Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, February 28, 2013

For The Very First Time...

People, no matter their age, feel an attraction to, sometimes even the need to protect, baby animals. (Maybe not mosquitoes but you know what I mean.)  It's a frequent sight in my community surrounded by lakes for traffic to stop for a line of new "quackers" trailing behind mama, reminiscent of Robert McCloskey's Make Way for Ducklings. In the morning or early evening it's not uncommon, looking out the back windows of the library at the elementary school, to see deer including fawns in the spring.  If this happens during classes, twenty plus faces, noses pressed against the glass, will be oohing and aahing.

I was moved to tears when present at the birth of puppies; a marvelous miracle to watch.  For those without access to these events Steve Jenkins and his wife, Robin Page have collaborated in a new book, My First Day (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children).  Within thirty-two pages readers are introduced to twenty-two newborns.

What did you do on your first day---the day you were born?

As the introduction reveals, animals may be completely helpless, in need of some assistance or on their own as soon as they are born.  We start in New Zealand with the the kiwi, who after breaking forth from an egg, is ready for the world.  Traveling to the Russian Far East, we discover Siberian tigers are born with their eyes closed, dependent on their mothers.  With a habitat ranging over North America wood ducks climb out of the nest, jump from unbelievable heights to walk and swim right away.

From Africa to Antarctica to the North Pacific to oceans throughout the world, on to South America, then to Australia, and stopping over in the Arctic regions, we visit to find the first day facts of the known and not-so-well known animals on our planet. Readers are probably familiar with giraffes, emperor penguins, sea otters, zebras and polar bears.  How many have heard of a blue wildebeest, a sifaka, a Mexican free-tailed bat, a megapode or Darwin's frog?

You can't help but be intrigued by knowing a mother zebra memorizes the stripes on her baby to find them in a herd of thousands or by the baby megapode born in a huge pile of leaves who can walk, run and fly once they find their way out.  It's interesting to note other stand-out features of the animals selected for this title; the kiwi lays one, and only one, huge egg, the Siberian tiger is the largest living big cat in the world, sea otters are the smallest marine mammal in the world, and the leatherback sea turtle is the biggest on our planet.  These facts are not all mentioned in this title but when nonfiction is well presented, as this is, it invites further investigation.

Jenkins and Page devote one or two sentences to each animal beginning nearly all of them with

On my first day, ...

The intended audience will feel a kinship with each creature as they speak in their own voice.  The array of first day experiences are as different or similar as the animals themselves.

Winning a Caldecott Honor Award in 2004 for What Do You Do With a Tail Like This? brought further attention to the notable torn and cut-paper collage used by Jenkins for his illustrations.  On the jacket and cover, mirror images of one another, readers see a baby muntjac nestled among leaves hoping to remain undetected.  The back asks the question, What did you do on your first day?, words above and beneath an adult and baby Darwin's frog (green on rusty red). Plain sky blue endpapers open and close the body of the book.

Each animal is given a different colored background, setting, highlighting their physical characteristics.  The details, eyelashes, reflections in the eyes, feathers, fur, shading on the bodies or surroundings, is astounding in its intricacy and accuracy.  As in other titles the text placement within the pictures is like concrete poetry imitating the actions depicted by the words.

As an introduction to animals in our world, My First Day written and illustrated by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page is highly informative and engaging in the best possible way, stunning visuals and the kind of facts children (of all ages) will want to know.  As a one-on-one or as a class read aloud I can think of no better new title in this subject area.  More facts, small paragraphs with thumbnail illustrations, about each of the animals are included at the end.

For further study of the animal kingdom head over to ARKive reviewed here on the blog or the kids section of the National Geographic web site.

For additional information on the work of Steve Jenkins there are several videos and slideshows at Teaching Books.net.  Here is an earlier interview of Jenkins at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  This is a link to Steve Jenkins Science Is Fun! A cross-curricular guide to books by Steve Jenkins developed by the publisher.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

On Deck...

Finding an uncomplicated presentation tool is a huge positive.  Early in the fall of 2012 a new web 2.0 application was made available.  In fact, when you access the home page of the web site these words in big bold letters greet the user:  The Easiest Way to Present Online.

Free of charge, Rvl.io offers:

  • easy editing
  • can be viewed on mobile devices
  • multiple themes and transitions
  • default setting is private but can be published for all to see
  • presentations can be exported and
  • option to tweak HTML code if editor does not meet your expectations.
In reading the terms of service there does not appear to be any age limitations but I would still acquire parent/guardian approval for those users 13 years and under.  The home page contains recently published and popular right now presentations for users of the site.

Click the green Get Started button to begin use.  You log in with your OpenID, Google, Yahoo! or AOL account.  Upon logging in you are taken to a new window asking for a user name. Your next window is where the fun begins.

When you mouse over the New Deck button in the upper right-hand corner it turns green for the go-ahead.  When selected the next window asks for a Presentation Title.  With the title chosen you can add your slides.

Across the top of your work space is a tool bar with the following options:

  • bold, italics or underline for text
  • left, center, right or justified margins
  • numbered or bulleted lists
  • eleven font styles
  • nine format sizes
  • text color
  • change background color (text)
  • add an image using a URL
  • upload an image
  • add and remove a link and
  • access HTML code.
Along the right-hand side you can Save, Preview, Publish, change your Settings (theme and transition) and Export the presentation.  Beneath this list is a plus sign.  Click on this to add a slide.  Slides can be added horizontally or vertically.  If you wish to delete a slide, a red "x" is located in the upper left-hand corner of each for that purpose.

Images loaded with ease using both the URL and upload options.  Text color and size could be adjusted once it was highlighted.  When adding links make sure to remove the http:// so there are not two when you add your link or it won't work.  When you click on the HTML button on the far right of the tool bar, you can quickly add code from a YouTube video.  

