Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Mirror, mirror, on the wall...

The night breathed through the apartment like a dark animal.  The ticking of a clock.  The groan of a floorboard as he slipped out of his room.  All was drowned by silence.  But Jacob loved the night.  He felt it on his skin like a promise.  Like a cloak woven from freedom and danger.

Cornelia Funke lures her readers into her newest creation, Reckless, that promises at the very least with this opening paragraph to be full of secrets, shadows and shifting scenes.  Jacob's father has been missing for more than a year.  He knows in his heart that his father's study holds the answer to his disappearance.  On this night his anger reveals a clue on a scrap of paper---THE MIRROR WILL OPEN ONLY FOR HE WHO CANNOT SEE HIMSELF.  Jacob is twelve.

When the next chapter begins twelve years have passed.  Mounted on the wall in his father's study that mirror did offer Jacob a doorway into another reality, Mirrorworld.  It is here that characters, magical objects and the places of fairy tales exist.  It is here that Jacob has fashioned an alternate life for himself with his trusted partner, Fox, a shape-shifter.  It is also here where his younger brother, Will, decides after years to follow Jacob as younger brothers will do.  And one mistake changes everything.

There is a race of people in Mirrorworld who are made of stone, Goyl.  Years of persecution have them at war with the humans in the land of fairy.  Fueled by hatred, better battle strategy and the support of the Dark Fairy they are winning.  Unfortunately for Will a Goyl manages to claw him. His fate is certain.  Within days he too will become a Goyl with his skin slowly and painfully turning to stone.

With the help of Clara, Will's girlfriend from our world, (Yes,  she came through the mirror too.), Fox and a dwarf of less than stellar character,  Jacob uses all his contacts, skills and bag of magic to reverse what is happening to his brother.  In desperation he finally seeks the assistance of the Red Fairy who he vowed to never see again.  Readers of fantasy know that for fairies there is always a price which is sometimes hidden until it's too late.

Make no mistake Reckless will have readers staying up until the wee hours of the morning eager to discover the fate of the brothers and those characters they have come to know in the kingdom of those timeless tales.  I know I did.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Clip and zip

As they say a picture is worth a thousand words and the creators of clp.ly, Free Range Content, want people to exchange what they find online quickly and visually.  This web 2.0 application allows the user to "clip" what they find online by capturing a portion of the site.  You have the ability to position the image, resize it, change the background color and add a note before you zip it along via a host of social networks or by embedding it in an email, blog or web site. 

This application also allows you to select a quote to post in an email, blog or web site once you have added their accelerator.

"This concluding volume in Collins's 'Hunger Games' trilogy accomplishes a rare feat, the last installment being the best yet, a beautifully orchestrated and intelligent novel that succeeds on every level. In short, there's something here for nearly every reader, all of it completely engrossing."

There have been so many times when it is better to show a colleague or student the web site rather than just giving them a link.  This application is the answer to that wish.  The creators believe that it is a way to bridge content between producers and consumers.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Are they here, now, among us?

Ten years ago on the planet Lorien as the evil race of Mogadarians annihilated all life, a ship shot into space toward the nearest sustainable planet, Earth.  Aboard that vessel were nine young children and their guardians.  These children were the planet's gifted Garde; their mentors, the Cepan.  A protective charm was placed on the children giving them a chance to survive and grow into their powers, Legacies.  As long as they stayed apart the charm would hold and they could only be destroyed in numerical order.  As the cover of this newest SF states: Three Are Dead I Am Number Four

Only adding to the book's appeal is the author's name, Pittacus Lore, an alias for the collaboration of James Frey (of "fictionalized" memoir fame) and Jobie Hughes.  The jacket flap indicates that Lore,the oldest Elder of Lorien, has been living here on Earth awaiting a final battle; a battle with the stakes so high life on Earth might cease to exist.

Setting the stage for what can only be described as a thrilling page turner is a prologue describing the death of Number Three.   When the third ring appears on his leg signifying the death of Three, Four and his mentor flee the state of Florida to the peace and hopefully quiet town of Paradise, Ohio.  Never being able to live anywhere for more than a few months, at their new home with new identities, 15 year old John Smith and his "Dad" Henri try to blend in while constantly being on alert for the appearance of the Mogadarians.  It seems that constantly being hunted and on the run has finally taken its toll on the pair.  Henri, ever the protector, is increasingly anxious about John's Legacy appearing.  All John wants to do at this point is be a normal teenager.  But how can you be normal when you have powers like Superman and your Legacy hasn't even revealed itself yet?  The truth is...you can't. 

