Quote of the Month

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

Monday, September 30, 2013

A Day In The Life...

One of the things I miss the most when autumn arrives is the sound of frogs singing their songs at night.  I've always imagined them planning the most wonderful things, exchanging the latest gossip around the pond and looking out for one another with every single croak.  During the daylight each time you walk past a pond, seeing ripples fan out from one or two spots, it's a sure sign there's a friendly amphibian hiding under the surface, frightened by your arrival.

As soon as the coast is clear, their little green selves will pop back up to bask in the sunlight on a smooth lily pad, nearby log or warm rock.  Using only two of our twenty-six letters, author/illustrator Jeff Mack, gives readers a pond's eye view of a day in the life of a very lucky frog in his new title, AH HA! (Chronicle Books).  Jeff Mack may only use two letters but readers will be using three...OH NO!..more than a few times.

We begin this story with Frog lazily floating in the pond, sighing with pure pleasure.


It's quickly followed by


as he discovers the perfectly shaped rock to perch on for a spell.  He is so happy he again utters sounds of total contentment with his eyes closed.  That is the beginning of his troubles.

While he relaxes a child and their dog are sneaking up on Frog, jar and lid in hand.  Yikes!  That was close.  Thankfully the dog was as excited as Frog was scared.

Frog thinks he's crawling up on another rock farther out in the pond.  His instincts must be a little off because this rock turns out to be a turtle, a hungry turtle.  Leaping lizards...er...frogs.  Whew!  As fate would have it, Frog lands on a trusty log.

By now, you have guessed that this is no ordinary log.  Of course not.  It's a sly alligator waiting for the right moment to strike.  Water explodes.  Thankfully there are tall "stalks" for Frog to grasp, out of his foes' reach.

Wait!  Are you kidding me?  It's not a stalk.  It's trouble of the long-legged, pink-bird variety.  This is not good.  This is not good at all.

Frog had better be looking where he's leaping.  In the end it's all about perspective or the lesser of four evils.  It's also about a whole lot of luck.

Switching from AAHH! to AH HA! (plus a surprise) but not always alternating Jeff Mack manages to tell a tale filled with suspense at every turn of page; readers will be leery of relaxing from one scene to the next.  His skillful blend of language and intonation create a seamless pace.  Depending on which character is speaking those two phrases can take on many meanings; happiness, the thrill of victory, fright, relief, pain, or the discovery of a snack.

Use of vibrant colors, bold lines and wide eyes immediately grab readers attention on the matching jacket and cover.  Frog looks right at us, wearing a big grin on his face, uttering the title as he climbs out of a jar.  On the back cover three of his would-be enemies are smiling too, while speaking the same two words.  It's clear already the significance of that phrase depends on who is doing the talking.

Opening and closing endpapers picture Frog, arms behind his head adrift on the rippling surface.  The passage of time is shown in the color of the water.  Mack uses every portion of the book to tell his tale, endpapers, title page, and verso.

Two page illustrations throughout are rendered in mixed media.  His perspectives in the visuals are at frog level bringing the reader right into the action bursting out of every page. You never see more than hands and feet of the child. Small details add just the right touch of humor; woebegone look on the dog's face as Frog escapes, the turtle's surprise, Frog resting on the "log" with a weed in his mouth, and Frog sticking out his tongue.

As soon as you see the cover of AH HA! written and illustrated by Jeff Mack, you can hardly wait to open the cover.  The look on Frog's face combined with the vivid colors are irresistible.  While this is a great book to read on your own, especially if you are an early reader, this book is fantastic as a read aloud.

Be sure to visit Jeff Mack's website by following the link embedded in his name above.  You might want to pair this with Frog Song by Brenda Z. Guiberson with illustrations by Gennedy Spirin.  I also reviewed Mo Willem's Big Frog Can't Fit In.  In that review I included a Prezi with lots of frog titles.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Twitterville Talk #119

Feeds in Twitter this week have been buzzing with all the news and information pertinent to the world of education, reading and children's literature.  This month and the next will see releases of many new books.  Festivals and conferences are providing wonderful opportunities to meet favorite authors, illustrators and colleagues.  Banned Books Week posts, essays and displays were prevalent.  I hope everyone has a wonderful weekend.  Take time for reading.  Look for the giveaways.

The National Council of Teachers of English hosted a chat on Banned Books Week which is archived.

Thanks to the National Council of Teachers of English for this tweet.

Now here are lots of ideas to engage students not only at the beginning of the year but when a need for creating community arises, From Scavenger Hunts to Photo Sharing, Fun Apps to Calm the Back-to-School Jitters.

