Quote of the Month

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

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A Day Etched In Memory

There are days we will never forget.  Their importance may be personal, professional or personal and professional.  Some of these significant happenings affect us as members of a neighborhood, community, state, country or even larger; on a global level.  We may not have been alive when the events left their mark on history but the impact remains.

I remember as vividly as if it were yesterday sitting in a seventh grade math classroom when the instruction was interrupted by the announcement that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated.  The seconds of silence in the room before conversations began were deafening.  The details of this tragedy I understand are numerous.

Until reading James Swanson's Chasing Lincoln's Killer (Scholastic, 2009) what I knew of President Abraham Lincoln's assassination was confined to facts from history textbooks.  Adding to my realization of what happened by providing a more concentrated, visual presentation is the newest title in Don Brown's Actual Times series, He Has Shot The President!: April 14, 1865: The Day John Wilkes Booth Killed President Lincoln (Roaring Brook Press).  By beginning his focus on the differing beliefs of the two men, Don Brown creates a scenario filled with tension.

Washington, D. C., April 14, 1865
It was a rare, cheerful day for President Abraham Lincoln.

President Lincoln had cause to feel good; the war with the Confederacy was drawing to a close. His accomplishments in that conflict and bringing freedom to the slaves were monumental.  John Wilkes Booth felt very differently.  He saw President Lincoln as a destroyer of all he held dear.

The President and his wife planned to attend a play at Ford's Theater in the evening.  John Wilkes Booth heard this mentioned when he, an actor of some renown, was at the theater that day.  For quite some time Booth and a group of people, who championed similar positions as him, had planned to kidnap President Lincoln.  With the loss of the war, kidnapping changed to murder.  That evening was the perfect opportunity.

Specific plans were put into place by Booth and his companions; an escalation of those to be killed, making sure all was in place at the president's box and the escape. Harry Ford, theater owner, was also getting the special box ready for the president's visit.  Booth's arrival and subsequent actions are carefully chronicled until he left the premises after shooting President Lincoln.

In another part of the city, Lewis Powell, attempted to carry out his murderous intentions against Secretary of State William Seward.  George Atzerodt lost his sobriety at the hotel bar; Vice President Andrew Johnson was thus unharmed. Under doctors' care with soldiers' assistance the President was removed from the theater to Petersen House across the street as John Wilkes Booth rode away from the city on his horse.  Per the scheme he met with David Herold, his would be guide to safety in the South. (Herold ran from the scene of William Seward's attempted murder.)

From Lincoln's bed with the gathered crowd to Dr. Samuel Mudd's home where Booth and Herold stopped to seek help for Booth's injury to the woods where they waited to cross the Potomac and back to Washington, D. C. where tempers boiled over and the manhunt for Booth and his conspirators expanded, the action never lessened.  Abraham Lincoln's body journeyed the miles from the capital city to Springfield.  A botched river crossing, a successful fording of another river, finding refuge with an unsuspecting family and riding cavalrymen, sealed the fate of the two fleeing justice for their deeds.

From page one this recounting of those historical facts is solidly captivating.  Don Brown creates a flowing blend of narration, explicit details and quotes making the reader feel as though this might have happened yesterday not nearly one hundred fifty years ago.  We know what happened on April 14, 1865 and after but Brown gives us different perspectives.  He takes us into the theater box, the bedroom of Petersen House, the Potomac River, the streets of Washington, D. C., the tobacco shed at Garrett's farm and the Booth family plot in Maryland.  Unless you are a scholar, as surely Brown must be, you will leave the reading of this book knowing at least one new piece of information.  Here is an example of his writing.

He led them to a small boat on the Potomac River and gave them directions to a creek in Virginia on the opposite shore.
"Mrs. Quesenberry lives near the mouth of this creek.  If you tell her you come from me I think she will take care of you," Jones said, pushing the boat into the current of the black river.
But the dark water and moonless night proved too unsettling for Booth, and even using the compass he carried, they veered off course.  

Using a muted color palette of blue, gray, brown, purple, some green and black, Don Brown expertly depicts the mood surrounding this date with his watercolor paintings.  The formal title page, on the right, is a representation of the dust jacket and book case done in black and white like a newspaper with Booth on the left page, gun in hand, looking out at the reader proclaiming,

I do not repent the blow I struck.

A single page and double page illustration introduce the book.

Throughout pictures are altered in size to compliment the information contained in the text.  Opposite the explanation of Booth's gang are pictures of four members standing together with their names beneath them.  Two pages are devoted to the street outside the theater as President Lincoln, his wife, Major Henry Rathbone and Carla Harris arrive.  It is a calm, normal scene in sharp contrast to the next two smaller visuals showing a bird's eye view of buildings and Booth sneaking up to the President's theater box. John Wilkes Booth standing behind the President and his wife just before the shooting is haunting and chilling.  Several other illustrations afford readers to view the happenings honestly; Brown not avoiding the grave nature.

Written and illustrated by Don Brown, He Has Shot The President!: April 14, 1865: The Day John Wilkes Booth Killed President Lincoln is a definite must read for older readers.  With a book length of sixty-four pages it supplies a gripping timeline with crisp clear writing and convincing illustrations.  Don Brown has a gift for breathing life into history.

Please follow the link to his official website embedded in his name.  This link to the publisher's website gives you a glimpse at several illustrations from the book. Other titles in the series are:
Let It Begin Here!: April 19, 1775: The Day The American Revolution Began; All Stations! Distress!: April 15, 1912: The Day The Titanic Sank; Gold! Gold From The American River!: January 24, 1818: The Day The Gold Rush Began; and America Is Under Attack: September 11, 2001: The Day The Towers Fell. 

This is another fantastic Wednesday participating in the 2014 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Testing One Two Three--Screencasting With Snagit In Google Chrome

About six weeks ago a tweet appeared in my feed about a new beta tool by TechSmith. (As of April 23, 2014 it is now out of beta.)  This is the same group which developed Jing, an American Association of School Librarians Best Websites for Teaching & Learning 2010.  I use Jing frequently as a screen capture tool with the ability to add an arrow, text, frame and highlight.  You can also use it to record short videos.  It is a free download.

TechSmith has another tool called Snagit.  Snagit has a free fifteen (15) day trial.  It costs $49.95 for a single license per year.  For qualifying educators there are different prices.  Snagit is like a super-duper Jing with many more features.  (This links to the full list of features for Windows users, Mac users.)

The newest tool is Screencasting in Snagit for Google Chrome.  One of the best features is having an image immediately saved to Google Drive.  A link is provided for easy sharing.  Your video can be uploaded to YouTube.  This tool is free.

To begin go to the home page Snagit for Google Chrome. You will need to download the Chrome Extension and Chrome Application.  (Links are provided.) The extension enables you to capture screen images within Chrome.  The application enables you to edit, share and manage your captures plus create new screencasts.  By clicking on the blue +Free button these items are added to your device.  When the application is added it now appears when you click on the Chrome Apps icon.  The extension is shown as an icon at the end of your browser address bar.

