Quote of the Month

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

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Where Am I?

It is a bright, sunny day in the early autumn.  Ferns and maple, oak, ash and birch leaves are wearing their seasonal colors.  As you walk along the path, your eye catches something unique farther into the woods.  You decide to keep the route most traveled in sight as you seek to get a closer look.

When you finally arrive at the spot, seconds vanish turning into minutes as you marvel at your discovery.  Looking up and around you realize nothing is familiar.  The track seems to have disappeared.  With a sinking feeling you realize you are lost.

How quickly we can become distracted from one goal by another.  If you are a dog, despite numerous hours of training, the chitter-chatter of a squirrel is too tempting to resist.  Charmed as we all were with her canine antics in A Ball for Daisy, the lovable pup is even more endearing in the companion book titled Daisy Gets Lost (Schwartz & Wade Books) written and illustrated by Caldecott Medalist, Chris Raschka.

Using a similar limited color palette of red, blue, and yellow with black, gray and brown, Chris Raschka adds in hues of green for Daisy's newest adventure in this nearly wordless book.  The jacket and cover offer an introduction to the setting as well as reacquainting readers with the contagious exhilaration of Daisy.  Her full body illustration on the title page looking directly at the reader is an open invitation.

The two-page picture spread across the verso and first page provides us with a close-up of an excited running Daisy, tongue hanging out, sheer happiness evident in every brush stroke.  We get the merest glimpse of her blue ball (from the first book) at the bottom and a small triangular patch of her girl's dress on the left side.  A series of four narrow visuals extend edge to edge on the next two pages; Daisy is playing throw and fetch with her human in the park.

Go get it, Daisy!

Daisy is able to get the ball but comes to a complete standstill when noticing an acorn-holding squirrel directly in front of her.  Time is frozen.  Daisy abandons her ball.  The squirrel tosses the nut.  The race is on.

Scampering through the trees the squirrel easily outdistances Daisy; even looking behind with a devil-may-care glance to make sure the dog is in pursuit.  Daisy gets to the tree the bushy-tailed taunter has climbed, panting and eager.  After a few moments realizing she and the squirrel are not meant to meet, it dawns on her to look around.

In an illustration filling both pages we readers get a bird's-eye view of Daisy in the center of the trees looking forlorn with her girl nearby in the open searching for Daisy.  The girl calls for Daisy and finds her blue ball.  As she calls and looks, Daisy runs and wonders.

Daisy stops, lifts her head and howls, long and mournfully.  There is nothing better than finding what you have lost.  There is nothing better than love or...perhaps another squirrel chase.

I continue to be astonished by the array of feelings and movement Chris Raschka conveys through his gifted use of watercolor, gouache and ink.  Pausing to truly look at any of the pages in this book, each line, its position and thickness, the color choices, the blending of his washes, all contribute to this story feeling alive.  It's as if what he wants his characters to feel is traveling from his mind to his hand to the page.

His choice in illustration size and perspective generates flawless pacing.  The two pages with four smaller illustrations for the girl on the top and for Daisy on the bottom as they run, look, stop and listen depict each and every little nuance of their moods.  Even though the face of the girl is not shown we know and understand.  Raschka gathers in all the shared experiences of his readers as people and their connections to dogs placing them with care on the pages of this book.

 Daisy Gets Lost written and illustrated by Chris Raschka is simply beautiful, brilliant.  It's no wonder Martha V. Parravano talks about it at Calling Caldecott.  You don't have to be a dog lover to appreciate and enjoy this story.  Everyone understands being lost and found, being loved.

Follow this link to the publisher's website for a look at some of the illustrations inside of this book.

Monday, December 30, 2013

In Their Hands

The men, women and children whose names find a place in history books are sometimes only names; words in black and white not given flesh, bones and personalities.  There are countless others who did make a difference but remain confined to the past, not even acknowledged in our volumes chronicling human endeavors.  Year after year authors and illustrators change these facts.

They take names, known and unknown, making them alive for readers in the here and now.  Their accounts, whether through fiction or nonfiction, are so skillful the people seem to walk into our presence.  Author Marilyn Singer and illustrator John Hendrix have done this for readers with their recently released collaboration, Rutherford B. Who Was He? Poems About Our Presidents (Disney Hyperion Books).

Who were these men
who had what it took
to be commander in chief of the armed forces,
to suggest what to do with our country's resources?

Forty-three presidents are presented in thirty-nine poetic verses in forms as varied as the men themselves.  In sequential order from Washington to Obama, we get a glimpse of their accomplishments, challenges and shortcomings.  History's facts and interpretations are revealed.