After I added the text, images and links I selected Settings on the right-hand side.  There are six different themes and transitions.  You can choose combinations and preview until you get it just right.

I decided to Publish my presentation making it public.  After I clicked on the button to accomplish that task I selected the arrow in the upper left-hand corner which takes you to your presentations.  At the next window mouse over the small button with Publish on it.

When you do this, two buttons appear in the lower right-hand corner allowing you to Edit or Unpublish.  If you click the Publish button you are taken to a new window.  At this window four small icons beneath your slide deck, left to right, give you the options of viewing in full screen, commenting, sharing or editing.

When you click Share a small window pops up with a unique URL for your presentation and a HTML code for embedding in a blog or web site.  You can also use Facebook, Twitter or Google + to share your slide deck with others.  If any comments are made, they, too, can be shared on Facebook or Twitter.

Without a doubt I have another great web 2.0 application to store in my virtual toolbox.  It meets all the requirements for ease of use with students.  I highly recommend using Rvl.io .  Here is my sample.

I discovered Rvl.io from a tweet by Heather Moorefield, Education Librarian at Virginia Tech and former chair of the AASL Best Websites for Teaching and Learning.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

From The Ground Up...

When I was growing up my Dad who worked as a carpenter for years as his first job, made sure I had the fundamentals of hammer, nails, nuts, bolts, saw, pliers and wrench use down pat.  It came in handy when in 1976 after acquiring twenty acres of wooded property outside a city in northern Michigan, my husband and I found ourselves building our own home.  We each had our own chain saws to clear an area for the house; cutting down dozens of trees which provided heat in our wood stove for years.

A crew dug the basement and laid the foundation, drilled the well and put in the septic system.  We had hired a construction crew but when my husband found their work to be less than plumb, with the framing barely started, they were dismissed and we proceeded to finish the home ourselves.  We lived in a tent until it became too cold, then moved to one room in a motel.  Working at jobs and building a house with the remaining time each day is an experience I will never forget.  Looking back, I can't believe we did it.

For this reason (among others) after reading a post at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast about a new Jonathan Bean title, I knew I had to have it.  Building Our House (Farrar Straus Giroux) is written and illustrated to honor his family and is founded on his own parents building a house for their family.  As his parents painstakingly built the home step by step, Jonathan Bean builds this story picture by picture, word by word.

Today is moving day.  We left our old house in the city and are moving to the country.

Told in the voice of his older sister we follow the Bean family as their resourcefulness and spirit of self-sufficiency guide them on their adventure.  A field purchased from a farmer at the end of a dirt road is the site for a home they will build.  Tools, plans, Mom, Dad, a younger brother and a truck named Willys arrive ready to begin.

Essentials, running water and electricity, are first and foremost followed by the arrival of a small trailer.  The family of four will live in this small home on wheels while we build our new house.  Working together with the help of Willys materials are gathered; wood, rocks, sand and stone are piled about the field.

Grandpa provides the backhoe for digging the basement, the family builds forms for the foundation filling them with those collected items, then Mom measures and Dad cuts beams.  People, extended family, friends and neighbors, come for a frame-raising day and party.  Knowing winter is not far away as summer days grow cooler, the little family works harder than ever.

Siding, windows, floors, a door, roof, and chimney are pieced around the frame fashioned by many.  As snow and wind swirl outside, the house becomes more whole as the inside is filled with plumbing, electrical wires, insulation and walls shape rooms.  The seasons shift bringing a new addition and a very special day, moving day.  Family of five...house...home...contented, happy hearts...

There is no other way to describe the writing and illustrating of this book other than as a labor of love. The narrative voice is youthful, matter-of-fact but observant noting parental axioms and day-to-day details of the construction process.  Readers will notice the word choice, placement and pacing provide a certain soothing rhythm not unlike that of the house's changes through the months.  Here are a couple of selected sentences from one of my favorite parts.

On a clear, cold night Dad sets the corners of the foundation by the North Star.  One wall will face north to ward off the wind, one east to welcome the morning, one south to soak in the sun, and one west to see out the day.

From pencil sketches, to ink and watercolor, the pictures by Jonathan Bean are individual masterpieces, small captured moments in his family's life.  An identical jacket and cover feature a close-up of the building in progress on the front while the back shows the completed home in the early evening, lights in the windows.  Opening endpapers in tones of tan provide a vista of the countryside as it was before their arrival.  The same colors are used in the closing endpapers but the home, shed, gardens, laundry on a clothesline, a tree house and a foal with the horse in the farmer's field have been added to the original scene.

A heavier matte-finished paper adds to the warmth of the visuals which begin the story on the title page showing the family loading Willys up for the move into the country.  Some of the illustrations extend across two pages, edge to edge,  while others are smaller as the steps in the process are related; these having rounded edges as an invitation to the reader.  Still more pages are a series of pictures blended together as if links on a chain with the text woven among them.

With every viewing more details can be noticed; details adding to the life-affirming nature of the venture, a dream fulfilled through determination and love.  A cat appearing at their arrival is adopted and has kittens.  A tiny evergreen tree is placed on the peak of the roof after the frame-raising. During a rain storm Mom is holding an umbrella for Dad as his works on the roof; the children seeking shelter beneath the overturned wheel barrow.  Despite all the hub-bub a groundhog continues to build his home nearby as the months pass. It's these little things that contribute to this title's excellence.

Jonathan Bean in writing and illustrating Building Our House has invited readers into his past; a past filled with the best kind of memories, a cherished childhood.  This beautiful book in addition to being featured at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast (the array of artwork in various stages is a must see) is showcased at Kirkus and at The Horn Book here and here.  Make sure this title is on your must- purchase list.  You'll want to read it again and again.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Out Of The Land...