Before using these two tools, open the application and click on the small gear icon.  Make sure you place a check mark in the box for Enable experimental features. (Not sure if you still need to do this now that it's out of beta.)  At this screen you can also disable the microphone if you want to make a silent screencast or adjust your microphone volume.  Now you are ready to use the features of Snagit for Google Chrome.

Click on the extension icon to capture a portion or all of your entire screen.  Click and drag to get the perfect area.  You can add an arrow, frame or circle with five different color choices.  The shapes can be resized and rotated.  When adding text the size can be altered, made bold, placed in italics, underlined or text can be struck through the center.  When you click on Share a URL link is shown.  The file can also be renamed.  It is sent to your Google Chrome Library (the app) as well as your Google Drive. 

When you open the Snagit for Google Chrome app now, you will see the saved image as well as two small icons above it.  The plus sign is for adding a new screen recording.  The files allow you to see images only, recordings only or everything in your library.

Upon choosing the plus sign a new window opens asking you to choose what you desire to record. (I found that this window opened over the current open tab, showing it as the first choice.) Select the appropriate choice.  When you do, the recording begins immediately.

At the bottom of the screen, as the application is recording, you will see a button that reads Stop sharing.  When you are done recording, click this.  At the next window you can rename your screencast, preview it by selecting the play button or upload it to YouTube.  Once your video has been uploaded to YouTube, the URL link for sharing appears.  Here is the link to my screencast video. 

You could not ask for an easier tool to use for capturing an image and creating a screencast in Google Chrome.  Having images saved immediately to Google Drive eliminates a step and provides easy access.  The screencast was made, saved and shared in a matter of minutes.  The developers of this new tool are eager for input and ways you are using it in educational settings.  Follow the links announcing the beta and the coming out of beta for more information.  Have fun!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Just Enough To Change Everything

There are those books even as you are reading them, you know without a doubt you want to read them again.  The aura in which you were enveloped as you turn each page, even when you are finished, stays with you weeks and months later.  Words coined by the author insert themselves into your daily vocabulary, more descriptive somehow than others.  Using these words not only expresses more eloquently how you feel in a given situation, but brings back the essence of the book.

These books reveal themselves to you sometimes as early as the dedication page.  When I read this dedication,


I realized without reading a single sentence this author loves using language; this author uses words like a composer uses notes to create sensational sounds.  This book was going to sing its way right into my heart.  And it did.  A Snicker of Magic (Scholastic Press, February 25, 2014) a first novel by author Natalie Lloyd is a book to relish, savoring every single page.

"They say all the magic is gone up out of this place," said Mama.
She looked straight ahead as she drove, past the white beam of our headlights, deep into the night, like she could see exactly what was up ahead of us. I couldn't see anything, though: not a house, not a store, not even an old barking dog.  A big fat moon, pale white and lonesome looking, was our only streetlight.

Felicity Juniper Pickle, her younger sister Frannie Jo, their dog Biscuit and her mama are arriving in the town of Midnight Gulch. The two girls are hoping their mama will stay put here for a spell; they've been in six different states.  Another first day of school, this time at Stoneberry Elementary, has them both a little on edge.  To ease Frannie Jo's jitters, Felicity catches a poem for her, reciting it aloud as they walk down the hallway the next morning.

What you have to understand is Felicity can literally see words in the most glorious colors and shapes around people and things; out of thin air.  No one else has this gift as far as she knows.  She is a collector of words; gifted and unique.  This ability gives her insight into people and their actions.

On that first day Miss Divinity Lawson, Felicity's homeroom teacher, tells a powerful story about a magical duel between the Weatherly brothers, Stone and Berry.  To commemorate this face-off, which has a less than happy ending for everyone, she announces a new duel, a sharing of talent, on September 15.  A cryptic note leads Felicity to a new friend, Jonah Pickett, a boy in her class with his own particular powers and a secret identity.

Midnight Gulch holds wonders other than people with uncommon understandings.  It's home to Dr. Zook's Ice Cream, forty-five scrumptious flavors, with an exceedingly special one called Blackberry Sunrise.  Made with wild blackberries grown near Snapdragon Pond this delight can stir up peoples' memories, happy and sad.  You'll never guess who the current owner of the ice cream company is either but that's part of the pleasure of reading this story, everything and everyone are linked together by the mystery and the magic.

A cast of lovable but extraordinary characters people the pages; Holly, Felicity's wandering mother, filled with sadness and the ability to create beautiful paintings, Cleo, Felicity's aunt, giver of sage, no-nonsense advice and maker of quilts, Day Grissom, school bus driver who gave his heart away many years ago, Boone, Felicity's musician uncle, recently returned home, Florentine, a weaver of stories and a keeper of history, Jonah's mom, owner of Jewell Pickett's Lube & Dye (Can you believe it?  She has a beauty salon and a car shop.), Ponder Waller, maker of pie's not only tasting good but with marvelous qualities, Rosie Walker, guitar-playing singer, Virgil the weatherman, who's always right and the woman who loved and was loved in return by the two brothers.  There is also a tattoo appearing and disappearing on people, a curse, bundled burdens and a search for a perfect memory.  Most important of all there is love, an abundance of love.

Felicity and Jonah, their friendship growing ever stronger, work diligently toward seeking solutions, finding connections and awakening the remarkable possibilities just under the surface in Midnight Gulch.  Time is running out.  Will a snicker of magic be enough?

I believe Natalie Lloyd has more than a snicker of magic coursing through her being; yes indeed.  This woman has a heart beating to the same pulse as word weavers, tellers of tales, and those bringing stories to people back for generations deeply rooted in the oral tradition.  Her portrayals of people, places and events are breathtaking.  As a reader you find yourself constantly and consistently pausing to close your eyes picturing in your mind's eye what you have read.

Her characters, each and every one, main and secondary all play an important part in the intricate workings of her narrative.  Conversations ring true to the traits of each.  Our world needs more people like Felicity Juniper Pickle willing to work the magic of their particular gift so others may find their true happiness; a sense of belonging found in home and family.  Here are three of thirty passages I have marked in my book.

Mama's fingers clutched knuckle-white around the steering wheel again.  But she kept on telling:
"They could play a song and it would echo through the whole town, and everybody in town, no matter where they were stood up and danced."
She cleared her throat. "They say some people glowed in the dark.  And some people faded when they were sad---first they went colorless, then totally invisible.  There are so many stories..."
"And this magic town is the same town where you grew up?" I asked.
She nodded.
"Then why the hayseed would you ever leave a place like that?"

Desks squeaked and popped as people leaned up in their seats, trying to get as close as they could to the story Miss Lawson was telling.  If the right person tells a story, I guess it doesn't matter how many times you've heard it.  Your heart still hears it brand-new.  And Miss Lawson was an A+ storyteller.

