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So what actually makes a book app? Is it that you turn pages, like in a traditional book. Nope - that's not it. Some fantastic apps, like Bats! and Bobo Explores Light have readers exploring information by swiping up, or pulling down tabs. But I think that's the key -- book apps are ways for readers to explore information and stories. They combine text, graphics and interactive features to engage readers in this exploration. One of the most dynamic, engaging apps I've shared with my students this spring is the World Wildlife Foundation's free app: WWF Together.
WWF Together features eight interactive stories about endangered animals around the world. Each of the interactive stories includes beautiful images and videos, facts about the animals and their habitats, and the threats to each of the animals. Readers choose a threatened animal to learn about, and then explore the information within the app. The photographs are indeed amazing, but what sets this app apart is how it engages readers in the discovery process.
Each animal has six to nine screens of information on it arranged in a tile pattern. But each screen presents information in a different way, essentially asking readers to discover how to uncover the information. In one screen, readers might swipe up the photograph to reveal facts on the threats facing the animal. On another screen, you explore a feature of the animal. Readers trace the length of a snow leopard's tail, discovering a different points key facts about it.
This app makes these key facts memorable by requiring readers to find information in different, unusual ways - integrating pictures, text, movement and interactive features. Which is more effective: telling readers that gorillas have different nose prints, or having readers swipe to change just the nose print on a gorilla's face, experiencing how different they can be?
And if my love for this app couldn't grow any more, it has maps! And you can spin them, seeing not only where the animal lives, but where you live! I'm only 995 miles from bison's territory, but over 8,000 miles from gorillas. This interactive map reinforces key terms such as habitat, but also lets students compare population sizes if they want to. For example, there are nearly 120,000 gorillas in the wild, but only 1,500 giant pandas. That's a pretty staggering difference.
Audience and purpose: WWF Together works well for 3rd grade to adult. Its purpose is to inform readers about endangered animals around the world. It firmly keeps to this purpose.
Story, plot, information: The information is clear and engaging. The chunks are easy to read, but provide depth beyond a simple introduction.
Navigation: It is easy to move from animal to animal. But the app keeps the content fresh by having readers explore the information in different ways.
Narration and audio options: There is no narration, but the music is pleasing and not distracting.
Pacing and chunking: The information is chunked well - brief enough that readers are continually drawn in to interact, and yet deep enough to really teach readers about the animal.
Interactive features: Although there is no "game" component, this app has engaged a class of 3rd graders both as a whole group and individually. The interactive elements and the high-interest topic combine to make readers want to keep exploring information about the featured animals.
The review copy came from our home library collection. This really is one of my must-have apps of the year. And did I mention, it's free! Please support the World Wildlife Foundation and tell a friend about this amazing app.
As readers of my site know, I have been fascinated by multimedia book apps since the launch of the iPad and the first interactive books apps in 2011. I remember first reading the Pop-out Peter Rabbit that spring, and then The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore in the summer of 2011. I was drawn into these apps by the way they combined the visual delights of picture books with the magic of audiobooks. They had a bit of the allure of the movies, and yet book apps put the readers firmly in charge of the pacing -- pulling the reader in to turn pages, discover hotspots and interact with the story.
Perhaps it is my perspective as a children’s librarian that draws me to the story aspect of book apps more than the interactive features, but I firmly believe that it is this sense of story, along with the interactive features, that draws children back to apps again and again. After all, if children just wanted interactive features, they would choose games like Angry Birds. Children really do love stories and the magical world that stories create for us in our minds, and this is just as true for book apps as it is for printed books. To paraphrase Martha Parravano, a book app might be an intangible piece of computer software, but at its heart a book app is an experience that unfolds for a child as they are reading it (Sutton and Parravano, 2010).
But the question remains: How can we apply what we know already to evaluating this new media? Because book apps combine so many different elements, we need to draw on our knowledge of children’s books, learning theories, and online or multimedia teaching to understand how we as librarians can review book apps, what features we might consider, and why.
I am also excited for the work of the AASL Best Apps for Teaching and Learning task force to be announced next month at the ALA Annual Conference. Our committee has been working hard to select the top 25 apps for teaching and learning, and we have a great selection to share at the conference.
I value the work of my local, statewide and national librarian organizations in supporting my professional development. These communities of engaged professionals help further my own thinking, provide thoughtful sounding boards when I am struggling with my own work, and encourage me to grow in new ways.
I would like to thank Jeanne Nelson, editor of the CSLA Journal, for her guidance writing this article. I would also like to express my sincere appreciation for Michelle Holschuh Simmons, professor of library sciences at San Jose State University. Much of my original thinking was developed in her class on information literacy.
Our children are fascinated by the world around them, soaking up information about so many different things. I clearly remember how excited my daughter was to learn that birds, snakes and crocodiles are all oviparous, or egg-bearing animals. We can foster this sort of enthusiasm by reading aloud picture books that delve into different nonfiction topics. As the Common Core standards state in ELA Standard 10,
"Children in the early grades (particularly K–2) should participate in rich, structured conversations with an adult in response to the written texts that are read aloud, orally comparing and contrasting as well as analyzing and synthesizing, in the manner called for by the Standards."
"One cannot stress enough the importance of reading aloud. You will want to read aloud to teach children discipline-based concepts that are integral to social studies and science.You’ll also read aloud to create a sense of community and to show children why people love to read. And you’ll read aloud to teach children vocabulary and higher-level comprehension skills. As you conduct a read-aloud session be sure that it includes opportunities for accountable talk." grade 2, page 6
As part of our new series the Common Core IRL: In Real Libraries, we would like to suggest two excellent nonfiction picture books all about frogs that we like to read aloud to students. These books will have different language and text features than those we provide to children to read independently. They might use more figurative language, longer sentences, higher vocabulary. But they will engage students, laying important background for their own reading, and lead to many discussions about these interesting animals.
Frog Song by Brenda Guiberson illustrated by Gennady Spirin Henry Holt / Macmillan, 2013 read aloud: grades 1-3 independent reading: grades 4-5 Lexile 950 AD (adult directed) Amazon your local library
This gorgeous picture book explores eleven different frog species from around the world, from Australia to Borneo to Chile. Each spread focuses on a different species, with a wonderful illustration and an engaging description that focuses on one interesting aspect of that species. Guiberson uses descriptive text to hook readers:
"In Chile, the Darwin's frog sings in the beech forest. Chirp-Chweet! The male guards 30 eggs in the damp leaves for three weeks. When the tadpoles wiggle, he scoops them into his mouth. Slurp! They slither into his vocal sacs, where he keeps them safe and moist for 7 weeks. Then he gives a big yawn, and little froglets pop out."
This book would work very well as a read aloud for 1st through 3rd grade, either to a whole class or a small group. Older children might love reading this as they explore different types of frogs, but I really see this as working best as a read aloud. Guiberson ends the book with an interesting summary of the different species, and a note about how frogs are in trouble from environmental pressures or pollution. I do wish that she included a map identifying where the different species live, providing that geographical context for young readers.
Teachers and school librarians will be interested in this helpful reading guide for Frog Song. Another book for reading aloud that would complement Frog Song is Hip-Pocket Papa, by Sandra Markle.
Sandra Markle and Alan Marks have teamed up to write several engaging narrative nonfiction books about animals throughout the world. These books follow one animal, telling the story of that animal's life. Readers can clearly identify the beginning, middle and end of the story, much like they do in fiction.
