Quote of the Month

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

Friday, August 31, 2012

Small But Mighty

When a challenge presents itself to any of us we all have techniques to meet it; even the simplest of daily tasks.  Sometimes it's a phrase mentally whispered, "I think I can, I think I can, I think I can" or a vision of victory held in our minds as we struggle forward.  Nothing, and I mean nothing, though can compare with the courageous creations for coping that come forth from the imaginations of children.

Their capacity knows no heights.  In Kel Gilligan's Daredevil Stunt Show (Abrams Books for Young Readers) written by Michael Buckley with illustrations by Dan Santat, a new talent a la Evil Knievel blasts forth on his mighty tricycle.  No feat is too formidable for this little guy.

I'm Kel Gilligan and I'm a daredevil!  I perform super scary stunts while laughing in the face of danger.  They call me "The Boy Without Fear."

With that said, this champion proceeds to prove to readers exactly how brave he truly is as his family members look on, first in horror, then in disbelief.  Conquering first the alarming test of eating broccoli, he next faces the terror of the potty chair. With those accomplishments under his belt, he proceeds the next day to win the battle of dressing himself, resisting the temptation of needing constant attention, surviving the dreaded bath and the final audacious act of meeting the monsters.

Michael Buckley pens a narrative so snappy the air crackles with the sheer boldness of his character's spunk as he describes his attempts and conquests.  As each exploit is introduced family members, mom and dad, an older brother and sister and grandmother watch from the sidelines, their anxious exclamations posted in speech bubbles.

Is he insane?  Without a net?

What pervades every syllable of this story is the outrageous humor.

The perfect partner for this laugh-out-loud tale of triumph is the master of exaggerated expression, Dan Santat.  His book jacket has separate visuals for front and back showcasing bold red, white and blue Kel Gilligan, man of action, in all his glory, superimposed on excerpted pictures from the book in hues of blue-green.  Beneath the jacket the cover is different; the front proclaiming Viva La Kel with his fierce face peering straight ahead amid a red, white and blue starburst and the back is nearly all creamy white except for a hilarious view of Kel after his tackling the potty chair.

Matching endpapers done in a white and blue tint show family members in various facial forms of fright (except for grandma who's usually clapping) with an enlarged Kel, teeth gritted and fists raised in power.  No detail is overlooked by Santat when is comes to portraying a book about a kid for kids.  On the title page his name and Michael Buckley's are spelled out in wooden blocks beneath a full spread of Kel's handiwork.  Toys about the house, Kel's artwork on the walls and framed photographs are all part of the continuity.

When readers first meet Kel his look, one eye partially closed, the other with raised brow, cowlick in the back, looking straight out the page is downright laughable.  It never stops from then to the end.  Every look, every gesture by him and his family are an invitation to join in the fun.

Kel Gilligan's Daredevil Stunt Show written by Michael Buckley with illustrations by Dan Santat demands to be, has to be read, aloud.  My surefire prediction is once will not be enough.  No, this title will be read again and again and again amid giggles galore.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Peas, Pass More Peas

Getting children to eat their vegetables is an age-old frustration felt by mothers on a universal level.  It has been the source of countless jokes, cartoons and picture books.  The ingenuity of mothers to get their children to eat peas in particular is only equaled by their sons and daughters schemes to avoid them at all costs.

Given their less than desirable lure at the dinner table, it was pure pleasure to see them in LMNO Peas (Birch Lane Books, 2010) written and illustrated by Keith Baker.   This happy-go-lucky, unique alphabet book uses peas as people rhyming their way through the ABCs highlighting various occupations, recreational pastimes and everyday living.

We're acrobats, artists, and astronauts in space.
We're builders, bathers, and bikers in a race. 

Baker has followed the success of that title with a new one, 1-2-3 Peas (Beach Lane Books, July 2012).

As the numbers one through ten are counted, each is accompanied by a rhyme with the pea(s) engaged in an activity followed by the repetition of a single word mirroring their actions.

One pea searching---
look, look, look,
Two peas fishing---
hook, hook hook.

Verbs describe the peas in boats, a garden patch, an airplane, a swimming pool, or on a track, stage or scaffold.  When the reader arrives at eleven the numbers are mentioned up to nineteen with a single sentence tying them together.  From twenty to one hundred the numbers are counted by tens continuing with poetic rhythms as the robust, round, green guys and gals form, move, snooze, piece, gaze, group, giggle, and drift toward their goal.

Propelling this counting chant through the pages are the digitally rendered effervescent illustrations of Baker.  His book jacket, spreading across the back and front gathers the peas together, each moving to the beat.  Endpapers are green on green, a series of dots resembling the spirited spheres.

All the visuals are blended together across two pages regardless of whether they're devoted to a single number or two.  The colorful, textures on each gives one the sense of having gathered together fabric pieces to make a animated whole.  What really pulls the reader into the pages are the peas.

Using the tiniest of details, infused with subtle humor, it takes no stretch of the imagination to picture a world peopled with peas running parallel to our own.  For example, when the number seventy takes a turn with

seventy peas singing---la, la, la

instead of having them simply in separate groups around the gigantic 70, Baker creates an entire scene. The seven is rooted in the ground with king-size flowers growing upward, as a large line of notes weaves through the two numerals.   Strategically placed are groups of peas representing singing in its varied forms (opera, in the shower, barbershop quartet, etc) giving puny nods to well-known musical figures.  Whatever these peas pursue it is done so with panache.

One cannot help but smile when looking at the cover of 1-2-3 Peas; a smile guaranteed to last well after the last page is turned.  Never has a counting book been quite as much fun as when written and illustrated by Keith Baker with the assistance of his personable peas.  Clever readers will be searching the pages for the consistent appearance of a special visitor.