Whatever form it may take, there is nothing good about the word slavery; conjuring visions of horror in a person's mind when it is read or heard.  Thinking of one human stripping another of their basic freedoms; forcing them to live under the absolute control of another is unthinkable.  More than three thousand years ago, people numbering in the hundreds of thousands were freed from the bonds of slavery by a series of unprecedented events.

The deliverance of the Israelites from their oppression under the Pharaoh's rule in Egypt is observed by the Jewish people each year during Passover.  Last week during the #SharpSchu book club hosted on Twitter, books written by Laurel Snyder were the topic of discussion.  Her new picture book The Longest Night: A Passover Story (Schwartz & Wade Books) with illustrations by Catia Chien was part of the hour's conversation.  At one point Laurel Snyder said of this title, Jewish books are something I feel strongly about. I do them when I find what feels like a "hole" in canon.

Every morning with the light...
Came another day like night.

In the heat and blowing sand,
Each gray dawn my work began...

Through the narrative of a young girl, not privy to the workings of the adult world nor the conversations between Moses and Pharaoh, we readers get an intimate, immediate sense of the conditions in which the Hebrew people lived, especially the children.   It is a world of unspeakable hardship and toil; laughter, running and play were absent.  Wondering about freedom, however, was very much present.

One day everything changed.  With the intuition of a child she could sense it in her mother's voice. The water in the rivers and streams turned to blood.  The first of ten plagues had visited the land.

As each of the remaining nine plagues struck Egypt and the Egyptians, we experience it as she did; trying to catch one of the frogs, seeing those who caused her misery, miserable from the air filled with fleas, lying fearful in bed as beasts roamed the streets, watching as the cattle, lambs and goats sickened and died, wondering as an illness struck the masters too, comforting her sister as fiery hail fell, noticing her father whittle as locusts swarmed, sitting safe in her home filled with light as darkness stayed for days---the longest night.

When a lamb is killed, its blood is smeared above the door by her father.  This is new to her as are the piercing cries of grief filling the air that awakened them later.  Quickly now her family joined all the other slaves, fled the land, crossed the sand, until they reached the sea.  She and the others raced between the parted waters, hearts pounding as the other side is reached.  Oh the joy of freedom.  Oh the joy...

Laurel Snyder using rhyming couplets for nearly the entire narrative gives readers a truer emotional sense of being a Jewish slave girl during these significant events.  We are keenly aware of her physical surroundings, her family and her observations.  There is an underlying sense, despite the horrific plagues and true fear on the part of the girl and her sister, of peace and protection for her people; a strength shown by her mother continuing to sing and her father whittling.  As the plagues worsen an urgency builds in the telling until it bursts forth in the flight, the sea pulling back to create a pathway and in the unrestrained happiness these people feel knowing their escape, their freedom, is real.  

This couplet is particularly telling.

How I danced along the shore,
Never having danced before!

When opening the jacket and cover we see images from the book; the girl wondering about the freedom of a dove on the front and on the back the family in flight with four lines from the story beneath.  The opening endpapers depict the shades of a darkened sky, the slavery of the people, but the closing endpapers picture a light, bright new day signifying the freedom of the Jewish people from the Pharaoh of Egypt.  A small square framed by white space appears under the title on that page, happy young girls hands clasped.

Rendered in acrylics by Catia Chien the illustrations alternate between two pages or a full page with a smaller inset on the opposite side.  Her color palette and image perspectives evoke as much emotion as the text within the context of the setting; we feel the dust and heat of the desert, we sense the desperation and pain of the slaves and the terror of the plagues; frogs jumping out of the pages, a close-up of the wolf face, the loss of the animals' lives spread over a gray bleakness or the small home, a single light burning, as it is enveloped in darkness.  The final illustration, hues of red, rose, bathing the landscape and people, a favorite, is as jubilant and glorious as the words written.

In preparation for this review I did read other books written for children about the celebration of Passover but none compare to The Longest Night: A Passover Story written by Laurel Snyder with illustrations by Catia Chien.  Laurel Snyder has given us her heart's desire; a title depicting how a Jewish child would feel before and during the Exodus.  In her Author's Note, at the book's beginning, she offers an explanation for this writing along with the definitions of a few words readers might not know.

Another comment made during the #SharpSchu book club chat to John Schumacher aka Mr. Schu was this, Explaining Passover is hard.  This was why I wanted to do the book so much.  Pictures can accomplish what words can't.  Yes, but these words are so lovely they make pictures in your mind.  I know, I've read this book again and again silently and aloud.  Please follow this link to an interview at Watch. Connect. Read. with Laurel Snyder as well as this link to an interview at Publishers Weekly.

Note:  Received a tweet today in my feed from Laurel Snyder about an interview at The Revealer.  This is an excellent audio conversation; her voice depicting her passion for this title and other topics of importance to her.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Twitterville Talk #89

Besides all the connections with wonderful people, the constant stream of information and the additional book titles which make our TBR piles sway and nearly topple, I love the good-natured bantering back and forth between authors and illustrators; the encouragement they give to each other.  Twitter provides endless opportunities to its users.  Have a wonderful, restful weekend.  Take time to read.  Don't forget to look for the giveaway.

There's nothing like starting off a weekend (last) with news from a master storyteller.  Sharon Creech announced the cover reveal of her new book, coming this fall, titled The Boy on the Porch.  I for one can't wait.  This link will take you to the post.

Thanks to author Sharon Creech for giving us this gem to hold in anticipation and for the tweet.

Here is (in my opinion) a great response to the restraints being leveled against the reading rights of our students, Reading Rants:  Get Those Readers Out Of the Box.

Thanks to fifth grade teacher extraordinaire and blogger at Read, Write, Reflect,  Katherine Sokolowski for this tweet. 

Richard Byrne, educator and blogger at Free Technology for Teachers, provides a link to A Free Complete Guide to Evernote plus additional informative links.

Thanks to Richard Byrne for this tweet and many others constantly.

