Quote of the Month

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

Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween Happenings--Now or Next Year

Three reliable sources of great educational lessons and activities come from:

The New York Times, Education page, The Learning Network---Halloween

Larry Ferlazzo maintaining Larry Ferlazzo's Websites of the Day...The Best Websites for Learning About Halloween

Richard Byrne maintaining Free Technology for Teachers--All About Pumpkins and Halloween

Enjoy and Happy Halloween!

The Perfect Combination-A Boy and His Dog

Black and white illustrations never looked as good as they do in this first graphic novel, Mal and Chad: The biggest, bestest time ever! by Stephen McCranie.  McCranie began the adventures of Mal and Chad as a feature for his college newspaper.  They have evolved from a mad scientist and his test subject into a child genius and his dog, a forever friend.

McCranie does not waste a single frame as the story begins with a bang; literally as Mal's experimental jet pack with his favorite stuffed animal, Captain Porky, is accidentally shot through the ceiling of his bedroom (roof of the house) by Chad to wander in the upper atmosphere.  Of course the jet pack was Mal's backpack containing his homework, textbooks and lunch.  Chad's over-dramatic reaction at the mention of lunch is the humorous, classic dog-always-craving-food response; not dog food though because it tastes yucky.

At Einstein Elementary School Mal has chats with the huge Einstein statue in front of the building.  It's his way of sorting through his thoughts.  Most of the students stay clear of Mal; in trying to protect his giftedness he comes across as a dork.

Two characters, Megan and Zachary, play prominently in the storyline.  Mal has a major crush on Megan even after she strikes him with one her flaming dodge bombs in gym class.  Zachary is the classic know-it-all whose biggest supporter is himself; spying Mal's backpack with Captain Porky through his telescope thinking it's an alien ups the ante in the laughter department.

Each day Mal can hardly wait to get home, trying out inventions stored in his treehouse, building his rocketship and just being with Chad throughout all his escapades.  When his teacher assigns an essay about what they want to be when they grow up, Mal has no clue. We readers get to share in all his attempts with Chad to discover what that might be.

An old vacuum cleaner becomes a Mini-Mega-Morpher shrinking Mal and Chad to bug size; a sink full of dishwater their venue for underwater exploration.  Barely escaping when Mal's Mom comes home early, lands them in a cloud of dust in the kitchen and straight upstairs for a bath and bed.

A time machine crafted from an old elevator, complete with the appropriate music, zings them into the age of dinosaurs.  Chad's attraction to a baby Ankylosaurus nearly costs them their lives and the possibility of a return trip home.  As the time machine blasts homeward Zachary spies it through his telescope thinking it's a crashed spaceship. 

Between the inventions (rubber ducky life raft, modified Swiss Army knife, seed growing into a flower tent, potion that makes even dog food taste good), the day to day challenges of school life, the presence of Murphy's Law in their fast-paced perils, the upbeat dialogue between Mal and Chad (he can talk due to Mal's creativity) and an ending that couldn't be better, Mal and Chad:  The biggest, bestest time ever!  is just that for each and every reader.

A mixture of frame sizes, liberal use of sound effects sans balloons and facial expressions that leave no doubt as to the character's state of mind, continually move the reader forward quickly turning the pages.  Readers explore with Mal and Chad just what it means to live life with a sense of wonder. Stephen McCranie manages to convey zany hilarity and true heart throughout with the seamless blend of narration and graphics.

More copies are on their way to Charlevoix and the new title to be released in January of 2012, Mal and Chad:  Food Fight! has been preordered.  Don't miss all the extra features at the web site linked above by clicking on Stephen McCranie's name.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Twitterville Talk #20

There is never a dull moment on Twitter. 

Credit goes to  Children's Bookshelf of Publishers Weekly for the following tweets.

'Elephant and Piggie' author Mo Willems on his latest best seller and his new Pigeon app-VIDEO by Jeff Labrecque is an outstanding interview.

The recently released The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, which I read in less than 48 hours, has had the movie rights scooped up by Warner Bros.  And Maggie Stiefvater shares her throughts; The power of myth and magic in teenage fiction.

A new show aired October 28 designed just for kids and young adults; Not Just Your Parents' NPR.  Read all about it in an article by Shannon Maughan.

Lionsgate releases character posters for The Hunger Games. I can't wait to see this.

Julie Danielson at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast sent this tweet.  Thanks.

At Matthew Cordell's blog a challenge was issued; Reawaken your love for the picture book.

Edutopia tweets about a fantastic resource:  100+ examples of use of social media for learning.

School Library Journal blogger, Joy Fleishhacker, posts about all the goodies for the new movie; Watch and Read:  Starring Hugo Cabret.

