Quote of the Month

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

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Really See Everyone Just As They Are

I continue to be touched by the words and illustrations of Peter H. Reynolds. His newest title, I'm Here, is about compassion, understanding and connecting with those in the autism spectrum; actually with anyone unlike who we may be.  He is gently inviting us to step outside ourselves.

Can you hear it?
Splashes upon splashes of sound.

He introduces readers to a young boy by showing a playground filled with talking, laughing, rope jumping, swinging, ball throwing, marble playing children; the boy is off to the side kneeling with his hand over his ears.  All that noise is like a huge, thumping calliope. He feels removed from them, isolated.

They are there.
I am here.

The boy much prefers the gentle breeze that caresses his head dropping leaves next to him.  He is grateful and inventive when a piece of paper floats next to him. He believes the paper would rather be somewhere else.

After much folding the paper becomes an airplane that the boy imagines takes him beyond the clouds higher into the stars; stars which make noises like those on the playground.  But soaring in the heavens gives him a freedom to shout joyfully about his individuality and importance as a human being.  As he rides the air he comes gliding downward where a group of children catch him, running happily to send him skyward once again.

When the boy looks again the plane has come to rest on the playground.  It is discovered by a girl who did notice the boy; bringing it to him holding it out as a offering.  The girl, paper airplane and boy are exactly where they need to be.

Reynolds illustrations rendered in pen, ink, watercolor and some digital color are carefully placed surrounded by liberal use of white space.  Each visual exudes warmth, an innocence of childhood and ultimately the extent of their perception; you want to hug them all.  Alterations in text size reinforce emotions and thoughts. 

I can not think of a single person young or old who has not felt at one time as does the boy in this book.  What this tale reminds us is his isolation should be noticed; we need to seek out those alone making them a link in the chain of humanity. Peter H. Reynolds has offered us a simple, definitive story that is touchingly beautiful; its message lingering in our hearts.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Website Creation In A Matter of Minutes-Another

There is just no excuse for those that so desire to not have a presence on the Internet via a blog or website no matter their level of technological expertise.  Another website creation tool has been mentioned more than once and has been on my list of sites to try, WeeblyWeebly was named one of TIME's 50 Best Websites of 2007.

It's easy to sign up for this free application.  Enter in your full name, email address and a password.  After signing up you are directed to a page where you are asked to enter in a name for your site and select the type of site, personal, business, group/organization, education, wedding, portfolio or other.  Weebly is for users 13 years of age or older.

Upon completion this screen asking you to choose your website domain pops up.  I elected to skip this and come back later.

Next you are directed to the workspace for creating your page.  Across the top are tabs labeled elements, design, pages, editors and settings.   The headline image can be replaced, by one from your computer, by searching the Weebly files, from your favorites or with an image URL. Text can be added to the image.  Cropping, rotation, opacity, fading, color and edging are all changes that can be made to images. Once the headline image is to your liking it can be saved for that page only, all pages or selected pages.

Drag any wanted elements to the page.  Images can placed to the left, center or right of the page, a link to a website URL, a page on your website, a file on your website or an email can be attached to an image and a caption can be included.

When working with text a tool bar appears which allows for making it bold, in italics, underlined, the color changed, altering the font size and removing the format.  A link can be added to the text with the same options as an image.  There are four alignment options.  In creating paragraphs the text can be bulleted.  Of course, undo and redo is available.

There are more than 100 designs from which to choose depending on the theme of your web page. Any number of pages may be added as well as adding a blog to the site.  By listing email addresses others can  become editors of  your web page.  Other than the settings these are the basics of your Weebly website.

By clicking on the multimedia tab on the left a user can add, without cost, images from the photo gallery, a slideshow which Weebly makes for you from images you upload, a file, flash, Google maps based on an address entered or a YouTube video.

When you have your site started click on the Publish button in the upper right hand corner.  You are taken to the domain selection options. Once a domain is found your page is on the web.  At any time it can be edited or removed.

There is also a Weebly for Education site.  Only teachers can register for using this site specifically for educational purposes; creating a presence on the web for their students and parents.  Student accounts can be added and monitored.  Signed parental permission is still required for those students under 13 years of age.

More polished and sophisticated than Instablogg and Page O Rama which I have previously reviewed, Weebly is for those wanting an edge but still wishing to not face technological road blocks.  My website designed at Weebly, still in its infancy, is linked here.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Precious Prolific Polacco

With more than fifty titles to her credit, Patrica Polacco has penned a new tale that highlights her strengths as a memorable author and illustrator, Bun Bun Button.  Polacco states that this book was inspired by a young visitor at one of her presentations; a visitor that presented her with the gift of a much loved stuffed bunny.  Seeing stories in the everyday is Patricia Polacco's gift to her readers; raising our awareness and appreciation, bringing our attention to the little details in life.

Paige Elizabeth Darling adored her gramma.

So begins the narrative of Paige's many helpful visits to her Gramma; baking soft sand cookies, making beds and feeding the household cats and dogs.  At day's end the two cuddle and read in the Old Blue Chair, something they cherish.  In fact all the critters crave that chair, even Gramma's pet squirrel and goldfish.
Gramma believes Old Blue Chair absorbs so much love from those in the house that it surrounds whoever sits there with that love.

Sitting in the chair one day, Paige vocalizes her realization that she does not have a toy to hold; the cats, dogs and squirrel do though.  Gramma finds the perfect piece of fabric to stitch together the sweetest, stuffed bunny with a little button nose.  Bun Bun Button is what the pleased Paige names her.  Given a small pocket in her right ear by Gramma for Paige to place her finger when Bun Bun Button is snuggled next to her face makes this a very extraordinary friend.

The two are naturally inseparable; until Bun Bun Button takes an unscheduled flight one afternoon as the biggest, reddest balloon that Gramma could buy takes her up, up and away.  Inconsolable, Paige is reassured by Gramma that the Darlings have always been lucky.

A high flying adventure is a huge treat for Bun Bun Button; bouncing on the breezes, rollicking through rain, soaring beneath a moon sliver starry sky and tangling with feathered flocks.  Much to her surprise the next morning her trip is cut short as she suddenly tumbles toward the ground.  Landing in the lowest limb of a certain willow tree picked up by a certain squirrel, she is dropped at the feet of a very special Gramma.

