Quote of the Month

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

Friday, May 31, 2013

Watch Out For The Water!

It's that time of year when the end of school is fast approaching or for some, summer break has begun.  The days are longer which means more outdoor fun; bike riding, skate boarding, baseball games, days at the beach building sand castles, and endless neighborhood games of capture the flag and hide and seek.  When the children come tumbling inside instead of being cold and covered in snow, they are coated in grass stains, dust, dirt and mud.  In that case, it can only mean one thing and one thing alone...the dreaded bath.

It's a major accomplishment to get them in the tub.  Bargains are made.  Usually, but not always, the watery occupants end up with pruney skin despite their earlier protests.  For some though, as in OH NO, Little Dragon! (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, August 2012) written and illustrated by Jim Averbeck, pruney skin is the least of their problems.

Little Dragon had a spark in his heart,
so he could huff and puff and ...

Oh my, how he loves to phoosh decorating the air with fire like an artist who puts paint to paper. And his mama loves her fiery child and his flames.  But anyone knows, where there is fire, eventually there will be soot.  And Little Dragon looks as if he has been dipped in the stuff from the top of his head to the tip of his claws.

Little Dragon is no different than any other child...baths produce protests like "phew", "phooey" and general grumpiness all around.  Finally succumbing to the inevitable, playing with his new wooden boat, it falls victim to his huffing and puffing.  Fire on board!  Cannonball to the rescue! Sploosh! Gulp!

OH NO!  Something is missing.  There is huffing and puffing.  Something is still missing.  The spark has sputtered and gone out.

Little Dragon thinks and tries.  Nope, no spark.  He thinks and tries something else.  Nope, no spark.  Will this work he wonders?  He tries but no spark.  Tears fall as he wonders if his mama will still love his flameless self.

Her reply to his question will warm you as much as it seems to Little Dragon.  Little Dragon is getting warm.  Oh, yes he is.  He might even be getting hot.  Could it be?  Spark or no spark, Little Dragon has learned a significant bath time lesson. In the future he is taking no chances.

Spare text and pacing make all the difference in this title.  Little Dragon's remarks and reactions are typical for his age and for his er...specie.  Readers will feel a kinship with his attempts at finding his spark, with his thought processes.  Repetition of Oh no and Phoosh entices readers into the rhythm of the narrative.

As soon as I saw the cover, I knew I had to read this story.  The panic-filled, wide-eyed look, the anxious mouth and hands placed on the face of the blue dragon was a huge invitation.  The back portion shows a burned and smoking heart-shaped, child-like drawing of a mother dragon holding her little dragon with the word PHOOSH! underneath.  Opening and closing endpapers done in two tones of gray feature a row of six trees (a line, a circle with dots scattered around), one with flames shooting out the top.

The first title page has the gray outlines of castle bricks in the background, blue dragon hands holding a red crayon finishing a drawing of a family of dragons.  Following is the verso and second title page, a single illustration spread across both.  Burned edges frame another crayon drawing of four homes in a row; three are similar with green trees and red apples.  The fourth is a gray castle with a burned bare tree next to it. Throughout, liberal use of white space with the outline of bricks supplies the best kind of canvas for Little Dragon, his flames and Mama Dragon.

Rendered in handmade papers and oil pastel on textured paper, digitally assembled and enhanced in Photoshop by Jim Averbeckthe illustrations convey a range of emotions on Little Dragon's face and in his body movements.  All the flames are realistically portrayed in contrast to the rest of the pictures.  The details of the Viking boat for his toy, a Viking helmet as the faucet head on the bath tub and the skull under the bathtub claw add to the atmosphere of the story.  The combination of all these elements adds up to a heartwarming tale guaranteed to bring smiles.

OH NO, Little Dragon penned and pictured by Jim Averbeck will have readers looking for their own special spark, a talent unique to them.  (It would be fun to list talents with a sound effect associated with each.) I can already hear the chorus of "read it again", as this title should be shared one-on-one or aloud with a group.  You might want to have flippers, a mask and snorkel handy.

Follow this link to the publisher website to see a couple of illustrations from the book.  This title was recently named to The Pennsylvania Center for the Book: 2013 A Baker's Dozen: The Best Children's Books for Family Literacy.  There is a link embedded in Jim Averbeck's name above to his official website.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Under The Spell

What compels people to read fairy tales?  What brings us back to them again and again?  What makes us search out new variations?

 In response to a question Albert Einstein stated If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales.  If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.  C. S. Lewis thought sometimes fairy stories say best what needs to be said. One of my favorite phrases, attributed to G. K. Chesterton, though is Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.

No matter the age of the reader or listener, fairy tales fulfill a need deep within for the connection provided by storytelling with beginnings in the oral tradition.  They provide potent possibilities for digging deeper into the personalities of the characters, changing point of view, and expanding or altering the narrative itself.  Authors Jane Yolen and Rebecca Kai Dotlich explore these ideas in Grumbles from the Forest: Fairy-Tale Voices with a Twist (WordSong, an imprint of Highlights, March 1, 2013) with artwork by Matt Mahurin.

Once, oh once, there was, was not,
A girl, princess, mermaid, widow, witch, queen, wife,
A boy, king, soldier, wizard, troll, giant,
      Life. ...

With those compelling words Jane Yolen casts a net of magic over readers bringing them into a collection of poetry.  Fifteen fairy tales, two poems for each, one written by Yolen, the other by Dotlich.

A disgruntled fairy bemoans a single kiss as a voice demands the princess to snap out of it and take control, even as they are snacking on sweet treats, Gretel and Hansel know fear and false bravado, and with love strong for the Beast and the boy, musings made in the future wonder about the joys of parenthood.  Would the Gingerbread Boy have left knowing how heartbroken his makers would be?  Not surprisingly, glass slippers are not all they're cracked up to be.

