Quote of the Month

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

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Twitterville Talk #29

There is always so much news on Twitter; so much to enjoy, read.  The instant access to news will never fail to amaze me; when you grow up in a time before zip codes and color TV you can still be awestruck by the advances in technology.

Thanks to LiteracyHead for this tweet:  Introducing Book Pickings:  A Visual Bookshelf by Maria Popova of Brain Pickings.  If you want to view interesting and unique book suggestions please drop by this site.  The newly designed virtual bookshelf is a real treat.

Now this is an intriguing take on Kid Literacy Characters and Their Grown-Up Counterparts.

Great review of and interview about The Force is with "Origami Yoda's" creator.

It is with great sadness that I read Caldecott Winner Simms Taback Dies at 79.  His books which grace the shelves in our library media center are well read; my personal copies will be even more treasured.

Enjoy a truly fabulous article on what young adult authors, for the most part,  think And the next "Tintin: is...

Follow the year in review at The Guardian, Pottermore and more:  2011 in children's books.

This comes as no surprise to a multitude of fans--Book Buzz:  "Hunger Games" reaches No. 1 on USA Today's list.  Thanks to Children's Bookshelf for these tweets.

Sally Mavor, fabric artist extraordinaire and book illustrator, shares her process for the making of The Horn Book cover.  What an amazing talent and worthy recipient of the 2011 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Pocketful of Posies!

Appearing in The Digital ShiftLetters:  For a technology user, a love of print endures by Kate Ewing library media specialist at the MS/HS in Omro, Wisconsin.

I am going to need another lifetime to read all the books on my to-read lists and piles around the house but this list is another keeper, The 11 Best Biographies and Memoirs of 2011 by Maria Popova at Brain Pickings.

The Digital Shift wraps up the year with Top Articles on SLJ.com 2011:  Ebooks, Kid Lit, Jobs.

From Sarah Evans of the blog, Sarah's Faves, Fave Tip:  New Year, New You:  Clean up your online profile.
A tip of the hat to School Library Journal for these links.

The Blink & Caution Acceptance Speech delivered by author/recipient Tim Wynne-Jones.
Thanks to The Horn Book.

I have been a connoisseur of fiction and fact about the Shackleton Expedition for many years, so this article in The New York Times comes as no surprise, Leadership Lessons from the Shackleton Expedition.

A retweet from Richard Byrne at Free Technology for Teachers of Remember 2011-A Map of 2011's Biggest Stories.
Thanks to Larry Ferlazzo of Larry Ferlazzo's Web sites of the day...  for these links.

Julie Danielson at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast gives a recap of her posts this year, One Very Possible 2011 7-Imp Retrospective Before BreakfastThis is a visual feast for the eyes of all picture book lovers.

Friday, December 30, 2011

A Night Like No Other

Upon opening the package containing my personal copy of One Starry Night (Margaret K. McElderry Books) written by Lauren Thompson and illustrated by Jonathan Bean, I gasped; so taken by the visual impact of the rich hues of midnight blue, warm brown, creamy white all accented in soft black, the humble portrait of Joseph, Mary and the child beneath a blanket of silver stars.  Turning the first page One Starry Night in white sits in the night sky as a lone owl perches on a broken tree in the desert clime.  He takes flight across a two-page landscape featuring further publication and title information.  It is here readers are told:

The wild animals featured in this book could all be found in the Holy Land at the time of the traditional nativity story.  They are the untamed cousins of the domesticated animals named in the text.

Followed by another double-page illustration (which is the format throughout the book), the owl now sitting on a rocky ledge is joined by a small rodent as the author and illustrator name their dedications.

Using little but powerful and prayerful text alternately rhyming, Thompson speaks of female animals watching over their young; a sheep with her lamb, a cow with her calf, a nanny goat with her kid, a pig with her piglet, a cat with her kitten, a dog with her pup, a donkey with her foal and a dove with her doveling. 

a nanny goat watched over her kid
"never far"
a pig watched over her piglet
"wherever you are"

All seem to be moving toward a destination.  It is in the final pages that readers see they are to join one another in a common purpose.  To gaze upon, surround and rest near the Holy Family who themselves sought shelter in a tiny, open, wooden stable outside the town of Bethlehem, as they watch over their child.

Jonathan Bean rendered all the illustrations for this title in pencil and colored them digitally.  This technique produced breathtaking results reminiscent of charcoal drawings giving a velvet softness to each visual; motion shrouded in stillness.

The owl glides across the sky of a mother/child depiction, the rodent is tucked among a stony outcropping, a hedgehog peeks out, an occupied web stretches among tree branches or a scorpion scurries.  Careful viewers will notice the skillful use of foreshadowing; animals to be featured are woven into the previous pages' scenery.   Knowledge of the setting, flora and fauna, is highly evident in the smallest of details.

Regal reverence reaches out to readers in this exquisite rendition of the Holy Night by Lauren Thompson and Jonathan Bean.  All is right in the world, a peacefulness settles, in this title, One Starry Night, surely destined to be a classic for its singular, stunning portrayal of the Nativity.

Please visit each of these gifted artist's websites linked to their names above.  A truly wonderful interview of Jonathan Bean is found at Seven Impossible Things Before BreakfastHe reveals his process for creating his beautiful illustrations; numerous visuals found in this book are displayed within that post.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Real-Time Collaboration

Just a little more than six weeks ago a new web 2.0 tool became available, QikPad.  According to the site, multiple users can instantly see text updates, character by character.  It is currently in beta form but it is free, instantly accessible and simple to use; the perfect collaboration tool especially in education as there is no registration required. 

Begin by clicking on the big gray New Qikpad button.  Users are immediately taken to the collaboration space.  At the top of the page a unique URL is assigned to the new QikPad. 

As others join the collaboration their text is highlighted in a particular color.  A chat box opens in which users can participate. In beginning a QikPad my text was highlighted in blue.

