Quote of the Month

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

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Wonder of Books

For as long as this librarian can remember the power of a book has just been magical; that is unless it was a required dry textbook better left as a last resort if stranded on a desert island surrounded by swarms of sharks.  Each room in my home (except for the bathrooms, believe it or not) houses stacks of and shelves of books to be read, kept as treasures to be read again and again or shared with others that have like interests.

Being plagued of late, literally at times, with symptoms of the latest respiratory flu bug, has found me lacking the ability to do more than sit for awhile or sleep.  And so began my exploration of Google Books.

In 2004 this site was launched under the name, Google Print.  In that short time Google Print has changed its name, digitized more than 15 million books from more than 35,000 publishers, more than 40 libraries and more than 100 countries in more than 400 languages.  This phenomenal undertaking is truly providing the right book to the right reader at the right time which was a mantra for all library science students attending college when I did.

Google Books offers the user the opportunity to search for content that matches a search word or words.  A list of books appears. Reference pages have been designed for every book. By clicking on About This Book readers can read a review or write a review, look through a selection of book covers of related titles, view selected pages, other editions,  a list of common terms and phrases, popular passages, references to the book on web pages, other books or from Google Scholar, notes about the author and bibliographic details. If it has been determined that a good number of quality locations are mentioned in the book, a map will be shown of those places in this section.     Depending on the type of view provided; full, limited, snippet or none, a varied amount of pages from the book is available to see.

A library where the book may be found, where it can be purchased from a variety of sources or whether it is added to Your Library are reader choices.  When I clicked on Find a Library it immediately took me to WorldCat.  This inter-connectivity is simple amazing. 

Popular passages or quotations can also by linked between books.

If a book is out of copyright Google Books has added a download PDF button where it can be read in its entirety at the reader's own pace. 

As if this was not enough this past December Google expanded this site to include Google eBooks

Even though I have a free Amazon Kindle app on my Samsung Android phone I can only download Amazon eBooks.  But using the free Android app at Google eBooks I can access all eBooks.  It was easy to download.  There was a QR code at the Google Books' web site which I scanned.  It took me to the web page where I was able to download this app.  It will take some getting used to but it is just another option to reading what, where and when one wants.

One final selection available through Google involving their books package is the new, in December of 2010, app called Google Ngram Viewer.  This device allows the user to enter in a term or terms seeing graphically how the use began, increased or decreased over time.  When a particular time slot is selected a list of relative books appears. 

The wonder of books in all its forms is marvelous.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Gone to the Dogs..

When the oil painting of Adam Gustavson is combined with his eye for layout, attention to detail and gift for creating an atmosphere appropriate to a time period the results are noteworthy.  The book's endpapers portray an aerial view of two mining camp layouts in dusty brown tones.  On the title page Dorsey is pictured stepping through a rocky opening saddle bags across his back.  When readers turn the page a lizard is watching the tail and back of Dorsey move out of view.  In those few pages Gustavson is conveying that a journey is taking place.

The story of Dorsey in this title, Calico Dorsey: Mail Dog of the Mining Camps, has been brought to readers with warmth, likely scenarios and just the right amount of facts by author, Susan Lendroth.  In the 1880s when the rush for gold and silver dictated whether a town would be built, Calico, California appeared.  At the time of this tale Everett Stacy ran the post office.

His brother, Al, discovered the border collie giving it a home.  Before long, Dorsey was a part of the daily life in Calico.  Later when Al went to the nearby Bismarck Mine to open up a general store, Dorsey followed.  What began as Dorsey disappearing for hours each day to visit friends in Calico developed into this dog actually carrying mail between the two mining communities. 

An author's note reveals further information about the two brothers and the border collie that they trained to carry the United States mail as well as an original photograph of Dorsey.
At the Legends of America web site further information can be found about Dorsey.  By going to this Official Ghost Town of California web site readers can gain insight into the process of making Calico the California State Silver Rush Ghost Town.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Battle of the Kids' Books

For some its the Super Bowl or for others its the Final Four or perhaps the World Series or maybe the Masters Tournament but this librarian will take  Battle of the Kids' Books  anytime, anyday.  School Library Journal's Battle of the Kids' Books is a competition between 16 of the very best books for young people of the year, judged by some of the biggest names in children's books.

