Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, June 30, 2011


Having read several reviews, Parents' Choice, Children's Media and Toy Reviews since 1978, and iLearn Technology, studied it as part of the Free Tools Challenge, Teacher Challenge at the Edublogs site and this week  receiving the designation as one of the Top 25 Websites for Teaching and Learning by the American Association for School Librarians during the ALA annual conference in New Orleans, Kerpoof needed to be explored in depth.

Kerpoof is owned and operated by the Walt Disney Company.  As an online group of design activities it offers users the option of Spell a Picture, Make a Movie, Make a Card, Make a Drawing, Make a Picture and Tell a Story.  In other words these free applications extend to users the ability to discover, create and learn in an environment that is safe and fun for the recommended grades of K-8.  Each creation button includes the recommended grade level for use.

First try out the site by clicking on the How to Play question mark at the top of the screen.  View the two tutorials on Make a Movie and Make a Picture, and read the Top 10 Questions along with the Tips and Tricks section. 

Initially registration consists of choosing a screen name, password and two secret questions and answers. Click on the blank avatar icon to do this.  Children can create their own accounts but parent involvement and permission is required.  By having an account scenes can be saved, shared or emailed to others. (All shared content is reviewed by trained moderators before it is shown on the site.)

 After educators have their own individual login, they can proceed to apply for a teacher account which requires their full name, professional email, title and school district in which they are employed. (Just click on the For Educators button.) Having a teacher account allows registration of students in one or more classes, management of those student accounts by class, multiple collaboration features and the required option to monitor activities within those accounts.

Also by clicking on the For Educators button a series of buttons appear across the top of the screen.  These provide, in addition to opening a teacher account,  an overview of Kerpoof, lesson plans, general classroom ideas, matching Kerpoof to national and some state technology standards, signing up for an e-newsletter and reading newletter archives from November 2007, a general FAQ section and the choice to contact the people at Kerpoof.

I would encourage perusal of the Kerpoof Scholastics Teachers' Guide as well as each of the lesson plans on using the individual elements of this suite. 

I have applied for a teacher account and will be using Kerpoof as part of lessons given within the library media center during the 2011-2012 school year.  Check out this video, experiment and have fun making your own creations or plans for implementing Kerpoof in the classroom.

To have all these tools together in this environment giving users or students the ability to transform those ideas, dreams or thoughts from their imaginations through graphics and writing is an educational plus.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

How Lucky Can You Be?

Earlier this week I discovered a title, published in January that I had somehow missed, on the shelves of one of my favorite local bookstores.  It is not the usual size of books for my younger readers, but they are going to like it because it is the perfect size for them.  Nearly eight inches square with a heavy cover and heavy pages, Fortune Cookies by Albert Bitterman with art by Chris Raschka is a true gem.

The narrator of the story, a young girl, going to her mailbox discovers a package.  Inside is a red box decorated with blue Chinese characters; a box of seven fortune cookies.  A small tag pictured beneath the box says: to Fortune from Uncle Albert.

Fortune cookies are like little boxes themselves holding secret predictions of what the future may or may not bring to the recipient.  Beginning with Sunday and continuing throughout the week by means of a pull-tab tucked within each pictured cookie, a unique message is revealed. 

On Sunday my fortune said:  Today you will lose something you don't need.  And guess what?  My tooth came out!

As the week progresses events unfold which either by fate or choice of the child closely connect with the fortunes.  The story flows and follows back to the beginning with no cookies left but the reality that our "luck" remains.

Albert Bitterman is the pen name of the owner of Reading Reptile, an independent children's bookstore with considerable popularity in Kansas City, Missouri, Pete Cowdin.  Fortune Cookies is his first book, but let us hope that it is the first of many.  Whether his fortunes were carefully selected or worded from his life experiences, they present possibilities; outlooks, if you will, on how to respond in a given situation.  In the competent hands of Bitterman, those thoughts, reactions and their outcomes are linked one to the other at the exact pace necessary for the intended audience.  A pace that leads them to a surprisingly, purr-fect conclusion.

Artist, Chris Raschka, is the winner of the Caldecott Medal for his illustrations in Juster Norton's title, Hello, Goodbye Window and a Caldecott Honor winner for his book, Yo! Yes?  This March he was nominated as the United States representative illustrator for the Hans Christian Andersen Award.  It is the highest international award.  Winners will be announced in March 2012.

In Fortune Cookies his watercolor visuals surrounded by large white space are much like the fortunes tucked inside the cookies.  His unique style blends well with the story displaying the character's emotions just as one would expect; readers feel her happiness, disappointment, delight, sadness, thoughtfulness, and glee.  I particularly liked his choice of red for the girl's dress.  In Chinese culture it represents good fortune and joy. 

For readers, parents and educators this book has much to offer.  Children can speculate on what the possible fortune or the next situation will be.  New fortunes can be written by individual readers and tucked into origami cookies.  This can be paired with other Chinese New Year celebrations or studies of the Chinese culture.   It presents a golden opportunity for teaching sequencing or days of the week.  More importantly though, it can be read for the fun of pulling out each fortune again and again.

I will be getting two more copies; another one for school and one just for me.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Letting Go...

Back in March, March 26, 2011 to be exact, Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan, authors of Bookends: A Booklist Blog, reviewed Harry & Hopper written by Margaret Wild and illustrated by Freya Blackwood

At that time I commented back to them that I had held that very title in my hand on the same day in a local bookstore, debating whether I could read a book about losing a pet, let alone buy it.  I left the bookstore without a copy. But based upon their review and knowing that there is a need for this kind of book in my elementary library media center, there is a copy now sitting next to my computer as I write this post.