Frazzled by his position the pea speaks out after years of silence.  It's a good thing sticks and stones break bones and not names because the Princess is not kind to the Frog.  It's about time Goldilocks writes an apology letter but she still is clueless about the real homeowners. On the closing page, the net still surrounding us, we read in part, Rebecca Kai Dotlich's advice, her wish,

Happily Ever After
Imagine them all
after the plotting, after the ball,
after the spelling, hopping, sweeping,
grumping, grousing, mopping, sleeping,
from small glass shoe to nuisance pea, 
so ever after, all happily be--- ...

Jane Yolen and Rebecca Kai Dotlich using words like pixie dust weave spells over readers stretching our thinking about what we believe we know about these fifteen fairy tales.  A poetic variety, free verse, couplets, cinquain, and haiku, brings us into the rhythm of the realm with and without rhyme.  As individual as the writers themselves, the poems still maintain the essence of each story plus a little more.

A golden doorway beckons readers through the darkened forest, as hints of tales told are tucked among the trees or scattered along the path on the jacket and cover; a frightened Frog Prince thrown and flying is pictured on the back.  Paintings by Matt Mahurin each covering a full two pages add dimension to the poems with shifting shades, light, then dark, then back again to light, mirroring the mood of all.  Altering perspective adds an extra effect to the illustrations; a wintry landscape with roses blooming, Beast embracing Beauty, the side of a face, mouth gaping, Gingerbread Boy balanced precariously on the teeth or the Woodsman's axe prying open the huge wolf's jaws as Red Riding Hood reaches in for her Grandmother.

Details further define the views of the voices; a broken bed, the two pieces on opposite pages of Sleeping Beauty's tale, the sly, grotesque features on the Witch's face as she stirs the pot in contrast to the innocent wholesomeness of Hansel and Gretel as they reach for the candies and one of the Bear's lifting a sleeping mask from Goldilocks face revealing an open eye.  The layout, placement of the poems, does not distract, being framed by the visuals inviting, always inviting, the reader.  One of my favorites is for Rumpelstiltskin.  A darkened background highlights his cunning face and upper body as straw from his outstretched left hand arcs over his head changing to gold coins piling into his right hand.  Directly above his head and the arc is a sleeping infant.

Grumbles from the Forest: Fairy-Tale Voices with a Twist written by Jane Yolen and Rebecca Kai Dotlich with illustrations by Matt Mahurin not only opens new doors into familiar stories but challenges readers to always look beyond the known. As an introduction to fairy tales or a reminder of the opportunities they present, this collection of poems is a welcome chorus.  Having read these over and over, silently and aloud, their magic is of the kind that lingers.

Between the last set of poems and concluding poem, two pages list the fifteen fairy tales adding a few sentences about their origin and basic storyline along with several websites with more information.  As part of the title verso which poems written by each author are designated. Please follow the links to the websites for the authors and illustrator embedded in their names above.  

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Action! Video Central

My comfort level in using web 2.0 tools associated with digital photography is much higher than with video.  My video capabilities are limited to my web cam and my smartphone.  Nevertheless, both Heather Moorefield, upcoming chair of the American Association of School Librarians Best Websites for Teaching and Learning and Education Librarian at Virginia Tech and Richard Byrne educator and blogger at Free Technology for Teachers both recommend a tool for video editing and creation, Pixorial.  

On site Pixorial states:

We exist to make it easy for you to collect, create and share your video memories.

Some of the features are:
  • 7GB of space/cloud storage
  • easy-to-use movie creator tools
  • upload videos from any camera; supporting a variety of formats
  • easy sharing on several social networks like Facebook, Twitter or YouTube
  • phone and tablet app; iOS and Android
  • free one year expanded account for educators (Pro)(student 7GB accounts are free)
  • east-to-understand tutorials
  • 500 music tracks
  • Google Drive sync
  • additional pricing for upgraded accounts
It states specifically in the Terms of Service users need to be 13 years of age.  You can sign in using your Google or Facebook account or by entering in your email address, a password and accepting the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.  A welcoming email is sent immediately.

The next screen is your work space.  On the right-hand side of the screen are all those items available to assist in the making of your videos as well as accessing your account settings and management options and for logging out.  In the center is where your videos in your library will appear as you work on them.  To the left is the organizational center for your videos and the ability to search.

The first thing you need to do is add a video to Pixorial.  You can upload a video from your computer, use your webcam to record video, use the provided mobile apps or ship video to them for conversion if it is vintage.  Move to the center of the screen and select the Add Video button.  Your choices appear in a drop-down menu.

I decided to be brave and record from my webcam.  I made two separate videos (Two takes on one, one take on the other. Mr. Schu and Mr. Sharp would be proud of me.) which when processed appeared in the center of the screen.  Any videos in your library can be edited or incorporated into another video.  

When you click on any of the videos the options on the right side of the screen change.  Now you can view, download, edit or delete the selected video.  Share video, send a video card, create a DVD, share video on social sites and link to video are additional choices under the actions tab.  There is an info tab (title, date and place) and a comments tab.

I decided to edit one of the videos. Clicking the yellow tool allows you to split the video, create a movie, trim the video and rotate the video. When a video is split it is separated; the change permanent. (The instructions were simple to understand.)  Shortening or trimming the video is not permanent. Rotation is handy if your video was taken on a phone and the picture needs to be altered.  

I next selected Create Movie.  An entirely new screen shifts into place asking you to add a video.  I added one of mine.  It appeared in the larger gray section beneath the preview box at the top. 

Choosing overlay text gives you the options of font, style and duration.  When overlay credits is selected the same choices appear except for scrolling speed instead of duration.  I moved down to the next step which is Music Track, Add Song.  You can upload a tune or choose from their large music library.  Music can be previewed before adding.