Be prepared and ready; the Battle is about to begin for 2011.  The Undead Poll will close March 6, 2011 with opening ceremonies beginning on March 8, 2011.  In the three weeks following those ceremonies each of the three rounds will take place until on April 4, 2011, when the Big Kahuna casts the final vote. 

Given the titles and judges selected for this year it is going to be exciting to say the least.  Observe or participate as a student, classroom teacher or parent.  Read along with the judges.  See if you can pick a winner for each round.  Can you pick the final winner?
Click on the link beneath the image of the brackets to get a full size image.  I am still working on how to get a clear image so it can be printed at any size in case you would like to post it in your classroom.

Not Of This World...

Max would never forget that faraway summer when, almost by chance, he discovered magic.  So opens The Prince of Mist by  Carlos Ruiz Zafon.  Zafon states on his web site that this title launched his career as a writer in 1992.   It was not until May of 2010 that is was translated by Lucia Graves and printed in English. 

Maximilian Carver is moving his family away from the city to a small seaside village to avoid the inevitable effects of the war, World War II, 1943.  He has purchased a home on the beach whose former residents' lives were embroiled in tragedy.  Max, as the sole male sibling in the Carver family, finds that he resembles his father, a watchmaker and inventor of elaborate devices with purposes unknown, more with every passing day. That is why on receiving the news of their move, his mother and two sisters begin packing but Max just sits with his father wondering how his world could change so quickly.

Before even leaving the train depot at their new town, Max is aware that things are not as they should be; the clock at the station is moving backward and his younger sister, Irina, has quickly adopted a stray cat that appears to have been waiting for them.  Events rapidly unfold with Max's discovery of a unkempt, walled garden of circus statues; a clown at the center, Irina falling down the stairs; her injury placing her in a coma and strange dreams that plague his older sister , Alicia.
With his parents keeping vigil at his sister's bedside in town it seems that Max, his older sister Alicia and a new found friend , Roland are left to unravel the source of the darkness that is slowly gathering its forces.  Roland is an orphan living with his surrogate Grandfather, the lighthouse keeper.  His Grandfather was the only survivor of a shipwreck upon the rocks near this small community.  To thank the townspeople for finding him and saving his life he built the lighthouse himself.  He has kept watch all these many years but over what these three are soon to discover. 

The tale that is told here is not new.  When one is willing to sacrifice all for the granting of a wish or desire that is when Evil in its purest form starts to knock on the door.  When a bargain is made Evil will wait to collect, but collect it always will.  But what makes this story so eerie, so downright creepy is the writing of Carlos Ruiz Zafon; his choice of words is beautiful.  He is a master of atmosphere and capturing the range of human flaws and heroics.  A simple example of this is the name given to the character that represents Evil in this story--Cain.
Readers will be checking to make sure that all their doors and windows are locked while truly caring about the characters.  This reader has to admit to waking up about 3AM, not being able to sleep and picking up this book to continue with the story.  At just the right point in the book when the cat causes terrifying events that are very uncatlike, what should I hear outside but the yowling of a cat on my deck.  What are the chances of that?!  Creepy, very creepy...

If you dare to be scared this book is just the ticket.  It moves very quickly and will be welcomed by readers of all reading abilities.

She's a Grand Old---Flag

Each and every morning our elementary students, as most students do across the United States, face the American flag , place their hands over their hearts and recite the Pledge of Allegiance.  On February 22, 2011 the online version of the SunSentinel posted a very informative, small interactive about our flag.  Users of the interactive gain facts about the images and colors used in our flag.  By clicking on a star with a state abbreviation in it, the flag is pictured as it was when that particular state was admitted to the Union.  Viewers are also shown the various changes that have transpired over the history of our Nation and its symbol that is a reflection of those changes.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Virtual Post-It Boards-There's Another One

Going through notes that I have jotted down I realized that there was another online bulletin board that I needed to try.  This is not a new app.  From reading entries on the site's blog it appears that this has been up and running for at least 4 years but to me it's new.  Stixy is in a class all by itself. 