This is such good news to readers of Deborah Wiles, Countdown.  countdown and revolution (and playlists and computers and phones)

Markus Zusak on books and the freedom to read

Author Grace Lin is celebrating the release of her new book with Ling and Ting Birthday Party: Name the Books Game! Get a sticker and a magnet!

In case you missed the exciting #SharpSchu Book Club chat, it is archived here.  The books discussed were Mike Boldt's 123 versus ABC and Aaron Becker's Journey.

The Scholastic channel on YouTube released several videos this week.  The links are here, Henry Cole and Unspoken, Kazu Kibuishi, Jerry Pinkney and I Want To Be, Kazu Kibuishi and Amulet, LeUyen Pham, Yuyi Morales, Nancy Carpenter and Lucky Ducklings, Jerry Pinkney, Jeff Kinney and Diary of The Wimpy Kid, Yuyi Morales and Nino, Dav Pilkey and the Art of Read Every Day, LeUyen Pham and Shoe La-La-La!, Judy Schachner, and Henry Cole.  The tweets will be added to Mr. Schu's Storify  embedded here.

Are there any book trailers this week?  Of course, there are.  

Many thanks to John Schumacher, teacher librarian, 2011 Library Journal Movers & Shakers, 2014 Newbery Medal Committee member, co-host of the monthly #SharpSchu Book Club and blogger at Watch. Connect. Read. for his tweets this week.

As a reader and educator, I find the extra knowledge about the process of creating a book by the author and/or the illustrator extremely interesting.  It allows us to look at a book with a different set of eyes.  The article posted at The Horn Book, Today's Picture Book Biographies: Back Matter Matters makes several good points.

Thanks to author Louise Borden (The Journey That Saved Curious George) for this tweet.

I've had the first two books in this series on my TBR pile for quite some time.  Check out these videos. To the first person who can tell me the name of the hotel in these books I will send a copy of Lulu Walks the Dogs by Judith Viorst illustrated by Lane Smith.  Please leave your answer in the comments below or send me a DM on Twitter. 

Thanks to author  Patrick Carman (Floors)for this tweet.

You might not believe 12 Crazy Reasons Why Books Have Been Banned as posted on the HarperCollins Childrens Tumblr. 
To the first person who can tell me the title of the first book on the list and why it was banned I will send a copy of The Great Trouble by Deborah Hopkinson.  Please leave your answer in the comments below or send me a DM on Twitter. (This has been won.)

Thanks to Tasha Saecker, Assistant Director of the Appleton Public Library in Appleton, Wisconsin and blogger at Waking Brain Cells for this tweet.  

I can guarantee you, your children and your students will be watching this trailer over and over.  The book, Battle Bunny, written by Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett with illustrations by Matthew Myers, is to be released on October 22, 2013.

Thanks to author Mac Barnett (Count the Monkeys) for this tweet.

On The Lucky 13s, a blog for authors debuting in 2013, the authors talk Meanwhile...Middle Grade! Back to School...  Each of them weighs in on the role of school in their books.

Thanks to author Polly Holyoke (The Neptune Project) for this tweet.

Are you getting ready for The Global Read Aloud?  Author Kate Messner's Marty McGuire has been selected for the 1st and up group.  She had an exciting post this week, Announcing Marty McGuire Has Too Many Pets!

Thanks to author Kate Messner (Wake Up Missing) for this tweet and post.

How many books have you read on this list?  Are there any you would add?  Are there any you would remove?  50 Books Every Parent Should Read to Their Child
Book number 15 on this list is written by Tomie dePaola.  To the first person who names the title of this book I will send a copy of Crankenstein by Samantha Berger with illustrations by Dan Santat.  Please leave your answer in the comments below or DM me on Twitter. (This has been won three times.)

Thanks to teacher librarian, and blogger at Van Meter Library Voice, Shannon Miller for this tweet.

Don't miss #titletalk tomorrow night at 8:00 PM EST.  The topic will be creating a school-wide reading culture.

Thanks to educator, co-host of #titletalk, and author of The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child and Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer's Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits, Donalyn Miller for this tweet. 

Here's a wonderful, upbeat New! Digital Citizenship Song and Video for the younger guys and gals.  I'll bet you'll be humming this all day too!

Joyce also shared a Smore she made titled A Copyright-Friendly Toolkit which is fantastic!

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

I know you'll want to get and read a copy of Dream Friends by You Byun after seeing this trailer.  I know I do.

Thanks to Nancy Paulsen of Penguin Publishing for this tweet.

Here is my gathering of quotes and favorite tweets from the week.

Friday, September 27, 2013

So Close You Can Almost Touch It...

More nights than I can remember when the rest of the world seems to be inside, I've been outside walking with Xena.  On these strolls when darkness is falling or has settled in hours ago, I've been witness to some of the most spectacular moons.  Depending on the weather, the season or the hour, the size and color varies as it shines brightly alone, wrapped in wispy clouds, framed in black-lace tree branches or resting on a horizon.