Using pencil and markers Patricia Polacco masterfully presents a portrait of a grandmother, her granddaughter and a treasured toy.  The soft night speckled with stars as a backdrop for the cheery, yellow, flowered Bun Bun Button big red balloon tied about her wrist, is not typical of Polacco who usually has light covers colorfully covered by her characters.  Endpapers sporting Bun Bun Button in various poses across stark white is a delightful contrast.

The joyful exuberance that all characters feel for one another in Gramma's abode is evident in expression and gesture.  Even the goldfish gets in on the action leaning on the edge of the bowl or jumping in the air when events warrant such displays.  The two page spreads with some or all of the characters, Paige, Gramma, the two Scottie dogs, five Siamese cats, pet squirrel and goldfish, exude welcome warmth.

Some of my favorite illustrations are Gramma finding the cloth in her calico chest laughing as all are gathered around her, Paige nestled in bed at night next to an open window showing the moon and stars holding Bun Bun Button with the dogs, cats and squirrel surrounding her like love, and all of them sitting in Old Blue Chair.

READS Homework Helper is hosting a Twitter Book Party on December 6, 2011 at 7pm and is free to all participants.  This virtual conversation with Patricia Polacco will be about Bun Bun Button.

Bun Bun Button is a priceless, pleasurable piece of life sure to deliver delight at each reading; a treasure in every sense of the word.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Twitterville Talk #24

The year's best lists are rolling in, opinions abound on e-books and all children need to have books of their own; the tweeters continue to tweet up a loud chorus on Twitter this week.

Twilight vs Harry Potter:  The Social Universe Picks a Winner  I was not a bit surprised at the results.  Will you be?

See what titles were selected by The New York Times as Notable Children's Books of 2011.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever sells more than one million copies in the first week of its release. 

Thanks to Children's Bookshelf of Publishers Weekly for the above tweets.

From the School Library Journal blog post A Fuse #8 Production, Video Sunday, November 20th, 2011, came the link to this splendid video which could be the beginning of something truly wonderful.  What do you think?  Check out their website.

For Their Children, Many E-Book Fans Insist on Paper  To a diehard fan of children's books and young adult books that you can hold in your hand and literally turn the pages, this bit of news has me grinning ear to ear.

On the other side of the coin is Read Me An E-Book Story? giving the pros and cons of e-books from a Dad's perspective.

Many thanks to Larry Ferlazzo, blogger of Larry Ferlazzo's Websites of the Day for the above two tweets this week.

The Horn Book offers Hanukkah Reading, a list of suggested books to celebrate this observance.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Baby Knows All, But Who Will Listen?

April Stevens, author of the adult book Angel, Angel and her debut children's book, Waking Up Wendell, ventures yet again into that realm with Edwin Speaks Up.  Her delightful take on an everyday occurrence has been luminously illustrated by Sophie Blackwell.  Their match in this endeavor is as they say "made in heaven".

Mrs. Finnemore is attempting to run an errand to the grocery store.  Her five ferret children are at the ready but the keys to her car seem to have disappeared.  Within a speech bubble and as part of the narrative we read Baby Edwin's words.

Gloo poops SHOE noogie froo KEY.

Sure enough, in Fergus's shoe on the hall table is the resting place of those car keys.  As she tries to load the crew into the car amidst all the she said, he said sibling squabbling, Edwin babbles again.

Figbutton noo noo POCKY BOOKY froppin ROOF.

During the car ride she reminds the children that they absolutely must not forget the sugar for Edwin's birthday cake tomorrow. Imagine her dismay upon arriving at Fineson's Fine Grocery when she believes she has forgotten her pocketbook.  No one listens to Edward chattering away; he's a baby, he can't talk.  But they do listen to Mr. Caruso who comes over to point out the pocketbook on top of the car roof. 

Decidedly distracted and the virtue of patience Mrs. Finnemore, with Edwin "talking" nonstop seated in the cart, begins her shopping as the four other children proceed to tussle and scamper throughout the aisles.  Edwin gets left behind as Mrs. Finnemore grabs the wrong cart, the all-important sugar is placed in that wrong cart, and without Edwin sneaking from the reclaimed cart to the shelves no sugar would have been on the belt at check-out.  True to form all the children are loaded back into the car for the trip home but where are the groceries, where is the sugar?

Stevens manages to convey the confusion, the work on a parent's part and the frantic fun of this family's excursion to the market.  The whining, complaining and shouting of Finney, Fergus, Franny and Fiona coupled with Edwin's baby-talk is hilariously typical.  Everything in this narration is so normal one can not help but laugh out loud. Her use of the letter "F" lends a lilting alliteration to the narrative in addition to placing Edwin in the limelight.

Sophie Blackwell begins her charming illustrations on the front cover with Edwin sitting right in the middle of a checked floor that takes us back in time; that floor motif is continued on the back cover as portions of the other four children are seen running pell-mell through the grocery store.  Her endpapers done in alternating diamonds, using the floor color scheme, foreshadow events in the title picturing the pocketbook and box of sugar set in scalloped ovals within those diamonds.  A flip of the the page brings readers to a double page spread of the Finnemore family home, yard, play equipment, garage and the old huge blue car straight out of the 1950s.  Careful readers will see four ferret tails peeking out of places scattered throughout this title page illustration.

Blackwell's use of Chinese ink, watercolor, and gouache pleasingly presents the Finnemore clan clad in clothing from days gone by, a grocery store from that same era and automobiles in the parking lot so well that it's as if we are peeking into a time capsule.  Her selection of colors evoke nostalgia as well as enhance the continued jokes readers will see in this journey.  Her extension of the narration such as a brother sticking out his tongue at a sister, the kids wrestling in the car when Mrs. Finnemore sees her pocketbook on the roof, the children going through all the candy displayed in the check-out lane and Baby Edwin looking right at the reader when the Finnemores think he is talking about an ice cream flavor, but we know differently, are the perfect partner to the text.

