Quote of the Month

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




Thursday, December 30, 2010

Science Awry, Who Knew!

It's that time of year when those involved in the world of children and young adult literature start to reflect on the possibilities for the Caldecott and Newbery awards, not that we've not been doing it all year long.  Trying to limit the list for our Mock Caldecott Election with the third and fourth grade students to twelve is going to be tough in 2011.  One thing for sure is that Mac Barnett's book, Oh No! (Or How My Science Project Destroyed The World), illustrated by Dan Santat will be included. 

Just seeing the huge words Oh No! on the cover conjures up all kinds of possibilities.  Couple that with the reflection of a giant toad and robot in each lens of the girl's glasses and off we go!  Revealed with the opening of the cover are detailed schematics for a robot and a growth ray device on the front and back endpapers respectively.

If the reader removes the book jacket the inside unfolds to be mock-up of a movie poster akin to those Japanese monster flicks.  Book jacket removed the cover is designed as a very used Computation Book.  Turning the page the illustration advises the reader to Please Stand By as if waiting for an emergency television report. 

With the story line moving briskly from a seemingly benign science fair project to a rampage of citywide destruction readers will be captivated by text and graphics that mesh without a wrinkle.  Uttering the words, I probably shouldn't have given it a superclaw, or a laser eye, or the power to control dogs' minds, our young heroine tries to remedy the chaos her creation has caused with no success.  Well, that is until she has another brainstorm.   It succeeds splendidly until the natural instincts of the toad and the presence of a small flying insect begin yet another event with equally catastrophic potential.

Each time I read this visual gem (and I've read it at least ten times) I find something new to enjoy whether it's the name of her school mascot on the gym wall---Home of the Fighting Jacklopes! or the line of dogs following her dressed in robot suits or the combination of English and Japanese signs on buildings.  It is the succinct, classic text of a young girl finding herself in a jam that is interpreted through wildly, imaginative illustrations with attention to detail that brings this book to a status far above others.  One can only speculate on the pure fun that Barnett and Santat had bringing their talents together but fun is what each reader has when traveling through the pages.  I dare you to read it just once.

Check out the author and illustrator web sites which can be reached by clicking on their names at the beginning of this blog. Smile while watching one of the YouTube book trailers.



P.S. My final list of Mock Caldecott Election books for 2011 hit 15.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

What a Year--2010!


 
The New York Times Education page offers wonderful ideas and assistance to educators via The Learning Network blog which I view on my Facebook page daily.  It can also be easily accessed using Twitter or an RSS feed.  Opportunities to offer students the chance to expand and refine their research skills abound in this issue.
 
Also note that clp.ly has changed to Curate.Us due to domain name problems as of October 2010.  A discussion on the use of clp.ly was posted on this blog on September 27, 2010.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Is It April Yet?

No, the snow and cold have not gotten to me yet; I love winter as much as the other seasons.  But April brings National Poetry Month and this year my students and I will be celebrating with another delightful offering.  Guyku: a year of haiku for boys written by Bob Raczka with art by Peter H. Reynolds is a winning collaboration on numerous levels.  Raczka's use of this poetic art form captures, via six poems for each season, the essence of simply enjoying activities offered by the changes in our outside world throughout the year.

For spring--In a rushing stream,
                  we turn rocks into a dam.
                  Hours flow by us.

Reading this brought to mind  the seemingly endless amount of time the neighborhood kids and I spent making a multitude of waterways with sticks and stones to create whole new water kingdoms during a rainstorm.

Or for summer---Lying on the lawn,
                          we study the blackboard sky,
                          connecting the dots.

To this day I still love to spread out a blanket on a summer night counting the number of falling stars, eating Oreo cookies, slathered in bug spray lying next to my dog.

And who does not do this in winter---How many million
                                                         flakes will it take to make a
                                                        snow day tomorrow?

In reading these haiku adults are taken back to the joys of remembered youth and the readers of today are given the opportunity to unplug, get outside and use their imaginations to appreciate what is theirs for the taking.  It's important to point out that Raczka not only describes the actions of these boys but he takes it a step further by getting to the heart or soul, if you will, of what is happening in the moment.  Although Bob Raczka states in his author's note that all of the things mentioned in his poetry he did as a boy or his own boys have done, girls do and will like the very same things.

What really makes these poems pop is the art of Peter H. Reynolds whose work has been previously described in a post here in September.  His color selection for each of the seasons, green, yellow, brown and blue, is carefully maintained within the pages of this book from the title page to the closing illustration where all are blended together.  His watercolor renderings reveal the perfect facial expressions, the mood of the boys and the uncomplicated beauty of each passing season.  Whether done by the author or the illustrator each haiku is handwritten adding to the allure of making the reader a willing and comfortable participant.

As Reynolds states in his note at the book's end he believes in creativity and art that inspires everyone to make their mark especially when it comes to boys and poetry.  Readers are invited to visit Guyku Haiku for further fun projects, activities, free stuff, and more!  Haiku has always been a favorite of my students but this year it is going to be a whole lot better.

Page by page boys romp
Seasons pass as seasons will
Uplifting---Guyku!


Thursday, December 23, 2010

Book Fair Success!

Due to all the extra efforts of staff and parents our book fair at Charlevoix Elementary School during conferences in December was an outstanding success bringing in $600.00 more than last year at the same time.  This librarian is sending a huge thanks to principal, Doug Drenth, co-workers Cindy Whitley and Jane Kanine and super parents, Lori Ivester, Sharron Schwein and Heather Sape.  Staff and students will be looking forward to using and reading all the new books as well as enjoying the new "creature cushions" in the reading/story area.  As our principal says, "You made this great!"
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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Mindful Words

Words.  I'm surrounded by thousands of words.  Maybe millions. 
          Cathedral. Mayonnaise.Pomegranate.
          Mississippi. Neapolitan. Hippopotamus.
          Silky. Terrifying. Iridescent.
          Tickle. Sneeze. Wish. Worry. 
 Words have always swirled around me like snowflakes-each one delicate and different, each one melting untouched in my hands.
Deep within me, words pile up in huge drifts.

