Quote of the Month

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

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

This Is Truly The Wonder of Wonder

I could have read it at one sitting, but I didn't.  I could have finished it two days ago, but I didn't.  The truth is, I did not want to finish reading Wonder by R. J. Palacio.

Initially it was brought to my attention by librarian, blogger at Watch. Connect. Read.  and tweeter, John Schumacher.  I had no idea what to expect, but as I gave a day-to-day update to my students it was clear to me, I was reading what will be one of the best books of 2012.  As I said to my students, my copy of this author's debut book looks like a post-it note porcupine; filled to the brim with notable quotables.

Before I had even finished the first page of the first chapter of Part One August, two post-it notes had been placed.

If I found a magic lamp and I could have one wish, I would wish that I had a normal face that no one ever noticed at all.  I would wish that I could walk down the street without people seeing me and then doing that look-away thing.  Here's what I think:  the only reason I'm not ordinary is that no one else sees me that way.

Via doesn't see me as ordinary.  She says she does, but if I were ordinary, she wouldn't feel like she needs to protect me as much.  And Mom and Dad don't see me as ordinary, either.  They see me as extraordinary.  I think the only person in the world who realizes how ordinary I am is me.

August Pullman is about to begin fifth grade at Beecher Prep.  He has been home schooled up to this point not because of his facial deformities but for his twenty-seven surgeries; so many surgeries for one so young.  Three students are asked to assist and guide Auggie around the school prior to the first day, Jack Will, Julian and Charlotte. One will become his best friend, another will show their true colors and another will yo-yo in and out of his world.

Teachers at Beecher Prep are for the most part the kind I had in school; the kind every child should have in school. One noteworthy teacher, Mr. Browne of English in room 321, reminds students on the first day of school about the plaque on the outside of the school building.

"It says: 'Know Thyself'.'" he said, smiling and nodding.  "And learning who you are is what you're here to do."

Mr. Browne has the students write in their notebooks Precepts for each month.  His September Precept is:

When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.

They will discuss these statements and write about them at the end of each month.  How fortunate for Auggie, that Mr. Browne is his teacher.  I liked reading about teachers that think beyond their subject area; teaching people instead of their major or minor.

Before I go any farther I need to talk about August's family. It was a difficult decision for his parents to place him in a public school.  In fact initially they did not agree, but August Pullman could not have been born to two more compassionate, understanding and supportive people; readers know this for the incredibly realistic and heartfelt dialogue between the parents themselves and with Auggie.

Their older daughter, Via (Olivia) is beginning high school.  She has been a fierce friend of Auggie's from the moment of his birth.  Despite the tenuous nature of some but not all friendships she has forged (many leave when they see August for the first time) she loves him with all her heart.  The final member of August's family is the dog named Daisy who sees him as few do; who sees his soul.

As each month of the school year progresses, presenting unimaginable trials and small triumphs, Palacio chooses to present the narrative from other character's viewpoints:  first August, then Via, followed by Summer (the first student to sit at Auggie's table during lunch), then Jack, Justin, Via's new boyfriend, back to August, then to Miranda, Via's best friend, and back to August for the final chapters. This changing of perspective brings a poignant humanity to the story; each sharing the shift in their lives because of August; how his presence is reflected in the choices they make.  One of many paragraphs that stands out is the final one in Justin's chapter; an expression of hope. (Interesting that Palacio choose to have his chapters all written in lower case much like texting.)

my head swirls on this, but then softer thoughts soothe, like a flatted third on a major chord. no, no, it's not all random, if it really was all random, the universe would abandon us completely. and the universe doesn't. it takes care of its most fragile creations in ways we can't see. like with parents who adore you blindly, and a big sister who feels guilty for being human over you. and a little gravelly-voiced kid whose friends have left him over you. and even a pink-haired girl who carries your picture in her wallet. maybe it is a lottery, but the universe makes it all even out in the end. the universe takes care of all its birds.

There are moments when as a reader:  your heart will break (I sobbed at one point and tearfully read the closing pages), you will feel your blood boil at the sheer cruelty of some people who have the ability to sway many, you will laugh out loud at the true-to-life humor interspersed throughout, you will cheer for the strength, wit and perseverance of August and you will nod your head, fist upraised proclaiming yes, yes, yes, when digging deep, students in August's school find the good that they have inside themselves.

Wonder by R. J. Palacio is one of those books that once read will be picked up repeatedly; particular passages to mull over in one's mind. (I've read it twice now.) While there are numerous references made to current books and personalities within this story, the message of this book knows no time limits.  It reminds us a kindness, no matter how small, has the capability to change everything; that one kindness creates another and another without end.  Uplifting, beautiful, extraordinary, this book asks us to look inside one another for the wonder that each of us is. 

Visit R. J. Palacio's website linked to her name above.  This interview, R J Palacio: "I keep hearing about grown men weeping', is outstanding.

The video below is R. J. Palacio reading one of the earlier chapters in her book.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Got An Itch?

AASL, American Association of School Librarians, Top 25 Websites for Teaching and Learning 2010, under the heading Media Sharing, using the following Standards for the 21st-Century Learner 2.1.4 Use technology and other information tools to organize and display knowledge and understanding in ways that others can view and assess, 3.3.4 Create products that apply to authentic, real-world context and 4.1.8 Use creative and artistic formats to express personal learning, selected the web 2.0 application, Scratch.  Scratch is a project of the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab.  The Scratch project is based upon research supported by the National Science Foundation under grant number 0325828.

This is a programing language intended for ages 8-16 but can be used by younger students with assistance.  It welcomes those desiring to create stories, music, art and games that are interactive.  These are meant to be shared.  According to the site:
As young people create and share Scratch projects, they learn important mathematical and computational ideas, while also learning to think creatively, reason systematically, and work collaboratively.