Edwin Speaks Up by April Stevens is an enchanting, heartwarming look at a baby who knows more than his family can fully understand illustrated by Sophie Blackwell in her scrumptious signature artwork.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Treasures--Tradition

With each season, each holiday there are those books that are read again and again; they are as much a part of perennial traditions as are those more commonly observed.  Two of my prized Thanksgiving titles are The Greatest Table: A Banquet To Fight Against Hunger written and edited by Michael J. Rosen and Simple Gifts by Chris Raschka.  Both are more than ten years old but still hold freshness and meaning as if they had just been published; classics to the core.

In 1994 Michael J. Rosen and Share Our Strength, one of the nation's leading non-profit organizations dedicated to ending childhood hunger by 2015, together featured the illustrations of sixteen guest artists as they pictorially portrayed a poem written by Rosen.  The volume is attractively crafted with a hardcover slip case in which the sixteen leaf fold-out book is housed; the leaves representing those of a table around which we are all invited.

Across the double title page a host of people, all ages, all nationalities, each carrying food are in motion toward the table.  Richard McGuire is the artist. 

The greatest table isn't set
inside a single home---
oh no, it spans the continents,
and no one eats alone.

Beginning with five stanzas four lines each, Rosen welcomes and explains. The renowned Patricia Polacco pictures a homey dining room scene with her Babuska and four children, representative of a blending of cultures, seated together ready to enjoy a meal.

The next fourteen leaves containing two lines each are visualized by Guy Billout, Brian Pinkney, Diane Goode, Dena Schutzer, Kevin Hawkes, David Wiesner, Eve Chwast, Anita Lobel, Robert Sabuda, Chris Van Allsburg, Lois Ehlert, and Lisa Campbell Ernst in colorful, interpretations exemplifying their personal specific style. Demonstrating his versatility Robert Sabuda, usually known for his paper engineering skills as a pop-up book artist, presents a graphic that looks very much like hand-colored woodcut printing.  Not being one to disappoint is Chris Van Allsburg who chooses to illustrate his two lines with a screaming child in a high chair bowl spilling its contents.

In closing are two stanzas:

The next time you sit down to eat,
the greatest table's set,
connecting you with each of us
who hasn't eaten yet.

So if you're hungry,  join us here,
pull up another chair.
We'll all scoot over, make more room;
there's always some to spare.

Complimenting this closing using a two-page spread Floyd Cooper portrays an Asian group of varying ages kneeling on mats, hands resting on their laps, attired in the formal wear of their country about a table filled with dishes of noodles chopsticks on each. 

Simple Gifts is a song of the Shaker people.  It is best remembered as a hymn but many believe that it was to be sung quickly, cheerfully as a dance tune. Chris Raschka lends his own illustrative
interpretation in a title of the same name in 1998.

Hand-lettering the lyrics (which I believe is inviting and adds intimacy), using oil crayons on pastel paper Raschka brings bold, full double page spreads to each line of the song.  Heavy black lines are filled with every tone and hue reflecting the autumn time of year; comfort and warmth radiate off the pages.   He chose a joyful cast of characters, a cat, a blue jay, a squirrel, a turtle, and a rabbit, to lead readers across the pages.

He finishes with a short explanation of Simple Gifts followed by the music and lyrics. 

Bringing us beauty, magic and meaning, children's book illustrators are something to be thankful for not only today but always.  For their gifts to all of us I am, and will continue to be, grateful.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

They, Like Many Things, Are Everywhere-Stars

I have long held the belief that we buzz through life much too quickly missing the details that Mother Nature has laid before us so splendiferously.  With the melody of When You Wish Upon a Star sung by Walt Disney's Jiminy Cricket forever echoing in my mind, I still experience a surge of joy at spotting the first star in the evening casting my wish skyward.  Author Mary Lyn Ray and two time Caldecott Honor Award illustrator Marla Frazee collaboratively convey the magical marvel of stars, not only scattered across the horizon but those found all around us if we only choose to see, in their new title, Stars.

Using spare but profound poetic text Ray offers readers musings on stars' place in our world, their effect and purpose in the design of life; she makes us see that the magic is attainable if we change our perspective. 

A star is how you know it's almost night.
As soon as you see one, there's another, and another.
And the dark that comes doesn't feel so dark.

She wonders about the impossibility of catching them in a basket but the possibility of making one to keep in your pocket like a favorite rock but really not the same.  Stars can be a symbol of safety, honor an achievement or be an object of fantasy.  Always keeping your special star in your pocket, it's okay to give another one away; because on those not so shiny days all you have to do is touch the one you've saved.

Moss, strawberry and pumpkin blossoms, snowflakes and fuzzy dandelions yield their own celestial wonders.  But it is in the darkness of night those pinpoints of light will have one or many gazing upward, amazed at this gift that is there everywhere even when we can not see them.  It is this knowledge that brings a continuity to this book; this is the heart of what Ray shares with readers.

As soon as I saw the endpapers, clouds across the sky in the front and a starry sky in the back,  illustrated by Marla Frazee I knew that a visual treat as only she can deliver awaited.  Using graphite, gouache and gel pens wide expansive skies and intimate individual progressions deepened the spirit of the words.  Liberal use of white space draws readers' eyes to the hand-lettered text by Frazee; hand-lettering adding a very personal touch to the title.

There is a softness to Frazee's illustrations that invite, urge and comfort readers; a universality conveyed in her character's individual gestures and emotions.  Predominantly using an array of hues of blue, gray, green and golden yellow as backgrounds breaths life into those characters.  A small boy walking his dog as the first star of the evening appears, three children gathered around a picnic basket inside a hollow tree lit by lantern's light reading a book, mouths open in laughter children aboard a red sled cascading down a snowy slope or the boy with his dog blowing on a dandelion seeds swirling, billowing outward are some of my favorite images from Stars.

I can just picture this being read to a child cozy in bed, to a group around a crackling fire on a clear summer night or a group of pajama clad students on Pajama Day.   May this endeavor by Mary Lyn Ray and Marla Frazee together for the first time be the beginning of many to come.  I'll wish on a star.

