Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Science Awry, Who Knew!

It's that time of year when those involved in the world of children and young adult literature start to reflect on the possibilities for the Caldecott and Newbery awards, not that we've not been doing it all year long.  Trying to limit the list for our Mock Caldecott Election with the third and fourth grade students to twelve is going to be tough in 2011.  One thing for sure is that Mac Barnett's book, Oh No! (Or How My Science Project Destroyed The World), illustrated by Dan Santat will be included. 

Just seeing the huge words Oh No! on the cover conjures up all kinds of possibilities.  Couple that with the reflection of a giant toad and robot in each lens of the girl's glasses and off we go!  Revealed with the opening of the cover are detailed schematics for a robot and a growth ray device on the front and back endpapers respectively.

If the reader removes the book jacket the inside unfolds to be mock-up of a movie poster akin to those Japanese monster flicks.  Book jacket removed the cover is designed as a very used Computation Book.  Turning the page the illustration advises the reader to Please Stand By as if waiting for an emergency television report. 

With the story line moving briskly from a seemingly benign science fair project to a rampage of citywide destruction readers will be captivated by text and graphics that mesh without a wrinkle.  Uttering the words, I probably shouldn't have given it a superclaw, or a laser eye, or the power to control dogs' minds, our young heroine tries to remedy the chaos her creation has caused with no success.  Well, that is until she has another brainstorm.   It succeeds splendidly until the natural instincts of the toad and the presence of a small flying insect begin yet another event with equally catastrophic potential.

Each time I read this visual gem (and I've read it at least ten times) I find something new to enjoy whether it's the name of her school mascot on the gym wall---Home of the Fighting Jacklopes! or the line of dogs following her dressed in robot suits or the combination of English and Japanese signs on buildings.  It is the succinct, classic text of a young girl finding herself in a jam that is interpreted through wildly, imaginative illustrations with attention to detail that brings this book to a status far above others.  One can only speculate on the pure fun that Barnett and Santat had bringing their talents together but fun is what each reader has when traveling through the pages.  I dare you to read it just once.

Check out the author and illustrator web sites which can be reached by clicking on their names at the beginning of this blog. Smile while watching one of the YouTube book trailers.

P.S. My final list of Mock Caldecott Election books for 2011 hit 15.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

What a Year--2010!

The New York Times Education page offers wonderful ideas and assistance to educators via The Learning Network blog which I view on my Facebook page daily.  It can also be easily accessed using Twitter or an RSS feed.  Opportunities to offer students the chance to expand and refine their research skills abound in this issue.
Also note that clp.ly has changed to Curate.Us due to domain name problems as of October 2010.  A discussion on the use of clp.ly was posted on this blog on September 27, 2010.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Is It April Yet?

No, the snow and cold have not gotten to me yet; I love winter as much as the other seasons.  But April brings National Poetry Month and this year my students and I will be celebrating with another delightful offering.  Guyku: a year of haiku for boys written by Bob Raczka with art by Peter H. Reynolds is a winning collaboration on numerous levels.  Raczka's use of this poetic art form captures, via six poems for each season, the essence of simply enjoying activities offered by the changes in our outside world throughout the year.

For spring--In a rushing stream,
                  we turn rocks into a dam.
                  Hours flow by us.

Reading this brought to mind  the seemingly endless amount of time the neighborhood kids and I spent making a multitude of waterways with sticks and stones to create whole new water kingdoms during a rainstorm.

Or for summer---Lying on the lawn,
                          we study the blackboard sky,
                          connecting the dots.

To this day I still love to spread out a blanket on a summer night counting the number of falling stars, eating Oreo cookies, slathered in bug spray lying next to my dog.

And who does not do this in winter---How many million
                                                         flakes will it take to make a
                                                        snow day tomorrow?

