Quote of the Month

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

Monday, November 29, 2010

Terrific Travels with Tripline

Having been a lover of maps for most of my life, (I used to wallpaper my bedroom with the maps that came with the issues of National Geographic.) I am completely enthralled with the possibilities presented by the new online application, Tripline.  Tripline was released in Beta on August 6, 2010.  As stated on the homepage:  At its most basic level, Tripline is a way for you to tell a story by putting places on a map.

To register you need to enter your full name, username, password, home city and email address.  You must be 13 or older to use the site.  Once you have registered you can create a trip.

 There are 28 different choices that can be made as to the type of trip.  You can add an introduction story to the trip as well as music.  From point to point lines can be shown or not shown.  Your trip can visible to the public, friends or private.

By using a search option, geocoder or custom point places can be added to your journey.  As each point is added you can select to put in a date and time as well as a story or private notes.  Whether you want the Tripline to pause, passthrough or give a slideshow at each point can also be determined.

Once the trip is saved you can still add more information such as a review, edit the title, story or notes and include photos for each place.  Photos can be accessed from Flickr, Picasa, Facebook or your computer.

As you study with your students about places real or fictional this would be a great interactive visual method to record your progress.  What a collaborative, fun way for a family to plan a vacation or share one taken with others.  When it comes to projects in the classroom this would be yet another avenue available  to present the information that is required.  The opportunities that this application offers are only limited by your imagination.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Heartfelt Thanks to Middle School Moms

Our Charlevoix Middle School Book Fair held November 11-18, 2010 was the best it could be this year due to the extra efforts of parents, Dawn Jacobs, Mabel Carson, Carol Ochs, Heather Sape, Laurie VanNorman, Rebecca Jeakle and Lisa Ackerman.  Be sure to thank them when you see them.
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Friday, November 26, 2010

Nod to Another Newbery 2010

Jacqueline Kelly, author of The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (Henry Holt and Company, May 12, 2009), a Newbery 2010 Honor book, has penned a truly memorable first novel.  What makes this story unforgettable is the sense of time, place and family that Kelly brings to the reader through her love of words crafting visuals that not only transport but will transform.

Calpurnia Virginia Tate, fondly called Callie Vee, was eleven years old in the summer of 1899.    She is the middle child of seven with three older and three younger brothers.  Her family is of means owning a large working farm and cotton gin which her grandfather established.

It is blazing hot in Fentress, Caldwell County, Texas.  Callie seeks respite in the cool waters of the San Marcos River near their family home floating in her chemise and thinking as she watches the webworms hanging from the oaks that lean across the water.  Seeing and questioning life around her differently than other young women her age sets Callie apart.

 Her oldest brother, Harry, notices that Callie has an attachment to the natural world and he gives her a notebook to record her questions and observations.  Callie has heard talk about Charles Darwin's book, On the Origin of the Species.  A visit to the Lockhart library has Callie fit to be tied as the cranky librarian huffs that there is no copy of such a book in her library, she would need fifty cents to get a copy from another library and does she have a letter from her mother giving her permission to read it.

 Bravely seeking out her grandfather, an eccentric living with the family but spending most of his time outside in his laboratory or in his library, Callie talks about her humiliating experience.  Without so much as a word he leads her into the house and his library.

He extracted a book covered in rich green morocco leather handsomely tipped with gold.  He polished it with his sleeve, although I could see no dust on it.  Ceremoniously, he bowed and offered it to me.  I looked at it.  The Origin of Species.  Here, in my own house.  I received it in both my hands.  He smiled.  Thus began my relationship with Granddaddy.

It also begins our relationship, in a small way, with Darwin as each chapter of The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate begins with an appropriate excerpt from his book.