From his first day at school normal is just not part of John's life.  The plot begins to quicken and thicken as the additional characters are introduced:  Mark James, football star, bully and former beau of Sarah, Sarah Hart, daughter of the Smith's realtor who captures John's heart at first sight, Sam Goode, a withdrawn teen with an over-the-top interest in aliens who becomes the first real friend John has ever had and Bernie Kosar, a stray dog that looks like a beagle but promises to be more than meets the eye.

As I continued to read this story I became attached to the world of the Loriens, their history and the mystery of their destruction.  I found myself caught up in the day to day stress and mess of teens and high school life.  When one of John's Legacies appears and his training begins in earnest I cheered for Henri's persistence and John's determination.  What's not to like about non-stop action, teen romance, an unbreakable bond  between a mentor and his child, deadly, dark aliens that will reach their goal by any means necessary or heart-pumping battle scenes of supernatural proportion? 

This is going to be one science fiction tale that is going to soar off the shelves.  (Note:  I just ordered additional copies for our school.) At the  I Am Number Four web site readers can feast on facts about all things Lorien. 

Not to be forgotten is the up coming movie that at this writing is in post production and set to be released in early spring of  2011.  Given the cast, director, writers and producers it should light up the silver screen.  It's mind-boggling that with a book publication date of August 2010 the movie will be available that quickly.  But nonetheless, save a seat for me...I'll be there with all the rest of the fans.  And look for me at the head of the line when the next book of the proposed six hits the stores.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Fall into color

Larry Ferlazzo's Websites of the Day lists a really neat interactive page on USA Today.  Colorful leaves are shown from the summer through the stages of autumn.  The text explains how the process takes place.  Enjoy!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Word choice wonders

The best writing makes use of language that conveys exactly what the reader needs to know as well as capturing the mood of the moment.  When we are encouraging our students to use "juicy" words or elaborate on a thought, at times it is hard for them to visualize the potential of word choice.

We can read them examples that should give them a picture in their mind but next time try using Telescopic Text which takes a simple sentence and expands it with a simple mouse click.  Each time you click a highlighted word the story will grow.  I am wondering how we could make our own using our Smart Boards or maybe someone has already done this. 

At Snappy Words there is no limit to how many different words can be entered into the search box.  Upon clicking Go word meanings and synonyms will "snap" into view creating a branching visual that boggles the mind.  By mousing over a word a definition will appear.  By clicking on a node more branches will grow that illustrate additional word associations. 

Thanks to Kelly Tenkely of iLearn Technology.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

More Fun with Photos

Okay, I'll admit that sometimes sleep is not option.  There are just too many things to explore.  Last night I discovered a couple web 2.0 applications that are pure fun. 
Fotobabble gives you within minutes the opportunity to add sound to a photograph.  All you need to do is to create a username, a password and give your email address. Please be aware that users under the age of 13 are forbidden.  You are reminded not to share your username and password with anyone under that age.

Just when I thought that it couldn't get any better I discovered Blabblerize.  This application will definitely get your students' attention.  You can add moving mouths to your visuals.  Once you have recorded what you want to say, the mouth will move as if speaking.  What a hoot! Please be aware that users under the age of 13 are not to use this site without supervision/permission.  You need to select a username, password and give your email address.  It was a blocked site but has been made available for staff use.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Create Cool Comics

Just as promised in my last blog I have been snoping around for some great comic creator sites.  All these online applications have been tested by yours truly this evening.  Some of the creators can be used immediately.  At others you need to register by selecting a username, a password and by giving them your email address.  For two of them, which are highly regarded, payment is necessary after a fourteen day trial.

At Comic Creator (part of the ReadWriteThink web site) the user is guided step-by-step in selecting a layout template, pre-determined characters, speech balloons with text and props.  The comics can be printed but not saved.  The user can access this site and use it without registration. ReadWriteThink has a printable draft form for students to use and accompanying lessons at various grade levels.

Using Make Beliefs, where no registration is required, your comics are created from their characters whose expressions you can choose.  Speech balloons with text in seven languages can be inserted along with choosing layout, background color, additional objects and panel prompts which give it the added look of traditional comics.  You can print your creation or send it to an email address.

In addition to allowing the creation of action comic strips Artisan Cam hosts 20 activities to feed your artistic appetite.  For the comic creations they have figures, backgrounds and speech balloons available.  Upon completion the option of printing or sending to a gallery is offered.

The final web site for comic creation in which you do not need to register is BeFunky.  Rather than creating a strip you can create a single comic image from your digital photographs.  But this site is so much more.  The results are immediate without all the instruction necessary to using a product such as Adobe Photoshop.  If experimenting with all types of visual effects is what you desire, this is the place to go.  Consider this my new favorite creative graphic web site.