To use this free organizer just enter in an email address and password.  When creating a Stixy widgets appear at the bottom of the page.  These enable you to post a note, photo, document or todo calendar.
You just click and drag the widget that you want to post. 
 When adding a note you can choose the style, add a link, font type, align the text or add a bulleted or numbered list.  Fonts can be in italics, bold, underlined or with a line through the center of the letters. 
An uploaded photo can have the effect, frame or rotation changed.
After a document is uploaded an icon will appear advising the user to click and load it.  The document does not appear in its entirety on the board.
The todo widget is like a single day torn from a calendar page.  Comments can be included.
All these widgets can be moved and sized by viewers unless you lock them. 

It's easy and impressive what this app offers but either my memory is having a hard time keeping up with all my moving about between apps, search engines and my desktop but twice my work just disappeared. 

To view the Stixy that I created follow this link:   http://www.stixy.com/guest/104625  As a guest the password is the name of my best furry friend.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

You haven't seen a tree until you've seen its shadow from the sky. AE

Shelley Tanaka and David Craig combine their considerable talents to give readers a fresh look at the life of one of America's most remembered woman pilots in the book, Amelia Earhart: The Legend of the Lost Aviator.  

Craig's skill at bringing people and places from history to life is attributed to his attention to detail and accuracy.  At his web site it states that he spends as much time researching a subject as he does creating the image.  He was the first recipient of Lynne Cheney's James Madison Book Award in 2003 for his illustrations in First to Fly:  How Wilbur & Orville Wright Invented the Airplane.  (Our elementary library media center has a copy of that book.  This book is currently in the collection at the middle school media center.)

Placement of his warm, vibrant paintings along with actual photographs as well as the partial map with a compass rose at each chapter's beginning beckon to the reader; the manner that was employed in laying out the design and position of the graphics under and around the text makes the reader feel as if they are reading a journal created by Amelia that commemorates and chronicles her zest for life and flying. 

Leading off with Amelia's first sight of an airplane at the 1908 Iowa State Fair, Tanaka's conversational but well researched narrative (An extensive bibliography of books and articles, many of them by Amelia, and websites is included at the book's end.) encourages readers to enter into Amelia's world.  Each chapter is just the right length including insight and information that as pages are turned one's admiration for this amazing historical figure just gets bigger and bigger.  Actual quotes by Amelia and others are appropriately placed which increases the reader's sense that they are living in the same moment as the story.

Another technique utilized by Tanaka in this book, at which she is very adept, is side bars in each chapter that cover all aspects of flight and flying in general and as it relates to Amelia.  Shelley Tanaka is not without her share of awards for her contributions to nonfiction literature for children.  In 2009 The National Council of Teachers of English gave her the Orbis Pictus Award for this title. 

In the epilogue Tanaka reveals theories on Amelia Earhart's disappearance which to this day is one of America's greatest unsolved mysteries.  But more significant in her conclusion she says: Perhaps her most important legacy is what she has to say to all of us-male and female-about having the courage to take on challenges and pursue a dream.  Think for yourself, she would say.  Figure out what you love to do.  And then go out and do it.

As a girl and young woman I grew up repeatedly hearing my Mom talk about Amelia Earhart.  At the time of Amelia's disappearance Mom was 17.  I can only imagine how young women of that time felt about a woman with Amelia's accomplishments.  She was an inspiration then and having read quite a bit about her myself continues to be so today.  Shelley Tanaka and David Craig's contribution to the literary world about her stands out far above the rest.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

More Mo please...

With the cold and wind making it hard to enjoy winter sports despite all the snow in northern Michigan, cabin fever is threatening to consume us all.  But never fear Mo Willems is here with the thirteenth book in his ever popular Elephant & Piggie series, We Are in a Book!  This particular publication is the recipient of a 2011 Theodore Seuss Geisel Award, given to the author and illustrator of the most distinguished American book for beginning readers published in English in the United States in the previous year, as well as being a New York Times bestseller.