So begins Out of my mind by Sharon M. Draper; clearly a book about expression, thought and use of words.  In this case it is about a ten year old girl named Melody that has never uttered a single word.  At birth Melody was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.  Though limited by her physical disabilities her mind is a thing of beauty recording the sights and sounds around her like a well designed camera.  All she needs to do is see or hear something once and it becomes part of her memories ready to be recalled at a moment's notice. 
While she silently morns that she will never participate in those activities small or large, quiet or noisy, that other girls her age are able to do, she has a resilience that is heroic.  A next door neighbor, Mrs. Violet Valencia, in addition to her supportive parents, is key to helping this young woman give voice to her thoughts. And thank goodness for the arrival of a student teacher in her special classroom. 

Through a newly acquired piece of technology Melody can select from words that have been entered in using her thumbs to create thoughts or sentences that can be spoken out loud.  Sadly her classmates and some of her teachers are amazed at her intelligence.  Some students though continue to bully and plague her with their comments and general treatment.

Perseverance, patience and plain hard work give her a spot on the school's quiz team.  It is due to Melody that they are off to Washington, D.C. to participate in the nationals.  But is it fear, intolerance or just plain prejudice that steps in to change those plans?  To throw another stone on Melody's life path, just when she needs to give voice the most all her efforts fail her. 

Out of my mind is a poignant portrayal of a different view of normal as well as being a window through which all should look to better understand each of the individuals which collectively make us human.

Perhaps one of my student's actions speaks the loudest about this book:  One morning I came to work to find this volume on my desk with a note tucked inside--Dear Mrs. Culver...Please get more books by this author.  I couldn't have said it better myself.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Blogger Bonanza

For those looking for the perfect visual to compliment a blog posting look no further than Wylio.com.  Millions and millions of Flickr photographs whose owners have designated them as Creative Commons works provide the pool from which selections can be made. 

For example when I searched using the term, book, 121, 287 images were available.  After flipping through the pages to locate the one for use, simply click on it.  On the next screen you can see what the alignment of the picture, right, center or left, will look like with the text of your writing around it.  Also by moving the sliding size bar you can view further how the final product will appear.  Once the look you want is achieved click on the get the code button.  Simply copy the code and paste it into your post prior to final publication.
Love For Booksphoto © 2008 Sarah Scicluna (via: Wylio)
Let the fun begin!

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Muth Masterpiece

In Zen Shorts, a Caldecott Honor book, and the companion, Zen Ties, readers were introduced to children, Karl, Michael and Addy along with their wise advisor and companion, a giant panda, Stillwater.
The foursome are together again in Zen Ghosts, a tale to be shared at Halloween or really anytime.

More reflective than frightening but spooky nonetheless, Zen Ghosts begins with the young siblings getting costumes ready the day before Halloween.  Stillwater asks them after the trick or treating to meet him at the big stone wall promising to take them to a storyteller.  After a journey to his home along an unfamiliar path they find themselves before a giant panda storyteller who surprisingly enough appears to bear a close resemblance to Stillwater.  But how could that be?  He is sitting next to them waiting to listen to the tale.  Holding up a brush the panda says, I am going to draw you a story...

Strokes of his brush reveal the lives of Senjo and her beloved Ochu, friends through childhoodSurely they are meant to spend all their days together loving one another as husband and wife but the fates have other plans for them.  But can those destined to be together ever be separated? 

As Jon Muth states in his author's note at the book's end this is a great ghost story.  But he goes on to share his purpose for writing and illustrating this particular Buddhist koan.  His very thoughtful comments and questions about children facing the issue of duality early and throughout their lives are beneficial and enlightening just as they are meant to be.

Watercolor illustrations soft, inviting and begging to be touched create the perfect mood for this latest Zen book.  The initial endpapers of ghosts and jack-o-lanterns come-to-life scampering across a neighborhood street are sure to entice a quiet smile as will the two-page spread showing all the children trick or treating.  Showing the pirate owl on the closing endpapers offers readers the opportunity to continue contemplating the story within the story.  Mr. Jon Muth through his carefully rendered visuals and spare text has presented we lucky readers within another volume to be treasured.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Extra, Extra Read All About It

On December 13, 2010 Kelly Tenkely's posting on her blog, iLearn Technology, announced the release of a new free ebook, The Super Book of Web Tools for Educators-a comprehensive introduction to using technology in all K-12 classrooms. 

Kudos should be given to Richard Byrne of Free Technology For Teachers as the mastermind behind bringing all these innovative and great ideas from all kinds of educators together for the rest of us to view and use with our students.  After just a brief perusal the reader will be exposed to new applications as well as being reminded of those forgotten but never used. 


This is personal professional development at its very best.  What could be better than learning about tried and true technology that will enhance our students' ability to utilize these applications to their fullest potential?  I can't wait to try some of these over our break these next two weeks.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Holding out for a..........Hero

Most of us agree that at times the most unlikely character can be a hero coming in all shapes and sizes.  That word, hero, brings to mind varied expectations based on our needs and desires, individually or collectively.  Mike Lupica, best known as an outstanding sports writer, gives his readers in the book, Hero, what all want when that word is spoken or read------hope that the day will be saved; that a champion will shield them from dangers and defend all that is good from evil.