Across the top of the page are a variety of icons.  The first set refers to the look of the written discussion; text in bold, italics, underlined, struck through, bulleted, indented or unindented list, undo, redo or clear authorship colors.  The second set of icons concerns the QikPad as a whole; share on a multitude of social networks, email, add to favorites, create a read-only link for a particular pad (this also creates a QR code for that pad), import/export from/to different document formats, embed pad, show history of a pad, show connected users or chat with users (icon at the page bottom).

I began a QikPad commentary on the possibility of Lane Smith's Grandpa Green being considered for the 2012 Caldecott Award.  Each year I do a Mock Caldecott Election with my third and fourth grade students.  Using this format I can extend that election to a full-blown written discussion on the choices up for consideration between all of the students; having them choose a set number of books on which to comment. 

I can't wait to use this in my classroom, the library media center, when the new year begins. 

This is the read-only link to my initial QikPad.

Thanks to Larry Ferlazzo blogger at Larry Ferlazzo's Websites of the Day and Richard Byrne blogger at
Free Technology for Teachers.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Two World Leaders and A Christmas

It's a given that I have enjoyed the pursuit of history for as far back as I can remember; fiction or fact.  For me the crucial key to bringing a blast from the past from the dry, mundane statements frequently found in textbooks to a vital, living reflection is the extent of research that leads to humanizing the players and events.  In Franklin and Winston:  A Christmas That Changed the World (Candlewick Press, September 13, 2011) written by Douglas Wood and illustrated by Barry Moser the particular days addressed within are as if I was witness to them only yesterday.

It was the winter of 1941.  The valiant battleship HMS Duke of York struggled against the screaming winds and forty-foot waves of a mighty December gale.

Winston S. Churchill, prime minister of Great Britain is on his way to the United States to spend Christmas with President Franklin D. Roosevelt of these United States.  A subtle insertion, truly seeming as part of the story, by author Wood gives a short background into the dreams of a youthful Churchill coupled with his trials, tribulations and staunch attitude in leading the British people up to this point.  He is most anxious to complete the crossing to brainstorm with President Roosevelt on what they might do to fight their enemies and bring peace to the world.

In Washington D. C. Roosevelt awaits the arrival of the prime minister feeling the heaviness of his presidential responsibilities in the wake of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.  Wood relates the philosophy that Roosevelt has held since boyhood about service to his country despite polio attacking his body.  He and Churchill have the same end goal---a world that is safe for our children.

Amid the formalities of the Christmas and New Year festivities, White House dinners and press conferences the two met surrounded by strategists daily for nearly a month many times late into the night. Winston made for an unusual and entertaining guest roaming the halls at all hours; the two would pop into each others' rooms unannounced if something weighed on their minds.  Roosevelt and Churchill cemented a friendship that would last a lifetime. 

The day after Christmas Churchill addressed the Congress of the United States of America.  Given the well earned reputation as a speaker of the highest caliber, the ideas proposed by Churchill were hardily embraced by those in attendance and by the American people listening on their radios.  This Grand Alliance named "The Declaration of the United Nations" did indeed alter the destiny facing countries throughout the world at that time and has to this day far-reaching effects.

Douglas Wood known for his titles, Old Turtle, Grandad's Prayers of the Earth and Nothing to Do, breaths life into Roosevelt and Churchill through those intimate details about each which his research, primary and secondary sources listed in a bibliography at the book's end, revealed.  The personal, inspirational quotes of each leader carefully placed throughout the narrative make readers feel as though they are the proverbial "fly on the wall".  The little tidbits of information, Churchill being too excited to sleep that first night to the extent that he had to take a sleeping pill, are what elevate these men of history from names on paper to real flesh and blood persons.

Wood includes a listing of accomplishments that arose from this meeting in his Afterword.  In an Author's Note he speaks of growing up hearing of this time in history, his father serving in Italy and Arabia during World War II and of other male family members service in other parts of the world, just as I did, my father having served in the units stationed on the Aleutian Islands.

As the winds of northern Michigan howl around my home this evening, we have yet again another gale warning on Lake Michigan and along the shoreline, it is not too hard to imagine the crossing Churchill made across the Atlantic that December in 1941 especially when the outstanding skills of illustrator Barry Moser grace the book's pages capturing the essence of the people and events like the lens of a camera.  On the last page of the book readers see:

The book was designed and typeset by Barry Moser, who also composed and designed the illustrations. 

Using transparent watercolor on papers made in Fabriano, Italy, Moser used historical photographs, which were freely cropped, modified, and merged into totally new images by the illustrator.

Most of these illustrations belong framed and hanging on a museum wall but Moser commands that respect for his work.  Readers feel that if they were to reach out and touch a character they would be warm, alive.  The use of black and white only on the first visual of the ship crossing the ocean toward the United States portrays the chilling danger of the voyage.  It contrasts, as it should, with the warmth of the lighting of the national Christmas tree when both Roosevelt and Churchill spoke or the energy of Churchill's speech to Congress.

Author Douglas Wood and illustrator Barry Moser, both outstanding in their individual endeavors, together are masterful.  Captivating nonfiction, although in picture book format, belonging in any setting for personal or educational purposes whatever the age is what Franklin and Winston:  A Christmas That Changed the World offers impressively.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Best Kind Of Help

In 2009 the AASL awarded S. O. S. for Information Literacy a spot on their coveted Top 25 Web Sites for Teaching and Learning.  It falls under the Curriculum Sharing standard found in the Guidelines for School Library Programs:  Instructional Partner.

On site they define themselves as follows:  a dynamic, collaborative web-based multimedia resource that includes peer-reviewed lesson plans, handouts, presentations, videos, and other resources to enhance the teaching of information literacy. (K-16)

Following a tip given by the AASL, be sure to set up an account.  To do so enter in your first and last name, password, institution, city, state, country, institution profile (ranging from primary to 4-year college to technical/trade school to museum), workplace location (urban, suburban, rural), years in this type of position,  K-12 Teacher Librarians (certified, not certified, currently working on certification) and education levels taught.

When you log in you are taken to your workspace:  my Plans, my Units, my Ideas, my Builders and my Account.  There are templates that need to be completed in order to submit lesson plans or stand alone ideas for review prior to their posting on the site.  The tutorial for creating a lesson plans asks such questions as:  upon what do I base my lesson, how do I start the lesson, general information about the lesson, objectives and procedures, supporting files, and standards.  The templates (compare the screen shots above) are fairly similar. 