To access the author's and illustrator's websites please follow the links embedded in their names.  For more interior visuals from the book, follow this link to the publisher's website.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Grrrrrrrr...Learning To Read With The Bear

In a November 3, 2011 post, I Like "Reading Bear" Larry Ferlazzo of Larry Ferlazzo's Websites of the Day talked about a relatively new site that teaches reading through the use of phonics.  At the site introduction this is what the originators have to say:

Reading Bear, a project of WatchKnowLearn.org, is the first free program online to teach beginning readers vocabulary and concepts while systematically introducing all the main phonetic patterns of written English, all using innovative rich media. We have launched with 14 presentations and plan to increase the number to about 50. In the end, well over 1,200 items of vocabulary will be given the Reading Bear treatment.

I began exploring the site by clicking on the large orange Getting Started button.  At the next page users are greeted with the following video:

Beneath the video are informative categories as follows: 
General Information about Reading Bear, How to Get the Most from Reading Bear, The Reading Bear Software, Videos of the Presentations and The Interludes.

Each of the seven presentation modes for the phonic being taught run about fifteen minutes in length. 
It is recommended that the first three be done in order using the last four as methods of practice and review.  After a presentation there is an option of taking a quiz.  After viewing five presentations grouped together there is additional review which changes each time selected.

Sound It Out Slowly goes like this:
Parts of each word are sounded out at two different speeds enabling the user to adjust and become familiar with those sounds.  As the letters or combinations of letters are read they are highlighted, read as a whole, the user is invited to say the word, it is read again and illustrated with a picture and lastly it is used in a sentence.  The sentence will be repeated as a whole, each word being underlined as it is read, read with an illustration and the single word is read aloud again.  If you wish to hear the pronunciation of any word in the sentence, just select it.

When navigating during a presentation use the keys shown at the bottom left.  Individual presentations by default are shown as a video but by clicking on the auto button in the lower right it becomes a slide show using the navigation keys to move in the desired direction.  The HD button is also on by default.  If the presentation is loading slowly, turn this off.

At the top of the viewing screen is a series of As increasing in size.  This allows for the presentation to enlarge or become smaller.  By clicking on the gear icon settings such as always show video of word spoken, always use the same font and color, pause and ask me to say the words, show in random order and enable interludes can be used or not.

Interludes are videos, usually grouped by six, of music and some of the best Western art.  Rest assured that the paintings are "kid-friendly" except for the Michelangelo Creation of Adam.  These are placed between presentations with the intent of refreshing the user's attention.  Their length is about fifteen seconds.

This site is free but there are perks to registering.  For registration enter in an email address, password and password hint.  When your registration confirmation is received you can keep track of content viewed, presentations mastered and quiz results.

Larry Sanger, co-founder and the original organizer of Wikipedia, imagined this site, created the software and gathered most of the content.  He is currently Editor-in-Chief of Reading Bear.

Credit goes to Shutterstock.com for images and many of the videos at Reading Bear.

Did you hear that clanking click?  That would be me adding Reading Bear into my virtual toolbox to use with my students.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Pulse Pounding Pursuit of Peace

How very fortunate for middle grade readers that Maile Meloy made the decision to pen a book for them, The Apothecary.   Already having made a name for herself in the realm of adult fiction, novels and short stories, Meloy clearly has a grasp on how to spin a tale no matter the age for which it is written.  Her adept attention to detail causes readers to feel that rather than a book in hand they are watching through a crystal ball a story beyond their wildest expectations.

In the beginning Meloy employs the technique of having one of the characters, Jane, in 2011, now an older woman of 73 write a note to the reader.  She explains that she kept a diary when she was fourteen in 1952; a diary, taken and then given back, whose entries though written by her own hand are as if they never happened.  She goes on to say:

People describe their childhoods as magical, but mine---it really was.

Between her seventh and fourteenth birthdays life was good for Janie Scott living in Los Angeles, California as all in her world seemed to be enjoying a life without the restrictions that fighting in a world war brings.  By the close of the first chapter that bliss has been replaced by the Korean War, the ever growing threat of nuclear warfare and Janie's realization that her supposed feeling of being followed is true.  U. S. marshals want to take her parents to court; the House Committee on Un-American Activities is in full swing.  Due to their abilities as radio and television writers they have been asked to work on a program about Robin Hood...in London.

Picture leaving the only home you have known with only what you can carry, your friends, and the warm sunny weather of California only to arrive in London, a city still bearing the wounds of war, living in a tiny, cold, damp flat and being the new girl at a school where uniforms are mandatory and Latin is a required class.  What Janie can not know is that Benjamin Burrows, a boy she initially finds attractive despite or maybe because of his defiance to school authority, will ensnare her in an adventure that will last a lifetime.

Benjamin Barrows does not want to follow in his father's footsteps as an apothecary; spying in the service of his country seems to be the more attractive path to follow.  Benjamin finds Janie interesting; the two strike up a friendship, make a date for chess in Hyde Park.  What Benjamin can not know is that he and Janie will uncover a secret about his father and other foreign scientists that will make his desires come true more quickly than he could ever imagine.

Before Benjamin and Janie can conceive of what is happening his father has thrust into his hands a book that has been in his family for seven hundred years, The Pharmacopoeia, and hidden them away in the cellar of his shop.  When they emerge he has vanished perhaps taken by German speaking men who have vandalized the store. 

An elderly gardener found murdered in a medicinal wonder, The Physic Garden, herbal potions for truth, flight and invisibility that uncover lies, double agents, escape from evil and treacherous power-hungry individuals as well as the Scotland Yard and a harrowing boat ride to a remote island in the Arctic Ocean blend in a blazing blast of pure adrenaline rush.

Every character is fully realized from Janie's parents, to Benjamin's father, to Pip (yes, Pip) a street-wise ally, the classic rich girl at school, Sarah, the evil scar-faced German terrorist, the extraordinary Chinese woman chemist Jin Lo, the treasonous Latin teacher, Mr. Danby, a Hungarian physicist, Count Vilmos who can freeze time and a boat full of hardy Norwegian sailors dedicated to helping save the world.

Not only is the writing of Maile Meloy descriptively detailed but it is brimming with realistic heart.

Pip stepped off his footstool and offered it to the apothecary, who climbed down from the counter.  He wiped ooze off his pale chest, and it plopped to the floor.  Benjamin threw his arms around his father, and the apothecary looked surprised, then wrapped his arms around Benjamin, too.  I remembered their argument in the shop, and how little Benjamin had wanted to be an apothecary, and I wondered if it had been a long time since they hugged like this.  Benjamin was as tall as his father, but rested his head on his shoulder with his eyes closed, like a kid.  I had a pang, thinking of my own parents, who were out in the country knowing nothing about where I was.