Set in an Australian rain forest, Hip-Pocket Papa follows this tiny frog as they watch over and protect their eggs, and then the babies from tadpoles through maturity. Once the eggs hatch, the male scoops the tadpoles up and keeps them safe in hip pockets until they have developed lungs and turned into froglets. The text is both poetic and fascinating, as it follows one father's hazardous journey raising his young. Markle uses long sentences with complex vocabulary to paint a picture with her words:
"Finally, the eggs hatch!The jelly surrounding them turns to liquid -- a birth puddle for the twelve teeny, tiny tadpoles, swimming up and out onto the surface of the forest floor. Her job done, the female crawls away. The male stays. He has an even bigger job to do."
Alan Marks' detailed, realistic watercolor-and-pencil illustrations are perfect for showing to a whole group. The rich colors and close-up scenes draw readers into the forest setting, focusing close up on the tiny frogs and the miniature drama happening each moment. The only problem I had is really getting a sense of the true size of the frogs. Since narrative nonfiction books usually do not have text features like diagrams or labeled illustrations, readers must use the descriptive text to figure out this information.
Check out this preview of Hip-Pocket Papa available through Google Books:
Common Core Standards
Below you can see how standard 3 for reading informational text develops from 1st grade through 3rd grade, as students describe a process like the metamorphosis of a frog, or comparing two different frog species. Both of these books could be used to have students delve into a discussion about frogs' development, either examining the development of one species step-by-step, or comparing and contrasting different species.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.1.3 Describe the connection between two individuals, events, ideas, or pieces of information in a text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.2.3 Describe the connection between a series of historical events, scientific ideas or concepts, or steps in technical procedures in a text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.3.3 Describe the relationship between a series of historical events, scientific ideas or concepts, or steps in technical procedures in a text, using language that pertains to time, sequence, and cause/effect.
This post is part our first feature the Common Core IRL: In Real Libraries, we're focusing on frogs. Frogs are fascinating animals, from their amazing metamorphosis as they turn from tadpole to frog, to the sheer variety in their colors, habitats and sizes. Head over to these blogs to read about:
The review copies come from my school library. Many thanks to Travis Jonker, Cathy Potter, Alyson Beecher, and Louise Capizzo for taking this journey to talk about what the Common Core means for us in real life! We look forward to this recurring series.
An essential role for school libraries is providing developing readers with increasingly complex books that build on their previous knowledge. We want to help young readers discover that books can feed their natural curiosity, providing them with more and more information as they become experts on their chosen interests. Common Core IRL will highlight books that ladder up in text complexity on a high interest topic.
For our first feature the Common Core IRL: In Real Libraries, we're focusing on frogs. Frogs are fascinating animals, from their amazing metamorphosis as they turn from tadpole to frog, to the sheer variety in their colors, habitats and sizes. Head over to these blogs today to read about:
For 3rd and 4th grade readers who are fascinated by frogs, I would suggest a combination of interesting just-right books to read by themselves and some engaging read-aloud books that provide even more information. Today, I'll share two books to read on their own. Tomorrow, I'll share two wonderful books to read aloud.
Gail Gibbons is one of my go-to authors for clear nonfiction for newly independent readers. She clearly explains how frog spawn changes to embryos, then to tadpoles, young frogs, and finally, mature amphibians. Short sentences are easy to read, and yet she provides plenty of details to fascinate young readers:
"These eggs do not have shells. They are inside jellylike coverings. As they float, the jelly lets the sun's warmth come through to the eggs inside."
The text is clearly easy to read, but detailed enough to make it appropriate for a 3rd grader. The book is designed with relatively large font and plenty of white space. Readers will be engaged by the details Gibbons provides. For example, the section on frogs enemies explains different ways frogs ward off predators:
"A sudden leap is a quick escape from danger. For protection, some frogs have skin glands that make them taste bad or make them poisonous. Sometimes their skin color hides them from enemies. This is called camouflage."
Gibbon's distinctive watercolor and ink illustrations are appealing and clearly labeled. The illustrations are closely connected with the text, providing clear explanations for the main ideas and important terms. A double-page spread at the end presents a labeled illustration comparing frogs and toads. Kids will find it interesting to draw the comparisons themselves.
Have you ever wondered what makes the difference between a frog and a toad? Is it just that a toad's skin is dry and bumpy and a frog's is smooth and moist? Did you know that a frog has teeth in its upper jaw, but a toad has no teeth? I particularly like the way that Rockwood frames this book around a central, interesting question.
Rockwood addresses a slightly older audience, beginning right away with an explanation of the scientific classification of frogs and toads. You'll notice that the sentences are longer than in Gibbon's book, and the vocabulary is more complex.
"Frogs and toads are amphibians that belong to a scientific order, or grouping, called Anura. This is the most widespread order of amphibians. There are around 4,000 species of amphibians in this order."
I was particularly fascinated by the way that frogs' and toads' legs are similar and different. While both have hind legs that are built for jumping and are longer than their front legs, frogs jump much farther. In fact, some frogs can jump 20 times their body length! Toads, on the other hand, have shorter legs designed for walking, with occasional short hops.
Kids will be drawn in by the colorful, sharply focused photographs of many frogs and toads. The photographs are accompanied by detailed captions, but are not labeled in the same way as Gibbon's book. A table of contents, glossary and index provide children with experience using these important text features to access information. PowerKids provides a website with links for further reading.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.3.7 Use information gained from illustrations (e.g., maps, photographs) and the words in a text to demonstrate understanding of the text (e.g., where, when, why, and how key events occur).
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.3.8 Describe the logical connection between particular sentences and paragraphs in a text (e.g., comparison, cause/effect, first/second/third in a sequence).
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.4.2 Determine the main idea of a text and explain how it is supported by key details; summarize the text.
Please check out the other Common Core IRL: In Real Libraries posts to see how you would ladder up to these books, and what you might follow them with. Tomorrow, I will share two wonderful books to read aloud to students who are fascinated by frogs.
The review copies come from my school library. Many thanks to Travis Jonker, Cathy Potter, Alyson Beecher, and Louise Capizzo for taking this journey to talk about what the Common Core means for us in real life! We look forward to this recurring series.
Throughout the U.S., teachers and librarians are talking about what it means to implement the Common Core State Standards in their school. Five of us -- librarians and literacy experts -- are working together to show what the Common Core means for school libraries in real life. We’re calling the series Common Core IRL: In Real Libraries.
Today, I’m laying out some of the groundwork for our thinking. Come join all five of us on Wednesday, May 22nd, as we launch this new project:
As teachers have worked to make sense of these new standards, many have focused on the overarching shifts in teaching that the Common Core standards are calling for. EngageNY, a collaborative platform for teachers in New York, has developed several presentations on these shifts. Two key shifts are particularly important to me as an elementary school librarian:
the call for balancing informational and literary texts, and
the focus on helping students read increasingly complex texts.
As a school librarian and parent, I want to provide many opportunities for our students to read about the world around them. Young children are fascinated by so many different things in the world - animals and their habitats, faraway places, different people’s customs, famous people’s lives. It is important that we provide our children with access to materials that interest them. I am convinced that if children are encouraged to read more nonfiction of their choosing, they will develop skills that will help them read and think about nonfiction as they grow older.
“Building knowledge systematically in English language arts is like giving children various pieces of a puzzle in each grade that, over time, will form one big picture. ... The knowledge children have learned about particular topics in early grade levels should then be expanded and developed in subsequent grade levels to ensure an increasingly deeper understanding of these topics.”
So what does the Common Core mean in real life? In our series Common Core IRL: In Real Libraries, we are choosing high-interest subjects and looking at how we can support elementary students as they read increasingly complex texts around a subject. We want to provide both stimulating read-alouds, especially for young students, and just-right books of increasing complexity.
“We want to encourage our students to be researchers of the world and to know that reading can be a source of information to grow knowledge both about subjects they are experts in and ones that are newer to them.”