I have read it over several times and I would be lying if I were to say that I did not cry because I did. I have loved and lost two wonderful dogs in my lifetime.  I live with and love one right now.  I will always have a dog in my life.  My students and I commiserate on a regular basis about the death of a beloved pet.  They are family, aren't they?

When the puppy came to live with Harry and Dad, he was as jumpy as a grasshopper.  So, that's what Harry called him, Hopper.  Readers see Harry teaching Hopper,as he grows, all the doggie things he needs to know.  In return Hopper helps Harry with his homework and at night, they sleep head to head gazing at one another.  They are inseparable.

One afternoon when Harry returns home from school Hopper is not there to greet him.  His Dad is sitting on the front steps with sad news for Harry.  Harry is filled with such sorrow by the sudden loss that he can not say goodbye to Hopper or sleep in his own bed that night.  Instead his Dad makes a bed for him on the sofa. 

For a second night Harry sleeps on the sofa but awakens in the middle of his slumber to something special.  Touching and sincere this magic over the next several nights shows readers how to remember and say goodbye with love.

I am a fan of author, Margaret Wild.  What has set this and her other titles apart as well as earning her a following is the simple, warm wording that flows throughout her stories.  She has the adept ability to reveal the heart of a matter so that it is subtly clear to readers of all ages.

Freya Blackwood uses laser print on watercolor paper with watercolor, gouache and charcoal to create the pictures that compliment and enhance Wild's text.  Her illustrations are gentle, whimsical and soft with colors that convey just the right mood for each part of the story.  Her endpaper designs mirror the quilt used to cover Harry when he is sleeping on the sofa. When Harry and Hopper first meet she begins with Hopper in charcoal sketch running across one page to jump on Harry's lap on the second page whole with color.  By following this link you can see more of the illustrations from this book which won the highest award for children's illustrations in the UK, the  CILIP Kate Greenaway Award, on June 24, 2010.  This award is given by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals.

Sudden loss is hard to face but these two Australians have fashioned a tale pure, beautiful and memorable.

Google Raises The Bar

Hot off the twitter wire are two links from Google and TechCrunch about a new project at Google.

In their own words:  We'd like to bring nuance and richness of real life sharing to software.  We want to make Google better by including you, your relationships, and your interests.  And so begins the Google+ project.

The Google link contains videos of the various components of this new endeavour.  TechCrunch has embedded the same videos but offers insight and comments.

Only time will tell how this will impact education but it will definitely impact our students and social networking in general.  To date use of Google+ is by invitation only. 

Monday, June 27, 2011

Beat The Heat #4--Give the Graphics Their Due

Having visited local bookstores in two nearby towns, combed through the shelves of our two school library media centers and the Charlevoix Public Library, I now sit surrounded by graphic novels of all shapes, sizes and genres, fiction and nonfiction.  I have completely immersed myself in this form for the past several days.  And I have to say that once again I am impressed.  Not only are the story lines engaging, the writing top notch but the artwork is outstanding. 

I have previously posted reviews of graphic novels; Red Moon by David McAdoo on May 5, 2011 and Ghostopolis  by Doug TenNapel on January 4, 2011.  After reading more than seven new ones in a couple days (with at least as many more to complete by tomorrow?), I am only going to highlight one at this time. I will post a new page on the left of this blog with a list of those that I have read and will be available in our library media centers.  I will note which ones can also be found at our public library.  Graphic novels build a bridge as all books do between authors, illustrators and their intended readers. 

As stated in the editor's note, Matt Dembicki, was visiting his local library when he started reading American Indian Trickster Tales by Alfonso Ortiz and Richard Erdoes.  He was so enthralled with the stories that he did some research in which he discovered that no book such as Trickster: Native American Tales--A Graphic Collection had been done to date.  His goal was---I hope this book serves as a bridge for readers to learn more about the original people of this land and to foster a greater appreciation and understanding among all inhabitants. 

Trickster tales are prevalent in all cultures.  A trickster is usually portrayed as an animal having been given human features.  They can be a hero or a scamp within humorous or serious stories many times playing a prank on those with less intelligence or those more powerful than themselves.  At times these narratives are also explanations for why something is the way it is today in the natural world.

Given the range of these twenty-one stories in Trickster: Native American Tales---A Graphic Collection, all by Native American tellers with graphic artists that each selected, this book far exceeds the wishes of Dembicki.  The combination of these authors with their chosen illustrators is rich and rare.  The medium and styles of each artist are as diverse as are the tone, words and delivery supplied by the authors. The various tricksters, Coyote, Raven, Rabbit, and Raccoon to name a few, from various cultures of the Native Americans give readers a peek into the soul of these people.  This collection is in a word, amazing, and destined to be the representative title. 

Follow this link to NPR where they conducted a Sunday edition radio discussion about Trickster:  Native American Tales---A Graphic Collection.  At the site is also a wonderful telling of one of the stories, How Wildcat Caught A Turkey, written and spoken by Joseph Stands With Many as a video is shown of the book's graphics.  This is just a hint of the treat in store for readers of the entire book.

Scholastic Summer Challenge Reading Update----
Middle School students have read 9,328 minutes.  This is outstanding.  They have risen in rank throughout the world 100 points.  Keep up the reading gals and guys.  Let's keep Charlevoix on the map.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Virtual Post-It Boards---Web Out

Similiar to Stixy and Popplet previously reviewed on this blog, SpiderScribe is an application that allows users to create and collaborate on a virtual board.  Still free in beta form, to sign up users need to list their name, email address and password. 

After logging in click on Create New Map.  A box appears where a name and description of the new map can be added.  When this is completed a board appears with stencils on the left.  These stencils allows the user to add text, add a document by uploading from your computer, add an image by uploading from your computer, add a map (Google Maps) or add a calendar event.  Simply click on an icon and drag it to the board.  Items added to the map can be connected by clicking on the dot at the center bottom of an item and dragging it to another item on the map. 