Before our eyes her use of words transforms our world just as magically as the potions do Janie, Benjamin and Pip.

I felt a strange, rushing feeling in my veins, and understood why Benjamin and Pip had looked so surprised.  I'd never been aware of each individual blood vessel in my body like that, and of the blood coursing through them.  Then I felt my heartbeat speed up, and my bones seemed to lighten.

He held out his arm, and I saw him do it, because there was a dusting of orange on his invisible skin.  I could see his head, to, as if cast in orange mist.  The smoke was clinging to us, and we were becoming visible, as orange ghosts.

What sends this story, The Apothecary, toward the top of my list of good reads in 2011 is the artwork by Ian Schoenherr.  Done in ink and acrylic paint they frame, highlight and compliment as the best of illustrations do.  Their subtle foreshadowing heightens flow, tension and realism in the story; especially when the new chapter illustrations extend back a page to the end of the previous chapter.  At times the choice to use black as a predominant color with white text is bold but brilliantly atmospheric.  Varied layouts, size and what has been chosen as a focus bespeaks of the mind of a master.

I extend my heartfelt thanks to Ian Schoenherr for sending me the two visuals to place in my post.  He excellently captures the horror of this moment in the story.  The first is his initial attempt.  The second is the final version appearing in the book.  Follow this link to his blog for an interesting explanation of how this illustration came into being.  It is the post dated November 20, 2011.

Maile Meloy has given us a classic, timeless read to remember with the consummate mix of history, fantasy and new romance that is a heart-pounding page turner of the first order.  I know that a host of readers, male and female, young and old, will, and probably already do, agree that this should only be the beginning of Benjamin and Janie.  I will allow for the possibilities.  I out-and-out love everything about this book.

Follow this link to a Discussion Guide for The Apothecary.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Twitterville Talk #23

There has been lots of "chirping" on the wire this week.  Don't miss these.
Thanks to School Library Journal for the following tweets.

 Turning 80 Ed Young leaves a legacy for readers that is a thing of beauty.  Read Ed Young:  Built To Last.

Author Patrick Carman gives his take on Read Beyond the Lines: Transmedia has changed the very notion of books and reading.  In my humble opinion he is spot on in his assessment that reluctant readers are drawn to this approach.

Scholastic To Release Four "The Hunger Games" Movie Tie-In Titles...I had best add those to the every growing list of must haves.

As if readers are not already hyped enough about the release of The Hunger Games in movie theaters in March of 2012, a new longer trailer appeared online this week.  How are we ever going to wait?

The Horn Book supplied the link above which had a group of students crowded around my computer screen after school.

Larry Ferlazzo educator and blogger at Larry Ferlazzo's Websites of The Day discloses his picks:  The Best Web 2.0 Applications for Education In 2011.   I've tried and reviewed some but I am anxious to explore others.

Julie Danielson at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast hosts and posts an outstanding interview with author/illustrator, Deborah Freedman.

The New York Times carries an article Jeff Kinney's Favorite Books From Childhood as his new title in the Diary of The Wimpy Kid series hits stores this week, Cabin Fever.

No one can dispute that Tim Burton Circles "Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children is an ideal collaboration.

PW Talks With NBA Winner Thanhha Lai  It's always good to get the inside scoop.

Ooo-la-la check this out young adult fans---Q & A With Houck

A round of applause goes to Children's Bookshelf at Publishers Weekly for the links above.

Friday, November 18, 2011

It Begins In The Chill of Winter But Lasts Forever

As swirls of chilly white spiral through the air and winds howl around the house, how fitting to be holding Making A Friend by Alison McGhee with illustrations by Marc Rosenthal in my hands.  With the onset of winter comes the promise of creating a being from the snow; of having that child at the heart of us become a chief architect, builder and creator.  McGhee's and Rosenthal's collaboration on this title sheds new light on being young, on how the simplest activity can resonate throughout our lives. 

Using single words, a phrase, a group of thoughts or a short highly visual sentence McGhee brings readers into the experience of a young boy as he senses a shift from fall into winter, his dreams are filled with thoughts of it.  Upon wakening one morning to a world of white we celebrate in his wonder, joy and formation of a snowman step by step complete with his own red cap for a topping.  Though the man of snow is silent a friendship is formed.

When the warmth of spring leaves only the stick arms, red cap, carrot nose, and pebble eyes and mouth the youth asks: 

Where did you go?  Where did he go?

In subsequent pages he sees him in falling water, rain upon the ocean, fog in the hollow and in the frost upon the panes of a window.

As the months pass it becomes cooler, leaves change color and fall.  Ice appears on the lake, snow drifts down coating his surroundings.  The boy's friend comes back, made by his own hand.  What sets this tale apart is an idea that Alison McGhee introduces during the summer and repeats in the fall and winter,

What you love will always be with you.  

Friendships once formed whether that being is visible or not are still friendships.  A bond cemented with love is forever.  A simple joy is not forgotten.  These are the threads woven through the fabric of this charming story.

Pencil illustrations digitally manipulated by Marc Rosenthal bring a timelessness to the story; they could be fifty years ago or yesterday.  Body language and facial expressions leave no doubt in the readers' minds as to what the boy is thinking or feeling.  Using shades of primary colors to enhance his brown line renderings Rosenthal enhances McGhee's narration as well as providing several wordless pages that give his personal perceptive perspective to the storyline.

Attention to detail sets his illustrations apart; during the first snowfall a single window upstairs casts a yellow glow, a snowman's body appears in the clouds.  When the boy missing his friend muses about his whereabouts, his face appears in the ripples of the pond, a frosty square of glass or formed on the ground from cones and stones.  What you love is always with you permeates throughout each visual.

Recall those fond memories of the first snowfall, crafting your own personal snow being and the joy of those crisp, clear days spent in the wonder of winter Making a Friend.  Rest assured that in the capable hands of author, Alison McGhee and illustrator, Marc Rosenthal, that what has been lost is never truly gone.  Revel in their gift of taking less is more to an art form.