Lucy Calkins writes about curriculum that spirals from grade to grade, level to level. We are taking this idea to the library, suggesting that we look at our collections for an interesting topic and provide interesting reading materials that spiral up, gradually increasing in the complexity of the text. This allows students to build on knowledge, revisiting favorite books and then stepping into more complex material. It allows them to delve into a topic with more depth, becoming an expert in an area that interests them. But in order to do this, we must be conscious of the reading levels of the materials we select. As Calkins writes,
“It is important to get slightly easier books if the topic is new. While shopping for new books this month, keep in mind that a child can read a just-right book on a topic she may be familiar with—like cats. But if that child decides to read books on a topic about which she has no foreknowledge, like gemstones, it will benefit her to begin with books that are easier than her just-right reading level. As she builds up her vocabulary and background knowledge about gemstones, she’ll move on to reading with success books that are at her just-right level (or slightly above that level).”
In our special segments, Common Core IRL: In Real Life, we will share our favorite books on a common topic, spiraling up through the elementary grades. In the School Library Journal, Marc Aronson and Sue Bartle have suggested that school libraries develop clusters around high-interest topics. We are taking this one step further, providing suggestions for increasingly complex texts, both as read-alouds and independent reading books.
What draws friends together? Is it that you both love the same music or flavor of ice cream? Or is it that you make each other laugh? Friends understand one another, love spending time together and make each other happy. Kids -- even young kids -- totally get this. And they're going to love Odd Duck, a new graphic novel that celebrates friendship, with all its quirks and eccentricities.
Theodora swims with a teacup balanced on her head, flavoring her meals with mango salsa, and stays put for the winter. She knows exactly what she likes and is happy with everything going as planned.
When Chad moves next door, Theodora is not quite sure about this new duck. His feathers are askew, he has strange sculptures in his yard, and absolutely no manners! "Theodora could not relate to a single thing that he said. But she knew one thing was certain ... she and Chad would not be friends."
Castellucci and Varon develop this delightful story from here, showing how the two bond over their love of stars, but then fall apart over an argument over which one is odd. The illustrations are charming -- quirky, sweet and sunny. Kids will love the way the two friends come back together in the end, realizing that they really do like each other just the way they are.
Here's what my nine-year-old wrote:
"Of course, every duck can't be perfect, but these ducks are more than just not perfect. They're odd. And in this book both of them have never had a true friend, so they are put up to the challenge to make a true friend."
Kids do get it. They understand what it means to be a true friend. Odd Duck will make them laugh, smile and remember how much they value their own friends.
I really enjoyed reading this interview with Cecil Castellucci in the LA Times. It was also really interesting to read about Sara Varon's process creating the artwork, in this guest post at the First Second blog. Cecil originally proposed this as an early chapter book with spot art, but when the two began working together they realized that it might be even more effective told primarily through pictures.
Did you love comics as a kid? Do your kids eat them up today like they're candy? Comics capture visual humor, action and adventure -- engaging kids at every step of the way. I particularly love graphic novels for the way they take this visual medium and develop an engaging plot. I see kids reading these novels again and again, soaking up different details each time. If your child loves action and adventure stories, seek out Giants Beware! It is brilliant fun, with a gutsy heroine, a noble quest and plenty of laughs.
Claudette is a feisty warrior-in-training who's determined to follow her father's footsteps and slay a giant. Never mind that she's tiny, hotheaded, prone to irrational outbursts, and a girl. Claudette is absolutely sure that she is the one to find the giant who terrorizes her town.
Claudette does what any would-be-warrior does, she convinces her younger brother and her best friend to join her on a quest to slay the giant. They have to save the town! But, she runs into problems at every step. First of all, her brother only wants to make pastries. And her best friend just wants to be a princess, a real princess. Their doubts won't stop Claudette - just look at her determination:
You see, long ago the marquis defeated a horrible giant who terrorized the town by eating babies' toes. The old marquis chased the giant back to its mountain hiding spot and then built high walls around the town, keeping the people safe (and trapped inside).
Giants Beware! is full of action and visual humor, with the underdog coming out on top. Aguirre and Rosado weave in surprises, tension and plot twists throughout the story. But best of all, I just love the characters of the three friends. As my friend Charlotte wrote, "what made me love this one is the characters, who defy the expectations and normative categorizations most beautifully."
Claudette is a terrific tomboy, one who defies everyone's expectation that she should just be a "good girl". Marie might be obsessed with being a princess, but she is a loyal friend to the end who will risk all to stand by Claudette's side. Claudette's little brother Gaston is terribly afraid, but he's determined to join his sister and ends up saving the day.
You'll have fun watching this trailer for the story:
Intrigued? Do you already love this story? Celebrate and chat with the authors next week on the May Sharp-Schu Twitter Book Club meeting: Tuesday, May 21st at 7pm Central (8pm Eastern; 5pm Pacific). All you need to do is follow the Twitter hashtag #sharpschu. Tweetchat is an excellent way to follow and participate.
Giants Beware! is a great book for summer reading. It's one of the many books that will be on our list at Mrs. Dalloway's this week. I hope you can join us for our Hot Reads for a Cool Summer - summer reading event, Thursday May 16th at 6:30 pm.
The review copy came from our school library collection. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.
Historical fiction has always fascinated me, and I love hooking kids on an interesting period in history though an exciting story. Shadow on the Mountain is a gripping story of a young boy's resistance to the Nazi German occupiers in Norway during World War II. Margi Preus has created an exciting story full of action and adventure, but she also infuses it with a full sense of this period of history.
Espen is just fourteen when German Nazi soldiers occupied Norway in 1940. The occupation has made life hard for all Norwegians, but it has also increased their sense of national identity and pride. At first, Epsen helps the Norwegian Resistance movement in small ways, delivering newspapers, refusing to participate in a Nazi-sponsored school event.
As the story begins, Epsen is riding his bike one evening when he is stopped by a car full of Nazi soldiers. As they search his rucksack, Espen notices that his friend Kjell is sitting in the car with the soldiers, but Kjell refuses to make eye contact with Epsen. The soldiers let him go on his way, believing he is on his way to visit his uncle, but Espen is really carrying coded information for the Norwegian Resistance. As he rides home, he keeps wondering about Kjell.
Preus captures the struggle of Norwegians who resisted the Nazi occupation, showing how ordinary citizens found ways big and small to stand up to the Germans. By centering her plot around a young teen, she draws young readers into the story. She hooks them with action and suspense, as Epsen becomes more and more involved in the Resistance, first as a courier and finally as a covert spy. I particularly agree with Lynn Rutan's review over at Bookends blog:
Epsen "is an ordinary boy who eventually does extraordinary things and this makes Prues’ skillful portrayal of his courage all the more affecting. Espen is frequently terribly afraid – and with very good reason – and yet even while admitting that fear to himself, he does intensely brave things – the very essence of courage." -- Lynn Rutan, Bookends blog
Margi Preus has shared many resources that will interest teens and teachers. Shadow on the Mountain is based on real events and the experiences of real people. The book contains photos, maps, and archival material. I'm especially interested in reading more about Erling Storrusten, the Norwegian man whose experiences in the Resistance movement inspired Preus's novel.
Share this story with young teens and tweens who like adventure stories and war stories, but also share it with kids who are pulled into friendship dilemmas and historical fiction.
Get a sense of it for yourself with this preview from Google Books:
This book will be one of the many I'll be recommending at Mrs. Dalloway's Books for our Fantastic Summer Reading Event next week. Hope you can join us!
Bay Area friends, I'm thrilled to be part of Mrs. Dalloway's summer reading event for school kids next week: Hot Reads for a Cool Summer. We will be recommending great books for kindergarteners through 6th grade.
click to download flyer
Most exciting of all, our special guest will be the wonderful author Katherine Applegate, author of the 2013 Newbery Winner, The One and Only Ivan, the Roscoe Riley Rules series of chapter books and the Animorphs series.