Best tweet:

The impact of great children's books:  I can never eat marmalade w/out thinking of Paddington, or poached eggs w/out thinking of Frances.  Rick Riordan October 28, 2011

Friday, October 28, 2011

The School Bus--Terrifying Transportation

Last year Kyle's Mom walked him to school and his brother rode the school bus.  This year after a move their modes of transportation are reversed.  Being a caring, older brother (note the sarcasm), James has given Kyle Ten Rules You Absolutely Must Not Break If You Want to Survive the School Bus.
Author John Grandits spins a tale much like the wheels on a bus; round and round.

It begins with the first day of school as James is walking Kyle to the bus stop.  Having never rode the bus to school before, Kyle is naturally apprehensive especially after James' warnings along the way; stay off people's grass, don't get there too early or too late, be careful or people will laugh at you, push you, yell at you, pound on you, steal your lunch or your money or even more precious treasures and by all means, watch out for the dog behind the fence at the bus stop. 

"Better stay back," said James.  "That dog sounds nuts."
"No lie," a big kid said to my brother.  "I heard he ate a first-grader last year." 
Everyone moved as far away from the fence as possible-even the grownups.

Kyle is acutely aware that to live through this day he must follow each of the ten rules.  By the time he has made his way through the gauntlet of the aisle to a seat,  he has already broken two rules in order to not break rule one: never sit in the first row.  When the bus arrives at school to his dismay he has broken another five rules.  The morning is looking decidedly grim.

His day though is not so bad; in fact at recess the girl he spoke with on the bus (rule seven: Never talk to girls.) talks nonstop but he doesn't care.  She's pretty interesting.  Before he knows it the final bell has rung but where is the bus?  As he takes a seat he realizes that in less than thirty seconds five rules have been broken. 
Will Kyle break rule ten?  With a confidence boosting conclusion readers along with Kyle will realize that some (or maybe all) rules are meant to be broken and maybe, new ones can be created along the way.

John Grandits has written a first day of school adventure a la bus ride that is bursting with bust-out-loud-laughing humor.  Liberal use of similes and overly dramatic imaginings by Kyle elevate the fun factor for readers.  Grandits' uncanny knack of knowing the subtle shifts in daily school environments and the interplay of siblings gives this title its edge into perfection.

Visuals created in acrylic paint by artist Michael Allen Austin nearly breath they are so realistic.  Prior to any narration his illustrations on the title and dedication pages tell a story of their own.  Kyle, backpack at the ready, is sitting on the floor watching a nature show about a rhinoceros being reminded of the time as a school bus makes its way through the hazy morning mist in the neighborhood with houses tilting and trees looking a tad spooky.  Even the squirrel making an appearance repeatedly has eyes like Kyle's; fearful and skittish.

Using a variety of page layouts, double, single sometimes with definite borders and at times bleeding off the page, Austin easily conveys the numeration of the rules as the day's events unfold.  He deftly captures the mood of Grandits' text with exaggerated depictions all around.

Just one example is:  Suddenly there it was:  the school bus, charging right at me like a giant yellow rhinoceros!  Austin extends Kyle's thoughts by picturing a misshapen bus raring to go complete with ears and horns.  And after school in search of his bus, all the buses look like a herd gathering for a charge.  Simply flawless.

For anyone of any age who has ever ridden a school bus, it doesn't get any better than this.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Virtual Post-It-Boards; Expanded PinDax

Just a little over a year ago I posted about a web 2.0 application, a virtual post-it-board, called PinDax.
PinDax is truly like having a personal or professional message board but online; hosted at the PinDax site.  Creation of a new board, three can be created for free, is simple.  Each board is given a unique address.  Boards can be embedded in a blog or web site as well as choosing one of four widgets.

Signing up is a snap; member name, password, and email.  According to the terms of service users must be 13 years of age although with parental permission I can see this being used in a classroom setting with a private board.  Prior to signing up viewers can browse through new posts on public boards, new boards or popular boards, or search for specific boards.  Help is always at the ready.

Once a user has signed in, multiple tasks can be accomplished; viewing and editing of previously created boards, working on groups, uploading files, creating a multiple choice poll or following another board or member as well as seeing who follows you or your boards.  Update or complete your profile.

A group has invited members.  You can use groups to limit access to a board or to your profile.  Additionally, you can view all posts by group members to public boards on the group's page.

Files can be uploaded to attach to notes.  You can choose how a note will display a file.  Files can be shown as an image, upload or audio attachment. 

If you want to know what your viewers are thinking about a particular post create a poll.  A multiple choice poll can be linked to any post by selecting the Poll tab on the board's working space.

When you first create a new board you are asked to enter in a title for that board (128 characters) and a Description for that board (256 characters).

Then by selecting the Look and Feel tab on the left users are directed to a working space that allows you to:  choose whether posts will by placed in x and y positions or sorted by order, the post can look as though written by hand or typed with or without the pin showing, colors of the board, panel and contrast can be chosen from a huge palette, and features to be shown in the post popup.