Scroll through the Smithsonian Education page titled Mr. President:  Profiles of Our Nation's Leaders containing a quote and short list of facts for each.

Get ready for the celebration for Read Across America with these multiple links: Seusville, 11 Seuss-gestions, Read Across America song, Reader's Oath, and try these recipes.

Author/illustrator Loreen Long has created a character near and dear to his fans' hearts, Otis the Tractor.  Here is the book trailer for the newest installment in a charming series.

The 100th Toy Fair was held in New York City this month.  Check this out---By the Dozen at Toy Fair: Top Library Picks.

Remember to mark your calendars for School Lunch Superhero Day in May.  Head to this link for more information.

This is always fun to do with students, Bank Street CCL Announces Irma Black Award, Cook Prize Finalists.  To the first person who can tell me how many Irma Black Award finalists there are this year and name one of them in a DM on Twitter or in the comments section I will send a copy of I Haiku You by Betsy E. Snyder. (I have two copies of this to give away and both have been won.)

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

Politics:  We the People/Focus On is an extensive list of resources offered by School Library Journal for President's Day or any day really.

Thanks to School Library Journal for this resource and tweet.

Don't forget this Sunday, February 24th at 8PM EST Colby Sharp and guest, Katherine Sokolowski will be hosting #titletalk on Twitter.  The topic will be historical fiction.

Thanks for this tweet goes to Donalyn Miller, educator and author of The Book Whisperer:  Awakening  the Inner Reader in Every Child.

If you're looking for some stellar listening time check out these 10 Favorite Podcast Inspirations.

Here's a great post, The Case for Digital Citizenship in Schools.

Thanks to teacher librarian and blogger at The Styling Librarian,  Debbie Alvarez, currently in Hong Kong, for these tweets and this post.

One can't help but get goosebumps after reading this post Twitter Connections: Curious George and Aristides de Sousa Mendes regarding the creators of Curious George, H. A. Rey and Margaret Rey.

Thanks for this post and tweet go to Teresa Rolfe Kravtin, blogger at A Rep Reading and southeast publisher rep.

One of my PLN members is organizing between three different teachers a bracket for books.  Check out her post---March Madness The Bookish Way.  Follows her blog for updates.

Thanks to an amazing teacher and blogger at Maria's Melange, Maria Selke, for this post and tweet.

For author John Green's fans this is indeed the best of the best news---'The Fault in Our Stars' Movie Lands Director.

Thanks to John Green for this tweet.

Even though it's been several weeks since the announcement of the American Library Association Youth Media Awards, in preparation for a unit next year this article might make for a good discussion starter, Caldecott Secrets.

This is Mo Willem's reaction to the winning of his recent Geisel Award.

Thanks to the Association for Library Service to Children for this tweet.

Her impact in the world of children's and young adult literature will never fade.  This week she's in the news---At 75, Judy Blume draws crowds with first film adaption.

Thanks to author, Ellen Potter for this tweet.

Loads of extras for Gary Schmidt's Okay for Now courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Younger Readers.  Thanks for this tweet.

In case you need ideas for using Thinglink for Education  head on over to this bag of goodies. Wow!

Thanks to Donna Baumbach, retired professor, for this tweet.

It's getting closer.  Do you have visits ready for Skyping?  Look what author Kate Messner had done; Skype with an Author on World Read Aloud Day.

Thanks for this tweet and this comprehensive list.

There is a new kid on the block, a consortium on Facebook and Twitter combining the talents of the bloggers at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, 100 Scope Notes, A Fuse #8 Production and  Nine Kinds of Pie.

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

The beautiful artwork of Brian Selznick and Grace Line is featured on the Children's Book Week poster and bookmark.  Both are ready to be downloaded.

Thanks to the Children's Book Council for this tweet.

I will never forget reading A Monster Calls...never.  It is the first book to win both the Carnegie Medal and the Kate Greenaway Medal.  This is a wonderful interview with the illustrator Jim Kay.

Thanks to author Patrick Ness (A Monster Calls) for this tweet.

This is a gathering of some of the things I really enjoyed reading this week.  I hope you do too.

This particular tweet and the link to a post filled me with great joy.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Defiance in December

What I remember of significant events in American history, being taught in my classrooms growing up, are a few dedicated paragraphs, names of important individuals and the accompanying dates.  It was through the reading of historical fiction, my father's favorite, that my attraction to American history grew.  The expanded, personal perspectives offered by this genre made it come alive; no longer a series of dry lists of events, persons and dates.

One individual author who consistently creates the same lure of historical fiction in his writing of nonfiction is Russell Freedman.  Freedman's 1988 Newbery Medal book, Lincoln: A Photobiography and his Newbery Honor in 1994 for Eleanor Roosevelt: A Life of Discovery altered what I knew to be true about both these individuals.  Through impeccable documentation he brings the past into the present giving readers a sense of reliving alongside the participants.  A new entry in the Russell Freedman Library of American History, The Boston Tea Party (Holiday House, August 1, 2012), with illustrations by Peter Malone, increases the reader's perception of the circumstances prior to and after the night's activities nearly 240 years ago.

Everyone knew there was going to be trouble when the merchant ship Dartmouth, carrying 114 chests of fine blended tea, sailed into Boston Harbor on November 28, 1773.

Within twenty-four hours of the ship's arrival thousands of colonists had gathered in protest, eventually meeting in the large Old South Church to voice their concerns.  Those gathered voted to not allow the delivery of the tea; no taxes should be paid when they had no voice in Parliament.  Governor Hutchinson, knowing his loyalties to be with the King, demanded the tea be unloaded.

Before that happened two more tea ships arrived, the Eleanor and the Beaver.  The governor ordered British war vessels to block the exit of those three until the tea was delivered and the tax paid.  With tensions rising and the twenty-day due date on the Dartmouth nearing, the people needed to take action.

