Quote of the Month

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

Friday, November 30, 2012

Sight In The Night

Do you have a bat story?  I have a bat story.  In fact most people either have a personal bat story or know one by way of a family member or friend.

As if it were yesterday instead of thirty years ago, I can still smell the chocolate chip cookies baking early on a Sunday morning.  Puttering in the kitchen I was startled out of my musings by a small brown form swooping down from the loft through the air over my head.  I must have yelped or babbled out loud because the next thing I can remember seeing is my husband running about with a fishing net.  Lucky for all of us but particularly for the bat, he found his way through our front door.

I've always enjoyed the company of bats as I sit outside on a summer's evening or as I'm taking a last stroll through the woods at dusk with Xena.  These valued creatures of the night navigate with extraordinary skill, dipping, diving and dining.  The creation of Nightsong (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers) by author Ari Berk with illustrations by Loren Long follows a young bat on his first solo night flight.

The sun had set, and the shadows clinging
to the walls of the cave began to wake and

A mother speaks to her child, Chiro, of this night being like no other.  On this night he will fly from the cave alone as she waits behind for his return.  Naturally he's not too sure about going out in the dark by himself.  How will he see?

Her advice to him is to use his good sense prompting another question from young Chiro.  He has no idea what sense is.  Her reply to him is to give voice to the dark, waiting for the night to answer in return, as he flies to the pond where they usually find the best food.

Released from her embrace, the young bat tries to fly through the blackness but what he does see is frightening.  Remembering his mother's whispered words, he sings.  Soon melodies of all shapes and sizes are coming from the dark, back to him.

Through the tree-filled woods, soaring past a flock of geese, and beyond electrical power lines he makes his way toward the familiar destination.  Full, he ponders his next choice; home or beyond.  Is his song sure enough to explore?  The power of self assurance and the joy of discovery prevail.

From the very first sentence I knew this book was going to be exceptional.  I knew this author would be looking at the world with new eyes, shaping what he sees with word descriptions akin to poetry.  Ari Berk's technique in this story has a silence about it; a soft hush in the conversations between the bat mother and her child, the rustle of wings through night air, in the song no human ear can hear.  His words guide readers through the story as good sense guides Chiro through his adventure. Here are a couple of sentences.

In the sky behind him flowed a river of whispers, fading away.

What lay beyond his mother's words?

When I first saw Loren Long's new version of The Little Engine That Could (Philomel, 2005) I'm sure my mouth formed a big "O".  His books, Otis (Philomel, 2009) and the companion volume, Otis and the Tornado (Philomel, 2011)(reviewed here), are personal favorites.  For this title his artwork rendered in acrylic and graphite is stunning.

Depicting the night with penciled lines gives it a texture, as it might appear to eyes not made for seeing in the dark.  Using a glowing, misty moon as the "o" in Nightsong and as the shape for the publication data is the type of attention to detail which sets a book apart.  Having the shades of the white text change on the pages as if a moon is shining on certain sections is brilliant.

Spanning across two pages to the edges all the illustrations provide the perfect backdrop for the soft browns of Chiro and his mother.  As he sings into the night his song is portrayed as a beam of light shining before him.  Careful readers will see other creatures etched into the darkness while those sending a song back to the bat will be in color.  Whether they are panoramic views or close-ups of Chiro, these illustrations, as in Long's other books, are worthy of framing; true pieces of art.

Ari Berk's words illuminated by the illustrations of Loren Long in Nightsong bring to readers a bat's eye view of the night; how they are able to move with such ease using their unique gift of sense.  This title is one of those books where a single reading will not suffice plus I keep reaching out to touch the pages.  Nighttime has never looked so good.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

An Unlikely Pair

In the animal kingdom there is no lack of unusual friendships.  After a tsunami struck in December of 2004, a rescued baby hippo was placed in Haller Park, Kenya where he quickly sought out the company of an 130-year-old tortoise. Owen and Mzee were inseparable for more than three years.   At the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee a stray dog wandered onto the 2,000 acre property.  For more than a decade until her untimely death, Bella and Tara, an elephant, were fast friends.

Even more unexpected is the bonding of animals who are part of each others food chain.  Acclaimed author James Howe has penned a tender tale, Otter and Odder: A Love Story (Candlewick), of a curious attachment formed by an otter and a fish.  Caldecott Medalist, Chris Raschka provides luminous illustrations for the title.

The river sparkled 
the day Otter found love.

As with many living beings love happens when it is least expected; certainly not when one is looking for their next meal.  But to Otter's utter surprise staring into those starry eyes, he knew something out of the ordinary had happened.  He asked her (he hoped it was a girl) name.

Gurgling a reply (after all they were under water) Otter heard Myrtle, a fitting name for such a lovely fish.  Her only thought was of gaining freedom from his firm hold on her scaly body.  But looking deeply into his eyes, Myrtle was overcome with an emotion new to her, love.  How could this be?

Oh, the joy of finding such a companion.  Swimming, playing, storytelling, feeling the sun shining on them and star watching filled their days and nights.  Together they felt whole.

As is the way of the world such a relationship raised a ruckus with the river folk.  The talk began and escalated until the seed of self-doubt was planted and well tended.  Otter and Myrtle knew the way of the otter would only end badly for her and her kind.

The tone of the chit-chat changed as everyone but Otter felt good about his abandonment of such a ridiculous affection. Just as he had not been looking for love, Otter did not know he was looking for wisdom.  But it found him.  Would wisdom find Myrtle too?

There is a simple, poignant beauty to the use of language by James Howe in this story moving us along like the current on the river where his characters reside.  He captures us as love captured Otter, swift and sure, and we are glad, no eager, to see and experience every high and low this flow presents to us.  His words are like a breeze through the reeds, water tumbling over rocks, or a sudden splash.  Here is a single passage.