By selecting the Tools tab users can check or uncheck a variety of user tools that will be seen by viewers of a particular board, tools that you will see, what tabs the user will see on the post dialog, what you will see in the post dialog and when posts will expire.

Your board can be as private or public as you desire.  By clicking on the Privacy tab a password can be assigned to limit access, the board can be tied to one of your groups limiting it to members of the group only and you can decide if your board will be searchable at the site.

The Users tab has a series of five questions with yes or no answers:  allow users to post, allow users to reply to posts, allow anonymous users to post and reply, use profanity filtering and require posts to be approved before displayed.

When a user clicks on the My Boards box on the right they are taken to a page that lists their previously created boards.  At this point boards can be viewed, edited, categories or feeds can be added or adjusted, widgets will be provided, send an invitation via email to view your board, see who is following your board, post to that board or delete the board.

When you post to the board you have the option of a subject, body to the post and link under the message tab.  The style tab allows the color of the paper, push-pin and font to be changed.  Fonts can also be sized and aligned.  Select the file tab to upload files.  Poll and preview are additional options.

Pindax can be as simple or sophisticated as the user wishes.  The feature of receiving email notification when there are new posts and replies as well as being able to approve notes prior to posting make this advantageous for educators.  I am considering using this as a forum for the Mock Caldecott Election that I host for our third and fourth grade classes each year in our library media center. 

Here's my latest board.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

What About The Monster?

 A Monster Calls, a novel by Patrick Ness, inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd begins with an author's note.  He states that he never knew Siobhan Dowd but through her four electric young adult novels, two published in her lifetime, two after her too-early death.  This title, A Monster Calls, was a collection of ideas had by Siobhan Dowd when she lost her life to cancer.

Patrick Ness was asked to take her beginnings and fashion them into a book.  Before he knew it her thoughts were giving birth to other possibilities in the fertile ground of his author's imagination.  He continues in the author's note to say:

I felt-and feel-as if I've been handed a baton, like a particularly fine writer has given me her story and said, "Go, Run with it.  Make trouble."

Patrick Ness did indeed make trouble; the kind of trouble that will linger long after the final page is turned and the final words are read.  It's the kind of trouble that alters one's character; evoking compassion, true understanding and forgiveness.

The story opens:

The monster showed up just after midnight.  As they do. 

Conor, has been awakened by a recurring nightmare, a nightmare that he has shared with no one; not his mother who is ill, his father in America with his new family, his grandmother nor any of his schoolmates.  No one.  He chases thoughts of the nightmare away but he still senses a presence.  Then he hears it again, again, again, again and again---his name being called.

Gazing out his bedroom window into the night eyes drawn to the graveyard near the church on the hill with an huge yew tree as old as time at its center, Conor can see nothing out of the ordinary. Then Ness writes this:

A cloud moved in front of the moon, covering the whole landscape in darkness, and a whoosh of wind rushed down the hill and into his room, billowing the curtains.  He heard the creaking and cracking of wood again, groaning like a living thing, like the hungry stomach of the world growling for a meal.

When the cloud passes from the moon the yew tree is no longer in the graveyard but right outside Conor's window.  A monster has come, not the one from his nightmare, no this one is much worse.  He can not waken to rid himself of this monster.

Thirteen-year-old Conor's life is spinning out of control.  His father has left, as did his pet cat, his best friend has betrayed him, a bully and his two cronies haunt him each and every day at school, his teachers pity him, his grandmother, his Mom's mom, is coming to stay and his mother is undergoing treatments for her advancing cancer.  To make matters worse the next night at exactly 12:07 the monster returns.

Having gone by many names throughout history, the monster tells Conor that it was he who has made him come walking.  He has three stories to tell Conor.  Conor scoffs at the idea of stories; what can they possibly have to do with him.

Stories are wild creatures, the monster said.  When you let them loose, who knows what havoc they might wreck?

When the three stories have been told, it is Conor that must tell a fourth; his very own truth which he fears above all else.  His survival depends on this fourth story.

Horrifying in their honesty, brutal in their outcomes, the stories weave in and out of the deepening sadness of Conor's days.  Lack of understanding, by those around Conor, make him feel like a shell of his former self; he is fading into nothingness.  Dialogue between the monster and Conor and too, with the other characters, is so normal in anything but normal circumstances; it is the small bits of humor that relieve what could be unbearable sadness.

Patrick Ness takes readers into the lonely, singular landscape of loss, grief and ultimately acceptance with the sure, steady hand of a gifted wordsmith.  (Having lost my father slowly and my husband suddenly I am intimately aware of loss, grief and the presence of death.)  In A Monster Calls the truth of each character's actions, thoughts and words, including those of the monster, is a consummate connectedness that exceeds fiction venturing into the realm of absolute reality; it is that vivid.  Ness conveys Conor so well that his every feeling becomes something tangible in the reader's world; at times I sobbed uncontrollably and at others I felt strangely comforted.

