Quote of the Month

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

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Student Blogging Using Edmodo

The web 2.0 free blogging service for educators and their students, Edmodo, was selected as one of the Top 25 Websites for Teaching and Learning 2011 by AASLA (American Association of School Librarians).  It falls under the umbrella of the Social Networking and Communication standard within the Standards for the 21st-Century Learner.  The specific standards it addresses are: 3.1.2 Participate and collaborate as members of a social and intellectual network of learners.  4.1.7 Use social networks and information tools to gather and share information.  4.3.1 Participate in the social exchange of ideas, both electronically and in person.

As stated on their web site:

Edmodo is a secure, social learning platform for teachers, students, schools and districts. We provide a safe and easy way for your class to connect and collaborate, share content and access homework, grades and school notices. Our goal is to help educators harness the power of social media to customize the classroom for each and every learner.  Edmodo is free for all teachers, students, schools and districts.

As a teacher to register a username, password, email address, title (Mr. etc), first name and last name need to be given.  Students register using a group code their educator gives them, determining a username, password, an optional email address, first name and last name.  According to the terms of service students under 18 need parental permission.  In reading down the page the age of 13 is stated.  Parents need to read the terms of service prior to giving consent for usage. 

With registration complete educators need to complete their profile by filling out a short description about themselves (goals, objectives, history of teaching, etc.).  There is also a tab under profile for adding items such as links and files to folders in their professional library. 

By clicking on the account tab a photo can be uploaded or a graphic can be selected.  Registration information can be edited, privacy and notification settings can be adjusted and saved. 

Events can be added to a calendar that includes a description, a date range and to whom this information will be sent.  There is also a grades tab  for easier access to student groups using this application when assessments are evaluated.

At this point I am going to start using this with grade four students perhaps expanding it to encompass third grade students later in the school year. 

Edmodo provides extensive guides generated by the site as well as by its users in print, video and webinar format.  I attended the August 29th Introduction to Edmodo webinar. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Wordsmith Schmidt Delivers Again

Receiving a Newbery Honor for The Wednesday Wars, author Gary D. Schmidt has penned another literary triumph, Okay For Now. As the central voice around which everything else revolves, Doug Swieteck, a character from The Wednesday Wars, tells his story.  This is by no means a sequel but more of a companion book as the author explains in the video clip below.

Undoubtedly due to my age I can remember going to libraries having copies of John James Audubon's out for patrons to use rather than under glass as is an original in this story.  You have to marvel about the mind that can imagine a tale using Audubon's masterpiece as a vehicle for growth and redemption.
Birds of America

Joe Pepitone once gave me his New York Yankees baseball cap.
I'm not lying.
He gave it to me.  To me, Doug Swieteck.  To me. 

These three thoughts one reads upon opening to the first page.  Then your eyes drift back again to The Arctic Tern Plate CCL straight out of Birds of America pictured on the left.  It is a thing of beauty the way Schmidt brings those two seemingly incompatible elements together by the end of chapter one. 

Using that cap we are introduced to his bullying brother, Christoper, his older brother, Lucas, serving in Vietnam beating up someone other than Doug for a change, his abusive father, My father's hands are quick.  That's the kind of guy he is., and his quiet Mom whose strength is initially demonstrated when told she can't take her potted perennial plants; she calmly does not get in the car and distributes them throughout the neighborhood.  As the three guys watch her move about this task Holling Hoodhood walks down the street bringing Doug a going-away gift, a New York Yankees jacket, Joe Pepitone's jacket that he had given him.  This gesture of kindness plays an important part in subsequent chapters.

The family is leaving for Marysville in the Catskills because Doug's father got fired.  His new job, obtained by his less than stellar friend, is at Ballard Paper Mill.  Doug hates this town and christens their new home, The Dump.  In a moment of freedom he explores the town following a girl into a building, his first visit inside a library.  Walking upstairs he sees a large room with a single glass topped table in the center.  Inside is...

A huge, huge book.  Its pages were longer than a good-size baseball bat. 

The book is open to a single page.  Doug's perception of that illustration, The Arctic Tern, is so concise, so vivid that one wonders if he is describing the bird or how that bird is a representation of himself.  This portrait fans an ember long hidden in Doug.  He can not wait to go there again but on Monday finds that the library is only open on Saturdays.  But that girl, Lil is there.  He decides not to be so much like his brother Lucas.  He decides to be nice.  She gets him a job hauling groceries for customers in her Dad's store on Saturday mornings.

Each remaining chapter begins with a plate from Audubon's Birds of America.  Each of those plates foreshadows events, dialogue and depictions of time and place in 1968 Marysville, New York.  Those chapters are peopled with characters that become the kind of family that Doug needs.  Mr. Powell, one of the librarians, prompts and promotes Doug's artistic talent, an eccentric wealthy playwright, Mrs. Windermere who gives Doug a lesson in creativity with a capital C, Evelyn Mason, a grandmother type that everyone wishes for because of her kindness, Mr. Loeffler, an elderly gentlemen who makes Doug feel needed, the Daugherty family whose children adhere to Doug like glue and whose parents give Doug chances.

Beginning eighth grade in September at Washington Irving Junior High School, Doug's family extends from seemingly unfair Principal Peattie, to Miss Cowper, an English teacher with a gift for noticing those students that might fall through the cracks, brutal Coach Reed a Vietnam vet still suffering, and to Mr. Ferris a physical science teacher that can see the potential in all his students. 

Woven into this fabric are a rash of robberies, a friendship that becomes so much more, a Broadway play debut, an fight for life, a damaged brother returning home, an elderly friend found in the most unlikely of places and most important is Doug's quest to find and return pages that have been cut from John James Audubon's Birds of America.  It seems that some things never change; money for keeping the library open is needed so pages are being sold.  One of my favorite quotes from the book is Doug's thoughts about this.

When you find something that's whole, you do what you can to keep it that way.
And when you find something that isn't, then maybe it's not a bad idea to try to make it whole again. Maybe.

When I finished Okay For Now, I softly exclaimed wow and thought, I can't wait to read this again.  You become more than a reader, you shadow each and every person in their lives feeling hope, compassion, empathy, deep sadness, pride at their strength, disgust, perhaps forgiveness...but not quite yet and most of all love; love for all their humanness.