Users are greeted by a Home page chock full of choices; down the center are Featured Projects, Projects Selected by...(a Scratch member chosen by the Scratch Team to curate), Projects from Scratch Design Studio, What the Community is Remixing, What the Community is Loving and What the Community is Viewing.  Off to the right are:  Collab Camp (creating Scratch projects together with other members around a common theme), Scratch Day, May 19, 2012 (events for users of Scratch), ScratchEd ( a page specifically for educators), Scratch Design Studio, Video Tutorials, Featured Galleries, Popular Tags, Social Media (read the blog and follow Scratch on Twitter), Scratchers' Wiki and Community Stats.  Across the top of the page are tabs for further exploration and information, projects, galleries, support, forums, about or language.

To begin download the correct version of Scratch (at no cost) for your operating system. For the Windows version it is about 33MB.  The next step that I recommend is to read online or by downloading and printing the fourteen page Getting Starting Guide.  (For additional information there is a twenty-three page Scratch Reference Guide  and a Scratch FAQ.)  Once you have played around with this app, I highly suggest viewing the Scratch Reference Guide.  It explains each of the components clearly; giving the user a greater understanding of how this software functions.

When opening Scratch the workspace looks like the screen capture to the left.  First practice by moving a block (farthest column on the left) into the Scripts area (next column over).  If you click on the block the sprite in the large screen area will perform according to the block.

Within the blocks area there are eight different tabs of actions that can be taken.  Some of the blocks have additional selections that can be displayed by clicking the down arrow such as the play drum shown here.  After adding a couple of motions and sounds a control can be added; they suggest the forever control which needs to wrap around all of the blocks.  At any time to run a stack click on any block.

You can always stop by clicking on the miniature stop sign in the far right hand corner of the screen.  A block from the control section can be added telling the script to run whenever the green flag next to the stop sign is clicked.

Each object in Scratch is called a sprite.  Beneath what I call "the stage" are three stars for adding sprites; from left to right paint a sprite, upload a sprite from a file or get a surprise sprite. 
When you import a sprite from your computer you have the option of editing it as shown.

By clicking the sounds tab in the scripts column you can record your own sounds or import files (MP3, AIF or WAV).  These sounds can be selected from a block and moved into the script area.

When saving a Scratch it goes to your computer rather than in a cloud.  When you share a Scratch you login to your account at their website. 

If creating an account at the Scratch site, a user is required to give a username, password, birthdate, email address, gender and country.  Your state and city are optional.  Upon registering you are asked to comply with the Community Guidelines.

Here is my test, as corny as it is.  Time will fly by as each user discovers the endless possibilities available using Scratch. I can't believe it took me this long to try this out.  Students will love using this site and software; this is learning at its best and it's fun to boot.

Scratch Project

Intro to Scratch from ScratchEd on Vimeo.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Home Is Where The Heart Is

You've heard the buzz, read the interviews and reviews but when finally holding a much-awaited book in your hands for the first time, it's never the same---it's so much better.  Ed Young's The House Baba Built: An Artist's Childhood in China, released October 3, 2011, is an eloquent representation of his very unique and personal illustrative style.

My shelves at home hold these titles, The Rooster's Horns:  A Chinese Puppet Play to Make and Perform, I, Doko: The Tale of a Basket, Mouse Match, The Sons of the Dragon King, The Lost Horse:  A Book-and-Puppet Set, and Voices of the Heart all written and illustrated by Ed Young, winner of the Caldecott Medal for Lon Po Po, Caldecott Honor awards for The Emperor and the Kite and Seven Blind Mice.  His title Wabi Sabi was on the New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Book list in 2008. 

Ed Young's father, Baba, educated in the United States at the University of Michigan as an engineer, feared for his family as war moved closer to Shanghai in the 1930s. The safest site to build a house was on the edge of town, property too expensive to purchase, adjacent to the fields by the embassies.  Baba bargained with the landowner promising to build a huge brick home with a swimming pool, gardens and courtyards which, if they could live there for twenty years, would become his.

While the walls in this three-story house, eventually becoming home to four families, are not talking, Ed Young is. (His words are told to author Libby Koponen.)  Born in 1931, Ed, his brothers and sisters, Ma and his father moved into the house Baba built four years later.

Readers are privy to the inside scoop, the sharpest memories pieced together, by Young; swimming in a pool, one of three in the entire city maintained by forming a swimming club with other families, endless hours of make believe, dancing, adults clustered around the short wave radio listening to the latest news, roller skating on the roof, movies with Johnny Weissmuller starring as Tarzan (oh, how I remember those, too, but seen on television come Saturday morning), weekend dinner parties with the Lings, distant cousins, and the inevitable interaction with his siblings, watching silk worms spin and grow and cricket fights. 

Ed recalls drawing in his textbooks more than studying them which lead to tutoring by his brother, Hardy.  When Baba read to his sister Fifi for her reading class, he loved those classic adventure stories so many still enjoyed today, Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe, Robin Hood and The Three Musketeers.

The pool was not only a gathering place for swimming but the site of his favorite picnic and when it needed to be drained for lack of funds, full of fall leaves, it was a place to ride bikes and scooters. 

As the war invaded other cities, his Aunt, Uncle and two grown sons moved into an apartment that Baba built for them on the roof. One of the sons, Sonny, is a favorite of Ed's; remembered for his drawing skills and keen sense of humor. The children's bedrooms became another apartment for a German refugee family with a young daughter named Jean that Ed, his brothers and sisters treated like a younger sister.  When Ed's oldest sister, Mimi, becomes engaged a bridal suite is added to this house Baba built.

Before the war end celebration, the bombing was moving closer to the families in the Young home.  One recollection of Ed's is all gathering in the hallway, where Ma rang the dinner bell, to wait out a bomb threat entertained by Baba's stories.  It was the only place in the house without windows so they could still use lights.  We read:

I knew nothing could happen to us within those walls, in the house Baba built.

He goes on to to say in creating this book discovering Baba had built the house with double-tiered brick walls and eighteen-inch thick concrete slabs on the roof in order to make that very hallway bombproof. 