Tom Harriman, advisor to the President of the United States, is on a mission that not even the President is aware is taking place.  Deep inside the borders of Bosnia a Serb war criminal and part-time terrorist is about to be taken from his heavily guarded sanctuary.  Mission accomplished Tom is puzzled to see a figure walk on the runway as his plane takes off; a man with snow white hair barely showing beneath a cap pulled down low nearly covering his eyes.

What is this man doing here now when he should be clear across the ocean on the other side of the globe?  Tom knows that he should be ecstatic that his self-imposed assignment has been completed.. So why did I feel as if I were the one being chased?  Even up here, all alone in the night sky?

It seems that Tom Harriman's instincts were right.  He clearly was not safe from the Bads.  The Bads are enemies far more evil than anyone can imagine.

He told stories about them to his son Zach who thought they were fiction but they are the worst kind of fact.  Zach, on his way home to greet his Dad after this latest trip, is feeling compelled to not take his time crossing through Central Park as he usually does; anxious, uneasy and beginning to be scared he breaks into a full run toward his home on Fifth Avenue.  When the elevator doors open into his apartment his apprehensions are realized.  Zach is never going to see his Dad again.  He is never coming home again.

Fourteen year old Zach is changing, not just because of the loss of his Dad, but his physical abilities are growing as is his sense of impending danger to himself and those around him.  His defensive skills are becoming amazing.  He also knows in his heart of hearts that his Dad's plane crash was no accident but murder.  Will John Marshall ( Uncle John), family lawyer and his father's best friend, Kate Paredes, daughter of their paid housekeeper who lives with them or the mysterious man with the snow white hair help or hinder him in his search for the truth?  Who can he trust with the secrets revealed to him about his new superhero status? 

Save yourself some time because once you start Hero you won't be able to stop as the precise, rapid-fire writing zings you toward the inevitable but startling conclusion.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Science Fiction or Reality--The Gap Is Closing

On September 27, 2010 the first public demo of a new information tool hit the Internet world generating quite a stir.  As the creators quote on their blog:  Qwiki will power many products via a platform that turns information into an experience. 

Qwiki creates on the fly from sources on the web, without any human intervention, interactive stories that currently cover more than 2 million reference terms.  Once a word or group of words about a person, place or thing is entered into the search box a Qwiki appears complete with real time audio narration that may or may not include maps, graphics, movies or animations.  Objects within a Qwiki can be clicked on for more interactive content which may include a brief bibliographic citation.  Items in a Qwiki with a small Q in the top right corner offer the reader additional related Qwikis as does a list shown below any given Qwiki. 

This new offering is in the Alpha test phase.  To date any user older than 13 can sign up to use it by invitation.  Once an invitation is accepted a simple email address and password are all that is needed to log in.  Feedback is welcome as the designers' goal is to make this the ultimate research encounter on the web.

What subject matter is gleaned from online resources to be part of any given Qwiki is noteworthy. While the experience is certainly engaging, time does pass quickly as one term is entered in after another, the potential for further development is huge and the applications necessary to power this site are mind-boggling, at this point this user is just a tad hesitate to have technology tell me what may or may not be relevant, important or worthy of my consideration. It is going to be more than a little interesting to see where this goes in the future.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

She's Back!

Irresistible, unpredictable, hilarious Olivia has returned.  What's not to love about her newest antics in Olivia Goes To Venice (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, September 28, 2010) Using bright splashes of red, Olivia's favorite color (and mine), to draw the readers' eye into the illustrations journey with Olivia and her family through the streets and canals of Venice as they are superimposed amid actual photographs.  Beginning with packing for the trip, Olivia, you won't be needing your snorkel, said her mother, or your flippers.  Mother, apparently the city is often under and water and--------- Or your water skis, readers will smile at each conversational exchange, facial expression and typical tourist experience.

As crossings over bridges are made, a stop at the Grand Canal with palazzos lining its edges, walking through the Piazza of San Marco or a hair-raising episode with pigeons, a generous helping of gelanto seems to be the outcome.
 When a gondola ride is secured, this overindulgence causes the boat to sink lower than usual.  This results in the gondolier suffering considerable stress and the reader extra smileage.  It is Olivia's quest for the perfect souvenir that brings forth the final laugh and a quick exit by the family back to the airport.  Venice will definitely remember Olivia as will we all. 

At Olivia's web site information about Ian Falconer and all things Olivia can be accessed.  There is a special link for teachers and librarians.  Check it out.


At the publisher's website you can view interior images.  There are several activity kits you can download also.  Not to be missed is this YouTube video highlighting this new offering as well as Ian Falconer's basis for Olivia books.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Tick-tock---The Clockwork Three

Matthew J. Kirby has penned a debut novel that is brilliant and breathtaking, The Clockwork Three. 

Initially we are introduced to Giuseppe, a busker making a living by playing violin on the streets of the teeming city.  From his native country of Italy, he was sold by his Uncle to Stephano, a cruel padrone who takes his earnings giving next to nothing in return.  As the story begins Giuseppe has just found a green violin floating in the harbor after the wreck of a ship.

The clear sound that spilled out of the green violin resonated off the walls.  It seemed to penetrate the alleyways and soar up the rickety wooden staircases clinging to the outsides of the buildings.  It cut through the street noise, the clopping hooves, the shouts, the factory machinery grinding away around the city.  It slid through all of that like a slender hand parting a curtain. ...The sidewalk traffic around him had paused midstride.  That time of day it was mostly men on their way home, greasy from work. ... The song acquired the autonomy of a living thing.  Giuseppe watched the invisible tune light on each passerby like a cherry blossom carried on a breeze.  The tired bodies, stooped and trod upon, rose up.  Their eyes, rimmed with dirt and yellow from smoke, filled with tears.

As the final notes are played and Giuseppe counts his money his spirits soar.  Maybe, just maybe, this green violin will help him get enough money for passage so he can leave this city in the United States and return home.