After adding any text, credits and music, preview your video.  You can delete, undo, redo, save, save as and finalize movie.  When you select save, as I did, it then asks you to title your movie.

In selecting Final Video your movie is processed, appearing in your video library in the center of the screen.  At this point click on the video to view the choices again for sharing your video.  (This can be done from this list on the right or by clicking Actions at the top of the screen.  Share video provides you with a link to email to friends for viewing or even editing.  You can create a list of email addresses.

Send a card embeds your video in any one of a variety of  templates provided by Pixorial.  This can be sent via email.  Pixorial's Create a DVD generates a label for your DVD from a series of templates. (There is a cost for this.)  Share a video on social sites allows you to add more sites for sharing.  Choosing Link to video provides the means to edit the title, an HTML code for embedding and a URL link.

Here is the movie I created.  My hat is off to Mr. Schu and Mr. Sharp for making their Newbery Challenge videos each week. Here is the link to the site to view my video.

For someone with zero experience in making a movie I found Pixorial's ease of use to be exemplary.  Every time a selection is made the instructions are clear making editing and creating a video very user-friendly.  I plan on using this more often, trying a video from my phone next and recording a video directly from my webcam, then uploading to get a more finished looking movie.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

One Of A Kind

There are those who deliberately try to stand out in a crowd.  Their trademark is individuality in the extreme.  There are those who despite every effort, attempting to blend in with the group, will be like a beacon in the darkest of nights.

There is also a distinct group who neither tries to be eccentric or indistinguishable from others.  You might say they are the perfect example of ignorance is bliss believing they are normal in every respect. Odd Duck (First Second, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press) written by Cecil Castellucci with illustrations by Sara Varon is the story of conventional (she thinks) Theodora and her outlandish new neighbor, Chad.

Theodora's days were very busy.
In the morning, she swam in straight 
lines across the pond
with an object
on her head
to maintain 
perfect posture.

What some might call a routine or a rut with a capital R, Theodora thinks of as a typical day.  Groceries (mango salsa?), craft supplies (squares for quilting?) and library books (are you sure you want to check those out?) seem as right as rain to her.

Each night is the same as the night before; dinner and star gazing.  Each night she wishes the same wish on the first shining star.  Her life she loves though, being alone, is about to change.

The empty house next door has a new occupant who couldn't be more different than Theodora than if it is part of a cosmic plan.  Proper as she is, baking a cake and introducing herself is the only thing to do. But oh my, this duck is not proper, not proper at all. This duck named Chad is a messy, talkative, rude dude.

Theodora's only hope as the days go by is Chad will soon fly south for the winter.  She herself prefers to stay in the calming hushed quiet of the cold days.  Of course...Chad stays.  Theodora's life is about to change again.

During an evening of gazing skyward naming the constellations, Theodora finds herself accepting an invitation from Chad.  One spoken thought leads to another and before she knows it, as the chilly days pass, she and Chad have become inseparable---they're best friends.  Spring brings a third change to Theodora, in the form of a comment said aloud as the two of them pass by a chatting group of ducks.

Odd? Who's odd?  He's odd!  She's odd!  A door slamming argument threatens the newly formed friendship.  One day passes, two days pass, and on the third day, odd, even opposite-as-night-and-day odd, might be the best thing of all.

Cecil Castellucci know ducks and people, combining the attributes of one with the emotions and actions of the other.  Mixing a simple narrative with speech bubbles and descriptive, text-filled asides, this story of less than ordinary quackers, flows like a constant, babbling brook; sure and steady.  You can't help but feel the lightness of the tale, the humor evident in each of the six chapters.

The book's jacket serves to illuminate the personal qualities of Theodora and Chad; the front a close-up of both their peculiarities, the back a series of three activities.  Rows of full-color, square portraits of the ducks in the story pattern the cover.  Opening and closing endpapers, in three shades, teal, orange and gold, show heads of the characters first in once direction, then the other, among watery waves and lily pads.

The design and layout employed by illustrator, Sara Varon,  alternates between double page spreads, single pages and multiple panels on an individual page.  Her visuals are so expressive they not only enhance and interpret the text but tell a story all their own.  All the duckish details add to the delight; duck nesting dolls on Theodora's dresser, bunny slippers next to her bed, lily pad bedding, duck book titles, and Mallard's Moving Company on the side of the truck.

The body shapes of her ducks, their attire and accessories can't help but make readers smile; Theodora's hat, socks and gloves in contrast to the goggle-wearing, striped-scarf Chad with the dyed feathers.  Round, wide eyes and spindly legs add to the hilarity.  For the sentence, She and Chad would not be Friends, Varon uses two page, all white space except for a shocked Theodora holding a plate with a slice of cake on the left looking at Chad on the right scratching his head with a fork while yakking non-stop.  (I burst out laughing when I saw this.)

Without a doubt Odd Duck, written by Cecil Castellucci with artwork by Sara Varon, charmingly conveys to readers opposites, even odd opposites, can attract. This title is sheer, pure fun all around.  It  can't miss as a great read aloud.  Make sure you add this graphic novel to your collection.

Please follow the links embedded in the author and illustrator names to their official websites. This link is to the publisher website where eight of the beginning pages can be viewed.

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Story Behind The Story

Stepping into the land of fairy is like closing your eyes and taking a leap of faith.  Traditional, original, tales have a mixture of grimness and happily ever after.  Those stories altered or fractured tend to lean toward the humorous.  Whatever turn they take, in my experience, it's been a journey worth taking.

It's when readers are given a more detailed and elaborate view of characters, a shift in focus, the magic found in those stories heightens.  Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin (Alfred A. Knopf, April 9, 2013) imaginatively written by debut author, Liesl Shurtliff, gives readers in the character of Rump, a person to admire, a story to hold in our hearts long after the final page is turned. The Brothers Grimm should have searched harder; finding this story, a story to be remembered.