I highly recommend this title for one-on-one sharing or with a group.  Every reading will bring new discoveries.  I'm having a hard time not seeing a passel of hand-crafted peas being passed around or held by students during the storytime.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Anyway You Can-Storytelling-Inanimate Alice

According to the about section, Inanimate Alice , was originally conceived to be read on screen, actively engaging users to move the story forward.  By using text, images, music, sound effects, puzzles and games, it gives an in-depth, widening perspective to the storyline.  This novel is a compilation of episodes following Alice's growth toward her goal of becoming a game animator and designer and the relationship with her imaginary digital friend, Brad.

The American Association of School Librarians selected Inanimate Alice for their 2012 Best Websites for Teaching and Learning under the Digital Storytelling heading citing these Standards for the 21st Learner: 4.1.8 Use creative and artistic formats to express personal learning and 4.3.1 Participate in the social exchange of ideas, both electronically and in person.

When users first go to the home page of Inanimate Alice, across the top they will see tabs to Home, About the Project, Teach with Alice, Contact us, Newsletter and a Facebook connection.  Currently there are four episodes:  Episode #1 China, Episode #2 Italy, Episode #3 Russia and Episode #4 Hometown.  There are also four information booklets titled Alice's School Reports under the Born Digital Education caption which give information to educators about using this interactive tool in the classroom.

To best understand the applications for this website, I clicked on Teach with Alice.  At the next page users can select Introduction, Starter Activities Booklet, Teacher Education Pack, Share Inanimate Alice, Information for Parents and Curriculum.  To me one of the most important statements in the introduction is:

Inanimate Alice is a new media fiction that allows students to develop multiple literacies (literary, cinematic, artistic, etc) in combination with the highly collaborative and participatory nature of the online environment.

The starter activities booklet is a PDF document which can be downloaded, saved and printed.  These pages are geared toward Episode #1 for ages 10-14.  This seven page resource contains activities for section 3, 4, 7, 10, 13 and 18 of the first episode.

To obtain an URL link to the teacher education pack, which has been created in collaboration with Promethean Planet, users need to fill out a form giving their name, email address, school or institution, country, their teaching wiki or blog, age group/year/subject, primary purpose and any comments.  When registration is completed they will receive an email immediately giving them the web address.  It directs them to a 34 page PDF document currently divided into four different lesson plans with ten student resource packs covering episodes 1-3.

For each lesson educators are given a general statement addressing digital literacy, student resources, media required to implement the lesson, objectives of the lesson, a written introduction to the lesson which can be shared with students, teaching strategies, follow up activities and student assessment/reflection possibilities.  At the end of the first lesson, for example, in the student section they are asked to write a journal entry after reading episode one based upon five questions.  These questions are not seeking "yes or no" answers but are asking the students to really think about their experiences in reading the first episode of Inanimate Alice.

The share Inanimate Alice section gives you the opportunity to add badges about this site to your  webpage, blog, weebly or ning, letting your readers know you use Inanimate Alice.  The introductory letter to parents is short but highly informative.  Under the final heading in the Teach with Alice section, curriculum, educators are given a list of the common core standards this website meets.  A new major plus for those educators using Edmodo is an Inanimate Alice Edmodo Community page.

The first story takes about ten minutes to view (they say five but there is quite a bit to see).  Viewers are given basic instructions on how to advance or use icons in the upper right-hand corner to go back and forth in the story.  When it first begins a black screen appears with white letters stating Alice's name and age (8); the screen jitters and shakes as if there is a bad connection.  Music and sound effects shift with the illustrations on the screen.

Even though there are only twenty plus arrow mouse clicks, the screens change if the picture is moving, if graphics are added, or if interaction is required by the viewer.  This first plot line is fairly exciting, too.  Alice's father is two days late coming back to the base camp.

Here is one of the initial introductory screens where readers are learning about Alice, her mother and father.  You can see the arrow advance button.  Beneath the snapshots the visuals are moving as if a car is driving down the road.  Above the arrow advance button is written narrative as music and sound effects play in the background.

I have to admit I was completely captivated by this first episode.  As an teacher librarian I could not help but see the possibilities of using Inanimate Alice in the educational setting.  When you couple the episodes with the provided resources this website is A+ all the way.  Well done, AASL.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Average Is For Mathematics, Not People

Back in the 1960s my Mom told me that my facial features were classic. Classic?  What did that mean?  I'm sure that would have been fine if I had been living in ancient Rome or Greece rather than attending junior high school.  We all know middle school, junior high school, high school, those preteen and teen years can be touch and go, a whole lot of the time; trying to figure out who you are, liking yourself on the inside and outside.

Being smack dab in the center of any description can be heartening or disheartening in the measure of a breath.  Andrew Clements, author of Frindle, The Landry News, The Last Holiday Concert, and No Talking (among many others)clearly has a handle on the ins and outs of life in school for students.  Last month About Average (Atheneum Books for Young Readers), his newest title, was released.  Protagonist, Jordan Johnston, has the distinct label of being average.

It was a sunny spring morning, but there was murder in the air.

No, this is not a mystery story but this first sentence gets your attention right away.  It leads into a description of Jordan's skills, or lack thereof, in the elementary school orchestra.  This one particular day in her sixth grade year, coming to a close, will be one not only Jordan but her entire community will remember.

What Jordan desires above all else is to excel at one thing before this year is over.  She's hoping it will be her violin playing.  As most people eventually come to know, wanting and doing might not come as quickly or as easily as one would desire.

To complicate her endeavors her list of three, Things I'm Good At, Things I'm Okay At and Things I Stink At, has fallen into the hands of Marlea Harkins, a mean girl who bullies Jordan (for reasons unknown to her) in the most subtle of ways.  Another welcome, but nonetheless, distraction is Jonathan Cardley, who Jordan believes is the most perfect boy in her class.  The final hindrance comes at the hands of Mother Nature; the heat in Salton, Illinois is spiking.