Another meeting was called; so many people arriving they spilled out into the streets, the Old South Church packed to capacity.  Again the Governor would not honor their requests.  Sam Adams, a commanding member of the Sons of Liberty spoke and was answered from the back with shouts and phrases promising deeds of daring.

Freedman continues his description of the evening of December 16, 1773 in a compelling, narrative including more intimate details, remembrances of those involved; a schoolboy holding a lantern so men could disguise their faces with paint resembling the Mohawk Indians, another describing the reasoning behind the disguises and a rope maker's apprentice locked in his room who made his escape by constructing a rope from his bedding so he could participate.  A mate on the Dartmouth documented the crowd's arrival in the ship's log.  By the use of lanterns and torches as light as day the protesters emptied all the ships of their tea and only the tea.

He continues his conversation with his readers with further inside information; the use of shovels to spread the tea at low tide, the sweeping of the ship's decks when they were done, and the relative quiet which pervaded the night's accomplishments.  You can almost hear the whispered talking as the men made their way home moving through the night knowing the implications of their Boston Tea Party.  Freedman's ability to include the smallest incident with historical importance is what breaths life into his visions of the past; truth triumphs.

Here is a single passage from this title as an example of his writing style.

It was just before six o'clock.  Night has fallen.  The rain had stopped.  A thin young moon was rising over Boston.  A bunch of men disguised as Mohawk Indians, carry axes and hatchets, were hurrying down Milk Street toward the harbor, heading for Griffin's Wharf where the three tea ships were anchored.  

Using two pages for all of his illustrations, Peter Malone elevates the text with his realistic, rich watercolor paintings.  A sense of the past is generated with the color palette and muted tones.  One can only imagine the amount of research needed to recreate colonial America; the details on the buildings, exterior and interior, the streets, the harbor and the ships.

By altering his layout we are either given an observer's view, a bird's eye view or a participant's view of the days during this time period.  The emotional mood is as carefully portrayed on individual faces as is the clothing of each person regardless of their station in life.  Freedman's words may make us feel like we are walking with the people in the past, but Malone's paintings bring the past into our presence.

An attractive portrayal in words and pictures invites readers to participate in The Boston Tea Party written by Russell Freedman illustrated by Peter Malone.  A two page introduction precedes the body of the book followed by a map of the town of Boston, an afterword, bibliography, comments about the importance of tea to the colonists, a timeline, source notes and an index.  Holiday House has provided a three page teaching guide linked here.  An earlier title in this series is Lafayette and the American Revolution.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

To See...To Be...

What I see in the natural world, from the tiniest raindrop to the ferocious approach of a thunderstorm, from a tiny tree toad making his home on my front porch to walking near a bull elk in a snow-covered meadow, hearing his bugle, is what prompted me to pursue a hobby in photography from the earliest days of printing in my own darkroom to the marvels of digital today.  From color schemes to patterns to design and layout we humans use Mother Nature's marvels in our lives capturing and creating to decorate, cloth and imitate.  We liken ourselves to her creatures; fly like an eagle, swim like a fish.

Indeed one of Charles Caleb Colton's more well-known quotes is "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery".  In the case of Molly Idle's new title, Flora and the Flamingo (Chronicle Books, February 5, 2013), imitation is depicted as perhaps, flattery, but more importantly as an overture.  In this case it is an invitation to a lasting, mutual respect; friendship.

Without a single word in the entire volume, we are introduced first to a flamingo as part of a double spread for the title.  With a turn of page the same flamingo has changed from a graceful landing to a one-legged pose, straight as an arrow. We see a hint of Flora in the lower, far-right corner, one brown flipper and part of a leg.

To our delight on the next set of pages there are two flaps; one on the left page, the other on the right.  On the left the flamingo is still at attention.  On the right Flora is mimicking his stance.

When the flaps are lowered we see the flamingo turn to sharply glance at Flora.  She turns away whistling, hands behind her back in a pose of nonchalance, when her flap is lowered.  It is beginning, that loveliest of dances, the getting to know one another, step by step.

As the flamingo moves through a series of elegant positions, Flora carefully copies as best as she can until they stop, heads bent and covered. Then the two new flaps are lowered.  Quick peeks are exchanged.

 Both are giving the other a backward-through-the-legs look when unexpectedly the flamingo airs his frustration at Flora's presence; the force tumbling her in a backward roll.  Eventually re-thinking his emotional outburst, the flamingo extends a wing but Flora is reluctant to accept the request.  Her ultimate decision leads to a succession of brilliantly beautiful ballet movements by two beings perfectly in tune with each other.

The front and back jacket and cover allude to the friendship which will be forged within the pages of this wordless title.  Buttercup yellow opening and closing endpapers mirror the shades on Flora's bathing cap.  The color palette of pink, brown and yellow with hints of gray on large expanses of white space combined with the refined, slightly old-fashioned feeling of the illustrations (Flora's bathing suit, cap and flippers) define the overall emotional impact of this title.  Without a single sound being stated we still hear hope, bewilderment, acceptance and sheer, pure joy through the soft visuals created by Molly Idle.

The delicate branches covered in pale pink blossoms which frame the top of all the pages add balance to the figures.  In the beginning a single blossom sits near the two characters until it lands on Flora's head, petals broken. As Flora and the flamingo come together first one larger, then a smaller blossom gently float down from the branches; one becomes two.

The shape and form of wings, arms, and legs with the expressive eyes, mouth and beak conveys the subtle shifts in mood and dance with amazing clarity.  Altering the size of the flaps increases the impact of the actions taken by the two characters.  Using heavier stock for the pages provides for a richness in addition to being more durable.