The way he said her name made my heart cramp.  In all my years of word collecting, I've learned this to be a tried and true fact:  I can very often tell how much a person loves another person by the way they say their name.  I think that's one of the best feelings in the world, when you know your name is safe in another person's mouth.  When you know they'll never shout it out like a cuss-word, but say it or whisper it like a once-upon-a time.

If you haven't read A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd read it...read it now.  If you've already read it, read it again.  I did today.  When I finished it tears came to my eyes because of the sheer beauty of the telling.  It's a very important book destined to be a classic.

Please follow the link embedded in Natalie Lloyd's name to her blog.  The links here and here take you to Scholastic's dedicated pages for this title.  This link is to educator, Beth Shaum's blog, A Foodie Bibliophile in Wanderlust, where she interviews Natalie Lloyd.

Friday, April 25, 2014

P B And J Lead The Way

Without a doubt the peanut butter and jelly sandwich is a classic, favorite food especially for children.  Even the pickiest of eaters will gobble up this delectable delight.  You can hardly think of one (peanut butter or jelly) without the other.  I have even discovered there is a National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day held each year on April the 2nd.

There are certain combinations, legendary duos, friendships, in the world of fiction, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Batman and Robin, Calvin and Hobbes, Frodo and Sam, Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh, which have and will continue to stand the test of time.  I think a new marvelous match has entered the children's literature community, Peanut Butter and Jellyfish (Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children's Books) written and illustrated by Jarrett J. Krosoczka.

Peanut Butter and Jellyfish were the best of friends.

No day went by without these pals playfully exploring all the nooks and crannies of their briny habitat.  Unfortunately their blissful bonding was interrupted by the unkind comments of the local curmudgeon, Crabby.  Insult after insult floated through the ocean current as they swam past his rocky station.

Peanut Butter and Jellyfish did what positive people do; they ignored Crabby and his hurtful statements.  Did that stop him?  It did not.  He was a master of meanness.

To their surprise one day Crabby was not at his post.  Distressful cries caught their attention.  Crabby had been caught in a lobster trap.  Uh oh...things are not looking so swell for their tormentor.

A decision must be quickly made.  Will the flick of a tail work?  Will the talented tentacles do the trick?  Will fear be overcome with bravery?  There are indeed many undiscovered riches within the undersea realm.

Within this simple charming story, Jarrett J. Krosoczka defines friendship and taking the high road as well as how to voice one's fears and having the courage to admit your mistakes.  In the characters of Peanut Butter, Jellyfish and Crabby are traits commonly found in people who come and go in our everyday lives.  Readers will easily be able to identify with the circumstances of these three; similar situations are constantly present at home and school.

 A mix of narration and dialogue provides an even flow and a gentle kind of tension.  Krosoczka includes descriptive words like taunt, heckler, relentless, barnacles, invertebrate and excursion to broaden readers' vocabulary and invite discussion.  Here is a single example.

"Should we help?" asked Jellyfish.
The two friends shared a look.
"He is in serious trouble," said Peanut Butter.

Jarrett J. Krosoczka uses both the front and back of his identical dusk jacket and book case to present a cheerful illustration filled with bright, bold colors which calls out to readers inviting them to join in the adventures of Peanut Butter and Jellyfish.  His opening and closing endpapers show layers of ocean in vivid hues of blue, a fishing boat moving along the surface.  There is a noticeable difference in the two, a distinct beginning and ending to the story.  A continuation of the scene on the outside of the book provides on the inside a backdrop for the title and publication information.

A technique of using acrylic paintings manipulated into collages digitally brightens the text with two-page, one page and several half page visuals.  Using dots for eyes, a shift in eyebrows, and altered mouth shapes Krosoczka conveys a range of emotions.  Readers will cheer for the two friends and even feel empathy for their adversary.

The first sentence (shown above) with the joyful companions swimming through the colorful ocean sends an uplifting message that all is right in their world.  It is in direct contrast to another of my favorite designs.  On these two pages Crabby, in four half page illustrations, is shown in different poses shouting out not-so-nice one-liners from his rock.  The interplay of background colors and sea life is genuinely appealing.  (It's interesting that Krosoczka has chosen white for his font color.  I really like it.)

Who wouldn't want to have friends like the sea creatures found in Peanut Butter and Jellyfish written and illustrated by Jarrett J. Krosoczka?  They are cute, lighthearted and have a zest for life; even managing to crack ole' Crabby's shell of crankiness.  They are heroes who don't know they are.  Which in my book are the very best kinds.

Please follow the link embedded in Jarrett J. Krosoczka's name to his website.  He has loads of information and fun things to see and do.  At John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read., he celebrates the release of Peanut Butter and Jellyfish with an author illustrator interview.  At the publisher's website more interior views of the book are available. The tweet below is pretty amazing too!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Prehistoric Pandemonium

Now that spring has officially arrived, most of the snow finally melting, it's hard not to think of summer.  I'll bet there are people already planning their vacations, many reserving spots at their favorite campgrounds.  It's time to take stock of the gear, perhaps upgrading to a larger tent, better cook stove and more comfortable sleeping bags.

During my scouting years we learned basic survival skills, sharing many an adventure with neighborhood girls at different designated camps.  Older and out of college, hiking into the remote areas of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, I spent a fairly sleepless night worried about bears and only a tiny tent for protection. Camping across the north and south west might have been the best two summer weeks I ever spent.

What I've never done (but the idea is certainly fascinating) is go camping with prehistoric pals.  If I ever had the opportunity, I might want to take the newest release of Caldecott Honor winner (Flora and the Flamingo) Molly Idle along with me.  The characters introduced with great hilarity in Tea Rex have returned in Camp Rex (Viking, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA)).  Get ready for a camping trip that is truly out of this world!

Searching for an outing to enjoy with your friends?
Consider camping!

All camping aficionados can attest to the benefits of the fresh air.  Without a doubt it is the best kind of exercise for shaking away the winter cobwebs.  There are, of course, certain types of protocol to be observed.

These rules of the road (so to speak) are never more important than when your best buddies are a Tyrannosaurus rex, a Pterodactyl, a Stegosaurus, a Triceratops and a teddy-bear-toting little brother.  Sticking together and following the trail can be a tad bit tricky.  Once the tents are erected at the ultimate spot, discovering the joys of the forest are next on the agenda.

This too poses its own set of problems if you lack understanding of the local plants and animals.  (Shaking a beehive is not a good idea.)  Since there has yet to be a canoe made large enough to accommodate gigantic lizards, be prepared for the consequences.  As the day closes a group effort is needed to gather materials for building a fire for cooking, heat and light.  No...no...no...not that much wood!

With songs, stories and sounds of the night life filling the air some are able to fall asleep, tuckered out from the day's activities.  One is not as lucky as the others but when morning comes, friends offer support.  Who knows what another day will bring for this merry band of camping companions?

An unnamed narrator introduces the adventure proceeding in a most proper manner to delineate the steps necessary for a successful outing into the wilderness. It's the implications created by Molly Idle's precise use of language which set the stage for the contrast between the text and illustrations. It's calm, cool and collected versus comical chaos.