This is going to be a Newbery contender.  I'm not lying.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Cat's Meow

I am without a doubt, with no apologies given whatsoever, a dog person through and through.  There are life-size paw prints on my mailbox, a ceramic sign on my front walkway proclaiming "Home Is Where The Dog Is" and my family photos are of my canine companion, Xena.

But I have to say that when browsing through a local bookstore earlier this summer, spotting Fuddles written and illustrated by Frans Vischer, I cracked up laughing.  You may not be able to judge a book by its cover, but it sure will get your attention.   Seeing that chunky cat lounging on his personal purple settee dangling a fish over his grinning mouth was a definite draw.

Fuddles was a fat, pampered cat.  His family spoiled him.  And spoiled him.  And spoiled him.

These first few phrases coupled with illustrations showing Fuddles under the hair dryer, nails being clipped, being pushed in a stroller, soaking in a bath and hanging in a hammock are enough to up the grin factor.  Contemplating his life though, Fuddles discovers that he pretty much just eats, sleeps and visits his litter box.

What this feline finds is that he longs for adventure; change is good, right?  To his dismay when he heads for the door he is told, in no uncertain terms, that the outdoors is forbidden.  He can't understand that he, Fuddles a fat cat in more ways than one, is being told no for the very first time.  Being no different from many no really means why not; he is determined to meet and conquer this challenge.

 A strict, well sort of, training program begins while waiting for the right moment...Like a cheetah chasing a gazelle, he made his speedy getaway.  Once outside his lack of true training creates one unfortunate incident after another with those annoying birds, hilarious squirrels and a big scary barking dog the size of a horse.  Giddy-up!

Night descends as Fuddles wanders the neighborhood lost, needing a litter box and something to make his stomach quit grumbling. Will this frightened fur ball find his family?

Frans Vischer's graphics for Fuddles, his first picture book, are digitally rendered.  From his early youth Vischer was drawn to cartoons and drawing was a vehicle to communicate when his family moved to the states from Holland.  In 1981 he became an animator for The Walt Disney Company.  To his credit are
such films as The Princess and The Frog, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Cats Don't Dance (Warner Brothers) and The Road to El Dorado (DreamWorks).

As readers turn the pages a varied format greets each phase of the tale.  From full page spreads bleeding off the page to several smaller vignettes to even a two page spread at night, each extends the author's narration.  Humor is injected everywhere.  When sharpening his hunting skills he is really climbing a stool playing with a toy mouse but a thought cloud shows him leaning over a cliff to snag a big fish.  Fuddles' facial expressions alone are guaranteed to produce a load of laughs.

While this book will never convince me to go over to the "other side", I love to laugh, especially with my students.  I sincerely hope that Fran Vischer has more adventures for Fuddles in the future.

Follow this link for a cute word search puzzle at the Simon & Schuster web site.  Be sure to click on the other links to learn more about Fuddles and author/illustrator Frans Vischer.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Twitterville Talk #11

Here's the latest and greatest from all the tweeters on Twitter.

For anyone that works with boys in a variety of settings this article in the New York Times, Boys and reading--Is There Any Hope? by Robert Lipsyte is a must read.  I truly mean this.  Thanks to Publishers Weekly for the link.

YALSA (Young Adult Library Services) The Hub has lots to engage readers young and young at heart alike this week.

Pick your favorite first line from the 2012 Best Fiction for Young Adult nominees

Good Books Come in Threes

August Debuts

School Library Journal had terrific tweets this week.

Archie goes to Bollywood gives a list of newer graphic novels and links to their reviews.

Media Mix:  Curiosity in the Classroom by Phyllis Levy Mandell offers another take on the new Discovery Channel program.

Librarian Joyce Valenza of Neverending Search has put together a comprehensive list of 9/11 Resources.

Rick Riordan has posted the first character art of The Son of Neptune.

I don't know how this ended up on my Twitter Feed but :
Jennifer Lawrence, who stars as Katniss in the anticipated big-screen adaptation of Suzanne Collins' books, will introduce the clip, which airs at 9 p.m. ET/PT.  MTV will air this clip of the upcoming movie, The Hunger Games.

Irene Races Up The Coast

With Hurricane Irene making her way up the eastern side of the United States there are many resources available to those in her path as well as those following her track from safer areas of the country.

From MSNBC in an article Technolog: How to use social media during Hurricane Irene.  Thanks to a friend on Facebook for this link.

Via Twitter Richard Byrne of Free Technology for Teachers:

Tracking Hurricane Irene With Google Maps

Google Earth Blog: More Tools to Help Track Hurricane Irene

Larry Ferlazzo of Larry Ferlazzo's Websites of the Day has updated his list The Best Sites for Learning About Hurricanes to include references to Hurricane Irene.

As more resources present themselves I will add them here for all to use.

Take care one and all no matter where you are.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Cookie Guy On Go

Laura Murray, teacher turned author, has cooked up a completely clever confection for teachers and students alike.  The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School (G. P. Putman's Sons Books for Young Readers, July 7, 2011, is her first children's title. Taken from her experiences in the classroom Murray mixes her fanciful flavors giving readers a new twisty treat on the traditional tale.

Using jaunty, rhyming phrases with a beat,

I began in a bowl.
I was not yet myself-
just a list of ingredients pulled from a shelf,
chosen by children who measured and mixed

my smooth, spicy batter while sneaking quick licks...

a classroom of students form their gingerbread man and bake him up just right. Left on a pan to cool, recess time next is the rule, but the animated sweet wants to be with the students too. He's off and running through the school.

First he gets stuck to a ball that rolls him flat, loosing a toe. Then off in search of the group he does go.  He ends with a leap in a brown paper bag lunch. He wants to be with the kids if that's not asking too much. From coach to nurse, art teacher and principal too, our tasty tot trots calling:

I'm The Gingerbread Man, and I'm trying to find the children who made me, but left me behind. ...

Little does the frantic friend of boys and girl know, they are posting posters in the halls at school saying they miss him too.

You'll just have to nibble, er...read, the pages to find what happens to The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School.

Mike Lowery uses pencil, traditional screen printing and digital color to add the needed spice that makes this book good enough to eat.  A variety of comic-book-like layouts with fresh, charming graphics draw the reader to the story like the aroma of newly baked cookies.  His facial expressions convey much with the slightest of details as do his choice of colors bringing a smile to all who view them.