We will all be sharing some of our favorite books for children and families. We will be recommending books for little kids, new readers and big kids. Come find out about our favorite graphic novels, new chapter books to hook beginning readers, and exciting novels.
Please share this flyer with friends, local schools and teachers. Here are the details for the event:
The flowers all around us astound me at this time of year. It makes me remember hiking through the California hills with my mother, noticing all the different flowers around us. These memories drew me to this picture book biography about Lady Bird Johnson, but what makes it stick in my mind is how it shows us the way that each one of us can make a difference by taking action, starting with small steps and moving larger.
This picture book biography weaves together two tales, one of Miss Lady Bird Johnson's life story, and the other of her passionate work to spread wildflowers and beauty throughout our country.
Lady Bird grew up in eastern Texas in the early 20th century, finding solace in the wildflowers and bayous after her mother died. I loved the image of her as a young girl holding ceremonies for the first daffodils that bloomed each spring. Appelt writes,
"It was as if Aunt Effie's flowers became companions and helped take some of Lady Bird's loneliness away."
After Lady Bird moved to Washington, D.C. when her husband was elected to Congress, she realized that the city parks were dingy and had few flowers. Appelt quotes Johnson as telling a friend,
"It is important for a child to plant a seed, to water it, to nourish it, tend to it, watch it grow, and when he does, and when she does, they themselves will grow into great citizens." -- Lady Bird Johnson
Johnson followed this passion by urging Congress to pass the Highway Beautification Act, and later in her life, establishing the National Wildflower Research Center. Have you ever noticed wildflowers growing along the side of a highway? Or traveled to Washington, D.C. to see the cherry blossoms? Or marveled at a city landscape with native flowers? Much of those are the direct result of Johnson's efforts.
The scene that stands out in my mind is how she stepped in front of her neighbor's tractor on her Texas ranch, imploring him not to plow under a field of pink evening primroses. It's this gusto, this initiative that captures her energy, creativity and determination to keep wildflowers growing throughout our land.
The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, HarperCollins. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.
There's something truly special about the time a young child spends getting to know his or her grandparents. I remember soaking up my grandmother's stories, imagining her past and feeling connected to a history larger than myself. The Matchbox Diary captures this special moment, when a great-grandfather shares his stories with a young girl. It's a wonderful picture book to share with children as they start to get to know their own grandparents' stories.
When a young girl meets her great-grandfather, he tells her to pick something and he'll tell her its story. She picks an old cigar box that holds dozens of tiny matchboxes - his diary. The grandfather explains, "When I was your age, I had a lot I wanted to remember but I couldn't read or write." So he started collecting little things to remember each experience.
As they peek inside each box, the grandfather shares his memories from his childhood. They find an olive pit from his home in Italy. As a very young boy, his family was very poor. "When I'd tell my mother I was hungry, she'd give me an olive pit to suck on." Different mementos remind him of his journey across the Atlantic to join his father in America, a frightening inspection at Ellis Island, and his first years in the United States.
As we turn each page, we are swept back into the grandfather's memories. Ibatoulline's illustrations are full of warmth and capture the emotion of each memory. They are large enough to work well reading aloud, and yet full of details that children will love pouring over. The sepia tones of the paintings reflecting the grandfather's memories help children identify that these are flashbacks. Here we see the grandfather working as a typesetter in a printing press.
Children are very aware of how small items carry many memories. My own children can tell you where each stuffed animal came from, where they got a certain bottle cap, which pen came from a special friend. I love the way that Paul Fleischman helps children connect with the stories their grandparents can share, in such a universal way.
Young children will absorb the warm feelings of family, but older children will be able to think about different themes in this story. I particularly like the way the grandfather values writing as a way of preserving memories and stories. "Books are like newspapers. They show you where you've been."
Pair this with Patricia Polacco's The Keeping Quilt in a unit about family stories. Younger children who enjoy this might also enjoy Rosemary Wells' illustrated chapter book Following Grandfather, where a young mouse remembers her grandfather's childhood immigrating from Italy to Boston.
Check out these other great reviews:
Bookends Blog - I especially like the way Cindy ties this book to the importance of family storytelling, and her memory of Alex Haley at the National Storytelling Festival
Librarian's Quest - I absolutely agree with Margie that Paul Fleischman had me hooked with the first two sentences! Margie made me think about how Fleishman told the whole story through dialog between the young girl and her grandfather. That dialog added a real heartwarming touch to the story.
The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Candlewick Press. Teachers should check out the teaching guide and author's note on the Candlewick site. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.
Time Magazine recently published an article "Fifty must-have iPad apps". I know that I usually write about books and apps to share with children, but today I'd like to share apps that I am finding myself using to conduct my professional life. I am actually finding that tweens and teens are starting to use these apps as well.
Check out the link to the article for the full list. Here I am going to share 5 apps I've been using regularly that are on their list, and 5 apps I plan on checking out soon.
Five essential apps I've loved using:
Dropbox: I use this constantly to access documents on the go, to backup and store files, and to share documents with others. Great, smooth interface.
Feedly: I have switched all my blog reading over to Feedly and am loving the iPad app. In fact, I'm reading more blogs than ever now with Feedly. Love it!
Flipboard: I used Flipboard more before I started using Feedly, but I still switch over to it for accessing Twitter and other news in a visual way. I'm intrigued by SLJ's Digital Shift article on using Flipboard for students to create their own customized, curated digital magazines.
Paper: This app lets me doodle, draw and brainstorm in such a creative, intuitive, beautiful way! I just love it. Travis Jonker of 100 Scope Notes first turned me onto Paper, and then it was recognized by Apple as the App of the Year.
Waze: This traffic app helped us navigate our way through LA traffic maze last summer - with my 13 year old navigating and me at the wheel! Waze identifies optimal routes, taking into account traffic, hazards, and blockages as well as simple navigation.
Five apps I want to check out:
Blogsy: I have not written blog posts on my iPad yet. I'm wondering if any blogging friends have done this much. Every time I try, I find it clunky and difficult. Hoping that Blogsy has a better interface!
Comics: Love my first look at this interface. I'm curious to see if this app has many comics for kids.
Newsy: I'm interested in Newsy's video approach, and want to see if it's sensationalized or straightforward. Time writes that it "features professional anchors who deliver the news in easy-to-digest, no-fluff snippets," which sounds good to me.
Pinnacle Studio: I'm interested in moving toward video editing on the iPad. I love taking videos of student performances using the iPad, and am curious whether this app can give me similar control and options as a desktop video editing tool like iMovie.
Tweetbot: I use Twitter throughout my day for professional connections, resources and learning opportunities. I'm curious to see if Tweetbot provides a more streamlined, reliable app than the Twitter app.
What apps do you consider essential for your professional and personal learning? Do you see kids starting to use these? Are there any you'd add to Time's list?
Today is St. George’s Day, the patron saint of England, and it’s the day we traditionally celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday (see a timeline at Mr. William Shakespeare). I've been looking forward to reading Touch Press's fantastic app The Sonnets by William Shakespeare, and I snapped it up today when I saw it on sale. I want to share this wonderful enhanced, multimedia experience that provides both artistic enjoyment of classic literature and increased academic understanding of complex text.
Touch Press writes that "The Sonnets by William Shakespeare allows you to enjoy, explore and understand these immortal works of literature as never before." While that seems like hyperbole (as never before?), I am truly amazed at the rich experience that reading this app brings.
This app brings together dramatic performances of Shakespeare's 154 sonnets with the annotated, unabridged text and critical essays. Students can watch professional actors ranging from Patrick Stewart to Kim Cattrall recite the sonnets - an inspiring experience on its own. But you can also switch over to reading the poems while you listen to the professional reading, with lines highlighted as you go. Just watch David Tennant's performance of the famous Sonnet 18: "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?"