As the day progresses readers are privy to Jordan's thought processes about her classmate relationships, flashbacks of events earlier in the year and her musings about her strengths and weaknesses.  It's the core of her character, what she wants to be, what she won't do, that shines.  When disaster strikes, it's one of those Things I'm Good At which gives her the confidence to be glad about who she is.

Andrew Clements speaks to the universal hopes and fears of middle grade students through his apt descriptions of the typical happenings in a school setting.  He most definitely has his fingers on the pulse of how they think and feel.  His characters are believable, real, in every sense of the word.  Adults in the story are not cardboard caricatures but play relevant roles; parents who care but are not quite as careful as they could be, a mindful meteorologist and a reading teacher whose passion is catching.

Clements pacing is effective, blending and shifting various elements of the storyline through chapter changes.  Readers can see what Jordan is experiencing currently as well as what happened previously. A tension of sorts is also created by what we know but Jordan does not; what is taking place outside the walls of the school.

Here are a couple of passages from the pages of this title.

Jordan wished that all the really pretty girls would disappear, one by one, until she was left as the cutest girl at school.  Then Jonathan Cardley would be asking some other girl, "Hey, have you seen Jordan?"
A lot of girls would have to vanish.

Books kidnapped Jordan the same way her memories did.  Starting a new book was like jumping into a rushing stream--something she wished she could do right about then.  She was still sweating.

Soft, expressive illustrations by Mark Elliot are found on twelve single pages throughout the title further illuminating the narrative flow.

Within 120 pages Andrew Clements is able to bring to readers exactly what they need; having proven time and time again, this is his true gift.   About Average is so real you can almost taste it; the perfect piece of life's pie.  Everyone does have something at which they excel.  Finding it is life's journey.

By following the link attached to Andrew Clements's name above you can explore his website.  By following this link you can browse inside About Average courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

Monday, August 27, 2012

What's Orange, Crunchy and...Scary?

Since I read Peter Benchley's Jaws (eons ago), I have not been in the ocean; not even my big toe.  When  I saw the movie, I was one of the viewers gasping for air and lifting my legs up from the floor.  The combination of textual narrative and visuals will do that to you.

I don't think I'm ever going to feel the same sense of freedom or safety walking through the produce section in the grocery store any more either.  Author Aaron Reynolds has penned a title, Creepy Carrots! (Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, August 21, 2012) about a very peculiar bunch of veggies.  Eerie illustrations by Peter Brown pay tribute to Rod Serling's Twilight Zone in the best possible way.

Jasper Rabbit has a passion for carrots.  And the carrots that grew in Crackenhopper Field were the best. 

Actually Jasper Rabbit has an obsession with carrots.  Every single time he passes this particular patch of land, home to these crunchy munchies, he grabs as many as he can.  But these are no ordinary carrots, these carrots are...ALIVE!

This carrot-craving bunny is not so far gone though that he cannot help but notice some strange sounds.  What's that noise?  Could it be the sound of roaming roots?

No, carrots can't move.  It must be this little hopper's overactive imagination.  Right?  Wrong!

Soon he sees them in the bathroom, the tool shed, in his bedroom and well, just about anyplace he goes.  The goosebumps-on-the-flesh part is he's the only one seeing them.  Then a hundred carat idea sprouts into Jasper's brain; the stupendous proportions of this plan are staggering.

It's surprising what fear-fueled adrenaline will do for one small rabbit.  But then, wasn't that the plan all along?  Whose plan was it really?

Reynolds's narrative is as crisp as those wily wandering plants.  His succinct sentences employ verbs actively creating a vision of Jasper's love of this food; pulled, yanked and ripped without costing him a single cent.  He makes JR's life seem as normal as the next person's...er...hare's...with his mention of school, little league practice, and home life.  There, of course, is nothing normal about

...creepy carrots creeping EVERYWHERE.

Peter Brown, an author ( You Will Be My Friend, Children Make Terrible Pets and Chowder, to name a few) and illustrator, brings his talents to these pages to create a deliciously, delightful spooky spin on the story. Initially drawing in pencil on paper the illustrations are put together digitally and colored to give us the chilling black and white, browns and oranges of his visuals.  His cover catches the reader's eye immediately, causing one to wonder if those angry Creepy Carrots! are going to do more than give the frightened rabbit the heebie-jeebies.

Endpapers show rows of carrots, like an advancing army of one's nightmares, with the occasional grin on some; careful readers will note the difference between the front and back depictions. The title, across two pages, mirrors a television screen at the introduction to a new episode.  In fact, the entire book is like watching an old television show; the art takes you back to an older time, a time when imaginations could and did run wild.

You have to love the way Brown conveys the range of emotions that flicker across Jasper Rabbit's face, appreciation, glee, questioning, panic, all the stages of fear and triumphant determination. Then too, there are the carrots.  Who knew eyes and mouths on vegetables could say so much.  My favorite flash back to the past is Jasper, bug-eyed and gasping with fright, splayed across a swirl of fiendish carrots.

Aaron Reynolds spins a haunting tale where "what-ifs" rule the day as Peter Brown works his illustrative magic.  This team gives new meaning to the word creepy in Creepy Carrots!  If you are out walking about in your local town, walking past that field or vacant lot that all towns have, whatever you do, don't touch anything; definitely don't pick the carrots!

Before this gem hit bookstores, I watched this video about the illustrative process Peter Brown used to create his artwork.  I knew I had to have this book.   I do love this book; another copy is on its way to my home.

The Creepy Carrots Zone from Peter Brown on Vimeo.
This video was recently posted on YouTube.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Twitterville Talk #63

Twitter is a collection of people conversing in 140 characters.  It doesn't seem like that's enough to be able to say what you really mean or feel.  No better example of the power of this social network was displayed than on Tuesday, August 21, 2012, when first one, then another, then another tweet appeared about the death of Ivan, the silverback gorilla living in Zoo Atlanta.  Ivan whose life inspired Katherine Applegate's book, The One and Only Ivan, was being remembered and mourned by many, many people.  I became so moved I wrote a blog post that evening.  The teacher librarian who recommended the book to me, to many, sent this message out over Twitter today.