There are moments when the moon's presence is so large you truly believe by reaching, stretching, your hands might graze its surface.  Adam Rex spins a tale in words and pictures, Moonday (Disney Hyperion) imagining the possibilities on a full moon night.  You never know what will happen.

The moon hung full and low 
and touched the tips of trees.

Riding in the car through the darkness with her parents, a young girl notices the moon's brightness, its closeness.  As they move, it moves with them.  When she wakes up in the morning, she realizes the moon has decided to visit.

Like an invitation waiting to be answered, suspended like a giant ball, it hangs barely above the ground in their backyard.  Her parents stare in disbelief at the unlikely guest.  Boosted up by her Dad and with her Mom's request to keep warm, she explores the nooks and crannies of this celestial body.

Morning does not arrive.  In a dreamlike state the townspeople leave for work, the children enter their classrooms at school.  Only the moon shines in the inky blackness.  The community is wrapped in enchantment by its residence at the girl's home.

A befuddled teacher dismisses her students.  People stumble, mumble and yawn.  At home her parents are trying, without luck, to disguise the moon by covering it with blankets.

A full moon has a pull on the tides.  A full moon beckons to neighborhood dogs.  This full moon needs to follow again and listen to the words, words from an imaginative heart and mind, words from a girl who knows the moon's true place.

In case you doubt the power of words, doubt no more.  Adam Rex weaves an intoxicating fabric with his narrative covering readers with the cozy blanket of belief, belief  in a world where the moon leaves the sky descending to earth.  His poetic, nearly alliterative, descriptions lull readers into its peaceful presence.  Repetition of key phrases circles readers back to the beginning like the shape of the moon.  Comments from the girl's parents bring gentle humor to the story.  Here is a single passage.

It was chalky and cold.

I climbed into a crater.

"I'm going to have a look around."

Mom said, "Okay. Zip up your coat."

The soothing, soft black night of the front and back jacket permeate every page in this title.  The large luminous orb on the front jacket and a smaller version, hanging above the treetops on a hill, on the back side, capture the essence of moon with the practiced eye of an faithful observer and skilled artist, Adam Rex. The all black matte-finished cover with Moonday embossed on the front and the opening and closing endpapers in black welcome readers into the wonders of this night.

The first four pages, the two title pages, provide an overview of the town, at the moon's rising and when it's high in the sky.  Small vignettes surrounded by black, panels framed in darkness, breathtaking two page spreads filled with the moon's fullness, single pages edge to edge and those crossing the gutter combine to elevate the joy found in this magical marvel.  No detail is too small.

A moon replaces the "o"s in the title.  The publishing information is in the shape of a moon.  My favorite illustration (I have many) is when the girl arrives home to find her parents climbing on the moon placing blankets on the surface to hide it; the light glowing through them as if they are shades on a lamp.

Moonday written and illustrated by Adam Rex will make you long for the night, for the next full moon.  It's a stunning story to be read in hushed tones with a voice rising and falling to the rhythm of the narrative.  It's meant to be shared.  It's meant to be shared with someone you love.

Please follow the link to Adam Rex's website embedded in his name above.  Julie Danielson at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast has a post Featuring Adam Rex with lots of artwork from the book.  Adam goes through the process he used in creating some of the illustrations.  Here's a video Adam Rex featured on his blog and posted to YouTube. 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Reading Ritual Interrupted...

It's the comforting rituals from childhood which form lasting memories.  The anticipation of those daily, weekly, monthly or yearly occurrences bring a sense of security and belonging to a boy's or girl's world creating a rhythm for their lives.  It might be shopping for supplies before a new year of school, celebrating holidays and birthdays, a weekly visit to the library to gather a stack of books to bring home, eating an evening meal together or taking a walk with your dog one last time at the end of the day.  These customs are as varied as the people who make up the families, small or large.

One thing, one very important thing, can happen every single day.  It's cost is measured in minutes or hours but the rewards are priceless.  It happens at different times all around the world; everyone is the better for these shared moments.  In the forest realm, something has interrupted this nightly event, something silent, mysterious.  Author Helen Docherty and her illustrator husband, Thomas Docherty, have teamed together for the first time to tell this tale in The Snatchabook (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky).

One dark, dark night in Burrow Down,
a rabbit named Eliza Brown
found a book and settled down...

when a Snatchbook flew into town.

All the creatures of Burrow Down, owls, mice, rabbits, badgers and hedgehogs, read books or listened to books being read aloud at bedtime every night.  Stories of dragons, witches, pirates or princesses had them dreaming and pretending.  Eliza Brown is amazed when without warning, the book she is reading disappeared from her hands.

