers will keep those pages turning as fast as they can.  Here is a single sample.

... But before she could finish another "That babysitter's got to go," a loud "ahem!" disturbed her happy mood.
Standing at strict attention at the bottom of the tree---and what, in heaven's name, was she doing out there?---was none other than Ms. Sonia Sofia Solinsky.
"What, in heaven's name, are you doing out here?" Lulu fake-sweetly asked her. "I was just getting ready to meet you by the front door."
"I very much doubt that," said Ms. Solinsky, scowling down at Lulu and shaking a stern finger in her face. "But I'm warning you, don't bother trying that climb-out-the window-and-down-the-tree-nonsense again.  Believe me, I know tricks that you've never dreamed of.  Besides which, you were already wearing your sneakers."

For this third title in the series Kevin Cornell's illustrations rendered in graphite and watercolor on paper and then digitally manipulated add an extra spark to the text.  He leaves no doubt as to the many moods of each character, especially Lulu.  Smaller insets, full page and larger illustrations crossing the gutter fit the flow of the narrative seamlessly.

Two of my favorites are Ms. Sonia Sofia Solinsky holding the back of Lulu's skirt so she can't fake faint when her parents are leaving.  We see a highly distraught Lulu, the long legs, combat boots and arm of Ms. Sonia Solinsky with the paler outlines of the living room in the background.  When Lulu is sure plan D is proceeding toward victory, we see the text of her chant in blue as she does a determined dance, legs and arms raised, with Ms. Sonia Sofia Solinsky towering behind her in a lighter hue.

Run, don't walk, to your nearest independent bookstore or library to get a copy of Lulu's Mysterious Mission written by Judith Viorst with illustrations by Kevin Cornell.  This book is one hundred eighty-two pages of pure pleasure.  I know because I've read it twice.  I predict as soon as you finish this as a read aloud (and you must read it to one or more), you will be asked to read it again.  Everyone loves to laugh.  It's guaranteed with this book.

Please be sure to visit the illustrators' websites by following the links embedded in their names.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Seasons Of Poetic Bliss

Every living thing notices the changes each season brings.  Careful human observers can pretty much rely on the signals sent by birds, insects, creatures inhabiting yards, fields and forests, trees, flowers and weeds.  They know much more long before we do; perfectly in tune with their world.

Poets take the time to pause, to record, these subtle shifts.  They capture moments with words like a photographer does with a camera.  Author Paul B. Janeczko has selected thirty-six sterling examples in Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems (Candlewick Press) with illustrations by Caldecott Honor winner, Melissa Sweet.

The work of thirty-two prominent poets spanning decades is divided into four sections; spring, summer, fall and winter with eight to ten poems in each.  A single poem introduces the transformation from one to the other.  The volume begins with spring.

Daybreak reminds us---
the hills have arrived just in
time to celebrate
                  ---Cid Corman

Rain, a blossoming flower, a vividly-colored wheelbarrow, a contrasting chicken, a stone resembling an animal giant acting as a pathway for birches, and a hearse for dead floor fans depict tiny portions of life awakening from winter's slumber.  A water lily and a water bird color the landscape with their particular sights and sounds.  Travelers gaze outward from the windows of a speeding train as the night flashes by in segments.

Daisies and buttercups declare the advent of summer as a furry beast roams among their stems. A crowded subway, a union of rain and dust, flashing stars skimming the night yard and spindly-legged critters making patterns on a beach take us to places and points we might otherwise miss.  Stored treasures emit odors of days long past.  What are the sun, moon and stars? Flowers?  Faces?

Wild wind, rain and falling leaves boldly broadcast autumn.  Misty mornings, dying slender stalks, crunching and bareness stretch across the wild and populated areas.  There are no moons like those moons shining in the months of September, October and November.

A truck like the surrounding vista is ready for rest; winter is coming.  As a prelude to snow the fog forms in and around city structures.  Fence lines lead and slice.  And the moonlit nights usher in much-needed sleep.


Only a master of poetry could glean such expressive beauty from the vast array of verses found in human literature.  Paul B. Janeczko has never been more skillful in his choices than in this collection.  What each poem brings to the reader's mind's eye are brief seconds, here and gone in a flash, but remembered always in the written word.