This librarian completely enjoys an illustrator who begins the tale with the book's endpapers.  We find Gerald, the elephant, barely able to contain laughter bubbling to the surface.  With the reader assisting Piggie in turning the page we find the duo sitting and leaning against one another quietly when Gerald is startled to realize that someone is looking at them.  When Piggie moves in closer to peer out of the page, he discovers that no it is not a monster but a.....reader!  A reader is reading us!

The joy of discovering that they are in a book is beyond cool.  It gets downright hilarious when Piggie demonstrates that if the reader is reading aloud they can make them say whatever they want.  They can make them say for example...Banana.  With tears rolling down their faces and rolling around on the floor, Piggie asks Gerald if he wants a turn before the book ends.  Yikes, he is horrified to think that the book ends.  He exclaims, I have more to give!  Ever the friend Piggie has a plan.  They ask the reader a question and patiently hope for the best.  The concluding endpapers have Gerald roaring with laughter in various poses with a cameo appearance by another Mo Willems character.

Laughter is truly the best medicine.  I am seriously thinking of getting the whole set for myself.  They are never on the shelves at school having passed the most stringent of indicators--the love of kids.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Va Va Voom with Voki

Voki for Education  is a new part of Voki.  As stated at the web site this is a free service that allows you to create personalized speaking avatars and use them on your blog, profile and in email messages. 
To register for use an email address, password, date of birth (your age flashes on the screen when you enter in the date...like I need to be reminded of that...), along with stating whether you are a student, educator or parent.  When selecting the educator box you need to choose the age group that you teach.  The site also advises students under the age of 13 to get parental consent; make sure that your parents know you are using the site.  Voki makes sure that users are aware that the site is free and will continue to remain so. 

When creating your Voki you can select from 12 different avatar groups.  You can add clothing or bling to your hero.  Voice can be added by phone, a text box where you select from a variety of speakers, by microphone or by uploading a file.  Numerous themes are offered so backgrounds can be switched around.  You even get to change the color of your player.
When you have tweaked your creation to perfection it can be saved on site, then embedded into a host of online groups by code, bookmarked to even more spots, a link can be made or you can send it by email.

There are discussion boards available for teachers who are using Voki in their classrooms and ideas are shared.  It is a great spot where questions are asked and answered.  Many teachers are using them as introductions to units, class periods or to teach specific lessons.  Some are having students create their own Vokis as a means of integrating technology into more traditional assessment forums.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Beep, beep, beep ,beep, beep...Hot Off the Press...

Larry Ferlazzo, teacher and author of Larry Ferlazzo's Websites of the Day must never sleep.  Today when I checked out his newest posts there were twelve.  I was up to 3AM working online so I know how much time this takes.  Of course, here I am again taping away at my computer keyboard.  I just don't want any of you to miss a golden opportunity.  According to a tip he got from Google Maps Mania they launched a new app on February 12, 2011 called Map Your Valentine.  After you click on the Map Your Valentine button you are asked to enter in a recipient email address, your email address, a location and a message specific to that location.  You are given the option of previewing your creation before it's beamed out into cyberspace.  What a great fun way to combine writing, geography and technology in the classroom.

In the weeks and months following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, a Statue of Liberty replica stood honor guard outside a firehouse on Eighth Avenue and West 48th Street in Manhattan. The firehouse was Engine 54/Ladder 4/Battalion 9, which lost 15 of their men at the World Trade Center on 9/11.  So states the opening dialogue at the new interactive Lady Liberty page which was designed for the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.  This initiative allows the user to select from the many objects that now cover this statue from head to toe revealing a message.  This is an informative and highly motivational visual valuable in educating our children and ourselves.  A free teaching guide is available to download.  More information can be found at Communication Arts Web Pick of the Week

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Future Past

Reading can take you around the worldRead and watch your world grow. Every reading slogan I've read or heard over my lifetime of reading popped into my head as I turned page after page of this book.  But none of them prepared me for the place this book would take me.   It's been nearly 48 hours since I completed the reading of Pathfinder, a late fall release by Orson Scott Card,  and I have not left that world yet.  It is the first book in the proposed  Serpent World series. 