Font size within a stencil can be changed as well as the border width and background color.  At the top of the screen options available are undo, redo, center map, print the map, clear the map or delete the map.  A map that is completed or ready for collaboration can go from private to private only to users with their emails listed, public with a link or public on the internet. 


Thanks to Richard Byrne at Free Technology For Teachers for posting about this web 2.0 app on his blog on May 18, 2011 and again toward the end of June.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Coming Full Circle

Close your eyes and think of those things that make you feel the most peaceful, the most cozy; your heart's desire if you will.  Is it warm sun on your face, being wrapped in a heavy handmade quilt, sitting near a crackling fire, lying on a big, fluffy pillow, the smell of fresh baked cookies, snowflakes melting on your outstretched tongue, the sound of crickets as fireflies spin through the warm summer air, the soft snoring of a much loved pet curled against your body or is it sitting in a special chair reading as rain splashes against the windows and roof?

If you are two friends in the newest title, Hopper and Wilson,  by Maria van Lieshout it might be an endless supply of lemonade or finding a stairway to the moon.

 Hopper, a pale, blue stuffed elephant and Wilson his wee, yellow stuffed mouse friend are sitting on the edge of their dock one day looking over the expanse of the sea wondering what it might be like at the end of the world.  By the time we readers have turned the next page they are leaving in their boat along with their red balloon and its red string bidding farewell to their cactus. 

Sailing through the day and into the night the two dream about what they hope to find and wish upon a falling star for those dreams to be realized.  They awaken to rain, wind and towering waves that threaten their journey.  When the storm subsides Wilson is alone in the boat. 

As Wilson searches for Hopper, asking sea turtles, penguins near an iceberg and a giant fish if they've seen him, we feel his despair and deep sense of loss.  When the two pals are reunited their love reaches out and envelopes us like a warm, soft hug.  That warmth continues to spread as the duo notices that the end of the world seems to be their dock with the potted cactus welcoming them back home as birds perch in the lemon trees along the shore. 

Maria van Lieshout brings much to readers through her watercolors, ink, collage, colored pencil, crayon, a smudge of acrylics and some technology to pull it all together illustrations.  It is in their simplicity that we feel the depth of her story.  We are endeared to her characters through the hand-stitching on their bodies.  We feel a sense of childhood innocence and trust in their boat crafted of newspaper with the single red balloon attached.  Her use of space, size and color coupled with spare text convey the closeness of the Hopper and Wilson, the vastness of the sea, the turbulence of the storm and the sheer joy of knowing that what you have is exactly what you need.

Whether sharing this tale one on one or with a group it offers so much to readers and listeners alike.  Myself, I plan on using it as part of my Mock Caldecott election with my older students.  With my younger students we will be making our own boats from newspaper, writing our wishes on the inside, as we set them afloat upon our imaginary ocean.  I am also envisioning balloons and those favorite stuffed animals brought in for a day.  Yes, I will be going back to my local bookstore to get my own copy because Hopper and Wilson is a rare gem.

I extend my sincerest thanks to Maria van Lieshout for allowing me to share additional illustrations from this book on my blog.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Right Brain, Right Now

In her introduction to Inkblot:  Drip, Splat, and Squish Your Way to Creativity, Margaret Peot says: 

How often have you sat waiting for creativity to strike?...A powerful way to tap into your creativity, using both your intuitive and your analytical halves, is through inkblots....Like snowflakes---and people, too---no two inkblots are alike.  And yet inkblots are always distinctly and inexplicably like the people who make them, despite the seemingly random method we use to generate them.

Providing a carefully marked trail, Peot leads we readers into this unique form of art.  From necessary supplies, to a definition of inkblot, to types of folds, black or colored inks, methods of ink disbursement, types of pressure, and inkblot variations we begin. 

We become acquainted with Inkblot Heroes Victor Hugo, a French author during the middle 1800s,  who used inkblots for inspiration and present day, Stefan G. Bucher, a blown-ink genius, who created one hundred inkblot monsters in one hundred days at his web site, Stefan G. Bucher's Daily Monster, inviting comments from his followers. 

Taking us further down the path techniques for extending our creations by drawing into them using lines and colors add a whole new dimension of fun.  If when spreading out your art no hidden images pop out to you, Peot has generously provided a series of questions to kindle the imagination.

Further into this journey readers are given two additional sets of ten questions guaranteed to stimulate discussion, verbal or written.  She challenges us to see that which is not readily visible; to expand our perception.  To document this artistic adventure proper sketchbooks are recommended along with writing prompts.

Even without the inviting text that instructs and informs, Inkblot:  Drip, Splat, and Squish Your Way to Creativity is a work of art in and of itself with a layout making generous use of white and colored space to frame examples of visuals and narration. 

I urge you to follow this link, InkblotBook's Channel, to view a trailer for the book as well as numerous videos about making your own inkblots.  Now let's see, where did I put that sketchbook?  Are my inks still in that drawer?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Twenty-Four Hours in Twitterville #2

J. K. Rowling announces on June 23, 2011 just what Pottermore will offer its users.  More to come on July 31, 2011 with full availability in October.  The reading experience just went up to a whole new level.  At the time of this writing registering with your email address has been suspended due to an overwhelming demand.  This morning I was able to leave my email address but the final step continually timed out. 

This will be the only place to purchase the Potter books in eBook format and digital audio books.  There is much speculation about this bold move from the book selling world. 