The illustration on the front of the matching dust jacket and book case is so full of life it breathes.  The layout and design on this, on all the pictures, are exquisite.  Each conveys the essence of the text presented.

Using watercolor, gouache and mixed media Melissa Sweet alternates between single page and double page pictures one flowing into the other, colorful hues blending.  Delicate flower petals, panoramic sea scenes, bulging frog eyes following a fly, striped boots stomping through mud, a party of insects among fall weeds, and squirrels nestled in a wintertime nest are all made with infinite care.  Each visual radiates refreshing warmth.

For the signature poem, Firefly July, a jar filled with fireflies is superimposed over children and their dog on a summer's night outside.  Their home and yard are sketched in the background.  It's stunning.


It's no wonder this book has received five starred reviews, The Horn Book, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Booklist and School Library Journal. Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems selected by Paul B. Janeczko with illustrations by Melissa Sweet is a poetry book everyone should own and share with others.  It's destined to be a classic.  It will definitely be among those titles listed in my Mock Caldecott for 2015.

To learn more about Paul B. Janeczko and Melissa Sweet please follow the links embedded in their names to their official websites.  Make sure to visit this interview at Book Page.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Who Needs A What?

Have you ever watched a little boy or girl walk along a sidewalk after a rain storm?  Inevitably there are puddles.  Even if these puddles are not along their particular route, they will make a detour, jumping in them with unrestrained glee.  If you take this same little boy or girl and mention the word bath, they will vanish like a puff of smoke.  What's the big deal?  After all, it's just water...right?

It's the same way with Xena.  She swims for hours in a lake, having to be caught to get her out.  As soon as the shower is turned on, she disappears or if she is in the bathroom, she cements herself to the floor.  Given these scenarios, it should go without saying our feathered friend who wants to drive a bus, wants to stay up late, wants a puppy, finds a hot dog and wonders why Duckling gets a cookie, would also be reluctant to be less dirty.  The Pigeon Needs a Bath! (Hyperion Books for Children, an imprint of Disney Book Group), words and pictures by Mo Willems, takes a hilarious look at one stubborn bird.

Hi! I don't know if you've noticed, but the Pigeon is filthy.  So, I could use your help, because:

The Pigeon Needs a Bath!

That is a matter of opinion.

The Pigeon truly thinks the bus driver (clad in a bathrobe, shower cap and bunny slippers, carrying a towel) is joking.  A little dirt never hurts anyone.  Scratching himself, the Pigeon is fairly certain he took a bath last month.  Why would he need one now?

He feels clean even if he looks dirty, really dirty.  He starts to get feisty, asking the reader if perhaps they might need a bath, until he receives a reply.  Oh, oh...smell...what smell?

Now the flies are starting to circle him.  When they leave with exclamations of

P. U.! and
Take a bath, dude!

he finally gives in.  He'll do it, if for no other reason than to make the reader (and the bus driver) happy.

Standing next to the tub, he realizes this might not be such a good idea.  It takes him forever to get the water temperature, depth of the water and the proper amount of toys to his precise specifications.  With a big

SPLASH!

he's in.

In a flash his attitude changes.  You would think he might be part duck he loves it so much.  You will never guess what he says

TEN HOURS LATER.


At no time does Mo Willems miss a beat with the word choices in his books.  The give and take dialogue between the Pigeon and an unseen or unheard narrator, except for the bus driver in the beginning, is exactly what we've come to expect from this bird that knows his mind (or thinks he does).  His snappy replies, musings and emotional outbursts are awash with laughter. Here is a sample of two pages.

And if I do---
it's a very normal smell!

For a pigeon.

Y'know, in some places it is impolite to bathe.

Mo Willems starts his story on the book case.  The Pigeon is already talking to the reader.  On the back, grimy with a fly buzzing around him, he asks how someone could possibly take time for

basic hygiene 

when there are these other Pigeon books to read.

The opening endpapers show the Pigeon up to his neck in a mud puddle happily splashing.  On the closing endpapers his equally joyful self is engaged in a similar activity in the bath tub.  The title page, verso and dedication pages include portions of the narrative as well.

Shades of brown provide the background for the Pigeon, feather-deep in denial as to his state of cleanliness.  There is a single page for each phrase, with the perspective altering according to his mood.  Twenty-nine smaller images feature his ever-changing techniques to avoid actually getting into the water.  The colors used as he washes, purple, green, blue, rose, orange and yellow (including the ring around the tub) compliment and contrast with the earlier illustrations.