Units, collections of lessons, can be done alone or through collaboration.  Units can not be created unless at least two lessons have been previously selected for the site. 

When designing a Builder, a web based experience for mainly students, there are twenty-five templates from which to choose.  After a template is selected there are four different options for image placement.  From there you can begin to add elements (text, images, links, media and tables) to a web page.  This is a somewhat abbreviated view of that space.

There is a very thorough tutorial which defines a Builder and guides the user through its setup step by step. 

In addition to tutorials for making your own lesson plans, units, ideas and builders there is also a simple guide to using the search function at the site.  At the top enter in a keyword or topic, select a grade level, and choose whether you are looking for lesson plans, ideas or builders. 

The home page of the site will feature lesson plans, ideas and builders that you might want to try in your classroom or library media center.  After nearly thirty-four years as a certified library media specialist I just might be spending a few hours each day in my retirement entering in lessons and ideas for others to use.  What a great collaborative project spearheaded by the Center for Digital Literacy at Syracuse University with major support from the national government, Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Ripper Returns

After reading the reviews by Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan on their blog, Bookends, for Booklist Online I was doomed despite their warnings; who can resist the words Jack the Ripper, unsolved murders, ghosts, secrets within secrets.  What was I thinking when I started this book the week before Christmas?  Needless to say I did set aside many tasks that should have been completed to finish The Name of the Star written by Maureen Johnson in near record time.

If you live in New Orleans and they think a hurricane might be coming, all hell breaks loose.

Yes, this begins in Louisiana with an introduction to the town of Benouville, Rory (Aurora) Deveaux, her attorney parents, unique, quirky, extended family members and neighbors and the humor that permeates the mystery, fear and drama of the major storyline.

We do have a neighbor with a two-man rowboat lashed on top of the porch roof, all ready to go if the water rises--but that's Billy Mack, and he started his own religion in the garage, so he's got a lot more going on than just an extreme concern for personal safety.

..."Cousin Diane runs the Healing Angel Ministry out of her living room.  Well, and also her backyard.  She has a hundred sixty-one statues of angels in her backyard.  Plus she has eight hundred seventy-five angel figurines, dolls, and pictures in the house.  And people go to her for angel counseling."...

Let me backtrack a tad, the true beginning is the traditional title page and info followed by the not so traditional map of all the Jack the Ripper murders in 1888 London with a three page description of a nurse on her way to work finding the first victim in a series of recreations of the original Jack the Ripper strikes.

Trust me when I say that within a handful of pages readers will be completely and overwhelmingly hooked.

Rory has recently arrived at a boarding school in London, Wexford, on the same day that the first murder victim is found; her parents having taken positions teaching American law at the University of Bristol in England.  An assortment of people with perfectly portrayed personalities that you will appreciate, like or dislike quickly become part of Rory's life; the stalwart, no-nonsense housemistress of Hawthorne (girls' house), Claudia, her level-headed studious roommate, Jazza, prefect, know-it-all, head girl, Charlotte, a new romantic interest, Jerome, a prefect at the guy's house and a journalist in the making who is obsessed with the recent Ripper-like killings and the extremely knowledgeable Alistair who likes to roam the stacks at the library reading in the dark.  Life in an English boarding school quickly shifts from adjusting to a new normal to outright goosebumps creepy when Rory, and only Rory, sees this serial killer even though he was right in front of both she and Jazza. 

When she bravely goes to the police claiming to be a witness after another death, three new characters join the cast; a young looking policeman named Stephen , a new roommate, Boo Chodhari, who is more than a student, and muscular Callum a worker in the underground transit system.  Due to what could have been her demise, choking at a meal, Rory has acquired a new ability, the ability to see those that are dead but still roam the streets of London.  So can her three new acquaintances who just happen to be part of a very secret organization within the British government.

As the date of the final original Jack the Ripper killing draws near Rippermania grabs the citizens of London and beyond, terror escalates at a rapid pace, tension mounts to a screaming pitch.  With an ending that will have you crying out loud, "no, no, no" and a twist that is right-on target, readers will hardly be able to wait for the next installment.  Yes, this is the first title in the Shades of London series.

Maureen Johnson creates a true-to-life sense of living in today's London, for what it is like to be a student in their senior year at a boarding school and the gut wrenching panic of knowing that any minute could be your last. 

Pigeons cooed outside the window.  The building creaked and settled.  I reached over and ran my hand over the heavy, slightly scratchy blue material on the sofa.  I looked up at the bookcases built in the walls, stretching to the high ceiling.  I had done it.  This was actually London, this cold, empty building.  Those pigeons were English pigeons.  I had imagined this for so long, I didn't quite know how to process the reality. 

The door shut, and we were once again outside in the cold, I didn't want to take the long way around, for several reason--not the least of which was the fact that the Ripper was actually in East London somewhere.  Cutting through the square was the safest and most direct route--but also was the one that increased our chances of getting caught by several orders of magnitude.  ...I was about to do the same when I realized someone was next to me. ...

I noticed that the Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication data did not assign a genre to this title; interesting.  Personally I would say this tilts more toward science fiction than fantasy; supernatural to be sure but highly technological in some respects.  It passes my probable or impossible test heavily on the probable side but it could be that Johnson's writing is so superb that readers (myself included) want to believe.

Snappy dialogue liberally laced with reality and humor, a setting right out of history rich, mysterious and frightening, to the point where you have to remind yourself to breath, and a plot that pulses full speed ahead will have readers sending Johnson numerous emails begging her to write as fast as she can.  Enjoy all the fascinating extras at her web site linked above to her name including the first 78 pages of this book.

I would recommend this for upper middle school readers due to some grisly details and mild swearing.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Twitterville Talk #28

So much over the wire this week it was hard to keep it short and sweet; year-end roundups, holiday treats and what 2012 will bring.

Here is an amazing TED video about educator, John Hunter, and The World Peace Game.  The video length is 20:28; so little time for a huge amount of inspiration.  Edutopia provided this link. 