John Schumacher blogs at Watch. Connect. Read.  Be sure to go to his website today.  He talks about his newest Newbery read but

It's always nice to be able to look over a list of outstanding books chosen by "people in the know" comparing it with what you've read or finding a title you know you should read.  Here is the NCTW Orbis Pictus Award Outstanding Nonfiction for Children Past Winners 2000-2010.

Thank to Literacyhead for this tweet.

Although many of these examples are geared toward the business world, they could be applied to personal or educational ideas for the use of Pinterest.  28 Creative Pinboard Ideas From Real Brand on Pinterest

Thanks to Teresa Rolfe Kravtin who can be found blogging at A Rep Reading.

This, 30 Indispensable Writing Tips From Famous Authors, is an interesting compilation of author portraits with their thoughts on the writing process as an overlay.

Thanks to Lyne Kelly Hoenig, author of Chained, for this tweet.

When I discovered the website, Wonderopolis, I was amazed at the resources available, the opportunities for reflection and discussion.  Educator, Barbara Phillips, has listed some of the daily posts at her site listing them in categories, Wonders to Use Throughout the Year.

Thanks to Barbara Phillips for this list and this tweet.

Musings from an author about goals, Some things I've learned about running and writing.

Thanks to Jo Knowles, author of See You at Harry's, for this post and tweet.

Prezi, a cloud-based presentation web 2.0 app, has added some features, 5 Big Prezi Updates You Should Know About.

The 20 most-watched TED Talks to date

Thanks to Joyce Valenza, teacher librarian and blogger at NeverEndingSearch, for these tweets.

Mo Willems is not talking but we can look and figure out what's coming.  The Kennedy Center doesn't want me to talk about his yet, so I won't.

Thanks to Mo Willems Pigeon for this pictorial tweet.

Publishers Weekly ShelfTalker posted an article, In Praise of Titans, citing the loss of many authors and illustrators this year.

Thanks to Walden Pond Press for this tweet.

September 15, 2012 is International Dot Day.  Read this blog post, Connect The Dots, for a unique approach to this celebration.

Thanks to Peter H. Reynolds, author of The Dot, Ish and Sky Color for these tweets.

The Society of Illustrators has chosen the award winners for Original Art: The Fine Art of Children's Book Illustration.

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

These are some of my favorite quotes of the week.  The final quote Xena insisted I include.  It's more of a statement accompanied by a picture.  Maybe she's glad it's not her this time.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Earth's Heart Beats In Her Trees

Fortunate are those of us who, if they so choose, can walk among the trees.  When I walk along the Lake Michigan shoreline skirted by trees or up the winding paths among the hills densely forested, all sights and sounds of the busy world are gone.  It's as if time holds its breath; the trees watch in silence lending me their knowledge of decades past and the peace of endurance.

From 2004 through 2006 The United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress was Ted Kooser.  Mr. Kooser, the recipient of numerous awards, was given the Pulitzer Prize in 2005 for his title, Delight and Shadows (Cooper Canyon Press, 2004).  One would not be amiss in speaking his name closely followed by the words national treasure. 

Early this spring Candlewick Press released a picture book written by Ted Kooser illustrated with the signature artwork of Jon Klassen.  House Held Up By Trees chronicles the lives of a family, their home and the nearby woods.  Two worlds, the one formed by the hand of man, the other by nature, exist side by side.

When it was new, the house stood alone on a bare square of earth.  There was a newly planted lawn around it, but not a single tree to give shade in summer or to rattle its bare twigs in the winter cold.

Like so many tracts of land, this had been cleared of trees to make way for a different kind of life.  The dwelling was home to a man, his son and daughter.  On either side of their lot the woods, abundant with growth in all stages and populated with animals was a realm of discovery and delight for the two children.

As the years passed the ever vigilant father would make sure his lawn was picture perfect, careful to not allow the growth of any tree seeds carried there by the winds.  The boy and girl grew into a young man and woman leaving their elder father to pursue their own lives.  In time he came to the realization that living alone and caring for the home and its picture perfect lawn was more than he cared to do.

Without his persistent plucking, tufts of grass grew around the For Sale sign stationed along the road, seeds landed and sprouted into tiny trees.  With no one willing to purchase the home, it fell into disrepair as years passed.  Saplings had found fertile ground along the sides of the house growing larger with every spin of the earth. 

Soon what man had made began to crumble but not fall; the arms formed by nature holding it upright.  The house held in the leafy embrace was no longer bound to its cement roots.  As the trees grew stretching skyward, the house with the bare square of earth, the home of the father, his son and daughter, rose into the air.

Through his choice of words, an economy of language, Ted Kooser brings to this story of trees, a house, a man, a boy and a girl, the same sense of quiet one feels when walking through a forest.  As the narrative unfolds, through his more detailed descriptions of the woods surrounding the home, Kooser fills readers with a sense of anticipation, a quiet waiting.  His honest look at the passage of time is not without a tinge of sadness as the people age and the home decays but the continued cycle of flowers, seeds and trees is as uplifting as his conclusion.

Illustrations formed digitally and in gouache beautifully capture the soul of the story.  The cover, a variation in color and focus of one of the final two-page spreads, is like a question needing to be answered.  Endpapers in pale, cool green show small winged seeds floating along on an imagined wind.