Rigg and his relationship with his Father are the umbrella under which all the intertwining plot lines dwell.  His Father's relentless tutelage in all subjects and possible life scenarios are puzzling and at times frustrating for Rigg given that he has spent most of the thirteen years of his life living off the land and trapping.  At the close of Chapter 1 the first of numerous shifts to life as Rigg knew it has occurred.  Heartbroken Rigg realizes that his closely guarded secret---the ability to see animals and people's paths from the past is not the only secret.  Why was his true identity kept from him?  Why was his best friend Umbo's gift of time travel not revealed to him? 

With the help of Umbo Rigg travels downriver to the ancient city of  Arressa Sessamo to seek answers.  Their journey is fraught with challenges due to their age, the bag of jewels that they carry, Rigg's true name, and the political duality between the Royals and the Revolutionary Council..  Along the way they are befriended by Leaky and her retired soldier husband, Loaf.  When Loaf, Umbo and Rigg bond as only companions with a common cause can, the danger, intrigue and mind-boggling moments created by the young men's gifts increases to a fever pitch. 

The very planet itself has secrets to reveal; some of  which are hinted at through the short conversations between a young starship pilot from Earth named Ram Odin and his human like expendable that begin each chapter. 

Even now writing my thoughts about this book I could just pick it up and start reading it again because I am sure that after thinking about the characters and plot as I have, I would come away with better insights into this outstanding representation of science fiction.  Orson Scott  Card is a master of the written word.  One can only admire a mind that has the capability to use our language to create a book that involves the reader every step of the way. 

My favorite quote is He could hear Father's voice:  For children love is a feeling; for adults, it is a decision.  Children wait to learn if their love is true by seeing how long it lasts; adults make their love true by never wavering from their commitment.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Can't stop smiling...

Peter Brown states at his web site,

I say as much as I can with my paintings, and whatever I can't say with the art I say with words.  

Brown freely admits that he is a man of few words but when an illustrator creates visuals using pencil on paper with cut construction paper and wood and just a dab of digital tweaking as skillfully as he does, who needs words?!  To give intimacy to the story he handlettered the word balloons.

The overall sepia tones give credence to the book being about bears and for bears.  Brown's technique of varying image sizes and character placement on the pages heightens the interest and general flow of the tale.  His gift of injecting humor through dialogue and facial expressions is the shining touch.

Beginning and concluding with endpapers that give clues as to the story's plot line, readers are introduced to Lucy, a charming young bear, in a pink tutu twirling through the woods as Children Make Terrible Pets (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers) starts.  Using her enhanced smelling abilities she discovers the cutest critter in the WHOLE forest who can only emit a squeak every so often, thus she names him Squeaker.  Her Mom warns her that children make terrible pets but Lucy gets to keep him on one condition---he is her sole responsibility.

From that moment on they are inseparable; playing together, eating together, and napping together.  On the flip side potty training does not go well, furniture ends up ruined and in fact, Squeaker has a knack for being a problem just about everywhere he goes.  Lucy is at her wits end when disaster strikes---Squeaker disappears.  Her nose comes to the rescue leading Lucy to the conclusion, after much thinking, that her Mom was right about children as pets.  Lesson learned...well almost.  Brown throws in one more hilarious twist at the end that will have readers howling and rolling on the floor. 

After reading Children Make Terrible Pets I just had to go back and reread another of Peter Brown's books in our library media center, Chowder.  Quirky is an understatement when it comes to this bulldog.  It is just as hilarious as it was the first time that I read it.  I have since discovered that Chowder has his own web site.
Just click on his name to enjoy the fun.

Monday, February 7, 2011

What do Storytelling, Timelines and Jamming Have In Common?

As a former student of summer sessions offered by the National Storytelling Association in the mountains of Tennessee, I am committed to the oral interpretation of story.  And having spent nearly 35 years as a school library media specialist I truly am a lover of the written word.  That being said online applications as another option for sharing stories is a venue that needs to be explored. 

Capzles has most recently been mentioned by Kelly Tenkely in her blog, iLearn Technology.  In that blog she states that she has discussed it on previous  occasions so I thought that I should check it out.  In a nutshell Capzles is a venue where a multimedia timeline can be created.