The actors' readings bring me so much greater appreciation for these poems than simply reading the text by itself. I also love the way that Touch Press brought so many different actors to this project, providing readers with the sense that we all can connect with Shakespeare's works in different ways.
The academic notes and videos also provide many different ways in for readers, reinforcing the idea that there is no one correct interpretation of these poems. Since I was reading more for my own pleasure, I was drawn to the video interviews with different academics and professionals. It was fascinating to hear different opinions on the same topic, giving me insight into the range of debates that still surround these poems. For example, I never realized that we don't exactly know whom the Sonnets are written for or to. Students will also find the line by line annotations helpful.
Throughout, Touch Press marries the text and the narration, the artistic and the academic, the visual and the auditory -- providing a seamless, multi-layered, multi-media reading experience. Overall, this is an app that I will come back to again and again. Get this for students who are auditory learners, but also get this for friends who love listening to poetry or learning about Shakespeare's plays.
I purchased the review copy for my own home library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.
Children are eager to explore the world around them. Many love to read about animals, learning about different species, their habitats and life cycles. I've often wondered how we help young children learn about problems caused by pollution, habitat loss or global warming without making children too worried or sad. Melissa Stewart's A Place for... series of picture books look at environmental problems, but focus on ways people can change them and help animals live and grow.
Turtles live in all sorts of different environments, but many have faced challenges brought about by environmental problems. Melissa Stewart introduces young children to specific problems that turtles face, such as habitat loss caused by invasive nonnative plants, but does so in a clear, simple way. Throughout, she emphasizes that we can all help change these problems.
"Some turtles have trouble building nests when new kinds of plants spread into their home habitat. When people find ways to control the new plants, turtles can live and grow."
Stewart balances this clear, simple narrative with sidebars that provide more details on different species and the challenges they face. These specific examples add detail and interest, especially when combined with Bond's detailed acrylic illustrations. For example, Stewart writes that the bog turtle's wetland habitat has been threatened by invasive purple loosestrife that is growing too thickly. Families will find it interesting to talk about different projects that communities are undertaking to improve life for turtles.
I have greatly enjoyed following Melissa Stewart's blog: Celebrate Science. - she shares her passion for science, animals and the environment in many different ways. She has been thinking deeply about how to connect information picture books to the Common Core, and has many helpful ideas for teachers and librarians.
The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Peachtree Publishers. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.
Last week, our students were thrilled to spend time with Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, learning about her writing process and hearing her passion for her work. As we read books by different authors, we try to think about an author's purpose in writing a story or a piece of nonfiction. We dig into the ideas authors layer in their work. Our students really appreciated hearing directly from Ms. Nelson about her many books.
"Bass Reeves was a true American hero. I felt that everyone should know about him." Vaunda Micheaux Nelson
Our students had all read Bad News for Outlaws before meeting Ms. Nelson. She really talked with them, asking them questions and making them an active part of the discussion. This really extended their thinking beyond just listening to the book or hearing her presentation. They could feel just what she meant when she said,
"Bass was honorable; he had integrity; he was strong, smart and clever."
Ms. Nelson told our older students about her newest book, No Crystal Stair, which tells the story of her uncle's bookshop in Harlem. She talked about how he wanted to establish a bookshop that helped African Americans learn about their history, their stories, their literature. We are all looking forward to the picture book which Ms. Nelson is writing about her uncle's bookstore.
Our 2nd and 3rd graders talked with Ms. Nelson about her picture book Almost to Freedom, a story about a young girl's escape to freedom through the Underground Railroad. She started off by talking about why she writes.
"I know it's because my parents read to me every night. My siblings would argue about going to bed, but secretly I was dying to get into bed because my mom would read the next chapter of our book. My dad loved poetry and would recite poetry from memory to me."
Her parents taught her not only to love stories, but to love words and to understand their power. Our students love Almost to Freedom because it's told from the perspective of a doll. Ms. Nelson really creates the voice of this doll, and students can connect to that voice.
Ms. Nelson talked about how when she looked at the dolls in the museum, she started wondering,
"If those dolls could talk, what would they tell me?"
I loved a 3rd grader's question: "When you write, do you start feeling how your characters are feeling?" Yes, she does very much -- because she needs to feel what it might be like to run away through the forest at night hiding from the slave catchers, to be able to share those feelings in her words and create them for her readers. She brought her collection of African American dolls to share with our children.
Enjoy this Animoto slideshow of our visit with Vaunda Micheaux Nelson.
I want to thank the Association of Children's Librarians of Northern California for sponsoring Vaunda Nelson's trip to the Bay Area. For a wonderful resource of materials about sharing history with children, check out ACL's resources from their recent Institute. I would also like to thank the Emerson PTA for sponsoring Ms. Nelson's visit to our school. Our children appreciate your support and enrichment. But most of all, I want to thank Ms. Nelson herself for her time, energy and enthusiasm sharing her passion for stories with our children.
If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.
I look forward to each April, when libraries around the US celebrate National Poetry Month. I share poetry with students throughout the year, but it's so much fun to shed special light on poetry each spring. Today I'd like to share a few resources that I particularly love.
Head to the fantastic blog Gotta Book for original poems from 30 different poets throughout the month of April. Greg Pincus has celebrated National Poetry Month for the past FIVE years, sharing poems from a wonderful array of poets. I've signed up for the poems to be delivered to me by email each day - what a lovely way to start my day! This lets me share them with all sorts of people. Here's the beginning of a recent favorite poem:
Another blog that I enjoy reading throughout the year is Poetry for Children, a blog written by Sylvia Vardell. Sylvia is a professor and author of the ALA bestseller Poetry Aloud Here, also Poetry People, Children’s Literature in Action and the nationally recognized blog, Poetry For Children, as well as co-editor of the first digital anthologies of poetry for young people, the PoetryTagTime series.
This month Sylvia is featuring a "blast from the past," connecting favorite classic poems to contemporary poetry. Her blog is full of resources and ideas that are wonderful to follow up on. I love the way she reminds us to dig up the classics, ranging from AA Milne's When We Were Very Young to Langston Hughes' The Dream Keeper. Then she ties in all sorts of contemporary poetry collections that you'll want to find.
Take the time to explore the interviews Sylvia has done with poets over the years. Last year she featured an interview with a different poet throughout the month of April. I don't think I can choose a favorite - there are so many wonderful interviews with the likes of Douglas Florian, Jane Yolen, Helen Frost and more!
The poetry e-books PoetryTagTime and P*Tag are excellent collections. I especially love the way they convey that poetry is a living, vital art, one that real people are creating in response to one another's art. As the description for PoetryTagTime says, "PoetryTagTime is a chain of poets and poems that makes language part of a playful game. When a poet is tagged, that poet must write a poem that connects with the previous poem. Part of the fun is the poet’s explanation of the sometimes whimsical “connection” between the two poems." P*Tag is a collection for teens where poets create poems in response to photographs. I've seen this collection really inspire teens writing their own poetry, based on photographs or images they see in the world around them.
Poet Laura Salas has created a great resource to give teachers a quick and simple poetry activity for the classroom. As she writes, "These are quick and casual and done for fun. I’ll also be posting the text of each poem each day. So you can use these posts just to find a delicious daily poem to read, or you can watch the video with your students and start writing!" I've had fun sharing these with teachers and friends.
Amy is a poet and former teacher who shares many original poems on her lovely blog Poem Farm. Some poems are hers, others are by students in her workshops. This month Amy is featuring Drawing into Poems. As she writes, "Each day of this month, I will slow myself down, look closely at something, draw it, and take notes around my drawing. I'll photograph and share the drawing and notes here each day. From time-to-time, at least on Fridays, I'll share a poem inspired by my drawings and notes." I love this notion of poetry inspiring us to slow down and notice details around us.