Frederick, who has a gift with gears apprenticed to clockmaker Master Branch, is prowling the streets looking for a piece of metal to continue work on his automation, a clockwork man.  With completion of this project he is sure that he will be accepted as a journeyman in the guild with the ability to have a shop of his own.  But Frederick is haunted by his past.

Prior to rescue by Master Branch, he slaved at the looms with the rest of the orphans suffering terrible physical and mental abuse at the hands of cruel Mrs. Treeless. He yearns for an explanation as to why his mother, whose name he does not know, left him there.  As Giuseppe has found the green violin Frederick comes into possession of a missing bronze head which holds the key to his goal of independence and the importance of being the best at his craft.

The clockwork head, the Magnus head, rested peacefully.  Whether the name was accurate, and this was indeed the lost bronze head created by Albertus Magnus, was irrelevant.  The clockwork inside was all that mattered. ... Even though he had already seen it once before, the staggering workmanship drew a sigh out of Frederick.  He took several minutes, and just admired it without touching, without sticking his fingers in it. ...Frederick went to work with deliberate reverence, refusing to allow his excitement to rush him.  ... There was a larger pattern he was missing, like a painting that was too big to see all at once.  He could observe isolated figures and brushstrokes, but not the work as a whole.  The farther he stepped away from it, the larger the painting grew, as though this genius assembly of clockwork combined to become something greater than a simple combination of the parts would suggest.  An alchemy of arithmetic where two plus two equaled ten. 

With a deep love of learning Hannah has had to give up her education to work as a maid at the Gilbert Hotel tolling through days which seemed as endless as the ocean.


In the early morning hours, Hannah read at the table by the dim light of dawn.  She leaned in close to the pages, chin resting on her folded arms, eyes racing over the words, like chasing butterflies over the hills, to catch as many as she could before going to work.  She wondered at how such tales of magic could be contained by mere paper and ink for her to read again and again.  Which she had.

It is that very day that upon hearing her supervisor, Miss Wood, speaking with the hotel manager, Mister Grumholdt, Hannah overhears them speaking of a treasure hidden in the hotel.  What that treasure, if found, could do for her family fills Hannah with fevered hope.  Since her father, a stonemason, was stricken with illness fear of losing their meager dwelling, having enough fuel to warm them or having food to stave of the specter of hunger stalks them each and every day.  But more surprises await Hannah in the form of an unusual guest and her protector which have arrived at the hotel.

Our three protagonists lives do intersect like intricate puzzle pieces each needing the other to complete the whole glorious adventure.  It is the building of their friendship, its challenges and triumphs, that gives them the strength and commitment to cooperate so each can realize their dreams exactly as the gears on a timepiece are required to do.

Truly the writing of Kirby is a thing of beauty as my numerous quotes clearly illustrate.  More times than I can mention I wanted to stop with a highlighter and underline a sentence or paragraph that created a particular scene in my mind.  This piece of fiction continually reminded me of a masterful, musical symphony with the notes, passages and parts blending to bring to the listener a sound with a hint of magic and a whole lot of majesty that will linger long after the final chord is struck.  Trust me, read the words, close your eyes and you will be there again and yet again as I was and will be.  This reader is waiting and wanting the next escapade by Matthew J. Kirby.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Simplebooklet: Book(lets) plus so much more

Numerous technology experts in the know have given top grades to the online application Simplebooklet .  As its name suggests it is an uncomplicated program for designing a variety of publications that can be integrated into an assortment of social networks, embedded into a web format or printed in hard copy. Additions to each part of a publication or the publications themselves can be dropped, dragged, resized or layered.

Each added element is treated as a separate entity.  The site itself provides storage for all your creations. Despite the ease of use the results are anything but plain.  Rather they are polished and professional depending on the creativity of the user.  Users should note that this application works best with the most recent version of Internet Explorer or Goggle Chrome.

Check out this simplebooklet that I put together about this app.



This simplebooklet is a short version on the six elements of the fantasy genre that our fifth and sixth grades use for study. 








Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Bold, Brillant Base, Graeme That Is...

     Snailing Ship, rise and shine,
Hoist your sails and trim them fine,
     Taste once more the salty brine,
For with this spell I make you mine!

The Legend of the Golden Snail written and illustrated by Graeme Base is his thirteenth book.  He began with My Grandma lived in Gooligulch, followed by Animalia which is to this day the most popular.

Wilbur's favorite book is The Legend of the Golden Snail.  No matter how many times he has heard it, he still dreams of its banishment to the Ends of the Earth where it is doomed to stay until released by a new master.

   One fine day Wilbur decides to set sail for the Ends of the Earth with his cat as crew wearing a captain's hat made by his mother.  Along the way he waters a bush of blossoming butterflies wilting in the sun, cuts a net from a monstrous sea crab creature, and assists lantern fish whose light bulbs are being stolen by earwig pirates.
Slightly downcast by his progress and role as the Grand Enchanter Wilbur is assisted by a wind created by newly blossomed butterflies as he drifts in the Dreadful Doldrums, cut loose from the Slithering Sea by a friend returning a favor and during a frightful storm in the Maze of Madness lantern fish light his way to safety.


At last he reaches The Ends of the Earth only to find the snail no larger than a small pebble.  Still, arms held aloft, he chants the magical words that he knows by heart.  With wide-eyed wonder Wilbur watches as the snail grows and grows and grows complete with mast and sails.  Seeing the snail's chains and bonds he makes a decision.

Wilbur no longer wants to be the Grand Enchanter but the Gallant Captain.   He ties his boat to the back of the Snailing Ship and commands it to take him to its home, The Spiral Isles.  Do they sail on the ocean swells?  No, they sail skyward through a sea of clouds with more marvels to behold.  Upon reaching their destination the Gallant Captain (Wilbur) relinquishes his enchantment on the snail and receives a parting gift granting him a way home. 