My mother named me after a cow's rear end.  It's the favorite village joke, and probably the only one, but it's not really true.  At least I don't think it's true, and neither does Gran.  Really, my mother had another name for me, a wonderful name, but no one ever heard it.  They only heard the first part.  The worst part.

When living in the Kingdom your name has great significance; it's your destiny.  On the day he was born his mother died before his full name could be spoken aloud.  So twelve-year-old Rump, who stopped growing when he was eight, is an easy target for the miller's sons, Frederick and Bruno, two mean-spirited bullies.  His only ally is Red, a girl with gumption, living with her mother.

For those living in the shadow of The Mountain gold is the key to survival.  The amount of gold mined by individuals each day determines the measure of weekly rations received from Oswald the Miller; a sly, piggy individual.  An abandoned spinning wheel behind the wood pile at Rump's and his Gran's cottage and Opal, the Miller's odd but beautiful daughter, spinning away during the food handouts, seems to be sending a message to him.

In the dark of night the pesky pixies plaguing him more and more, Rump makes a startling discovery; he can spin straw into gold. Magic has rules of its own, prices to be paid; turning what first appears to be a blessing into a curse.  Gran's illness pushes Rump to make bargains; bargains with disastrous results and unforeseen consequences. Statements by Red's granny concerning destiny, trouble and watching your step are becoming painfully clear and true.

A visit to The Witch of The Woods offers Rump his only hope.  Trapped in the web of greed wrought by Oswald the Miller and King Bartholomew Archibald Reginald Fife, spinning, spinning and spinning some more, scaling castle walls, encountering sludge-eating Trolls, learning from three wondrous aunties and trying to find the only thing able to save everyone, will test Rump's remarkable resilience.  To change is the challenge.  To cleverly take control and spin his own kind of magic will direct Rump's destiny...if he is able.

What makes this tale rich and captivating is not only the inclusion of many of the original elements; the insatiable miller and king, the miller's daughter locked in a room filled with straw, each amount larger than the last, the items traded to Rumpelstiltskin, and the broken floor boards but turning the story around, having it told from Rumpelstiltskin's perspective.  Including characters from other fairy tales, Red, her mother and granny, Kessler the peddler and all the mice, enhances the aura of being in the realm of once-upon-a-time.  Liesl Shurtliff creates a story with rhymes and humor, trolls unlike any others, obsessive pixies, messenger gnomes and people you will love, admire and despise in a land of no names and names with strength, where trouble can lead to triumph.

Dialogue between the characters is in keeping with the setting as are descriptions of events.  There is never any doubt as to exactly where you are.  You are with Rump every step of the way...and you are more than happy to be with him.  Here are a couple of passages.

I started to think this was a very stupid idea.
Just as I was about to turn back, a twig snapped and Red appeared, her cheeks and nose rosy with cold and her breath raspy from running.
"What do you mean you're going to see the witch?" Red asked.
"I have to," I said.
"Rump, witches don't help with things like this.  It's not that they can't.  They don't like to, and even if they do, sometimes they cause more trouble."
"Opal is in trouble because of me." My chin began to tremble.
"Opal got taken away because her father is a greedy pig!"
"No," I said. "Because I spun all that gold. And then I traded it with the miller, even though you told me not to.  And then I tried to hide the gold, but I dropped it right in front of the king!" I held my breath to keep the tears from spilling over.
Red was stunned into silence.

Slowly, I crept out of the bush and tried to remove all the thorns.  The earth was wet and squishy beneath my feet, so my steps made squelching sounds.  I froze and waited for movement or noise.  All was still.  Heroic rescues are not as glamorous as people imagine, I thought as I squished along in the muck.

Liesl Shurtliff doesn't need a spinning wheel, a loom or needle and thread, her writing weaves us into the world of Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin like threads gathered by a master.  This is a fairy tale as glorious as any original waiting to be shared aloud to many or only one.  When you open the cover, the magic spills out, surrounds you and stays...happily ever after.

Please follow the link to Liesl Shurtliff's official website embedded in her name above.  This link is to the publisher website where the first fifty plus pages can be read.  Liesl Shurtliff has been interviewed on many sites but this link is to The Lucky 13s.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Twitterville Talk #101

Twitter was very active this week with professional discussions, book clubs, the school year winding down, plans for the summer and even plans for the next school year.  I am sending out wishes for a safe, relaxing long weekend to everyone.  Take time for reading.  Look for the giveaways.

It's always a good thing when you can look forward to sharing days of professional development with like-minded people.
Here is a video preview of the Michigan Reading Association 2014 Spring Conference.

Author Ruta Sepetys and Penguin are offering a scholarship contest for college to an aspiring writer.  Watch the video for further details.

Thanks for these tweets goes to the man willing to stand on a table shouting out his love of reading, teacher Colby Sharp, co-host of the monthly #titletalk and #SharpSchu book club on Twitter, co-founder of the Nerdy Book Club and blogger at sharpread.

The importance of libraries as the center of schools, communities and America's national parks is discussed in this article, Greetings from America's National Park Libraries.

Many thanks to teacher, new teacher librarian and blogger at Teaching in Cute Shoes, Cynthia Alaniz for this tweet.

Here's an infographic that I found interesting, How to Increase Blog Traffic in 3 Easy Ways  

Thanks to Larry Ferlazzo, educator and blogger at Larry Ferlazzo's Websites of the Day... for this tweet.

Here are two official book trailers for books, Latasha and the Red Tornado and Postcards from Pismo, written by Michael Scotto.
Thanks to Michael Scotto for sharing these via his tweets.

For writers, aspiring writers, those who write for fun and those who teach writing, the words of author Avi in this post are wise indeed---Catching a Book by Surprise

Many thanks to author Barbara O'Connor (and blogger at Greetings From Nowhere) for this tweet.