For more resources to share during National Poetry Month, check out this compilation by Jama Rattigan's blog post on Alphabet Soup, where she has pulled together many different suggestions. And certainly follow the weekly celebration on the Kidlitosphere of Poetry Friday. This month, the hosts are:
I hope you enjoy sharing poetry with your children this month and throughout the year. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.
There are times a story fills you with inspiration and love so much that you just have to reach out and share it with a friend. As soon as I read Building Our House, by Jonathan Bean, I knew this was exactly the perfect story for our friend Ry and his family. Recently he asked me if I knew any books to share with his sons who love building things, watching their dad work on construction sites, and plan their own building projects. This book not only shows all the steps of building a house, but it's full of love and warmth in a way you'll want to read it over and over again.
A young family buys a plot of land in the country and sets about building their home from the ground up. Right from the beginning, you're brought into the oldest daughter's perspective, and you can feel this family's excitement.
Children will be fascinated by each step of the building process. I just love this picture below, and how the little girl is studying the house plans right along with Mom and Dad. The whole family works together to build their house.
For all the great construction details, this story is ultimately a celebration of a family’s love. The drawings radiate with warmth, as everyone works together through thick or thin. Their friends come from all over to help build the frame. But then the family works piece by piece through the seasons to finish each detail.
Jonathan Bean drew on his own childhood memories to create this story. As he writes in the author's note, his own parents built their own house when he was a small child. The photographs Bean includes help bring this story to the next level - letting kids know that this really can happen, that a family can work hard towards their dreams, and that it takes everyone working together.
So how did Ry and his family like it? It was a huge hit. Here's what Teyo (age 4) said:
"I like this book because I love building and I want to build a house with my dad."
You just know that this is a book he's going to read over and over again with his family. Fills my heart, this does, knowing how much a book can connect with a kid and his dad.
Laughter is one of the best ways in to reading. I love sharing joke books, silly books and books with word play and puns. But you know what? These are great for developing reading skills, too. Many jokes and puns revolve around double meanings. In order to understand jokes, kids have to have sophisticated reasoning and reading skills.
Most of these books are meant for kids ages 7 and older, in 2nd grade and up. They work best for kids who have already learned to read and can get the jokes.
Here some of my favorite books to share on April Fools Day, or any day I want to hear kids laughing.
Kids still love this classic wordplay book which uses single letters and numerals to make sentences 4 U 2 decode. Steig's clever humor, combined with drawings that give just enough clues, is X-L-N fun. Can you figure out "I N-V U" or "D N S 5 X"? Just in case, there's an answer key in back - but no P-K-N!
“Wri10” and “illustr8ed” by Rosenthal and Lichtenheld, Wumbers will delight kids as they figure out these words cre8ed with numbers. These word puzzles work much the same way as Steig's CDB! -- you'll find yourself saying them aloud to hear the words and figure out the puzzles. The puzzles are fun, just right for 3rd and 4th graders to figure out.
If you like word puzzles, you'll love Agee's collection of palindromes - words and sentences that read the same forwards as backwards. Just try it with the title - go on, I'll wait. Now try these easier palindromes: "Star rats." "Wonton? Not now." With each, Agee pairs a simple, comical drawing that amplifies the humor perfectly. Plenty of white space gives young readers the time and ability to figure out these puzzles. Perfect for making flexible thinkers who have fun with words! I also love, love Jon Agee's out of print Who Ordered the Jumbo Shrimp? and Other Oxymorons. Brilliantly funny, and perfect for kids (find it still at your library here).
Although this collection of Halloween-themed riddles is over ten years old, almost all of the jokes will still make kids crack up laughing. Veteran joke writers Hall and Eisenberg please kids with jokes such as “What do witches like to eat for dessert? ... Ice scream!” and “Why did Granny Monster knit her grandson three socks? ... Because she heard he’d grown another foot.”
The layout and design helps young readers, with only one joke per page, written in large font. The illustrations help children think about the word play and understand the joke. Schindler’s cross-hatched illustrations might remind parents of Edward Gorey’s classic cross-hatched drawings, but they will also appeal to new readers, with just the right amount of gross details to elicit groans and laughs.
Do you have any favorite joke books to share? I love finding new ways to make kids laugh and hook them with reading at the same time!
The review copies came from our local library and our home collection. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.
"Determined!" "Independent." "Thoughtful." "He stayed true to himself." These were my students' words about Horace Pippin, an inspiring African American painter. I loved sharing A Splash of Red, Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet's new biography of Horace Pippin, with our 3rd graders. Pippin's inner strength and creativity shone throughout this book. Share this book as you study African Americans and read about American artists. But most of all, read this book to connect with an inspiring individual.
Born over 100 years ago, Horace Pippin loved to draw as a child - everyone asked him to draw pictures for them. But life threw many hard times Horace's way. He quit school after eighth grade to work and support his family. He fought valiantly in World War I, but he was wounded and never regained full use of his right arm. When he returned home, Horace's "fingers itched to draw all the colors and textures he saw," but his right arm was too weak to lift.
Bryant shows young readers how Pippin, through sheer determination, learned how to draw and paint again, using his left hand to guide his right. My students were filled with hope and inspiration as they heard about how Pippin stayed true to his dream and visions, even though painting was difficult for him. One of the aspects that really stuck with my students was that Pippin thought carefully about his paintings before he started drawing, because the act of drawing was so difficult. I loved how Melissa Sweet hand-lettered quotes from Pippin throughout, giving readers a real sense of his beliefs.
"If a man knows nothing but hard times, he will paint them, for he must be true to himself..." -- Horace Pippin
The mixed-media illustrations convey Pippin's warmth and spirit, combining drawings and printed elements with watercolor and gouache paints. Melissa Sweet writes in her illustrator's note that she was "inspired by Pippin's deep, rich colors." Like Bryant's words, Sweet's illustrations fill readers with a sense of Pippin's heartfelt artwork, simple on the surface but thought through at every step.
Finish reading this by taking a careful look at the end matter and endpapers. Bryant and Sweet each write insightful notes and provide helpful resources for further reading. We ended wanting to learn more about Pippin's work. This video, created by students in Philadelphia, lets students see many of Pippin's paintings. Find more resources at the website A Splash of Red.
I fully agree with this starred review from the School Library Journal:
"Bryant’s meticulously researched, eloquent text makes this a winning read-aloud, while Sweet’s vibrant, folksy illustrations, rendered in watercolor, gouache, and mixed media, portray the joys and hardships of the man’s life, using his trademark palette…with just a splash of red."
The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Alfred A. Knopf / Random House. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.
Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres - I just love the way it transports you back to another place and time. As I wrote recently, Kirby Larson's Hattie Big Sky was one of my favorite audiobooks ever. And so I was thrilled to read Larson's new sequel, Hattie Ever After. It's a chance to revisit an old friend and see where her journey takes her. This is historical fiction whose character shines with heartfelt spirit. When you get to the end, you'll be sure you've made a friend for life.
We left Hattie on the plains of Montana, having spent a year trying—and failing—to make a home for herself and "prove up" on her claim. I've always admired Larson for not making a sweet ending for Hattie. Life was hard on the plains, and Hattie struggled mightily. As we re-enter the story, Hattie is now 17 and working as a cleaning woman in a boarding house in Great Falls. But Hattie still yearns to carve out a place for herself. She's got big plans for herself: throwing "a lasso around a dream even bigger than a Montana farm,” she has decided to become a reporter.
Hattie leaps at the opportunity to go to San Francisco with a traveling acting troupe. The city draws her even more so, as she's sure she can learn more about her Uncle Chester - was he really the scoundrel he said he was? Nothing in Montana seemed to suggest that he really was. And though her childhood friend Charlie wants to marry her, Hattie worries that “saying yes to him was saying no to myself.” With her head full of questions, Hattie sets off for San Francisco in the summer of 1919.