That summer and beyond, before the turn of the century, readers journey with Callie as Harry courts two different women, as her tenderhearted brother Travis must face Thanksgiving and the loss of his turkey friend, to piano recitals, when three of her brothers fall in love with her best friend, during a cotton harvest, and the family dogs, the county fair, the first telephone and automobile, expectations of women of the time, the possible discovery of a new species by her and her grandfather and the inevitable discourse between members of the family.  The family dialogues around the dinner table were absolutely priceless especially after Callie tests out a new batch of her Grandfather's pecan brew. From spending so much time with her grandfather in scientific study Callie is able to set in her mind how she wishes her life to be but will society let her be herself  is a question left unanswered

For this reader  The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly was most assuredly historical fiction at its best but it was so much more.  It was about connecting soul to soul with another like-minded individual, about the bridge that can be built between generations through conversation and shared experiences, about noticing  details that give the whole its uniqueness, and about choices that women must make; to choose their own road or the road that society dictates they take. 

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Wonderful Wiggio

Recently the web 2.0 application Wiggio came to my attention.  Wiggio.com is a free, online toolkit that makes it easy to work in groups.  Early in 2008 two students at Cornell designed this program.  It was released to the public in September of that same year.

To begin using Wiggio the user creates an account by entering in their name, email, password, zip code, birth year and gender.  An email will be sent to confirm your account.  To begin I created an account with my school email so that I could have a group for my book fair volunteers.  Using my home email I started another account  to create a group for those enjoying children's books.

Once you have generated a new group members can be added by sending an email, link or through Facebook.  As administrator of a group one of four types of communication can be selected:  group email with post by email which acts like a listserv, each post by email or SMS, a daily summary of posts by email or no mail which acts like a discussion board. 

A selection of tabs appears at the top of the home page offering a variety of options available to the group.
By choosing Calendar events can be added, group members can print/view an agenda, show events from all groups, subscribe to that calendar or import a calendar.  When the Folder tab is clicked the user has the choice of upload a file, create a file or add a link.  Virtual meetings, conference calls or a chat room can be set up using the Meeting tab.  Your group can design a poll by picking the Polls tab.  If it is necessary to send a Messsage the options are by text, email, sticky note or voice note.  The final tab, To-Do, produces the ever needful To-Do list.

The beauty of this utility is its simplicity coupled with the options accessible to the group members.  At the bottom of the site's pages are the About page which includes a YouTube video introduction to Wiggio and a FAQ page which is complete and through. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Lab Lover's Double Woof

Stephen Huneck's final gift to the world of children's and dog lover's literature is Sally's Great Balloon Adventure.  Mr. Huneck began his Sally adventures in 2000 with Sally Goes to the Beach followed almost yearly with Sally Goes to the Mountains, Sally Goes to the Farm, Sally Goes to the Vet, Sally's Snow Adventure,  and Sally Gets a Job. 
Sally's family has decided to take her to a balloon festival.  Although she knows what a balloon is, she has never seen a hot air balloon.  Being a typical Labrador her ultra sensitive nose leads her to a balloon with fried chicken in its basket.  As the crowd watches the balloons lift off, Sally seeks that fried chicken.  After falling into the balloon she grabs a rope to pull herself out.  The rope, of course, anchored the balloon and Sally is up, up and away.  Sally can't believe her good fortune to be alone with all that chicken as the people calling her name shrink to dots.  Down on the ground below all types of efforts are being made to save Sally as she floats among the birds dreaming of fried chicken.  Eventually the balloon drifts lower to the ground near a school playground.  A student whose family flies balloons calls out to Sally to play tug-of-war. Getting into the game Sally grabs a rope, warm air is released and the gondola gently lands among the children.  Whew! while the ride was fun, being on the ground with a stomach full of fried chicken is just right.

Stephen's Sally books capture that pure doggy essence of Labradors through placement, position and angles of Sally and the other characters on the pages.  His concise sentences tell the tale with the simplicity that a dog might view the world.  Bold, bright colors convey the joy of living each adventure with curiosity and wonder. 

Stephen Huneck was an extraordinary woodcut print artist as well as sculptor and painter. His work is housed in the White House Collection of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C, the American Kennel Club Library and the Museum of American Folk Art in New York City.    In the back of this Sally book he adds an artist's note on the woodcut print technique. 