Nearly two years are spent on the illustrations for each of Graeme Base's books.  Their wild detail, imaginative creatures and places continue to enthrall readers of all ages.  True to form Base has a miniature book of The Legend of the Golden Snail embedded in the title page with end papers mapping out the journey in mystical soft colors

 At the book's end readers are invited to go back to find the hidden snail 'n' crossbones in every picture.  When found it is suggested that a visit to Graeme Base's web site, highlighted at the beginning of this post, will bring the Golden Snail magically to life.  The web site itself is a colorful exploration of the author's career including several videos about this latest book.  Whether an old fan or new this book is a welcome visual feast for the eyes and imagination with the discovery of something different at each viewing.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Terrific Travels with Tripline

Having been a lover of maps for most of my life, (I used to wallpaper my bedroom with the maps that came with the issues of National Geographic.) I am completely enthralled with the possibilities presented by the new online application, Tripline.  Tripline was released in Beta on August 6, 2010.  As stated on the homepage:  At its most basic level, Tripline is a way for you to tell a story by putting places on a map.

To register you need to enter your full name, username, password, home city and email address.  You must be 13 or older to use the site.  Once you have registered you can create a trip.

 There are 28 different choices that can be made as to the type of trip.  You can add an introduction story to the trip as well as music.  From point to point lines can be shown or not shown.  Your trip can visible to the public, friends or private.





By using a search option, geocoder or custom point places can be added to your journey.  As each point is added you can select to put in a date and time as well as a story or private notes.  Whether you want the Tripline to pause, passthrough or give a slideshow at each point can also be determined.

Once the trip is saved you can still add more information such as a review, edit the title, story or notes and include photos for each place.  Photos can be accessed from Flickr, Picasa, Facebook or your computer.

As you study with your students about places real or fictional this would be a great interactive visual method to record your progress.  What a collaborative, fun way for a family to plan a vacation or share one taken with others.  When it comes to projects in the classroom this would be yet another avenue available  to present the information that is required.  The opportunities that this application offers are only limited by your imagination.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Heartfelt Thanks to Middle School Moms

Our Charlevoix Middle School Book Fair held November 11-18, 2010 was the best it could be this year due to the extra efforts of parents, Dawn Jacobs, Mabel Carson, Carol Ochs, Heather Sape, Laurie VanNorman, Rebecca Jeakle and Lisa Ackerman.  Be sure to thank them when you see them.
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Friday, November 26, 2010

Nod to Another Newbery 2010

Jacqueline Kelly, author of The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (Henry Holt and Company, May 12, 2009), a Newbery 2010 Honor book, has penned a truly memorable first novel.  What makes this story unforgettable is the sense of time, place and family that Kelly brings to the reader through her love of words crafting visuals that not only transport but will transform.


Calpurnia Virginia Tate, fondly called Callie Vee, was eleven years old in the summer of 1899.    She is the middle child of seven with three older and three younger brothers.  Her family is of means owning a large working farm and cotton gin which her grandfather established.

It is blazing hot in Fentress, Caldwell County, Texas.  Callie seeks respite in the cool waters of the San Marcos River near their family home floating in her chemise and thinking as she watches the webworms hanging from the oaks that lean across the water.  Seeing and questioning life around her differently than other young women her age sets Callie apart.

 Her oldest brother, Harry, notices that Callie has an attachment to the natural world and he gives her a notebook to record her questions and observations.  Callie has heard talk about Charles Darwin's book, On the Origin of the Species.  A visit to the Lockhart library has Callie fit to be tied as the cranky librarian huffs that there is no copy of such a book in her library, she would need fifty cents to get a copy from another library and does she have a letter from her mother giving her permission to read it.

 Bravely seeking out her grandfather, an eccentric living with the family but spending most of his time outside in his laboratory or in his library, Callie talks about her humiliating experience.  Without so much as a word he leads her into the house and his library.

He extracted a book covered in rich green morocco leather handsomely tipped with gold.  He polished it with his sleeve, although I could see no dust on it.  Ceremoniously, he bowed and offered it to me.  I looked at it.  The Origin of Species.  Here, in my own house.  I received it in both my hands.  He smiled.  Thus began my relationship with Granddaddy.

It also begins our relationship, in a small way, with Darwin as each chapter of The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate begins with an appropriate excerpt from his book.

That summer and beyond, before the turn of the century, readers journey with Callie as Harry courts two different women, as her tenderhearted brother Travis must face Thanksgiving and the loss of his turkey friend, to piano recitals, when three of her brothers fall in love with her best friend, during a cotton harvest, and the family dogs, the county fair, the first telephone and automobile, expectations of women of the time, the possible discovery of a new species by her and her grandfather and the inevitable discourse between members of the family.  The family dialogues around the dinner table were absolutely priceless especially after Callie tests out a new batch of her Grandfather's pecan brew. From spending so much time with her grandfather in scientific study Callie is able to set in her mind how she wishes her life to be but will society let her be herself  is a question left unanswered

For this reader  The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly was most assuredly historical fiction at its best but it was so much more.  It was about connecting soul to soul with another like-minded individual, about the bridge that can be built between generations through conversation and shared experiences, about noticing  details that give the whole its uniqueness, and about choices that women must make; to choose their own road or the road that society dictates they take. 

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Wonderful Wiggio

Recently the web 2.0 application Wiggio came to my attention.  Wiggio.com is a free, online toolkit that makes it easy to work in groups.  Early in 2008 two students at Cornell designed this program.  It was released to the public in September of that same year.