But then in his eyes
she saw the sparkling river reflected
and a tender and lonely heart revealed.

How is it that the seemingly childlike illustrations by Chris Raschka glow with the sophistication of a master?  Every line, every subtle shade of color, every brush stroke is full of purpose and...magic.  Watercolor and pencil in his hands fashion a soft, inviting warmth.

The jacket, cover, opening and closing endpapers, title, publication and dedication pages introduce readers to the watery wonderland and its occupants.  Two-page spreads bleeding to the edges, single pages framed in white and a final two-page spread framed in white enhance the pace of the narrative.  Eyes and mouths convey every shift in emotion.  Design and layout beckon to the reader at each turn of page.

Otter and Odder: A Love Story written by James Howe with illustrations by Chris Raschka is a story to be read and read again.  The melding of words and art is full of heart with the feel of a classic.  I love this book as much as Otter and Myrtle love each other; more than anything else or despite what anyone says.

This is a link to the publisher's website with a picture of the first page. (Click on view an inside spread.)  By following this link you can read James Howe's Author's Note.  It's well worth your time to read it.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Bringing History to Life

Everyone has a story to tell.  Our students need to tell their stories.  Every time I teach a storytelling class, particularly when I play The Apple Tree Game (students tell a short story, others try to guess if it's real or not; As I climbed the apple tree, all the apples fell on me, apple pudding, apple pie, is this story a truth or a lie?--courtesy of storyteller Doug Lipman), I am astounded by the range of experiences these young people have encountered.

Keeping this in mind I tend to be drawn to websites offering some form of digital storytelling.  Ever since I read Kelly Tenkley's post on iLearn Technology October 23, 2012 describing myHistro, I have wanted to try the site.  Creating visual histories using maps and timelines offers countless possibilities in the classroom as well as for personal documentation.

Use of this application is free.  Users can sign in with their Facebook, Geni, Foursquare or Linkedin accounts or register with a first and last name, email address and password.  You must be thirteen years old or above to use this site.

Other features of the site are:
  • can include photographs, videos and narrative
  • unlimited space, unlimited photographs and as many histories as you like
  • easy to create, add and edit
  • drag and drop tool for placing a single event in more than one story
  • three viewing options
  • simple organizational tools
  • import information from other sites
  • six languages represented
  • can embed in website or blog
  • collaboration tools
  • stories can be public or private

Upon logging in the first time you have several options.  You can toggle between the pages labeled Home, Me, Friends and Explore. On the home page you can access your Dashboard (first page), Profile, Events, Stories, Collections, Gallery, Smart-add for creating events from photos and quick add of event.  The me page is a simple list of your events and stories.  Friends is self-explanatory; they may be added from Facebook.  You can search for people or stories, popular tags and popular stories on the explore page.

Your profile page gives you access to your events and stories as well as updating profile information (photograph, as much personal as you want to include) and password change. The events and stories pages are lists of each of those items.  On the collections page are groups of stories with the same tag.  All your created stories are grouped in the gallery page.

Before beginning I scanned through the help section to get a feel for how to use this application.  I decided to create a story revolving around the historical fiction title The Water Seeker by Kimberly Willis Holt.  The story chronicles the life of Amos Kincaid, a dowser's son from 1833 to 1859 complete with a trip on the Oregon Trail.  

To begin I selected the Events page and clicked on the green Create new event button.  A new window pops up as an overlay on the page.  It asks you to name the event, give a specific date (year, month, day)(an end date can also be selected), add a narrative in bold, italics, underline, inserting a link or bulleted list, add a picture and search for a place on the map.  

After the event is created that window is closed taking you back to the original page.  When you mouse over the created events you have the option to edit, view or delete them.  Above your listed events you can search for other events or filter them by various categories.

To create a story go to that page.  When you initially register a story with your name is automatically created.  I changed my title to The Water Seeker adding a short description and image.  At this point you can add collaborators, tags, select a privacy option and comment features.  To add events to your story go to number 2.

You simply drag events from the list on the left to the story space on the right.  At this point generating a new event is also available.  You can search for events, jump to a specific date, or list your events by date or when they were created.  Mousing over individual events allows the user to edit, view or move them to the story.

When the events are added to the story they become darker and clearer on the right while appearing more faded on the left.  Click the green Save story button when you are done.  The next page is the viewing page for your story.

You can zoom in and out, play the story, see a thumbnail map of the entire storyline, view a larger map front and center which highlights single events, edit, delete or add another event to your completed story, post the story on Facebook, export it, view your tags, view a story summary and copy the embed code.  A story summary looks like this image.  When you are playing through the events in your story and wish to make use of hyperlinks, you must click on the read more button to make them active.

Your story can be shared on more than 330 social networks, emailed or printed.  There are two available embed codes; one as shown below and one where the story plays automatically.  Here is the short story I generated at this site.

While this web 2.0 application focuses on history, it could also be used to plan events in the future; similar to Tripline (reviewed here).  To tell you the truth, after I had this post finished, I could hardly get to sleep thinking about all the different stories which could be created using this website (there is an app for your iPhone also).  myHistro will definitely find a place in my virtual toolbox.

Historical events were located from the website HistoryOrb.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Turning the Pages in Anticipation Quiet

One of the many benefits of having a dog as a member of your family, is you are outside when no one else is.  Late at night or early in the morning amazing things can be seen and heard.  Without any noise, within the silence, you gain a unique sense of seeing and hearing, noticing what you might otherwise have missed.

With the demands of modern day living it's hard to gain this perspective especially when the December holiday season begins in earnest.  The talented collaboration of author Deborah Underwood and illustrator Renata Liwska who brought to readers The Quiet Book (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, April 12, 2010) and The Loud Book (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, April 4, 2011) have created another title in the series, The Christmas Quiet Book (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, October 16, 2012).  When you stop and really listen, you are truly surrounded by quiet.