You can't help but be mesmerized with every page turn in Flora and the Flamingo created by Molly Idle.  Her illustrations full of warmth and humor, dance and a blossoming friendship are absolutely glorious.  One reading will not suffice. No, not at all. Get ready for repeated readings. Who wouldn't want to share or experience this joy again and again?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Think Outside, Then Put It Inside

With numerous web 2.0 and 3.0 applications being mentioned by people in the know on a weekly basis it's hard not to feel overwhelmed by all the opportunities but it is certainly interesting to test them out.  A site with templates, ClassTools, one of which I reviewed more than a year ago, Fakebook, has a new one.  One of my favorite tech people, Richard Byrne of Free Technology for Teachers brought it to his readers' attention in a post last week; test-driving a new item called BrainyBox.

Like the other templates on the site, BrainyBox is free of charge with no registration requirements.  Any resources made, stay on their server permanently as long as they are used during any given twelve month period.  This particular template contains a precise format for mini-presentations.

When you first access BrainyBox this image appears on the screen.  BrainyBox is a cube, six sides, which displays items you wish to have highlighted on a specific topic.  I explored options by clicking on the numbered buttons.  This first visual is side one.

Side two gives you some features; text and multimedia can be inserted, you can password protect your creation, it can be embedded in a blog or website, it works on tablets as well as desktops.  Further buttons explain that a widget (which is one of the templates on ClassTools) can be embedded on one of the cube sides as well as videos from Vimeo and YouTube.  To design your own,  click on the New button.

Next click on the Edit button.  The tool bar across the top row allows:

  • upload an image
  • insert/edit embedded media (Flash, HTML5 video, HTML5 audio, Quicktime, Shockwave, Windows Media, Real Media and Iframe)
  • text can be in bold, italics or underlined
  • margins can be aligned left, center or right
  • cut, copy and paste are offered
  • insert or removed bulleted lists
  • undo/redo and
  • insert or remove links
Underneath you can select your font style and size, remove formatting, insert a special character, emotions, text color, background color, spell check, insert horizontal line and edit HTML code.

Placing text on a side is pretty straightforward as is an image.  Once placed each can be altered by the offered options.  An image can be resized using the tiny markers on the sides and corners.

If you wish to embed a link in an image, click on the image.  It will become highlighted and the link icon at the top is now available.  You can enter in the URL, set a target (it will open in that window or a new one) and name the link which will appear when you mouse over the image.  (To embed a link in text simply highlight it.)

For three of the sides I used Jing to capture website pages and downloaded the images.  I was able to add links to the sites so the pages in their entirety could be read.  It was as easy to add a YouTube video to one of the sides.  Copy the URL code acquired by clicking the share button under the video and paste it in the correct box.

Each time you complete your tasks for a side you need to click the Done editing button in order to advance to another side.  To start you must always click on Edit.  When you are finished with all the sides, click on the Save button.  

A new window opens asking you to enter in a password.  A new message asks you to make note of the unique URL created for your BrainyBox.  When you click OK the special URL appears at the top of the page in the address line.  Also beneath your BrainyBox creation you can now click the Share button on the far right.  

There are three options:  URL Link or Embed Code, QR Code and Download Web Shortcut.  There are three sizes for the HTML Embed Code.  I did a simple right mouse click of save image as for the QR code.  Over the course of the next two weeks the first grade classes in my building are going to be Skying with author Ame Dyckman.  I designed a cube featuring her debut book, Boy + Bot.

This new template, BrainyBox, as part of the ClassTools site maintained for at least ten years by Russel Tarr, Head of History at the International School Toulouse, France, is excellent.  It's absolutely perfect for the educational setting; no fees or registration and simple to learn and use.  It's headed for a spot in my bigger-by-the-day virtual toolbox.     

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A Winged Wonder

Recently, over the course of many days I've been on a journey from the bottom of the world to the top and back.  Places with names like Rio Grande, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, Lagoa do Peixe National Park, Brazil, Delaware Bay, United States, Southampton Island, Canada, Mingan Archipelago, Quebec and Maranhao, Brazil, have been some of the stops on my itinerary.  For part of the trip I've gone nearly five thousand miles without rest, food or water in all kinds of weather.  And...I've done this all from the comfort of my own home.

When reading Moonbird: A Year On The Wind With The Great Survivor B95 (Farrar Straus Giroux) written by Phillip Hoose I became, for more than 120 pages, intimately involved in a world within the world at large.  One particular bird, a red knot, who uses those geographical points as stepping-stones in his yearly voyage completely captivated my attention, as beat by beat of heart and wing I've been with him.  Rarely has filling my book gap challenge been so emotionally moving.

Meet B95, one of the world's premier athletes.  Weighing a mere four ounces, he's flown more than 325,000 miles in his life---the distance to the moon and nearly half way back.

On February 20, 1995 a team of scientists working in Argentina banded about 850 red knots.  Six years later one of them, the only survivor identified to date by black bands, was captured again.  He was given another band, a tiny orange flag, bearing B95.  When I turned to page 22 and read the account of his capture again in 2007, even with my limited knowledge, I found myself completely attached to this miracle of bone, muscle and feathers.

In the subsequent seven chapters (as in the first one) each are started with a relevant quote, followed by meticulously detailed but compelling documentation of all the stops along B95's flight for a given year.  We are privy to his physical changes, his flight patterns, the challenges faced in his diminishing food supplies, and how he protects himself from potential enemies. We follow he and his companions to their Arctic destination, the breeding grounds where growth and habitats of these astonishing winged wonders are related to us.

Between each chapter, which additionally informs us of the drastic decline in red knot population and possible causes, the precarious numbers of horseshoe crabs whose eggs B95 needs to survive, how to band birds and note statistics with care and caution, the explanation of a bellwether site (the first indicator of trends), geolocators and the long flight back to the south, readers are introduced to notable persons who have dedicated their lives to red knots.  We meet Clive Minton, Patricia Gonzalez, Brian Harrington, Amanda Dey, Guy Morrison and Ken Ross, and young Mike Hudson.