Murray and Lowery have a recipe for success on their hands.

A poster in a pocket at the back includes a picture of the Gingerbread Man to color, a maze, a recipe for this smart cookie and some educational suggestions.  More ideas and information can be found at Murray's web site linked above.

 Be sure to follow the link to Lowery's site too.  He has some books of his own as well as some very delightful designs, a blog and other goodies.

This title will be hoarded by my teachers along with those variations on The Gingerbread Man already in our media center.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

You've Got To Draw The Line Somewhere

Laura Ljungkvist who entertained and educated readers previously with Follow The Line, Follow The Line Through The House and Follow The Line Around The World adds a new title to the group, Follow The Line To School.  From cover to cover our eyes seek the line's direction up, down, left, right, and around as it leads and creates.

Beginning as if it is chalk on a board the line spells out the book's title morphing into scissors, snails, the wiry hinge on a notebook, block letters of narration, bookshelves, owls, artful containers, game boards, juice boxes, playground equipment and other "schoolish" items galore.

is starting, how exciting.
Music, reading,
math, and writing.

Lunchtime, recess, art,
and more.
Follow the line
and let's

And follow we do, through a day of elementary school as the line takes us in the door, to a cheerful classroom, the world of animals in the science corner, the library for books and reading, the art room for painting and drawing, back to class to find and feed the class pet, Fred or maybe some games before lunch in the cafeteria, then it's on to the playground to savor the fall air, back to class for math learning numbers and shapes, then to the music room to lift voices in song and try instruments, and then to the classroom again for a rousing show and tell time.

Before readers and students know it, the time has quickly vanished as the day has been enjoyed amid new learning.  The black line which has led us through the day brings us outside the school only to remind us that tomorrow will be just as full of wonder and freshness if we open our eyes and minds.  The back cover has the line switching back to chalk as it pictures a globe with the words, SEE YOU!

Each two page spread has spare inviting text to introduce the space but also challenges the reader with three questions about the illustrated area. 

Ljungkvist's use of mixed media, including artwork by her daughter, makes the journey through this day one of joy, discovery and pure "kidliness". These illustrations feel happy and that is the way that we want our students to feel about coming to school. 

I found it not only appropriate but absolutely delightful that the beginning endpapers show a heart clipped from paper and the closing endpapers display a paper with a big A+.  Without a doubt I am bringing my own  perceptions to the review but the Biblical quote, Wherever your treasure lies, there your heart will be, should be what drives educational principal and practice. Our children are our treasure, our hope for a better future for them.  We should teach with heart and they need to know it; everyone gets an A+ at the end of a day like that.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Virtual Post-It Boards---Spice Is Nice

In working my way through the list of the Top 25 Websites for Teaching and Learning 2011 by ALA AASL under the Standards for the 21st Century Learner, Manage and Organize, 2.1.2 Organize knowledge so that it is useful, 2.1.4 Use technology and other information tools to analyze and organize information, 3.1.4 Use technology and other information tools to organize and display knowledge and understanding in ways that others can view, use and assess, I began to experiment with an application called SpicyNodes

SpicyNodes states at their site:  SpicyNodes is a way to visualize online information that mimics that way that people look for things in the real world. Bits of information — such as text, links, photos, and other media — are placed into "nodes," which are then linked together in an appealing interface that invites exploration. SpicyNodes can be used for everything from mind maps and content portals to organizational charts and lesson plans. 

On site are the educational implications and practical ideas for using this in the classroom.  They do advise that if minors are using the service they are to have parental approval or direct supervision by an adult such as a teacher.  To sign up a username, password and email are requested.

Once signed in/up at your home page click on Create a new nodemap.   At the first screen enter in a title for the nodemap and a short description along with making sure that begin empty is checked; unless you are returning.  Once those items are completed to your satisfaction click on Make a new nodemap. 

The first step in making a new nodemap is editing the style.  With the free registration there are sixteen different styles from which to select.

Even if a style has been selected it can always be edited.  Next click on the Edit Content tab to place descriptions on each node, images, YouTube videos, links to pages outside the nodemap or within the nodemap, and place connectors. 

By clicking on one of the three different icons (flower, +, x) users can copy, cut, paste below, merge up or down, add nodes or delete nodes.  Colors to text and node can be changed using an extensive palette.

During the process of designing a nodemap toggling back and forth between saving and preview is very easy to do.  From preview mode users can see their creation live, get a URL for display on SpicyNodes, or the HTML code for embedding it in your blog or web site. 

This takes making an outline to a whole new visual level.  Below is the beginning of a nodemap for the annual Mock Caldecott Election held at the Charlevoix Elementary School Library Media Center each year.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Evil Rises

Just as she did in book one, The Crowfield Curse, Pat Walsh uses her considerable abilities as a meticulous author and her work as an archaeologist to create a sense of place that immediately brings the reader into the world of the characters. 

William put the pail of water on the bench beside the workshop door and blew into his cupped hands to warm them.  The March morning was cold and a biting wind whipped the grey clouds across the sky.  Rain fell steadily, as it had done for weeks past, filling ditches and puddles, and dripping from the reed thatch of Brother Snail's hut.

It's done; I can feel the chill of that day not just because of the weather but because within the next several paragraphs shadows are seen leaving the forest, shadows only Old Magic can perceive.  The fay are frightened.  I am back with William, Brother Snail the healer monk, Brother Walter the hobgoblin and Shadlok, the warrior fay tied to William by a curse.  I am with them as they sense and then watch the awakened evil grow in power threatening not just Crowfield Abbey but the entire countryside.  When the white crow Fionn, spy and familiar of Dame Alys, soars into view or the Dark King materializes out of the mist I feel their fear but also their determination to do what is right. 

The Crowfield Demon, book two, beckons readers again into the medieval era of Britain rising from and still surrounded by the realm of magical forces.  Beginning just a season past from the end of the first title, The Crowfield Demon, speaks to the practice of blood sacrifices, demon worship of a fallen angel, a sacred grove and an ancient oak that is the focal point of this evil.