ToonDoo, PikiKids and Witty Comics asks the user to list a username, password and their email address.
In my opinion these sites would be for upper elementary and middle school students.  PikiKids uses digital photographs from Flickr or your own computer.  You can store photographs in an online gallery.  It allows you to select a layout, frame and border colors and arrangements, speech bubbles and other effects.
Witty Comics has their own characters, speech balloons and scenes for you to use in your comic creation of initially three frames.  ToonDoo is the most confusing of the sites.  The layout is busy making navigation difficult.  Once you get to the comic creator you use their characters, backgrounds, props and balloons. 

Pixton For Schools and Bitstrips for Schools are more sophisticated comic creators which cater specifically to the educational community focusing on the value of comic strips in improving student writing.  Fourteen day trials are available prior to purchase.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Just for you--fellow colleagues

Shelving books and year end inventory do have their benefits beyond the obvious.  Without fail each time I look through the books on the shelves in either the elementary or middle school library media centers I find those special volumes about which I have forgotten.  Today I became reaquainted with four very special books by gifted authors and illustrators.

The secret remedy book: a story of comfort and love by Karin Cates and illustrated by Wendy Anderson Halperin is heart-warming in every way.  Lolly's wish of visiting her Auntie Zep without her family finally comes true; she is so excited!  But after they leave much to her surprise she misses them and starts to cry.  Auntie Zep has the perfect solution--
The Secret Remedy Book.  After locating a special key, a trunk in the attic and the book itself, together they complete each remedy.  But in order for the remedies to work all must be completed before the first hoot of an owl.  Each remedy is delighfully pictured by our own Michigan Halperin in her signature style.  Her illustrations invite closer examination as the reader views stories within the story.  At her web site Halperin offers extensions for teachers not only for this book but for some of her others. 

Patrick McDonnell creator of the award-winning comic strip Mutts has also found his nitch as an author of children's books illustrating them with his Mooch and Earl characters.  The Gift of Nothing and South are on our shelves.  With simple expressive drawings and spare text he manages to convey messages of friendship, compassion and love.  Don't miss his web site about Mutts.  It is loaded with potential classroom applications especially having students create their own comics. (Hmmm...working on remembering that web site about comic creation for students...now where is it? Stay tuned.)

Author/illustrator Peter H. Reynolds of The Dot and Ish fame (wonderful books about self esteem and art) penned So few of me in 2006.  Needless to say the message is timeless and for all ages.  No matter what we do or how hard we work wouldn't it be easier if we could clone ourselves?  The words have hardly left Leo's mouth when another Leo shows up to assist him in his never-ending supply of things to do.  Before the tale ends there are ten of Leo!  Peter Reynolds will have you smiling as he presents Leo with the perfect answer which each of us should practice each and every day.  [Please note:  when I went to Reynolds' web site it seems that he has another book which we should have, The North Star.]

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Cool YouTubes and Books

Children's book author and illustrator Mo Willems hit the scene with Caldecott Honor awards in 2005, 2006 and 2008 for his Don't Let The Pigeon Drive The Bus, Knuffle Bunny: A cautionary tale and Knuffle Bunny Too: A case of mistaken identity.  On September 28th his newest book, Knuffle Bunny Free will be available.

On July 27th this summer Tad Hills another outstanding children's book author and illustrator who is best known for his Duck and Goose books gave us How Rocket Learned to Read.

Actor and film director Rob Reiner states in an interview that he became acquainted with Wendelin VanDraanen's book, Flipped,  when his 5th grade son brought it home as required reading.  He was so taken with the writing style and story that on August 6, 2010 his film version hit the screen.  It has already received the Truly Moving Picture Award but that is not surpring given his record in the past as well as VanDraanen's success as a young adult author.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

As simple as ABC Ya!

In looking for a template to use on my SmartBoard for a second grade lesson I came across this nifty web site called ABC Ya!  It contains free educational, interactive computer games and activities which are modeled upon lessons used in grades K-5.  Content areas such as math and reading are a focus where students can also refine basic computer skills. 
The site states that all the games and activities have been selected or developed by certified educators. 
I just love searching the Internet and discovering little gems like this which I can use immediately!

Working my way through Newbery 2010

Early last evening I finished my third of the five books which were given Newbery Awards in January of 2010.