 It seems that young adult authors are in the holiday spirit once again.  Thanks to Children's Bookshelf of Publishers Weekly for the link.

I am in complete and total agreement with Elizabeth Bird, blogger at School Library Journal, A Fuse #8 Production on this video Happy Holidays from Chronicle Books being right up there with the best.

E. Bird has also given us another excellent resource:  Librarian Preview:  Little, Brown and Company (Spring/Summer 2012)  Thanks for all your hard work and invaluable insights.

From print to the silver screen, read The Art of Making Movies:  Behind-the-Scenes Looks at War Horse, Tintin, and Arthur Christmas.

Marissa Meyer writes for NPR; The Teens Are All Right:  2011's Top 5 YA Novels.  I've read two; the other three look very appealing.

Authors Richard Peck, Lisa McMann, Jack Gantos and Loreen Long share Holiday Memories 2011.

For food lovers SLJ posted this link to Punchfork, one of the best recipe sites that I have ever seen. 

Great Websites For Kids sponsored by the Association For Library Service To Children has a new look but with the same great resources.

If you like quotes like I like quotes, then QuoteStumbler is the place for you.  You will lose hours of your time, guaranteed.  Thanks to YALSA for the link.

PBS Learning Media has many educational opportunities available in a unit titled Exploring Ice and Cold.  Thanks to Thirteen Education for this tweet.

Thanks to Richard Byrne of Free Technology For Teachers for the link to Great Collection of Educational Apps on Pinterest.

Happy Christmas Eve to each and every one of you. 

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Letter Arrives

Nothing is quite the same as going to your mailbox and seeing that someone has taken the time to send you a card or letter.  The thrill of an email or comment on your blog is unlike the joy that courses through your soul when you hold physical verification in your hands that someone cares enough to communicate.  David Ezra Stein master author/illustrator, winner of the Caldecott Honor Award for Interrupting Chicken and the Ezra Jack Keats Award for Leaves has perfectly portrayed a lovely love through letter writing in his newest title, Love, Mouserella.

His front and back covers an envelope that begs to be opened with childlike writing and doodles accompanied by beginning and closing endpapers continuing with the delightful colorful drawings ooze with charm.  Holding the book like a hanging calendar readers see Mouserella saying goodbye to her Grandmouse.  The theme of this publication being mouse-produced is carried throughout even on the title page info;

Copyright 2011 by Mouserella David Ezra Stein.  All rights reserved...

...Your support of the author's rights is appreciated.  SEND CHEESE.

The art was created using watercolor, stencils, water--soluble crayon, pencil, two paws, and one brain.

The very essence of a child's creation, their form of art,  follows as photographs, tiny crayon drawings, penciled and crayon-created words flow from page to page much like a sweetly crafted scrapbook. 

Mouserella is missing her Grandmouse who left three days ago.  Her Mama recommends that she write a letter, saying hello.  Not knowing quite where to begin flowers string across the page; she is thinking.  Then she dives right in with all the little moments in her life, her beaded belt is almost done, and her caterpillar, Willy, has advanced to his next stage. 

She recounts a trip to the zoo to see the terrifying cat, building a block wall to keep Ernie out of her side of the room, and teaching a new-found ladybug to fetch.  Her mouse-eye view of the world in darling details is completely captivating to readers.  What will she do next, where will she go?  She's off to the air-conditioned museum, of course, drawing pictures of the exhibits, describing what they eat and missing her Grandmouse because the one she sees there is not hers.

Mouserella is so full of bubbly life, chattering (writing) away blending all her life's memories together with the phrase,

And that's all that happened.,

before immediately starting up again with a new episode of events. Tuesday has the family pausing their life to enjoy the benefits of a blackout; making shadow puppets, eating all the ice pops, carrying candles to the roof to look at the starry sky which is so much like the sky in the country where her Grandmouse lives.

The multi-page letter closes with a description of the stinky glue Ernie is using to make a model, she fashioning sunflower seed parachutes which she is not allowed to test off the terrace (it's started to rain) and when she will get to visit Grandmouse again.  Readers discover that the photographs have been taken with a camera that is a gift to Mouserella from her Grandmouse.  Amid xxxxs and ooos, doodle flowers and words of love there is the typical but precious PS and PPS. 

This book is the consummate model of what this world needs more; people, er mice too, taking the time to fit the pieces of their daily lives together to fabricate a visual of the whole.  It makes you want to sit right down and write your own letter or remember those days in college when you made your own envelopes out of favorite magazine pictures or newspaper articles to send to a friend serving in the armed forces; a little time and love go a long way.  Thank you David Ezra Stein for this gem (just a little over seven inches by nine inches).  I love it!

Already forming a letter writing lesson with my students after Christmas break, a visit to the David Ezra Stein web site is a must.  Click on the link associated with his name at the top of this post for a real treat.  Don't miss the interviews and liking his Facebook page.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Brighten Beyond Belief

On December 13, 2011 Scholastic launched a new site dedicated to Teaching with Brian Selznick.  Materials are aimed at third through fifth grade and sixth through eighth.  Subject tags are:  language arts, science, social studies, arts and creativity.

One of the highlights of the site is a virtual tour of the American Museum of Natural History located in New York City.  Founded in 1869 this museum plays a significant part in Selznick's newest title, Wonderstruck.

The tour lasts just over fifteen minutes with Selznick introducing each of the four parts:  Welcome to the Museum, The Wolf Diorama, The Giant Anopheles Mosquito and The Ahnighito Meteorite
There are additional activities and ideas for discussion about The Wolf Diorama, The Giant Anopheles Mosquito and The Ahnighito Meteorite.

Continuing down through the site following a short bio of Selznick is information and a study guide about the book, Wonderstruck with reviews. Included in this section are two interviews with Brian Selznick about his work, Kid Reporter and Instructor.

A similar format is used for his Caldecott Award winning book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret.  Information about The Hugo Movie Companion (which I can personally attest to being interesting and loaded with facts) is followed by the movie trailer for Hugo.

Concluding this study and guide are even more activities grouped by language arts, science and social studies relative to Wonderstruck plus four more links.