On June 22, 2011 Mo Willems new Elephant and Piggie book, Should I Share My Ice Cream, debuts as #1 on the New York Times Picture Book Bestseller list.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

By The Beautiful Sea

When I was about the same age as the main character in this book, Junonia by Kevin Henkes, I had a large sea shell collection.  My great uncle hand made a beautifully finished set of three stacking shelves which I lined with black velvet.  Painstakingly I labeled each new find which came into my possession either by my own discovery along the beaches of Florida or from family and friends. It was my pride and joy; each shell as valuable to me as a King's ransom.

 It's February; winter for those living in Wisconsin.  Nine-year-old Alice, her Mom, Pam, and her Dad, Tom, have traded the snow drifts for blue sky and sandy beaches along an even bluer ocean.  Crossing the bridge to Sanibel Island, Florida for their annual vacation Alice feels an unusual sensation which quickly passes but not before she anxiously wonders if changes are in store for her.

Alice concentrated entirely on the pelican.  The bird was so odd and silly looking, a mysterious, mesmerizing wonder...She'd seen pelicans before, every year that she had been here, but when you see something only once a year it's always new, as if you're seeing it for the first time.  Everything is new here, she thought.  New and exciting.

Every trip is special but she hopes this one will be perfect; this year she will celebrate her tenth birthday, double digits.  Maybe this year she will find a junonia, a rare shell of the sea. 

What she does find immediately are changes.  The grandchildren of neighbors, the Wishmeiers, are not coming.  Helen Blair, an artist from New York City, has been snowed in and can not get a flight out.  Her mother's college friend, Kate, is bringing a new boyfriend with his young daughter.  As an only child, Alice, viewed all these vacation people as her extended family.  What will happen now?

As pages are turned a story so wonderful in its normalcy unfolds before readers.  Characters richly developed and supportive of children weave in and out of the events of this vacation week and memorable birthday.   Henkes' descriptions are so vivid in imagery that by my completion of the book it looked like a pincushion stuck with  mini-sticky notes.  Here are just a couple.

She was loose jointed, and although she felt awkward much of the time, she often appeared graceful.  She swung her arms in smooth half circles; her legs moved like ribbons.

At that very moment, Alice loved her mother so completely she thought they might fuse together and melt away.

They walked at a turtle's pace.  The night air was cool.  Stars littered the black sky like crushed ice.  No one spoke most of the way, so Alice listened to the palm fronds rustling overhead and the rhythmic pounding of the waves.

As a reader Henkes had me captivated with his heart-warming insight into the mind of a young girl as she tries to adjust her thinking around the shifts that life is handing her.  Like a favorite blanket wrap yourself in this cozy, gentle telling.  Junonia would be a great read aloud to a class, one on one or individually for upper elementary or lower middle school age.  His use of language is so exemplary that short journal writing would be a good extension.

The illustrations by this Caldecott Award winning author/illustrator are the icing on this particular cake.  Each chapter beginning is adorned with a picture that highlights an event or observation within that section.  His soft blue endpapers of beach, sea and sky set the tone for this title.

Listen to this video with Henkes speaking about Junonia, go get a copy and begin reading, preferably with a younger friend. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Wonder of This Girl

When finishing late last night the children's book debut of Catherynne M. Valente, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In A Ship Of Her Own Making, one word descriptors kept popping into my mind--steadfast, intense, ingenious, elaborate, intricate, painful, unforgettable and unexpected.

The story begins as all good fairy tales do:  Once upon a time, a girl named September grew very tired indeed of her parents' house, where she washed the same pink-and-yellow teacups and matching gravy boats every day, slept on the same embroidered pillow, and played with the same small and amiable dog.  Because she had been born in May, and because she had a mole on her left cheek, and because her feet were very large and ungainly, the Green Wind took pity on her and flew to her window one evening just after her twelfth birthday. 

With the Green Wind at her side and riding upon his faithful steed, The Leopard, September journeys into an adventure straight out of storybooks.  It seems that all is not right in Fairyland.  The former ruler, The Good Queen Mallow, has been ousted by The Marquess.  A proposal, not to be spurned,  is put before September by The Marquess. Accompanied by her new companions, A-Through-L, a fiery, red Wyvern and Saturday, a blue-skinned Marid, she travels throughout this world populated with varied beings encountering trials and triumphs in order to claim a talisman. 

Steadfast came to mind because no matter how wretched her state, though many would have faltered, September stayed true to her friends and a path to make all right.  "...But you didn't.  You chose.  You chose it all.  Just like you chose your path on the beach:  to lose your heart is not a path for the faint and fainting"...  One can only have the utmost admiration for this character; each reader will feel empathy for her depending on their own life experiences.

In crossing a body of water, the Barleybroom River, to arrive at Pandemonium, the capital of Fairyland, the barge is stopped.  All the children are gathered on the deck.  One is to be sacrificed so that passage to the other side can be continued.  This scene is so intense in every aspect, terrified children, horrified, pleading parents, evil, horse-headed human-body-like water spirits demanding the tithe, that readers are glued to the pages dreading the outcome but needing to know.

Encountering a group of witches one can not help but wonder at the ingenious mind that took this simple meeting and expanded it to reveal a profound truth.  Any child knows what a witch looks like.  The warts are important, yes, the hooked nose, the cruel smile.  But it's the hat that cinches it:  pointy and black with a wide rim.  Plenty of people have warts and hooked noses and cruel smiles but are not witches at all.  Hats change everything.  September knew this with all her being, deep in the place where she knew her own name, that her mother would still love her even though she hadn't waved goodbye.  For one day, her father had put on a hat with golden things on it and suddenly he hadn't been her father anymore, he had been a soldier, and he had left.  Hats have power.  Hats can change you into someone else.