To begin using Wiggio the user creates an account by entering in their name, email, password, zip code, birth year and gender.  An email will be sent to confirm your account.  To begin I created an account with my school email so that I could have a group for my book fair volunteers.  Using my home email I started another account  to create a group for those enjoying children's books.

Once you have generated a new group members can be added by sending an email, link or through Facebook.  As administrator of a group one of four types of communication can be selected:  group email with post by email which acts like a listserv, each post by email or SMS, a daily summary of posts by email or no mail which acts like a discussion board. 

A selection of tabs appears at the top of the home page offering a variety of options available to the group.
By choosing Calendar events can be added, group members can print/view an agenda, show events from all groups, subscribe to that calendar or import a calendar.  When the Folder tab is clicked the user has the choice of upload a file, create a file or add a link.  Virtual meetings, conference calls or a chat room can be set up using the Meeting tab.  Your group can design a poll by picking the Polls tab.  If it is necessary to send a Messsage the options are by text, email, sticky note or voice note.  The final tab, To-Do, produces the ever needful To-Do list.

The beauty of this utility is its simplicity coupled with the options accessible to the group members.  At the bottom of the site's pages are the About page which includes a YouTube video introduction to Wiggio and a FAQ page which is complete and through. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Lab Lover's Double Woof

Stephen Huneck's final gift to the world of children's and dog lover's literature is Sally's Great Balloon Adventure.  Mr. Huneck began his Sally adventures in 2000 with Sally Goes to the Beach followed almost yearly with Sally Goes to the Mountains, Sally Goes to the Farm, Sally Goes to the Vet, Sally's Snow Adventure,  and Sally Gets a Job. 
Sally's family has decided to take her to a balloon festival.  Although she knows what a balloon is, she has never seen a hot air balloon.  Being a typical Labrador her ultra sensitive nose leads her to a balloon with fried chicken in its basket.  As the crowd watches the balloons lift off, Sally seeks that fried chicken.  After falling into the balloon she grabs a rope to pull herself out.  The rope, of course, anchored the balloon and Sally is up, up and away.  Sally can't believe her good fortune to be alone with all that chicken as the people calling her name shrink to dots.  Down on the ground below all types of efforts are being made to save Sally as she floats among the birds dreaming of fried chicken.  Eventually the balloon drifts lower to the ground near a school playground.  A student whose family flies balloons calls out to Sally to play tug-of-war. Getting into the game Sally grabs a rope, warm air is released and the gondola gently lands among the children.  Whew! while the ride was fun, being on the ground with a stomach full of fried chicken is just right.

Stephen's Sally books capture that pure doggy essence of Labradors through placement, position and angles of Sally and the other characters on the pages.  His concise sentences tell the tale with the simplicity that a dog might view the world.  Bold, bright colors convey the joy of living each adventure with curiosity and wonder. 

Stephen Huneck was an extraordinary woodcut print artist as well as sculptor and painter. His work is housed in the White House Collection of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C, the American Kennel Club Library and the Museum of American Folk Art in New York City.    In the back of this Sally book he adds an artist's note on the woodcut print technique. 

I am the proud owner of all the Sally books, one of Stephen's wood cut prints and several of his T-shirts.   As they say, a book is a present that you can open again and again. Stephen's legacy will be that present for generations.   How lucky for our children and those with the heart of a child.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Positively Perfect Perkins

As Easy as Falling Off the Face of the Earth is Lynne Rae Perkins latest novel.  It is definitely going on Mrs. Culver's Top Twenty list for next year.  As I write this I am smiling as I look at the cover, read through the chapter headings again or recall the characters and their exploits. 

To begin sixteen year old Ry bound for summer camp is riding the rails through Montana.  When the train stops for some minor mechanical repair Ry decides to disembark.

Wait a minute.  Was the---had the train just moved?  Ry turned his head to look at it straight on, but it sat on the tracks, as still as the lumpy brown hill he was climbing.  As still as the grass that baked in gentle swells as far as he could see and the air in the empty blue sky.  He must have imagined it.  Nothing had moved.  Everything was the same.  but there it was again.  Was it because he blinked?  Maybe it was the water in his eyes; it had wobbled up his vision.  He picked out a post alongside the tracks, directly below the line where the logo on the train changed from red to blue.  As he watched, the red and the blue shifted almost imperceptibly to the right above the post.  Then perceptibly.  The train was moving. 

Oh, yes, Ry is stranded in the middle of nowhere Montana with his backpack still on the train. He left the train to call his grandfather after finally reading a letter from the camp which stated:

  We are so sorry.  The Summer ArchaeoTrails Program will not take place.  A statistically improbable number of things have gone wrong and the camel's back is broken.  Your money will be fully refunded as soon as I sell my car and remortgage my house. 

Gazing out at the wide-open space, wondering just how he is going to find a place with people and after taking stock of what he has in his pockets, Ry remarks,

But at least I have my health.

It is just this kind of wit, humor and dialogue that moves Ry's story forward with readers happily in tow eager to see what new unlikely event will befall Ry. 

Of course his Grandfather, who is at the family home in Wisconsin taking care of their two dogs, Peg and Olie, is not answering his calls.  Why is that?  Taking the dogs for a walk turned into a race through the woods after the pair sighted a doe only to have the earth beneath Grandpa Lloyd's feet fall into an eight foot sinkhole twenty feet wide. The fall has left Grandpa wandering with a concussion and memory loss.


Where are Ry's parents?  They are sailing around the Caribbean with their own mishaps, the least of which includes the theft of their cell phone by a local monkey. 

Peg and Olie are having an adventure of their own that the reader shares via comic book style graphics.