Pair this with The Biggest, Best Snowman by Margery Cuyler, Stranger in the Woods:  A Photographic Fantasy by Carl R. Sams, The Snowman's Path by Helena Clare Pittman, The First Day of Winter by Denise Fleming, Snowmen at Night by Caralyn and Mark Buehner or Snowballs by Lois Ehlert.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

National Book Award Winner

Last night at the National Book Awards Thanhha Lai won in the category for Young People's Literature with her title, Inside Out & Back AgainMy review of this book was posted on September 2, 2011.  It is one of those books that needs to be read.

Other titles that received nominations are My Name Is Not Easy by Debby Dahl Edwardson, Flesh & Blood So Cheap:  The Triangle Fire and It's Legacy by Albert Marrin, Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt and Chime by Franny Billingsley.

Get Those Minds Thinking, The Writing Will Come

writing prompt #228

On September 21, 2011, Kelly Tenkley of iLearn Technology posted about a Tumblr blog called Writing Prompts.  Currently there are 323 prompts which consist of visuals with comments and questions geared to get the wheels turning in readers' and writers' minds.  Due to the nature of the visuals and the text I would agree with Tenkley that this site would best serve students in the upper elementary, middle and high school.

As soon as you visit the site you are greeted with the author's purpose for these prompts on the right:

The first page hosts ten graphics with words that will stimulate thinking, generate opinions, be a cause for discussion.

You can navigate to earlier posts by clicking on the blue highlighted next with the back arrow key at the bottom of the page.  If you click on home in blue you go back to the top of the first page.  By selecting archives in blue you can view thumbnails of posts in any given month spread across the screen in their entirety scrolling down month by month.  There is a search option at the page bottom also.

Mr. Luke Neff has created a blog that can be read daily via an RSS feed.  His images coupled with appropriate text are sure to be an enjoyed feature with students.  I'll bet the most of his students can hardly wait to get to class each day. 

It might be a good ongoing assignment for students to look for visuals that would promote creative writing.  An individual classroom might set up their own in-house blog for a year long project.  After contacting Mr. Neff by email requesting his permission to use a couple of his visuals in this post his response was:  Absolutely.  Please share.  They are there to be shared.  Thank you, Mr. Neff.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

More Bears...Can't Get Enough of those Bears

November 14th has been designated as National American Teddy Bear Day.  More than one hundred years ago in 1902 the first American teddy bear was crafted by Rose and Morris Michtom to commemorate an act of compassion by then 26th president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt. Each year during this week in November students in our library media center focus on everything bears, real, fictional and those that have become cherished friends that we carry and cuddle everywhere.

From a cave in the forest
as Bear and his friends
all nibbled on their lunch.

Author Karma Wilson has teamed up again with illustrator, Jane Chapman, to bring readers the seventh book in her Bear and Friends series, Bear's Loose Tooth.  It all began with Bear Snores On, receiving numerous accolades, followed by Bear Wants More, Bear Stays Up for Christmas,  Bear's New Friend, Bear Feels Sick and Bear Feels Scared.  Our big furry chum is back with his woodland buddies, Hare, Mouse, Wren, Owl, Badger, Mole, Gopher and Raven, in a tale that touches on a time to which we can all relate.

Seated outside his cave on the grass Bear is enjoying a midday meal with his forest friends when something in his mouth feels not quite right; that something is wiggling and wobbling. 

It was...Bear's loose tooth!

Concerned about his ability to continue to eat with this troublesome tooth his companions reassure him that a new one will take its place and they each try to remove it.  But that obstinate tooth won't budge until Bear decides to worry it to and fro with his tongue.  Let the celebration begin; that tooth falls out.

Nestled in for the night Bear looks at his tooth placed next to his bed on a plate.  As he dreams a tiny winged visitor leaves him a bunch of blueberries in exchange for his tooth.  Come morning all delight in consuming this delicious delicacy, that is until...

Jane Chapman's acrylic paintings grace the cover, endpapers and body of this delightful story.  Beginning with a scene that spans the front and back covers, to endpapers that once again give readers a view into Bear's cozy cave, a small fire cheerfully burning teapot hanging from his stick tripod, continuing with smaller oval vignettes surrounded by hues of forest greens and blues, and lovely single and double page spreads.  A lush scenic forest frames the characters in their life-like colors making them full of expressive animation.

Friendship flourishes in the forest as Bear adjusts with help to this new life's rite of passage. Readers can most certainly identify with his surprise, concern and joy.  Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman deliver pure charm using spare rhyme and rhythmic text coupled with bright, detailed visuals that completely invite and engage readers. 

Bear's Loose Tooth manages to capture that memorable moment when a grinning child rushes up tooth in hand exclaiming, "My tooth fell out!"

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Instant Visibility On The Web

On May 6, 2011 I posted a review of Instablogg Instablogg as stated in my review gives the user, depending on the subject matter, the ability to post anonymously on the Internet adding text, images, links and videos within minutes. The post can be private or public, allow commenting or not and linked to a variety of social networks such as Facebook or Twitter.

Within ten days of one another two of my favorite tech bloggers in-the-know, Larry Ferlazzo of Larry Ferlazzo's Websites of the Day and Richard Byrne of Free Technology for Teachers, spoke about an additional web 2.0 application that allowed for simple creation of a web page, Page O Rama.

As quickly as you typing the URL in the address bar you can be making a web page.  When the site opens this page appears.

First enter in the letters, numbers or a combination of both that you want to represent the page address.

Then type in a title for your page. The tool bar above the body of text box is nearly identical to that of Instablogg.

Instablogg allows for the placement of the text within the page, justification, Page O Rama does not.  Page O Rama spell checks as you type but Instablogg does not.  Page O Rama does not allow for the underlining of text as does Instablogg but they share in making text bold, in italics or strike through.

They both allow for the insertion of an image, table, horizontal line, Smiley, special character, link or a page break for printing.  It is important to note that images can be copied and pasted in both without copying and pasting in the URL link.  They share the ability to remove format as well as bulleting.  Page O Rama allows for an increase indent and block quoting as does Instablogg.

Instablogg does offer the ability to change the text color and background color, maximize, show blocks and embed a video but Page O Rama does not.  But Page O Rama does include the ability to name an anchor, a link to another web page.