As author Rodman Philbrick says in the first paragraph: My name is Homer P. Figg, and these are my true adventures.  I mean to write them down, every one, including all the heroes and cowards, and the saints and the scalawags, and them stained with the blood of innocents, and them touched by glory, and them that was lifted into Heaven, and them that went to the Other Place.
And so begins the story titled The mostly true adventures of Homer P. Figg.  Homer and his older brother, Harold, are orphans living with a hateful relative, Squinton Leach, in the state of Maine.  When that uncle's cruelty expands to a profitable ruse which finds Harold being lead off to war, Homer, escapes from the locked cellar to find his brother.  From being kidnapped by ruthless slave hunters, to being saved by a wealthy Quaker abolitionist, to being tricked by a less than stellar traveling minister, to being a Pig Boy in a traveling medicine show and then finding himself right in the middle of the Battle of Gettysburg, Homer survives by his truly remarkable gift of gab.  Certainly this tale is loaded with episodes that will have the reader grinning as they shake their heads but Philbrick, underneath it all, is revealing a world that can be cruel and tragic.  The narrative has been well researched and includes some additional Civil War facts, opinions, slang & definitions, to be argued, debated & cogitated upon at the end. 
I found myself liking this book not only for the humor and plot twists throughout but for the honest way that part of history was portrayed through its descriptive characters, their dialect and mannerisms and the sense of time and place that Philbrick created with his style of writing.  Although not nearly as graphic and haunting as Paulsen's successful depiction of a true story in Soldier's Heart it is more than deserving of the Newbery honor.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


President Obama will be making his second Back to School speech today from Julia R. Masterman Middle-High School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at 1:00 PM EST.  It can be viewed in real time at Whitehouse Live
The complete transcript was released yesterday and can be viewed at President Obama's Back to School Speech September 14, 2010

I rediscovered a fantastic web site today called Newseum  At this site you can see a variety of front pages from cities all across the United States and around our globe.  You can access these front pages through a gallery, list, or map tab.  You are also given the option of viewing archived pages as well as the site's Top Ten front pages.  Mousing over the map option is a little like one-stop shopping and seems to be quicker than going through a list.  Once you have found a front page that meets your requirements you can print it, change it to readable PDF format or go the newspaper's web site for more information about the news of the day.
In our classrooms this could be used for nonfiction reading comprehension, current events, or how the news is viewed depending on a particular culture.  It was interesting to see which papers around the world are printed in English rather than their native language.

My thanks to Larry Ferlazzo's Websites of the Day.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Dog gone good---Woof woof

Move over Old Yeller, Where the red fern grows and Stone Fox, a new story has entered the shelves that will strike a chord in the hearts of dog lovers of all ages.  I knew I was going to like this book as soon as I read the quotation on the dedication page--All animals dream but only dogs dream of us.
Berkeley Breathed well know cartoonist of the Pulitzer Prize winning Bloom Country, in writing his first novel, Flawed dogs: the novel: the shocking raid on Westminster, touches upon the darker side of the dog world but never falters from his ultimate goal-our dogs love unconditionally.
Sam the Lion, a dachshund of rare and well bred qualities, through no fault of his own but that of the evil jealous poodle, Cassius, endures three years of being in a research lab (which luckily no details are supplied), to The National Last-Ditch Dog Depository, to being hit by a pick-up truck and finding himself facing a killer bull dog in a fight arena. 
It is at that moment surrounded by a wooden fence, scarred, scared, with a soup ladle for one of his legs, that he sees his purpose--a poster with a picture of Cassius which announces the Westminster Dog Show at Madison Square Garden.  With the help of his trusty canine commandos from The National Last-Ditch Dog Depository who are flawed in ways that can only help, Sam must pay Cassius back for taking away what he treasures most--Heidy  McCloud, a young heiress in need of love just as much as he is.
Breathed's black and white and colored illustrations throughout this story compliment the quirky adventures, laughter and tears, and an ending which will leave you believing in miracles. 

Highly recommended.  If reading this aloud in your classroom you will be able to hear a pin drop.   Now I'm going to go and hug Xena again.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Newbery Honor Winners Strike Again

In 2009 Kathi Appelt for the Underneath and Ingrid Law for Savvy were winners of the Newbery Honor Award.  With both of their latest books which I just completed reading, they have proven that they were indeed not "one hit wonders."

Appelt's Keeper again crosses into the mixed genre realm of magical realism.  In Keeper as in The Underneath she uses her gift of weaving multi-layers to create a powerful message. Within twenty-four hours, which begins with 10-year-old Keeper uttering "You stupid crabs!", the lives of aging Mr. Beauchamp, war-ravaged Dogie, runaway Signe, a missing mermaid mother Meggie Marie along with the requisite animals of Sinbad, the one-eyed cat, Too, Dogie's dog, Captain the seagull and BD, Best Dog owned by Keeper are disclosed through a series of flashbacks.  What propels the reader forward are revealing, snappy chapters. Keeper constantly examines what happened to turn the traditional highly anticipated day of the blue moon into a personal disaster for all these people living on Oyster Bay Road because of those "stupid crabs".  Certainly the setting of a beach along the Gulf Cost in Texas adds to the ebb and flow of these people's personalities, what brought them to be living in "the world unto itself" and of Keeper floating in a small boat at night trying to make everything right again.  As The Underneath focused on the power of hate and love, Keeper crafts its own definition of family.  This author's writing is excellence times two.
Please be aware that Keeper is edgier than The Underneath in that issues which may be controversial play a part in the plot.  In my opinion this is for older, more mature readers.