She did see her curtains move a bit.  The owls did hear tapping.  Perhaps the squirrels heard something, too. What everyone was sure of though was their books were vanishing.  Each night it was the same; something, someone, was stealing their books.

With a plan in place, Eliza Brown was not about to let this continue.  A stack of books as bait did the trick.  Terrified but determined she called out as a shadow crossed her bedroom floor.

A reply is heard.  Words are exchanged.  Everyone, even a Snatchabook, needs stories.

After several silent readings and one aloud, I find the words composed by Helen Docherty ring with a magical beat of their own.  Rhyming phrases invite pausing and pacing.  Readers will wonder about the mystery, will cheer on Eliza Brown's courage and cleverness and find solace in the resolution. Here is a single passage from the book.

The little owls, on Mommy's lap,
were quite surprised to hear a tap
against the bedroom window glass.
Tap, tap! The noise came really fast.
Before they'd even looked around,
the book was gone---without a sound.

When looking at the  matching jacket and cover, featuring the two main characters, the front in the light of day in a woodland nook, the duo surrounded by stacks of books, the back at night in a bunny's cozy bedroom, readers will begin to speculate about the title, wondering about the story to be told.  Opening and closing endpapers done in two shades of blue showcase a scene from the forest at night, moon in the sky, small closed windows and doors in tree trunks indicating the presence of animal homes.  When Eliza appears, hands on hips, looking at the Snatchabook perched on a book stack on the title page, I guarantee readers will already be falling slightly in love with them both.

Thomas Docherty's illustrations light up each and every page whether they are his two page spreads, single pages or smaller pictures framed in white.  His fine lines, exquisite details, draw the reader's eyes into the story.  Peeks into the animal homes at night are precious, perfectly extending the narrative.   The color palette on the jacket and cover are continued on all the pages, giving the reader a feel for being in the forest.  One technique in particular I like is his placing of large open pages of books into the illustrations, making the animal readers into the characters.  One of my favorites is of Eliza Brown tucked under the covers in bed, lamp next to her (with carrots on the shade), small stuffed toy bunny on the bed, reading a book.  The larger part of this visual is filled with a page from a book, looking much like a scene from Little Red Riding Hood. 

Do you want a book that celebrates books and reading?  Do you want a book that shines a joyful light on reading aloud at bedtime?  The Snatchabook written by Helen Docherty with illustrations by Thomas Docherty does this splendidly.  This book is a gem, a gem to be shared repeatedly.

To read more about the author and illustrator, follow the links to their websites embedded in their names above.  Thomas Docherty features several more pages from this book at his site.  This link is to The Snatchabook Activity Kit.  An educator's guide can be found by following this link.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Folded Flashcard For Learning

Earlier this month, Richard Byrne, educator, speaker and blogger at Free Technology for Teachers, introduced a new web 2.0 application designed to assist anyone in studying, learning more effectively.  This online service provides the means for generating  a specific kind of flashcard.  Classmint is a free service with no advertising.

At the home page they state, Classmint

  • lets anyone create annotatable, audible, beautiful notes that can be folded like paper
  • maintains automated revision list to aid timely revision
  • allows students/teachers to keep notes private or publish them and
  • features ability to add complex math, computer code, add images, explain notes with text and image annotations etc.
According to the Terms of Service (which are much easier to read and understand than most) if users are under the age of 13 they must be supervised by an adult.  In the Privacy Policy they say:

We do not share information collected from anyone, regardless of their age.  Classmint compiles with the US Children's Online Privacy Protection Act ("COPPA"), which requires us to notify and obtain consent from a parent or guardian before we collect, use and disclose the personal information of children who are under 13 years of age.

At the top of the home page the first advisable thing to do is create an account.  Add your first and last name, email address and a password to start. When this is completed another window opens asking you to login with your email address and password.  When you do this, the screen below appears.

Classmint has created a series of notes describing the site and how to use it.  Getting Started with Classmint explains the premise behind the application, the fold button, notes player and the explain tool.  Classmint is based upon active recall and Cornell Notes.  Using the notes player a user can listen to the text on the left hand side.  The explain tool allows you to include greater detail with any notes.

Using the Note Editor is a step-by-step clarification for creating notes.  Each icon on the toolbar is fully described in text and images.  A Cornell Note about Cornell Notes is a guide for taking notes using this method. Classmint for Teachers briefly outlines how an educator could use this as a tool for student learning.  When each of these notes were opened they were copied into my Revision List.

To further understand how notes can be used, I decided to create a note introducing the parts of a book and a few important people connected with creating a book.  To begin click on the +New Note button at the top of the screen.  A new window as shown below appears. You are on step 1, Create Note.