You have to wonder how the nation would have fared if George Washington had lived a quiet life at Mount Vernon, as he wanted after the Revolution, instead of becoming the first president of the United States.  The bickering, the clash of ideologies, between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson is a dialogue to note.  How many can recall stubbornness and cold weather lead to the short term of William Henry Harrison?

Polk's promises, Johnson's impeachment, Grant's troubles and Hayes's neutrality bookend the man wearing the stovepipe hat, Abraham Lincoln.  A wife's proclamation, a gripping bathtub and a roaring decade leave their mark on other administrations.  It must have been hard to run for re-election with the public's cry of


A new deal, stopping the buck, working behind the scenes, going to the moon and another war defined five presidencies. Whether they came to office by election or fate Watergate haunted two.  A farmer, an actor, a father and his son, a governor and a senator, have all lead our nation.

As I read each of these poems, my admiration for the writing of Marilyn Singer grew.  She reminds us of aspects of these men's lives we have forgotten.  She educates us with information we never knew.  She invites us to dig deeper into the past.

The rhythms and rhymes she creates draw us through the centuries; time speeds quickly by in her hands.  Her techniques are masterful; poems in conversation between Adams and Jefferson illuminating their differences, Jackson and Van Buren revealing positions on westward expansion, and Taylor, Fillmore, Pierce and Buchanan lamenting the status of the Union and the reverso poem, her signature style, on Richard Nixon. Clever, candid and to the point, she gives us the men; these men who were and are president of these United States.

One of the first things you notice about the jacket over the red cloth cover, with the title embossed at the top, is the layout and design.  All the elements are working together perfectly to draw your attention to this book.  The typography, the patriotic colors, President Hayes holding his portrait as other presidents  are gathered about him, animated, as if attending an annual meet and greet are marvelous in their detail and expression.  The single illustration on the back, which appears again beneath the introductory poem, of the eagle from the Great Seal, items from the seal placed about him, reading a book on presidents, is a favorite illustration.

John Hendrix brings his own special brand of historical interpretation and perspective to each of his illustrations.  All the intricate parts work together to make a whole which causes you to pause.  His facial expressions, body postures and the setting in which each man is placed enhance and elevate the text.

Many of the individual pictures are tied together, crossing the gutter with common items.  His color palette choices (the blues swirling about Harrison, the bright, golden yellow behind Grant, the charcoal used as the background for Kennedy and Johnson or the economic graphs joining Bush and Clinton) and lettering and placement of the presidential quotes are impeccable.  I've always believed it's the attention to the little things which lifts any endeavor from good to great; the smoking pipe of peace on the mantel beneath Adam's portrait as Jefferson sits by the fire, his quote embedded in the smoke rising out the chimney, the tiny American flag upright as it was placed on the moon in a glow from the television showcasing Kennedy speaking, or the buttons worn by Bush and Clinton, no taxes and saxes.

Truthfully I can't stop looking at the illustrations, noticing something different each time. I have many favorites but the picture of Abraham Lincoln from the back, face slightly turned, the poem within the stove pipe hat and his quote around the brim, is one of them.  It is the only one in this book with this viewpoint.

I count Rutherford B. Who Was He? Poems About Our Presidents written by Marilyn Singer with illustrations by John Hendrix one of the best poetry books of 2013.  I can see it having multiple uses in the classroom setting promoting discussions on poetic forms, research on the presidents and the importance of illustrative storytelling.  For those people who love United States history, this volume is a must.

At the close of the book is a section on Meet The President followed by more information on each of the men.  A quote from each is included.  It should also be noted that within the body of the book each poem is titled with the presidential names with their party and terms of service underneath.  Please follow the links embedded in the author's and illustrator's names above to their websites.  The link to John Hendrix's blog post shows many illustrations about the process involved with this title along finished pages.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Twitterville Talk #132

This past week, seven whole days, vanished in a puff of holiday preparations and celebrations.  Over the past several days people have gathered together their favorites, making lists and posting for others to enjoy.  It's a good way to remember the bounty of the year and to joint down things missed.  Many tweets revolving around the holidays were previously posted at Twitterville Talk 2013 Christmas Edition.  Enjoy what I've gathered.  Relax.  Take time for reading.  Look for the giveaways.

I don't know how I missed this last week in my saved list but it's worth marking on your calendar---Amulet Pays Seven Figures for New Middle Grade Series.  The series will be written by Mac Barnett and Jory John with illustrations by Kevin Cornell.  

Thanks to author Mac Barnett (Count the Monkeys) for this tweet.

The final artwork for their Read Every Day campaign is by Caldecott Medalist, Erin Stead.