Muted greens, browns, spots of rusty red or a sky awash in tints of the palest blue or sunset rose are Jon Klassen's choices for this story.  Details create a feeling of nostalgia and loneliness; the house's front door windows, the push lawn mower, a glimpse of the table inside a window set for one or the man seated alone outside watching the sun on the horizon.  All the visuals are two-page spreads with added interest in the angle or perspective.  Most of the time the reader is an observer but at other times its as if the floating seeds are watching the activities around the home below.

House Held Up By Trees (Candlewick Press) written in prose that reads like poetry by Ted Kooser with illustrations by Jon Klassen is a gentle journey into the measurement of time through the ticking clock of nature; absolutely perfect in every way.

I believe this book would make for meaningful discussions.  Why was the man always maintaining his lawn instead of exploring with his children? Where is the children's mother?  How do readers feel about the choice of the man to build his home there?  I really like a book, such as this title, that makes me think beyond the story.  Why is it that illustrator Jon Klassen chose certain details for his pictures?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Giving Voice to Story

Nearly thirty years ago I was sitting in a local professional development meeting listening to a storyteller.  This storyteller, unbeknownst to me at the time, would open a door in my personal and professional life which has never been closed since that day. Sheila Dailey (Carroll), then making her home in the middle of the Mitten known as Michigan, told her listeners a pourquoi tale from the Mongolian people.

Told with a range of vocal intonations and through the use of a single instrument, she took her audience back in time.  As I gazed at all the adult educators seated in the room, it was easy to see she had them under her spell.  There was a timeless exchange taking place between teller and listener; an oral tradition.

I knew I wanted to be able to tell a story, as she had done, to my students.  After searching I was able to locate a copy of the book on which her story was based, Suho and the White Horse (Fukuinkan Shoten Publishers, Inc., 1967--re-published under license by R. I. C. Publications Limited Asia) retold by Yuzo Otsuka with illustrations by Suekichi Akaba. (The newer addition is titled Suho's White Horse: A Mongolian Legend.)  The story within this book was the spark for expanding my role as a teacher librarian into a storyteller as well. 

The first page of the book introduces readers to the location of Mongolia, the people who inhabit this region and to a very specific instrument native only to them, morin khuur or horse-head fiddle.  Only two strings are needed to make music and a horse's head is carved at the top of the fiddle's neck.  Living among these herders long ago was a shepherd boy, Suho, who made a life for himself with his grandmother. 

Working as hard as any man he would tend their small herd of sheep daily, singing songs that rang out across the vast steppes.  One evening returning fearfully late, Suho stepped out of the darkness carrying something.  As neighbors surround him they could see cradled in his arms a newborn foal as white as snow.

Over time the colt and boy became inseparable.  As the years passed each grew in strength and stature.  One spring the governor announced a challenge; a horse race with his daughter's hand in marriage as the prize.

There was never any question as to whether the race would be won by the young man and his beautiful white horse but the events which followed were not as expected.  Suho and his companion were cruelly separated.  But as readers or listeners will discover even wealth and power has its limits.  Devotion such as theirs was not to be denied.

Otsuka's retelling, and the subsequent translation by Richard McNamara and Peter Howlett in the new edition, is straightforward in the language used but also gives a sense of the vastness of the setting, the historical perspective of the roles which must be assumed according to one's station and the value of horses in the culture of these people. Readers will never doubt the affection between the young man and his horse nor the pride of his neighbors at having such an animal in their midst.  It is in the careful word selection where the intensity of the story shines.

Suekichi Akaba is one of only two Japanese artists to ever win the international Hans Christian Andersen Award for Illustration-1980.  His paintings done in subdued earthy tones are stunning in their portrayal of the land and people.  Varied backgrounds and the panoramic two-page spreads accentuate the flow of the tale. 

Suho's White Horse:  A Mongolian Legend includes a CD of musical selections played on the horse-head fiddle.  It's uncanny how like a horse the sounds are.  The entire story is read at the beginning and end of the CD.  In between individual pages are read so a listener can follow at their own pace.

I was thrilled when I discovered the publication of this new edition and even happier when it arrived on my doorstep earlier this week.  It is a reminder of a journey began; the representation of how listening to the telling or reading of a story is essential to building reading and writing skills in our students.  It is in the reading aloud to our students, telling them a story or teaching them to read aloud or tell a story, where the structure of story is learned.  But even more important, it is where the love of story is born, where the need within all of us is filled.

I highly recommend this volume for a unit on folktales, a study of Mongolia, an examination of music within given cultures or pure enjoyment for older elementary readers on up.  Suho's White Horse:  A Mongolian Legend beautifully retold by Yuzo Otsuka and illustrated by Suekichi Akaba is why every time I go into a new library, I usually end up in the 398.2 section seeking out new tales to tell.  Read...pass it on.

Three titles which Sheila Dailey (Carroll) has authored that I personally own are: 
Putting the World in a Nutshell:  The Art of the Formula Tale, Tales As Tools: The Power of Story in the Classroom and Storytelling:  A Creative Teaching Strategy.  You will probably have to obtain them via inter-library loan as they are out of print.  Students need to hear the excitement in our voices when we talk about books and reading, when we read aloud to them.  It's how we make the reading community grow.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Virtual Post-It Boards-Remember The Milk

The Best Websites for Teaching and Learning (25) have been selected by a committee comprised of members of the American Association of School Librarians for four years.  Websites on this list are grouped under Media Sharing, Digital Storytelling, Manage & Organize, Social Networking & Communication, Content Resources and Curriculum Collaboration based upon certain noted items within the Standards for the 21st Century Learner.

Standards, 2.1.2 Organize knowledge so that it is useful, 2.1.4 Use technology and other information tools to analyze and organize information 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, fall under the category of Manage & Organize for websites chosen in 2012 which includes Remember The Milk.  Registration and use of Remember The Milk is free of charge.  Some, but not all, of the ways this service can be used are apps for iPad, iPhone, add tasks with Siri, Android, Gmail, Microsoft Outlook, Blackberry, Twitter, Google Calendar, iGoogle Gadget, a Mobile version and a quick add bookmarklet.