First give a title to your note (1).  Be sure to add a subject for the purpose of having students search for the note (4). On the left hand side add those terms you wish to identify or questions needing answers (3).  On the right place definitions of those words or the answers (2).  

As soon as you click on Keywords or Questions or Notes or Details about Keywords or Questions, the toolbar appears on the screen.  From left to right the icons represent: bold or italics text, two types of bulleted lists, adding a URL hyperlink, including a quote, two types of indenting, undo and redo, inserting an image, adding a mathematical formula and HTML code. At this time images can only be inserted using a web link.

When you start a note two sections are shown.  Every time you click the blue +Section button on the
right, a new keyword/note is added.  It is recommended you add as many of those as necessary to make your flashcard easy to follow.  I entered in all my keywords or questions first, adding my definitions or answers on the right later.  You can also import certain types of documents into your notes such as PDF or Word files.

When this was finished I clicked on the green Save button.  You are now on step 2, Save & Explain.  At this point you can highlight any portion of the text.  When you do this you have the option to include more information about what is highlighted or tweet about it.  When you click, Explain, a small tool bar offers the options of inserting an image, a link, undo, redo, adding code or a formula as well as the text box.  The two images below illustrate this step.  

When this is completed to your satisfaction, click the green Publish button.  When you publish your note it is available to the public.  At the bottom of your note are a series of small icons.  You can share your note on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or share it privately, export it as a PDF or delete it permanently.  Here is the link to the note I generated titled What is a Book?

This is a fairly new web 2.0 application which I believe has potential.  It is easy to use.  I like the interactive feature of folding the note, so the left side can be viewed without looking at the right side. Being able to have the Keywords/Questions read aloud is another plus.  For use in the classroom setting, it will be even better when your own images can be uploaded from your computer.  I invite you to give this application a try.  The designers of the site are open to suggestions.  

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

SMILE! Click!

Oh, yes...it's a day unlike any other.  It's a day filled with distractions in the classroom.  It's a day of long waits in line and the wearing of dress-up, sometimes uncomfortable, clothing.  For parents it's remembering to fill out the form, including the proper amount of money and hoping this will be THE year.  Truth be told, for teachers, it's a day unlike any other, filled with distractions in the classroom, long waits in line and students fidgeting in clothing they don't normally wear BUT it's also a day filled with interesting insights and unexpected surprises.

Neat and clean, wearing their favorite shirt, maybe even a tie, pants, blouse, skirt or dress, boys and girls arrive ready to rock school picture day. At least one hundred times they've been told to sit up straight and smile, but be natural and relax at the same time.  They, of course, are wondering at the improbability of those things occurring together.  Picture Day Perfection (Abrams Books for Young Readers) written by Deborah Diesen with illustrations by Dan Santat follows the singular efforts of one boy to achieve greatness on this very important annual occurrence.

I'd planned for months. 
This was going to be the year
of the perfect school picture.

But some days, not everything goes 
according to plan.

 It happens to all of us, despite the precautions taken the night before and our best efforts to sleep soundly without tossing and turning.  We wake up, look in the mirror and see the dreaded bedhead.  Well, perhaps a favorite article of clothing will compensate for the overabundance of unruly hair.  It's not looking exactly tidy from being in the dirty clothes basket but it will have to do.

Now it's on to a pancake kind of breakfast.  Yikes!  It's a maple syrup eruption!  The bus ride to school is less than stellar.  What's that?   The background box checked on the form just so happens to be the same color as that favorite shirt?!  At the moment this is looking like the farthest thing from a perfect kind of school picture day.  It's like this dude has been zapped by the Master of Disaster

Trouble is following this boy around like a shadow, even when practicing smiling.  Paint seems to go everywhere but on his project in Art.  When it's finally time for the picture taking, hearing the photographer say "Cheese" umpteen times, makes his stomach churn and gurgle.

Yes! Oh no! Yes! There's always next year.

Deborah Diesen knows how to build a story sentence by sentence.  With a practiced preciseness she gives each calamity a little more comedy than the one before by placing emphasis on certain words, words added to create exaggerated drama.  We readers turn the pages in anticipation,  wondering what new mishap will befall our protagonist, when the first unexpected twist is thrown our way, quickly followed by another.  Readers won't know whether to laugh at themselves or the guy who has plotted and prepared for 365 days.  Here's a sample, which is great to read to yourself but even better read aloud.

Then it took me quite some time to unearth my favorite shirt.
I finally found it at the very bottom of the hamper.

You might call it "stained."
You might call it "wrinkled."
You might even call it "smelly."
You wouldn't be wrong.