Christmas is a quiet time:
Mysterious bundles quiet

With a sense of hope running high, who can blame the younger guys and gals from sneaking a peek despite running the risk of being discovered.  No matter the age who has not listened intently, fingers crossed, for those magical words, school is cancelled due to snow.  Have you ever noticed how a child layered in snow clothes makes little or no sound except for the swish, swish of nylon on nylon?

Listen, can you hear? There is quiet playing in the snow, sipping hot drinks, watching holiday performances, decorating, baking, skating, children's Christmas plays, breathing the crisp air, nighttime walks, activities in front of a cozy fire, writing, wishing and yes, even in joy.  Some days more than others, sometimes happy, sometimes sad, the stillness is there.

With the exception of the first page Deborah Underwood uses a minimal amount of words preceding quiet, a single phrase for each page, some linking together.  She truly has a gift for capturing the exact moment of quiet which may come before or after a less than silent event.  It's as if she's gathered all her childhood memories, chosen the most memorable for their hush factor and shared them with her readers.

Forgotten line quiet
Helpful whisper quiet

Drawn in pencil then colored digitally, the illustrations of Renata Liwska are charming.  The front and back jacket when opened show a line of those adorable characters from the two previous books joined together as they unwind a string of colored Christmas lights against a backdrop of dusty blue sky peppered with snowflakes.  The front and back covers done in the same blue have a single figure on each.  The front cover shows a softly-colored, brown bunny wrapping a gift; the back has another similar bunny with a hair bow opening the same present which happens to be a copy of The Loud Book.

It's in the attention given to detail that Liwska draws in her readers.  On the title page a rabbit is hanging an ornament on the second "o" in Book, the owl skating across the ice has special shaped mittens for her wing tips with the string running across her back hooking them together.  There is also a feeling of nostalgia in her drawings; when picturing the radio with two bunnies listening for the snow day news, it is the old box kind with a red line going across the station numbers, a large red dial on the front.

As in the previous two books Liwska has selected a muted color palette replete with earth tones with spots of color for accents, using red on nearly every page for added warmth.  Her creatures of forest and field have never been more endearing.  To great effect she again shifts (as she did in The Loud Book) perspective as all the animals gather around the decorated Christmas tree.  We see them as if we are looking down upon the scene.

One of my favorite pictures is of the two rabbits in front of the fireplace, stockings hung, lighted candles on the mantle.  Both have fallen asleep reading, the one in a chair, the other lying on the floor.  The characters from the open book on the floor are walking off the pages.  Perfectly precious.

The Christmas Quiet Book written by Deborah Underwood with illustrations by Renata Liwska is a gentle gem.  As a read aloud or one on one this is cozy and quiet from cover to cover.  As with the other titles, it is sure to generate a conversation about other kinds of quiet.

Links to the author and illustrator websites are embedded in their names.  Here is a link to a wonderful page created by the publisher full of information about both the author and illustrator, additional artwork, plenty of extras and ....

Christmas Quiet Kit

Monday, November 26, 2012

Move Over Apple, Here Comes Musk Ox

The use of language, the formation of words, in storytelling and how we use them, written or spoken, almost has a magical quality to it.  When you think how they can make you feel, where you can go or how attached you become to characters, real or fictional, it's astounding. This is one of the reasons I have been captivated by and motivated to collect alphabet books over the years.

Textual presentations, storylines, coupled with the pictorial interpretations are as unique as the authors and illustrators themselves.  My fifty plus collection has recently grown by another title, A Is For Musk Ox ( A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, October 16, 2012) by debut author, Erin Cabatingan with illustrations by Matthew Myers.  It would seem that Musk Ox wants to give this volume his own special twist.

Hey you,
Musk Ox!
Did you do this?
Did you eat
that apple?

Pieces of apple, a discarded core, lying about his feet, apple juice dripping from his mouth, Musk Ox is confronted by a perturbed Zebra.  Finally admitting his guilt, he tells the disgruntled Zebra that on the contrary, the book is not ruined but saved.  In fact he has the perfect solution, "a" should be for musk ox.  

Of course, Zebra believes this suggestion to be ridiculous.  Musk ox does not start with "a".  In fact, there is no "a" anywhere in those two words.  Ever persistent, ever persuasive Musk Ox has the perfect answer, a musk ox is awesome, lives in the Arctic where some of the state of Alaska is located.

Zebra relents moving on to the letter "b".  Musk Ox wants that too, claiming musk oxen fur is brown and black.  Completely disgusted at this point, Zebra says he can have "b" and "c" as well.  For Musk Ox, that is like waving a red flag at a bull; it's full steam ahead.

When there is not an actual fact to fit a letter, Musk Ox continues to enumerate his many and wonderful attributes, at least in his opinion.  Lest you think, it's smooth sailing all the way to "z" for this hooved, horned herbivore, think again.  Letters "k", "l" and "m" result in some rather testy back and forth discussions between the two characters.

To be perfectly clear not every letter representation is replaced with musk ox.  He does have some alternatives which he justifies using his own personal brand of logic.  When Musk Ox finally arrives at "z", he and Zebra finally agree but to the delight of the former and the total humiliation of the latter.  Why is Zebra chasing Musk Ox?

Told entirely in conversations between Zebra and Musk Ox, with Musk Ox taking center stage for many of the letters, Erin Cabatingan gives her characters personality with a punch.  These two don't mince words (or thoughts) having discussions loaded with attitude.  It's a game of one-upmanship in the world of alphabet.  Here is a sample passage.

U is for musk ox
Because musk oxen 
have underwool!

You said that already.

Well, what do you want
me to say? Underwear?
Some parents might
not like that.