I am the proud owner of all the Sally books, one of Stephen's wood cut prints and several of his T-shirts.   As they say, a book is a present that you can open again and again. Stephen's legacy will be that present for generations.   How lucky for our children and those with the heart of a child.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Positively Perfect Perkins

As Easy as Falling Off the Face of the Earth is Lynne Rae Perkins latest novel.  It is definitely going on Mrs. Culver's Top Twenty list for next year.  As I write this I am smiling as I look at the cover, read through the chapter headings again or recall the characters and their exploits. 

To begin sixteen year old Ry bound for summer camp is riding the rails through Montana.  When the train stops for some minor mechanical repair Ry decides to disembark.

Wait a minute.  Was the---had the train just moved?  Ry turned his head to look at it straight on, but it sat on the tracks, as still as the lumpy brown hill he was climbing.  As still as the grass that baked in gentle swells as far as he could see and the air in the empty blue sky.  He must have imagined it.  Nothing had moved.  Everything was the same.  but there it was again.  Was it because he blinked?  Maybe it was the water in his eyes; it had wobbled up his vision.  He picked out a post alongside the tracks, directly below the line where the logo on the train changed from red to blue.  As he watched, the red and the blue shifted almost imperceptibly to the right above the post.  Then perceptibly.  The train was moving. 

Oh, yes, Ry is stranded in the middle of nowhere Montana with his backpack still on the train. He left the train to call his grandfather after finally reading a letter from the camp which stated:

  We are so sorry.  The Summer ArchaeoTrails Program will not take place.  A statistically improbable number of things have gone wrong and the camel's back is broken.  Your money will be fully refunded as soon as I sell my car and remortgage my house. 

Gazing out at the wide-open space, wondering just how he is going to find a place with people and after taking stock of what he has in his pockets, Ry remarks,

But at least I have my health.

It is just this kind of wit, humor and dialogue that moves Ry's story forward with readers happily in tow eager to see what new unlikely event will befall Ry. 

Of course his Grandfather, who is at the family home in Wisconsin taking care of their two dogs, Peg and Olie, is not answering his calls.  Why is that?  Taking the dogs for a walk turned into a race through the woods after the pair sighted a doe only to have the earth beneath Grandpa Lloyd's feet fall into an eight foot sinkhole twenty feet wide. The fall has left Grandpa wandering with a concussion and memory loss.

Where are Ry's parents?  They are sailing around the Caribbean with their own mishaps, the least of which includes the theft of their cell phone by a local monkey. 

Peg and Olie are having an adventure of their own that the reader shares via comic book style graphics.

By walking to the nearest town, Ry meets Del.  Del is a self-made, self-employed, jack-of-all-trades, well traveled kind of guy.   He is the bridge that provides the connection between all these incidents.  It is Del that volunteers to take Ry to Wisconsin to solve the puzzle of Grandpa Lloyd not answering the phone.  It is Del that has a friend with an airplane that can take them to an island in the Caribbean.  It is Del's  former girlfriend, for whom he still has deep feelings, that has a boat that can take them to the island of St. Jude where he can hopefully locate his parents.

Each of  the little additional occurrences that transpire as they journey toward this goal are more far fetched than their predecessors.   As a reader one finds oneself shaking their head and asking, "What are the chances of that happening?"

Lynne Rae Perkins delightful illustrations peppered throughout the book add to the cohesiveness of her writing about these likable characters and the outlandish happenings that fate lays before them.  There is nothing quite so fine as a slice of life from Perkins' finely crafted pie.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Keep Grinning

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This is a simple slideshow that was created using an application called Smilebox.  By using this free tool, which is for PC or Mac, the user generates invitations or greetings, slideshows, scrapbooks, photo albums, calendars, recipes or collages.  There are more than 1,000 customizable designs that the user can add photos or videos to along with music and their own words.  Once the item is done it can be emailed or posted to a variety of social venues.  The code can be embedded into an online publication or there is a link to the creation on the Smilebox web site. It can be saved for future use or alteration.  Printing at home or via a store or burning to a DVD can be done but this will cost $5.99 a month or $39.99 a year.  Payment of this fee also enlarges the music selection considerably. 
The Smilebox application is installed on your computer in seconds.  You can create an account with your email, full name and a password.   This is just one more option available to generate classy visual presentations small or large.  Users must be 18 years of age.
Check out the Smilebox blog connection at the bottom of the home page. Additionally for educators click on Teachers Toolbox which is shown at the bottom of the home page.  Smilebox Teachers Toolbox offers the premium Club Smilebox service free of charge once you have provided the appropriate information.  It includes 900 designs specific to the classroom along with ideas on how it can best be utilized.  Not only can educators use this to convey a specific idea, capture moments in the classroom to share with parents but students can use this to address requirements for projects in the classroom.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Leaping Lizards #2Cool Not To Share