In reading these haiku adults are taken back to the joys of remembered youth and the readers of today are given the opportunity to unplug, get outside and use their imaginations to appreciate what is theirs for the taking.  It's important to point out that Raczka not only describes the actions of these boys but he takes it a step further by getting to the heart or soul, if you will, of what is happening in the moment.  Although Bob Raczka states in his author's note that all of the things mentioned in his poetry he did as a boy or his own boys have done, girls do and will like the very same things.

What really makes these poems pop is the art of Peter H. Reynolds whose work has been previously described in a post here in September.  His color selection for each of the seasons, green, yellow, brown and blue, is carefully maintained within the pages of this book from the title page to the closing illustration where all are blended together.  His watercolor renderings reveal the perfect facial expressions, the mood of the boys and the uncomplicated beauty of each passing season.  Whether done by the author or the illustrator each haiku is handwritten adding to the allure of making the reader a willing and comfortable participant.

As Reynolds states in his note at the book's end he believes in creativity and art that inspires everyone to make their mark especially when it comes to boys and poetry.  Readers are invited to visit Guyku Haiku for further fun projects, activities, free stuff, and more!  Haiku has always been a favorite of my students but this year it is going to be a whole lot better.

Page by page boys romp
Seasons pass as seasons will

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Book Fair Success!

Due to all the extra efforts of staff and parents our book fair at Charlevoix Elementary School during conferences in December was an outstanding success bringing in $600.00 more than last year at the same time.  This librarian is sending a huge thanks to principal, Doug Drenth, co-workers Cindy Whitley and Jane Kanine and super parents, Lori Ivester, Sharron Schwein and Heather Sape.  Staff and students will be looking forward to using and reading all the new books as well as enjoying the new "creature cushions" in the reading/story area.  As our principal says, "You made this great!"
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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Mindful Words

Words.  I'm surrounded by thousands of words.  Maybe millions. 
          Cathedral. Mayonnaise.Pomegranate.
          Mississippi. Neapolitan. Hippopotamus.
          Silky. Terrifying. Iridescent.
          Tickle. Sneeze. Wish. Worry. 
 Words have always swirled around me like snowflakes-each one delicate and different, each one melting untouched in my hands.
Deep within me, words pile up in huge drifts.

So begins Out of my mind by Sharon M. Draper; clearly a book about expression, thought and use of words.  In this case it is about a ten year old girl named Melody that has never uttered a single word.  At birth Melody was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.  Though limited by her physical disabilities her mind is a thing of beauty recording the sights and sounds around her like a well designed camera.  All she needs to do is see or hear something once and it becomes part of her memories ready to be recalled at a moment's notice. 
While she silently morns that she will never participate in those activities small or large, quiet or noisy, that other girls her age are able to do, she has a resilience that is heroic.  A next door neighbor, Mrs. Violet Valencia, in addition to her supportive parents, is key to helping this young woman give voice to her thoughts. And thank goodness for the arrival of a student teacher in her special classroom. 

Through a newly acquired piece of technology Melody can select from words that have been entered in using her thumbs to create thoughts or sentences that can be spoken out loud.  Sadly her classmates and some of her teachers are amazed at her intelligence.  Some students though continue to bully and plague her with their comments and general treatment.

Perseverance, patience and plain hard work give her a spot on the school's quiz team.  It is due to Melody that they are off to Washington, D.C. to participate in the nationals.  But is it fear, intolerance or just plain prejudice that steps in to change those plans?  To throw another stone on Melody's life path, just when she needs to give voice the most all her efforts fail her. 

Out of my mind is a poignant portrayal of a different view of normal as well as being a window through which all should look to better understand each of the individuals which collectively make us human.

Perhaps one of my student's actions speaks the loudest about this book:  One morning I came to work to find this volume on my desk with a note tucked inside--Dear Mrs. Culver...Please get more books by this author.  I couldn't have said it better myself.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Blogger Bonanza

For those looking for the perfect visual to compliment a blog posting look no further than Wylio.com.  Millions and millions of Flickr photographs whose owners have designated them as Creative Commons works provide the pool from which selections can be made. 