We are all in for a treat tomorrow night!  It's that time of the month for #titletalk.  The topic this month is Creating Book Buzz with Students.  Make sure you are there at 8PM EDT

Thanks to educator, co-host  of #titletalk with Colby Sharp and author of The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child, Donalyn Miller for this tweet.

There have been a series of posts this week, a conversation, between authors, Laura Golden (Every Day After) and Linda Urban. Please take the time to read these; many parts of which can be shared in the classroom.  The links are here, here, here and here.  They talk about books, reading and writing.

Sending thanks to author Linda Urban (Mouse Was Mad, Hound Dog True, A Crooked Kind of Perfect, The Center of Everything) for this tweet.

How would you like to see the cover of Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen's new book, Duck, Duck, Moose! ? How would you like to win a virtual 45 minute author visit with her?  Follow this link for a chance to win.

Thanks to writer, Annie Silvestro, for this tweet.

These figures are unbelievable---15 Highest-Paid Authors in 2012

Thanks to author Jo Knowles (Living with Jackie Chan, See You at Harry's, Pearl, Jumping Off Swings, Lessons from a Dead Girl) for this tweet.

Take a peek at Flavorwire: Incredible Reading Rooms Around the World.  I could spend days in any one of these.

Thanks to Teresa Rolfe Kravtin, SE Publisher Rep and blogger at A Rep Reading, for this tweet.

In their continuing celebration of children's literature, We Believe In Picture Books! Candlewick Press shared this video of author Katherine Patterson.  It's amazing. It was followed later in the week by Matt Tavares talking about some of the process involved in creating his books as well as Peter H. Reynolds doing the same with respect to his characters. Thanks again to Candlewick Press for this tweet.

Oh happy days!  Mr. Schu, the book trailer guru, gathered some good ones this week.  No surprise there.  He's a master!

 Here is a short video with author James Dashner talking about his evil characters.

Check out this free poster, Peter H. Reynolds Poster: Start Small. Dream Big.

Just in case you missed the most recent #SharpSchu Book Club Mr. Schu gathered all kinds of resources in one spot for you to use.  Follow this link.

If you or your students are looking for a list of great books for summer reading this is the list for you. Humor That is Seriously Funny/Focus On

To the first person who can name the last book on this list I will send a copy of The Boy Who Cried Alien by Marilyn Singer with illustrations by Brian Biggs.  Leave your answer in the comments below or send me a DM via Twitter. (This title has been won.)

Have you played The Lunch Lady video game yet?  What are you waiting for?

Thanks to John Schumacher, teacher librarian, 2011 Library Journal Movers & Shakers, co-host of the #SharpSchu Book Club, member of the 2014 Newbery Award Committee and blogger at Watch. Connect. Read. for all these wonderful tweets.

She has done it again.  Kate Messner is gathering in donations from authors as giveaways to donors at the American Red Cross for those hurt by the recent tornadoes in Oklahoma.  Head over to her blog, Let's Help...KidLitCares For Oklahoma for more information.

Thank you, thank you, to author Kate Messner (Marty McGuire series, Capture the Flag, Hide and Seek, Eye of the Storm, Over and Under the Snow) for this tweet.

This is a pretty nifty infographic titled The Hero's Journey.  It would be great to use as a visual assist.

Thanks to teacher and blogger at Maria's Melange, Maria Selke for this tweet.

And if I couldn't get to any of those special reading rooms noted above in real life I can always go to The 20 Most Beautiful Libraries on Film and TV in my dreams.

To the first person who can name the first library shown I will send a copy of Brenda Z. Guiberson's Frog Song illustrated by Gennady Spirin.  Leave your answer in the comments below or send me a DM on Twitter. (This title has been won.)

Thank to School Library Journal for this tweet.

The complete version of The Calendar of Tales by Neil Gaiman and you is up for all our viewing pleasure.

Thanks to author Neil Gaiman for this tweet.

In case you missed them here is the link to author Jarrett J. Krosoczka's NPR Backseat Book Club video and interview.

Thanks to Jarrett J. Krosoczka for this tweet.

The Bankstreet College of Education has released The Best Children's Books of the Year, 2013 list and what a list it is.  Some of my very favorite books are here.

To the first person who can name any title Xena would like on the Under Five list I will send copies of the delightful Annelore Parot's Aoki and Yumi.  Please DM me your answer on Twitter or place it in the comments below. (These titles have been won.)

Thanks to Bankstreet Library for this tweet.

Here is a pretty cool video to get people excited to keep reading for the summer.

Thanks to teacher librarian and blogger at Book Egg, Julee Murphy for this tweet.

Toward the end of the week blogger (Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast), author and picture book lover extraordinaire, Julie Danielson brought this article, Not All Bunnies and Birthday Cake: Experts on the State of Picture Books, to my attention.  It was quickly followed by a video of the afternoon.

Thanks to Julie Danielson for this tweet.

A well known and much loved author/illustrator, Bernard Waber passed away this last week. Here are a few tweets and articles regarding his contributions to the field of children's literature.

Here are but a few of the tweets regarding the devastating tornadoes in Oklahoma.

Here are a few tweets from the technologically challenged #SharpSchu Book Club this week.

Here are some of my favorite quotes and tweets from this week.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Fantastic, Fierce, Fun, Furry Facts

More than thirty years ago I sat in church on a summer Sunday morning listening to a sermon where a single sentence stated has stayed with me all these years, When you're through learning, you're through.  This was by no means a new proverbial thought, but to me, on that day, it was.  When you really stop to think about it, now more than ever with the advances in technology, not a day goes by without some new piece of information finding its way into the storehouses of our minds.