As the walls and tower of Crowfield Abbey are literally crumbling around the current residents, their worst fears are confirmed when one discovery after another tells the tale of the monks' original construction on this site.  A destructive force believed to have been bound and buried forever has discovered a weakness; a key to its release.  Even the Dark King seeks to distance himself from the woods around the abbey.

With a deftness worthy of the most skilled artisan Pat Walsh gives immediacy to this story through realistic dialogue and perceptive windows into the character's thoughts. The hierarchy of town and abbey life is draw with crystal clarity as could only be done through careful study and understanding of the times and people.  Just as she did in the first book she meshes the old pagan beliefs into the world of Christianity at that time; a time when superstition and faith overlapped.

William glanced around with a growing sense of unease.  The late afternoon shadows were creeping between the trees.  He could feel a change in the air, a strange stirring that tingled through his body.  The woods no longer seemed familiar.  The track ahead of him looked the same as ever but it felt very different.  He had the unsettling feeling that it no longer led to familiar places, to Crowfield and Yagleah, but to somewhere else entirely....William fought down the fear welling inside him. 

"The bowl is cursed, Prior!" Brother Snail protested.  Prior Ardo held up a hand.  "That's enough! I will decide what is best in this matter, Brother.  Just be grateful that I believe what you've told me about the boy's innocence and that I am allowing the fay creature to live within these walls with impunity.  Do not push me further!"
The prior turned to William.  "I accept that none of our misfortunes are of your making, but others may not believe it so readily. "...
The prior looked at Shadlok.  He seemed very wary of him.  "You must find a way to break the curse binding you to the boy and leave the abbey.  A house of God is no place for your kind."
Shadlok's eyes narrowed and he leant towards the prior. "If I knew the way to break it, I would have done so a long time ago, " he said softly.
The prior flinched and gazed at Shadlok as if he was a feral creature from the forest which might attack at any moment.
Which, William thought, wasn't so far from the truth.

The Crowfield Demon by Pat Walsh is a stellar follow-up to The Crowfield Curse intensifying the characters' connections, bringing enlightenment to this segment of history for readers willing to follow with courage though the darkness and unearthly power that threatens all. 

Monday, August 22, 2011

Please, Please Don't Make Me Go To Sleepaway Camp...

Raise your hand if you were told that going to summer sleepaway camp was going to be good for you.  My hand is way up in the air!  It was the things left unsaid such as bullies, pranksters, dirty, damp, grubby cabins and tents, food that made unplanned visits to the woods or latrine obligatory, a swimming pond more like a pig wallow or a leech experiment gone awry, snipe hunting and counselors with the personality of Nurse Ratched a la One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest that filled many a young heart with terror.  But...

Author/illustrator Simms Taback brings back all those less than glorious memories plus some comforting, lovable twists in a communication triumph titled Postcards from Camp: A Postal Story. Using his notable, one-of-a-kind illustrative mixed media style, Taback delivers meaningful messages that will have readers looking, opening, smiling and nodding in agreement as Michael Stevens and his father, Harry Stevens trade thoughts.

To begin you just have to love the front and back endpapers picturing the classic group photo shot of all those campers extraordinaire complete with their name shakily printed across their shirt.  The readers are cordially invited to participate in this adventure with the attached fold-out letter from Michael to his Dad on the publication page saying in boyhood print:

Cover:  My Camp List M. Stevens
Inside: Dear Dad, I know you want me to go to sleep-away camp.  I'll go for a try--out, but I know I won't like it!  please check my list.  Love, Your Son
Open up on lined notepad paper:  flashlight, extra batteries, pocket knife, sneakers, shorts, t-shirts, swim trunks, sweat shirt, sweater, rain gear, books, comix, flipflops, sleeping bag, hiking shoes, pens, pencils, (color pencils), paint set, address book, stamps, allergy pills, socks, toothpaste, toothbrush, comb, hairbrush, nail clipper, CD's, player, xtra pr Jeans, warm shirt, bug spray

The ensuing pages show on the right the front of a postcard followed by the message on the back (left) alternating between Michael first, then his Dad.  Michael's hand drawn designs ranging from aliens, to a big gooey frog, and raining cats and dogs begin as single postcards then branch into decorated envelopes with folded letters inside then back to the postcards filled with every imaginable reason that he needs to come home.  His Dad's replies are as equally creative, filled with humor and encouragement. 

As the stay at camp progresses Michael's inventive pleas range from:  I HATE camp!  Come get me! P-L-E-A-S-E. My counselor is an alien, and a vegetarian, Your loving son, Michael xxxx...to ...I need another raincoat because that's all I wear.  The tent roof leaks on our beds.  Your VERY VERY wet son, Michael... to ...There is lots of snakes and I swear I saw an alligator or something.  No one believes me.... and then  ...Camp isn't that bad.  Maybe I could come back next year.  Love, Your Son Bunk 8 Group 2 

To the first his Dad explains how very hot it is in New York City and to give it a chance, after all it's only the first day.  His postcard is a clever city scene with a weather report clipping and news flashes about the temperature.  In response to the raincoat dilemma his Dad sends the ultimate design to a unique techno raincoat and suggestions for things to do in the rain like fishing while standing on his bed or challenging the kids in the next bed to water soccer.  His Dad's final piece of correspondence says that he can't wait to see him on camp closing day. 

Simms Taback does include a final piece of postal memorabilia and a closing sentence that will have readers thinking, "ah! ha!"  For those readers looking at details the stamps chosen to decorate and send the mail tend to mirror the messages.

In an age of Twitter and texting this book offers a fresh take on the art of expressing sentiments, moods and inspiration putting pen, pencil (colored and otherwise) to paper each offering the other a little piece of themselves that can be held in one's hand, saved and savored at a later date.  It is a visual testament to the relationship these two share.  Just as Michael and his Dad can relive that summer again so can we readers. My prediction is that this is going to be a very popular title no matter the season. 

For starters I can match it with Camping Day! by Patricia Lakin, Toasting Marshmallows: Camping Poems by Kristine O'Connell George, Sipping Spiders Through A Straw: Campfire Songs for Monsters by Kelly Dipucchio and Gris Grimly and Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah: A Letter From Camp by Allan Sherman.
And not to forget Mosquitoes Are Ruining My Summer!: And Other Silly Dilly Camp Songs by Alan Katz and David Catrow reviewed here on July 22, 2011.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Twitterville Talk #10

Tweets this week heightened the hype for fall books, zombies loom on the horizon, glimpses of Pottermore are gathered and teens are voting on their top picks as Moms struggle with book selection.