For example when I searched using the term, book, 121, 287 images were available.  After flipping through the pages to locate the one for use, simply click on it.  On the next screen you can see what the alignment of the picture, right, center or left, will look like with the text of your writing around it.  Also by moving the sliding size bar you can view further how the final product will appear.  Once the look you want is achieved click on the get the code button.  Simply copy the code and paste it into your post prior to final publication.
Love For Booksphoto © 2008 Sarah Scicluna (via: Wylio)
Let the fun begin!

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Muth Masterpiece

In Zen Shorts, a Caldecott Honor book, and the companion, Zen Ties, readers were introduced to children, Karl, Michael and Addy along with their wise advisor and companion, a giant panda, Stillwater.
The foursome are together again in Zen Ghosts, a tale to be shared at Halloween or really anytime.

More reflective than frightening but spooky nonetheless, Zen Ghosts begins with the young siblings getting costumes ready the day before Halloween.  Stillwater asks them after the trick or treating to meet him at the big stone wall promising to take them to a storyteller.  After a journey to his home along an unfamiliar path they find themselves before a giant panda storyteller who surprisingly enough appears to bear a close resemblance to Stillwater.  But how could that be?  He is sitting next to them waiting to listen to the tale.  Holding up a brush the panda says, I am going to draw you a story...

Strokes of his brush reveal the lives of Senjo and her beloved Ochu, friends through childhoodSurely they are meant to spend all their days together loving one another as husband and wife but the fates have other plans for them.  But can those destined to be together ever be separated? 

As Jon Muth states in his author's note at the book's end this is a great ghost story.  But he goes on to share his purpose for writing and illustrating this particular Buddhist koan.  His very thoughtful comments and questions about children facing the issue of duality early and throughout their lives are beneficial and enlightening just as they are meant to be.

Watercolor illustrations soft, inviting and begging to be touched create the perfect mood for this latest Zen book.  The initial endpapers of ghosts and jack-o-lanterns come-to-life scampering across a neighborhood street are sure to entice a quiet smile as will the two-page spread showing all the children trick or treating.  Showing the pirate owl on the closing endpapers offers readers the opportunity to continue contemplating the story within the story.  Mr. Jon Muth through his carefully rendered visuals and spare text has presented we lucky readers within another volume to be treasured.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Extra, Extra Read All About It

On December 13, 2010 Kelly Tenkely's posting on her blog, iLearn Technology, announced the release of a new free ebook, The Super Book of Web Tools for Educators-a comprehensive introduction to using technology in all K-12 classrooms. 

Kudos should be given to Richard Byrne of Free Technology For Teachers as the mastermind behind bringing all these innovative and great ideas from all kinds of educators together for the rest of us to view and use with our students.  After just a brief perusal the reader will be exposed to new applications as well as being reminded of those forgotten but never used. 

This is personal professional development at its very best.  What could be better than learning about tried and true technology that will enhance our students' ability to utilize these applications to their fullest potential?  I can't wait to try some of these over our break these next two weeks.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Holding out for a..........Hero

Most of us agree that at times the most unlikely character can be a hero coming in all shapes and sizes.  That word, hero, brings to mind varied expectations based on our needs and desires, individually or collectively.  Mike Lupica, best known as an outstanding sports writer, gives his readers in the book, Hero, what all want when that word is spoken or read------hope that the day will be saved; that a champion will shield them from dangers and defend all that is good from evil.

Tom Harriman, advisor to the President of the United States, is on a mission that not even the President is aware is taking place.  Deep inside the borders of Bosnia a Serb war criminal and part-time terrorist is about to be taken from his heavily guarded sanctuary.  Mission accomplished Tom is puzzled to see a figure walk on the runway as his plane takes off; a man with snow white hair barely showing beneath a cap pulled down low nearly covering his eyes.

What is this man doing here now when he should be clear across the ocean on the other side of the globe?  Tom knows that he should be ecstatic that his self-imposed assignment has been completed.. So why did I feel as if I were the one being chased?  Even up here, all alone in the night sky?