By walking to the nearest town, Ry meets Del.  Del is a self-made, self-employed, jack-of-all-trades, well traveled kind of guy.   He is the bridge that provides the connection between all these incidents.  It is Del that volunteers to take Ry to Wisconsin to solve the puzzle of Grandpa Lloyd not answering the phone.  It is Del that has a friend with an airplane that can take them to an island in the Caribbean.  It is Del's  former girlfriend, for whom he still has deep feelings, that has a boat that can take them to the island of St. Jude where he can hopefully locate his parents.

Each of  the little additional occurrences that transpire as they journey toward this goal are more far fetched than their predecessors.   As a reader one finds oneself shaking their head and asking, "What are the chances of that happening?"


Lynne Rae Perkins delightful illustrations peppered throughout the book add to the cohesiveness of her writing about these likable characters and the outlandish happenings that fate lays before them.  There is nothing quite so fine as a slice of life from Perkins' finely crafted pie.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Keep Grinning

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This is a simple slideshow that was created using an application called Smilebox.  By using this free tool, which is for PC or Mac, the user generates invitations or greetings, slideshows, scrapbooks, photo albums, calendars, recipes or collages.  There are more than 1,000 customizable designs that the user can add photos or videos to along with music and their own words.  Once the item is done it can be emailed or posted to a variety of social venues.  The code can be embedded into an online publication or there is a link to the creation on the Smilebox web site. It can be saved for future use or alteration.  Printing at home or via a store or burning to a DVD can be done but this will cost $5.99 a month or $39.99 a year.  Payment of this fee also enlarges the music selection considerably. 
The Smilebox application is installed on your computer in seconds.  You can create an account with your email, full name and a password.   This is just one more option available to generate classy visual presentations small or large.  Users must be 18 years of age.
Check out the Smilebox blog connection at the bottom of the home page. Additionally for educators click on Teachers Toolbox which is shown at the bottom of the home page.  Smilebox Teachers Toolbox offers the premium Club Smilebox service free of charge once you have provided the appropriate information.  It includes 900 designs specific to the classroom along with ideas on how it can best be utilized.  Not only can educators use this to convey a specific idea, capture moments in the classroom to share with parents but students can use this to address requirements for projects in the classroom.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Leaping Lizards #2Cool Not To Share

Kaleidoscope Painter is just the ticket for fun and nothing else.  This simple applications guides the user in designing their own pictures just as the hand-held tube version allows with a turn of the wrist.
Four options appear under the drawing box.  You can clear the canvas, have the program draw by itself, have the brush size dynamically change or alter the brush size on your own.
Instructions are shown whether you are a MAC or Windows user on how to save your finished piece of art.

Leaping Lizards

Not many author/illustrators can claim winning the esteemed Caldecott Award three times or the Caldecott Honor Award twice but David Wiesner can.  His newest picture book, Art & Max, is most assuredly headed in that direction. 

A small lizard runs pell mell across a desert landscape as the reader turns the first page...that's Max, a would-be artist.  He excitedly approaches a larger lizard, completely engrossed in his newest portrait...that's Arthur, Art as Max calls him, an artist of quite some talent.   Against his better judgment Arthur agrees to have Max paint beside him also replying to Max's question of what he should paint by saying, Well...you could paint me.  At this point the reader pauses thinking, Oh, Oh, because they already know Max and how his mind will interpret that phrase.

What follows is a kaleidoscopic, fantastical explosion of color as Art undergoes a transformation from one artistic medium to another via the offbeat leaps of Max's mind.  His reduction to a pile of stringy lines does not deter Max though.  He restores Arthur to his original self...well almost.  Not only does Arthur's physical self shift page by page but so does his perception of what art is and how to get there.

Weisner offers readers of Art & Max a chance to scamper through an adventure of unbridled curiosity, creativity and the sheer joy of discovery.  His characters' expressions mirror those found on the frog faces in Tuesday.  He challenges us to think along uncharted paths as he did in The Three Pigs, Flotsam and Sector 7.  He takes us to a world where we might not go as he did in Free Fall.  In a word...genius.

By linking to his web site shown in blue explore the creative process used in fashioning this book.  I am definitely going to be expanding my use of his books to a full-blown author study. 

Monday, November 8, 2010

L is for Lockdown

I think my life is special. In a way it seems odd that I spend all of my time doing only what I love, which is writing or thinking about writing. If everyone had, at least for part of their lives, the opportunity to live the way I do, I think the world would be a better place.


I hope that the next book, story or poem that I write will be worthy of the time the reader spends with it. If it is then my life is successful. If it’s not, then I’ll try again.

With a personal philosophy such as this, it is no wonder that readers have been reaping the benefits for years.  Walter Dean Myers has authored more than 90 books and has at least 16 highly distinguished awards to his credit.  His newest book, Lockdown, is yet another example of literature for young adults that tells it like it is.

Reese, serving time for stealing prescription pads for a drug dealer, is at Progress juvenile facility.  Frequently they are under lockdown but for Reese, once he overcame the fear of not being able to get out, this time also made him feel safe---But after a while, when you got to thinking about it, you knew nobody could get in either.

The reader becomes familiar with several secondary characters; other teens at Progress as well as the warden, Mr. Cintron, and Mr. Pugh, a guard who enjoys his work just a little too much.  Little does Reese know that when he is given the opportunity to participate in a work program at a senior citizen's home, his outlook on his life is going to receive an alteration that it desperately needs.   Mr. Hooft, a resident at the home, is a curmudgeon loaded with prejudice.

But his experiences as a child imprisoned in a war camp lend not only insight into his personality but also give Reese a foundation upon which he can build a survival philosophy.  To survive in Progress Reese must curb his temper, even when fighting to protect a smaller inmate appears to be justified.  To survive on the outside Reese must avoid people who would have him land back in jail. He must stay strong to give his sister, Icy, the chance to realize her dream of attending college.