As much as I would like to think I know as much as possible about dogs, at least Labrador retrievers, I learned something new yesterday.  In fact I discovered more than twenty fascinating facts about individual members of the animal kingdom.  In 2011 Paul Thurlby debuted as a picture book author/illustraor (actually creating for all ages) with Paul Thurlby's Alphabet (reviewed here).  It garnered the Opera Prima Bologna Ragazzi Award at the Bologna Children's Book Fair 2013.  His 2013 title Paul Thurlby's Wildlife (Templar Books, an imprint of Candlewick Press) is, simply put, facts delivered with fun.

Hearing is a tiger's sharpest sense---five times stronger than a human's.

With that information laid before readers, we know there's absolutely no chance of tip-toeing up to one of these beautiful creatures.  We also realize the symphony of sound tigers must be hearing at any given moment.  If we can hear a mosquito buzzing somewhere near us, imagine all they can hear.

For the next twenty-eight pages a series of observations particular to a pictured animal are cleverly revealed to readers.  Green polar bears, masterful digging-machine moles, ever-watchful dolphins and fastidious rats roam these pages.  Flamingos can drink upside down? Male monkeys go bald?  Pigeons receive accolades from the army?

Each entry includes at least a single sentence with the animal's name in bold print beneath the illustration.  In varying font styles a well-known phrase relative to the fact is incorporated into the illustration.  All Ears is paired with the first sentence about the tiger's hearing.  Let your true colors shine through is matched with how goldfish get their orange shades.  Wet behind the ears introduces readers to the bathing habits of giraffes.

As he did in his first book the jacket unfolds to become a poster, featuring one of the illustrations in the book.  Zooming in on the fur of the tiger showcased on the cover, opening and closing endpapers are definitely on the wild side.  A faded golden-green version of the pattern provides the background for the identical jacket and cover.

Using his signature illustrative style Paul Thurlby provides a single page for each animal with the exception of the iguana, kangaroo, monkey, and worm, giving them a full two pages.  Bright, bold, textured and evoking a feeling of the past, each picture contains animation and varying degrees of humor.  As an example:

Bears sleep through the winter (without pooping!) for up to six months.  

This is illustrated with a bear sitting on a white toilet against a tree in the forest, reading a book titled TAKE A BREAK, three rolls of Bear Butts brand toilet paper sitting on the lid.  Next to him is a smiling hedgehog holding a section of toilet paper.

Each reading is a visual discovery; more details become apparent.  The brand name of the lotion used by the goldfish, the kangaroo wearing karate attire, the spinning light and tiled floor for the bee and the shape of the lion's eyes.  The symmetry of the design begins with a boy holding binoculars to his eyes before the first tiger fact.  The book closes with another tiger fact (the tiger holding binoculars up to his eyes) and the final page is a boy seen through the lens of binoculars.

Clever, comic illustrations create the ideal invitation to readers to learn new information about creatures on our planet.  Paul Thurlby's Wildlife is one of those titles everyone will want to own.  It's a good thing, a very good thing, he sells prints of many of his illustrations.  They are most worthy of framing.  Get ready to share this repeatedly.

For peeks at some more of his illustrations head on over to his website courtesy of a link embedded in his name.  More of the artwork from this title is highlighted at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  Julie Danielson interviews him about this book at Kirkus.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

It's Going, Going...Gone!

Sometimes when you first see the work of an author/illustrator not only are you drawn to and inside a particular book, but it evokes an overwhelming sense of nostalgia.  Zachary's Ball (Candlewick, 2000)  and Mudball (Candlewick, 2005) written and illustrated by Matt Tavares took me back, way back to those summers of playing league softball.  It was the stance of the players, the expressions on their faces, and their passion for the game which, with little effort, had me on the field as third baseman, ready for action, Coach Bill Wadsworth on the sidelines calling out, keeping us all on our toes.  At barely five feet tall I was no home run hitter but the team bunt queen.  It was one of the best times of my life.

Matt Tavares's love of the game of baseball is evidenced by the publication of six titles, fiction and nonfiction.  The newest book, Becoming Babe Ruth (Candlewick, 2013) chronicles the earlier years of one of sport's best remembered figures.  In an interview Tavares states:

Most people think about Babe Ruth as a larger-than-life, almost mythical character.  I wanted to tell a story that showed him as a real person.

Baltimore, 1902
George Ruth lives with his parents
and his baby sister
in a tiny apartment above a saloon.

At the early age of seven, Ruth's parents felt they no longer had control over their street ruffian son.  He was taken to the Saint Mary's Industrial School for Boys, a place for orphans and those needing reforming.  The strict structure made it seem more like a prison than a school to the boys boarded there.

The saving grace for George was the boys being allowed to play baseball at the end of the day when their work was done.  From the first time he saw Brother Matthias hitting balls, sailing over the Big Yard into the trees again and again, a desire, a goal to be met, was started in his heart.  As time passed George acquired a talent as a shirtmaker at the school and as a skilled player on the baseball field.

Constant practice all year perfected his abilities, drawing attention to the now seventeen year old.  People came to watch him play, important people.  In 1914 George walked away from Saint Mary's Industrial School for Boys to play ball for the minor-league Baltimore Orioles.  He was nineteen.

His pitching was so exemplary, mid-season, he was sold to the Boston Red Sox, a major league player now.  From pitcher to outfielder, from the Boston Red Sox to the New York Yankees, Ruth's accomplishments were astounding.  Good news and fame followed him everywhere until 1920.

A fire swept through Saint Mary's Industrial School for Boys; hardly any buildings were left standing.  But the big hitter with a big heart had a plan, a special idea for fifty boys and Brother Matthias.  This act defined Babe Ruth, the man who never forgot from where he came, a man who not only made a name to be remembered in sports but in the minds of the boys attending Saint Mary's Industrial School for Boys.