Precise details on the characters and within the settings, shadings in the coloration providing texture and expressive facial features begin on the matching dust jacket and book case.  Using wood for the letters in Camp is a nice touch as is the crown over Rex.  Perhaps Molly Idle is getting us ready for the surprises within the book by giving us this illustration on the front which contrasts with the campfire scene later in the story.  The opening and closing endpapers picturing a scouting (camper) hat, a Wilderness Guidebook, a compass, a canteen and two daisies are distinctly different from one another telling a tale before the first page is turned.

Alternating between two-page visuals edge to edge and single page, half page and a page with three illustrations bordered in white and a fine blue line, Idle keeps in splendid sync with her text.  At each reading more humorous details reveal themselves; the "coonskin" cap worn by the Stegosaurus, her younger brother's teddy bear seems to get in on all the action, the owl giving the Pterodactyl the evil eye, and the canoe oars being used as firewood.  There are extra stories in all the illustrations!

One of my favorite illustrations is the previously mentioned campfire scene.  All the characters are gathered around the fire, roasting marshmallows, singing at the top of their proverbial lungs (even the teddy bear's head it tipped up in song).  Where the marshmallows are placed will have you roaring with laughter as will the antics of the raccoon.

Camp Rex written and illustrated by Molly Idle is fun...fun...fun. It's a must have for all those storytelling sessions about camping and summer activities.  As a read aloud it's exquisite; the difference between the reader's (narrator's) voice (prim and particular) and the pictures will have listeners giggling continuously. You'll never hear the word camping again without getting a big grin on your face; this title will remain in your memory for a long time.

Please visit Molly Idle's official website by following the link embedded in her name.  On Sunday visit John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read. and Colby Sharp's site, Sharpread, as they feature Molly Idle and Camp Rex in a trifecta.  It might involve a book trailer.  Here is the link to her post at the Nerdy Book Club.  Have fun!  Also for more interior pictures and an interview check out the Penguin Teen Tumblr.  

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Last Has Passed

It's hard to wrap your mind around the number of species on the critically endangered list.  According to the website, ARKive, they currently are highlighting 1,828 plants and animals. At the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List of Threatened Species 4,286 names are given as critically endangered.  When we lose even one, we are much less than we were.

My interest in the Galapagos Islands was initially peaked when reading Island: A Story of the Galapagos (Roaring Brook Press, A Neal Porter Book) written and illustrated by Jason Chin.  My fascination is even stronger after reading about one particular resident in the final collaboration (in person) between author Jean Craighead George and illustrator Wendell Minor.  Galapagos George (Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers) takes us back in time nearly one million years ago.

This is a story that took so long to happen that only the stars were present at the beginning and at the end.

It begins in South America with a giant female tortoise, Giantess George.  She is witness to numerous changes in the land around her including a huge storm, causing the water to rise and fall sweeping her and other animals out to sea.  Fortunately she and those like her were able to float on trees also swept off the island.

Did you know a tortoise like Giantess George could live for a year without food or water?  She survived, landing on an island six hundred miles from her original home.  This is one of those incredible miracles of the natural world.  She lived there as she had in South America, laying eggs...big eggs.

Her body adapted to the location of her vegetarian-style food, her neck growing longer and her shell's shape altering. Over time her children, their children and those which followed continued to acclimate themselves to their landscape.  Other islands in the group each had special tortoises specific to their island alone.

When people began to arrive in the early 1500s the population of tortoises was drastically reduced by more than one hundred thousand.  With the arrival of Charles Darwin to the islands a theory was put in place as to the different tortoises on each island, a specific kind of evolution.  People introduced other species on the islands which further harmed the tortoise numbers.

There came a day when only one descendant of Giantess George was left.  For his protection sometime in the early 1970s he was removed from Pinta Island and taken to the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island.  On June 24, 2012 Lonesome George (the name given him by the scientists) passed away after pulling his head into his shell and putting up his knees the previous afternoon.  He was more than one hundred years old, living proof of the wonders surrounding us every day.

When I read books researched and written by Jean Craighead George, whether they are fiction or nonfiction, I feel much closer to understanding our planet and its inhabitants.  In this particular title she condenses a vast amount of material into a narrative understandable by younger readers.  She provides enough information but in the presentation she somehow encourages us to seek out more.  Her zest for discovery, her unquenchable curiosity, is being ignited in each and every reader.

Using photographs taken by Jean Craighead George on her trip to the Galapagos Islands as well as pictures from photographer friends who also visited the islands, Wendell Minor works his magic with Windsor and Newton Watercolors on archival 3-ply Strathmore Bristol paper.  On the matching dust jacket and book case he showcases Galapagos George on the front with an oval portrait of Giantess George on the back.  His opening and closing endpapers feature a map of the islands, native animals, Galapagos George, a small landscape of the island and two other maps giving the reader perspective as to the islands' placement on a larger scale.

His luminous paintings (How does he get the light perfectly?) give the reader a true sense of time and place.  Intricate details using tiny, delicate brushstrokes transform his double-page, single page and smaller illustrations into pictures asking you to pause and appreciate.  You develop a kinship with those tortoises, especially Galapagos George.  In an email earlier today I mentioned his books are like mini art galleries.  His reply to me is:

I, too, often refer to my books as mobile mini art galleries! Knowing that many children live in areas that do not have easy access to museums or galleries, it is my hope that my art will inspire their future interest in visiting museums and galleries to view original works of art.

Two of my favorite illustrations are of Giantess George as she is reaching for leaves for the first time and of Galapagos George in his home on Santa Cruz Island.  I like that Minor has placed the same type of bird perched on both of their shells.  It's a splendid reminder of the ties the two tortoises shared.

Jean Craighead George and Wendell Minor have made another beautiful, informative book together in Galapagos George.  After I read it a second time I started to explore the key terms, timeline, books and online resources included at the back of this title.  Just as Jean Craighead George would have wished I got caught up in the extended story of Galapagos George.  Be sure to read the In Remembrance paragraph written by Twig George, Jean's daughter.  I like to think that somewhere a very special tortoise might be spending time walking with an extraordinary woman.

Please follow the links embedded in the author's and illustrator's names to their official websites.  If you follow this link to the publisher's website you can see some interior illustrations.

I look forward to Wednesday each week, happy to be participating in the 2014 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted at Kid Lit Frenzy by Alyson Beecher.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

If Not For Them...

Living in northern Michigan there are two things you simply can't ignore, trees and water.  One of my favorite hikes is through the woods along the shore of Lake Michigan.  When no one else is around, early in the morning, I've seen white-tailed deer playfully jumping in the water along the beach and a bald eagle soaring above the treetops.  By climbing a series of hills on paths winding among pines, oaks, maples, poplars, beeches and ferns, I can see two different arms of Lake Charlevoix.