Phillip Hoose's writing style is informative, passionate and filled with personal details.  His descriptions of place and time bring us to those exact moments.  He endeavors and succeeds in bringing understanding of his subject to his reading audience.  Here are a few excerpts from this title:

But there was more to it than that. "He was alive," remembers Gonzalez, her voice catching in the telling.  "Still alive."...The bird remained calm in Gonzalez's grasp, even though her hands were trembling as she worked.  "I kept talking to him," she remembers.  "I kept saying, 'Forgive me, please, I won't hurt you.  I will release you soon.'  The heat of his tiny body was warming my hands and his heart was beating so fast.  As I was working, I kept wondering, 'How can such a fragile thing be so powerful?' "

Tonight, as the wind rises, B95 stands on one leg in the shallow lagoon, surrounded closely by his flock mates.  He tucks his bill under a wing, but he doesn't drop his guard.  B95 sleeps with one eye open.  So do the others.  A roosting flock of knots is like a single organism equipped with hundreds of eyes and ears.

If B95's birth year was typical, his parents had little to eat during their first few days in northern Canada.  Deep snow still banked against cobblestone ridges and blanketed much of the land, though bare patches of earth appeared and widened under the melting heat of the sun that hung low in the sky almost all day long.

Stunning full color photographs (most with explanatory phrases), captioned maps, added framed, featured topics, and diagrams are prevalent throughout this volume.  An extensive appendix, source notes (chapter by chapter), bibliography (books, articles, scientific papers, Internet and multimedia resources), acknowledgments, picture credits and an index are included in the back.  A list of Hoose's previous books and contents precede his narrative.

As evidenced by its numerous awards (The Robert F. Siebert Informational Book Medal Honor 2013) this year (follow the link to Phillip Hoose's website embedded in his name above) Moonbird: A Year On The Wind With The Great Survivor B95 is a stunning work of nonfiction.  All readers will become acutely aware of the important role each specie plays in the workings of our ecosystem.  We need them and they need us to be stewards of this planet.

Please go to Phillip Hoose's website to read and listen to many resources relative to this work.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Is It The Truth Or A ...?

Consistently, year after year, the most requested stories during storytelling units are the scary ones.  Before each session I'm careful to preface it with a discussion of the significance of this type of tale.  My students have come to know I will never tell a story beyond their ability to feel safe, despite their pleas of "tell us one that's really scary".  Due to older brothers and sisters they know when fourth grade rolls around they can finally hear "The Night of the Sasquatch".

Even after they've heard it, when they've gone to middle school, they want me to tell it again and again.  Perhaps one of the reasons is the story of Sasquatch sits on the line between probable and improbable, true or false.  In his newest title, The Boy Who Cried Bigfoot! (A Paula Wiseman Book), author/illustrator Scott Magoon puts his very special spin on the Aesop fable, The Shepherd Boy and the Wolf.

This is the story of my friend Ben and how we first met.

The first thing readers discover about Ben is he likes telling stories; one particular story over and over.  (At this point you need to insert the word fibs in place of the word stories.) He's pretty creative in his use of gestures and sound effects.

Riding to the edge of the woods on his trusty bike, Ben, like the shepherd boy, is trying to convince people he is seeing something he, in fact, has not seen.  He even goes so far as to fabricate footprints.  As the narrator states:

What a tenacious little fellow he was.

People come once, twice, even three times when he claims to have seen Bigfoot but they finally realize they've been deceived.  Left alone Ben and his faithful canine companion are pondering their precarious position when the silence in the woods is broken by the sound of a stick snapping.  It would seem the teller of this tale has decided to make an appearance.

Not only does he reveal himself but he wants to take Ben's bike for a spin.  Guess who hops on for a ride?  Ben is beside himself, calling for help as loud as he can; his two treasures having vanished into the woods.

Alone in the dark, but not for long, Ben does some thinking.  He needs to convince his family (and neighbors) how his fabrications finally came true.  Ben's a clever little guy; perhaps this new scheme will work.

From the beginning the technique Scott Magoon uses to have an unseen narrator speaking to readers generates an inviting air of mystery.  This simple, conversational tone coupled with Ben's and the secondary characters' dialogues intensifies the interest.  Magoon explains, in a blog post here, how this particular twist on the fable developed.  Of course, even this essay does not explain the final delightful two pages.

Readers know immediately what Ben does not by opening the jacket and cover to reveal Bigfoot hidden, but not hidden, behind a tree in the woods. (The dog does, though.)  Opening and closing endpapers, green on green, feature a pattern of Bigfoot prints though careful viewers will notice a subtle difference between the two.  Digitally-rendered two-page spreads throughout follow Ben on this day to remember; the color palette reflecting the changing light.

Deft, fine lines designate physical characteristics, personality and emotions; especially in the eyes.  While the dog never utters a single sound readers are acutely aware of his reaction in each illustration through his facial expressions and body movements; in a word-hilarious.  It's this attention to details that elevates this larger-than-life legend of learning to excellence.

Travel with Ben on his bike with his best buddy in The Boy Who Cried Bigfoot! written and illustrated by Scott Magoon as he discovers truth really is stranger than fiction.  Readers will be smiling long before the identity of the narrator is divulged with laughter quickly following.  For more art and the process of bringing this book to publication follow this link to an interview at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Twitterville Talk #88

There is so much happening in the world but the one constant every single day on Twitter is the amazing conversations and connections with people who share similar passions.  I can't state it strongly enough or often enough.   Enjoy your weekend, take time for reading and look for the giveaways.

It's only February but so many wonderful new books have had birthdays, my pile continues to grow up and out.  But one of many titles which has brought much joy is Open This Little Book (reviewed here) by Jesse Klausmeier with illustrations by Suzy Lee.  I could not resist including this interview, Author and Illustrator Open Up About Open This Little Book, because of all the extra visuals.