One of my favorite pictures is when the three flies are leaving him because of his strong obnoxious smell.  The look on his face of resignation makes me want to burst out laughing.  You can almost hear him sigh.

Fans of this character's previous books will laugh loud and long when reading The Pigeon Needs a Bath! written and illustrated by Mo Willems.  Even if there is only an audience of one (you), read this book aloud!  Better yet, find someone to read it to over and over.  It gets better every time.  I'm still smiling.

Please be sure to follow the links embedded in Mo Willems and the Pigeon's names to access their websites.  Enjoy the book trailers and interview below.




Crazy Brilliant

Of the 2014 Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal books I have read and reviewed all of them but one; Parrots Over Puerto Rico written by Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore, illustrated by Susan L. Roth (Winner), A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin written by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet (Honor), Look Up!:  Bird Watching in Your Own Backyard written and illustrated by Annette LaBlanc Cate (Honor) and Locomotive written and illustrated by Brian Floca (Honor)(Caldecott Award Winner).  The photograph on the matching dust jacket and book case of the remaining volume certainly catches your eye.  Everyone can agree the title immediately gets your attention, causing you to wonder exactly what it means.

The Mad Potter: George E. Ohr Eccentric Genius (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Book Press, October 29, 2013) written by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan provides a narrative of a most unusual life.  If you think of the historical time period in which Ohr lived (1857-1918), the reaction of people to his unconventional artistic endeavors makes sense.  The real discoveries though, to be gleaned from this biography, are much more.

Biloxi, Mississippi, 1968: The sign read "Ojo's Junk Yard and Machine Shop"---a place to find car parts for an old Model T Ford or a broken down washing machine, not a long lost treasure.  

I know what you are thinking about this first sentence in the introduction.  How did we get to a point fifty years from the date of George E. Ohr's death?  What significance does this hold?

From the time he was born in Biloxi, Mississippi, George was different.  Not only was he different but he seemed to attract the blame for anything and everything, like a bee to honey.  By the time he was thirteen, he had enough of schooling, ready to make a living.  Unable to work amicably with his father in the family business as a blacksmith, he left home.

After a series of jobs, still not finding his niche, George was asked by a friend, Joseph Meyer in New Orleans, to be his apprentice in a small pottery factory.  The potter's wheel and George were a match made in heaven.  Years later he began to travel around the states studying the skills and art of other potters.  Before long he was back in Biloxi to begin his own business.

George created pieces to be used as practical objects by the locals and more whimsical items for tourists.  He experimented with color, glazes and techniques.  More than once he packed up his "mud babies" taking them to huge exhibitions and fairs.  A decision to add a singular flair to his work, to be an artist in every sense of the word, making no two items alike, is when George became his happiest.

A determined passion to pursue his dream, to do what he loved, despite setbacks outside his control, never wavered.  Although his shop was decidedly a tourist attraction (his advertising and conversation mirroring that of a flamboyant entertainer), his pottery was never completely accepted within the art community as whole.  It was simply too unique, too specialized.

Husband to Josephine, father to ten children and artist extraordinaire, George's days were undoubtedly busy.  When he retired in 1910 instructions were given to his family as to the disposition of his pots.  This, readers, brings us to Jim Carpenter, an antiques dealer, visiting in Biloxi in 1968.  Needless to say, George was ahead of his time.  Time was about to recognize his inventive genius.


The style of writing used by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan will hook any reader on the first page.  Skillful use of beginning fifty years in the future, going back in time, moving forward in a circle to said future, keeps you turning the pages.  You have to know what happened.

Descriptions of period and place, painting a picture with words, make you feel like you are walking side by side with George. Extensive use of personal quotes adeptly inserted into the narrative enhances this sensation.  These two unquestionably have a gift of including the precise amount of detail without slowing the flow.  Here are a couple of examples of their writing.

"When I found the potter's wheel I felt it all over like a duck in water."
At age twenty-two, George was handsome and sure of himself---dark-haired with a full, well-groomed moustache and piercing eyes.  Shirtsleeves rolled up, a cap perched on his head to keep clay dust out of his eyes, he labored at the potter's wheel, using the foot pedal to make it turn, squishing the wet, slippery mud through his fingers.  