It would be easy to take such abundance of both for granted, but I don't.  Reverence would be an apt description of how I feel about trees and water, knowing they could disappear if not protected.  In 2012 a book garnering a Golden Kite Honor Award, Picture Book Text, placement on the International Reading Association Teachers' Choices 2013, Primary Readers, the position of a Minnesota Book Award Finalist 2013, The John Burroughs Riverby Award for 2012 and listed on the National Council of Teachers of English 2013 Notable Children's Books in the Language Arts titled A Leaf Can Be... (Millbrook Press) written by Laura Purdie Salas with illustrations by Violeta Dabija spoke (still speaks) to the youngest of readers (which means all of us) about the place of leaves in the natural realm. 

A leaf is a leaf.
It bursts out each spring
when sunny days linger
and orioles sing. 

After these introductory poetic phrases which truly make you feel like singing yourself (go ahead, read them aloud now), you read the title of the book followed by eleven, rhyming, two-word defining sentence finishers; one set per page.  Then the first sentence of the volume is repeated with three new lines moving from spring to fall.  Again two-word, lyrical, rhyming descriptions depict the ever-changing potential of leaves in the lives of many.

Clearly Laura Purdie Salas is a keen observer of the out-of-doors; noticing the multiple purposes of leaves.  Her true gift though lies in her combinations of words.  Not only are they true but absolutely beautiful. Here are two sets of couplets.

Tree topper
Rain stopper

Wind rider
Lake glider

After the narrative concludes, she takes each of her two-word phrases, explaining them in more factual terms. This is not only an invitation for learning but for readers to challenge themselves to think of their own two-word portrayals of leaves.  The final page includes a small glossary as well as a list of four books containing more information.

Fortunately for readers three short weeks ago Laura Purdie Salas and Violeta Dabija released a new collaboration bringing us a second stellar title, Water Can Be... (Millbrook Press).  Having watched the levels of Lake Michigan fall to their lowest in my memory, this ode to the splendor of water in all its forms is timely and timeless.  From drop to downpour, it's never been more eloquently depicted.

Water is water---
it's puddle, pond, sea.
When springtime comes splashing,
the water flows free.

As in the previous title we readers are treated to eleven representations of water in the world.  Each pair's cadence creates a melody not dissimilar to the sounds water can make; almost silent to a roar.  We are magically moved to each location.

Water is a birthplace and residence, a mirror, a source of food and drink, a land shaper, a cycle maker, a disguiser, a temperature changer, a color coordinator and a source of destruction.  Its capabilities, like a leaf, change with the seasons.  We can see its distinctive values in the outer world as well in our homes and workplaces.

When you read the word choices of Laura Purdie Salas, you want to grab a pencil and paper as fast as you can, to start jotting down what you notice about water in the spring, summer, fall and winter.  She makes you realize you need to pay closer attention, to be more appreciative.  Her use of language challenges you to stretch beyond the obvious, renaming what you see, hear, smell, touch or taste.  Here are several twosomes from this title.

Thirst quencher
Kid drencher

Salmon highway
Eagle flyway

Four pages are devoted to clarifying water's role in the double word phrases.  Her sentences are enlightening and entertaining at the same time.  Salas is careful to speak as if in conversation with her readers.  Here is a single sample.

Rainbow jeweler: Did you know that without water, we would have no rainbows? They form when sunshine meets water vapor in the air.  The sunlight hits the water vapor, bends, and travels to your eye.  The light makes different colors depending on how it bends.

A glossary and list of five books ends this title.

Of Violeta Dabija the publisher's website says:

She works in both traditional and digital media and often mixes them to produce delicate and atmospheric illustrations with a traditional feel.

The matching dust jacket and book case on each volume features an altered version of a visual from within the pages.  On the back is a smaller illustration framing or highlighting a question to the reader about a leaf or water.  The endpapers are a solid color, taken from the front of the jacket and case.

The shapes and hues on the title page blend and extend into the verso and first page, softly stunning, so lovely you wish you were standing beneath the tree branches filled with singing birds or next to the rapidly moving stream.  For each set of words, Dabija has created lively, graceful images endearing and expressive, favoring shades of green in the first and of blue in the newest title.  That is not to say she does not use other colors to great effect.

 She adds her unique, skillful brand of marvel and magic on every page.  The final two pages, a single illustration in both books, show men and women creating topiaries from shrubs and trees and a castle, crescent moon, rabbit and dragon from ice.  In A Leaf Can Be... one of my favorite pictures (nest former) is of a flock of white birds gathering leaves to make homes in a single tree.  The combination of greens, blues and browns, tiny white blossoms surrounding the shape of the branch ends, is life affirming, full of peace and hope.  Featuring a cascading stream, white-tipped waves forming, falling down through the spring forest with snow-capped mountains in the distance, Dabija pictures Downhill speeder from Water Can Be...  You can almost hear the racing sound of the water.  This is one of several favorites of mine.

Let us hope that A Leaf Can Be... and Water Can Be... written by Laura Purdie Salas with illustrations by Violeta Dabija are the first two of many collaborations.  These books are breathtaking in word and pictures.  Read them for the quiet pleasure they bring.  Read them for the information they provide.  Read them to see a leaf and water in a new light.  Most of all, share them with everyone often!

Please follow the links embedded in the author's and illustrator's names to access their official websites. Laura Purdie Salas has numerous extra features for educators; how the book began (for A Leaf Can Be...), reading guides, videos and activity sheets. Follow this link to the publisher's website for inside views of both books, and a PDF downloadable bookmark for A Leaf Can Be... At this link to Cynthia Leitich Smith's blog, Cynsations, view several videos about Water Can Be...  Here is a link to a Pinterest board Laura Purdie Salas created for Water Can Be...

Do not miss the #SharpSchu Book Club tonight on Twitter which features these two books.  Be sure to check back here later for a link to the archive if you miss the chat.  Watch. Connect. Read. John Schumacher  Sharpread Colby Sharp

Monday, April 21, 2014

Plan R For Read This You Must

No matter how much care is given to the implementation of an idea, it sometimes does not work.  If another party is involved (your nemesis), it can be baffling as to how they seem to know exactly what your intentions are almost before you do.  They are indeed very clever or you may have discovered your soul mate; even if you are a child and they are an adult.

If you have read Lulu and the Brontosaurus or Lulu Walks the Dogs, you are familiar with this tenacious troublemaker whose mind never rests; continuously plotting to get her own way...always.  Lulu's Mysterious Mission (Atheneum Books for Young Readers) written by Judith Viorst with illustrations by Kevin Cornell, dust jacket illustration by Lane Smith, finds this manipulative maven facing her biggest challenge yet.  It seems Lulu's parents are about to do the unthinkable; take a trip without her.

But first let's go find Lulu, who is in the living room screeching "No! No! No!" although she doesn't screech much anymore. However, the news she was hearing from her mom and dad was so utterly, totally SHOCKING that it not only started her screeching but almost shocked her into throwing one of her heel-kicking, arm-waving, on-the-floor tantrums. 