This looks like lots of fun; a way to expand the reading experience.  Craft:  How to Make a Where The Wild Things Are Costume

Dav Pilkey draws up more great ideas on the benefits of reading.

It doesn't matter whether you live in the state of Illinois or not, this is a fantastic resource of titles plus extras for books in the 2014 Rebecca Caudill list located here, here and here.

What's Izik? Introducing a Swipier, Slashier Search is a review of an app for tablets that looks user-friendly and worth a try.

Kid Lit Authors, Illustrators Visit Sandy Hook Elementary School  This is wonderful.
Katie Davis covered the visit here too.

Don't forget to stop by and participate in the Books Kids Love, Part II survey.

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

For obvious reasons the buzz about the ALA Youth Media Awards (and all the award lists still being announced) is as strong as ever.  This is one of many interesting articles about Katherine Applegate, Two and one-half questions for Katherine Applegate and Michael Grant.

Courtesy of The Horn Book---Recommended love stories.  One of my favorite love stories (ending brought me to tears) of 2012 is the final one listed under Intermediate.  To the first person who gives me the title in the comments or sends me a DM on Twitter I have an extra copy of the new Lisa Graff book, A Tangle of Knots, to send them. (This book has been won.)

You don't see this every day---Fiction to Fashion ; coordinating your clothing to match your favorite books.

Thanks to The Horn Book for this interview and these tweets.

Have you marked your calendar for the #SharpSchu book club on Twitter at 8PM EST on February 20th?  This episode will be a discussion, an evening with and about author, Laurel Snyder.  Visit this link for more information.

Thanks to Colby Sharp, teacher, co-host of the book club, co-host of the Nerdy Book Club and blogger at sharpread.

For the good of all our students---Know your rights! UNICEF and partners have developed an adolescent-friendly version of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Thanks to Crystal Brunelle, teacher librarian and blogger at Reading Through Life for this tweet. 

Teacher librarian, Chris Roberts, created this Symbaloo to assist her students' parents on Internet Safety.

Many thanks to her for this tweet and for the work in creating this resource.

Book love and an interview with a Caldecott Honor winner, 2013 Caldecott children's book illustrator Peter Brown inspired by N. J. childhood

Thanks to Travis Jonker, teacher librarian and blogger at 100 Scope Notes for this tweet.

Donalyn Miller, teacher and author of The Book Whisperer: Awakening The Inner Reader in Every Child has posted her latest presentation Slideshare for all to use, Learning from Lifelong Readers

Many thanks to her for her continued generosity and for this tweet.

Announcing the Caldecott 75th Anniversary Scrapbook is another great way to participate in the celebration this year but also for future reference.

Thanks to the Association for Library Services to Children for this tweet.

Courtesy of Literacyhead, Love from Literacyhead, are some activities to tuck away for next year.  I reviewed Literacyhead here.  It's a wonderful site.

Thanks to Literacyhead for these free items and for this tweet.

If you are looking for the most up-to-date data on School Library Impact Studies follow the link and read.

This certainly caught the attention of many this week and will continue to do so, A warning to college profs from a high school teacher

The 2012 Cybils Awards  To the first person, in the comments or via DM on Twitter, who can tell me the title which won in the Fiction Picture Books category, I will send them a copy of David Ezra Stein's Love Mouserella.

Many thanks to Teri Lesesne, professor and blogger at The Goddess of YA Literature: pearls from the goddess for these tweets.

Handy for students, colleagues, bloggers and anyone else you know--Flickr, Explore, Creative Commons

100 Things Kids Will Miss If They Don't Have a School Librarian in Their School

Thanks for these tweets goes to teacher librarian and blogger at The Daring  Librarian, Gwyneth Jones.

Are you looking for a story stretcher for Rocket Writes A Story by Tad Hills?  Look no further than here.  His new friend Owl becomes a place to store words.

Thanks to author Tad Hills for this tweet.

Check out this list so you can Skype With An Author On World Read Aloud Day!

Thanks to author Kate Messner for this list and for this tweet.

One of the very best things about Twitter is the opportunity to witness the good-natured exchanges between author and illustrators.  Look what happened this week---It's Your Big Day, Judy Blume! Happy Birthday, Love Your Biggest Fans

This is your chance--Vote in the 2013 Kiddo Awards!

Thanks to author Tom Angleberger for these tweets.

Tuck this little gem, Peter H. Reynolds' Gift to You:  Create Your Own Plant A Kiss Seed Packet, away for next Valentine or the next time you read Plant A Kiss by Amy Krouse  Rosenthal with illustrations by Peter H. Reynolds.

Thanks to Terry Shay, educator and blogger at TJ on a Journey for this tweet.

This little infographic gets down to basics--5 1/2 Best Twitter Practices

Thanks to teacher JoEllen McCarthy for this tweet.

Guess who's doing the new covers for the Harry Potter books? (Clue: Amulet series)---A New Look for Harry Potter

Thanks to Publishers Weekly for this tweet.

This may be my favorite author/illustrator interview of all time.  A video interview with Sarah Stewart and David Small.  I've watched it twice since Wednesday.  The world of children's literature is lucky these two are a part of it.

Head on over and get a copy of the kit for Hats Off to Reading for March.

Thanks to Reading Rockets for this interview and these tweets.

Wow!  More good news for John Rocco's Blackout. 

Thanks to Children's Book Council for this tweet.

For people who appreciate and treasure picture books---Oliver Jeffers:  Maurice Sendak's Jumper and Me is a must read.

Thanks to HarperCollins for this tweet.

What can I say?  People keep writing the best things.  Enjoy the collected quotes and thoughts from this week.

I had to include this first tweet as it reminded me of Axle Annie written by Robin Pulver with illustrations by Tedd Arnold.