He might RUFFLE OR FLUTE THE EDGES, TWIST THE NECK, MAKE A BORDER OF HIS THUMBPRINTS, FASHION CURVING HANDLES, TWIST, WRING, PUMMEL, AND FOLD THE WALLS, until each pot, although contorted, seemed to twirl in space.
The effect was witty, rhythmic, and sensual.
They weren't containers to store foodstuffs or pitchers to pour lemonade.  George's pots were sculptures, three-dimensional works of art. "Shapes come to the potter as verses come to the poet," he wrote.


Captivating is assuredly an excellent one word description of The Mad Potter: George E. Ohr Eccentric Genius written by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan.  After reading this twice I keep thinking how interesting it would be to meet this man, to engage him in conversation.  He let nothing keep him from following his dream, working at it for nearly forty years.  If readers take nothing else away (but trust me they will) from reading this biography, they will come to understand the importance of being yourself and having confidence in your work even if others fail to recognize how truly amazing it is.  At only fifty-three pages long it would make an excellent read aloud or individual-choice selection.

Numerous photographs in black and white and color document the text expertly. An extensive bibliography and meticulous notes for each chapter appear at the end of the book.  Greenberg and Jordan include a discussion of The Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art, The Pleasant Reed Interpretive Center, How to Look at a Pot And How to "Boss" One of Your Own (As George Would Say) at the conclusion of his story.  Please follow the link embedded in their names to their official website.


I am more than glad to be participating in the 2014 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy.  Without this challenge I might have missed this excellent book.




Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Flip For Flipgrid--Student Video Responses To Questions

This tweet certainly caught my attention.

When it was quickly followed by these, I knew what my next site to explore would be.





According to information at the home page, Flipgrid is a means for teachers to generate grids of short discussion-style questions.   Students reply to those questions through video.   Everyone can share the videos.


Each grid is composed of any group with a common element with an unlimited number of questions and unlimited number of responses per query available.  The cost is $65.00 per year for the teacher which includes ten grids.  There is a twenty-one day trial period available.  Students do not pay or register.

Communication with students is done via email.  They can create a snapshot photo with fun filters prior to recording their video using their device's (computer and iPad currently) webcam.  Videos are ninety seconds long.  The privacy and sharing is dictated by the administrator (teacher).

In the upper right-hand corner you can Get Started, read the informative FAQ, log in as the administrator or complete a form to contact the Flipgrid team. A new window overlays the home page when Get Started is selected.  You need to specify the type of educational institution.





After choosing Next Step, the new screen explains the pricing.  For the purpose of this post, I choose Demo.  When the form is completed, the terms of service read and the final green bar is clicked, an activation email is sent to get your account started.  You are asked to create a password.



When you log in for the first time, a beginning tutorial appears on the screen over your home page.  Upon closing this, across the top of your page, you see that this video can be accessed again.  You can alter your account settings and logout.  A tally is kept of all your grids and the interactions.



To make a grid move down the screen, choosing the blue + Add Grid button.  At this time you would name your grid and assign a password if it is not made public.  There are three other options for viewing; moderate a video response before it can be viewed, making the grid active when it is submitted and notification when a video is available.  Finally click the Add New Grid button.





A new screen pops up advising you about how to add a question, the URL link for this particular grid, and which icon to select for sharing your grid.  You can see how the list of your grids has now changed.  Your grid title is shown (1), you can change the color scheme of your grid (2), the number of questions on your grid (3), the date your grid was created (4), whether it is active (5), whether you are notified when videos are added (6), and icons for actions you can take with this grid (7).  The actions are a URL link for sharing, changing and adding security (per third image below), changing the title of your grid or deleting your grid.





You can see how each question is moderated; question, date, last response, number of responses and views, whether it is active, and the ability to share, edit or delete it.  When the blue Add New Question button is chosen, you type it in on a new window. Your text can be in bold or italics, you can change the date and decide to make it active or not.  Each new question appears at the top of the list.  You can drag them to alter the order.  Each question has a unique URL link. (I did not allow this to create more security, preferring videos not to be shown on social media.)