Kaleidoscope Painter is just the ticket for fun and nothing else.  This simple applications guides the user in designing their own pictures just as the hand-held tube version allows with a turn of the wrist.
Four options appear under the drawing box.  You can clear the canvas, have the program draw by itself, have the brush size dynamically change or alter the brush size on your own.
Instructions are shown whether you are a MAC or Windows user on how to save your finished piece of art.

Leaping Lizards

Not many author/illustrators can claim winning the esteemed Caldecott Award three times or the Caldecott Honor Award twice but David Wiesner can.  His newest picture book, Art & Max, is most assuredly headed in that direction. 

A small lizard runs pell mell across a desert landscape as the reader turns the first page...that's Max, a would-be artist.  He excitedly approaches a larger lizard, completely engrossed in his newest portrait...that's Arthur, Art as Max calls him, an artist of quite some talent.   Against his better judgment Arthur agrees to have Max paint beside him also replying to Max's question of what he should paint by saying, Well...you could paint me.  At this point the reader pauses thinking, Oh, Oh, because they already know Max and how his mind will interpret that phrase.

What follows is a kaleidoscopic, fantastical explosion of color as Art undergoes a transformation from one artistic medium to another via the offbeat leaps of Max's mind.  His reduction to a pile of stringy lines does not deter Max though.  He restores Arthur to his original self...well almost.  Not only does Arthur's physical self shift page by page but so does his perception of what art is and how to get there.

Weisner offers readers of Art & Max a chance to scamper through an adventure of unbridled curiosity, creativity and the sheer joy of discovery.  His characters' expressions mirror those found on the frog faces in Tuesday.  He challenges us to think along uncharted paths as he did in The Three Pigs, Flotsam and Sector 7.  He takes us to a world where we might not go as he did in Free Fall.  In a word...genius.

By linking to his web site shown in blue explore the creative process used in fashioning this book.  I am definitely going to be expanding my use of his books to a full-blown author study. 

Monday, November 8, 2010

L is for Lockdown

I think my life is special. In a way it seems odd that I spend all of my time doing only what I love, which is writing or thinking about writing. If everyone had, at least for part of their lives, the opportunity to live the way I do, I think the world would be a better place.

I hope that the next book, story or poem that I write will be worthy of the time the reader spends with it. If it is then my life is successful. If it’s not, then I’ll try again.

With a personal philosophy such as this, it is no wonder that readers have been reaping the benefits for years.  Walter Dean Myers has authored more than 90 books and has at least 16 highly distinguished awards to his credit.  His newest book, Lockdown, is yet another example of literature for young adults that tells it like it is.

Reese, serving time for stealing prescription pads for a drug dealer, is at Progress juvenile facility.  Frequently they are under lockdown but for Reese, once he overcame the fear of not being able to get out, this time also made him feel safe---But after a while, when you got to thinking about it, you knew nobody could get in either.

The reader becomes familiar with several secondary characters; other teens at Progress as well as the warden, Mr. Cintron, and Mr. Pugh, a guard who enjoys his work just a little too much.  Little does Reese know that when he is given the opportunity to participate in a work program at a senior citizen's home, his outlook on his life is going to receive an alteration that it desperately needs.   Mr. Hooft, a resident at the home, is a curmudgeon loaded with prejudice.

But his experiences as a child imprisoned in a war camp lend not only insight into his personality but also give Reese a foundation upon which he can build a survival philosophy.  To survive in Progress Reese must curb his temper, even when fighting to protect a smaller inmate appears to be justified.  To survive on the outside Reese must avoid people who would have him land back in jail. He must stay strong to give his sister, Icy, the chance to realize her dream of attending college.