Lulu is not about to take this news without a fight.  She fails to understand how her parents can enjoy themselves without her.  She wonders what kind of person could possibly take good care of her; said person might have ulterior motives like kidnapping her for ransom or starving and hitting her or locking her in the basement (the fact that their home has no basement is irrelevant).

Her parents assure her they've

hired the best babysitter in town---maybe the world---to take care of 

her.  Well, when Lulu hears the word babysitter that starts a whole new tirade.  Filled with fury she stomps up the stairs to her room when informed Ms. Sonia Sofia Solinsky will be arriving shortly as her parents are leaving the next day.  What? Tomorrow?  It gets worse and worse as far as Lulu is concerned.

Fuming she starts to hatch a plan which is executed quicker than anticipated when Ms. Sonia Sofia Solinsky loudly announces her presence, boldly walking into Lulu's bedroom despite her proclamation of being extremely ill.  Now if you are under the belief this caretaker of children is some sweet little old lady, think again.  Dressed in a military style uniform with a canteen and binoculars hanging from her belt, hair pulled back in a severe bun, combat boots on her feet, with a single glance anyone can tell she means business.  As soon as Lulu's parents are out of earshot, she tells her precisely how things are going to play out over the next week.

The next day when her parents have left, Lulu realizing plan A was an utter failure, decides it's time for plan B.   That strategy is a bust.  Plan C flops miserably.  When plan D appears to be working splendidly, Lulu gets stopped mid-argument by a single word from Ms. Sonia Sofia Solinsky.  It's time to call a truce and bargain with her archenemy.

Attached to that single word are other word groups, Repair and Restore, Disguise and Penetrate, Hacking and Codes and...those two words for which you've been patiently waiting...Mysterious Mission.  The days fly by as Lulu puts forth her best efforts (and believe me, knowing Lulu, it's not easy) to comply with the instructions of Triple S before her parents return.  Her mom and dad are absolutely bewildered when she insists they take more trips without her in the future, requesting that Ms. Sonia Sofia Solinsky stay with her. As readers you won't be the least bit surprised because Lulu gets her way...always.

Judith Viorst, as in the two previous titles, begins with a two page introduction of sorts, advising us of her unintentional deceit with the title.

STOP! Don't begin the first chapter just yet. There's something I need to tell you.  And I think I'd better tell it to you right now.

This one-on-one conversation, in a no-nonsense-let's-be-perfectly-clear tone of voice, with the reader continues throughout the story.  It's like we are getting extra information, the inside scoop, from the one person who knows everything.

You couldn't ask for characters, Lulu's mom and dad, Ms. Sonia Sofia Solinsky and Harry Potter, Lulu's trombone instructor, who play their parts any better.  Ms. Solinsky would have any other boy or girl raising a white flag after the first round but not Lulu. When a fictional character is over-the-top outrageous in their words and deeds, you can't help but laugh.  This is the Lulu, created by Viorst, whose escapades we have come to admire.

Known for not going with the flow, she still keeps us guessing as to her next plan of action.  Lulu's eeny meeny miney mo chant whispered under her breath, with a verse added after each loss and, in a twist of fate, success, definitely heightens the hilarity.  When she and Ms. Sonia Sofia Solinsky plot and converse, readers will keep those pages turning as fast as they can.  Here is a single sample.

... But before she could finish another "That babysitter's got to go," a loud "ahem!" disturbed her happy mood.
Standing at strict attention at the bottom of the tree---and what, in heaven's name, was she doing out there?---was none other than Ms. Sonia Sofia Solinsky.
"What, in heaven's name, are you doing out here?" Lulu fake-sweetly asked her. "I was just getting ready to meet you by the front door."
"I very much doubt that," said Ms. Solinsky, scowling down at Lulu and shaking a stern finger in her face. "But I'm warning you, don't bother trying that climb-out-the window-and-down-the-tree-nonsense again.  Believe me, I know tricks that you've never dreamed of.  Besides which, you were already wearing your sneakers."

For this third title in the series Kevin Cornell's illustrations rendered in graphite and watercolor on paper and then digitally manipulated add an extra spark to the text.  He leaves no doubt as to the many moods of each character, especially Lulu.  Smaller insets, full page and larger illustrations crossing the gutter fit the flow of the narrative seamlessly.

Two of my favorites are Ms. Sonia Sofia Solinsky holding the back of Lulu's skirt so she can't fake faint when her parents are leaving.  We see a highly distraught Lulu, the long legs, combat boots and arm of Ms. Sonia Solinsky with the paler outlines of the living room in the background.  When Lulu is sure plan D is proceeding toward victory, we see the text of her chant in blue as she does a determined dance, legs and arms raised, with Ms. Sonia Sofia Solinsky towering behind her in a lighter hue.

Run, don't walk, to your nearest independent bookstore or library to get a copy of Lulu's Mysterious Mission written by Judith Viorst with illustrations by Kevin Cornell.  This book is one hundred eighty-two pages of pure pleasure.  I know because I've read it twice.  I predict as soon as you finish this as a read aloud (and you must read it to one or more), you will be asked to read it again.  Everyone loves to laugh.  It's guaranteed with this book.

Please be sure to visit the illustrators' websites by following the links embedded in their names.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Seasons Of Poetic Bliss

Every living thing notices the changes each season brings.  Careful human observers can pretty much rely on the signals sent by birds, insects, creatures inhabiting yards, fields and forests, trees, flowers and weeds.  They know much more long before we do; perfectly in tune with their world.

Poets take the time to pause, to record, these subtle shifts.  They capture moments with words like a photographer does with a camera.  Author Paul B. Janeczko has selected thirty-six sterling examples in Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems (Candlewick Press, March 11, 2014) with illustrations by Caldecott Honor winner, Melissa Sweet.

The work of thirty-two prominent poets spanning decades is divided into four sections; spring, summer, fall and winter with eight to ten poems in each.  A single poem introduces the transformation from one to the other.  The volume begins with spring.

Daybreak reminds us---
the hills have arrived just in
time to celebrate
                  ---Cid Corman

Rain, a blossoming flower, a vividly-colored wheelbarrow, a contrasting chicken, a stone resembling an animal giant acting as a pathway for birches, and a hearse for dead floor fans depict tiny portions of life awakening from winter's slumber.  A water lily and a water bird color the landscape with their particular sights and sounds.  Travelers gaze outward from the windows of a speeding train as the night flashes by in segments.

Daisies and buttercups declare the advent of summer as a furry beast roams among their stems. A crowded subway, a union of rain and dust, flashing stars skimming the night yard and spindly-legged critters making patterns on a beach take us to places and points we might otherwise miss.  Stored treasures emit odors of days long past.  What are the sun, moon and stars? Flowers?  Faces?

Wild wind, rain and falling leaves boldly broadcast autumn.  Misty mornings, dying slender stalks, crunching and bareness stretch across the wild and populated areas.  There are no moons like those moons shining in the months of September, October and November.