Users must be 13 years of age.  To join this free site a screen name and password are necessary.  Users are asked for their first and last name as well as an email address. 

Once a user has joined and logged in, across the top they have the option to search other Capzles, single moments, profiles or take a flying leap by selecting a category or tag of their choice. 

Four other selections are available once the site is entered:  My Stuff, Explore, Create and Share.  I spent several interesting hours designing my first Capzle by picking the Create tab.

  To the left of your Capzle screen are the tools to make your timeline.   Under Title and Description once the obvious fields are filled, font style, font size and color can be selected.

As a user you can choose from their categories as well as add your own tags by selecting Tags & Categories.

When adding Content an image, video, MP3, Word, Excel, Powerpoint or PDF files can be uploaded as a single moment or put in stacks.  A blog entry which will appear as a single moment is an additional option.  Within that screen you can make that blog entry as plain or complicated as you desire.  Additions can be made to stacks.  Each moment or part of a stack can have the title or description altered as well as the tags or categories, date/time and privacy.  By filing in multiple fields an entry can be added to a map and information about the device used to create that moment can be included.  If you add an item by mistake it can be deleted as can the entire Capzle.

Design Your Capzle allows the user to select a predetermined background, upload one of their own, and manipulate colors.

You can upload a single song or create a playlist under the Add Background Music option.

It was my desire to have music playing when my Capzle was viewed and I have been wanting to explore the web 2.0 application UJAM.  The site is in two words---the Ritz. 
Once the user has completed simple registration it is free to use.  When starting you can record vocals or instruments, rejam a song template or upload an audio file.  A blending of multiple choices can create almost any desired effect for the final product which for my purposes was complete in every way.  The finished song can be saved in your online folder, made into an MP3 file that can be saved to your computer or shared on Facebook.

Having a song as part of my Capzle I can now click Finish and share it via post to seven different social networks, embed it, send it by email, feed or link. 

I have been wondering how best to track my Elementary and Middle School Picks of the Week as they disappear when a new one if posted.  Designing a Capzle would be perfect.  For students it would be a visual way to track the books they read each year adding short comments or for us too! 


QR code generator

View my Capzle by clicking on the link above or the QR code.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Mind Your Ps and QRs...

Several weeks ago I was browsing and reading various school librarian blogs when I came across the use of QR codes.  QR represents quick response.  Data such as text, hyperlinks, personal or professional contact information or geo location (just to name a few examples) are embedded in these square mosaic designs.   Once I knew what they were I started seeing them more and more often.  Within days of reading about this use of technology I purchased an orchid plant.  On the back of the company's tag was a QR code.  When scanned it directed me to a web site with beautiful photographs and  a multitude of useful and interesting knowledge about orchids.

Smart phones or other mobile devices that contain a QR code reader application are used to scan the QR code and will display what the creator desires.  A simple search on your favorite site will include a list of the best applications for your particular phone.  I downloaded the Android QuickMark app for my new Samsung Fascinate Galaxy S phone from Verizon. 

At this link Dana Huff, a teacher at Weber School, a private high school in the Altanta metro-area gives an excellent, brief overview of QR codes, their creative function in the classroom setting and additional resources regarding this new (at least to me) cool technology.  An additional recent post of possible uses can be found at New Media Photographer Digital Marketing Blog by Rosh Sillars.  While geared more for business without too much of a stretch of your imagination these suggestions could be utilized for educational purposes.  

To create a QR code I used the generator Kaywa.   Below is a direct link to this blog created in a matter of seconds.   Using this free generator enter in an URL, text, phone number or SMS before clicking the generate button.  You can save the code as an image, with a permalink or embed it using HTML code.

qrcodeBeQRious appears to be a site that offers a free generator with registration if you wish to store codes in folders, manage or edit them.   At this site QR codes can be made for an URL, email address, phone number, text, V card, text message, YouTube video, 14 different social sites, or a geographical place on a map.  The code below directs you to a map of Charlevoix.  They also offer the option of placing an image inside your code.  A created code can be embedded using HTML or saved in  PDF or GIF format.