As we look at the book jacket around the cover we see a boy (Ed) and a dog peeking beneath a gate; moving to the back we readers are looking behind them as they peer under that gate.  The book covers, taken from pages in the book, are different than the jacket; the front cover is a picture of the house and the back cover is of Baba drafting the plans for the home, tools in his hands flocks of crows in the background. 

War was spreading to Shanghai, my father said, like the crows that came in summer and covered the sky with blackness.

Front endpapers in taupe and white are a street map and a sepia-toned portrait of a family gathering is on the back endpapers.  When illustrators take the time to have a jacket, covers and endpapers that are different, each with a specific visual, it's as if the story starts before the first page is turned; an invitation that cannot be ignored.

This homage to the heart, mind and foresight of his father, Baba, done in mixed media collage is a treasure trove of scrapbooked memories illuminating the passage of people within the walls of this house, good times had among the hard times of war.  Eight different pages fold out to expand the illustrations enhancing the memory; strengthening its importance.  It boggles the mind to imagine the amount of time needed to create this beautiful array of visuals using cut-out photographs and pictures, drawings, paintings, textured scraps of fabric, woven mats, papers, postcards, and holiday decorations filled with and surrounded by vivid, rich, dark colors placed lovingly on these pages with the masterful eye of a true artist.

The House Baba Built:  An Artist's Childhood in China by Ed Young is a memory book, a visual timeline, of people, events and day-to-day activities of a boyhood to be remembered; a story to be shared.

By following the link attached to the title at the beginning of this post Resources For More Information and an Educator's Guide can be found.

An  Interview with author and illustrator Ed Young at PaperTigers.org is well worth reading.  There is an outstanding video interview at the BBC News Magazine where the process used to illustrate this book is visualized.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Twitterville Talk #37

Read Across America is fast approaching.   Several awards are yet to be chosen by young and young adult readers themselves.  The world of books and reading is never silent; for that we can be thankful.

For those of us that have enjoyed A Monster Calls written by Patrick Ness with illustrations by Jim Kay this announcement comes as no surprise, Children vote A Monster Calls best book of 2012Follow the link above to my review; it is a book not to be missed.

Oh the joy of it all.  Check out the Fall 2012 Sneak Previews.  I will not wish my life away, I will not wish my life away, I will....

Inquiring minds want to know---Pottermore---what's going on?  A Harry Potter fan's quest for answers.

In lieu of the announcement below this article appeared---Please Don't Grow Up, J. K. Rowling!  I have to agree as a fan of the Harry Potter series I am hesitant to have her branch away from those books, but I will surely be in line to be one of the first to read this new book; she is, after all, a good author.

Praise, completely deserved, for John Green's The Fault in Our Stars--Kids, Books and a Five-Hankie Gem.  This title is a must read.
For the above tweets thanks goes to Children's Bookshelf of Publishers Weekly.

J. K. Rowling Inks Deal with Little, Brown for Adult Book.

This could be very interesting to say the least. J. K. Rowling's new book: clues suggest a turn to crime fiction.
Thanks to Publishers Weekly.

On the Chronicle Books Blog read their fantastic analysis on what makes a good children's book based upon:  Over and Under the Snow, by Kate Messner, art by Christopher Silas Neal.  They tell it like it is.  Follow this link to my review of this noteworthy title.

At least I've read one of the titles nominated for the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy Book.

Hopefully these volumes were resurrected from a junkyard; recycled at the very least to present this amazing view:  Unbridled Books.  At least you won't get wet.
Thanks to Shelf Awareness.

At School Library Journal, Nonfiction Matters, blogger and author, Marc Aronson writes Jeremy Lin and the Common CorePoint taken, point made and made well.

Read Across America begins next week.  PBS to Celebrate Dr. Seuss's Birthday with Two Hours of "Cat in the Hat" Episodes.

Rejoice fans of C. S. Lewis.  Free Audio:  Download the Complete "Chronicles of Narnia" by C. S. Lewis.  It's looking like I am going to have to get an eReader sooner than I planned.
Thank to School Library Journal for the above tweets.

Dropbox Can Now Automatically Sync Your Android Photos (And It Has More Up Its Sleeve)  This is good news about an app that I reviewed on this blog on Valentine's Day.
Thanks to TechCrunch for this update.

Thanks to the Children's Book Council for the tweet about this wonderful video tribute by Kate DiCamillo in honor of the 60th anniversary of Charlotte's Web by E. B. White.

Hurray!  Voting for the 2012 Children's Choice Book Awards begins March 14, 2012.  Follow this link to see the fabulous list of nominated titles.

NEWS:  2012 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award Announced  The winner is one of the most popular books in our library media center.

The 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic is coming in April.  With that in mind, here are some good recommendations for books.

Thanks to the Children's Book Council for the above tweets.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Dog Gone Smart

I can't help myself.  Whenever I'm browsing around in any one of my favorite local bookstores, I am always on the lookout for books featuring dogs; not just for myself, although I am an over-the-top dog lover, but because my students enjoy them nearly as much as I do.  And I do maintain a magazine on Scoop.it, Gone To The Dogs, gathering in those gems for children and young adults that showcase our canine companions.  While on any given day it would be pretty cool, no totally awesome, to know, understand and talk with one's dog, wondering what they might be thinking about their human counterparts, it's not as if we consider they might view us in the same league as Einstein.

On a recent venture a cheerful book cover, splashes of red front and center, snagged my interest, My Dog Thinks I'm a Genius by Harriet Ziefert with paintings by Barroux.  Exuberant endpapers highlight the cover dog running hither and yon from one puddle of paint to another mixing and matching as colorful footprints outline his route; perhaps a prelude of events to come.  A turn of the page has the title extending across two pages in bright red, hand-lettering by a boy wearing paint splattered pants, palette in one hand, a brush in the other, as his dog looks on.

When I was five, I said,
"I'm an artist.
I need to paint
and draw every day."

Three years later he still paints as Louie, his dog, watches and helps.  One morning he paints a large, gray vertical rectangle, adds five windows and a door with a handle, some bushes and leaves a section of white space at the bottom.  Louie barks a loud, "No!" when asked if the painting is done.