Educators will feel like they've struck gold at this site, but then I felt the same way reading Brian Selznick's books; treasures of untold wealth for generations to come.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Bawk, Bawk, Whoops!

Much as children and dogs can't resist jumping in a muddy puddle, the cover of Blue Chicken written and illustrated by Deborah Freedman, shows that a particular chicken with three duckling companions are having splish-splashing fun in blue paint.  Who can resist such gleeful abandon?  It makes you want to join in immediately.

So you do.  Opening the book, endpapers reveal a pale gray room, two window frames giving a view of a steel blue day, rain falling, clouds hanging low with a barn nearby.  The title page follows, zooming out showing an artist's table complete with jars of paint, brushes, a water jar with brushes, a pencil and a barnyard graphic in front of a four-framed window. With the next turn of page one of the chickens in the coop pops up her head coming to life off the illustration.

An unseen voice exclaims that the painting is nearly finished and today is a good day for painting the barn, then noticing that perhaps one of the chickens wants to help.  Dipping her white head in a pot of blue paint it spills over her and a great deal of the painting.  Before long it spreads turning the world completely and totally blue.


The repentant little fowl is so sorry.  Perhaps there is a way to make the farm critters not so blue...literally. With the help of a baby duck the two tip, tip, tip that jar of water.  Thank goodness, those hues of blue are washed away...except for the sky, as it should be. 

Zooming back readers see through the window the outside sky has been rinsed clear also,  making it a good day for painting the barn.    Looking back at the illustrator's table what do we see?  Some artistic ducklings and the chicken trying to move a jar of red paint.  Closing endpapers tell the tale of what they accomplish.

Deborah Freedman, using watercolor, pencil, ink and a bit of Photoshop, conveys clearly and cleverly the emotion on the barnyard animals aghast at their dilemma and the panic of the chicken.  Charming happiness portrayed when the problem is solved so delightfully can't help but bring smiles.  I'm smiling now just thinking about it.

Spare melodic text compliments two page spreads flowing like the medium used to create them. 

Playful use of paint, exuberant, curious, creative characters and the splendid blend of a paper and real world lift Blue Chicken written and illustrated by Deborah Freedman skyward.  Who doesn't want to be happy?  It's guaranteed for readers of this book.  I foresee a chorus of read it again, each and every time this title is shared.

For a memorable, delightful interview of Deborah Freedman go to this link at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  Freedman's website can be accessed by the link attached to her name at the beginning of this post.  Update:  An Educator's Guide to the Works of Deborah Freedman is now available.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Hot Spot For Words

I first read about Wordia on Richard Byrne's site, Free Technology for Teachers.  Based upon his review and recommendations I browsed the site.  This site, intended for use by adults,  is provided free by Education Games Network Limited based in England. 

The main part of the site is a search engine combining words, games and videos; results do include a dictionary definition of the word.  If there is not a video for the word for which you searched, you are encouraged to upload your own video.  Hosts of the site are animations, Dr. Johnson, creator of the first English dictionary and Boswell, a schoolboy from today's London, England. 

Games can be played individually or as a group using a whiteboard.  Teachers signed up can track students' scores and progress.  Wordbanks are generated for each student as new words are explored.  Badges are earned when milestones are achieved.

When the Subjects tab is clicked a page reveals four main areas:  English, humanities, science and Internet technology.  Users can upload a word list to assist Wordia in making games.  The Videos tab page displays the top five videos, a featured school and the following subjects, English, geography, history, religious education, music, art, drama, science and Internet technology.  Videos can be uploaded here.  Top games, a featured school, all games and a new adventure game, Journey Through Time, are available when the Games tab is selected.

On the home page there will be a Featured Today word complete with a video, game and dictionary definition. 

Toward the bottom of the home page Top Subject Games , Top Subject Videos along with the Resource Browser listing games by age and subject are found.  When a specific game is chosen they may have classroom help and a lesson plan along with the word list. 

For those words with videos or games this is an excellent resource.  As with all web 2.0 apps preplanning is essential to determine whether an word is part of the Wordia database.  I am thinking of uploading a word list prior to my next big unit as well as making a couple of definition videos; this might be the best part of this site---participatory learning.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Delicious From The Very First Bite

To me, as I have stated previously, every single component of a book is important, cover to cover and everything in between.  When a book begins with a dedication like this, you know without a doubt that you are in for a one-of-a-kind treat.

To my faithful readers,
because a book is like a pie---
the only thing more satisfying than cooking up the story
is knowing that somebody might be out there
eating it up with a spoon.

Simply named, Pie, this new title by Sarah Weeks is anything but that; full of delightful characters, lives interwoven by events, a twisting plot line and a picture perfect setting.  It has all the ingredients a special recipe needs to be named "a keeper".

Uttering, Thank you very much, Polly Portman, the Pie Queen of Ipswitch, Pennsylvania, dies unexpectedly.

From as early as her mud pie making days Polly is destined to be a baker of incomparable talents.  When her dream of opening a pie shop reaches fruition the townspeople are baffled by her refusing to charge for her pies.

Why on earth would I charge people money for something that brings me so much pleasure?

Not wishing to take advantage of Polly's generosity, locals begin to leave ingredients on her doorstep.  Soon word of this unusual arrangement spreads like wildfire throughout the country; people are coming from every state in the Union bringing goodies to be used in her pies.  Polly has a unique gift, each person's favorite pie seems to reach through their palate touching a secret part of their soul.  When one such visitor enters one of her pies in the coveted Blueberry Award, Polly wins year after year, thirteen to be exact.

After her sudden death Polly's niece, Alice, misses her the most; there was a particular, loving connection between the two.  What Alice's parents would or could not provide for Alice, Polly did spending hours with her in the shop every day.  Much to her Aunt Polly's joy Alice has a knack for creating catchy rhyming four line songs which are generously sprinkled throughout the story.

But sorrow soon turns to puzzlement for everyone when the terms of Polly Portman's will are made known.  It would seem her secret pie crust recipe has been left to her cantankerous cat, Lardo and Lardo has been left in the care of Alice. 