Thanks to Scholastic for this tweet and this effort to promote reading.

Even though he's reading until his eyeballs fall out (something I say to my students whenever they leave the library) as the Newbery Medal announcement approaches, he still continues to inform his followers.

This week CLEL Announces Shortlist for 2014 Bell Picture Book Awards.  There are outstanding titles on this list.
To the first person who can tell me the final book in the Read category, I will send a copy of You're a Rude Pig, Bertie! by Claudia Boldt.  Please leave your answer in the comments below or send me a DM on Twitter.

Get your list making tools handy---Macmillan Spring Kids 2014|Preview Peek

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

The newest podcast has been released, Let's Get Busy with author illustrator Laurie Keller.

Thanks to Matthew C. Winner, elementary library media specialist, co-founder of #levelupbc, Library Journal Movers & Shakers 2013 Tech Leader and blogger at The Busy Librarian for this tweet.

I have had this book since its release.  I am definitely moving it up to the top of the stack.
Neil Gaiman novel wins Book of the Year

Thanks to Guardian Books for this tweet and post.

The votes were cast and counted.  Now the winners are being announced at the Nerdy Book Club.
The 2013 Fiction Picture Book Winners Announced by Karin Perry

The 2013 Early Readers and Chapter Book Winners Announced by Alyson Beecher

The 2013 Nonfiction Picture Book Winners Announced by Karen Terlecky
To the first person who can tell me the top book in this list, I will send a copy of Nugget & Fang: Friends Forever---or Snack Time? by Tammi Sauer with illustrations by Michael Slack.  Please send me a DM on Twitter or leave the answer in the comments below. (This title has been won.)

Thanks to Colby Sharp, educator, co-host of the monthly #titletalk, co-host of the monthly #SharpSchu Book Club, co-founder of the Nerdy Book Club and blogger at sharpread for these tweets.

I have enjoyed many of the series listed in this group but have yet to read others.  This is a good list, YOU must read this! (Young Adult books are not just for teens!)

Thanks to educator, literacy adjunct instructor and co-host of #MELit Chat, Susan Dee for this tweet.

This is a very important post, Stop trying to make your kids read

Thanks to Donalyn Miller, teacher, author of The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child and Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer's Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits, co-founder of the Nerdy Book Club and blogger at Donalyn Miller for these tweets.

Here's another new best list, The 21 Best YA Books Of 2013
To the first person who can tell me the top book on this list, I will send a copy of a funny little bird by Jennifer Yerkes.  Please send me a DM on Twitter or leave your answer in the comments below. (This title has been won.)

Thanks to Carrie Gelson, educator and blogger at There's a Book for That, for this tweet.

Here are the best of the best, Vancouver and Montreal have world's top public libraries: Study

Thanks to Book Riot for this tweet.

How many of these do you use in your classrooms? The Best Free Education Web Tools of 2013
To the first person who can tell me the final tool on the list I will send a copy of Maria Had A Little Llama, Maria Tenia Una Llamita by Angela Dominguez.  Please send me a DM on Twitter or leave your answer in the comments below.

Thanks for sharing this resource and tweets go to Shannon Miller, teacher librarian and blogger at Van Meter Library Voice. 

No wonder it feels like there has been a tear in the fabric of children's literature---In Memoriam 2013

Here they are, School Library Journal's Top Posts of 2013

SLJ's Best Books, Top 10s of 2013 is another fantastic compilation.

I really appreciate this Top ten tech trends (expanded) by Joyce Valenza.

Thanks for these tweets go to School Library Journal.

Perhaps you can use this visual and textual listing of 25 Reading Strategies That Work In Every Content Area

Thanks to Joyce Valenza, teacher librarian and blogger at the NeverEnding Search for this tweet.

He might be taken a break from blogging but these two posts are great:

5 Ways for Students to Create Audio Slideshows

15 Options for Creating Screen Capture Images and Videos--Including on Chromebooks

Thanks to Richard Byrne, educator, speaker and blogger at Free Technology for Teachers for this posts and tweets.

I know I need to work a little harder at this---How to Clean Up Your Digital Footprint and Your Online Identity

Thanks to Oakland Schools for this tweet.

As per usual Xena has been busy sneaking her paws on my keyboard adding her favorites to mine.  I have absolutely no control over her computer hacking.  (Authors, illustrators and PLN members love to share pet pictures.) Hope these make you happy, pause and consider and keep you informed.

Friday, December 27, 2013

What We Keep

What is it about the words once upon?  It's as if when they are silently read or spoken aloud an ageless storytelling incantation is evoked, swirling about the reader or listener.  As the tale continues we are drawn deeper into the realm it creates.