In Lockdown, Walter Dean Myers, makes the reader feel that they are Reese's shadow, living in his world day by day, wondering what will happen next and whether he will make the right choices.  In Reese's reality life is like walking on a tightrope where focus is everything; one misstep could be the end.  This is realistic fiction at its finest.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Poster Panorama

In three easy steps using the web 2.0 application Block Posters the user can generate a poster of just about any size.  There is no registration and it is free.  It would be advisable for users under the age of 13 to work with a parent or have their permission.  I did check the gallery for any posters that might be inappropriate finding only one that might be slightly questionable but that does not preclude what might appear there in the future.

In step one the user uploads a photograph that is stored on their computer.  The image is transferred to Block Posters' web server so please be wise in making a selection.  The user's selection is sliced in step two.  The option of choosing the size of their poster in page widths and whether they would like it to be portrait or landscape is offered.  Step three asks the user to download the PDF file which contains the images.  They will be printed using Adobe Acrobat Reader.  If that free software is not currently installed on the user's computer it can be done at that time. 

Imagine the potential uses for this application in our classroom settings for bulletin boards or displays or to set up a wall where students can post comments about what is pictured.  The middle school media center is about to get a new wall display.  And what about that blank wall at home?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Bear Bonanza

Everything had to be just so for Bear's bedtime.
His glass of water had to sit on the exact right spot on his bed stand.
His favorite pillow must be nicely fluffed.
His nightcap needed to be snug.
Most of all, it had to be quiet---very, very quiet.

A Bedtime for Bear (Candlewick Press, September 14, 2010), the third book in Bonny Becker's series of Bear and Mouse books, is simply charming.

Big, set-in-his-ways Bear is in for an unexpected surprise when happy-go-lucky Mouse appears at his door one evening.  Mouse, suitcase in hand, cheerfully reminds Bear that he is here to spend the night.  Never having an overnight guest before, Bear is apprehensive.

He repeatedly reminds Mouse of his need for absolute quiet as Mouse goes through his preparations for sleep, brushing his teeth, humming and nosily settling on his bed.  When Bear tells Mouse that his ears are very sensitive, the ensuing dialogue as Mouse tests that fact is hilarious. 

Later when Bear is frightened by noises that he can not identify and awakens Mouse, Mouse sees through his apparent calm and checks all those places where "noises" might hide.  All ends well with Bear telling a story to sooth the nerves of Mouse as both finally fall asleep.

Becker's command of word choices in the conversations between Bear and Mouse are what beg readers to read them again and again.  Their friendship which began in A Visitor for Bear, continued in A Birthday for Bear and is maintained in this new episode is just what the child in all of us needs.

Kady MacDonald Denton perfectly captures every nuance of the characters and Bear's home through her illustrations.  Her use of watercolor, ink and gouache establish a warm atmosphere inviting the reader to share this duo's newest chapter.  Seeing Bear carrying Mouse's tiny suitcase in two fingers as they go upstairs, Bears exasperated looks as Mouse gets ready for bed or Mouse wearing earmuffs when Bear's snores get too loud can not fail to bring forth a chuckle or two. 

When will the next Bear and Mouse book be ready?  What will they do this time?  This reader can hardly wait.

There are lots of extras at the publisher's website including a story hour activity kit, an author's note and a view of an interior image.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Not Now But Later

Instapaper is a nifty web site founded several years ago by Marco Arment.  He offers it to users as a way to bridge the gap between finding information and consuming it.    By moving the Read Later bookmarklet to your toolbar you can click on it any time you want to place a web page at the site to read later.  To get started you register with your email address and choose a password. 
A user can also send email links or long messages as well as items from Google Reader to the site for reading at a later time.  Pages can be transferred to an iPad, iPhone, Kindle or other eReaders for more portable viewing.  Many iPhone and iPad apps support sending pages to Instapaper.  You can place your articles in Folders for greater ease in locating them.  For more complete instructions and uses of Instapaper just click on the Extras tab at the top of the initial web page.