Illustrations done by artist, Jim Kay, are atmospheric, eerie, and richly conceived.  To view what Ness' words were forming in my mind framing narration or displayed across single or double page layouts in such striking splendor was wonderful.  Taking time to read and meander through Kay's web site acquaints reader's with his work and insights.  This is one statement made about his work on A Monster Calls:

It was a mixture of relief printing, black pen and ink, and various printed textures, digitally pieced together. In an ideal world I would have loved to have illustrated the whole book using etching and monoprint techniques, but it would have taken a year to finish it!

He is making reference to the illustration spread across pages 6 and 7 in the book where the monster is bending over peeking into Conor's bedroom window for the first time.  It is one of my favorites along with the first time Conor sees the monster sit down.  Flawless in execution, Kay's work is the perfect enhancement to Ness' novel.
A Monster Calls is a marvelous, memorable, moving masterpiece that, I and all who read it, will add to the box of treasures stored in our hearts.

Continue reading about Patrick Ness in an article by Tim Masters, Patrick Ness:  Why I wrote A Monster Calls, at the BBC News, Entertainment & Arts page online. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Snooping for a Good Story?

On August 22, 2011, School Library Journal blogger and librarian, Joyce Valenza, posted an article,  Share Story Snoops with your community.  After having read that piece I have been wanting to try the services offered by that site ever since.  I surely wish that I would have had the time earlier, because Story Snoops is one-stop shopping for readers and one of the best readers' advisory tools out there.  It is a parent's perspective on books, reading and reviews. 

At the home page viewers can stay and search by basic information using ages, tween (9-12), tween/teen (12-13), teen (14+) or adult (18+) and genres, adventure, dystopian fiction, fantasy, graphic novels, historical fiction, horror, humor, literary fiction, mystery/thriller, realistic fiction, romance, science fiction and sports fiction. 

Searching by author, title, suggested reading and content keyword are additional options. 

Drop-down menus for suggested reading appear like the visual on the right.  When a specific category is selected using any of these search techniques a list of possible titles is generated showing the book cover, title and author.

 By clicking on the book cover the viewer is privy to a short synopsis of the title. By clicking on the author's name you are taken to a listing of his/her books.  When selecting the title you are taken to a page that is broken into sections:  bibliographic detail with additional pluses, the story (the plot), the scoop (a short review), content keywords and user comments.  When clicking on any of the content keywords listed you are taken to another list of books with similar subject matter.

Beneath the find-a-book tab is a tab, featuredbooks.  Within this grouping are books-of-the-week (books grouped by theme), snippet-of-the-week (quote from a book) and freshscoops (the latest and greatest titles to hit the shelves).  By mousing over an of the covers viewers can read further details about the book.  You can also go back and read previous books-of-the-week and freshscoops.

When leaving the main page, Home, users have further treats awaiting them.  By selecting the Browse tab at the top the next screen gives them the choice of searching by titles in alphabetical order, by authors in alphabetical order with their books listed beneath their name, by content keyword in alphabetical order or by award.  When you mouse over the award list a definition of the award is given.

The FAQ tab takes readers to a page that answers all those questions that just might pop up when you are using the site.  Here is a sample.  These parents know what others need and want to know; their expertise is invaluable.

Phenomenal interviews of authors and others involved in the world of books and reading along with reviews are posted under Our Blog.  The author interviews are a great source of inspiration for beginning authors or for readers wanting to know more about a favorite.

The Quick Search feature located in the upper right hand corner of every page is just that; type in an author, title, keyword or 10 digit ISBN number and away you go.

The About Us tab includes an overview of what prompted these four moms to begin and continue this outstanding resource.  StorySnoops is the ultimate parent-to-parent book tool--always straightforward and informative. We hope you use it as a practical resource to find the best fiction for your child. We know we do!

Career, education, personality positives and book list are given for each of these remarkable women.  These are the kind of parents that do and will continue to make a difference.  These are the kind of people that can change a world.

Monday, October 24, 2011

A Rip Roaring Roar of a Read

That riotous, red, rascal, starring character in Dinosaur vs. Bedtime and Dinosaur vs. The Potty, has returned.  Gleaming, sharp-toothed grin spread across his face, as he sits surrounded by books, announces his newest adventure, Dinosaur vs. The Library.  Dinosaur is leaving home to go to his favorite place, (and mine) the library.

Diamond shapes, in vivid, spring green, argyle-style, frame two small graphics of Dinosaur sitting amid books, reading and carrying a stack of books on both the front and back endpapers.  Clearly he loves books and reading.  Now that's my kind of Dinosaur.

Turning to the first double page layout readers are greeted with a shiny bright red page on the left and on the right an equally big, bright red Dinosaur arms outstretched yelling out loud,


Readers can't help but grin as he is, proclaiming that he is roaring his way to the library extending an invitation for all to roar right along with him.  He roars down the steps and across the yard until it's Dinosaur versus a cow!