Larson hits her stride when Hattie reaches San Francisco. The city comes alive with the many details she weaves into the story. From her first glimpse of Newspaper Row, with the Call, the Examiner and the Chronicle Buildings all next to each other, to an exhilarating airplane ride over the bay, Hattie is like a little child soaking in every sight.
Readers will cheer Hattie on as she steps into the Chronicle Building to apply for a job. Hattie has pluck and determination, realizing that she might need to start on the cleaning staff of the newspaper, but with a little luck and hard work she might be able to get a break. Larson builds suspense as Hattie makes new friends, investigates news stories, and gets a lucky break at the Chronicle. Throughout, she is passionate and earnest, following her dream. Many young readers who are drawn to Hattie's story will empathize with her dream of becoming a writer and making her mark on the world.
If I have any hesitations about the book, it's because this is a true sequel. It took me a while to pull Hattie's story back in detail into my mind. I had trouble in the beginning with placing each of the characters. But once I settled into the flow of the story, I was absolutely hooked.
We had the huge pleasure of hosting an event for local students to meet Kirby Larson and hear about how she researches her books. Tomorrow, I'll share some special moments from that wonderful evening.
I have admired Helen Keller since I was a young girl. And so I was thrilled to read both Doreen Rappaport’s and Deborah Hopkinson’s new picture book biographies: Annie and Helen AND Helen's Big World. I especially love the way these two books complement each other, helping young readers get a fuller picture of this remarkable woman.
Focusing on the relationship between Annie and Helen, Deborah Hopkinson shows the remarkable transformation that happened in an incredibly short space of time. I was particularly struck by how Hopkinson and Colón used primary source documents to give young readers a real sense of Annie and Helen.
Doreen Rappaport gives readers a clear sense of Helen's whole life, from the illness that left her blind and deaf as a child, to her years with Annie, and then her accomplishments as an adult. Throughout it, Rappaport highlights Keller's own inspiring words in large, bold print. Young readers will be inspired not only by how Helen overcame her own disabilities, but how she used her voice to speak up for justice and equality for all.
Deborah Hopkinson and Doreen Rappaport are two nonfiction authors I admire tremendously for the way they convey their passion about their subjects to children. I had the great pleasure of interviewing both of these remarkable authors over at the blog Kidlit Celebrates Women's History Month. Here are a few tantalizing excerpts:
Doreen Rappaport tells us that "Helen Keller’s life is the story of empowerment and possibility, a journey from powerlessness to power, from helplessness into helpfulness, from ignorance to knowledge... I realized that kids react emotionally to her struggles and conquering of her extraordinary disabilities. Her life confirms for them that even under the most difficult circumstances people can triumph."
Deborah Hopkinson says, "Although the moment at the water pump is now so well-known, actually it’s what happened in the months after that I found most fascinating. It seemed natural to use the details in Annie Sullivan’s letters in my story... Annie’s own excitement and Helen’s amazing progress are palpable in her correspondence."
I would like to say a special thank you to Deborah Hopkinson and Doreen Rappaport for their time and thoughtfulness in this interview. The review copies were kindly sent by the publishers, Random House and Disney / Hyperion. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.
Do these lines stir passion and longing as you hear Juliet's words? Or do they make you squirm and recall agonizing afternoons trying to slog through Shakespeare plays line by line? Students continue to read Shakespeare's many plays, memorizing passages, learning how to closely read text for themes and character development, and trying to decipher 16th century idioms.
Two interesting apps are now available that can help students access and appreciate Shakespeare plays. I would like to share two that I've explored for Romeo and Juliet: one from Shakespeare in Bits and and another from Cambridge University Press. Both apps let students listen to a full cast production of the play while they read along, and let students explore a vast amount of resources to help them understand the play.
The Shakespeare in Bits app will appeal to students who want a visual sense of the story as they listen and read the play. This app combines an excellent full cast narration of the fully play with a rudimentary animated version enacted on half the iPad screen, while the full text of the play is on the other half. While it sounds cluttered, the design works very smoothly. Each scene is broken into manageable chunks, helping students absorb the original language. I found that students were able to process the meaning of the play more as they read, watched and listened to a scene.
I was particularly impressed by the supporting materials that Shakespeare in Bits provided to help students read Romeo and Juliet. Tap highlighted words, and see them change in the text to more common, modern language. Tap the "L" next to the text and readers learn about the language choices Shakespeare made. In the example below, the note states,
"Notice the contrast in language between the two characters. Juliet begins by asking Romeo a direct question - how did he find her? But we know by now that Romeo never gives direct answers, and his response here is predictably flowery and evasive."
Sprinkled throughout are questions for students to think about. So this app does not always provide answers, but rather guides students to their own close reading of the play. Each section is also accompanied by notes and a synopsis, and readers have a place to make their own notes. I found that the notes were written in an accessible way, one that would help students reading on their own.
In addition, the app provides a guide for each character, summarizing the different characters' perspectives and roles in the story. Visual learners will certainly appreciate the character map showing the pictures of the main characters linked to one another, as their relationships are arranged.
Some might feel that the animations are too rudimentary, but I actually found their simplicity benefited me. The images were enough to ground the action of the play, but I was prompted to embellish them in my own mind's eye. They clearly aren't meant to be how the play would seem in real life. But they can provide a scaffolding for students.
My biggest concern with this app is that it provides too much for students. Will they use the short essays in the Analysis section to replace their own efforts writing analytical essays? Perhaps. But I think that Shakespeare calls for more support than less.
The apps developed by Cambridge University Press are also an excellent way to support students as they read and think about Shakespeare's plays. This app is perhaps more academic, and so may appeal to some students and teachers wanting something with more gravitas.
Interestingly, the Cambridge and the Shakespeare in Bits apps both use the same audio narration, a full cast recording produced by Naxos Audiobooks, starring Michael Sheen as Romeo and Kate Beckinsale as Juliet. The Cambridge app also allows readers to read along with the full play as they listen to the recording.
Readers control several features that support their reading. Standard and academic glossaries provide support for students translating sections to more accessible modern English, and academic notes providing literary and linguistic background. I particularly liked the scene synopses and detailed synopses that were embedded within the text like stage directions. These helped orient me as I started reading a section. Since the language of Shakespeare does not come naturally to our students, it is often helpful if they know what is going to happen before they read a scene. If readers find these distracting, they can easily turn them off.
Each scene also begins with a few photographs of live stage, television or movie productions of Romeo and Juliet. This gives students the tangible feeling that the play can be interpreted and staged in many different ways.
I found that this app preserved more of a sense of the play as an academic experience, read in a purer form instead of chunked and illustrated. The navigation and coordination of the audio to text are excellent. I can certainly see it appealing to teachers who want students to do more of the figuring out on their own.
I definitely recommend taking some time to explore the section "Examine", which includes clear short essays helping readers understand the characters, themes in the play, the history and choices made in staging performances, and Shakespeare's use of language, style and imagery.
My biggest concern with this app was that the supporting materials were not as accessible to middle school and high school students. Romeo and Juliet is often read by young teens as their first experience with Shakespeare (often in 7th grade). While I liked the circles of characters, I don't think these are as readily accessible to students without any visual support. The glossaries are not as intuitively supportive as the Shakespeare in Bits glossaries, but they provide more academic support for readers wishing to delve deeper.
This video gives a nice preview of the Cambridge app:
Whether you're a parent wanting to help your child experience Shakespeare, a teacher looking for new ways for students to read and think about these plays, or a librarian encouraging patrons to explore new apps, both of these platforms are definitely worth checking out. I know they would have made my experiences fuller and more enjoyable when I was in high school.