By clicking on the URL link for the entire grid, video replies can be made for one or more of the questions. To answer a question, click on it. At the next screen click on the big white plus sign. You are then asked if you are 13 years or older or have a parent, guardian or teacher present with you when you record.  When making a video you must also first agree to the terms of service shown.




You need to go through a few steps to check the operation of your webcam and microphone along with making a thumbnail photo.  When these are completed click Looks Good.  You then can record your answer.  If you are not satisfied with the video you can re-record.  Upon finishing click on Continue. 

Here is the link to my grid titled The Adventures of Beekle by Dan Santat. Here is the link to my response to one of the questions.  (The one take rule is a hoot tonight.) Please feel free to video your own responses to test out the site.  As an added note, if you want to see your questions, click on the grid title.  If you want to see responses to those questions, click on the question.  

No wonder this website has been honored in three Weebly categories!  It is so much fun to use and easy too.  Two big pluses are the non-registration of students and the ability to control security measures.  I highly recommend Flipgrid for interactive teaching and learning.   

Monday, April 14, 2014

Don't Forget To...

It can't be done quickly.  It's best when done with intention.  When hiking in a forest of pines, wading in the shallows of the ocean or walking by potted spring flowers in a display, stop, close your eyes and inhale.  The results are marvelous and sensory.  When you exhale, it will probably be accompanied by a sigh.

As adults or children, we understand what this deliberate action may produce; infants need to learn.  All you have to do is watch a toddler smell a hyacinth for the first time to know this to be true; their facial expression and body language will tell the tale.  On April 1, 2014 Breathe (A Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers) written and illustrated by Scott Magoon was released into the wild.  Let's go to the arctic and see what we can see.

Breathe, little whale!

Riding on top of his mother, a whale is reminded to take air in and let it out.  His parent does not stop there.  Play as long as you can, as often as you can.

Practice what you do best; swim, again and again.  Most of all, the baby whale needs to breathe.  Diving, exploring, and making new friends have their place in his daily activities.

Pausing to listen, then joining in the chorus of sounds is warmly recommended.  Even if danger lurks nearby, do not be afraid.  There are other answers.  This giant of the ocean knows affection is to be given and received, dreams are supported, sleep follows the end of each day and most of all, it ends as it begins...

Breathe.

For a baby whale, navigating through his frozen world may seem simple (to us) but it's important.  Scott Magoon's spare text, one to seven words per illustration, is a reflection of these essential activities.  No word or words are wasted.  While the narrative is a mother whale speaking to her baby, the meaning will be easily understood by the youngest of human listeners and readers; a sense of security and peace is prevalent.

My first step is always to open the dust jacket, looking at the extent of the illustration.  Scott Magoon has chosen to extend this one flap edge to flap edge, including ice floes, a vast cool blue sky, flying puffins and a variety of fish schools swimming along with the white whale.  Beneath this the book case is an exact replica.  A pattern of the mother whale with her baby breathing covers the opening and closing endpapers.

A bird's eye view of the chilly region, water winding between ice with seven whales swimming just below the surface (one breathing) is so lovely you might have to remind yourself to breathe.  Magoon uses this to showcase the title page and verso.  Throughout this volume all the digitally rendered illustrations are spread across two pages.

Color palette and shading mirror the location above and below the ocean; a richness and texture is found in all of them.  Bubbles, swirls and easy, flowing lines enhance the movement of the whale and the fascination the water world brings to readers.  Creatures shown in the illustrations are native to the region; their eyes, like those of the whales, add to the lightheartedness of the pictures.

One of several favorite illustrations is for the words...

Listen to the sea.
Sing.

It is a vast undersea scene with the baby whale in the upper left-hand corner singing, sounds circling out and around him.  The shifting colors, hues of blue and purple, provide the background for another whale, a squid, other fish, a shark, two turtles and a narwhal.  Light from a sunny sky filters down through the water.


No matter your age, even on the most hectic of days, the reading of Breathe written and illustrated by Scott Magoon is guaranteed to fill you with serenity.  It is perfectly perfect for a group read aloud with younger students or to share as a one-on-one with someone special.  Use it to introduce a specific unit or just because the words, pictures, design and layout work seamlessly together.

Please be sure to access Scott Magoon's official website by following the link embedded in his name.  For more illustrations follow this link to the publisher's website.