 Mooing as a cow should Dinosaur hollers his challenging roar but cow's attempts at roaring don't measure up and Dinosaur wins.  No surprise there, Dinosaur is a champion roarer.  He leaves cow happily roaring away next to a jar of chocolate syrup, spoon on the ground and Dinosaur---carrying a glass of chocolate milk.  (Ahhh...the memory of making all those glasses of chocolate milk as I was waitressing my way through college for hoards of children that came to the restaurant.)

Peeping chicks, a shy turtle and a sad owl are no match for our prehistoric hero as he happily rambles toward his destination, the library.  No one has ever roared in the library before.  Dinosaur lets loose a


An unseen voice implores him to use his inside voice.  Can he do that?  Will Dinosaur be able to not roar during story time?  Can he keep quiet for a entire tale?  Who will win?

Shea's thick, simple black line drawings colored with brilliant, primary colors speak to the heart of the child that maintains residence in all of us.  Varied font styles in alternate hues declare DINOSAUR WINS! adding to the visual appeal.  Tucked among the shelves at the library is a copy of his book, Big Plans illustrated by Lane Smith.  An earlier publication, New Socks, is the selection for story time. 

It's the attention to the added details, vibrant colors and spare text which speaks volumes elevating the overall appeal of this title; that and the perfect ending of course.

In response to an email I sent, Shea graciously described his illustrative process:

I work both traditionally and digitally. I am constantly sketching in my notebook. That’s how I work out how the page will look. Then I draw the illustrations larger and trace them to make them neat. Then I take that neat sketch and draw it again in ink with a brush.

Then I scan that ink drawing into the computer and color it in and add details. I like to add all sorts of things to my illustrations. A photograph, a scanned texture, whatever it takes to tell the story.

Bob Shea has a personal web site, a page on Facebook and his Dinosaur books have a wonderful place at Disney. At the Disney site is information about each of the books, loads of videos and printables.  Have fun and welcome abroad the fan train for Dinosaur vs.......

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Mo Willems Says It All--Books Rule!

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a huge, no gigantico fan of Mo Willems.  It appeared on my Twitter list of posts yesterday and it came over my blog feed of The Horn Book magazine site.  But this morning when I read Why Books?--The Zena Sutherland Lecture by Mo Willems, October 21, 2011, my membership in the Mo Willems fan club elevated to the moon, the stars and beyond.  Way to go Mo! 

This, in my opinion, is what the relationship between authors and readers is all about.  This is the rush that reading brings.  This is what our souls crave; books are one of the basic food groups to sustain life.  

Twitterville Talk #19

Tweets have been humming in like crazy over the wire this week.

Thanks to School Library Journal for the following bits and pieces.

The Digital Shift site posted an article, Story Penned by a Facebook Programer teaches Kids Computer Science, by Lauren Black.  Lauren Ipsum written by Carlos Bueno is an adventure story in Userland; a young protagonist uses reason to navigate home.

Blogger, Joy Fleishhacker of SLJ writes Watch and Read:  Penguins with Pizzazz-Happy Feet Two.  The new flick will come to theaters mid November and book tie-ins are hitting the shelves.

The Chronicles of Harris Burdick is set to be released October 25, 2011.  Visit Harris Burdick-The Man, the Mystery, the Obsession for a new trailer and some additional resources.

Elizabeth Bird, blogger for School Library Journal, at A Fuse #8 Production, posted another great article this week, Barnyard Iconography.  What a super idea!

Debra Lau Whelan pens SLJ Exclusive:  Lauren Myracle Opens Up About NBA Fiasco.

Straight from The Horn Book Magazine is a Halloween Reading article by Katie Bircher.

Via Children's Bookshelf from Publishers Weekly are newsworthy notes.

It seems that Hank the Cowdog is going to hit the silver screen.  Yipee ki yay!

Appearing on Broadway in the spring of 2012 is Peter and the Starcatcher, a novel written by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson.

USA Today carries an informative and interesting article written by Bob Minzeshemier about Kadir Nelson, his painting and writing for Heart and Soul:  The Story of America and African Americans.

Dreamworks Animation won the rights at auction to make a film adaption of the Captain Underpants books.

For Boys Only:  Move Books to Debut in Fall 2012 by Sally Lodge of Publishers Weekly.

For all lovers of picture books rejoice.  Check this out.  This is my kind of manifesto.  Thanks to Julie Danielson of Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Still Smiling and Lovin' That Lucy!

The cover of Peter Brown's second book centering on character, Lucille Beatrice Bear, says it all; Lucy shouting out loud in her bold, boisterous, conspicuous demeanor, You Will Be My Friend!, animals within range startled and heading for the hills as fast as their legs or wings can carry them.  With Lucy there is never a doubt as to her  intent.  Everything Lucy does,  she does with deliberate purpose. (My review of the first "Lucy" book, Children Make Terrible Pets, is linked here.)