It seems that Tom Harriman's instincts were right.  He clearly was not safe from the Bads.  The Bads are enemies far more evil than anyone can imagine.

He told stories about them to his son Zach who thought they were fiction but they are the worst kind of fact.  Zach, on his way home to greet his Dad after this latest trip, is feeling compelled to not take his time crossing through Central Park as he usually does; anxious, uneasy and beginning to be scared he breaks into a full run toward his home on Fifth Avenue.  When the elevator doors open into his apartment his apprehensions are realized.  Zach is never going to see his Dad again.  He is never coming home again.

Fourteen year old Zach is changing, not just because of the loss of his Dad, but his physical abilities are growing as is his sense of impending danger to himself and those around him.  His defensive skills are becoming amazing.  He also knows in his heart of hearts that his Dad's plane crash was no accident but murder.  Will John Marshall ( Uncle John), family lawyer and his father's best friend, Kate Paredes, daughter of their paid housekeeper who lives with them or the mysterious man with the snow white hair help or hinder him in his search for the truth?  Who can he trust with the secrets revealed to him about his new superhero status? 

Save yourself some time because once you start Hero you won't be able to stop as the precise, rapid-fire writing zings you toward the inevitable but startling conclusion.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Science Fiction or Reality--The Gap Is Closing

On September 27, 2010 the first public demo of a new information tool hit the Internet world generating quite a stir.  As the creators quote on their blog:  Qwiki will power many products via a platform that turns information into an experience. 

Qwiki creates on the fly from sources on the web, without any human intervention, interactive stories that currently cover more than 2 million reference terms.  Once a word or group of words about a person, place or thing is entered into the search box a Qwiki appears complete with real time audio narration that may or may not include maps, graphics, movies or animations.  Objects within a Qwiki can be clicked on for more interactive content which may include a brief bibliographic citation.  Items in a Qwiki with a small Q in the top right corner offer the reader additional related Qwikis as does a list shown below any given Qwiki. 

This new offering is in the Alpha test phase.  To date any user older than 13 can sign up to use it by invitation.  Once an invitation is accepted a simple email address and password are all that is needed to log in.  Feedback is welcome as the designers' goal is to make this the ultimate research encounter on the web.

What subject matter is gleaned from online resources to be part of any given Qwiki is noteworthy. While the experience is certainly engaging, time does pass quickly as one term is entered in after another, the potential for further development is huge and the applications necessary to power this site are mind-boggling, at this point this user is just a tad hesitate to have technology tell me what may or may not be relevant, important or worthy of my consideration. It is going to be more than a little interesting to see where this goes in the future.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

She's Back!

Irresistible, unpredictable, hilarious Olivia has returned.  What's not to love about her newest antics in Olivia Goes To Venice (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, September 28, 2010) Using bright splashes of red, Olivia's favorite color (and mine), to draw the readers' eye into the illustrations journey with Olivia and her family through the streets and canals of Venice as they are superimposed amid actual photographs.  Beginning with packing for the trip, Olivia, you won't be needing your snorkel, said her mother, or your flippers.  Mother, apparently the city is often under and water and--------- Or your water skis, readers will smile at each conversational exchange, facial expression and typical tourist experience.

As crossings over bridges are made, a stop at the Grand Canal with palazzos lining its edges, walking through the Piazza of San Marco or a hair-raising episode with pigeons, a generous helping of gelanto seems to be the outcome.
 When a gondola ride is secured, this overindulgence causes the boat to sink lower than usual.  This results in the gondolier suffering considerable stress and the reader extra smileage.  It is Olivia's quest for the perfect souvenir that brings forth the final laugh and a quick exit by the family back to the airport.  Venice will definitely remember Olivia as will we all. 

At Olivia's web site information about Ian Falconer and all things Olivia can be accessed.  There is a special link for teachers and librarians.  Check it out.