When a book includes those two words in the title or as part of the opening sentence, it's nearly impossible, as an individual reading silently, not to imagine sharing with others.  You find yourself placing emphasis on certain words, altering your voice to convey emotion and falling completely under the spell of the narrative. Written by Nina Laden with illustrations by Renata Liwska, Once Upon a Memory (Little, Brown and Company, December 3, 2013) is one of those books whose charm does not fade when the covers are closed.

Does a feather remember 
it once was...

...a bird?

In a series of seven rhyming couplets, fourteen questions are asked of readers.  For each one we take a journey back to the beginning; to the origins of an object, a man-made area, a natural element, an action or an endearment.  We explore and learn to look closer at those things which might be a part of our everyday lives.

A young boy is sitting, stuffed animal friends and his dog sharing a day with him, when a breeze blows a feather into his room.  This feather provides the impetus for all the other places we see this little guy visit.  Or sometimes we watch as he does something which triggers another thought.

Looking at a book, sitting in a chair, digging in the dirt, or walking his dog leads him to words, trees, peas and grain.  He visits a seashore, a home for statues, a special piece of land or his own yard to ponder rain, stone, the unknown or play.  The boy sleeps, chats with an older woman, watches a line of baby ducks, and rides an airplane to contemplate, allowing his mind to wander.  He may even grow up wondering if he will remember.

By the end of the first couplet, the invitation sent to me as a reader by the carefully written words of Nina Laden was gladly accepted.  As each question is read, readers can't help but anticipate where the next page will lead them. What word will be chosen to rhyme with the previous word?  We follow the narrative not only for this purpose but to encounter those things we can sense, the tangible and actual, and those things we can feel, the intangible and rare.  It is in the silence these words create, we are able to enlarge our perceptions.

When opening the matching jacket and cover, it's hard not to sigh with pleasure.  Renata Liwska pictures the boy sitting with his animal friends who have come alive.  On the front they are enjoying a peaceful read in a tree, the feather dangling down from a string held by the squirrel.  On the back the tree branches are extended but day has shifted to night, stars sparkling in the air from a pen poised over an open book held by a tiny bear.  The opening and closing endpapers are done in pure white with a single feather tucked in the corner of each set.

The introductory two pages are wordless, featuring the boy surrounded by all his toys and his dog.  A small table is set for tea and an owl-shaped clock ticks on the wall as the curtains blow out into the room.  For each question, using white space to accent and frame, Renata Liwska pictures the boy on the left for the first part of the phrase with animals depicting the second part on the right.

The verso explains her work:

The art was initially sketched by hand in the artist's journal.  It was then scanned and colored in Adobe Photoshop.  The animal characters were inspired by the artist's experiences with nature, from her worldwide travels to her own backyard. 

As an example, for the sentence

Does a cake remember
it once was... 

we see a smaller illustration on the left of the boy's dog up on its hind legs, paws resting on the window, looking into a bakery with the boy inside holding loaves of bread.  On the right we see six mice walking and climbing through fields of grain; an adult, holding the hand of a child, is listening and another is pulling a little red wagon.

Liwska's illustrations are luminous in their delicateness. Details are intricate; defining features on her animals are full of life.  There is humor with all the added extras; the bird sweeping up feathers in the "barber shop" is listening to a tape player with a headset, in the bookshop another animal is writing on a little red typewriter, the dog is digging in the garden, as water is filling their boat two bears are scooping it out while another plays with rubber ducks and paper boats, and a mallard is wearing a tool belt as he constructs a nest.

One of my favorite illustrations (I truly love them all) is of the boy sleeping with his dog curled up on the bed, a speckled ball in his paws.  On the opposite side is a day-at-the-beach scene filled with all kinds of animals at play, two are seated in the foreground on a bench, flip-flops scattered about on the deck.  Kites are flying.  Characters are surfing.  Crabs are dancing.  And the ball is being kicked in the sand.  Happiness is everywhere you look.

If you want a book to soothe, to gently encourage imaginations to flourish, Once Upon a Memory written by Nina Laden with illustrations by Renata Liwska is a title you need.  I know it will become a favorite with readers and listeners alike.  It opens the door to infinite possibilities.  In my heart and mind I am adding this title to those books I call huggable.

On the left-hand side of the closing endpapers is a list by the author and illustrator of their favorite things to remember.  They ask you what your favorite things are.  Please follow the links embedded in their names to access their personal websites and Renata Liwska's blog.  Here is a link to a post at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast highlighting the work of Renata Liwska.