As far as the basic text both give the user the chance to change styles and format; only Instablogg includes font size.

These two options for becoming visible online, in no time at all, are nearly identical.  Page O Rama would appear from a comparison to be the more basic of the two as Instablogg acts more like a blog post allowing for comments and sharing via social networks.  They would both work well in an educational setting as well as for personal use. 

Here is the link to my page about the Bear unit during several weeks of November.

While not having the occasion to contact Instablogg for a question, I did need to contact Page O Rama. Their response was polite, informative and very quick.  That counts for quite a bit.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Adventure On The Ocean Blue

Many, many years ago in Schuler's Bookstore (my old stomping grounds) located in Okemos, Michigan I had the distinct privilege to meet and listen to esteemed author, Richard Peck.   What he had to say was delivered with wit and intelligence; the rest of the audience and I were hanging on his every word.  I have never read any of his numerous titles that I did not completely enjoy no matter the genre.  His most recent book, Secrets at Sea (Dial Books, October 13, 2011) is no exception.

Helena, the oldest of four siblings, snippy, skittery, know-it-all Louise, mooning about, mild-mannered Beatrice and Lamont who attracts trouble like honey does bees, is about to make a decision that will change all their lives forever.  Having lost her mother and two sisters Vicky and Alice in an untimely rain barrel accident and her father in an attack by the barn cat,

She was kill-crazy, of course.  Cats are.

Helena is trying to do the best for her family; to keep them together.  Having been among the First Families in the Hudson River Valley there is a sense of history and proprietary that needs to be maintained.

Of course Helena, Louise, Beatrice and Lamont are mice but what happens to their humans, the Upstairs Cranstons, affects them.  It seems that the Cranstons, who are not known for their social graces nor particularly well traveled (they rarely leave their home), are about to take a voyage across the Atlantic to England.  They are giving their eldest daughter, Olive, her chance.  No young man ever calls twice so they are expanding their options. 

Initially unable to make a decision Helena pays a call on a mouse that looks older than time, Aunt Fannie.  Aunt Fannie's wisdom and ability to see the future in her crystal ball, a discarded human's marble, are uncanny. 

"Everybody has two futures," Aunt Fannie said.  "The future you choose. Or the future that chooses you."

The visit seals their fate.  They are going abroad with the Cranstons by snuggling into a trunk.

As Helena observes on more than one occasion:  The world is a sudden place.  Aboard ship their universe expands beyond anything they could have imagined; an existence within the hierarchy of humans mirroring events.  Surprises abound among both worlds as family dynamics shift and change, an array of additional unforgettable characters are introduced and the ship moves closer to history, Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee.

Richard Peck's skill at portraying the world of mice and human items lost or tossed becoming their treasure, a thimble, a bowl, a twist of wire, a tiara, a yardstick, a grand table or a scrap of fabric, a gown, is a sheer pleasure to peruse.  Snappy dialogue by both casts of characters, humans and mice, infused with humor elicits burst of laughter. 

The Duchess leaned nearer me.  Her breath took mine away.  My whiskers drooped.  (Helena's thoughts on meeting the Mouse-in-Waiting to Her Royal Highness, the Princess Louise, fourth daughter of the Queen.)

Mrs. Cranston, bigger than he, in a gigantic feathered hat, her squirrel-skin cloak, and over that her life preserver, stretched to its limits.
"She'd sink like a stone," Louise muttered in my ear. "That life preserver wouldn't float her hat."
(Helena and Louise watching as a life boat drill is taking place.)

Descriptions of time and place, immediate and set within chronological boundaries, are polished to perfection.

My ears rose to perfect points.  It was the sound of claws digging into rope, climbing.  A nearly silent scraping, but there's nothing wrong with our hearing.  I froze.  Then above me a dark shadow loomed over the coiling rope, against the starry sky.

The gentleman, booted and spurred, on stamping steeds.  The little old Queen shaped exactly like a teapot, with white feathers in her bonnet.  And with her in the open landau, Princess Helena---the human Helena, and quite a generously built woman.

Kelly Murphy's use of oil, acrylics, gel and graphite in her illustrations offer readers a delightful extension of the narration penned by Peck.  Each chapter heading pictures a port hole window with a variety of views.  By following the link attached to her name several visuals from the book can be seen. 

Secrets at Sea by Richard Peck is brimming with suspenseful escapades, wit and humor, spoken and thought, and of course, romance.  Beneath it all runs Aunt Fannie's wisdom, her parting gesture to Helena, of how to hold family together.  Begging to be read aloud, this title needs to be shared and shared often.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The New York Times---Highlighting Children's (and Young Adult) Books--This Is Indeed Special

Thanks to a newly received tweet from Children's Bookshelf at Publishers Weekly and a post by blogger Monica Edinger at educating alice, do yourself a huge favor and check out The New York Times, Saturday, November 12, 2011 Children's Books, Special Section. 

Artwork by author/illustrator Mo Willems takes front and center.  Readers are treated to a scene of Trixie and her parents reading in front of a crackling fire, Knuffle Bunny close at hand, Elephant & Piggie on the mantel with a picture of the Pigeon hanging on the wall.  It's so cozy I feel warmer just looking at it and wish I could frame it for my own wall.

There are slide shows headlining the Best Illustrated Books of 2011, children's books about Holiday Songs and children's books about Grandparents.  There are nearly twenty reviews by some of the best reviewers and writers in the field about books for children in a variety of categories as well as opinions on the newest young adult books.

Twitterville Talk #22

There are very important pieces of news that came over the Twitter feed this past week. 

Straight from the Children's Bookshelf at Publishers Weekly are these newsy tweets.

CNBC to premiere "The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Revealed" on Nov 24th is great news for fans of the series and for those that have not been fortunate enough to make it to Orlando, Florida yet.

Take heart lovers of Ian Falconer's books..."Olivia" picture book series to continue next fall with a new title, Olivia and the Fairy Princess.  Knowing Olivia it should be filled with laughs.

Some of the best news this week is the release of PW Best Books 2011:  Children's BooksPicture books and young adult fiction and nonfiction are included.  Do not miss these titles!

John Wood is making a huge difference one library at a time; His Libraries, 12,000 So Far, Change Lives .  Check out the article at School Library Journal, John Wood Makes Room To Read to measure the depth of this man's impact on children worldwide.