This web 2.0 application is no new-kid-on-the-block, having blog archives back to October of 2005.  Posts on this blog fall under the headings of tips and tricks, new features, updates, behind the scenes, interviews and buzz and features apps.  Under the Help tab at the top of the home page is an extensive FAQ section searchable by keyword.

To register for use of Remember The Milk enter in your first and last name, email address, username and a password.  A link to confirm your email address is sent immediately.  Log in and you're good to go. (You can also sign in with Facebook and Google.)

For the first log in you are taken to the Tasks screen.  The bar in the upper right-hand corner lists option tabs; Overview, Tasks, Locations, Contacts, Settings, Help and Logout.  Beneath those are
List, Share and Publish folders.  To the left is the working area, which under Tasks provides tabs (folders of task lists) for Inbox, Personal, Study, Work, Sent and All Tasks.

I clicked on the Try out Remember The Milk heading to begin.  On the right the screen image changed to reflect a series of nine choices.  I decided to add some tasks of my own by moving back to the task line and typing in a phrase.

Once the title is typed in, simply press the "enter" key.  As you mouse over your list of task titles, the options (task details) on the left shift accordingly.   If you want to make changes click on the task title, giving it a check mark.

To help you in entering in the information for a detail correctly, for some when you click on one of the options, a hint will appear below the box. For example enter in your date as August 5 or tomorrow or next Tuesday. Time must be entered in as 30 minutes or 2 hours. 

One thing to note is tags are separated by commas.  Two words can be joined by placing them within quotation marks.  Personal names (first and last) cannot be tags.  They either appear as two separate words or one word joined together.

To add a location to your task you must first go to the top of the screen and click on Locations.  Enter in the address of the location.  When the green tab appears on the map, click on it naming your location and save.

One URL link can be added to that detail.  Your task can be shared with contacts, contacts with groups you have created or you can invite people to become a contact or member of a group. (See list of actions below or click on Contacts at the screen top)

Once entered in tasks can be selected by: all, due today, due tomorrow, overdue or none.  When a user is looking at the tasks in one of the folders those can also be ordered by priority, due date or task name.  If you should happen to put a task in the wrong folder click on more actions to not only move the task but to read all of the other choices available.

Moving up to the upper right-hand corner, choosing Overview shows you tasks for today, tomorrow and overdue as well as the ability to click on a weekly planner enumerating your task lists.  A task cloud is shown which is a visual depiction of your task lists giving you the choice of clicking on one of those words to direct you to related tasks. There are two separate buttons on this screen that will take you to your tasks.

Under the Settings button you can alter your name, password, email address, date and time format, how tags are shown, your country and language or time zone (to name a few).  More specific settings can be made for your lists, tags, and locations.  Under the reminders settings several formats are available for sending notices to your email address about specific tasks.

Remember The Milk covers all the bases when it comes to managing tasks.  The image of sticky notes on every available surface will be a thing of the past.  The variety of apps coupled with the share feature make this a smart, easy pick for group projects.  The ability to edit at all levels is a huge plus.  Being able to print notes for individual tasks in another nice added feature. I can understand why this web 2.0 app made the 2012 Best Websites for Teaching and Learning list.

Below is a screen capture of a task list in progress.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Ivan, Katherine Applegate and Mr. Schu

In thirty-four years of being a teacher librarian last year was probably the hardest but in some respects very rewarding.  Two weeks prior to the beginning of the 2011-2012 school year I was informed my regularly scheduled library classes would be seen the first three days of the week.  On Thursdays I would be teaching a fourth, third, second and first grade physical education class along with a kindergarten library class.  On every third Friday I would be seeing either my Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday library students again.

Needless to say having had a library science major in undergraduate school and during my graduate work with a Spanish minor, I spent many an evening and long hours on the weekends all year long searching for the best possible way to teach my physical education classes.  To address this situation further is not the intent of this blog post. What I want to speak about is the huge opportunities this afforded to someone passionate about books, reading and the integration of the Standards for the 21st Century Learner into the services provided within their library media center.

More than a year ago I decided to join the virtual community of Twitter expanding my PLN by leaps and bounds.  Within that community I discovered a 2011 Library Journal Movers & Shakers, John Schumacher, currently the K-5 librarian at Brook Forest Elementary School in Oak Brook, Illinois.  His blog at Watch. Connect. Read continually promotes books and reading through his interviews and book trailers.  Anyone following him on Twitter would have to agree he hardly ever sleeps, loving what he does with complete passion. 

My praise of Mr. Schu (as he is affectionately called) does not come without a great deal of respect for his accomplishments in such a short time.  After all, I began my love of libraries, books and reading, information and all things technology (we used to thread our 16mm projectors by hand) before he was even born.  That being said, I know a hero for the cause when I see one, even if it's virtually.

When Mr. Schu suggested to his followers to read The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate I did not hesitate to follow his recommendation. The power of this story based upon the life of a real silverback gorilla was profound.  Having read this book I knew I had to share it with as many students as possible.  I knew that booktalking it would not be enough. (My review is here.)

So for months of Fridays I read aloud The One and Only Ivan to the entire fourth grade student body in my school.  I have to say in all sincerity I was not only changed by this book but also by the discussions it prompted between myself and my students about gorillas and animals in captivity, zoos, by the research we did together and about the writing style of Katherine Applegate.  I saw these young men and women alter their perspectives. 

I heard comments like, "I can hardly wait for the third Friday to read about Ivan." or "I really like Bob; he takes away some of the sadness."  At one particularly moving point in the story I had to pause.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw a student stand up.  When he came back, without a word he handed me a box of Kleenex.  Across the miles Ivan, Katherine Applegate and Mr. Schu had made their lives and presence felt.  We were no longer the same; our compassion had grown.