Thursday, December 26, 2013


There's something particularly unsettling about having to go somewhere you don't want to go, even when you have a choice.  When in the course of events all you imagined comes true, it's almost overwhelmingly wonderful to return home; to be among those things familiar and comforting. A house, your house, no matter the size, and the natural landscape surrounding it provide sanctuary.

Take away choice.  Take away the knowledge of where you are going.  Take away the only land you have ever known.  Africa Is My Home:  A Child of the Amistad (Candlewick Press) written by Monica Edinger with illustrations by Robert Byrd follows a nine-year-old girl captured and placed on this slave ship.  Her accounting will linger in your mind and heart.

No one comes home.
That is what they told me.
No one.

I was born in Mendeland, West Africa, one of the greenest places on earth.

At a very young age, a child is pawned by her father to work for another family in exchange for food.  Soon thereafter, she finds herself part of a human chain, tied together by iron, marching for days toward something frightening. She has never seen an ocean.

For seven harrowing weeks, she and others live below deck in darkness.  Brought to shore in the middle of the night, in silence, she and three children are purchased the following day in Cuba.  They have never seen people wear layers of clothing.  They have never seen a horse.  It must have been terrifying for her, for all of them, to comprehend all this newness.

The four children are placed on a ship with other adult males, a ship called the Amistad. Lead by a man called Cinque the captives escape from their chains to overthrow the white men in charge of the ship.  They demand the ship set sail back to Africa.

Deceived the slaves aboard the Amistad are again captured and placed in custody.  For more than eighteen months trial after trail does not settle the fate of the Africans until it finally reaches the Supreme Court of the United States.  Freedom is finally granted to all but still they cannot go home.

Surviving the cultural differences, the changes in seasons, living with more than one family and the uncertainty of your future, this girl, the other children and men waited another eight months to sail home to Africa with a group of missionaries.  By the time she is sixteen the course of her life will alter again, taking her on another ocean voyage.  Will she ever return to her beloved homeland?

In an author's note Monica Edinger addresses her years of painstaking research and the decision to write this true story as a first person fictionalized account.  There is an intimacy in her word choices, bringing readers into the strong emotional experiences of Margru.  Vivid descriptions of place and people, good and bad, transport Margru's life from the past into the present; readers will feel her presence, hear her voice.  Placed among the narrative three times are poetic pieces of her dreams; of her mother, father and the elders.  Each ends with

I dreamed of home.

Here are a couple of passages from the book.

We walked for days and days, passing people going about their lives as we had only days before: girls with calabashes full of water on their heads, women washing in rivers, men working in fields, and boys climbing trees.  Everyone and everything made me think of home.  Of my mother, my sisters and brothers, even my father.  I cried myself to sleep thinking of them. 

Our lawyers felt Kagne, Teme, and I should not be prosecuted as we had nothing to do with the rebellion, and so, on the first day of the trial, we were brought to the courtroom without the men. 
"Are they hanging Cinque and the others while we are here?" I whispered to Teme.  All three of us cried and cried.  Mr. Tappan tried to comfort us, but it was to no avail.

Rendered in ink and watercolor the illustrations of Robert Byrd give readers a genuine sense of the life of Margru beginning with the matching jacket and cover.  He features her memories and dreams of home with her voyage and the challenges and changes it wrought in her world.  The blue of ocean on the front is a solid background on the opening and closing endpapers.  Travel across the Atlantic alters this person's life more than most of us can understand.

Full color pictures accentuate the narrative, beginning with a map of Africa on the first page framed in a pattern native to the area.  The text on the opposite page is framed with the lush green landscape of Mendeland; three children walking among the bushes and trees.  At times Byrd chooses to use an illustration spreading across two pages, above or below the text.

Many of the full page visuals extend to the page edge.  Single page illustrations edged in a thin black line usually have a single element breaking that frame, giving it motion and emotion.  Throughout the book, smaller pictures are inserted for emphasis.  It is this variety in size and perspective which elevates and compliments the text.  Reproductions of primary documents act as excellent bridges between the past and present.

One of the most poignant scenes is of Margru standing alone on the deck of the ship taking her home to Africa.  The small figure looking across the water, sun shining its path on the surface, is uplifting and hopeful.  Your heart will soar, cheering at her return to her homeland.