Without the influx of visitors to Ipswitch the town's prosperity is on the wan;  everyone now turns to making pies with hilarious results hoping to be the next Blueberry Award winner.

"My mom was planning to take a shot at it," said Charlie.  "But she changed her mind.  Yesterday she tried to make a gooseberry pie and it came out so bad, even the dog wouldn't touch it.  And he drinks out of the john!"

 A mysterious green car is seen lurking about on the city streets.  And who is Miss DeSoto really?  Lardo turns up missing, the shop, Pie, and Polly's upstairs apartment are vandalized.  With the assistance of a classmate, Charlie Erdling, Alice begins to gather clues adding up to a lasting friendship, thwarting a thief, the refreshing of family ties and a shocking discovery.

Set in a small town in the year 1955 Weeks' description of townspeople, Mayor Needleman, his politically minded wife, Melanie, and their daughter, Nora,  the Reverend Flowers, the terrifying school principal, Miss Gurke, Mr. Odgen the absent-minded attorney, city policeman, Chief Decker and Pete Gillespie from the gas station couldn't be richer. 

There were a lot of rumors that had been passed around school over the years about Miss Gurke and the reason she wore such loose-fitting clothes.  One of the most popular stories was that she was hiding the mummified body of a kid who'd been tardy to school too many times. 

Mention of Charlie's and Alice's love of the television show, Sky King, newly inaugurated sleuths that they are, is a pure joy. I could hardly wait to watch that show each week growing up as Penny and her uncle flew around in Songbird solving crimes. The finishing touch on this title, a true piece of perfection, is the Epilogue forty years later.  Okay, while that final chapter is just what readers will be craving, the final, final touch is that each chapter begins with a pie recipe, fourteen in all, all having been made by Sarah Weeks herself.

I inhaled this book; what should have lasted days, lasted hours.  When I turned the final page I was shocked to learn that there was nothing left; I was wanting it to go on much like a gourmet fork in hand who looks dismayed at an empty plate.  Having read parts of it more than twice now I can honestly say that Sarah Weeks followed what Aunt Polly told Alice once: 

The most important ingredient in a pie is the love that goes into making it.

What this dreary winter day needs is for the odor of a freshly baked Buttermilk Pie (pg. 24) to come wafting from the kitchen as the introduction of Sky King plays quietly in the background. 

For those foodies out there go to Sarah Weeks' website referenced above.  The link to her blog contains a superb recipe for pie crust.  She says that she has had so many requests for a pie crust recipe despite Pie being a work of fiction that she is going to start posting real pie crust recipes.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Twitterville Talk #27

The news for the week continues to be the focus on books being adapted to film, more best of 2011 lists and the artistic side of book lovers' everywhere. 

Children's Bookshelf supplied information that War Horse and Hugo have both been nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Drama.  War Horse is a film adaption of the novel by Michael Morpurgo of the same name.  Hugo is the film adaptation of the Caldecott Award winning The Invention of Hugo Cabret written and illustrated by Brian Selzniak.

Christopher Paul Curtis has penned a sequel to Bud, Not Buddy, titled The Mighty Miss Malone.  Read the Publishers Weekly starred review.

The New York Times has posted another illustrative slide show, Pop-Up Book Roundup

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, reviewed here in The New York Times, Sunday Book Review, has been acquired by Universal.  I am sensing a trend.  I like this trend if well done.

Joy Fleishhacker at School Library Journal writes Watch and Read:  Tin Tin's Big Screen Adventure.   I can hardly wait.

The Digital Shift at Library Journal and School Library Journal breaks news and offers insights--YouTube for Schools Offers a Remedy-and Underscores Ongoing Filter Issues.

 Interview:  Behind the Scenes with Walter Wick--Get the scoop on the I Spy guy.

At The Digital Shift check out a fantastic list of lists, SLJ's Best of 2011 Roundup.

And for the sheer fun and beauty of it all take some time to look at the 25 Most Beautiful Pinterest Pins for BookwormsThanks for sharing Shelf Awareness.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Watching Over Us

At the beginning of this year, now nearly at a close, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing released information that the first two books in a new series by acclaimed author/illustrator, William Joyce would be published.  The series was to include seven picture books and six chapter books, the first that we've seen from Joyce in almost a decade.

Twenty years in the making William Joyce relates in an article:

I've been working on a unified mythology for the icons of childhood since my daughter was born in 1991.  As a parent I felt that Santa Claus, the Man in the Moon, all of them had become a little diminished.  They deserve to be thought of as grand, heroic, epic.  If Spiderman has an origins mythology, then why not the characters we actually believed in?  Their stories became my mission.

The first in the picture book series, The Guardians of Childhood, The Man in the Moon, hit the shelves on September 6, 2011.  It is written and illustrated by Joyce.

Of course you know the Guardians of Childhood.  You've known them since before you can remember and you'll know them till your memories are like twilight; Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, the Sandman, the Easter Bunny, and the others.  But the very first one was the Man in the Moon.
Many once upon a times ago...

So begins a story which will surround you; compel you onward page after page.  Among the stars far removed from the blue and green planet known as Earth a ship, Moon Clipper, sailed from one planet to another.  On that ship a baby, the Man in the Moon, MiM, lived a safe and serene life with a father teaching him the wonders of space and a mother reading to him from her Primer of Planets by the light of giant Glowworms as the Moonbot and Moonmice Crews moved about.  Guarding MiM from nightmares sprinkling Dreamsand over him as he slept was his devoted friend, Nightlight.

But evil cannot abide such peace; being attracted to that which is unblemished and pure.  Pitch, the King of Nightmares was determined to find this child and claim him for himself.  MiM's father and mother knew of a perfect little planet in a distant galaxy having no moon, Earth.  Nearly arriving at this place of protection they were attacked by those aboard the Nightmare Galleon, Pitch and his crew.

Nightlight is charged to protect MiM at all costs spiriting him away into the depths of the ship.  Carrying the child to safety he sees a single tear on MiM's cheek; holding it he feels excruciating pain.  Upon opening his hand he sees that the tear has become a diamond formed to a point, a weapon to be sure.