Very early this morning Mr. Schu posted on his blog a video he had made about his summer reading road trip.  This year, by vote, he took a plush Ivan across the southern part of the United States, spreading his love of books and reading wherever he went.  Mr. Schu, along with a colleague, Miss Kouri and author, Laurel Synder went to Zoo Atlanta and actually met the real Ivan.

Late this morning when I checked Twitter again I saw a post by Katherine Applegate.

During a medical procedure Ivan passed away.  I along with many others am deeply saddened by this loss.  But this single gorilla's life portrayed so well in the work of The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate made a huge difference; not just in my life and the lives of my students but in the lives of all who read this book. 

That's the undeniable power of the written word.  That's the legacy of reading which can endure in memory for a time no one can really measure with certainty.  So to Ivan, the mighty silverback, to Katherine Applegate who researched, wrote and loved this book into existence and to Mr. Schu, librarian extraordinaire, I salute you and thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Here is a link which was recently posted about Ivan in Zoo Atlanta.  Here is another blog post by Mr. Schu about Ivan and Katherine Applegate.  Here are further links about Ivan at an EduClipper board I created about a book study of The One and Only Ivan.

Chasing That Shoe

I love it when my mind's eye sees something while my conscience eyes are focused on something else entirely.  While looking ahead at a special section in the public library this past week, what should register on my radar but the new Alison Murray book, One Two That's My Shoe!(Disney-Hyperion Books, June 5, 2012)  I was as pleased as could be to see the rascally familiar black and white pooch on the cover in all his lovable glory. 

As in the first book, Apple Pie ABCGeorgie and his human, Grace, are characters in the retelling of an old nursery rhyme.  Alison Murray's version of "One, Two, Buckle My Shoe" is a series of classic "catch-me-if-you-can" snapshots.  This youthful chant has never been better than when altered by the clever words and artwork of Murray.

Grace is all comfy in the big red chair reading with Georgie comfortably resting, his head on her lap.  When she leaves the room, Georgie follows.  Spying her pair of red shoes unattended on the floor, keeping his eyes on Grace, Georgie picks one up, running away.  One and two have been counted.

Once three and four have been noted Georgie has left the house.  Leading his girl on a merry path through a group of butterflies, into the tulips, through the trees, past laundry on a line and into chicks with hens, the dog on the run is clearly having great fun as the counting is done.  Finding himself in a bit of trouble, Georgie is grateful for Grace's intervention; giving her the most favored show of affection, a doggy kiss. 

As in Apple Pie ABC the front cover foreshadows the storyline Murray will chose to follow but the back cover, rather than a continuation of the front, again gives readers a hint about the book's conclusion.  The endpapers, front and back, feature large blocks framing elements from Georgie's romp with Grace in the upper left-hand corner pursuing the wayward dog as he scurries off the page in the lower right-hand corner.  In this volume red is still prevalent but in use as more of an accent color.

Alison Murray has chosen to vary her palette from the warmer shades of red, orange and yellow with spots of blue found in Apple Pie ABC to the cooler hues of greens and blues with more white space; numbers are in white within squares of blue.  Beneath each number in a paler, dusty turquoise are small representations of the objects used in the counting; three teddy bears, five butterflies, seven trees.  The two page spread including the verso and title page actually begin the story. 

With the exception of four pages all the visuals are two page spreads; indicating the chase is on.  Despite Georgie's escape with Grace's shoe, Murray has made it clear with the lift of an eyebrow, the curve of a mouth and open-eyed looks, this game may have been played and even enjoyed before...well, at least on Georgie's part.  Combining digital drawings with textures created using other mediums, works in these illustrations to give readers a sense of lightness, playfulness and inviting openness. 

One Two That's My Shoe! is not only a rousing variation of an old favorite but the illustrations by Alison Murray are so charming readers will be leaning in as the pages are turned.  Join in the counting waggery with this delightful duo.  This title begs to be used in creative drama.

Monday, August 20, 2012

A Little Bit of Mystery, A Little Bit of Magic and a Whole Lot of Life

When beginning a new book, there's something particularly attractive about being introduced to a character, within the first two pages (a prologue), who among other things, is a teller of tales.  When the story they tell is so compelling a listener becomes fearful, readers, like that listener, might be prone to the same thoughts as one of the main characters.

Sensing my fear, Joe would say, "It's only a story, Naomi, only a story." He suggested that I say to myself, "I'm not in the story, I'm not in the story"--a refrain I could repeat so that I would feel less anxious.
And so each time the poor man would reach into the donkey's ears, I would tell myself, I'm not in the story, I'm not in the story, but it didn't help because a story was only interesting if I was in the story.

And that, as is said, is the crux of the matter.

For a book to be good, so good the characters, events, setting, and how they are shaped and pieced together into a powerful whole stays with a reader, the whole must bring you into the story.  An author who has consistently perfected this art is Sharon Creech.  Creech was the recipient of the Newbery Award in 1995 for Walk Two Moons, the Newbery Honor in 2001 for The Wanderer and the 2002 Carnegie Medal for Ruby Holler. 

I was fortunate enough to receive an ARC of The Great Unexpected which is scheduled to be released on September 4, 2012.  With every turn of page you fall more deeply under the spell of Creech's writing.  Before you know it, you are living with the people making their home in a town named Blackbird Tree.

When she was only three Naomi Deane, a foster child, began living with Joe and Nula; her father having died trying to save her from a vicious dog attack.  A mere two days after she was born her mother had died.  Naomi's best friend, Lizzie Scatterding, has been living with the Cupwrights as a foster child for the past two years.