Every child I know has loved building things out of materials they find everywhere - whether it's stacking a huge tower of blocks, or making a pillow fort, or using toothpicks and green peas to make a pyramid. If you have a little builder at home, definitely look for Christy Hale's new book, Dreaming Up.
Christy Hale imaginatively pairs drawings of young children building forts, sandcastles and more with photographs of fascinating architectural structures that mirror the children’s creations. Each comes with a concrete poem that will bring a smile to your face. Here, children are building toothpick creations, alongside the Montreal Biosphere. The concrete poem reads,
"Easy peasy as can be / toothpicks joining / One, two, three."
Hale's comparisons and poems are accessible to young preschoolers, but they'll also intrigue seven and eight year olds. My daughter says, "I *love* that book! The thing I love most about it is that it can be for all age groups. It does not matter if you're a grandma reading it to your little grandchild or if you're a middle school kid who's fascinated by buildings."
I especially appreciate the way Hale carefully included so many different children, architects and types of buildings throughout Dreaming Up. As you can see, the children have a range of skin tones and ethnic backgrounds. In the back, you can read about architects ranging from Zaha Hadid, an Iraqi woman who designed the Vitra Fire Station in Germany, to Simon Velez, a Columbian man who designed the Bamboo Church in Columbia.
Children will adore the way Hale celebrates their creativity - just look at the building that looks like a child's pillow fort! Older children will be interested to read that Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain (pictured above) is located on a river, and that it often gives the impression of looking like a fish or a ship. Children who are interested in learning more will appreciate the extra information Hale includes at the end of the book, especially the quotes and pictures of each architect.
On her website, Christy Hale shares six creative projects that engage children in building. She includes plans to make a paper pyramid with tubes of rolled paper and tape, and shows children how to build an ever-expanding labyrinth from interlocking cardboard boxes. You might also have fun checking out two Pinterest sites Hale put together:
Funny books draw kids to them, time and time again. Whether it's classics like Ramona the Pest or modern bestsellers like Big Nate or Diary of a Wimpy Kid, kids love books that make them laugh out loud or giggle to themselves. Tonight's monthly #titletalk chat on Twitter focused on funny books. As a good friend Cathy Potter wrote about her students, "The more they laugh, the more they read, and the more the read, the more proficient they become as readers. #titletalk" So true.
Timmy Failure is the eleven-year old founder of the detective agency Total Failure with his best friend and sidekick Total, a 1,500 pound polar bear. Timmy is utterly serious and entirely convinced of his own importance, even though readers are constantly aware of his incompetence. Kids love being in on the joke, being able to laugh at Timmy's constant troubles and his clueless arrogance.
Timmy is sure that his detective business will rake in millions, but he's willing to start small with cases of missing Halloween candy or stolen shoes. At each step, though, he blindly ignores clues staring him right in the face - much to the reader's amusement. As Timmy starts investigating his classmate Gunnar's missing candy, he walks down the hallway past Gunnar's little brother's room and notes:
"Gabe is sitting on his bed, surrounded by candy wrappers. There is chocolate smeared all over his face and an empty plastic pumpkin on the floor. Always on the lookout for clues, I make an important note in my detective log: Gabe: not tidy."
My students love the drawings throughout this story - whether it's of Gabe caught in the act with chocolate all over his face, or Total chomping away in the client's garbage cans. Pastis uses his experience creating the popular Pearls Before Swine cartoon for more than visual humor, though. His story relies on the fast pacing and humor that is the mainstay of comic strips. Timmy comes from a long line of losers we love to laugh at, from Charlie Brown to Calvin (and Hobbes).
It takes quite a bit of sophisticated reading skills to get all the humor going on here. Kids will need to be able to see Timmy's perspective and then figure out that other character's perspectives may be different (and actually more believable). Pastis uses fairly sophisticated vocabulary at times, making this better for your 10 and 11 year old than the drawings might initially suggest.
You'll get a sense of Pastis' humor browsing through this preview from Google Books:
I could go on, but I'd just like to share two last things. Here's a note my student Santi left on our copy of the book with his review:
The final thing is a comment on tonight's #titletalk from the amazing 4th grade teacher, Mr. Colby Sharp:
"I love when my class is very quiet during independent reading and a kid just starts busting up laughing. Kids always want THAT book #titletalk" @ColbySharp
For more from Stephan Pastis, check out his site for Timmy Failure. He's headed to California for a tour next month! I also enjoyed listening to a great interview with Stephan Pastis on Apple's Meet the Author podcast, with the ever enjoyable Jenny Brown. Check out her review of Timmy Failure on Twenty by Jenny. You'll also have fun with Betsy's review over at Fuse #8.
The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Candlewick. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.
Hold fast to dreams For if dreams die Life is a broken-winged bird That cannot fly. (for more, see Poets.org)
Blue Balliett centers her most recent book around the rhythms and themes of Langston's Hughes poetry, but the story is firmly rooted in today's urban American landscape. Balliet's novel touched me - it's a powerful, emotional story of the way a young girl tenaciously holds fast to her dreams, in the face of terrible circumstances.
One bitterly cold winter afternoon, Early Pearl's father disappears. One minute Dash is riding his bike home from work, and the next he is gone, without a trace. As eleven-year old Early, her brother and mother reel from the news, their apartment is ransacked and they are suddenly on the run without any money.
With nowhere else to go, the Pearls seek refuge in one of Chicago's homeless shelters. Early is certain that her father is still alive and that if she pays attention to the clues, she will be able to find him. Through it all, she is steadfast in her certainty that she needs to hold fast to her father's dream that they are a family that will survive.
Balliett tells her story through Early's point of view, and I slipped into her perspective right away. I loved the way Early thought about situations, turning them over in her mind to look at them from all angles. I loved, loved the way she thought about words. Here's just one of my favorite examples:
"What happened at 4:44 on that grim January day was wrong. Wrong was the perfect sound for what the word meant: It was heavy, achingly slow, clearly impossible to erase. Wrong. The word had a cold, northern root as old as the Vikings.
Where was Dash? How could he have vanished into that icy, freezing moment?" (p. 23-24, ARC)
Balliett's writing is imbued with rhythm, description and meaning -- in a way that got right to my heart. Balliett shares with her readers her love of language, of words, of ideas. But she shares much more. She shares her hope and optimism that even in hard times, we can hold fast to our dreams. Through Early's story, she gives a face to homelessness, making sure that readers think about what it would be like to suddenly lose everything. It might seem cliched to talk about giving a face to a problem, but I was struck by how easy it was for the police to ignore the Pearl family.
There are certainly some flaws to this book. Part of me liked how names had significance (I chuckled when I figured out that Lyman Scrubs was a liar), but part of me found it too obvious. The international crime ring that Dash became innocently involved with seemed stereotyped, a bit out of a James Bond or Tom Cruise movie. And I never, ever figured out Skip Waive's roll (or name). But, I completely agree with the Booklist review:
"But what’s wonderful about this book, overshadowing the plot flaws, is the way Balliett so thoroughly gets inside the mind of a child accustomed to love and protection—and who now sees her life slipping away. Sadness and stoicism mingle freely in ways that will pierce all readers. Early is a clever heroine, and her smarts are enhanced by the poetry of Langston Hughes, which ripples beautifully through the story and infuses it with hope."
Hold Fast is getting positive early reviews, both from students I have shared it with and professional journals. It's gotten starred reviews from Booklist and Kirkus. The Chicago Tribune has a very interesting article on Hold Fast, interviewing Balliett as well as homelessness activists.
Share this with children who love books that get to the heart and make them think about bigger issues, like Rules by Cynthia Lord or Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper. But also share it with children who love language, poetry and words.
The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Scholastic. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.