He decides that Louie wants to be included.  Running in circles, tail wagging and many dog kisses later, the boy knew he'd guessed right after adding his version of Louie to the picture.  Taped to the wall, his latest creation is titled My Dog Thinks I'm A Genius.

Leaving for school the boy looks back to see Louie gazing forlornly out the window as aloneness sets in.  Later arriving home he finds that Louie is not in his usual spot.  No siree...and he has not been pursuing his normal pastimes.

For the next four pages readers are given the inside scoop on Louie's activities during the day; his passion for painting prevails.  The boy is not at all happy with the pandemonium stricken state of his studio.  Jumping, barking Louie leads him to another section where he and we readers gaze in amazement at the double-page marvelous masterpiece.  The boy lovingly acknowledges Louie's talents in the naming of his artwork.

It never fails to intrigue me how children can say so much with so few words; stating the obvious succinctly and quickly.  Zierfert's first person narrative flows exactly like conversations that swirl around me everyday.  While her sentences are concise we are left with no doubt about the boy's desire to paint, the bond between he and Louie and how much Louie's tastes parallel his even as Louie's talents exceed those of the boy.

Shades of golden yellow, rosy red, sky blue and lime/fern green among a profusion of rich radiant orange convey a sense of happiness throughout this story.  Barroux's wide brush strokes coupled with the finely detailed features of the boy's face, artistic paraphernalia around his paint space or in the leaves scattered on the ground bring readers right into the book.  His Louie is adorable; two little dots for eyes, long nose and body postures full of feeling.

Humor is "waiting in the wings" to burst forth when Louie releases his inner artist.  Barroux's interpretation of the boy looking for Louie and saying:

"Louie, if you messed with my paints, you're going to the yard for a time-out!"

is so perfect that I laugh out loud every time I see it.  Whether Barroux has a canine friend or not, he sure can capture the essence of dog.

Of note is the sheer, pure quality of bookmanship employed in the making of this title.  No eBook, in my opinion, can produce the tactile pleasure of thick white pages full of vibrant illustrations highlighting the innocent pursuit of both boy and dog doing what they love.  My Dog Thinks I'm A Genius by Harriet Ziefert with paintings by Barroux is a defining representation of a children's picture book.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Bubbles That Work For You

Under Content Collaboration, Standards for the 21st -Century Learner, 1.3.4 Contribute to the exchange of ideas within a learning community, 3.1.2 Participate and collaborate as members of a social and intellectual network of learners and 3.1.4 Use technology and other information tools to organize and display knowledge and understanding in ways that others can view, use and assess, the American Association of School Librarians selected bubbl.us in their 2009 Top 25 Web sites for Teaching and Learning. 

bubbl.us is a free application designed to enhance mind-mapping and brainstorming.  I was unable to find any age restrictions in the Terms of Service or Privacy Policy but the standard is to have students without parental permission to be 13 years of age or older.  A user can begin without registering but when a sheet is completed and you wish to save, registration is required.

To register only a username and password is necessary.  Your first and last name as well as an email address are optional.  In that respect personal information is not necessary to use this service.  To begin click the Start Brainstorming button located in the center of the home page.

Click on the Start Here button in the center of the next screen.  At that time two small squares appear on the right and bottom of the bubble.  When you click on the right square another bubble is generated.  When you click on the bottom square a "child" bubble is created for that bubble.  Click on the Start Here text to add your own text.

When you mouse over a bubble a series of icons appear above it.  These icons allow you to (from left to right):  change the color of the bubble background or change the color of the text within the bubble, the second icon, by repeated clicking, will enlarge the text and the size of the bubble, the third icon by clicking and dragging will draw a line to another bubble and the final icon deletes the bubble.

A cool feature is that bubbles can be clicked and dragged on the screen for placement and the screen itself can be clicked and dragged for viewing and working purposes.  Bubbles can be collapsed (hidden). 

Once a sheet is started across the top of the page are icons which offer the options of undo, copy, paste, print, export (JPG or PNG or HTML outline using colors and/or keeping URLs), or save.

To save a sheet log in with your username and password.  A series of choices appear in a box to the right of the working area.  You can name your sheet and make folders to store similar sheets.  When you select the down arrow/Sharing button your sheets can be shared with other bubbl.us account holders; permission can be given to edit, read only or no access.  If you choose the down arrow to the right of the word Sharing you can share a read-only link to the sheet or an HTML embed code is given. 

An extensive Help section explains very well other features of this simple to navigate, but very useful application.  One feature that is easy to accomplish is the labeling of lines connecting bubbles.  Just click on the lines and add your text.

Here is an example of a sheet with a variety of bubbles that I was able to generate very quickly.  I can see using this application almost any time a class wishes to discuss a variety of topics.  We are reading The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate as a class read with our fourth graders.  I will be using and expanding this sheet.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Caldecott Challenge 2012 #3

I am still plugging away reading as many titles as are available in our library media center for this Caldecott Challenge.  Reading has been going in spurts.  I have now made it up through 1946.  There are many variations on presenting the Mother Goose rhymes.

These titles are a reflection of the world in which they were written, a mirror of thoughts and beliefs.  As I was researching the illustrators for this grouping (1943-1946) I was amazed at the variety of activities they pursued prior to settling on a career in children's illustration.  I could not help but feel tonight that I was surrounded by greatness. 

My comments are displayed in a capzle found here:

Here it is embedded in this blog post.

When No One Is Looking

A bright red calligraphic word grabs your attention immediately on the cover of Katie Cleminson's newest title, Otto The Book Bear (Disney-Hyperion, January 31 2012)  Opening the cover readers are greeted with endpapers awash in blueprint blue shelving filled with books spines facing outward, some depicting tiny drawings from her previous books or other tales from childhood.  Moving to the dedication page a tiny little bear balancing on a cup handle leaning over the rim to take a sip is pictured above an old style book pocket, a lined check-out card, listing Katie Cleminson's previous books, nestled inside.