When looking at the front cover, the first thing you notice is the cutout, the bite out of the apple, framing Musk Ox with Zebra standing, hands on hips, looking at that strip of words glued over apple.  On the back cover is Zebra's own alliterative views glued over A Is For Musk Ox because...are annoying, and always about as aggravating....  Matthew Myers colorful visuals rendered in oils on illustration board are full of expressive spunk and your-stomach-will-hurt-from-laughing-so-much humor.

A variety of pale backgrounds showcase his characters and their faces as does the changes in perspective and zooming in for close-ups.  Depending on the letter and conversation his backgrounds might mirror the narrative; bookcases in a library, snowy Arctic abode of Musk Ox complete with a recliner and television set with rabbit ears.  The excluded word is shown somewhere in the overall illustration; clown shivering outside the window of Musk Ox's home, a shattered lamp, a tiny green turtle in the snow.  Myers chooses to use a single page, half page or even a double-page spread to focus on a letter adding to the flow, creating a sense of movement.

If you're looking for an upbeat, snappy alphabet book packed with hilarity, A Is For Musk Ox written by Erin Cabatingan with paintings by Matthew Myers is a sure bet.  Reading it aloud with a voice brimming with expression, will have listeners laughing like crazy.  I can also see this working well as a reader's theater title.

Here is a link to the publisher's website for more illustrations.  If you follow the link embedded in Matthew Myers' name you can see other visuals as well as informative pages revealing his illustrative process.  Here is a link to the ARKive for Muskox.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Twitterville Talk #76

There seemed to be an extra vibrancy on Twitter this week.  People are renewed from attending conferences; those who could not attend felt like they were there from all the fantastic tweets being sent out over the wire.  More best lists of 2012 have been posted.  Enjoy and remember to take time for reading. And yes, I've hidden a giveaway in my post.

If you want to win a copy of Michael Buckley's Kel Gilligan's Daredevil Stunt Show illustrated by Dan Santat, head over to this blog post.  You are asked to share one of your child's daredevil moments in the comment section.  Out of the comments the top five best answers will be selected.  The deadline is November 30, 2012.

Many thanks to ABRAMS Kids for this tweet and opportunity.

This is wonderful news for younger readers, Relaunching Nerdy Book Club Jr.  

Thanks to Christopher Lehman, author and educator for this tweet.

There have been outstanding essays this week about the importance of the picture book.  They are written by Emma Quay, Kat Yeh, Dan Santat, Pat Mora, Adam Rex, Sean Qualls and E. B. Lewis.

Many thanks to Dianne de Las Casas for the tweets and for November Picture Book Month A Celebration!

Candlewick Press continues their showcase of We Believe In Picture Books! with a video of the renowned Rosemary Wells at work in her studio.

Thanks for this year long focus and this tweet goes out to Candlewick Press.

Kirkus Reviews announced their Best Children's Books of 2012 this past week.  These 100 titles are an amazing collection of the best offered this year.  The first person to name the male illustrator with two titles on this list will receive a copy of his most recent book.

Thanks to Colby Sharp, 4th grade teacher in Michigan and blogger at sharpread for this tweet.

If you missed A Conversation with Patrick Ness Webinar Tweetchat Archive, please follow this link.

Thanks to southeast publisher's rep Teresa Rolfe Travtin for this tweet and compiling this archive.

Don't miss #titletalk hosted by Colby Sharp and Donalyn Miller tomorrow night on Twitter.  The topic will be Best Books of 2012 and how we use reviews and lists with our students.  It begins at 8PM EST.

Thanks to Donalyn Miller, educator and author of The Book Whisperer for this tweet.

John Schumacher, teacher librarian, 2011 Library Journal Movers & Shakers, and blogger at Watch. Connect. Read. has updated his book release calendar.  In the kidlit world there is nothing better than knowing when the next great book will be having a birthday.

What Book Are You Most Thankful For This Year is an essay by Mr. Schu that is a must read.

Thanks to Mr. Schu for this terrific resource and project and for these tweets.

Until December 4, 2012 users can stream both parts of Ken Burns' The Dust Bowl.  If you've read Karen Hesse's Out of the Dust or use it in your classrooms, this is a resource not to be missed.

Thanks to PBS for this tweet.

8 Reasons Owning A Dog Is Good For You (Xena made me put this in here. It's a great photo essay.  Plus if you've been contemplating finding your new best friend, this will head you in the right direction.)

Thanks to HuffPost Books for this tweet.

Infographic: "Christmas Around The World"  is a resource courtesy of Larry Ferlazzo of Larry Ferlazzo's Websites of the Day...

Here is another great list of books, PaperTigers 10th Anniversary Extra! Top 10 Multi-Cultural Picture books by Cynthia Leitich

Thanks to PaperTigersOrg for this tweet.

Here are some of my favorite quotes and thoughts gathered from this week.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Princess? I Think Not!

It's hard to believe twelve years have come and gone since the world was first introduced to one of the spunkiest pigs to hit the picture book scene.  Olivia (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, October 2000), written and illustrated by Ian Falconer, named after his niece, garnered a 2001 Caldecott Honor award.   Five picture books, several board books, an inspirational quotes book and even a paper theater later, her popularity continues to grow.

What draws readers to this one-of-a-kind porcine personality is her indomitable spirit, her deep desire to be her own unique self and her attitude to not just do something, but to do it bigger and better than anyone else; not because it's a competition but because that's who she is.  Never have these qualities been more manifest than they are in the newest title, Olivia and the Fairy Princesses (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, August 28, 2012).  Olivia has a problem and readers follow along as she reaches a solution that is the essence of Olivia.

Olivia was depressed.