Brown begins this new episode in the life of Lucy on the title pages as the excited bear bursts from her bedroom exclaiming, MOM! MOM!  A brainstorm popped into Lucy's mind when she awoke; today is the day when she is going to find a new friend.  Nothing, and I mean nothing, will deter her in this effort.

When her Mom inquires as to how this will be accomplished, her positive personality oozes with optimism.  The woods are bursting with possibilities of friends to be made.  Lucy is brimming with ideas of what they can do together. 

Her frolic in the frog pond does not end well nor does her tree climbing to question the giraffe.  Scrubbing the skunk to rid him of his odor and asking the ostrich about her flying skills is a total bust.  No matter what Lucy does with any of the critters, including the squeakers (humans), nothing seems to work. Even an egg resting in a nest, she'll wait, is not the answer.

On the next double page illustration, bigger than life, Lucy, taking deep calming breaths, talks to herself:

You can do this.
You can make a new friend.

Just be yourself.

Over the course of three sets of double page reveals, Lucy is herself; loudly frustrated, desperate and pensive.  But readers will see what Lucy can not.  Something special is happening.  Something that will brighten her mood and change her life.  Friends can do that.

Peter Brown's handlettered word balloons done in shades of Lucy's tutu pink, are loaded with her mind's inner workings lending emotional depth and insightful humor to the already hilarious illustrations and narration.  His graphics done with pencil on paper with cut construction paper and wood, presented on heavy cream colored paper coupled with his palette of colors makes the reader feel like they can just jump in and join the rest of the critters in the forest.

 And speaking of critters, I really like that Brown does not limit his choice of woodland inhabitants. In Lucy's world bears can live with giraffes, frogs, ostriches, skunks, monkeys, rabbits, kangaroos, beavers, pond fish and turtles, bees and flamingos.  Bears can live in houses like humans and ride bikes.

Brown has rounded all the corners on his visuals placing them in narrow frames of various textured wood conveying warmth and welcome.  His choice of graphic size per page adds interest to the overall storyline and pep to each part of that story.

Through his words and pictures Peter Brown spins an enchanting tale of friendship found.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

National Day on Writing

Join in with thousands in honoring this official day dedicated to writing.  Check out the article and suggestions at the New York Times, Education page, The Learning Network, Blogging the National Day on Writing written by Katherine Schulten.

Be sure to check on the related posts at the bottom of the article.  Writing sets you free!

Web 2.0 Updates: Animoto Revisited

In the middle of August 2010 as I was progressing through the online class School Library Learning 2.0, one of the tutorials focused on the slide video creator,  Animoto.  At the time I was amazed by how quickly and simply a video could be made. 

Recently I received an email from Animoto stating that they had made upgrades to this web 2.0 application.

When going to the home page a user can click on Create Video in the upper right hand corner where you are taken to Pick a video style.  Or if you click on Get Started in the left center of the page a chart of plans and pricing appears.  For no fee, users can make unlimited videos that are thirty seconds in length (this is about twelve slides) as well as video greetings.  For thirty dollars per year unlimited videos that are full length can be created and downloaded along with video greetings. 

To sign up enter in an email address, password, first and last name, date of birth and sex.  Users must be 13 years of age.  You can also sign in via Facebook if you prefer.  After signing in, the page on the left appears.  From this page previously made projects can be edited, The Animoto Blog can be accessed and a new guide explaining the changes can be read and viewed.

When the Edit Project button is chosen the drop down menu lists these options:  Edit/Create Video, Rename or Delete.  When your mouse moves over the exact title of a work an Actions button appears listing:  Remix, Upgrade resolution, Download, Share, Export, Embed, Rename or Delete. 

To begin anew click Create Video and chose from eighteen free video styles.  Beneath each style is a create video button.  Pick and click on one.  You will be directed to create a new account or sign in.  After signing in, this screen will appear.  You can add pictures or videos or view a quick tutorial.

When you click the Add Pics & Vids button this screen appears.  Pictures and videos can be uploaded from your computer, brought in from your Facebook account, Flickr, SmugMug, Photobucket or Picasa in addition to looking through Animoto's own pictures and videos.

As the graphics or videos are added they appear on the work space.  Their order can be changed by clicking and dragging.

If any one of the graphics is clicked on, a panel on the right is highlighted. This panel includes a spotlight, rotate, duplicate, shuffle and delete choice.  When a visual is spotlighted it will be held for a longer time during the video.

This screen comes into view when the Choose Music button is chosen.  MP3 files can be uploaded from your computer.  Each genre in the Animoto collection has a sizable list of songs of varying lengths from which to choose. 

An extra slide can be added when you choose Add Text.  A short header and text are your options.

When the Advanced Settings option is clicked a Video Title, Producer, and Description can be added to the video that has been created.

When you have the style, graphics, music and text chosen and arranged to your satisfaction click Produce Video.  When the video has been produced by Animoto this screen comes into view.