All is oddly normal in their community; the gossipy gatherings at Tebop's General Store, the Dimmenses and the dogs on Black Dog Night Hill, Witch Wiggins who may or may not have out-of-this-world powers, Crazy Cora who abhors visitors of any kind, Mrs. Mudkin from the Ladies Society at church spreading goodwill, Mr. Canner living on memories and one-armed Mr. Farley lost in the past.  All this sense of sameness changes when a body falls out of a tree on top of Naomi and the Dingle Dangle man comes to this particular spot in the universe.  Yes, indeed, things are not at all what they appear to be.

On the other side of the ocean two women, Mrs. Kavanagh and Miss Pilpenny are plotting a revenge and enjoying a healthy dose of murder each night.  The long arm of these two will be felt in a great unexpected way.  How fairy circles, rooks in twos, a love of dogs, ghosts, and a crooked bridge all meld with these delightfully, distinctive people toward the miraculous, marvelous conclusion will have you wondering if you should clap your hands and dance, sigh and quietly smile or as a single tear rolls down your cheek you should begin to read it all over again.

As I was reading The Great Unexpected I continually held this picture in my mind of Sharon Creech sitting at a table with pieces of a puzzle spread before her.  All these pieces were her creation; phrases that roll off your tongue, lines of language bringing forth an instant sense of place or detailed dialogue or thoughts giving insight into the core of a character's personality.  She with the practiced hand of a master having honed her gift moving them, fitting all the pieces into place.  And we, lucky readers every one, getting to enjoy and savor the beauty of this book.

Here are some samples of her writing from this title.

Joe, my guardian and a man of few words, once said about Lizzie, "That girl could talk the ears off a cornfield."

A tangle of twine on Joe's workbench reminded me of a time when I was maybe five or six and had taken a ball of twine and wound it all through the chicken yard, so the chickens would have little "rooms" of their own, and Nula came out in the near dark and tripped over the twine rooms and broke her wrist when she fell.
She didn't yell.  She didn't scold. All she said to me was, "Rooms for chickens?"

Both Nula and I were stunned into silence.
"I just cannot believe this, Naomi.  It's like--it's like--the universe spun us together on purpose."
"Yes," Nula said quietly, "It does seem that way, doesn't it?"

When Sharon Creech writes, threads of people's lives are woven together with her words; words speaking of family, friendship, love and forgiveness.  In The Great Unexpected time and distance can be bridged.  In The Great Unexpected readers are surrounded by story, an unforgettable story filled with magical moments. 

Thank you Sharon Creech for this book.  This view from the moon is splendid. Lar-de-dar

Links embedded in her name will take you to her website and blog.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Twitterville Talk #62

Some of the birds have already gone south.  We actually got more than a quick storm passing through a couple of days ago; perhaps the fall rains will start soon.  Teachers and librarians have been tweeting like crazy; ideas have been flowing as preparations are being made for the upcoming school year.  Authors and illustrators continue to perfect their art and skills providing our children (of all ages) with the best kind of books to read.  Enjoy my picks of the week.  Have a wonderful weekend filled with the things you love the most; hopefully one of them is reading.

In light of the historic landing of Curiosity on Mars, enjoy this post and the voice of scientist and author, Carl Sagan, Carl Sagan's Message to Mars Explorers, with a Gentle Warning.

Thanks to Brain Pickings for this tweet.

You have to love this blend of learning and technology, QR Codes and Bottle Cap Fun.

Thanks to Jennifer LaGarde, blogger and librarian from North Carolina, found at The Adventures of Library Girl.

First Book recommends you watch this video , Don't Let Rochee Get Fired...Vote!   So do I.

Thanks to First Book for this tweet and for placing books in the hands of so many children.

Here's a list of lists, August 10 for 10: Picture Book Event Is Here 2012.  Sixty-seven participants listed their ten favorite picture books. 

Thank to Mandy Robek, blogger and educator, found at Enjoy and Embrace Learning for this huge undertaking and this tweet.  She was assisted by another blogger and educator, Cathy Mere, found at Reflect & Refine: Building a Learning Community.

Enjoy these Caldecott Anniversary 75th Back to School Specials.

Children are so much more clever, smarter, than we give them credit for being, Fifth Graders in 1995 Video Predicted the Things We Love About the Web

Thanks to the Association for Library Services to Children for this post and tweets.

Fans of the Babymouse series by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm, rejoice.  Here is a Pinterest board just for you created by John Schumacher.

Have you pledged to read in this year's Jumpstart campaign? Grab a copy of Ladybug Girl and the Bug Squad.

A must watch video is posted here regarding the final book in Lois Lowry's The Giver series.

Thanks for these tweets, Mr Schu, librarian and blogger at Watch. Connect. Read.

Mr. Colby Sharp, a fourth grade teacher in Michigan, co-founder of the  Nerdy Book Club blog and blogger at sharpread, posted Jennifer Holm is Coming earlier this week.  Yes, indeed Jennifer L. Holm is coming to their school for an author visit but what I really want you to notice is the video he has included about how he fires up his students for reading.  This friends is what it is all about.

Thanks to Mr. Colby Sharp found at sharpread for this tweet.

A massive undertaking is now ready for those who so desire, The Top 100 Lists Are Nigh. Nigh, I Say! Nigh!

Huge, gigantic thanks to Elizabeth Bird, New York Public Library's Youth Materials Collections Specialist and blogger at A Fuse #8 Production.

Fans following and predicting the possible Newbery Award winners can join in the discussion at Heavy Medal:  A Mock Newbery Blog which will be back in action on September 4, 2012.

Thanks to the School Library Journal for this tweet.

Check out A Quick Start Guide for Using YouTube's Editing Tools.

Thanks to Richard Byrne, educator, presenter and blogger at Free Technology for Teachers.

It is with great sadness I report that we lost more wonderful authors and illustrators in the world of children's literature this week, Jean Merrill, Jose Aruego (who my Mom hosted at her school many years ago), Mollie Hunter and Remy Charlip.

Some of my favorites quotes of the week are as follows.