Book trailers abound with sequels and newbies coming to town.

Vampires, to werewolves and on to zombies teen lit hovers on the dark side with humor and shivers.

Until September 15, 2011 voting is taking place at YALSA's site for the Teens' Top Ten.

Pamela Dodson wrote an article, But Mom, Everybody's Reading It:  A Guide to Kid's Books and Peer Pressure, at Huffington Post.  She presents the issue from experience and offers good advice.  Thanks to School Library Journal for the tweet.

Publishers Weekly crew, The Magic of Pottermore, received advanced access to the beta version of the site this week.  Come October, users are really in for a treat of the senses.  Check out the sneak peaks.

On August 18th, character Percy Jackson's birthday, Disney announced that a company record is being broken with 3 million copies of Rick Riordan's The Son of Neptune being printed for the October 4th release date.

 Check out the fresh design of the mockingjay on the cover of the new The Hunger Games edition.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Lure of Time Travel

Ruby Red, the first in a trilogy from German author, Kerstin Gier and translated by Anthea Bell (who translated at least the first two volumes of the Inkheart trilogy by German author Cornelia Funke) more than promises to keep readers engaged in the intriguing lives of sixteen-year-old Gwyneth Shepherd and Gideon de Villiers, her time traveling companion.

Hyde Park, London
8 April 1912

As she fell to her knees and burst into tears, he looked all around the park.  Just as he'd expected, it was empty at this early hour.  Jogging wouldn't be fashionable for a long time yet, and it was too cold for the beggars who slept on park benches with nothing but newspaper over them. 

This is the mysterious, ominous first paragraph of the four page prologue to Ruby Red.  It generates in the reader questions of identity, purpose, and portends of secrets yet to be disclosed.

Moving to the present day we are introduced to Gwyneth, Gwen, for all practical purposes a normal sixteen year old woman trying to get through a day at school with best friend, Lesley.  Although normal by her standards might not be typical by others.

Gwen can see ghosts, in fact, James is a ghost who does not believe he has died, roaming the halls of the school which back in the day used to be his rather grand home.  And there is her quite eccentric family consisting of  Lady Arista Montrose, her grandmother, Glenda Montrose her aunt, Charlotte, her cousin, her Mom, brother Nick and Caroline her sister as well as Great Aunt Maddy, sister of her late Grandfather Montrose. Just names in print until the reader realizes they are all waiting for Charlotte to time travel for the first time.  Charlotte has spent her entire life training for this highly anticipated moment predicted at her birth.

To Gwen's consternation it is she who travels quickly three times back in time suffering harrowing episodes before she decides to let her family know.  Grace, her mother, sick with worry for her safety rushes her to the Temple, home of the secret society known as the Guardians.  There she must reveal her lies told at Gwen's birth; lies told to shield her from harm.  After the dust settles, Gwen's life is no longer conventional by anyone's standards. 

What her cousin spent years learning Gwen must assimilate in hours; dress, language, mannerisms, defense skills and history.  Initially thankful that there is a mechanism, a chronograph, which can control where in time she and her newly met companion, Gideon, go, Gwen comes to understand very quickly that as the Ruby Red, she represents the last link of twelve needed to complete a circle. 

Gideon has been traveling back and forth in time trying to get blood samples from other time travelers to replicate the power of the stolen second chronograph.  It was taken by Lucy Montrose, Grace's niece and Paul de Villiers who now reside permanently in the past.  Why they took it is a mystery whose solution is yet to be solved.  But what Gwen knows for sure is one, someone wants her dead, and two, she is falling in love with Gideon and he with her. 

Finding humor in the situations presented by time travel, fear in the motivations of Guardians past and present, the lack of trust for anyone except her Mom and best friend, and the attraction of new love part of her novel abilities keeps Gwen and the reader on edge.

Kerstin Gier has a gift with pacing, partially exposed truths, and a true knack for character development that lifts this trilogy above others and will garner fans from across the globe.  Sapphire Blue and Emerald Green can not come soon enough for this reader.  I am waiting not so patiently to see if my theories are true.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Adoration of Saint Francis of Assisi

Saint Francis of Assisi was canonized in July of 1228 less than two years after his death; evidence of his great influence and popularity in the Roman Catholic Church.  Pope John Paul II acknowledged him as the patron saint of ecology in 1979.  One of his more popular writings, a song, The Canticle of the Creatures, is a reflection of his belief that all nature is a mirror of God.

His The Canticle of the Creatures has been reimagined by author Katherine Paterson in a book titled, Brother Sun, Sister Moon.  Paterson is the current National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. Sixteen of her titles are award recipients including the Newbery Medal twice, a Newbery Honor award once and the National Book Award twice.

In an author's note Paterson states when Saint Francis of Assisi originally wrote this work he did so in the local Umbrian dialect (Italy) rather than the more formal language of Latin used in the church.  He wanted everyone to share in his love of creation and God.  Making reference to the classic four basic elements of air, water, fire and earth as well as viewing the sun, moon, and even death as a sibling, Saint Francis gives praise and thankfulness to the Lord most High.

Paterson with a background in missionary work takes the translation from the Umbrian text of Bill Barrett using her uncommon gift with words to reaffirm and renew readers' appreciation of Saint Francis, to reveal the strength of her beliefs, to celebrate the world in which we live and the lives of all that share this common ground.  Please compare the two and you will understand just exactly what a jewel this reimaging truly is.

Barrett translation---Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars; in the heavens you have made them, precious and beautiful. ... Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire, through whom you brighten the night.  He is beautiful and cheerful and powerful and strong.

Paterson reimagined---We praise you for Sister Moon and all our Sister Stars, who clothe the night with their beauty and, like you, watch over us while we sleep. ... We praise you for our Brother Fire, whose strength warms our homes and in whose resplendent dancing light we glimpse your playfulness.

Katherine Paterson also reveals in her author's note that it was in seeing examples of Pamela Dalton's work that she felt inspired to try to reimagine this song of praise of Saint Francis of Assisi.