Nightlight keeps his promise; a blinding brilliance is followed by a deafening sound. Afterward MiM cannot find his parents; two new constellations have appeared above him.  Nightlight has disappeared but a shooting star falls to Earth.  What of the Moon Clipper? That ship will sail no longer; now a moon to Earth. 

Moonbots, Moonmice, Glowworms and Lunar Moths parent the orphan as he leads a charmed life of discovery on the Moon; realizing that there are children on Earth.  He watches over them using his father's telescope capturing their lost balloons listening to their hopes and dreams within those floating spheres.  From his heavenly view he seeks others to protect and assist the children.

With these new "guardians", the Moonmice, and the Moonbots they kicked up the sand on the Moon until it shown with a glorious glow much as Nightlight had for MiM as a baby.  Together they would protect the children of Earth.  Together they became the Guardians of Childhood.

Following on October 4, 2011 was Book One, Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King by William Joyce and Laura Geringer with illuminations by William Joyce.  This chapter book, the first in The Guardians series, introduces readers to the horrors of Fearlings and Nightmare Men, minions of Pitch, the Nightmare King who has been awakened after years of imprisonment.  To combat this darkness is a light, the last of the great wizards, Ombric Shalazar originally from Atlantis.

From a great meteor fallen to Earth he has fashioned in the starkness of Siberia the town of Santoff Claussen.  This sanctuary for persons of curiosity and education, men, women and their children, is protected by three rings of power; a hundred foot high hedge with a thorny top, a great black bear and majestic oak trees complete with an enchanting woman of the wood offering beauty and jewels who turns unwelcome visitors into stone.  When the shadows of darkness nearly capture the children one evening in the woods Ombric realizes that Pitch has returned. 

Ombric brings all the children of Santoff Claussen and their parents to the safety of Big Root a sapling found in the center of the meteor crater now grown to gigantic proportions.  Here he shares his knowledge of the Man in the Moon and the cravings of the Nightmare King to spread evil.  At the same time in another part of this frozen world a most unlikely hero is being summoned having had a dream given to him by a moonbeam.

Nicholas St. North is the king of thieves, cunning and a ferocious fighter. One night following a light, not of this world, on clouds, over mountains and across water, North soon finds himself within the boundaries of Santoff Claussen.  After nearly losing his life his heart becomes bound to a young ward of Ombric's, Katherine.  For the first time in his life he has found a friend and a calling that he never would have conceived possible.

With lightning speed events compound quickly.  Nicholas St. North learns he has a knack for magic, five relics from the exploded Moon Clipper need to be recovered, a quest leads North, Ombric and Katherine to the top of the world, a djinni proves deadly and an epic battle reveals assistance in the Lama of the Lunar Lamadary, Yetis and the Great Snow Geese of the Himalayas.

What a wondrous world William Joyce and Laura Geringer have fashioned with words.  The narration paints pictures in the reader's mind nearly as vividly as those done by Joyce.  The technique of chapter headings that foretell is skillfully utilized.
From The Man in the Moon--

In search of MiM, Pitch sailed in his Nightmare Galleon on waves of fear--plundering planets, extinguishing stars, and scuttling every airship that crossed his path. 

From Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King--

Strange rocks, curling like melted wax, framed the yawning mouth of the cavern.  The cave was thick with shadows that seemed to breathe like living things. 

And in a single perfect moment the children saw what looked to be a spritelike boy holding a staff with a brilliant moonlit glow at its end.  He seemed to glisten like beads of light.  He stood calmly amidst the chaos, his laughter bringing forth swirls of mist that hovered in the air. Then, in an instant, he blurred into a hundred shafts of refracting light that came together around the children like a protective cone, driving back the shadowy blanket.

An amazing array of illustrations are laid before readers of The Man in the Moon.  Title information states that mixed media was employed.  Cover, endpapers disclosing the Moon Clipper's transformation, the Moonbot Crew, the Moonmice Crew, The Glowworms, The Great Lunar Moths and the Family, and a variety of visual depictions bring Joyce's interpretation of the narrative to life.  Vibrant colors that shift with character presentations, setting and action, pictorial insets and variations in size, and the minute details set William Joyce's pictures in a class of their own; definitely first class.

Visuals in Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King were rendered in a combination of graphite, charcoal and digital media.  Placement within the text is perfection; size, subtle or bold, is equally so.

If these first two titles, The Man in the Moon and Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King, are any indication,  readers are in for a rare treat; timeless classics in the making. 

A visit to the website, The Guardians of Childhood, supplies much information as well as visual delights.  You have to marvel at the imagination of someone who can conjure up a place such as this peopled with his particular, extraordinary and charmingly creative characters.

A Dreamworks Animation film, Rise of the Guardians, is set for release in late November 2012.  Stars Dakota Goya, Alec Baldwin, Hugh Jackman, Chris Pine, Isla Fisher and Jude Law have been named as voices.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Pleasing Pictures With Picnik

Not new in the web 2.0 field (launched in 2007) but new to me is a photo-editing application, Picnik.  No registration is required for using this free application.  Features noted on the home page are:  photos fixed in a click, advanced controls can fine-tune an image, crop, size and rotate in real time, loads of special effects, numerous fonts and top-quality type tool, large assortment of shapes, functions on Mac, Linx and Windows and best of all---no download or installation.

Begin by clicking on the Get Started Now! button.  This welcome page for using Picnik has these choices:  Register for free, upload a photo, open a demo, or open photos from Picasa Web Albums, Flickr, Facebook or Photobucket.  (Additional tabs along the top are Help, Privacy Policy, Terms and Policies and About Us.)  I decided to register because having an account usually has its perks.

To register for an account pick a username, password and give your email address.  The Program Policy and Privacy Policy must be accepted.  After registering another band of options appears across the top, upload (edit photos from your computer), collage (mix all your photos together), print (bring your favorite photos to life) and show (share pictures with friends and family). 

The free basic account lets the user upload five photos at one time.  Each photo uploaded can be edited, deleted, emailed or saved.

Basic editing tools are crop, rotate, exposure, colors, sharpen and resize.  There are currently thirty-nine different effects that are free, an array of stickers, four free touch up tools, seven free frames and numerous fonts. 