Before getting closer to Pandemonium September stumbles on the House Without Warning and its golem caretaker, Lye.  As a gentle caring hostess she bathes our stalwart heroine in three baths (three being a classic number in tales of this sort); a bath for her courage, wishes and luck.  At each tub Lye offers an explanation for the purpose of each of these cleanings.  These elaborate accounts are beautiful and timeless in their meaning.

The intricate detail used to describe the Autumn Provinces and the town of Mercurio creates one of the most imaginative, picturesque scenes that readers are likely to discover in stories. 
...But no red you have ever seen could touch the crimson bleed of the trees in that place.  No oak gone gnarled and orange with October is half as bright as the boughs that bent over September's head, dropping their hard, sweet acorns into her spinning spokes.  But you must try as hard as you can.  Squeeze your eyes closed, as tight as you can, and think of all your favorite autumns, crisp and perfect, all bound up together like a stack of cards. That is what it is like, the awful, wonderful brightness of Fairy colors.  Try to smell the hard, pale wood sending up sharp, green smoke into the afternoon.  To feel the mellow, golden sun on your skin, more gentle and cozier and more golden than even the light of your favorite reading nook at the close of the day.

...For some mad baker had built the town of Mercurio from loaves of thick, moist bread shingled with sugar and mortared with butter.  Heavy eaves of brown crust shaded sweet little dinner-bun doors...The cobbles of the square were muffin-tops, and all the fountain gushed fresh, sweet milk.  It was as though the witch who built the gingerbread house in the story had a great number of friends and had decided to start up a collective.

As the end of the narrative approaches, the hardships that befall this determined girl are painful to read as the land, elements and beings conspire to end her quest and very life.  These chapters are not for the young. These portrayals are realistic and heart-wrenching.  The twists and turns mount as the worst and best in each character reveal themselves to give the reader unforgettable memories of these moments.

Of course, readers wish for a happily-ever-after ending as they step into the world of fairy but to tell you one way or the other would deprive you of the extraordinary satisfaction of reading this tale penned by an author of uncommon talent and a gift for the unexpected.  To be sure, when beginning,  readers will need to get into the rhythm of the language; it is unlike most books of this genre.  In fact this book might be in a class all by itself.  To limit the readership for children would be a mistake.  This title, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In A Ship Of Her Own Making, has much to offer readers of all ages.  All good stories do this, don't they?

Not to mention the outstanding illustrations of Ana Juan would be a grievous oversight.  They give vision to Valente's words as few could.  Their otherworldly quality is potent.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Kitchen Capers

Five perky porkies and one Papa wave goodbye as Mama leaves for the day.With lawn mowing on his agenda, Papa is seen hard at work through the window.  Where, you ask, are the youngsters?  There are Piggies in the Kitchen. 

Four line rhyming verses tell the tale of lively action and creative messes made as ingredients are blended and unknown concoctions are stirred into being. Three different times the funny, furious fury halts as sounds are heard outside.  Is it Mama?  Not yet, it's Mrs. Cow, Mrs. Mouse and Mrs. Sheep.

         GLUP, GLUP, OINK, OINK---Pour another cup.
          VROOM, VROOM, VROOM, VROOM---"Someone's driving up!"...

                        ...SNIP, SNAP go the blinds.
                        "Is Mama coming NOW?"

Mowing completed Papa enters, piggies freeze guilty wide-eyed expressions on their faces amid his astonished questions.  Asked for help their faithful father assists in baking and cleanup.  Friends and family gather for the surprise in a closing that is delicious and filling.

Author, Michelle Meadows, has a knack for mixing words together that tempt listeners and readers to move to the beat that flows throughout her books.  Her stories invite audience participation with phrase repetition.  Each time the piggies pause in their preparations they say: 
                                     Cover up the batter,
                                     hide the wooden spoon.
                                     Brush away the sugar,
                                     whistling a tune.

I can just hear the laughter of my students as that rhyme is repeated in the appropriate spot.  Meadows, at her web site, offers story stretchers and writing activities to pair with this title.  Students can retell the tale by listing the ingredients and putting them in their proper order, or storyboarding the action.

Pen and ink with watercolor pictures by illustrator, Ard Hoyt, that are framed in white or bleed across one and two page layouts are downright gleeful.  Attention to detail is evident on every page including the cover.  Note the color of the title text, the curly tail on the letter G and the snout on the letter E. 

This is a most welcome addition to the realm of pig and cooking books.  It just makes me want to hurry into the kitchen and whip up a batch of Cherry Chocolate Chip cookies.  Yum, yum, oink, oink!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Beat The Heat #3

Congratulations Charlevoix Middle School students!  As of my most recent check you have read 5,537 minutes during the first week of summer vacation.  If you need any suggestions whatsoever refer to Beat The Heat #2.  Remember I welcome discussions with you about what you are reading.  Keep up the great work guys and gals.  Enjoy your summer.

Xena is doing twirls just for you and recommends that I show you this YouTube video as a reward.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

I Am Wonderstruck

Brian Selznick wrote and illustrated his first book, The Houdini Box in 1991.  It was followed by The Robot King in 1995 and The Boy of a Thousand Faces in 2000. Selznick won the 2008 Caldecott Medal with his book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret.  Five hundred twenty-six pages, over three hundred that are wordless illustrations, tell the story of a boy living hidden in a train station in Paris.   The film version of The Invention of Hugo Cabret directed by Martin Scorsese is still scheduled to be released in 2011.

He garnered a Caldecott Honor Award for The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins written by Barbara Kerley.  He has illustrated books for authors Ann M. Martin  and Laura Godwin (The Doll People), Andrew Clements (Frindle), Pam Munoz Ryan (Amelia and Eleanor Go For A Ride and Riding Freedom) to name just a few.