A truck like the surrounding vista is ready for rest; winter is coming.  As a prelude to snow the fog forms in and around city structures.  Fence lines lead and slice.  And the moonlit nights usher in much-needed sleep.

Only a master of poetry could glean such expressive beauty from the vast array of verses found in human literature.  Paul B. Janeczko has never been more skillful in his choices than in this collection.  What each poem brings to the reader's mind's eye are brief seconds, here and gone in a flash, but remembered always in the written word.

The illustration on the front of the matching dust jacket and book case is so full of life it breathes.  The layout and design on this, on all the pictures, are exquisite.  Each conveys the essence of the text presented.

Using watercolor, gouache and mixed media Melissa Sweet alternates between single page and double page pictures one flowing into the other, colorful hues blending.  Delicate flower petals, panoramic sea scenes, bulging frog eyes following a fly, striped boots stomping through mud, a party of insects among fall weeds, and squirrels nestled in a wintertime nest are all made with infinite care.  Each visual radiates refreshing warmth.

For the signature poem, Firefly July, a jar filled with fireflies is superimposed over children and their dog on a summer's night outside.  Their home and yard are sketched in the background.  It's stunning.

It's no wonder this book has received five starred reviews, The Horn Book, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Booklist and School Library Journal. Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems selected by Paul B. Janeczko with illustrations by Melissa Sweet is a poetry book everyone should own and share with others.  It's destined to be a classic.  It will definitely be among those titles listed in my Mock Caldecott for 2015.

To learn more about Paul B. Janeczko and Melissa Sweet please follow the links embedded in their names to their official websites.  Make sure to visit this interview at Book Page.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Who Needs A What?

Have you ever watched a little boy or girl walk along a sidewalk after a rain storm?  Inevitably there are puddles.  Even if these puddles are not along their particular route, they will make a detour, jumping in them with unrestrained glee.  If you take this same little boy or girl and mention the word bath, they will vanish like a puff of smoke.  What's the big deal?  After all, it's just water...right?

It's the same way with Xena.  She swims for hours in a lake, having to be caught to get her out.  As soon as the shower is turned on, she disappears or if she is in the bathroom, she cements herself to the floor.  Given these scenarios, it should go without saying our feathered friend who wants to drive a bus, wants to stay up late, wants a puppy, finds a hot dog and wonders why Duckling gets a cookie, would also be reluctant to be less dirty.  The Pigeon Needs a Bath! (Hyperion Books for Children, an imprint of Disney Book Group), words and pictures by Mo Willems, takes a hilarious look at one stubborn bird.

Hi! I don't know if you've noticed, but the Pigeon is filthy.  So, I could use your help, because:

The Pigeon Needs a Bath!

That is a matter of opinion.

The Pigeon truly thinks the bus driver (clad in a bathrobe, shower cap and bunny slippers, carrying a towel) is joking.  A little dirt never hurts anyone.  Scratching himself, the Pigeon is fairly certain he took a bath last month.  Why would he need one now?

He feels clean even if he looks dirty, really dirty.  He starts to get feisty, asking the reader if perhaps they might need a bath, until he receives a reply.  Oh, oh...smell...what smell?

Now the flies are starting to circle him.  When they leave with exclamations of

P. U.! and
Take a bath, dude!

he finally gives in.  He'll do it, if for no other reason than to make the reader (and the bus driver) happy.

Standing next to the tub, he realizes this might not be such a good idea.  It takes him forever to get the water temperature, depth of the water and the proper amount of toys to his precise specifications.  With a big


he's in.

In a flash his attitude changes.  You would think he might be part duck he loves it so much.  You will never guess what he says


At no time does Mo Willems miss a beat with the word choices in his books.  The give and take dialogue between the Pigeon and an unseen or unheard narrator, except for the bus driver in the beginning, is exactly what we've come to expect from this bird that knows his mind (or thinks he does).  His snappy replies, musings and emotional outbursts are awash with laughter. Here is a sample of two pages.

And if I do---
it's a very normal smell!

For a pigeon.

Y'know, in some places it is impolite to bathe.

Mo Willems starts his story on the book case.  The Pigeon is already talking to the reader.  On the back, grimy with a fly buzzing around him, he asks how someone could possibly take time for

basic hygiene 

when there are these other Pigeon books to read.

The opening endpapers show the Pigeon up to his neck in a mud puddle happily splashing.  On the closing endpapers his equally joyful self is engaged in a similar activity in the bath tub.  The title page, verso and dedication pages include portions of the narrative as well.

Shades of brown provide the background for the Pigeon, feather-deep in denial as to his state of cleanliness.  There is a single page for each phrase, with the perspective altering according to his mood.  Twenty-nine smaller images feature his ever-changing techniques to avoid actually getting into the water.  The colors used as he washes, purple, green, blue, rose, orange and yellow (including the ring around the tub) compliment and contrast with the earlier illustrations.

One of my favorite pictures is when the three flies are leaving him because of his strong obnoxious smell.  The look on his face of resignation makes me want to burst out laughing.  You can almost hear him sigh.

Fans of this character's previous books will laugh loud and long when reading The Pigeon Needs a Bath! written and illustrated by Mo Willems.  Even if there is only an audience of one (you), read this book aloud!  Better yet, find someone to read it to over and over.  It gets better every time.  I'm still smiling.

Please be sure to follow the links embedded in Mo Willems and the Pigeon's names to access their websites.  UPDATE On Twitter John Schumacher, teacher librarian and blogger at Watch. Connect. Read.,  mentioned the activity kit for this title. Enjoy the book trailers and interview below.

Crazy Brilliant

Of the 2014 Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal books I have read and reviewed all of them but one; Parrots Over Puerto Rico written by Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore, illustrated by Susan L. Roth (Winner), A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin written by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet (Honor), Look Up!:  Bird Watching in Your Own Backyard written and illustrated by Annette LaBlanc Cate (Honor) and Locomotive written and illustrated by Brian Floca (Honor)(Caldecott Award Winner).  The photograph on the matching dust jacket and book case of the remaining volume certainly catches your eye.  Everyone can agree the title immediately gets your attention, causing you to wonder exactly what it means.

The Mad Potter: George E. Ohr Eccentric Genius (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Book Press, October 29, 2013) written by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan provides a narrative of a most unusual life.  If you think of the historical time period in which Ohr lived (1857-1918), the reaction of people to his unconventional artistic endeavors makes sense.  The real discoveries though, to be gleaned from this biography, are much more.

Biloxi, Mississippi, 1968: The sign read "Ojo's Junk Yard and Machine Shop"---a place to find car parts for an old Model T Ford or a broken down washing machine, not a long lost treasure.  

I know what you are thinking about this first sentence in the introduction.  How did we get to a point fifty years from the date of George E. Ohr's death?  What significance does this hold?

From the time he was born in Biloxi, Mississippi, George was different.  Not only was he different but he seemed to attract the blame for anything and everything, like a bee to honey.  By the time he was thirteen, he had enough of schooling, ready to make a living.  Unable to work amicably with his father in the family business as a blacksmith, he left home.