Joyce Valenza, library media special extraordinaire and blogger at School Library Journal, posted Protecting your reputation online:  4 things you need to know.  This infographic says it all.  Good advice!

Petition Supporting School Libraries Needs 20,000 signatures for White House Response  Never thought I would see the day when we have to sign a petition to have one of the cornerstones of education protected.  If you value equitable access to information and reading for all children, you need to sign this petition.

Librarian's words are binding is an article by journalist, Steve Lopez, about a librarian, his son.  No truer thoughts have ever been expressed.

Heavy Medal:  A Mock Newbery Blog posted Friday afternoon the shortlist of ten titles they selected as possible Newbery contenders.

Thanks to School Library Journal for the above links.

From the YALSA blog, The Hub, comes Late To The Party--Series to Catch Up With  Three suggested series to read are outstanding for young adults looking for the next good set of books on which to get hooked.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Now This Is One Cool Cow...

You can't judge a book by its cover but it will definitely get your attention.  It's not everyday, in fact it's almost never, that you will find a cow that covets the cold.  But that is exactly what the cow craves in Chilly Milly Moo, the picture book debut for English author/illustrator, Fiona Ross.

Digital illustrations very much appearing like woodcut prints drew me to this title; that and the color palette.  The pink in Milly Moo's ears, mouth and udder are metallic letters in the title and a bold blush on the endpapers.  It is that splash of rosiness among the subdued shades of barn and field browns, blacks, subtle greens and blues that hints at the upcoming hilarity. 

Ross's use of the large cartoon eyes on her characters conveys a range of emotions in a single glance, a shift in a look.  Moods change with a simple change in the line around her cows' mouths or the farmer's face.  And those tails, a single line with a tuft on the end, are quirky cuteness. 

Most of the illustrations are spread across double pages providing Ross the perfect canvas for her unique, textured visuals.  Her choice of displaying text in thought or speech bubbles, along the top or bottom of a page, among the bricks, walls or floors of the barn lend a realistic, warmth to the story.  My favorite picture is of the rather large backside of the farmer sitting on a stool bent over attempting to milk Milly Moo; all we can see of her is four stick legs tuft of tail and a small part of her body in a narrow line front to back.  Text is shown on her body, across the bottom of the farmer and written on the floor boards.

Word choice, Milly Moo, glum, nope, zilch, nada, diddly-squat, gurgle, gargle, bubble, babble and big freeze add to the sheer enjoyment of this tale as well as providing tension leading to the comic conclusion.  While narration is used sparingly it conveys enough to fully engage readers.

Milly Moo is not happy; she is too hot!  She can not produce milk.  She wants to have the the finest, loveliest, tastiest, creamiest milk.  But wanting and doing are two different things.  The farmer won't keep her if she won't make milk.  Teasing  and laughing from the other cows is not helping either.  Awakening from a dream about what happens to cows with no milk, Milly Moo finds that the weather has turned; a storm is blowing in bringing the icy cold.  With the farmer arriving at the barn in the wee hours of the morn we read: 

"This is your last chance, Milly Moo,"  he said.  "Let's have one last try!"  The farmer squeezed and squeezed and squeezed...

The explosive surprise ending will have readers rolling around on the floor (I'm still laughing).  Never was the message that we all have gifts, that specialness comes in the most unexpected ways, presented so cleverly as in Chilly Milly Moo.  Brr...where's my hat, mittens and boots?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Everyone Has Their Own Story To Tell

On September 16, 2011 in a post titled Curation Sensation I reviewed Scoop.it .  At the time Scoop.it was in beta format but they have now gone public.  I continue to add information to all three magazines, All Things Caldecott, Gone to the Dogs and Ballad of the Northland, for which I am curator.  It is very simple to use; Scoop.it sends suggestions which I can publish or discard or I can add my own by clicking on a Scoop.it bookmarklet.

Having read about Storify in several posts made on Larry Ferlazzo's Websites of the Day I decided to compare the two curation tools.  According to their site, Storify helps its users tell stories by curating social media.

To sign up for Storify enter a username, password and email.  Once you agree to the terms of service the next page references the site's privacy policy.  You can also sign in using your Twitter account.

Once you are logged in you can create a story, go to my stories or edit and enhance your profile and settings or logout.  When creating a story the browsers best supported by this service are Google Chrome, Safari and Firefox.  After selecting create a story the following page appears.
First enter in a headline and a description; the headline will determine your permalink.  Next search the social media that will carry information about the topic that is covered in your story.  Enter in a keyword in the search box and click the magnifying glass icon.  You can search using that term in Storify, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, Google, a URL for an RSS feed or embed a URL for a link.  When you click on the + icon at the end of the social media suggestions, it offers users the opportunity to edit what media is searched; Breaking News, Sound Cloud and Instagram can be added.

If you identify a source that you want to appear in your story double click on it.  It shifts to the left side of the screen.  Or you can drag it over.  When you mouse over the item a small box appears above it stating that by clicking  you can add text for context.
That text can be bold, in italics, underlined, struck through, linked to a URL or made into a header.

When you have searched all the social media using your term, moved all pertinent items to your story and added any text that you desire go to the top and click Publish.  Above your story in the upper right hand corner are several icons that offer the options of:  post to external sites such as Wordpress, Tumblr, Drupal, Posterous or Mailchimp, you can notify people via Twitter that you have quoted in the story, delete or edit the story, email the story or embed the story using HTML code.  On the right you can copy the story permalink, the story shortlink or once again the story embed HTML.

At this point Scoop.it has my vote for the simple reason that I prefer the layout of my curation using that app, the ability to link it to a Facebook account, Twitter account, Facebook page, LinkedIn account, Wordpress or Tumblr page, the ease of adding what I find on the web with a simple click on the bookmarklet, the appearance of the dashboard for a user's account complete with a stats chart and their informative FAQ.  Storify does allow users to pick which media will be searched while Scoop.it searches the web for you.  Storify is a linear curation while the Scoop.it layout is more like a magazine with the curator determining the look and feel of the page.

This is my initial effort using Storify.  You decide; go to my link to the Scoop.it post and view my magazine, All Things Caldecott.