Completely charmed already, knowing that something special is coming, the next page is turned.  The first two page spread, mostly white, pictures a large open blue-covered book.  On the left in handwritten text is:

Once upon a time...

followed on the right with a richly-colored brown bear sitting on the page, red satchel by his side.  We read:

Otto was a book bear.

Otto lives inside a book shelved in a home where children reading his story gives him great joy.  But Otto is no ordinary bear.  He can walk right out of his book coming to life when everyone has gone.  Reading his best-loved tales and writing on the typewriter are two of his favorite pastimes during these jaunts around the house.

One day though, to Otto's dismay, the family moves leaving him behind, his book is not packed with the others.  With the heart of an adventurer Otto sets off to find himself some company.  Overwhelmed by the size of the outside world, Otto, as small as he is, feels invisible.  Seeking a new home is filled with obstacles; too much of this and not enough of that.

Sitting inside a discarded paper coffee cup, Otto assesses his situation.  City life is not for this bear; a warm book is more to his liking.  Nevertheless trudging on, realizing that he is near exhaustion, something ahead gives him the courage to continue.

Otto enters a building, walls filled with shelves, shelves filled with books.  Scaling a shelf the determined bear is astonished---another book bear!  More surprises are in store for the bear readers have come to admire and love.  His greatest pleasures are multiplied; libraries do hold more magic than one can imagine.

Illustrations done in heavy black lines filled in with a range of color depict a childlike innocence much like the pages of a coloring book; the varied hues appear to be done in watercolor but some are textured like chalk or crayon. The large expanses of white space make the pictures pop beckoning the reader to follow Otto.  Cleminson chooses to alter her pictures sizes and placement of bold large text depending on the storyline.

So many of these visuals are worthy of framing.   Two of my favorites are Otto sitting on the spacebar of the typewriter working on his writing skills and resting inside the coffee cup holding his red satchel.  Of notice is the inclusion of an old dial-up telephone on a table, a gramophone next to the bookshelf where Otto's book is shelved and of course, the typewriter; these small details lead one to reminisce, daydream if you will, about possibilities.

PLEASE NOTE:  I received an email from Katie Cleminson (thanks so much for replying so quickly) confirming that her illustrations are drawn with ink.  Instead of using a brush or nib, she uses a pipette.  In this particular title she added watercolor, charcoal and colored pencil to the ink drawings.  She likes to draw on cartridge paper.  Red is her favorite color; I can't resist using it in all my books, and I just love the shade of red for the cover title.  I couldn't agree more.

Otto The Book Bear by author/illustrator Katie Cleminson is enchanting; pure perfection in every respect.  Books, reading and the library being a place full of light and hope is the total package. Who could ask for anything more?

The wheels are turning as I contemplate pairing this with other titles to have another bear day in the library media center or perhaps couple it with other books that have animal explorers visiting libraries;   Bats at the Library by Brian Lies, Library Mouse by Daniel Kirk, or Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Memory Spring

As far as I can tell Springpad has been available for about two years.  This service, free (must be over 13 to use), provides an application for saving and accessing anything that a user wants to remember with the ability to do so on a computer or a mobile device; syncing the information between the varied formats.

You can sign in using your Google, Yahoo, Twitter or Facebook account.  If you prefer simply register with an email address and by creating a password; listing your first name and last name are optional.  At the next screen new users are asked to select a theme for their home page (design), change your username and add a photo to your profile if you desire.

The following screen provides an explanation  for Your Springpad Home; where to change your account information and privacy settings, the ability to view all of your saved information (All My Stuff), displaying created notebooks for filing similar bits of information, and the ability to view Public items in your friends' Springpads.  The final screen in this introduction points out how to go Home, Navigate Your Stuff and how to Add New Stuff.

From there click the Let's Get Started! button.  You are taken to your Springpad Home page.  When you click the alerts button you are taken to the navigation screen. (You can also get there by clicking on the notebooks.)

 Springpad provides a note on how to access the apps for smartphones.  Anytime a note is made five icons beneath (depending on the display selection chosen via icons in the upper right hand corner) that note allow for toggling the flag status for the note, toggling the note's privacy, adding the note to a notebook, adding more tags to the note or deleting the note.  A note can be edited and filtered (this I need to explore more). 

Springpad has a checklist of steps to get you started with some of the features.  Checklists can be edited, shared or deleted.  Notes, photos, videos and files can be attached.  As with a note toggling is offered for privacy and flag status, a reminder and tags can be added or a checklist can be added to a notebook.  If the user desires a checklist can be sent via email or printed.

To create a notebook just click on the notebook icon on Your Springpad Home screen.  In the upper left hand corner of the notebook screen is what looks like a tiny wrench.  By clicking on that you can name your notebook, choose to make it public or private and delete it.  If you make the notebook public a URL appears; you can always change the notebook back to private.  When the settings for a notebook are completed and saved, Springpad begins to search for useful links based upon your notebook title as it does when items are added to the notebook.

Items can be added to a notebook by clicking on the plus sign in the upper right hand corner of the screen.
When you Add a Note text in notes can be bold, in italics or underlined.  Margins can be justified left, center or right.  Lists can be numbered or bulleted.  Links can be added or removed to the note as well as images.
Attachments such as those added to a checklist are available; notes, links, photos, videos and files.  Quick links appear such as adding the note to Facebook by making it public.  As with a checklist editing, sharing or removal of the note are options.

When a Task is added the screen asks for a title to that task, due date and description.  All the other options are the same as for notes and checklists.

Look it up allows the user to search the web for whatever they desire to remember.  Add by Type in addition to checklist, note and task includes for example TV show, contact, alarm, recipes, packing list, event, shopping list, bookmark or book.  Add Nearby is for adding locations to your Springpad

When items in a notebook are listed they can be sorted by added, modified, popular, name, rating, date, type and tag.

The Board option where you can move items around in a notebook would not work in Internet Explorer.  It was suggested that it works best in Google Chrome.  A Browser Extension can be added to the tool bar in Google Chrome and Firefox so pages can be added as found on the web as well as accessing your account.  I added a Web Clipper to my Favorites so I can perform a similar function in Internet Explorer.