Scumble, companion to Savvy by Law is even more fun than its predecessor.  Ledger Kale can hardly wait to turn thirteen.  He is sure that his savvy (magical talent) will propel him into "savvy history".  It doesn't take long for everyone to agree that his savvy does indeed set him apart in a big way as everything around him falls apart. When Ledger's family decides to brave a trip to a family wedding in Wyoming, it is all they can do to get there with the car intact.  Due to Ledger that momentous event will live on in the family annuals for all the wrong reasons--complete and total destruction of one of the barns on the farm, complete and total chaos of the wedding party and an unintended injury to the groom--all witnessed by a bigger than life snoop called Sarah Jane Cabot, newspaper reporter extraordinaire.  And that's just the beginning!  Ledger's parents decide to leave he and his sister at the family farm so he can master (scumble) his wild ways with help from other savvy struck relatives.  It's the addition of what might be weak secondary characters in the hands of any other author that adds to the plot twists and richness of this tale just as it did in Savvy.
In a word-marvelous.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Power of Politeness

Yesterday when reading an article in LibrarySparks magazine a post that I read on Larry Ferlazzo's Websites of the Day on September 1 came to mind.  He talked about a recent series of studies that showed the measurable, positive impact of saying thank you.  I went back to his post and was able to locate the study online.
Here are some quotes from the study:  These findings suggest that when helpers are thanked for their efforts, the resulting sense of being socially valued, more than the feelings of competence they experience, are critical in encouraging them to provide more help in the future.  Additionally, our second and third experiments showed that gratitude expressions had spillover effects on prosocial behavior toward other beneficiaries.

The article in LibrarySparks Fiction/Nonfiction section is titled Good Humor; Good Manners.  It discusses a variety of trade books which can be used to instruct/educate/remind our students about being good to one another.  Those books listed which we have in our elementary library are: Are you quite polite: silly dilly manners songs by Alan Katz; Do unto otters: a book about manners by Laurie Keller; How do dinosaurs eat their food by Jane Yolen; Mind your manners, B. B. Wolf by Judy Sierra and Piggy Monday: a tale about manners by Suzanne Bloom.  A couple of additional books not mentioned in the article that we have are: The golden rule by Ilene Cooper, Never spit on your shoes by Denys Cazet and our newest arrival, Thanks a lot, Emily Post! by Jennifer LaRue Huget.

So I give a big THANK YOU to the United States Congress for passing on June 28, 1894 the act which causes us to celebrate Labor Day as a legal holiday on the first Monday in September.  And I also want to give a thank you to Larry Ferlazzo and Pat Miller of LibrarySparks for reminding me to say thank you every chance I get.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Photo Finish

Back in the day I was fortunate enough to have a darkroom not only in my home but in my media center.  At that time I was working in a K-12 building as their librarian and teaching a photography and yearbook class to high school students.  When you are teaching classes using black and white photography along with developing it as an art form (and I use that term loosely for myself) you develop a different eye for viewing the world around you. 
Even though the web 2.0 tool Spell with Flickr has been available for at least four years it is new to me and it clearly illustrates that there is more to be seen in your surroundings then one might notice at first glance.
Spell with Flickr allows you to type in words and have them spelled out using letter photos that are part of Flickr.  Once your word or words are spelled out you can click on any letter to have the image changed. 
You can save the images, print them or capture their code to use them in an online publication. 
Students could use this to practice new vocabulary, create titles for projects, or make an acrostic poem.  Its use is only limited by you and your students' imaginations.  Spell with Flickr makes using words and writing just plain fun. 
Stephen T. Johnson's books, Alphabet City or City by Numbers could be paired with this application to make for a great learning experience.  Perhaps this just might lead to students taking digital letter photos to create their own books.
Kid at heart that I am, I've already started to create new signage for the middle school media center.

letter F letter I letter R letter s letter T

pink tag letter D KMcElman_100416_0069 letter Y

letter O IMG_5697

letter S Cast Iron Capital Letter C (North Scituate, RI) IMG_5681 letter O letter O letter L