Taking the picture options, the mixture of sizes you get in a typical school picture package, illustrator Dan Santat divides them up, placing the largest on the front jacket, sets of the two smaller choices on the back jacket.  For each of the eleven images the boy's face assumes a different expression, each one more hilarious than the other.  (You have to wonder who the model was for these.)  The front and back cover highlight illustrations from within the story.  Opening and closing endpapers mirror a single and two partial rows of pictures like in a yearbook, leaving an empty frame in the back for your personal photograph.  All the guys and gals are sporting their own unique grins.

Prior to the title pages we are given a hint, Santat style, of possibilities in the narrative; a red, hand-drawn smiley face wearing a mischievous look.  This particular drawing does appear several more times in the book.  Each set of double pages zooms in on an entire image, a group of smaller images opposite a single picture, or large close-ups over fainter elements in the background.  The photographic theme is found in the attention to details; the eyes, nose and grin formed on the pancake stack with fruit, butter and bacon, four-printed snapshots of bedhead, student pictures as slides, publication and pricing information on a photographer's background with camera equipment placed nearby.

The bright, bold colors and definitive lines of these illustrations rendered in Adobe Photoshop, bring the text to life with the same energy as the main character's unfortunate moments throughout the day.  No one portrays humor exactly like Dan Santat does;  the looks on the boy's face alone are enough to have readers exploding with laughter.  From covered in syrup, to walking dismally down the hallway, to the shock of blending into the background, to goofy grin, painted splattered and rascal supreme, we see a person brimming with personality.  It seems pretty perfect to me.

Without a doubt you are going to want to have a copy of Picture Day Perfection written by Deborah Diesen with illustrations by Dan Santat in your personal, classroom or school library.  This team has depicted the misadventures of a boy bent on bringing a bold plan to fruition with the sure knowledge of firsthand experience. I know you will be hearing "read it again" over and over.

If you want to discover more about the work of either Deborah Diesen or Dan Santat follow the links embedded in their names above to access their websites.  Enjoy the book trailer below.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Coast To Coast

With so many Western television shows airing when I was growing up, it's no wonder I feel an attachment to that particular era in history.  There usually seemed to be significant happenings with the arrival or departure of trains, not to mention the perils of traveling by rail.  Who wouldn't dream of riding on the train featured prominently in The Wild, Wild West?

One can only imagine the wonder people felt with the completion of the transcontinental railroad; reaching the Pacific coast from the East without having to journey by foot, on the back of an animal or in a wagon pulled by them.  The pleasure of being able to enjoy the country you were passing through without all the responsibilities must have been (still is) like a sliver of heaven.  Brian Floca's Locomotive (A Richard Jackson Book, Atheneum Book for Young Readers, September 3, 2013), the recipient of five starred reviews, takes us back in time to 1869 for a trip on the recently completed line from Omaha, Nebraska to Sacramento, California.

made for crossing the country,
a new road of rails
made for people to ride.

Before starting to journey down that road we are given a brief look at the men who helped build this cross-country connection, of the work they needed to do and how they did it.  A family waits at the station, everything sold, owning only what they can carry, for the locomotive to arrive, cars strung out behind.  Amid the noise, the puffs of smoke, the colorful iron horse with her crew comes into view.

Before leaving the station, we get a peek inside the cab, where the fireman feeds coal into the firebox and the engineer pushes and pulls an assortment of levers to make the locomotive begin to move.  As Engine 23 hauls the passenger-filled cars down the tracks, the engineer rides and guides the machine with an experienced hand.  Miles pass and views change, The Platte River Valley, The Great Plains.  Inside the cars, tickets are taken, goods are sold, and people settle in for the ride.

Stopping at stations along the way, the tender tank is filled with water, people eat at the railroad restaurant and engines and their crews are exchanged.  As night falls, depending on your class, beds are made by porters or you get comfortable next to your seatmate.  When the sun rises the next morning, the landscape is changing, necessitating the need for an additional engine.  There are mountains to climb.

As the train chugs down the tracks, crossing narrow wooden bridges, landmarks whizzing by, the fireman and engineer give great care to their charge.  A mistake could cause a derailment or an explosion.  Finally the highest point is reached, the meeting of the two railroads, the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific, at Promontory Summit, Utah Territory.  A wood consuming engine replaces the coal-feed locomotive.

Traveling across, down and up deserts, valleys and mountains, some more famous than others, Donner Pass, under structures to keep snow off the tracks and through dark tunnels, the locomotive goes carrying precious cargo toward its destination. Down, down, it journeys, wheels spinning, brakes at the ready, easing up on the steam, to slow and stop.  Its mission is accomplished; a vision made into a reality.