Pamela Dalton has illustrated Brother Sun, Sister Moon using the technique of Scherenschnitte.  Scherenschnitte is said to have it origins in China but it traveled to the European continent becoming known as  the cultural folk art of the Swiss, Dutch, Polish and Germans.  Scissor cutting of paper was brought to the United States when the Germans settled in Pennsylvania seeking freedom of worship.  In this particular method of papercutting symmetry is prevalent.

For more than twenty-five years Dalton has experimented with and perfected this form of papercutting.  Using a single sheet of paper for each design that graces the pages of this book painting each with watercolor, she lifts the words of Paterson to new levels of beauty.  It is simply amazing how the framing images maintain an identical balance left and right but the center sections reflect a truly detailed interpretation of the song.  Vivid, stunning colors against the rich black background draw in the reader's eye while creating a desire to reach out and touch them.  This is Pamela Dalton's first book for children; astounding.

Two marvelously skilled artists, one with words, the other with paper and scissors through their collaboration bring honor to Saint Francis of Assisi and his The Canticle of the Creatures with their book, Brother Sun, Sister Moon.

Additional books describing other papercutting styles are  Zoo Flakes ABC by Will C. Howell and Making Magic Windows: creating papel picado/cut-paper art with Carmen Lomas Garza.

 "Francis of Assisi, Saint." Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online Library Edition. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 2011. Web. 10 Aug. 2011.

Norwood, Bev. "A Cut Above: The Art of Scherenschnitte With Homage to Isaac Stiehly, Marvel of Mahantongo Valley." New England Antiques Journal. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Aug. 2011. .


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Dipping Into Time

Within the Standards for the 21st Century Learner, Content Collaboration, the following standards are addressed by the web 2.0 application Dipity:  Standard 1.3.4 Contribute to the exchange of ideas within a learning community and 3.1.2 Participate and collaborate as members of a social and intellectual network of learners.  Dipity made the Top 25 Websites for Teaching and Learning, AASL 2011. 

As stated at the website Dipity's mission is to organize the internet's data by date and time. 

To use the free services provided by Dipity click on Create a Timeline.  You must be over 13 years of age, give your first and last name, a username and password.  As with many online services, tabs run across the top right hand side that give users the opportunity to go to their Dashboard, Profile, My Topics, Following (topics or people) and Settings (for your account).

To begin a topic click on Create a Timeline.  Initially you need to fill in blanks for the topic name, a short description, a subject category, your timezone, a topic thumbnail photo and your settings on who can view and contribute to this topic--Private or Anyone.

When you continue a screen appears that  allows you to add events to the timeline, search Twitter, Flickr, YouTube and Google News, add photos from Flickr and Picasa, include videos from either YouTube or Vimeo, incorporate blogs from Blogger, WordPress or Tumblr, gather music from Last.fm or Pandora, use messaging from Twitter or Friendfeed, attach other Dipity timelines or use Simile Timeline XML.  Yelp, Digg, Delicious and any RSS feeds are allowed to become part of a particular timeline.

Timelines or topics as well as events can be edited or deleted. 

When looking at a timeline there are several views:  timeline, flipbook, list and map.  A timeline can be shared on Twitter, Facebook, Digg, MySpace, StumbleUpon or embedded in a website or blog with HTML code.

This application would be a fantastic educational enhancement to any unit involving the passage of time; author studies, events, or even student of the week with assistance from parents for younger students.  Timelines could be started with students completing them or students could work in groups. 

This would be another technique for reviewing a book in the historical fiction genre; create a timeline, fiction and real, based upon the storyline.

Dipity is definitely going in my educational toolbox for this coming year.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Into A World of Dragon Power

For close to forty-eight hours I have been held captive within The Empire of the Celestial Dragons, a realm, drawing inspiration from Chinese and Japanese cultures, created by the imagination of author, Alison Goodman.  The sequel to Eon: Dragoneye Reborn and concluding title, Eona: The Last Dragoneye, is every good as its predecessor if not better.

Twelve dragons bearing animal's names from Chinese astrology each seated at a compass point guarding lands in those directions bring harmony and balance to the elements.  For centuries these dragons have melded with human male Dragoneyes preserving the land and people and protecting the Emperor. 

Eon was saved from slavery in the salt mines to be trained as a Dragoneye.  She and her master keep her true identity secret; it would mean certain death, this violation of tradition and law.  In the arena Eon is chosen by the Mirror Dragon.  Five hundred years have passed since the last Mirror Dragon came to the circle.  This choosing sets events in motion previously only mentioned in prophesy. 

Secrets, betrayal and death certainly intensify the tension, twists and thrills that beset the characters of power-mad Lord Ido, Rat Dragon Dragoneye, Dillon, apprentice to Lord Ido, Kygo, the rightful Pearl Emperor, High Lord Sethon, Kygo's uncle and Lord Eon(a) as they are joined in a battle to preserve the peace of The Empire of the Celestial Dragons and the dragons themselves.  Thus ends book one.

The dragons are crying...begins chapter one, book two.  Lord Eona, Mirror Dragoneye, has revealed that she is not a he.  Close allies no longer give her their complete trust; this deception has shaken them completely.  Lord Ido has been imprisoned by his partner in crime, the sadistic High Lord Sethon.

So new as a Dragoneye, Lord Eona can not control her dragon power.  Each time she enters the spirit world ten dragons seek to overwhelm her.  Eona needs Ido to train her but can he be relied upon to keep a bargain?  The resistance grows across the land but they are outnumbered by the members of High Lord Sethon's army.

All seek the black folio and the truths within its pages; the binding power it offers over Dragoneyes, dragons and the empire.

Will the tragic triangle of five hundred years ago be repeated between Eona, Kygo and Ido?  Much weighs in balance with choices that require unthinkable leaps of faith.

Alison Goodman writes of natural and supernatural power gone wild, brutal battle scenes replete with  incredible displays of skill, political intrigue and steamy love, some true and other manipulative, set among a landscape of coastal villages, mountain fortresses, a ship at sea, desert panoramas and palace grounds.  Her graphic descriptions draw readers into the core of The Empire of Celestial Dragons.