This fall his most anticipated title, Wonderstruck, which has been read by some already, check out a review by Travis Jonker at 100 Scope Notes, is guaranteed to be his finest achievement to date. 

View this trailer which was noted in a post by Monica Edinger, teacher and student of children's literature on her blog, educating alice this day.  We readers are in for a rare treat once again created by the hand and mind of Brian Selznick.  Be sure to check out the web site for Brian Selznick by clicking on the link embedded in the title of his Caldecott Award book.

Twenty-Four Hours in Twitterville

It's mind boggling how much news comes across Twitter within a 24 hour period.  Check out these announcements via Publishers Weekly and TechCrunch.

Yesterday a new web site appeared on the Net.  It's called Pottermore .  It is very simply a purple background with silver words stating the title followed by handwritten words, Coming soon, and J. K. Rowling's signature.  Anticipation is high.  UPDATE:  June 17, 2011---There are now owls on the site which when clicked take the user to a YouTube video. 

Jeff Kinney has a new title coming in his Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, Cabin Fever.  It is set for a November 15, 2011 release with 6 million first printing copies.  Now that's a whole bunch of books.  Check out this interview where he speaks about this new book.

USA Today has an article about the book Alice Ozma has written titled The Reading Promise:  My Father and the Books We Shared.  Her father an elementary school librarian read to her every night from the fourth grade until she left home for college.  What a wonderful commitment and legacy!

bitly has expanded their free services to include not only shortening URL links but sharing, tracking and analyzing them.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Photo Fun Never Ends

Big Huge Labs recently announced that they are expanding their services to better assist educators in the classroom. 

To create a free account an email address is needed (a school email will speed approval for the educator account), a username and password.  It takes about 1 to 2 business days to receive approval via email for the educator account.  They require proof that you are an educator by having a photograph that shows your full name, title and name of the institution.  They suggest taking a picture of yourself holding a school ID.  That was not possible for me so I just submitted a picture of myself in the library media center teaching.  Hopefully there will be further email communication where I can refer them to the school web site. 

The advantage of having an educator account is similiar to having an educator account with Glogster EDU, which I do.  It allows you to pre-register students without them having to give an email address, you can view and download their created content, the site is free of advertising and ready to print ID cards for students are a perk. 

The tools available lend themselves to enhancing writing skills, stretching literacy lessons, documenting projects, storyboarding and multiple other possibilites.  There are more than 40 apps from which to choose.  These are but a few. 

It is is good that more and more of these web 2.0 sites are offering the opportunity to integrate technology into your classroom instruction by respecting the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act and making it safe for students to use.

Thanks to Larry Ferlazzo for this tip so noted in his post dated June 13, 2011.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Stacked For Summer #2 and Pick of the Week Modified For The Season

Another stack of books popped up today after a trip to Borders in Traverse City.  Wandering from section to section in the store eyes agog, before I knew it nearly ninety minutes had gone by and I was staggering under the weight of my newest finds.  This has to be it for awhile unless I can get another month added on to the summer vacation.  Of course, I do have that order coming from Amazon and what about that trip to Petoskey tomorrow? Look out booksellers.  Here I come.

Something a little different will be available during the sunny months of June, July and August with respect to the Elementary and Middle School Pick of the Week.  I think it's important as readers of any age gain confidence and skill in their abilities that older copyrighted books are not overlooked amidst the onslaught of  fantastic new titles being published each year.  I am going to be highlighting some of my favorites that may not have been read yet by newer readers.

Curse or a Blessing

Within the first two sentences an author has the unique opportunity to hook the reader immediately. 
William crouched behind the fallen oak tree and listened.  Close by, someone---or something--was whimpering in pain.
We have already been told beneath the chapter heading that it is winter 1347 but now we want to know:  Who is William?  Where is the fallen oak tree?  Who or what is in pain?

William was orphaned when his entire family, except for an older brother who left several years ago, were burned in a fire that destroyed their home, the town mill.  William was found dazed and unharmed after the fire.  None of the villagers would take him in believing William to be not quite as normal or natural as they; in other words, why did he survive the fire?  The monks at Crowfield Abbey have given him a place to live where he works for his keep.  He is gathering firewood in nearby Foxwist Wood when he hears the sounds of distress. 
For a few moments, William's mind went blank.  He stared down into the large, watchful eyes and felt the hairs on the back of his neck hackle. This was neither animal nor man, but he could speak.  What manner of creature could do that?  Fear stroked a cold finger down William's spine. His mouth had gone dry and his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth.  Part of him wanted to turn and run, but another part of him was rooted to the spot by curiosity.

A hobgoblin, hob, has been caught in a trap set by nearby villagers.  Only those with the Sight of Old Magic can see such creatures.  Being a compassionate soul, William releases the trap and secretly brings him back to the abbey to be healed by Brother Snail.  Returning to the Wood William fearful but determined walks to the Whistling Hollow throwing the trap into the pool so no more harm can be done.  Words whispered on the air say to him, This will not be forgotten.  Sinister sensations lay thick about William in this place.

Overheard conversations, two visitors, one a leper and the other deadly silent with a face scarred like lines on a map,  an old crone with her white crow,  a stunning feather hidden in the abbey, century old secrets, unseen eyes following his every move and questions whose answers could shake the very foundation of peoples' beliefs draw William into an age old battle that could tip the balance between the forces of good and evil.

This is how author, Pat Walsh reels the reader into The Crowfield Curse totally and completely after only two chapters.  Her background as a trained archaeologist is evident in her vivid descriptions of life and events in this story.  Her skill with words makes us feel the the constant, bitter cold, the day to day struggle for the merest scrap of food and clothing.  Believable depictions of each character as well as the dialogue between them is so well wrought it is surprising they do not walk off the page into our lives.