Adding the Springpad application to my smartphone was as simple as going the the Android Market.  It installed successfully and all my work completed on my computer can be now accessed from my Samsung Galaxy. 

Here is a link to one of my created notebooks, Children's Books to Read, Review or Purchase.  I've got to say, having just spent time navigating within Springpad and remembering back to the day when we got our first black and white TV at home, I continue to be amazed at the advances in our technology.

Note:  This site is official closed as of June 25, 2014.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Hail To The Chief

Try to picture stepping away from your life for four whole days; unplugging from all the technology and fast-paced demands of your day to day existence.  Let's take this a step further; those days will be spent in a wilderness area without the normal comforts of home and hearth.  In The Camping Trip That Changed America:  Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir and our National Parks (Dial Books, January 19, 2012) written by Barb Rosenstock and illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein appreciation develops for two visionaries who did that, so today we can too.

Teedie and Johnnie didn't have much in common---but they shared a love of the outdoors.  They both loved a good story, too.  And that was enough to change America.

Using names affectionately given to them by their families Rosenstock introduces readers to Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir.  Theodore Roosevelt was the 26th president of the United States living in Washington, D.C. at the White House with his family, having grown up as a member of one of the wealthiest, well-established families in New York City.  John Muir, a world-renowned environmentalist with a deep love for the Yosemite wilderness in California, living in a farmhouse near that area grew up as the son of immigrant farmers in the Midwest. Observations during his many solitary travels appear in volumes illustrated with his drawings.

In March of 1903 the President picked up one of Muir's books to relax and read in the evening.  Muir's plea to preserve the wilderness at the book's end caught the attention of Roosevelt.  It prompted him to pen a letter to the naturalist asking that they go camping in Yosemite. 

Ever the politician Roosevelt's train moved toward its western destination making stops in cities and towns along the way until it reached Raymond, California on May 15, 1903.  He made several other stops to speak before crowds with Muir before the two rode off on horseback together.

"I feel like a runaway schoolboy!" Teedie laughed as his horse galloped along.

Over the course of the next several days the two explored the vast untouched areas of the giant sequoias in Mariposa Grove camping near the Grizzly Giant, rode up to Glacier Point, Muir explaining to his companion how glaciers cut through the rock to form the valley spread before them, awoke with five inches of new snow covering them and the mountaintop, and traveled down through the Yosemite Valley viewing its rock formations such as the Half Dome and El Capitan.  Impressed with Muir and what he had seen President Roosevelt returned to Washington, D. C. determined to preserve all for all time.  Creating additional national forests and parks and wildlife sanctuaries, Roosevelt

 saved more wild land than any president in history.

Interestingly enough the two were never together again but continued to correspond with personal letters until Muir's death.  Rosenstock concludes with the naming of the final resting place of both beneath the trees in areas they loved so well.

Barb Rosenstock unfolds the story of this historic meeting as if we are gathered about a campfire in the woods of Yosemite, she explaining how these two prominent men, each experts in their own arenas, came together united by their love of our natural world.  In an author's note she begins with defining quotes from each followed by what is true and the conversations between the two which she believes might have taken place.  Source notes are included.

Mordicai Gerstein, winner of the 2004 Caldecott Medal for his book, The Man Who Walked Between the Towers, recreates this segment in American history with paintings in a style that is all his own; lively animated vignettes of an event with a far-reaching, timeless impact.  Capturing the unending exuberance of Roosevelt and the passionate guardianship of Muir readers can enjoy the exhilaration of the days they spent together camping.  On the first page portraits of both as well as a scene from Yosemite are framed in red, white and blue banners signifying the importance to America of not only this meeting but of how both men's lives enriched our national heritage.

The illustration on the cover is repeated within the narrative to accompany Roosevelt's quote noted above; a single two page spread that captures the soul of this story.  This is followed by another two page spread; readers turning the book to view a vertical scene of the giant sequoias, the two horseback riders tiny at the base of the trees.  Having been to see these trees myself, Gerstein completely conveys their majesty.

During their evenings camping out in the open the imagined conversations around a crackling, campfire are illustrated with an intimacy; a camaraderie evident in the facial expressions, hand gestures, and play of shadows.  What they may have said are shown as smoke clouds coming from the fire above their heads, small pictures illustrating their words.  The final evening they are together is a powerful image, the two sitting face to face deep in discussion united by their common goal of protecting our flora and fauna from progress gone unchecked.

Author Barb Rosenstock and illustrator Mordicai Gerstein illuminate a portion of our history in The Camping Trip That Changed America:  Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, and our National Parks informing and captivating readers.

I've lost count of the number of times I've read this title so far but I continue to marvel at the gifts displayed by authors and illustrators such as Rosenstock and Gerstein that breathe life into the past making it accessible and real, not just dry words on the printed page of a history textbook, for any age.  I, personally, have pursued further research based upon this title marveling at the accomplishments of these two men.  And is that not what we want our students to do?  While the driving idea behind this title is the camping trip you have to wonder if the two would have ever even met if Roosevelt had not read Muir's book; the power of the printed word.  On this Presidents' Day 2012, I thank these two gifted artists.  I love this book.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Twitterville Talk #36

There continues to be so much activity in the world of libraries, books in all their forms and changing technologies that impact the way we retrieve and curate information.  Never has it been more important to instill the love of reading in all the readers of all ages that come into our library media centers. Enjoy my collection of weekly tweets as you relax on this long weekend.  I plan on tackling my TBR pile with gusto.

 I have really been enjoying the thank you videos on YouTube from the award recipients.  Here is the 2012 Newbery Honor Winner Eugene Yelchin for his book, Breaking Stalin's Nose.

Author/illustrator Lane Smith won the Caldecott Honor Award for his book, Grandpa Green.

Brian Selznick:  how Scorsese's Hugo drew inspiration from his magical book is a recent post at The Guardian. 
Thanks to John Schumacher at Watch. Connect. Read for these tweets.