A wide semicircle of soldiers had broken out of the woods, all carrying Ji, the hook-bladed pikes braced for attack.  They were no more than one hundred lengths away and moving with wary speed.  I heaved on Dillon's hand, but he had dropped to his knees, a shrieking anchor.  I felt the gusty wind flex into the heavier muscle of the monsoon, its brutal strength knocking me back a step and stealing my breath.  Before me, the grass flattened and the trees bowed in obeisance as the gale brought the first drumming drops of rain.  A panic of starlings burst out of the trees and spiraled upward, turning in a sharp arrow ahead of the wind.  I gasped as the sudden rush of cool water streamed against my hair and face, its weight stinging my skin and scalp.

Once part of the magnetic Empire of Celestial Dragons readers will be reluctant to leave it, the enriching, colorful, and at times horrifying lives of its characters nor the majestic, divine dragons themselves. 

By my recommendation older middle school readers on up will be enthralled with the writing of Alison Goodman and her Eon: Dragoneye Reborn and Eona: The Last Dragoneye.  Her web site link above offers much more information about these books and her other noteworthy titles.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Flavorful fun

Best buds Harry and Horsie, creations of author Katie Van Camp and illustrator Lincoln Agnew, get an attack of the munchies.  They must have cookies not apples, cheese or carrot sticks but cookies.  Mom (you know how Moms are) puts that jar of sugary treats too high for our comrades. 

But as always, Horsie knew exactly what to do. 

Cookiebot!: a Harry and Horsie Adventure follows young Harry and his ever present stuffed toy, Horsie on their newest escapade.

Toolbox in hand, intricate blueprint spread before them, the duo gets busy and makes...Cookiebot!

Harry rides the heights inside their robot who once turned on does reach through the window grabbing  a chocolate chip cookie for Horsie but goes absolutely wild when reaching for another, eating the entire jar of cookies. 

Much like the Stay Puff Marshmallow Monster in Ghostbusters he lurches his way down Fifth Avenue in search of more cookies.  Horsie, help! With no off switch what else can Harry do? 

The aroma of more sweets fills Cookiebots' nose and he climbs to the top of the Empire Sweets Cafe.

Where is the heroic Horsie?  Can he save his young friend Harry in time? 

Katie Van Camp knows exactly which words will appeal to her readers mixing them together to make a delicious treat that will become a story time favorite.  Her web site has offerings that will appeal to kids, parents and teachers.

Lincoln Agnew describes the technique he used with the first Harry and Horsie book in an interview at The Casual Optimist blog on September 4, 2009 : My process is clumsy at best, I fumble around with rough outlines, scanners, photocopiers, pencil crayons, ink pens, sandpaper and computers. It’s a struggle, nothing really comes easy and there’s only a small window of time before the love turns to hate.
Originally getting inspiration from vintage toys his 1950s retro like designs in yellow, blue and red have timeless appeal to the kid in everyone.  His varied use of horizontal one page, divided page and two page spreads coupled with a vertical two page spread flow seamlessly complimenting the storyline

I can see using this book as a lead-in to a nonfiction mini-research on horses, robots or movies with monsters. I can envision it as the beginning of a unit on listing and how-to-directions for the ultimate cookie or something else of my students' design. I'm ready already for another helping of Harry and Horsie.  More please!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Twenty-four Hours in Twitterville #9

Even without all the back-to-school commercials, the changing weather and daylight hours getting shorter, you can definitely tell fall is in the air with the increased tweets regarding activity in the publishing industry; things are heating up.

Thanks to Larry Ferlazzo at Larry Ferlazzo's Web Sites of the Day for the following interesting links.

Read one writer's take on the place and form of books in the near future in an article titled Is there hope for books? by Buzz Poole.

National Geographic has a project up and running on Facebook regarding the tenth anniversary of 9/11.  It is an interactive experience for all participants called Where Were You?

Time Newsfeed celebrated the twentieth birthday of the first web site ever on August 6, 2011.

Larry has a blog post about the new web site and television series called Curiosity by the Discovery Channel.

Just for fun go to a chart which helps you discover which genre you might be.  This chart was designed by Nalia's World.

Blogger and librarian extraordinaire, Joyce Valenza, in a post at School Library Journal reviews two new items, A Google A Day and TeachParentsTech.org.  Both tools will be a boost in the classroom.

In an article, Remarkable Reads:  Equine Fantasy, blogger Dodie Owens lists some great books.

Thanks to School Library Journal for the above tweets and a link to the article, The Secret Garden's hidden depths by Anna Clark.  The Secret Garden is 100 years old.  Wow, do I feel old.

Rick Riordan tweets that The Son of Neptune will be available October 4, 2011.
He also provides a link to his fantastic web site where a kit is housed (and is printable) encouraging celebration of Percy Jackson's birthday, August 18th.

Booklist Online announces the release of a new book, Rin Tin Tin:  The Life and the Legend by Susan Orlean.  Speculation is that there will be high demand.  The book is slated for teens and above.  I will be one of those.

NPR Books announces Your Picks:  Top 100 Science Fiction, Fantasy Books.  I can't believe how many on the list I've read.  Thanks to Library Journal for the tweet.

The 2011 Society of Illustrators Original Art:  The Fine Art of Children's Book Illustration winners are revealed.  Julie Danielson of Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast was there.

YALSA  The Hub showcases a lineup of new fall books that beg to be read.

YALSA is generating a list of nominations for the Reader's Choice List.  Winners will be announced in November.  The categories are:  horror/thriller, mystery/crime, nonfiction, realistic fiction, romance, science fiction/fantasy and steampunk.

Read to Lead tweets about an article written by Mo Willems for the Parents section at Scholastic that offers ideas to spark a lifetime interest in reading with children.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Collectible Treasures

Museum Box ,which did make the 2010 ALA AASL Top 25 Websites for Teaching and Learning list under Manage and Organize, allows you to build up an argument or description of an event, person or historical period by placing items in a virtual box.  

Begin by clicking on the Start label on the home page.  A working screen appears.  At this screen the user can determine how many layers  (1-3) will be a part of this box.  Within each layer a different amount of cubes can be chosen; 1, 2, 4, 6 or 8.  Images, text, sounds, videos, files and links can be added to cubes within each layer of each box.  Items are added to the six sides of each cube. 

To change the format of the original box click on Change Box.  At this screen the number of layers, number of cubes, color and texture of the box and cubes are chosen. 