Proclaiming to her family that she is having an identity crisis, not knowing what she should be, her father reminds her she will always be his little princess.  But from Olivia's viewpoint this is the problem, a capital B I G problem. It seems being a princess is on all girls' minds.

At the last birthday gathering she was surrounded by a sea of pink tutus, miniature crowns and star-topped wands.  As readers know Olivia is not a pink kind of person much preferring her splashes of red or sporting an outfit better suited to her sense of fashion for the moment.  At the school recital everyone wants to be the fairy princess ballerina but not Olivia.

Having outgrown her own desire to be a ballerina, she would rather mirror the movements of modern dance.  As bath and bedtime approach Olivia continues to lament her circumstances to her ever tolerant mother reminding her of her Halloween costume as a warthog rather than conforming to the pink princess crowd.  Olivia cannot understand why everyone wants to be the same.

Bedtime fairy tales add fuel to the flame until her mother, losing patience at this point, tells her the story of The Little Match Girl.  An active imagination keeps our favorite pig from falling asleep in her mother's desired five minute time frame.  What can I be? Maybe this? Or that? Or how about?  And then the solution pops into her mind in all its brilliance.  As usual Olivia aims high, all the way to the top.

Ian Falconer's storytelling is driven by his characters' attributes, their dialogue and thoughts.  He injects humor throughout in Olivia's questions and in her responses to situations and events.  At times a single sentence can pack a powerful punch.  His introduction of words outside the realm of a normal picture book reader's vocabulary is a plus.  This statement of her clothing worn to the party is Olivia in a nutshell.

"I choose a simple French sailor shirt, matador pants,
 black flats, a strand of pearls, sunglasses, a red bag,
 and my gardening hat."

Enhancing the focus of the storyline Ian Falconer chooses to have not even the slightest hint of red on his jacket and matching cover for this title.  The endpapers are done in a pale pink with a darker shade of pink stars scattered over the pages.  The title page is a reverse repeat of the cover, Olivia clearly not happy with what she sees in the mirror.

Portraying the depth of Olivia's dilemma, Falconer opens with her lying on her back, arms outstretched dressed in her signature red and white striped, one piece pajamas with Harry, the family dog, and Edwin, the family cat, watching on the sidelines.  Rendering all the illustrations in charcoal and gouache with liberal use of white space Falconer places them across two pages, a single page, double or multiple insets on a page, and oval vignettes in black and white with added bright colors for accent. For Halloween, night and the fairy tale page he uses darker shading as a background to create atmosphere.  As in other titles a photographic image is used.

Without a doubt Ian Falconer's pigs and their expressions are priceless but none more so than Olivia.  Olivia and the Fairy Princesses is a fresh breath of independence in word and pictures.  Follow the link attached to Ian Falconer to access the official Olivia website.  This is a link to Ian Falconer: By The Book, The New York Times, Sunday Book Review.  Publishers Weekly did a Q & A with Ian Falconer.  Both interviews were done this past August.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.  For those true blue fans check out these pages of Olivia fabric creations here and here.  Who knew she had her own fabric line?

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving Treasures-Tradition #2

Last year in a post on Thanksgiving Day I spoke about two treasured titles I read every year for this day set aside to express our gratitude.  The first is The Greatest Table:  A Banquet to Fight Against Hunger (Harcourt Brace & Company, 1996) written and edited by Michael J. Rosen.  The other is Simple Gifts (Henry Holt and Company, 1998) by Chris Raschka.

This year the two titles I've chosen are lighthearted, full of fun, family and food.
The Most Thankful Thing (Scholastic, 2004) written by Lisa McCourt with illustrations by Cyd Moore explores an afternoon conversation with a mother and daughter while looking at a scrapbook.  A simple meal takes on huge proportions when the guests keep coming in Sitting Down to Eat (August House LittleFolk, 1996) by Bill Harley with illustrations by Kitty Harvill.

One morning, I found Mama sitting real still, all by herself.  Mama never did that.

Replying that she is thinking about all for which she is grateful, her daughter wants to know the one thing for which she is most thankful.  Of course the mother knows the answer to that right away, as readers will too, but she asks her daughter to guess.  Knowing all her mother's best moments are stored in her scrapbook, they sit down to peruse through the pages.

Summer camp, a soccer team championship, a guitar solo in a concert, yearbook editor, prom night, college play, first job and marriage are simply not Mama's most thankful thing whenever she's asked the question.  Even if each of them lead to bigger and better opportunities, they cannot compare to the most thankful thing.  Guessing this must be something pretty special, the daughter gives up and Mama...she gives in saying the final word, "Forevermore".

Using the tried and true format of her successful Stinky Face series Lisa McCourt provides a warm atmosphere of questions and answers between a mother and her daughter.  There is a comforting rhythm to the repetition of asking, commenting and the exaggerated probable future for each portion of the scrapbook.  McCourt's dialogue between the two demonstrates her gift of knowing family dynamics in a loving relationship.

Colorful, animated illustrations (watercolor?) loaded with life and laughter by Cyd Moore not only compliment but enhance the storyline provided by McCourt.  Her attention to detail and characters' expressions are delightful.  Two page spreads, single pages and small photographic insets create a pleasing arrangement; many times with the black background found in scrapbooks complete with photo corners and white writing along the edges.

I was sitting down to eat, 
just about to begin,
when someone knocked on the door and said,
"Can I come in?"

A young boy is about to start his snack, opening the door what should he see, but an elephant.  This giant in the world of animals wants to share his meal.  Inviting him in, they are about to begin eating when there is another knock at the door.

And so it goes from one to nine.  Each knock adds another animal to the meal; elephant, tiger, bear, lion, hippo, rhinoceros, blue whale and crocodile are dining together.  The final knock, the ninth knock, reveals a very small caterpillar.  Will there be room or a big BOOM?