What sets this fantasy apart from others is the subtle blending of the two worlds, European medieval and the fay; it's as if this is the way that it truly was and always will be. By the book's end readers know this is only the beginning of a story they will gladly enter again.  Crowfield Demon is on its way to Charlevoix as of this writing and this reader can not wait.

Walsh does include a timetable of daily life in the winter at Crowfield Abbey along with a glossary of terms at the conclusion of the book.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Just A Little Bit M. O. R. E.

In exploring the familiar when widening your view you sometimes discover something that was there but never noticed before.  In using the Michigan eLibrary my main focus has been the MeL Databases and MeL Cat.  Today M. O. R. E. , Michigan Online Resources for Educators, caught my eye. 

This is truly a goldmine of tools to facilitate classroom instruction free for the taking.  Their stated goal of Putting More Tech In TEaCHing is well met.  To take full advantage of all the options available register by giving your first and last name, a username, email address, educational role, ISD, school district, grade level and password.  By registering you can click on the Tools tab and use the Resource Locker, a place to store all your "finds", the Lesson Plan Builder, a detailed template for designing, saving and printing lessons, and the Collaboration Center.  To use the Collaboration Center you need to register to be a member of edWeb which is a professional social networking site for the education community. 

To search the site select the Search by GLCE/HSCE, content expectations to standards to sub-standards, and further sub-standards, or Search Across GLCEs/HSCEs, search across the content expectations by keyword, grade and subject, or Browse Subjects, twenty-seven educational categories with sub-groups or the Advanced Search, a combination of resource type, subject, source, and audience (grade level).

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Happy Trail-ers To You...Until...#2

Larry Ferlazzo posted on his bog,  Larry Ferlazzo's Web Sites of the Day this morning about using Fotobabble as a practice vehicle for students making more sophisticated book trailers.  I had previously posted (September 22, 2010) about this web 2.0 app but had thought of it more as a voice enhancement for a particular photograph rather than as a book review device.  This would be one of those "Now why didn't I think of that?" moments for me.  A colleague of his developed a simple rubric which is free for all to use.  Depending on your classroom requirements students can write a review, script, etc. individually or with a partner prior to recording their voice coupled with a picture of the book jacket.  Images for use in Fotobabble can be uploaded from your computer and Facebook or via a link to an image.

 Due to the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act they must be 13 years of age to use this app.  What a great opportunity for an adult to partner with a younger student to take advantage of this integration of technology into the classroom setting.


That post also linked to a previous post dated August 3, 2010 that mentioned an additional app called Bookr .  As far as I can tell there is no registration or age requirement.  Bookr is a tool to create and share your own photobook.  To begin users type in a tag which searches the site Flickr for creative commons photos.  These can then be dragged to fit a frame on the original four pages or clicked to fill the entire page of a book. Text can be added to each page.  Each book needs a title and an author.  Following a rubric students can create a book trailer which is another step up from the Fotobabble style.  A photobook can be embedded in a page entirely or with a link. 

A final site mentioned in Ferlazzo's older post is Book Trailers For Readers .  This wiki was started and is maintained by teacher librarian, Michelle Harclerode, 2010 Elementary Media Specialist of the Year, Lee County, Florida.  Categories include New Releases, Popcorn Worthy, Blockbusters (Student created) and Cult Classics (Teacher favorites). 

Harclerode includes on her wiki highly useful pages, Rules for Book Blogging and How to Make a Book Trailer.

What a fantastic way to promote reading and writing, blend technology into the curriculum and break away from the traditional dreaded book report.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Beat The Heat #2

While signing up students for the Scholastic Summer Challenge  who are to be 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th graders
at Charlevoix Middle School in the fall of 2011, I had a student ask me what he should read. I immediately snagged a couple of titles awaiting cataloging on my desk but I won't be able to do that for the next three months.  Here are some suggestions.

EMAIL--Please feel free to contact me at any time on my school email at mculver@rayder.net.  Be sure to tell me what genre you like best or the last book you read that you liked.  I would love to talk with you not only about what you want to read but what you are currently reading.

BLOG--Check out the pages on the left side of my blog.  I have four lists of books that I have read that are outstanding for middle school readers.  If you need more information about a specific title just send me an email.  If you want to search my blog go further down on the left and type in the tag, books and reading , for a list of posts of all the books that I have read and reviewed this year.  And remember to check my blog often.  I hope to post reviews several times a week as well as updating my elementary and middle school pick of the week.

CHARLEVOIX PUBLIC LIBRARY--When you arrive at the public library web page either click on Kids or Teens.  On those two pages are a link to NoveList.  To connect to it from home you will need to enter in your library card number.  This is an online database provided to us for free.  You can search by age and genre on the left.  The newest titles appear in the center.  At the top you can search by author, title or series.  On the right there are several other resources that are designed to direct the reader to the perfect book.  There is even a guide on how to use NoveList via the Michigan eLibrary.

ONLINE---Pulling from lists at Amazon and Library Thing The Book Seer generates a list of recommended books based upon the title and author that the user provides.  The individual titles that appear on the list are linked to Amazon or Library Thing where more information about a specific title can be found.

Thanks to Joyce Valenza at her School Library Journal blog for this suggestion in her May 2, 2011 post.

Remember to check out the fantastic web pages designed for guys by Jon Scieszka.  At Guys Read Scieszka has lists, lists and more lists of guy-tested great books. 

On my blog are numerous good web sites where books are discussed and reviewed.  Go to Essential Links.  Click on either Flamingnet Book Reviews , reviews for teens by teens, Teenreads.com , Kidsread.com , or the American Library Association (ALA) links to Best Books for Young Adults or Notable Children's Books for reviews and suggestions.