Africa is My Home:  A Child of the Amistad written by Monica Edinger with illustrations by Robert Byrd is captivating from cover to cover.  The character of Margru, her fears, her courage and the fulfillment of her dreams, is a story that needed to be told.  I encourage you to read this title and add it to your bookshelves.  In addition to the author's note a page of selected sources is included.  Update: Monica Edinger has several posts on her blog with additional resources.  The links are here, here and here.  Follow this link to an interview of Monica Edinger at Book Q & As with Deborah Kalb.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Twitterville Talk 2013 Christmas Edition

In the spirit of the season and of this day, I've been collecting tweets from authors, illustrators and other members of my Twitter PLN.  Xena has been leaning over my shoulder pressing her paw on numerous tweets also; my favorites feed has been growing by barks and bounds.  I hope you are having a wonderful day.  Xena and I wish all of you the very best.

Take a minute to listen to this interview with author illustrator Loren Long about his new book, An Otis Christmas.

The dog pictures were as abundant as the snowflakes falling here in northern Michigan this past week.

HEY!  How did this get in here?

Perhaps these will come in handy yet this year or you can save them for 2014.

Make sure you gather everyone together to watch this bit of cheer.

The quotes and well wishes just kept coming; there is truly goodness and kindness in abundance.

This guy would be right at home in northern Michigan.  His artistic work is nothing short of genius.

Here are some more resources from Larry Ferlazzo of Larry Ferlazzo's Websites of the Day...  The man does not rest.

This video is absolutely beautiful.

Are you looking for the ultimate seasonal movie treat?  Look no further.

Virtual Post-It Boards-Stoodle

Just a little over a week ago, two guys in the know both posted about a new virtual post-it board.  Richard Byrne, educator, speaker and blogger at Free Technology for Teachers and Larry Ferlazzo, educator, author and blogger at Larry Ferlazzo's Websites of the Day... wrote about it at Stoodle-Quickly Create Shared Online Whiteboards and "Stoodle" Could Be The Best "Virtual Corkboard" Site Out There respectively.  With endorsements like these I knew I needed to give the site a try myself.

When you access the home page you are greeted with an introduction in the center with the choice of launching a classroom. The upper right-hand corner allows you to follow the Stoodle people on Twitter and Facebook.  Along the left-hand side are six options.

These six options, starting at the top, give you the choice of opening and closing the tool bar (three lines icon), going to the home page, reading about the site objective, features, and benefits for students and teachers/tutors, educational leaders at certain schools, how Stoodle started and key persons responsible and contact information (address, phone and fax numbers, email, spot on map).  I then moved back to the center clicking on the green Launch a classroom! button.  At the next window you are asked to give your name and whether you will grant Stoodle the use of your microphone.

Once you have entered in a name and clicked OK your corkboard is ready for use.  On the left-hand and right-hand side are a variety of choices.  The top selection on the left opens and closes that tool bar.

Moving from the top down on the left you can:
  • share a link on Facebook, Twitter or via email
  • add the shape of a square or circle or draw a line
  • add an image of any size by clicking and dragging 
  • clear the board and 
  • mute or unmute the speaking feature.
Every time you click on one of these choices the tool bar disappears.  You will need to select the three lines icon to bring the choices back.

When you use the add-an-image tool, a large lists of choices for obtaining files appears.  They are:
  • My computer
  • Facebook
  • Google Drive
  • Dropbox
  • Box
  • Sky Drive
  • Picasa
  • Instagram
  • Flickr
  • Link (URL)
  • Github
  • Gmail
  • Take Picture
  • Record Video
  • Web Images
  • Evernote
  • Alfresco
  • FTP and 
  • WebDAV.
When you select Web Images you can type in a keyword; Stoodle will search Wikipedia, Google Images and Flickr.  Once an image has been placed on the board it can't be resized.  Make sure you have your shape close to the shape of the image or it will appear distorted.

The tool bar on the right gives you the following selections:

  • drawing on the board
  • inserting text (a prompt appears on the screen identical to the box asking you for your name)
  • move elements around
  • delete elements
  • undo
  • redo
  • colors for drawn lines/text and
  • add pages/move among pages.
If you want your text to be a specific color please click on that color (black, purple, blue, green, red or yellow) prior to adding your words.  By clicking on a color before adding any shapes the outline will be in the color chosen.  Each time you use an item on the tool bar to switch to another, make sure you toggle back to it and click.  

Many members of my PLN on Twitter have been talking about the reading of Snowflake Bentley, a Caldecott Medal winner by Jacqueline Briggs Martin with woodcut illustrations by Mary Azarian.  I have created a Stoodle for books on snow which I have used in the past for units and currently own.
Please follow the link here, Let It Snow.  Let me know in the comments below if you would like to add other elements.  I would like to see how the collaboration works. When you follow the link you will be asked to enter in a name, then the collaboration or viewing can begin.