Matt Tavares begins and builds his telling of George Herman "Babe" Ruth as his life's journey takes a significant change.  His research is apparent in the supplying of details; throwing stolen tomatoes at passing wagons in the streets, eating breakfast at the school in complete silence, number of strike-outs and hits at the school games, playing the big bass drum in the stands during a game, how he got the nickname, Babe, or buying ice cream for his special guests. These details are woven into the conversational narrative by a man who knows the sport and the art of good storytelling.  The technique of repeating one key phrase several times unifies the important events in a manner reflective of the book's intentions.  Reading those words lifts more than the ball into the air; it lifts readers' hopes.

With the matching jacket and cover, Tavares gives readers Ruth the man on the front and Ruth the baseball player on the back, a faded, worn and torn newspaper clipping.  All the illustrations are rendered in watercolor, gouache and pencil.  The two page dedication and title page are a clever replication of a room with rows of beds, we see only portions of the frames, a baseball signed by Babe Ruth on the covers of one.  The walls are filled with newspaper clippings taped in place, showing Ruth in action but also listing the pertinent information.

Tavares's full color pictures are a historical recreation of the era during this part of Ruth's life.  Movement, facial expressions and setting make the reader feel as though they can hear the crack of the ball on a bat, the excited talk of the boys, and the cheers of the crowds.  The warmth of Babe Ruth's character shines in his eyes.

Image size is altered between a single page, extending across the gutter, as an inset or two page spreads.  When a visual crosses the gutter it's edge appears as if it's an old newspaper, providing a column for the text on the opposite side.  One of my favorite illustrations is of Babe gazing out across the field after a swing of his bat, the crowds faded into the background.  The picture of Brother Matthias hitting the balls, when George sees him the first time, is stunning.

Becoming Babe Ruth written and illustrated by Matt Tavares brings to readers an entirely different aspect of this baseball legend.  It gives insight into the childhood molding the man.  It's not only an outstanding sport biography but a book filled with promise.

The book closes with an author's note, pitching and hitting statistics and a bibliography. For more information about Matt Tavares and his books follow the link embedded in his name above to go to his website.  Here is the link to an informative interview by Babe Ruth's great, grandson at Babe Ruth Central, Children's Author Matt Tavares on his new book: 'Becoming Babe Ruth'.  For an interview at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast about Matt Tavares's other titles, his art and process follow this link.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Un-Boggle Your Mind With Coggle

Several months ago Richard Byrne of Free Technology for Teachers featured a mind-mapping tool, Coggle in a post on his blog.  Coggle is a free web 2.0 application released in January of this year.  There is no registration.  You sign up using a Google account.

Features noted on the home page include:

  • real-time collaboration
  • unlimited amount of images using a simple drag and drop method
  • go into history mode to re-do previously made edits
  • when collaborating you can see who did what  and
  • for visual thinkers branch colors can be changed easily.
If you have a Google account select the big green button and you are good to go.  At the next screen click the green CREATE button.

In the upper-right hand corner of your work space are four icons representing from left to right, collaborators, download, view history and chat.  In the center of the screen, to begin choose the gray New Coggle space by mousing over it.  An arrow (+ sign) on either side will appear.  The arrows allow for the addition of branches in your mind map.  Click and type in the title of your Coggle. 

As you work helpful hints appear on the screen; keys to use to delete, undo, redo, etc.  The entire working area screen can be moved by dragging so you can focus on a particular section.  You can zoom in and out by using control + and control -.  You can also select the question mark icon in the lower left-hand corner for more assistance.

A branch can be dragged to a desired position.  A single click on a branch causes a color wheel to appear allowing for a change in shades.  For each branch that is added a plus sign appears allowing for "a child to be added to the parent" branch.  When you choose a branch name again, you are allowed to edit your text.

At any point you can choose the share (collaborators) icon to provide a link via Facebook or Twitter.   This allows anyone to see the work on your Coggle.  (Here is the link for my Coggle, Book A Day Challenge Summer 2013)  You can also add in readers and writers with their email addresses.

By choosing the download icon you can save your Coggle in PDF or PNG format.  Any hyperlinks added to your Coggle will be functioning in the PDF format.  Adding hyperlinks is easy.  In the text box type the name of the link surrounded in brackets followed by the URL surrounded in parenthesis.

When you select the view history icon a list of times appear.  Click on any to create a copy of your Coggle.  This allows you edit your work from that particular point.

To exit your Coggle simply close the browser link.  Your work in continuous saved.  If you are logged in Google as soon as you go to the Coggle home page your account information (list of your Coggles) will appear.

For more help Coggle has a blog (linked here).  The blog further explains specific features of the application.  There are many how-to narratives offering more sophistication to the look of your Coggle.  

When you desire to quickly collaborate, brainstorm, or make a list, this application is exactly what you need.  I can't begin to stress enough the ease of use.  I recommend putting Coggle in your virtual toolbox.  You, your students and your colleagues are going to really enjoy using this mind-mapping web 2.0 application.

Here is the image of my Coggle.

Here is the embedded PDF file.  I was able to embed the PDF file by uploading it into Scribd.  In Scribd when you click on Preview one of the available options is HTML code.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Watch, Wait And Wonder

More than fifteen years ago at Shedd Aquarium in Chicago was the first and only time I've seen whales.  My group went on to other parts of the aquarium but I was mesmerized by the belugas; their size, color and grace in the water was a thing of true beauty.  Even understanding the care given to them at Shedd Aquarium (and other animals in zoos and aquariums throughout the world),  I long for a planet where all living creatures could live their lives safely, as they were meant to, in the wild.