The last link is called Fantastic Fiction.  I use this web site quite a bit if I want to make sure to read all the books in a series or want additional titles by a favorite author. 

Whatever you do,  read whenever you can.  I know that I will. 

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Stacked for Summer

For weeks Xena has been talking about all the stacks of books growing around the house.  Boxes have been delivered daily on the doorstep from favorite book vendors packed with the newest titles. 

Some of the titles are must reads from last year.  Others are favorite books soon to appear on the silver screen.  There are even much awaited sequels.

 Yes, there will more stacks appearing.  And yes, there will be weekly visits to local bookstores to snag up the latest and greatest books for children and young adults as well as numerous stops at the Charlevoix Public Library.  But for now this is what is stacking up to start off my summer of reading.

I can't wait to finish reading Readicide by Kelly Gallagher and begin The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller.

  Just for pure pleasure I found a copy of The Pioneer Woman Cooks by Ree Drummond. It looks like an extension of her wonderful blog noted in my post about Charlie The Ranch Dog but absolutely loaded with pictures and tips to complete her recipes.

What have you got stacked up for summer reading? 

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Good Golly This Goose Is Gothic

Mother Goose has reached the proverbial end of her rope.    In trying to turn the ways of naughty children to the right she has had little success.  An unusual, a frightful school headed by her sister is her only option.

...There are hundreds of rules
all beginning with NO,
and Spinster's bleak school
is the place you will go
if you are a brat
and you need to outgrow
your horrible habits.
She waits down below.

Spinster Goose:  Twisted Rhymes for Naughty Children (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, March 8, 2011) chronicles twenty-six wayward boys and girls from the world of nursery.  These rhymes are fractured with pithy, pointed phrases that point to sinister shadow images of what we thought we knew about Mother Goose.  Bobby Shaftoe is a thief, Baa Baa Black Sheep has a bad language habit, Little Miss Muffet enjoys chewing chalk, Jack Sprat and his wife have become cafeteria cooks from the dark side, Georgie Porgie is a bully and Mary of little lamb fame is a bold-faced liar.

The Nursery rhyme of old, There Was A Little Girl, has been morosely modified to read:
                             The Hair-Twirler
                      There was a little girl
                     who liked to twist and twirl
                     every single curl on her head.
                     When she was good, she was very, very good.
                     But when she was bad, she was...

The mind behind these twisted, terse textual renditions is none other than Michigan author, Lisa Wheeler .  Bubbling to the surface of each short tale is her offbeat, catchy humor.  Once the reader rolls these verses off their tongue, sideways glances will be shared with listeners before the laughter bursts out as all relish the wicked wackiness.  Her books, Bubble Gum, Bubble Gum, Boogie Knights, Dino-Baseball, Dino-Soccer, Dino-Hockey, One Dark Night and Mammoths on the Move, to name a few are ever popular with all our students.  What a joy to read this newest book by the writer who graced our Charlevoix Elementary School for a visit.  It seems just like yesterday. Her gift with words is as evident as ever.

Softly, menacing illustrations done in Chinese ink and watercolor by Sophie Blackall heighten the discord present in these poems.  At times the wide-eyed, sad children's heads are replaced by those of animals furthering the grim, off-kilter atmosphere of this educational institution.  Blackall's illustrations are most recognized in our school in the popular Ivy and Bean books, Meet Wild Boars and Wild Boars Cook. 

I can't wait to read her newly illustrated  Aldous Huxley's The Crows of Pear Blossom. 

While being suggested for younger elementary readers, this devilishly, delightful book would be most appreciated by older readers.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Beat The Heat---I Challenge You To Read

In it's fifth year the Scholastic Summer Challenge encourages reading throughout the vacation months. 
This program is free to use and provides incentives for students to log the minutes spent reading.  In the 2012 Scholastic Book of World Records the top 20 schools with the most minutes read will receive recognition. 

All participants must have a user name and password.  Users can track their minutes read on their own private page at the Summer Challenge site.  Upon registration the school name and location will be requested.  This is just so a record can be kept of the total minutes read school wide.  No school information will ever be displayed in relation to a particular student.  The student, the student's parent or the student's teacher can provide this information. 

Teachers can "bulk" register students and add to this list at any time.  Randomly generated user names and passwords are created.  When students log-in the first time they are required to change their password.  The new password is unique to them and for their eyes only.  Teachers can still track their minutes read by class or grade level if they have multiple classes.  Parents can also receive email updates about their child's minutes and progress in the reading challenge. 

If a child/young adult wishes to participate by registering on their own that is available too.  No personal information is ever asked except for country, state, gender and age.  Only the username chosen will ever be displayed.  A new user is also asked to select a security question and to provide an answer.  If the student is under 13 years of age they will be asked to provide a parent's email address where consent can be given.  When a child/young adult signs up they have the option of creating a THE STACKS account.
THE STACKS is Scholastic's site about books and reading for tweens, where children can create profiles and communicate with other children about books, authors and other subjects of interest.

At the end of the Summer challenge all school information is deleted from the students' accounts but they continue to have a Scholastic.com account, including user name and password, and the user's minutes read, badges and prizes won will continue to appear in that user's profile and widget(if any).

Scholastic 2011 Summer Challenge Privacy Policy is available online for more in depth information.

During the summer of 2011 I have registered as a teacher/library media specialist for Charlevoix Middle School keeping track of our students' minutes read.  In addition to receiving any of the incentives provided at the Scholastic web site, prizes for the top reader in each grade will be provided at the end of the Summer Challenge by Mrs. Culver.  Let's read everyone and put Charlevoix Middle School in the 2012 Scholastic Book of World Records.  Let 's show the world what we can do!