Bill Harley, songwriter and storyteller, a true master of both, has created a cumulative tale filled with critters having cravings, cravings for treats.  At each knock of the door a rhyming conversation follows until the next visitor arrives.  The rhymes flow creating a beat and...each dialogue ends with a thank you before the newest arrival sits down to eat.

When I opened up the door, what did I see?
It was a great big elephant looking at me!
I said, "Oh no! What can I do?"
"If you've got enough for one," she said,
"you've got enough for two."

Cut paper collage illustrations skillfully arranged by illustrator Kitty Harvill, light up the storyline from cover to cover.  Various treats, popcorn, donuts, ice cream sundaes, Popsicles, pizza and cookies are scattered across warm orange endpapers.  A friendly, playfulness is evident on the faces of her animals and in their posture seated around the table.  Texture is added through her color selection and paper choices.  I really like the detail of the number of candles on the cake growing as more animals come to the boy's home.

These two titles are guaranteed to bring smiles and laughter.  Both make for a great read aloud, but Sitting Down to Eat is so much fun to do with voices and audience participation.  Be sure to follow the embedded links.

Twitterville Talk, Special Thanksgiving Mini-Edition

Happy Thanksgiving to each and every one of you.  There have been some great tweets this week that I am simply going to embed in this post for you to follow at your leisure.  Some are resources, a great gratitude essay and a little humor.  Enjoy and as always make time for reading. To show my appreciation for everyone who takes the time to stop by and visit my blog I'm giving away a copy of The Adventures of Nanny Piggins by R. A. Spratt with illustrations by Dan Santat to the first person in the comment section that can name the president of the United States that set the final date for observing this holiday along with the year this was done and why it was done.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Image Annotations

Back in August, August 16, 2012 to be specific, Richard Byrne of Free Technology for Teachers featured a web 2.0 application in a blog post.  His post was quickly followed by praise for using this service in the classroom by Larry Ferlazzo of Larry Ferlazzo's Websites of the Day...  Any mention or endorsement by these two is cause for checking out a website.

Szoter provides users with the ability to annotate uploaded images, screenshots and webcam captures.  Free of charge it requires no registration or login.  You can use Szoter online or download a free Adobe Air Desktop version.

To run Szoter you need Adobe Flash Player 10.  If you wish to use the screenshot feature you will need to make sure Java Runtime is installed.  When accessing the home page you can toggle back and forth between the Introduction, Features and Showcase which is a four-minute-plus video presentation of how it works sans sound.

Click the Launch The Szoter Online red button in the lower left hand corner to begin.  You are first asked if you would like to:

  • load a local image
  • capture camera image
  • make a screenshot
  • load from URL.

I began by uploading an image from my computer, a book cover from the new title, Frankenstein: a Monstrous Parody written and illustrated by Ludworst Bemonster.  This image appears in the center of the work space.  In the corners of the work space, left to right, top to bottom, you can use tiny icons to move cropping frame, zoom the canvas in and out, fit the frame to content, reset frame size, remove all objects and the size of your image is given.  There are also small arrows in all the corners and in the center of each side which allow you to fit the frame to the image.

In the top center of your image another series of icons allow you to crop it , flip it (mirror view), switch it top to bottom, and change its position through a series of rotations.  On the left-hand side is a vertical toolbar offering the following options (all but the top one have keyboard commands which can be used):
  • select mode
  • scale/rotate
  • draw shape
  • draw line
  • draw frame
  • draw circle
  • draw arrow
  • add text
  • remove selected
  • change size (of a selected item)
  • undo
  • redo.

Anytime one of these items is added to the canvas they can be altered just as the image is to get the position exactly as you want. By clicking on the item a frame appears along with the flip and rotate icons.

An item can also be re-positioned by clicking and dragging.  If you wish to edit your text box, simply double click.  On the right-hand side of your work space is another vertical tool bar which allows for color changes and the moving of items to the front, back, up or down in relation to the other objects on the canvas.

In the upper right-hand corner is the third tool bar.  From there images can be uploaded, captured from your webcam, created with a screenshot or from a URL.  Your completed Szoter can be saved to your computer or published and shared.

When you click the publish and share button a smaller window pops up over your canvas.  It gives your creation a unique URL, the ability to share on Digg, Twitter or Facebook, HTML image code, HTML link code and a URL message board image link.  Here are two canvases I created.



A couple of important things to note when you are creating a canvas are:   if you add anything outside the frame around your image, you need to expand that frame to include those added items and you might need to resize the canvas, using the zoom in and out option and adjusting the frame, as a whole for it to fit on your blog or website.  The HTML embed code does not give you the ability to resize the image by adjusting a width or height number.  Also when you save a canvas to your computer you will need to add a file type (.jpg, .gif, .tif, .png).  Szoter does not do that automatically.

Uploading an image using a URL worked very well.  When I attempted to use the Szoter helper coupled with Java Runtime to take a screenshot I was informed that the application's digital signature had expired.  I did not proceed on that basis.  When I tried to use my webcam both in Google Chrome and Internet Explorer I could not get the image to transfer to the canvas.

With those observations being noted, I still think as a simple tool for annotating images uploaded directly from your computer or online using a URL, Szoter is a good application.  Not needing to register or login is a huge bonus in my book especially for younger students.  A further advantage is the unique URL you are given allows you to access and edit the initial canvas.

After you have entered in the URL, you are taken to a screen like this image.  Notice the small square orange icon with a pencil in the upper left-hand corner.  By clicking on that icon you are taken back to the original canvas to make any changes.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

For A Job Well Done...

When you've lived your entire life in the State of Michigan, chances are you will either be on, in or by water much of your life.  Countless hours walking beaches, swimming until your skin turns prune-like, tracking freighters or strolling through marinas are the order of the day in more seasons than one.  Sailboats, kayaks, canoes, pontoons, small fishing boats and even a 1957 wooden Chris Craft have been a part of my boating life.