To catch a glimpse of a whale while traveling by boat or even from the shore, would be one of those unforgettable moments you carry with you forever.  The collaborative team of author, Julie Fogliano, and Caldecott illustrator, Erin E. Stead, first brought readers And Then It's Spring (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, February 14, 2012); a quiet tribute to possibility and promise.  This month their newest work, If You Want To See A Whale (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, May 7, 2013), follows another little boy and his dog as they practice the fine art of patience.

if you want to see a whale you will need a window

Well, not just a window but an ocean and time for thinking about "whale-ish" shapes.  Maybe it is a whale and maybe it is not a whale.

You can't very well see a whale either from the snuggly comfort of your favorite spot at home.  You will have to ignore other distractions like roses, ships in the distance on the water and the people on those ships.  There is no time to be thinking of pirates.

Don't let pelicans, tiny creepy-crawlies or clouds lead you astray with their smiles, movements or fluffy forms.  No, you need to stay the course.  You need to keep both eyes open, watching the water, and waiting for the wonder of a whale.

When reading the words of Julie Fogliano you find yourself entering a special world; a world of the everyday transformed but her writing.  She makes a simple statement but builds upon it, layer by layer until you not only have an image in your mind but a sequence of events leading to that point.  In this story those things to be enjoyed when not whale watching, the chair and blanket, the roses, the ship, the pelican, inchworms and clouds, are described in such a way as to nearly become characters themselves.  Every single passage plays a quiet song in your mind when read.

There is a quality to the art of Erin E. Stead, her use of space and color, that is stunning in it's simplicity.  When opening the jacket, the image of a whale swimming upward on the back is replicated in an engraving on the blue cloth front cover.  Moving from page to page the shift of white, to a subtle blue or green and then back to white, the interplay of opposites, is design genius.  On her boy, his dog and other items in the illustrations on a given page the fine lines, the tiniest of details, are a delight to behold.

Using linoleum block printing and pencil Stead weaves a kind of magic drawing her reader's eyes into a day dedicated to whale watching; a day following a young boy, his dog and the smallest of birds she includes in every two page spread.  We silently observe their explorations and musings marveling at her interpretation of Fogliano's narrative.  The same shade of yellow in the comfy chair is found again in the dinghy the three companions row out onto the sea.  The hair coloring on the boy is a variation of the same hue in the dog's spots.  The sky highlighting the cloud patterns appears again in a series of three pages that will literally take your breath away.

If You Want To See A Whale written by Julie Fogliano with pictures by Erin E. Stead is picture book perfection.  Readers will wish they could join the curious boy, his faithful dog and the sweet bird as they wait and watch and wonder.  I can't stop reading this again and again.  It's one of those books to cherish and share.

To see more illustrations from this title visit the publisher website linked here.  For an outstanding visual display of the artistic process with supporting conversation from Erin E. Stead visit Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

Monday, May 20, 2013

She's The Hero!

It started last summer.  I've always read book after book during June, July and August but the summer of 2012 was different.  I was participating in the #bookaday challenge.  I will be this year too; Donalyn Miller wrote about it yesterday on the Nerdy Book Club blog.

I was reading so fast I could not keep up with posts about them on my blog.  Then too, there were a handful of books so powerful I could not begin to express in words their meaning for me or for others readers. They are still in a small stack waiting for me to have the courage to write about them.  One of those books was by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, One for the Murphys. 

Summer ended, school started and the year was off and running.  In the middle of January Lynda Mullaly Hunt posted this tweet on Twitter.  It was a game changer for my students, their teachers and me.

It was followed by a series of tweets back and forth between Lynda and I.  Again, I can't stress enough the connections made on this social network between authors and illustrators and the people who wish to bring their work to readers.  This ability to converse with writers and artists still amazes me.

When the deadline for the offer arrived, Lynda sent out this tweet to her followers.  Readers of her book already knew about her huge heart.  What she did for so many nearly leaves me speechless.

When her original tweet was followed by this tweet, I literally started dancing.  I could not believe it.  I called one of our fifth grade teachers immediately.  We were like two kids laughing and talking a mile a minute; so excited by this opportunity for our students.

A literacy grant was already in place allowing for the purchase of a paperback copy of One for the Murphys for every fifth grade student.  In the months following the "win" all three classes read the book; the conversations between the students and their teachers were some of the best.  I reread the book, liking it even more, and wrote a review linked here.

Lynda and I continued to stay in touch via email planning for the Skype visit.  As the library filled with students eager to meet the author of a book they had shared together, anticipation was high.  I don't think any of us were prepared for how truly special April 25, 2013 would be.  As soon as I could I sent out a tweet, thanking Lynda Mullaly Hunt for one of the best author visits I have ever experienced.

I wish I could have recorded the event.  The personal level of information Lynda included in her presentation, how the story (One for the Murphys) came to her and how she developed it, her use of photographs and the possible covers for the book, her ease in speaking with the students and answering their questions thoughtfully and going to get her dog for part of the Skype was "one for the books".  It wasn't until I received an envelope filled with student letters two weeks ago that the full impact of her Skype was abundantly reinforced.  Here are some of the comments.

  • I really liked the Skype. I had no idea you could not pick your own cover for the book.  The best part was when people read their questions and she really thought.
  • I liked the Skype visit for One for the Murphys because we got to ask some really good questions about the book like for example "Why did you pick a girl to be in foster care instead of a boy?"
  • My favorite part was when she told us about her next book and how it's about Toni's point of view.
  • I really liked when she told us about her childhood.
  • It was so cool to learn how she came up with the book. 
  • What I really liked about the book was that it was all kinds of mixed emotions, like, happy, sad and tears of joy. 
  • I love how she plays with words because it just makes you think harder about things.
  • My favorite part was when she showed pictures of her house.

I know sixty plus people who will never forget April 25, 2013.  I know sixty plus people who will never forget reading One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt.  These are the moments to treasure; an author connecting with her readers.  You are our hero, Lynda and we thank you with all our hearts.