Luke Neff who has the blog Writing Prompts posts, my 28 most tried and true writing prompts.
Thanks to Larry Ferlazzo of Larry Ferlazzo's Websites of the Day...

The Digital Shift at School Library Journal reports Libraries Still an Important Discovery Source for Kids' Books, Says Study.    Some interesting trends are taking shape.

Irma Black Award Finalists Announced; Kids to Vote for the WinnerThe Irma Simonton Black & James H. Black Award for Excellence in Children's Literature is given to a book in which the text and illustrations work closely together to create a vibrant whole. Librarians and first- and second-grade teachers are asked to read aloud and discuss the books, aided by an optional curriculum guide. Kids then rank their favorites and teachers submit their votes onlineThe four titles selected this year are:
You Will Be My Friend by Peter Brown
I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen
What Animals Really Like by Fiona Robinson and
All The Way To America by Dan Yaccarino

School Library Journal has a new blog, Make Some Noise, hosted by Sara Kelly Johns.  School library advocacy is making itself heard loudly and clearly.  Johns is a past president of the American Association of School Librarians and the current librarian at the Lake Placid, New York, Middle/High School.
Thanks to School Library Journal for the above tweets.

The Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards, The Cybils, have been announced for 2012.   These are the only awards of any sort from the blogging community. 

I know that I am going to have to have every single one of these book jackets created by Erin Bowman, blogger and young adult writer, and friends.  This is a retweet whose origin has escaped my cluttered memory but I think that it was a  Nerdy Book Club member.

Art Works, the official blog of the National Endowment for the Arts, interviews Walter Dean Myers.  Take notice of the final quote in the article:   America is in danger of developing a permanent underclass which is limited not by birth status or color, but by the inability to read proficiently, or to teach reading skills to their children.

Voting for the 2012 Children's Choice Book Awards begins on March 14 at this link.  This is another amazing chance for students to select their favorites.
Thanks to the Children's Book Council for these tweets.

This article, The Wonderful and Terrible Habit of Buying Too Many Books,  made me smile but most of the hundreds of books on my shelf I have read.  Thanks to Publishers Weekly.

It would appear that everyone is becoming fans of Pinterest.  Random House Kids has boards that look fantastic.

The American Booksellers Association has released The Spring 2012 Kids' Next List PreviewLooking forward to all these new good reads.

This video makes me want to re-read every single review on this blog; maybe re-write a few.  It is hilarious.
Thanks to Children's Bookshelf at Publishers Weekly.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Another Legend Rises To The Rescue

Titles written by Peter Abrahams have caught my eye repeatedly, Reality Check, Winner 2010 Edgar Award Best Young Adult Mystery, the Echo Falls series (Down The Rabbit Hole, 2006 Agatha Award Winner, Best Children's/ Young Adult Fiction, Behind the Curtain, finalist for the 2007 Agatha Award, Best Children's/Young Adult Fiction and Into The Dark 2008) but it was not until Robbie Forester and the Outlaws of Sherwood St. was released January 19, 2012 that I read one of his works.  But I will be quick to amend that statement; until just a couple of days ago I did not know that Abrahams is writing under the pen name Spencer Quinn.  I have read two of the books in Quinn's Chet and Bernie mysteries, Dog On It and Thereby Hangs a Tail.  What I can say from reading these three books, without hesitation, is that Peter Abrahams gives his readers tales that will have them flipping pages with the speed of light wondering when they will be able to breath normally again.

He begins his newest title for middle grade readers with the oddest combination; an elderly homeless woman and a basketball game won at the buzzer.  As Robbie Forester exits the subway on her way to a private school, Thatcher, in Brooklyn she notices the homeless woman usually sitting by the newsstand not looking quite right; she of all the passersby goes up to her.  After speaking briefly, amid the hustle of getting the woman into an ambulance Robbie notices that a bracelet slips from her wrist onto the street.  As she picks it up the woman looks right into her eyes, the ambulance speeding away.

At the end of the school day during a basketball game, coming down to the final seconds, one of the star players, Ashanti, is fouled without the referee making the call.  Robbie finds herself in the unenviable position of making a game-winning shot.  But without her glasses most of the action is a blur.  Suddenly intense pain, an electricity in her head, clears Robbie's vision; a reddish golden light appears showing an exact path to the basket.  Swish...two points made to win the game. 

(If this does not have your attention, you need to check to see if you have a pulse.)  Puzzled by this event Robbie makes her way to the locker room.  It's when she is leaving that the bracelet placed in her pocket earlier draws her attention.  The single heart dangling from the braided circle is almost too hot to touch.

Walking home another character, from her former public school, Tut-Tut, a Haitian, plagued by a stutter causes her to stop admiring his beautiful chalk drawings; again for a moment a strange feeling washes over Robbie.  Readers are quickly introduced to Robbie's parents, both hardworking, her father a stay-at-home writer with two published titles and her mother, an attorney in a large firm downtown.  When taking her rather timid but large dog, Pendleton, out for his evening stroll, another rather strange incident occurs.

On Saturdays Robbie and her mother volunteer at a soup kitchen called Bread.  But this particular Saturday is different; the kitchen closed they discover due to a lack of funds.  The rent has been raised to a ridiculous amount by The New Brooklyn Redevelopment Project, another money maker by Sheldon Gunn, the third richest billionaire in the world.  Robbie's mother is indeed shocked but unable to help; Sheldon Gunn is a client of her firm.  What ensues are two other episodes that leave Robbie ill, her parents frightened and Ashanti privy to her secret.

Robbie's ability of acquiring incredible vision while teleporting objects, Tut-Tut loosing his stutter and Ashanti finding she can levitate, even mild-mannered Pendleton transforming in the presence of evil, are uncommon powers to say the least.  Injustice, it would seem to the girls, is what triggers this "magic".  By going around the neighborhood they locate many more tenants that are being forced to vacate; those that don't are threatened by Egil Borg, a member of Robbie's mother's firm, with less than stellar ethics.  Enlisting the help of home-schooled super geek, Silas, the team is formed and the hunt is on.