It's easy to recognize the research necessary to pen a narrative such as Brian Floca has done in Locomotive.  Every passage speaks to and seeks to inform the reader.  A rhythm has been generated by his word selections; we hear the sounds of hammers pounding in spikes, smoke steaming from the engine, the whistle announcing the locomotive's plans.  Vivid descriptions of what the crew does and feels as well as the passengers' daily routines on this trip, give readers a true sense of being in the same experience.  With sensory language Floca describes the scenery in all its wild, western splendor.  Here are a couple of examples.

The hours and miles roll by.

The country opens,
opens wide,
empty as an ocean.

Smell the switchgrass and the bluestem,
hot beneath the sun.

Here the bison used to roam,
by the hundreds, by the millions.

Up, up, the engines climb.
If the rails are slick,
if the wheels won't catch,
the engineers can pull a handle
to drop some sand
down a tube, onto the tracks.
The wheels hit the grit,
the traction does the trick!

Up, up---
through spruce and pines,
past mills and mines...

Rendered in watercolor, ink, acrylic and gouache, the intricate, meticulous illustrations filled with life and emotion of Brian Floca call out to readers with every single element of the book.  You can almost hear the engine huffing and chugging down the track toward you on the front jacket or imagine the relative silence except for the voices of workers as they maintain an engine in the yard on the back jacket.  Removing the jacket, a breathtaking vista of the plains covered with buffalo, what it must have been like before the railroad's presence, greets readers.  You could study the opening and closing endpapers for hours; maps, small delicate pictures, recreations of railroad timetables, an explanation of steam power and a cross-section of an locomotive.  They're an amazing depiction done in a softened palette of realistic colors with prevalent browns and golden shades.

The title page features an introduction to the family who travels toward their husband and father through a photograph, a telegraph message, and several Trans-Continental Railroad Guides.   Floca's illustrations spread edge to edge across double or single pages, wrapping around or highlighting the text.  When appropriate small visuals draw attention to a particular portion of his narrative.  The changes in text size and placement serve to further engage readers in being a part of this particular past; a past well-worth visiting.  The hand-written labels for places is the perfect touch, like reading the front of a postcard.  Two of my favorite illustrations are of the locomotive traveling through The Platte River Valley, with the side and front view of moving down the tracks, and the close-up of the locomotive departing from the station in the dead of night.

Locomotive written and illustrated by Brian Floca is a work of art in every sense of the word.  The blend of text and illustrations is seamless inviting readers to read it again and again gaining some new piece of information or perspective each time.  It's not only a book to be read for the words and pictures but also for the texture of the pages, thick matte finished paper, giving one the feeling of holding history.

To access Brian Floca's website follow the link embedded in his name above.  This link is to a series of illustrations and sketches for the book prior to its release.  To read about the research involved in creating this title, follow this link to Kirkus where Brian Floca speaks with Julie Danielson.  At the publisher's website are more visuals from the book.  Brian Floca has an extensive author's note and bibliographic information at the end of this title.  Here is a link to an extensive curriculum guide.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Twitterville Talk #118

This was the week of the Harvest moon.  Next week autumn begins.  The celebrating of International Dot Day was a huge success.  This weekend authors, illustrators and those who love literature are gathering for book festivals.  Enjoy the weekly gathering of information from Twitter.  Have a wonderful weekend.  Take time to read.  Look for the giveaways.

This promises to be a good exercise in visualizing a story.  I could not find a Terms of Service or Privacy Policy so I hope this is appropriate for students.  I would stick to using this with the 13+ age group but it's a great idea which could be used with younger students.  You could collect images online or from other more traditional sources.  Have students trade them and make stories.  The site is Five Card Flickr.  The post recommending the site is here.

Thanks to Kevin Hodgson, educator and blogger at Kevin's Meandering Mind for this tweet and his post.

For those of you on Twitter this is excellent news, providing even more information to be shared with staff and students, The Library of Congress Launches @TeachingLC, It's New Twitter Feed for K-12 Educators

Check out this infographic, 9 Starter Tips for Teachers Who Just Got iPads

Many thanks to Oakland Schools for these tweets.

If you are thinking ahead to a Mock Newbery unit for your students, look no further than the ideas purposed by Katherine Sokolowski on her blog, Newbery Books In The Classroom.

Thanks to Katherine, educator and blogger at Read, Write, Reflect for this post and this tweet.

Don't forget, mark your calendar, set your alarm.   Do what you need to do to remember the #SharpSchu Book Club next Wednesday.  Get all the facts here.

Have you seen this book trailer for Andy Griffiths new title, The 39-Storey Treehouse?  

It's the premiere of the book trailer for Lee Bacon's new book, The Nameless Hero.

Thanks to Colby Sharp, educator, co-host of the #SharpSchu Book Club, co-host of the monthly #titletalk, co-founder of the Nerdy Book Club, and blogger at sharpread for these tweets.