The video can be shared via email or posted to a huge assortment of social networks.  It can be embedded in a web site or blog using HTML.  It can be downloaded as a MP4 or exported to YouTube or SmugMug.  Additional tools available at this point are remixing or deleting the video.

Create your own video slideshow at animoto.com.

Since its election to the AASL Top 25 Web Sites for Teaching and Learning in 2009 under the Media Sharing portion of Standards for the 21st-Century Learner, Animoto has improved by leaps and bounds.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

It's Pure Monkey Business!

I am like iron shavings to a magnet when it comes to any book that promotes libraries, books or reading.  With the latest title in her Five Little Monkeys series, Five Little Monkeys reading in bed,  Eileen Christelow has a surefire crowd-pleaser destined to be a bedtime favorite.  I can already hear voices clamoring, "Read it again, read it again."

All day long wherever they go, bathroom, yard, swing, comfy chair or at the kitchen table, these five monkeys have a book in hand actively engrossed in the narration and illustrations, facial and verbal expressions revealing emotions caught up in the story.  How do I know?  The endpapers cleverly shout it out loud.  It continues on the title and publication double page spread showing them finishing their baths, pj attired and brushing their teeth crowded around reading a book.

The tale follows these wide-eyed mischievous little munchkins all snuggled in bed around Mama who reads them four books before leaving too tired to read another despite their pleading. 

Of course, they just have to read another; it looks so good and it is.  But they make so much noise as the story captures their feelings that Mama appears. 

"What's all this racket?  This chaos?  This din?"

Sheepishly they confess and Mama reminds them of what she said.

"Lights out! Sweet dreams! No more reading in bed!"

Now the lights are off but a flashlight goes on as a new book about a ghost is opened.  Oooooo! it's so spooky that they scare themselves silly.  Mama returns repeating her question and request.

Our five frightened siblings lying in bed with thoughts of sleep having left their heads find a joke book.  They try ever so hard to be quiet but we all know how hard it is to stop laughing when you've got a case of the goofy giggles.  Mama reappears with patience wearing thin stating those wonderful repetitious refrains.

Finally the five little monkeys are on their way to slumberland when the strangest noises come drifting down the hall.  Quietly creeping, quietly peeping, an endearing surprise awaits all our characters.  The closing sentence assures readers that this is a family nighttime ritual; a ritual that will last a lifetime. Endpapers at the back show our friends in various positions of repose nestled with their favorite toys, monkey dolls, a car and a book.

Eileen Christelow has her method of storytelling with rhyming text down to an art form.  Nothing is forced but perfectly paced; words picked precisely.  The technique of using that magic number three, three different books that has Mama come back to the five little monkeys' bedroom, is just right.  Her illustrations rendered digitally in pen and ink with color are additively adorable.  (Do follow the link above to her web site where she explains how her pictures are created.) All the visuals are two page spreads making these cavorting critters so full of life.  One (I do have more than one) of my favorites is them lying in bed absolutely bug-eyed after reading that ghost book.  The text echoes their looks; I've heard it hundreds of times---That story was so GOOD but so scary...

There's only one thing to do now...build a crackling fire in the fireplace, snuggle under a pile of blankets with Xena curled at my feet and read to her, Five Little Monkey reading in bed.

Turn off the lights, sweet dreams, grab a flashlight and do read in bed.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

What Was That About A Picture And A Thousand Words? How About Just One Word?

On September 22, 2011, Kelly Tenkely blogger at iLearn Technology posted about a truly inspirational web site that makes learning new words completely enjoyable.  This site, InsideStory Flash Cards, was started and is hosted by a mother/daughter team, Shauna Simon and Kande Underwood of Washington.

At the site, InsideStory Flash Cards, it states: 

Our stories are unforgettable—and that's how they make words stick. Each "story" provides a clear context for the featured vocabulary word, so readers easily understand how the word is used. The vocabulary is closely associated with the memorable details, making learning words almost as easy as laughing at a funny caption, reading about an unusual animal, or getting the scoop on a cool city.

It boggles the mind how this team could search and find the ultimate, unique picture to define and compliment the individual words so perfectly.  So well depicted are the words by the images that visual learners will feel like the proverbial kid in a candy shop.

When users select Free Printable Flash Cards, the screen to the right fills their vision.  Four tabs to the right suggest the levels of difficulty:  Basic (206) English Vocabulary, Kids and ESL, Easy (315) Vocabulary Builder, Kids' Printables, Medium (330) SAT Vocabulary, Common SAT Words, and Hard (60) Big Words, GRE & Beyond. (Numbers in parentheses indicate the number of words within each category.)

For many of the words users can listen to the pronunciation by clicking on the audio icon located next to the spelling and part of speech given for each word.  There is also an option to hide the definition of the word if one wishes to test their knowledge.

At the bottom of the column on the right side of the page is the choice to print the flash cards in the group.  When selected a new page appears showing all the flash cards giving the user the opportunity to select individual cards or print the entire category.