At the publisher's website you can view interior images.  There are several activity kits you can download also.  Not to be missed is this YouTube video highlighting this new offering as well as Ian Falconer's basis for Olivia books.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Tick-tock---The Clockwork Three

Matthew J. Kirby has penned a debut novel that is brilliant and breathtaking, The Clockwork Three. 

Initially we are introduced to Giuseppe, a busker making a living by playing violin on the streets of the teeming city.  From his native country of Italy, he was sold by his Uncle to Stephano, a cruel padrone who takes his earnings giving next to nothing in return.  As the story begins Giuseppe has just found a green violin floating in the harbor after the wreck of a ship.

The clear sound that spilled out of the green violin resonated off the walls.  It seemed to penetrate the alleyways and soar up the rickety wooden staircases clinging to the outsides of the buildings.  It cut through the street noise, the clopping hooves, the shouts, the factory machinery grinding away around the city.  It slid through all of that like a slender hand parting a curtain. ...The sidewalk traffic around him had paused midstride.  That time of day it was mostly men on their way home, greasy from work. ... The song acquired the autonomy of a living thing.  Giuseppe watched the invisible tune light on each passerby like a cherry blossom carried on a breeze.  The tired bodies, stooped and trod upon, rose up.  Their eyes, rimmed with dirt and yellow from smoke, filled with tears.

As the final notes are played and Giuseppe counts his money his spirits soar.  Maybe, just maybe, this green violin will help him get enough money for passage so he can leave this city in the United States and return home.

Frederick, who has a gift with gears apprenticed to clockmaker Master Branch, is prowling the streets looking for a piece of metal to continue work on his automation, a clockwork man.  With completion of this project he is sure that he will be accepted as a journeyman in the guild with the ability to have a shop of his own.  But Frederick is haunted by his past.

Prior to rescue by Master Branch, he slaved at the looms with the rest of the orphans suffering terrible physical and mental abuse at the hands of cruel Mrs. Treeless. He yearns for an explanation as to why his mother, whose name he does not know, left him there.  As Giuseppe has found the green violin Frederick comes into possession of a missing bronze head which holds the key to his goal of independence and the importance of being the best at his craft.

The clockwork head, the Magnus head, rested peacefully.  Whether the name was accurate, and this was indeed the lost bronze head created by Albertus Magnus, was irrelevant.  The clockwork inside was all that mattered. ... Even though he had already seen it once before, the staggering workmanship drew a sigh out of Frederick.  He took several minutes, and just admired it without touching, without sticking his fingers in it. ...Frederick went to work with deliberate reverence, refusing to allow his excitement to rush him.  ... There was a larger pattern he was missing, like a painting that was too big to see all at once.  He could observe isolated figures and brushstrokes, but not the work as a whole.  The farther he stepped away from it, the larger the painting grew, as though this genius assembly of clockwork combined to become something greater than a simple combination of the parts would suggest.  An alchemy of arithmetic where two plus two equaled ten. 

With a deep love of learning Hannah has had to give up her education to work as a maid at the Gilbert Hotel tolling through days which seemed as endless as the ocean.

In the early morning hours, Hannah read at the table by the dim light of dawn.  She leaned in close to the pages, chin resting on her folded arms, eyes racing over the words, like chasing butterflies over the hills, to catch as many as she could before going to work.  She wondered at how such tales of magic could be contained by mere paper and ink for her to read again and again.  Which she had.

It is that very day that upon hearing her supervisor, Miss Wood, speaking with the hotel manager, Mister Grumholdt, Hannah overhears them speaking of a treasure hidden in the hotel.  What that treasure, if found, could do for her family fills Hannah with fevered hope.  Since her father, a stonemason, was stricken with illness fear of losing their meager dwelling, having enough fuel to warm them or having food to stave of the specter of hunger stalks them each and every day.  But more surprises await Hannah in the form of an unusual guest and her protector which have arrived at the hotel.

Our three protagonists lives do intersect like intricate puzzle pieces each needing the other to complete the whole glorious adventure.  It is the building of their friendship, its challenges and triumphs, that gives them the strength and commitment to cooperate so each can realize their dreams exactly as the gears on a timepiece are required to do.