For children's literature fans the award season is starting to heat up.  Publishers Weekly Shelf Talker has compiled a list, The Stars So Far (9.12.2013 Update), for the reviews received by titles of five, four, three, two and one stars.
To the first person who can tell me the title of the Kevin Henkes book with five stars, I will send a copy of Louise Yates new book, Dog Loves Counting.  Please leave your answer in the comments below or send me a DM on Twitter.(This title has been won.)

Get out pencil, paper and your credit card.  Booklist Fall Youth Preview 2013

This is a really clever idea which could be enhanced in your classrooms.  When I Grow Up: Careers for Children's Book Characters

Remember to highlight and celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month

An indie bookstore, Anderson's Bookshops, reveals their award picks, Mock Siebert Candidates 2014

On your mark, get set, READ FOR THE RECORD!

What a great week for book trailers!  Enjoy the creativity!  Share the joy next week!

Two very important links regarding Banned Books Week are here and here.

Many thanks to John Schumacher, teacher librarian, co-host of the #SharpSchu Book Club, 2011 Library Journal Movers & Shakers, 2014 Newbery Award Committee member and blogger at Watch. Connect. Read. for these tweets.

For educators what we do on a daily, monthly and yearly basis is summed up very well in this post, 20 Years, 20 Things  Clearly storytelling, books and reading figure highly in importance.

Thanks to Carrie Gelson, educator and blogger at There's A Book For That for this tweet and post.

Here's yet another great post on What is a Mystery Skype?  It is very comprehensive.

More and more educators are having their students work on some type of classroom blogging.  This article should be helpful, Three Tips for Structuring Classroom Blogging Projects.

Thanks to Jennifer LaGarde, teacher librarian, 2012 Library Journal Movers & Shakers, ALA/NYT I Love My Librarian Winner, co-founder of #levelupbc and blogger at The Adventures of Library Girl for these tweets.

This is a very interesting premise when you are trying to decide what to read next, Genre Map

Thanks go to teacher librarian and blogger at Try Curiosity!, Sarah Ducharme for this tweet.

Huge news in the children's literature book realm, Exclusive: The National Book Awards Longlist for Young People's Literature, was announced on Monday.

Thanks to the National Book Foundation for this tweet.

For educators doing a Mock Caldecott unit this post might be very helpful, Picture Book Layout.

Thank you goes to author illustrator Greg Pizzoli (The Watermelon Seed) for this post and tweet.

There's nothing more fun than giving out books for the trick or treaters at Halloween.  Have you participated in All Hallows Read?  Here is a link for this year's posters.  Neil Gaiman explains the tradition in the video below.

 Thanks for these tweets go to author  Neil Gaiman (Chu's Day).

This spread over Twitter like wildfire, Best-Selling Author James Patterson Reveals That He Will Donate $1 Million To Independent Bookstores

Here's more about James Patterson on His Plan to Give Indies $1 Million

Thanks to Shelf Awareness for this tweet.

You never forget the first time you read Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone.  This is a must see for fans, What It's Like Being A Part Of The "Harry Potter" Generation: An Illustrated Take

Thanks to author Jo Knowles (See You At Harry's) for this tweet.

Thanks to author of poetry, novels and screenplays, and blogger at GottaBookGreg Pincus for tweeting about the trailer for his new book, The 14 Fibs of Gregory K.

Many thanks to Kelly Tenkely educator, founder of Anastasis Academy, Learning Genome Founder and blogger at iLearn Technology for tweeting and sharing, Free Twitter Posters For Your Classroom.  

Notable posts this week at Free Technology for Teachers, are Four Helpful Web Search Strategy Tutorials, and Three Good Ways to Use Socrative In Your Classroom.

Thanks to educator, speaker and blogger at Free Technology for Teachers Richard Byrne for these tweets.

With tropical storms whipping into hurricanes and making the news more often this time of year, this is a useful resource, Hurricanes

Thanks to Science NetLinks for this tweet. Read my review of this 2013 AASL Best Websites for Teaching & Learning.

For a unit on travel, specifically by train, try All Aboard!|Great Books about Trains
To the first person who can tell me the illustrator of How To Train A Train, I will send a copy of Sharon Creech's new book, The Boy on the Porch.  Please DM me your answer on Twitter or leave it in the comments below. (This title has been won.)

Thank to School Library Journal for this tweet and post.

I had almost forgotten about this hilarious video.

Thanks to Meg Allison, teacher librarian, tech integrationist, 2013 Global Teacher Fellow and blogger at The Mad River Librarian for this tweet.

Here is a collection of quotes and notable tweets from the week.  I suspect Xena has been on my computer once again.  (Next thing you know, she'll be wanting her own blog.) There are several tweets from author/illustrator Loreen Long whose book, Otis, was chosen as the title for the Read For The Record campaign this year.