The best part of Stoodle is there is no registration.  This allows students under the age of thirteen to use this website.  Every time you access the site to launch a classroom, a new URL is assigned to your board.  As a word to the wise, make sure you keep track of your created board URL links.  The ease of use is also a major plus.  I concur with Richard Byrne and Larry Ferlazzo; Stoodle should be placed in your virtual toolbox.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Two Bears, One Love

When the morning silence is broken by the unexpected ringing of the phone or a knock on the door, the news can range from one end of the spectrum to the other.  Yesterday when opening my front door a valued colleague and cherished friend was standing on the porch.  To my surprise she was carrying a present for me.  It was, believe it or not, the kind of gift I rarely receive but will always be the very best choice for me.

After removing the ribbon and paper, I held in my hands a book.  We both started laughing.  She was glad I did not already have the title.  I couldn't believe my good fortune at having a book I've wanted to read.  Boris and Stella and the Perfect Gift (Sleeping Bear Press) written and illustrated by Dara Goldman is about the joy one can receive when being in second place.

Boris and Stella lived in the city.  

Beneath their apartment is a restaurant where Boris plays the piano every night.  Next door is a bakery where Stella bakes cakes.  These bears, a musician and a baker, cherish the other's accomplishments.

They are like the proverbial "two peas in a pod"; enjoying the wearing of hats and watching scary movies at the theater.  As the holidays approach, they each have a problem for which the other is unaware.  Neither of them has enough money to get the other a gift.  Nothing ordinary will do; an exceptional treat for an exceptional bear.

Stella celebrates Christmas.  Boris celebrates Hanukkah.  When Stella left Italy she was given a seedling from her family's farm.  Now a large pine tree, it continues to remind her of home.  Coming from Russia, Boris brought his dreidels, one given to him each year at Hanukkah by his parents.  Many memories of home are represented by this collection.

Looking about their apartment, wondering how to get money, Stella and Boris have an idea.  This year the eighth day of Hanukkah falls on Christmas Eve.  Boris cooks potato latkes exactly the way Stella likes them.  Stella bakes a panettone cake filling it and topping it exactly the way Boris likes it.

As the final candle on the menorah is aglow, Stella and Boris notice something seems to be awry in their home.  Treasured items are missing.  Exclamations can be heard as gifts are exchanged.  What truly is the perfect gift?

Dara Goldman endears readers to her characters and their story with simple descriptive sentences along with a specific writing technique.  Through the repetition of key phrases and action a gentle cadence is established in the telling of this tale reinforcing the affection between Stella and Boris.  One act of kindness is followed by another.  These two continually put the other first.  Here are two examples.

Hanukkah was almost here and Stella wanted to give Boris something special.  She shook her savings bank upside down.  Only a few coins fell out.  How could she give Boris something special if she only had a few coins?

Boris was troubled too.  It was almost Christmas and he still didn't have a gift for Stella.  Boris wanted to give her something special for Christmas.
He shook his savings bank upside down.  Only a few coins fell out.  How could he give Stella something special if he only had a few coins?

It may be a chilly winter's night on the matching jacket and cover but the rich yellow light shining from inside through the windows, the string of lights around the roof peak and the two smiling bears, tongues extended to catch the falling snowflakes, is brimming with warmth.  Crisp white opening and closing endpapers mirror the atmosphere of the season; extending to the title page providing a frame for the hugging bears.  Light, delicate watercolor illustrations by Dara Goldman fill single pages, corners rounded for framing.

Sometimes a grouping of several smaller pictures will extended a single sentence.  Half pages with text underneath or much smaller single visuals, comfortable companions to the narrative's rhythm, alter the pacing.  A bright, cheerful color palette with golden overtones contributes to the uplifting feeling of love and generosity throughout the book.  Small details provide humor; the cat playing with the gift wrappings on several pages.

My favorite illustration is the cover and final page but then too, the pictures of Boris and Stella cooking traditional foods for each other are delightful.  There is much to see on both of these pages.  The array of food, the decor and the clothing each bear is wearing invite readers to pause and participate.

You can't help but feel a little happier, lightness in your soul, when you read Boris and Stella and the Perfect Gift written and illustrated by Dara Goldman.  Their charitable natures, the love they feel for each other, extends from the pages to surround you.  This gentle gem is meant to be shared repeatedly.