To be sure looking across the water, no matter the expanse, watching boats of every conceivable shape and size capable of a myriad of tasks, is not only interesting but for me peaceful.  It's also a way of imagining who or what might be on those boats or from where they've come or are going.  Stephen Savage, illustrator of Lauren Thompson's Polar Bear Night (Scholastic Press, 2004) and author/illustrator of Where's Walrus? (Scholastic Press, 2011)(reviewed here) showcases for younger readers possibilities in his newest title, Little Tug (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press).

Meet Little Tug.

As readers are introduced to this cheerful, little red tugboat passing by the green light buoy, he is greeting the day as dawn colors the sky.  Sailboats, powerboats and ocean liners all are more than he is in height, speed and size.  He just keeps chugging along as if he knows something special, perhaps his place in this watery world.

But what can a sailboat do with no wind? What happens when the motor no longer goes on a powerboat? Traversing the harbor can be pretty tricky for those huge sea vessels.

Bright-eyed, grinning from bow to stern Little Tug knows exactly what he can do and he does it.  As the sun sets in the background after a day of pulling, pushing and guiding, one cheerful, little red tugboat is clearly feeling the effects of his hard day's work.  The tallest, fastest, and largest each repay his efforts with a kindness of their own as stars come out and the crescent moon rises.

With a minimal amount of text, easily understandable by the youngest of listeners and readers, Stephen Savage tells his tale.  He presents to readers the advantages of height, speed and size as well as the predicaments which may arise.  Through his word choices, taking readers through a day in the life of Little Tug, he paves the way for showing it's not about focusing on what you lack but how you use what you have to benefit those around you.

Unlike Polar Bear Night done using linocuts printed on bleached rice paper using water-based inks or the artwork...drawn and created in Adobe Illustrator for Where's Walrus?, Little Tug according to an interview with Stephen Savage in Publishers Weekly was drawn in charcoal.  Savage desired to add warmth to these illustrations which he accomplished to perfection.  Except for the title page white is used only to accent detail in the text and illustrations thus enhancing the mood of the story.

All of the visuals extend across two pages bleeding to the edges beginning with the publication information and dedication pages showing a port cityscape, a lighted bridge in the foreground, as the tiny red form of Little Tug glides over the water at night's end.  The small touches of animation on the boats, eyes, mouths, and mustache on the tall ship, endear readers to the characters.  Savage employs a color palette appropriate to a tale on the water but includes other shades to continue with the cozy feel of the book, pink, red, coral and salmon.  Little details, motions lines, shading, and the reflection of the sailboat in a calm sea, accentuate the overall storyline.

Stephen Savage's adept use of language and softly, textured illustrations in Little Tug reach out to readers; you want to hold it in your arms and give it a hug.  I encourage you to follow the link to Savage's website embedded in his name above as well as the interview linked to Publishers Weekly.  This link is to the publisher's website highlighting more illustrations from the book.  Head over to Watch. Connect. Read. to get the inside scoop on a Skype visit another teacher librarian had with Stephen Savage as well as Mr. Schu's comments about this title.

Monday, November 19, 2012

So Says The Top Dog

Sometimes according to a plan but sometimes quite unexpectedly, they come into our lives.  They speak one language, we another.  We read everything we can to bridge the communication gap, they read nothing.  The best points (or those that work) from what we've read, we remember, not really understanding why one is better than another.

Even after more than twelve years, spending every day but a handful with my chocolate lab, there are still moments beyond my human comprehension.  But...there are facts to be heard, truths to be shared, straight from the mouth of one marvelous mutt.  It's a Dog's Life:  How Man's Best Friend Sees, Hears, and Smells the World (Flash Point, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press) as written by Susan E. Goodman with illustrations by David Slonim tells it like it is.

Pssst, kid! Over here!
Do you like dogs? Sure you do.  We're man's best friend, right?
But how many of your other best friends lick your face? Lick themselves? Or roll in dead animals?

So begins the inside story on some of the more closely guarded secrets of the dog world.  Back in the day when caves were humans' cozy abodes, dogs decided the free food tossed their way was much easier than chasing down something wild.  They were absolutely content to bark away any would be challengers.  It was a win-win partnership.

As civilization expanded so did the duties expected of these four-footed friends.  Humans mixed and matched dogs enhancing one characteristic over another.  Over hundreds of years the number of breeds grew as did the canines of no particular breed at all.

Dogs' sense of hearing, seeing and smelling is well suited to their place in the animal kingdom making them appear extraordinary compared to us, which in many respects they are.  Who knew that bat sounds we cannot hear sound like jackhammers to them or their limited color spectrum is due to a past of hunting at dawn and dusk?  When is comes to the slightest movement, any change in the immediate scenery, they know...always.

As to the nose knowing, dogs are at the top of the heap. Every single scent is code to them with their smell cells numbering 44 million times more than ours.  Whew!  That really ups the phew factor.

Barks, growls and tail wags each give clues to the careful observer. Whether it's needing a leader of the pack, eating standing up, tasting or rolling in yucky stuff or enjoying a breezy ride in the car, it's all for a utterly understandable reason...if you're a dog.  Unlike some of their human counterparts a dog is never too old to learn new tricks.

If a dog could and would take the time to talk with you one-on-one about the ins and outs of their history, how they see, hear, smell, taste or convey moods and messages, then author Susan E. Goodman has the lingo pegged perfectly.  Facts are woven into the conversation in a confiding tone as if your best bud decided to let you in on the scoop of the century.  Humorous undertones add tail-waggin' goodness to the straightforward, no-nonsense delivery.

Here is a single passage.