Boxed sets of sixty, four by two and one half, cards can be purchased through the site's online store.  The set categories are cats and dogs, animals and Seattle.  They sell for $14.95.

This is another gem to be placed in an educator's treasure box of tools for the classroom.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Achoo! They're Back!

I have been counting the days until this book, The Sniffles for Bear (Candlewick Press, September 13, 2011), penned by Bonny Becker and illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton arrived on my doorstep.  It is the fourth in the series of Bear and Mouse books. I have previously chatted about this series in a post highlighting the third book, A Bedtime for Bear but they (both the characters and their creators) just get better and better in the most delightful ways.

Denton masterfully mixes watercolor, ink and gouache to contrast Mouse's perky personality and Bear's big, bold gruffness that we have come to love and about which we freely break into gales of laughter.  Her single and double page illustrations coupled with vignettes are appropriately placed to draw readers right into the rooms with these utterly charming friends bringing added life to Becker's narration.

Her endpapers have been changing with each of the pictures books; bees, leaves and now the pattern on Bear's blanket.  (A Birthday for Bear is a beginning chapter book.) The first pure white page foreshadows an important event in the story picturing a small item; a tea set with cheese and cookies, a book and eyeglasses and one large steaming bowl and spoon next to a tiny steaming bowl and spoon.

Title and publication information, spread across two pages, draw the reader immediately into the setting of a pastoral landscape with Bear's narrow two story Tudor-style home.  Colors have shifted to signify the changes in time of day or weather:  soft hues of autumn on a bright, sunny day, followed by similar shades but the landscape and home are not as distinct awash in the rosiness of sunset and in this newest title we readers are given a closer perception but the sky is cold bathed in tones of blue and it appears to be windy as the trees show movement.

Bear was sick, very, very sick...
In fact, Bear was quite sure no one had ever been as sick as he....

It is the familiar sound of tap, tap, tapping on Bear's front door that opens this new tale.  His too cheerful friend, Mouse, enters, bag in hand, assuring him that he'll be fit as a fiddle quickly.  Each time he reaches into his bag to pull out an object saying,

 "I have just the thing.",

Bear get crankier and crankier.

Not a story, song or tune on a banjo can lift his spirits.  Roaring in frustration, weak as a kitten he asks Mouse to take him upstairs to bed.  It is this visual with Bear like the proverbial wet noodle slowing shuffling in his green fluffy slippers up the stairs, droopy-eyed and his one finger gently held by Mouse, carefully balancing on the stair rail and bag on the step, that gives the ultimate interpretation to Becker's text:

And, indeed, Mouse was most helpful.

With Bear nestled in bed, Mouse bustles out bringing back a bowl of his homemade nettle soup.  Bear is loathe to admit that he might be feeling better, his irritation is on the rise and he urges Mouse to write his will. Mouse does so, pulling pen and paper from his bag which seems to have a supply of just what is needed when it is needed.

Will Bear recover?  On the other hand, we know how quickly germs do spread.

Becker conveys so much with so little. Her use of language is memorable; Bear's over dramatization formally spoken and Mouse's perpetual optimism.

"Stop!" growled Bear.  "I fear you do not appreciate the gravity of my situation."
Mouse looked sad, but his tail didn't.

Bonny Becker plus Kady MacDonald Denton equals a splendid humorous telling of the ever-growing companionship of Bear and Mouse.  I've been fighting a cold for the past two weeks.  Maybe I won't have to make a will.  Laughter truly is the best medicine.

In addition to the links to their personal web sites above, Kady MacDonald Denton was interviewed at Seven Impossible Things Before BreakfastMaw Books Blog interviewed Bonny Becker.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Twitterville Talk #18

Not too much news on Twitter this week but what was there is big.

Joy Fleishhacker blogging at School Library Journal lets readers know in her article Watch and Read:  One Cool Cat-Puss In Boots that a spin-off prequel to Shrek is hitting the silver screen on October 28, Puss in Boots, The Cat, The Boots, The Legend.  Loads more information can be found at the official web site and enjoy the other books as tie-ins.

Kudos to actor Alec Baldwin for his $10,000. donation to a floundering public library.

On October 12 the National Book Award finalists in Young People's Literature were announced.  They are My Name Is Not Easy, Inside Out and Back Again, Flesh & Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy, Shine and Okay for NowBefore the day was over another title was added, for the first time ever, due to a communication error.  It is Chime.

New titles that made the New York Times Bestsellers list this week are:  If You Give a Dog a Donut by Laura Numeroff (1), Llama, Llama Red Pajamas by Anna Dewdney (3), Happy Pig Day! by Mo Willems (4) and The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse by Eric Carle (5) in the children's picture book category.  In the children's chapter book group Rick Riordan's Son of Neptune came out as number one and The Magic of Reality by Richard Dawkins followed in second.