By clicking on each of the icons beneath the box, images, text, sounds, videos, files, or links can be placed in your drawer.  Searching can be done in the Museum Box galleries or uploaded from your own computer.  Items that have been placed in your drawer then can be added to the sides of each cube by clicking on the cube.  Each cube can be named and captions can be placed beneath each of the six sides.

To upload or save you must register.  It is as simple as selecting a log in name and password.  You must also select a school name.  Charlevoix Public Schools was already on the list.

When you are sure that your box is completed submit it for review by a moderator or a teacher that has registered their students.  There is a complete explanation on how to add students.  Messages can be left for creators of boxes to read.  A box can not be loaded or changed once submitted until it has been placed in the gallery. 

This is a very user friendly, interesting and unique application that can be used across the curriculum.  I already have two Museum Boxes in the works.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Without Words...Pictures Say It All

Beginning in 1992 with Charlie Parker Played Be Bop, Chris Raschka has a long list of noteworthy books bearing his illustrations as well as those he has penned himself.  As mentioned previously on this blog in 1994 his book, Yo! Yes? received the Caldecott Honor award.   Hello, Goodbye Window written by Juster Norton illustrated by Raschka won the Caldecott Medal in 2006.  In March 2012 the world will know what his nomination as the United States representative illustrator for the Hans Christian Andersen Award will reveal.

A Ball For Daisy, a wordless picture book, by Chris Raschka done in ink, watercolor and gouache is beautifully brilliant.  Using the bold basic blue, yellow, and red of an artist's palette, black and brown softened with grays and washes, Raschka conveys with every stroke of his brush personality, emotion and story flow.

As soon as readers are introduced to Daisy we get a sense of her playful exuberance and innocence with that wagging tail and doggy smile.  Awake or sleeping her red ball is her favorite thing; her constant companion.  The two are in continuous motion except when they rest upon Raschka's two tone green striped sofa; his combination of two of the predominant colors.

I absolutely love the sequence of pictures when Daisy is sleeping on the sofa, she at one end and the red ball at the other.  She awakens, yawns and looks straight at the reader as if saying, "What am I doing away from my ball?"  She moves next to her round friend and continues her nap.  It is perfectly precious.

One day her little girl takes this little white bundle of happiness and her ball for a walk to the park.  During a game of throw and fetch the ball goes over a fence.  When her girl brings it back another dog, a brown dog gets the ball before Daisy.  Again she glances at the readers, eyebrow lifted, asking with unseen words, "What gives?  What is this intruder doing with my ball?"  Daisy is not happy and before she gets her most favorite thing in the world back---it pops!

Raschka's two page spread of eight square washes shows a range of feelings and reactions from Daisy at this dilemma; cocking her head, listening, looking, shaking the red pieces, howling and utter sadness.  Crestfallen head hanging Daisy and her girl leave the park. 

Daisy does not know how to get comfy for her nap without her ball despite consolation from her girl.  Raschka uses a purple wash just this once to convey Daisy's downheartedness.

The next day on their walk to the park Daisy and her girl are met by the other girl and the curly furred brown dog.  To Daisy's delight there is a new ball, a blue ball.  Nothing could be better than a new ball and a new friend; when one door closes there is the opportunity of another to open.

Mr. Chris Raschka, your distinctive artwork lends itself to redefining wordless picture books.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Running Away

Noah Barleywater left home in the early morning, before the sun rose, before the dogs woke, before the dew stopped falling on the fields.

Noah, at age eight, can not imagine remaining at home for another single day.  Walking along a familiar trail out of the forest to one, than another and finally a third village Noah realizes that the path has changed as have his surroundings.  All is more vibrant.  Being drawn to an extraordinary tree in front of an extraordinary toy shop Noah begins conversing with a dachshund and a donkey.  Noah and readers will find this to be normal; without meaning to we have entered into the life of old man and his story in the world of fairy.

This old man, a toymaker of uncommon talent, has a shop filled with puppets, a door named Henry that moves from wall to wall offering his services, a clock named Alexander making noises like a stomach growling when it's meal time, floorboards that shift, a cuckoo clock that is a live bird coming through the window announcing the progression of time, and of box of memories.

This beautifully carved holder of timeless treasures appears during a shared lunch with the old man.   Within its confines are puppets that were also made by the old man's father.  Each puppet has a tale to tell revealing the life journey of the toymaker and his father.  In alternating chapters readers follow, much like Noah followed the path to the shop,  the life of this unusual character and the story of Noah and what prompted his leaving home. 

More than once when reading this book I marveled at the mind that could take what is well-known, project into its probable future and weave a realistic life event among its fibers so flawlessly.  Musings and conversation by both Noah and the old man, who constantly has a block of wood in his hand carving, and Noah's parents are realistically rendered. 

"You don't want to answer me?" asked the old man eventually in a quiet voice, and Noah looked across at him and swallowed hard before shaking his head.  "I don't want to be rude, " he said, and as he spoke he found that his voice was coming out much more forcefully than he had intended, "but now I've run away from home, I think it's best if I don't think about my mum and dad at all.  Or talk about them."
"Well, now, that's a very strange thing to say," said the old man, turning around and staring at him in surprise.  "First your mother stands up for you against a security guard who has wrongly accused you, then she makes a beach out of a swimming pool, and then she takes you out of school to go to a fair.  And you don't want to talk about her?  Why, if I'd had a mother like that...well, I never had a mother, of course, I only had Poppa," he said sadly.  "But still, I don't understand why you don't want to be with her."

Irish author, John Boyne, is perhaps best known by my students for his bestseller, The Boy In The Stripped Pajamas. Noah Barleywater Runs Away: a Fairy Tale by John Boyne does lure readers into a realm of magic but it is more like an excursion into a world of make-believe, a world full of choices, promises, love and loss. Touring through the life of the old man, Noah comes to know that he has choices, that some promises will be broken and that love is illuminating as well as painful.

One day in the life of Noah and days in the lifetime of the old man will have readers looking at the way they have spent, are spending and will spend the time traveling down their life's road. Even though Noah is eight years old this story will best be understood and appreciated by older readers; middle school and up.  The book jacket speaks the truth:  A journey that will change his life.  And...it could change yours too.