Please follow the links to Dara Goldman's website and blog embedded in her names above.  At her blog she walks readers through her inspiration (The Gift of the Magi) for and the process of creating Boris and Stella and the Perfect Gift post by post.  Here is a link to the publisher's website where you can read an excerpt.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Open To Giving

When you recently acquire the twenty-sixth title written and illustrated by the same individual it might be for a variety of reasons.  Perhaps it's a signature illustrative style, full of animated characters, lively colors and charming warmth, bringing richness to each book.  It could be because within each narrative the line between truth and fiction becomes blurred; the stories reach out, surrounding you, touching your heart and becoming a part of you, always to be remembered.  Possibly it's due to the beautiful blend of the illustrations and the writing; readers knowing one more special piece to the puzzle known as this extraordinary person's life are being shared.

How fortunate for we readers author illustrator Patricia Polacco has released another seasonal title.  Gifts of the Heart (G. P. Putnam's Sons, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.) is a story of a Christmas past not soon to be forgotten.  When you least expect it, but need it the most, magic happens.

Richie and I huddled together and pressed our faces into the cold glass of the Hudson's store window.  Everywhere we looked was a dazzling array of wondrous toys for Christmas.

We stand with two children peering into a display window, their minds sending Christmas wishes to unseen ears.  After this single page introduction preceding the title pages, the story begins as they ride down a country road with their Grampa in his Model A.  They see a woman standing by the back door to their farmhouse.

They are expecting someone from the Agency to come to care for the children since their Mom has taken a teaching job away from home.  Their beloved Gramma has recently died.  The farmhouse...will be sold in the spring.

The woman's accent and demeanor suggest she is not from the North.  Her name is Kay Lamity.  Yazoo, Mississippi is her home.  She aims to be the best housekeeper this family has ever seen.  Grampa, Momma, and Trisha welcome her immediately but Richie is feisty and not a little bit rude.

She has a talent for making children, even those rude ones, fall under her spell.  It's when they are putting up the Christmas tree and hanging ornaments, that a most interesting conversation takes place.  Kay Lamity believes

"You know, they's gifts, and they's gifts."

Both children are surprised to hear this.  It's a favorite phrase of their late gramma.

A shopping trip to the village, Santa Claus handing out Hershey bars and an outburst by Richie at home, threaten to take away a little girl's Christmas joy.  Nighttime chats and a star-studded sky do much to heal.  Cornstalks, a woman's creativity, and open hearts are the right ingredients for making perfect gifts.

On the way home from the town's parade on Christmas Eve those in Grampa's car see an astounding sight.  Bells, thumps, and bumps in the night and treats under the tree, send spirits soaring.  Images in the new-fallen snow and a surprising discovery make a memory which will last a lifetime.

Every time you open a cover of a Patricia Polacco book, you can feel a sense of anticipation and peace settle over your soul.  With her words she spins tales of wonder, delight and truth, the kind which take you into their space, leaving an imprint on your reader's heart.  As surely as her artist tools make pictures to see, so do her words.  She can take you to unforgettable places meeting people you will never forget.  Here are a couple examples of her writing.

Our warm breath made misty clouds on the window.

"Boy," she said, "where I come from, we cook yard-long night crawlers in green bugger gravy! And fer dessert, blister-pus puddin' with black widow garnish."
Richie looked up from his pillow.

I wept silently as we chugged down Dunks Road on our way home to our farm.   "I didn't see him," I said, sniffling.
Kay Lamity turned and looked at me. "Baby dear, can you see the wind as it blows?  Can you see how a flower smells in the springtime?  Can you see how much your momma and grampa love you?"

Using markers and pencils, Patricia Polacco welcomes us into the story of a Christmas Trisha and Richie will never forget.  On the matching jacket and cover she introduces us to Kay Lamity, her warmth and comfort for the children radiating outward.  In the introductory text we see the children, eager and excited from the perspective of inside the store.  Polacco continues on the two title pages with the same scene but this time we are on the outside looking inward; we are seeing the back of Trisha and Richie, the toys spread out on display.

All of the remaining pictures cross the gutter as two pages visuals, with the exception of one.  Her illustrations create an added atmosphere, an accompaniment for the text.  Fine details on her characters' faces make us feel as though we've known them for longer than this book.  One illustration which truly captured my heart is of Kay Lamity and Richie looking upward out his bedroom window at the night sky.  Behind them through the open doorway we can see the crackling fire and the tree aglow with lights.  Their facial expressions, the layout and design of the illustration with the text are beautiful.

Gifts of the Heart written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco will be placed on the shelf next to Welcome Comfort, Christmas Tapestry, and An Orange for Frankie; a Christmas title to be cherished for the magic spell is casts.  I consider Patricia Polacco to be an extraordinary storyteller.  Her books are gifts of the heart.  We thank you Patricia Polacco and we wish you the best, most marvelous time during this Christmas season.