After a series of jobs, still not finding his niche, George was asked by a friend, Joseph Meyer in New Orleans, to be his apprentice in a small pottery factory.  The potter's wheel and George were a match made in heaven.  Years later he began to travel around the states studying the skills and art of other potters.  Before long he was back in Biloxi to begin his own business.

George created pieces to be used as practical objects by the locals and more whimsical items for tourists.  He experimented with color, glazes and techniques.  More than once he packed up his "mud babies" taking them to huge exhibitions and fairs.  A decision to add a singular flair to his work, to be an artist in every sense of the word, making no two items alike, is when George became his happiest.

A determined passion to pursue his dream, to do what he loved, despite setbacks outside his control, never wavered.  Although his shop was decidedly a tourist attraction (his advertising and conversation mirroring that of a flamboyant entertainer), his pottery was never completely accepted within the art community as whole.  It was simply too unique, too specialized.

Husband to Josephine, father to ten children and artist extraordinaire, George's days were undoubtedly busy.  When he retired in 1910 instructions were given to his family as to the disposition of his pots.  This, readers, brings us to Jim Carpenter, an antiques dealer, visiting in Biloxi in 1968.  Needless to say, George was ahead of his time.  Time was about to recognize his inventive genius.

The style of writing used by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan will hook any reader on the first page.  Skillful use of beginning fifty years in the future, going back in time, moving forward in a circle to said future, keeps you turning the pages.  You have to know what happened.

Descriptions of period and place, painting a picture with words, make you feel like you are walking side by side with George. Extensive use of personal quotes adeptly inserted into the narrative enhances this sensation.  These two unquestionably have a gift of including the precise amount of detail without slowing the flow.  Here are a couple of examples of their writing.

"When I found the potter's wheel I felt it all over like a duck in water."
At age twenty-two, George was handsome and sure of himself---dark-haired with a full, well-groomed moustache and piercing eyes.  Shirtsleeves rolled up, a cap perched on his head to keep clay dust out of his eyes, he labored at the potter's wheel, using the foot pedal to make it turn, squishing the wet, slippery mud through his fingers.  

The effect was witty, rhythmic, and sensual.
They weren't containers to store foodstuffs or pitchers to pour lemonade.  George's pots were sculptures, three-dimensional works of art. "Shapes come to the potter as verses come to the poet," he wrote.

Captivating is assuredly an excellent one word description of The Mad Potter: George E. Ohr Eccentric Genius written by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan.  After reading this twice I keep thinking how interesting it would be to meet this man, to engage him in conversation.  He let nothing keep him from following his dream, working at it for nearly forty years.  If readers take nothing else away (but trust me they will) from reading this biography, they will come to understand the importance of being yourself and having confidence in your work even if others fail to recognize how truly amazing it is.  At only fifty-three pages long it would make an excellent read aloud or individual-choice selection.

Numerous photographs in black and white and color document the text expertly. An extensive bibliography and meticulous notes for each chapter appear at the end of the book.  Greenberg and Jordan include a discussion of The Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art, The Pleasant Reed Interpretive Center, How to Look at a Pot And How to "Boss" One of Your Own (As George Would Say) at the conclusion of his story.  Please follow the link embedded in their names to their official website.

I am more than glad to be participating in the 2014 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy.  Without this challenge I might have missed this excellent book.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Flip For Flipgrid--Student Video Responses To Questions

This tweet certainly caught my attention.

When it was quickly followed by these, I knew what my next site to explore would be.

According to information at the home page, Flipgrid is a means for teachers to generate grids of short discussion-style questions.   Students reply to those questions through video.   Everyone can share the videos.

Each grid is composed of any group with a common element with an unlimited number of questions and unlimited number of responses per query available.  The cost is $65.00 per year for the teacher which includes ten grids.  There is a twenty-one day trial period available.  Students do not pay or register.

Communication with students is done via email.  They can create a snapshot photo with fun filters prior to recording their video using their device's (computer and iPad currently) webcam.  Videos are ninety seconds long.  The privacy and sharing is dictated by the administrator (teacher).

In the upper right-hand corner you can Get Started, read the informative FAQ, log in as the administrator or complete a form to contact the Flipgrid team. A new window overlays the home page when Get Started is selected.  You need to specify the type of educational institution.

After choosing Next Step, the new screen explains the pricing.  For the purpose of this post, I choose Demo.  When the form is completed, the terms of service read and the final green bar is clicked, an activation email is sent to get your account started.  You are asked to create a password.

When you log in for the first time, a beginning tutorial appears on the screen over your home page.  Upon closing this, across the top of your page, you see that this video can be accessed again.  You can alter your account settings and logout.  A tally is kept of all your grids and the interactions.

To make a grid move down the screen, choosing the blue + Add Grid button.  At this time you would name your grid and assign a password if it is not made public.  There are three other options for viewing; moderate a video response before it can be viewed, making the grid active when it is submitted and notification when a video is available.  Finally click the Add New Grid button.

A new screen pops up advising you about how to add a question, the URL link for this particular grid, and which icon to select for sharing your grid.  You can see how the list of your grids has now changed.  Your grid title is shown (1), you can change the color scheme of your grid (2), the number of questions on your grid (3), the date your grid was created (4), whether it is active (5), whether you are notified when videos are added (6), and icons for actions you can take with this grid (7).  The actions are a URL link for sharing, changing and adding security (per third image below), changing the title of your grid or deleting your grid.

You can see how each question is moderated; question, date, last response, number of responses and views, whether it is active, and the ability to share, edit or delete it.  When the blue Add New Question button is chosen, you type it in on a new window. Your text can be in bold or italics, you can change the date and decide to make it active or not.  Each new question appears at the top of the list.  You can drag them to alter the order.  Each question has a unique URL link. (I did not allow this to create more security, preferring videos not to be shown on social media.)

By clicking on the URL link for the entire grid, video replies can be made for one or more of the questions. To answer a question, click on it. At the next screen click on the big white plus sign. You are then asked if you are 13 years or older or have a parent, guardian or teacher present with you when you record.  When making a video you must also first agree to the terms of service shown.

You need to go through a few steps to check the operation of your webcam and microphone along with making a thumbnail photo.  When these are completed click Looks Good.  You then can record your answer.  If you are not satisfied with the video you can re-record.  Upon finishing click on Continue. 

Here is the link to my grid titled The Adventures of Beekle by Dan Santat. Here is the link to my response to one of the questions.  (The one take rule is a hoot tonight.) Please feel free to video your own responses to test out the site.  As an added note, if you want to see your questions, click on the grid title.  If you want to see responses to those questions, click on the question.  

No wonder this website has been honored in three Weebly categories!  It is so much fun to use and easy too.  Two big pluses are the non-registration of students and the ability to control security measures.  I highly recommend Flipgrid for interactive teaching and learning.