One possible use of QR codes for this librarian is going to be sending students to book trailers, web sites or blogs of author's who have newly published books that would make for good reading during  genre studies or for those required research papers.  It is going to be fun to send them to movie trailers that have been made for those books that are appearing on the silver screen.  

Of course the having and use of phones in the classroom will need to be reviewed.  But maybe I can think of an ingenious way to display them outside of the school setting.  Hmmmm... 

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Bawk, bawk, bawk

It comes as no surprise that author/illustrator, David Ezra Stein is the recipient of a 2011 Caldecott Honor award.  Interrupting Chicken garnered that award highlighting his skillful use of watercolor, water-soluble crayon, china marker, pen, opaque white ink, and tea.  Across both pages the title opens with a moon rising through an open window, a gentle breeze blowing curtains into a room littered with remnants of life with a youngster.

  Readers journey into the bedtime ritual of reading a story with Papa saying,

 I'll read one of your favorites.  And of course you are not going to interrupt the story tonight are you?

Little red chicken replies that she will be good.  Sure she will..............

As Papa first reads Hansel and Gretel followed by Little Red Riding Hood and then Chicken Little, little red hen interrupts at the first opportune moment when she can not bear for the story to continue.  She spins her own interpretation on the events.  Stein illustrates the beginning of each of these tales in old style line brown tone drawings but when little red chicken interrupts he has her leaping into the story pages in bold colors which not only changes the narrative but the story characters expressions and actions as well.

When little red chicken begs Papa to read one more story he says that they are out of stories.  At Papa's suggestion little red chicken tells a story which readers see as delightful child-like drawings in a composition book.  Guess who goes to sleep first?

It might be fun to pair this with Once Upon A Time, the End (Asleeep in 60 Seconds) by Geoffrey Kloske and illustrated by Barry Blitt.

David Ezra Stein says on the back book jacket flap and at his web site that I'll never forget the experience of sitting in a beloved lap and having a whole world open before me:  a world brought to life by the pictures and the grown-up's voice.  That is what I want to re-create in my own books.

Mission accomplished.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Another Side of the Story

Graduating from high school in 1969 and attending college for the next four plus years I can vividly remember the war in Vietnam; at least from the perspective of those of us at home who relied on the media and friends in the Armed Services writing letters to provide us with news and views.  What Newbery Award winning author, Cynthia Kadohata, does in A Million Shades of Gray is to give readers another perspective.

Set in the Central Highlands of Vietnam between the years of 1973-1975, Y-Tin is a member of the Rhade tribe, one of the thirty or so Dega groups that have been living there for hundreds and hundreds of years.  During the American occupation his father worked with the American Special Forces.  Many members of the Rhade tribe worked with the Americans but in Y-Tin's village only a few offered their services.  After the troops were removed from Vietnam, promising to return if these people needed their help, the North Vietnamese did retaliate.  The American troops did not come back.

In 1975 Y-Tin is 13 years old.  His life-long dream is to work with and train elephants even though his mother has him attending the local school.  He has been learning well under the guidance of another elephant handler, Thomas.

Each of these handlers have a special bond with their elephants.  But none is stronger than Y-Tin and his elephant, Lady who is pregnant.  Through careful research by the author we are introduced to the daily lives of the people in Y-Tin's village.  Farmers at heart, living in long houses whose entrance is reached by a ladder, these people lead uncomplicated lives surrounded by their extended families and friends. 

Fear fills the village as word of the advancement of the North Vietnamese troops spreads.  Before the villagers have a chance to make plans and flee, their homes are overrun by these enemies.  Devastation descends swiftly and without rhyme or reason. Along with the elephants some are able to blend into the surrounding jungle.  For tortured days those caught in the village endure a nightmare existence.  Y-tin and a friend are able to escape from their captors but their relationship changes as circumstances force them to become what they must to survive. 

Readers will find this piece of history informative, at times riveting and heartbreaking but ultimately a story full of hope and determination.  It should be read for all those reasons.

In an author's note at the book's end Cynthia Kadohata does give us inside information on her research.  She includes time spent with elephants at the San Diego Zoo and Have Trunks Will Follow.  Interviews were conducted with retired members of the United States Special Forces and Montagnard refugees living in North Carolina.