As far as noses are concerned, yours stink--compared to ours, that is.
No wonder you're always looking for your sneakers instead of just smelling
them under your bed. Or asking, "Have you seen my lunchbox?" Believe
me, we know where that is.

Illustrator David Slonim begins lending his own special brand of hilarity to this book on the jacket and covers with detailed, added wit such as the tag on the dog's collar reading, JUST THE FACTS, NONE OF THE FLEAS on the front and with the final sentence in the letter to Dear Human...Whatever you do, don't show it to the cat. on the back.  Who can resist the goofy expression of the main mutt, Joe, narrating?  In fact the expressions on all the dogs and characters throughout, are funnier than funny.

The text is further enriched with his speech bubbles and thought balloons; a chihuahua poised on top of a crawling baby nose down to the diaper thinking, How about that? She's started to eat onions!  Varied image size and placement add to the upbeat rhythm of the facts.  It's his interpretations of a single sentence or passage that will have readers bursting out in laughter.

It's a Dog's Life: How Man's Best Friend Sees, Hears, and Smells the World is essential reading for dog lover's but can be enjoyed by any reader for the interesting presentation of facts through author Susan E. Goodman's special brand of writing and the comic illustrations of David Slonim.  After Joe, the mutt, completes his portion there are four pages devoted to a human point of view.  Goodman follows with an explanation of the spark that prompted this title including a bibliography of her favorite books on this topic.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Twitterville Talk #75

As I have noted before the incredible passion of the people for books, reading and libraries as well as using technology to the best possible advantage who I follow and who follow me on Twitter, never ceases to amaze me.  The constant connections are incredible.  Last week I did a giveaway that was hard for people to find.  I thought about making it more obvious this week but then decided to deliberately hide it this week.  Have fun.  Enjoy my picks of the week and make time for reading. 

Mark your calendars there's another #SharpSchu book club coming up on December 12, 2012.  I can think of no better way to close out the year.  Make sure you're ready by reading those books selected by Mr. Colby Sharp, teacher in Michigan and blogger at sharpread and Mr. John Schumacher, teacher librarian, Library Journal Movers & Shakers 2011, and blogger at Watch. Connect. Read.

Thanks to Mr. Colby Sharp for this tweet.

There continue to be amazing posts at the November Picture Book Month A Celebration! by outstanding  authors/illustrators in the field.  Here are only two.  Why Picture Books Are Important by Peter H. Reynolds

Why Picture Books Are Important by Jon Scieszka

Many thanks to Diane de Las Casas for these tweets and for making her passion a reality.

 A Quiz about Shel Silverstein will test what you thought you knew about this author.

Now this is the kind of news you like to read about--Scholastic will be donating one million, yes, one million books to the schools and libraries in the tri-state area hit by Hurricane Sandy.

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

This book arrived in my mail this week.  I can hardly wait to begin reading, Fairy Tales from The Brothers Grimm: A New English Version by Philip Pullman.  Listen to his interview at NPR---Philip Pullman Rewrites The Brothers Grimm.  The first person to tell me the names of the Grimm brothers in the comment section will win a copy of A Rock Is Lively by Dianne Hutts Aston with illustrations by Sylvia Long.

Thanks to NPR Books for this tweet.

She's done it again;  Librarian Preview: Harper Collins (Spring 2013) courtesy of Elizabeth (Betsy) Bird, New York Public Library's Youth Materials Collections Specialist and blogger at A Fuse #8 Production.

Thanks to Betsy Bird for this tweet and for her amazing blog.

The people in the Department of Chemistry, University of Kentucky have been busy.  Check out The Periodic Table of Comic Books.

Thanks to Richard Byrne of Free Technology for Teachers.

This video, Get Reading! 2012 Animation is well worth watching and possibly using in your classrooms.

Many thanks to Melissa Taylor, blogger at Imagination Soup for this tweet.

Something to think about---Facebook Psychology---is addiction affecting our minds---Infographic  

Thanks to author and social media strategist  Greg Pincus for this tweet.

Mr. Schu has a knack for finding book trailers as soon as they are released and we are the beneficiaries.  This is a new book trailer for Oh, No! by Candace Fleming with illustrations by Eric Rohmann.

This is a link to the website for Goblin Secrets by William Alexander, winner of the National Book Award.

Thanks to John Schumacher, teacher librarian, Library Journal Movers & Shakers 2011 and blogger at Watch. Connect. Read for these tweets.

The newest episode (#6) on Patrick Carman Intersect with Jeremy Gonzalez  is with author, Lauren Oliver.  

Thanks to Patrick Carman for this tweet reminding us of this new resource.

In case you missed it---A Conversation with Patrick Ness Webinar Tweetchat Archive.

Thanks to Teresa Rolfe Kravtin, SE Indie Rep for this tweet and post.

There are so many resources for exploration here---Symbaloo Gallery Thanksgiving

Thanks to teacher librarian Shannon Miller and blogger at Van Meter Library Voice.

The Best of the Book Lists 2012 has been compiled by Random House Kids.  

Thanks for this tweet and the list of lists.

This is Jarrett J. Krosoczka, author/illustrator of the Lunch Lady series of graphic novels, numerous picture books and with a new chapter book on the way.  Do not miss watching this video.  It will inspire you and touch your heart.
Thanks to Jarrett J. Krosoczka for this tweet and this TEDx talk and video.

National Book Award Winners Announced

Thanks to HuffPostBooks for this tweet.

Parents' Choice has announced their Fall Awards for Books.  This is a wonderful selection.

This essay written by Crescent Dragonwagon about her mother, Charlotte Zolotow, is part of The Horn Book celebration of Picture Book Month.  Please take the time to read Over and Over.

Thanks to The Horn Book for this tweet.

These are a few of my favorite quotes and thoughts from Twitter this week.