When the photo has been redesigned click on save and share.  It will be saved to your computer as well as to your history on Picnik if you have an account.
Collages, fancy collages (similar to scrapbook pages), shows and "keepsakes"(for a fee) can be created from your photos.  I made a small show from a single image that I uploaded and altered using different effects.  Each photo editing web 2.0 application brings added features.  Certainly Picnik should be added to your online image toolbox; it couldn't be simpler to use with great results.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Those Poetry Taggers Are Back

While I've been living under a rock, the team of Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong, the instigators of the first ever electronic-only anthology of poems for children, PoetryTagTime, about which I posted in March of 2011, have been busy bringing together the best of the best in the field of poetry to create two new anthologies.

On September 21, 2011 the second anthology, p*tag, the first ever electronic poetry anthology of new poems by top poets for teens, was made available; thirty-one poems by thirty-one poets with photographs by Sylvia Vardell.  Poets in this anthology are:  Marilyn Singer, Betsy Franco, Allan Wolf, Naomi Shihab Nye, Sara Holbrook, Charles Waters, Michael Salinger, Joyce Sidman, Margarita Engle, Jeannine Atkins, Steven Withrow, David L. Harrison, Lorie Ann Grover, Julie Larios, Michele Krueger, April Halprin Wayland, Stephanie Hemphill, Heidi Mordhorst, Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, Paul B. Janeczko, Arnold Adoff, Kimberly Marcus, Jen Bryant, Kathi Appelt, Helen Frost, J. Patrick Lewis, JonArno Lawson, Sonya Sones, Lee Bennett Hopkins, Jaime Adoff and Janet Wong.

The rules are:  a poet is tagged, the poet chooses a photo from the photo gallery at this anthology's blog linked above, the poet writes a poem inspired by the photo, the poet must incorporate 3 words from the poem prior to his or her poem to keep the poems connected, the poet writes a short prose "connection" piece explaining how the poem came to be, the poet tags another poet and so it goes. 

The poems in p*tag are in a word, stunning.  They touch upon moments, memories and moods that are a reflection of the souls of teens; the sweet realization that your band is finally in the groove, first love, contemplation on finding beach glass, luck, listening and so much more.  As I read each of them silently I felt the urge to read them aloud; to hear the rhythm of the words and feel their meaning surround me. 

There are seventy images on this blog from which the poets selected their specific one.  Viewers are urged to pick one of the photographs and write about it themselves.  Wouldn't this be a great idea in the classroom?--have students take photographs writing a poem about any one of them except for the one they took.  We haven't even had a decent snowfall yet and here I am looking forward to National Poetry Month in April already.

Just in time for the upcoming season the third anthology, Gift Tag, was released mid-November 2011.  It is the first such collection of holiday poems for children and teens.  Featured poets are:  Jane Yolen, Allan Wolf, Lee Bennett Hopkins, Laura Purdie Salas, Joan Bransfield Graham, Bobbi Katz, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, Steven Withrow, Margarita Engle, Robert Weinstock, Avis Harley, David L. Harrison, Jen Bryant, Carole Boston Weatherford, Douglas Florian, Sara Holbrook, April Halprin Wayland, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Charles Waters, Michael Salinger, Pat Mora, Helen Frost, Lorie Ann Grover, Ann Whitford Paul, Jeannine Atkins, Julie Larios, J. Patrick Lewis and Janet Wong.

This time the rules are:  choose a photo from the Gift Tag photo blog, write about what popped into your mind when you saw the photo and keep your poem short--10 lines (max), and no more than 25 characters (with spaces) per line.  The goal is for each poem to be read in its entirety on a Kindle screen.  There is also a key word or phrase that connects one poem to the next.  Nearly all of the images were again taken by Sylvia Vardell. Each of the poets, as before, include a short explanation of what prompted the writing of their poem.

Join the chorus of poetic voices, read about:  how we fit together like a hand crafted potholder, a childhood purchase, what if you are a present, snowy treats, sledding at night, a spin of the dreidel, cookies or gifts full of promise and love.

Each of the anthologies is followed by information about the individual contributors and links to their web sites.  The cost for these electronic-only anthologies is $2.99.

Canine Inspired Verse

There is something so intriguing, so inviting about the simplicity of haiku; three lines, five, seven, five syllables.
paw prints on the stairs
each fainter...like years: dogs are
dreams to which we wake

That haiku rests above the dedications by author, Michael J. Rosen and illustrator, Mary Azarian, in their new collaboration, The Hound Dog's Haiku and Other Poems for Dog Lovers (Candlewick, September 13, 2011).  Twenty breeds of dogs each with  their specific characteristics and personalities noted shine in this vibrant collection of verse.  To be sure this is an affirmation of their importance in our lives but also a tribute to their canine quirkiness.  Rosen's skill with this poetic form is brilliant.

Endpapers, front and back, show a large expanse of white space bordered at the bottom by a wide strip of grass; an extension of the cover.  Whether large, small, resting, at work, playful, peaceful or predictable two page spreads name the breed, speak to their essence and vividly visualize each in all their "dogginess".

Caldecott Medalist, Mary Azarian's woodcut prints done in black then colored with acrylic paint are bold, inviting a reader's caress to see if in fact they might be raised impressions.  Placing each breed in a definitive pose and setting in a variety of seasons lends a naturalness to each illustration; barn, field, forest, pond, rumpled bed, grass, dog bed, at the door, digging in a garden, leaping to catch a Frisbee, nose pressed at a window or curled upon a shirt in a favorite chair.  Her choice to bleed a visual across both pages or confine it to one fashions a flow from one to the other that is as flawless as her artwork.

Michael J. Rosen and Mary Azarian, dog lovers to the core, offer up to readers what we know to be true about our respective canine companions and also inform those not familiar with the true spirit each breed brings to us.  The final four pages have thumbnails of each graphic along with a short paragraph about each of the breeds.  The Hound Dog's Haiku and Other Poems for Dog Lovers is a resplendent romp through the fields, ears flapping in the wind, barks crooning joy read to the very last sigh before curling up in front of the fire at day's end.