Truly the writing of Kirby is a thing of beauty as my numerous quotes clearly illustrate.  More times than I can mention I wanted to stop with a highlighter and underline a sentence or paragraph that created a particular scene in my mind.  This piece of fiction continually reminded me of a masterful, musical symphony with the notes, passages and parts blending to bring to the listener a sound with a hint of magic and a whole lot of majesty that will linger long after the final chord is struck.  Trust me, read the words, close your eyes and you will be there again and yet again as I was and will be.  This reader is waiting and wanting the next escapade by Matthew J. Kirby.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Simplebooklet: Book(lets) plus so much more

Numerous technology experts in the know have given top grades to the online application Simplebooklet .  As its name suggests it is an uncomplicated program for designing a variety of publications that can be integrated into an assortment of social networks, embedded into a web format or printed in hard copy. Additions to each part of a publication or the publications themselves can be dropped, dragged, resized or layered.

Each added element is treated as a separate entity.  The site itself provides storage for all your creations. Despite the ease of use the results are anything but plain.  Rather they are polished and professional depending on the creativity of the user.  Users should note that this application works best with the most recent version of Internet Explorer or Goggle Chrome.

Check out this simplebooklet that I put together about this app.

This simplebooklet is a short version on the six elements of the fantasy genre that our fifth and sixth grades use for study. 

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Bold, Brillant Base, Graeme That Is...

     Snailing Ship, rise and shine,
Hoist your sails and trim them fine,
     Taste once more the salty brine,
For with this spell I make you mine!

The Legend of the Golden Snail written and illustrated by Graeme Base is his thirteenth book.  He began with My Grandma lived in Gooligulch, followed by Animalia which is to this day the most popular.

Wilbur's favorite book is The Legend of the Golden Snail.  No matter how many times he has heard it, he still dreams of its banishment to the Ends of the Earth where it is doomed to stay until released by a new master.

   One fine day Wilbur decides to set sail for the Ends of the Earth with his cat as crew wearing a captain's hat made by his mother.  Along the way he waters a bush of blossoming butterflies wilting in the sun, cuts a net from a monstrous sea crab creature, and assists lantern fish whose light bulbs are being stolen by earwig pirates.
Slightly downcast by his progress and role as the Grand Enchanter Wilbur is assisted by a wind created by newly blossomed butterflies as he drifts in the Dreadful Doldrums, cut loose from the Slithering Sea by a friend returning a favor and during a frightful storm in the Maze of Madness lantern fish light his way to safety.

At last he reaches The Ends of the Earth only to find the snail no larger than a small pebble.  Still, arms held aloft, he chants the magical words that he knows by heart.  With wide-eyed wonder Wilbur watches as the snail grows and grows and grows complete with mast and sails.  Seeing the snail's chains and bonds he makes a decision.

Wilbur no longer wants to be the Grand Enchanter but the Gallant Captain.   He ties his boat to the back of the Snailing Ship and commands it to take him to its home, The Spiral Isles.  Do they sail on the ocean swells?  No, they sail skyward through a sea of clouds with more marvels to behold.  Upon reaching their destination the Gallant Captain (Wilbur) relinquishes his enchantment on the snail and receives a parting gift granting him a way home. 

Nearly two years are spent on the illustrations for each of Graeme Base's books.  Their wild detail, imaginative creatures and places continue to enthrall readers of all ages.  True to form Base has a miniature book of The Legend of the Golden Snail embedded in the title page with end papers mapping out the journey in mystical soft colors

 At the book's end readers are invited to go back to find the hidden snail 'n' crossbones in every picture.  When found it is suggested that a visit to Graeme Base's web site, highlighted at the beginning of this post, will bring the Golden Snail magically to life.  The web site itself is a colorful exploration of the author's career including several videos about this latest book.  Whether an old fan or new this book is a welcome visual feast for the eyes and imagination with the discovery of something different at each viewing.