By any means Sheldon Gunn must be stopped.  Money is to be taken from the rich and given to the poor; if two heads are better than one than this foursome plus one canine can score.  This group gives it their all but not before fires are set by a pyromaniac and Tut-Tut and Robbie are close to death.  A smuggled ride aboard Gunn's yacht grows more harrowing by the minute with an ending that flies to a heart pounding finish. 

Peter Abrahams has a definite way with words that creates tension to the max knowing when to slide in the precise amount of humor to give characters authenticity.  Abrahams does not skirt around hard issues but looks them straight in the eye; small businesses being crushed by big money, Tut-Tut's abuse by his uncle, Ashanti's former model mother's mental state.  Realistic depictions of life in a big city and the varied inhabitants heightened the suspense as well as the characters strengths.

Zap!  A shock hit me, passed through my hand, into my wrist.  The silver heart fluttered again and then went still.  So did Pendleton.  He stopped barking and snarling and after a few seconds raised his head and looked kind of confused.  Then he rolled over and lay on the sidewalk, all four paws in the air, his posture when he wanted his stomach scratched. 

Ding.  A soft, quiet ding, a familiar sound I couldn't place for a second, and then did.  It was the signal made by an elevator just coming to a stop.  After that one ding:  silence.  Maybe this was one of those times when an elevator stops at a floor for no reason, opens and closes its door, and goes away.  I listened my hardest, hoping for more silence.  And yes! My hopes were answered. Silence and nothing but sweet, sweet-----But no.  A footstep sounded---the hard-heeled footstep of a businessman's shoe---and then more:  clack clack clack. 

Blistering action, spot-on dialogue between characters, four teens with newfound powers tackling a classic social issue combine to make Robbie Forester and the Outlaws of Sherwood St by Peter Abrahams a striking beginning in what promises to be an engaging series.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Birds Of A Feather Flock Together

LIBRARYJOURNAL and School Library Journal host a site, The Digital Shift:  On Libraries and New MediaOn January 16, 2012, Kathy Ishizuka posted an article, Visual Storytelling Site Cowbird.  As I have previously stated on this blog there was a time in my career when I had to stop and think whether I was going to be a library media specialist who taught storytelling or if I was going to be a storyteller, period.  Being a member of the National Storytelling Association and attending their summer educational institutes and annual Storytelling fall festivals was beyond wonderful.  While I believe that I made the right choice, storytelling in all its forms is very near and dear to my heart.  This article and the Cowbird website were something that I needed to and did investigate.

Cowbird creator, Jonathan Harris seeks to create the world's first library of human experience.  The premise of the site is to post a single photograph.  From that photograph in a simple font follows a short story.  Adding audio storytelling to the image and text is encouraged.  Sometimes the majority of the story is done in audio. 

When asked about its use for children Harris responded:

At the moment, Cowbird is an open ecosystem, with no boundaries or private groups.  I haven't studied the laws and best practices around providing safe online space for kids, so I'd have to learn more about them before developing a specific approach for Cowbird.
But in spirit, I think that Cowbird would be a beautiful way for kids to learn about life.  Instead of studying a static, one-size-fits-all-curriculum that often feels out of touch with our interconnected, quickly changing, decentralized and networked reality, Cowbird could offer a more flexible and resonant way of teaching kids about the world.  (Please read the rest of the article for more insight about how Cowbird could be used for personal purposes or in the classroom setting.)

To begin using the site you need to request an invitation by entering in your name, email address and a bit about yourself and the stories you have to share.  I received a reply to my request within two weeks.  One of the emails was very brief, my URL link, how to sign in and a link to storytelling tips.  The second email was very personal; including a variety of stories already at Cowbird to view, an overview of the project, how to become part of the community by "loving" some favorite stories, and an invitation to contact the sender at anytime if you have any questions. 

According to the site:

Cowbird is a small community of storytellers, focused on a deeper, longer-lasting, more personal kind of storytelling than you're likely to find anywhere on the Web.  Cowbird allows you to keep a beautiful audio-visual diary of your life, and to collaborate with others documenting the overarching "sagas" that shape our world today.  Sagas are themes and events that touch millions of lives and shape the human story. 
(Again I encourage potential users to read the complete About section at Cowbird.)

When entering the site users are greeted with an astounding visual array based upon single word themes which can be searched immediately.  Across the top is a tool bar with a series of icons; the first when selected, lists, visually, stories that are featured for that date.  As a new user I was encouraged to post a profile photo.  When I clicked on that I was given the option of also updating other sections of my profile:  first, middle and last name, a short bio, listing a website, gender, birth date, birthplace, location and roles.  Once that is filled in with as little or as much as the user desires click save. 

The next screen is what I would call your storytelling workspace.  It lists stories by you, loved by you, mentioning you and dedicated to you.  It is from here that a story can begin. 

The second icon focuses strictly on the people, the storytellers at the site.  It includes how many stories they have shared, their roles and relationships and how many have loved those stories.

Linking stories by place is the purpose of the third icon; listing the number of stories and characters created for those parts of the world.

The final icon is for topics.  Topics includes sagas, collections, tags and themes.  To date there are two sagas, The First Loves Saga and The Occupy Saga.

When you begin to tell a story the workspace asks you to give it a title and begin writing.  Above that space are icons representing editing, adding an image, audio, characters, a date, location and tags.  When your story is completed and saved you can see it or begin another story.  I selected to see what a finished story would look like to other viewers.  The quality of the image is wonderful, the text is bold and simple and the audio is sharp and clear.

On that page you can love it, edit it or share it as well as playing the audio, if added, again.  Sharing is via a variety of social networks or by following the given permalink.

Cowbird is one of the best digital storytelling sites I have ever used.  Yesterday a post appeared at the TechCrunch site, Cowbird Is A Community For Amazing Storytellers, And Another Reason To Love The Internet by Robin Wauters.