In Lockdown, Walter Dean Myers, makes the reader feel that they are Reese's shadow, living in his world day by day, wondering what will happen next and whether he will make the right choices.  In Reese's reality life is like walking on a tightrope where focus is everything; one misstep could be the end.  This is realistic fiction at its finest.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Poster Panorama

In three easy steps using the web 2.0 application Block Posters the user can generate a poster of just about any size.  There is no registration and it is free.  It would be advisable for users under the age of 13 to work with a parent or have their permission.  I did check the gallery for any posters that might be inappropriate finding only one that might be slightly questionable but that does not preclude what might appear there in the future.

In step one the user uploads a photograph that is stored on their computer.  The image is transferred to Block Posters' web server so please be wise in making a selection.  The user's selection is sliced in step two.  The option of choosing the size of their poster in page widths and whether they would like it to be portrait or landscape is offered.  Step three asks the user to download the PDF file which contains the images.  They will be printed using Adobe Acrobat Reader.  If that free software is not currently installed on the user's computer it can be done at that time. 

Imagine the potential uses for this application in our classroom settings for bulletin boards or displays or to set up a wall where students can post comments about what is pictured.  The middle school media center is about to get a new wall display.  And what about that blank wall at home?


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Bear Bonanza

Everything had to be just so for Bear's bedtime.
His glass of water had to sit on the exact right spot on his bed stand.
His favorite pillow must be nicely fluffed.
His nightcap needed to be snug.
Most of all, it had to be quiet---very, very quiet.

A Bedtime for Bear, the third book in Bonny Becker's series of Bear and Mouse books is simply charming.


Big, set-in-his-ways Bear is in for an unexpected surprise when happy-go-lucky Mouse appears at his door one evening.  Mouse, suitcase in hand, cheerfully reminds Bear that he is here to spend the night.  Never having an overnight guest before, Bear is apprehensive.

He repeatedly reminds Mouse of his need for absolute quiet as Mouse goes through his preparations for sleep brushing his teeth, humming and nosily settling on his bed.  When Bear tells Mouse that his ears are very sensitive, the ensuing dialogue as Mouse tests that fact is hilarious. 
Later when Bear is frightened by noises that he can not identify and awakens Mouse, Mouse sees through his apparent calm and checks all those places where "noises" might hide.  All ends well with Bear telling a story to sooth the nerves of Mouse as both finally fall asleep.


Becker's command of word choices in the conversations between Bear and Mouse are what beg readers to read them again and again.  Their friendship which began in A Visitor for Bear, continued in A Birthday for Bear and is maintained in this new episode is just what the child in all of us needs.

Kady MacDonald Denton perfectly captures every nuance of the characters and Bear's home through her illustrations.  Her use of watercolor, ink and gouache establish a warm atmosphere inviting the reader to share this duo's newest chapter.  Seeing Bear carrying Mouse's tiny suitcase in two fingers as they go upstairs, Bears exasperated looks as Mouse gets ready for bed or Mouse wearing earmuffs when Bear's snores get too loud can not fail to bring forth a chuckle or two. 
When will the next Bear and Mouse book be ready?  What will they do this time?  This reader can hardly wait.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Not Now But Later


Instapaper is a nifty web site founded several years ago by Marco Arment.  He offers it to users as a way to bridge the gap between finding information and consuming it.    By moving the Read Later bookmarklet to your toolbar you can click on it any time you want to place a web page at the site to read later.  To get started you register with your email address and choose a password. 
A user can also send email links or long messages as well as items from Google Reader to the site for reading at a later time.  Pages can be transferred to an iPad, iPhone, Kindle or other eReaders for more portable viewing.  Many iPhone and iPad apps support sending pages to Instapaper.  You can place your articles in Folders for greater ease in locating them.  For more complete instructions and uses of Instapaper just click on the Extras tab at the top of the initial web page.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Smitten with Smith

Okay, I will freely admit that as soon as I see the name Lane Smith attached to a book this big grin starts to light up my face.  In my heart of hearts I know that at the very least I will burst out laughing once if not more.  Upon opening It's a Book to the title pages, the three characters are introduced; mouse, jackass and monkey.  Careful placement on the pages has them becoming a part of the title itself.


With short clipped sentences the computer-geek donkey and book-reading ape have a conversation beginning like this:
What do you have there?
It's a book.

How to you scroll down?                                                          
I don't.  I turn the page.  It's a book.

Do you blog with it?
No, it's a book.

On the next two page spread I defy the reader not to crack up when the donkey asks, Where's your mouse?  Without a word the ape shifts his eyes to the hat on his head which has been lifted up by the mouse who was underneath. 

Patience on the wan monkey finally asks if his partner in this conversation wants to look at the book.  At first jackass wants to reduce the page from Treasure Island to a few "texted" statements.  But within the next few lines of banter between this duo the reader knows that he has been drawn into this book not by its technological capabilities but by the sheer brillance of the writing.  In fact he does not want to give it back.  Needless to say the end will have readers young and old alike exploding with laughter as Lane via the mouse delivers yet another edgy play on words. (I have left the final exchange of words out of my review in order not to spoil the ending but please consider your audience before purchase.)

Even without the text Lane's illustrations crafted with layered oil paints, brush and ink are stunning in the subtle conveyance of exactly what his characters are thinking with the lift of an eyebrow, a twist of the mouth or a roll of the eye.  As in most of his books his choice of background colors lift the characters and setting off the page even though they are portrayed in earth-tone hues.  This is classic Lane Smith.  It's already been added to my list of favorites for 2010 and a copy has a home on my bookshelves.

View Curious Pages to get Smith's personal views on this book.  In addition to the web site associated with his name beginning this review Lane Smith Books is his official web site. 

Thursday, October 28, 2010

One Picture--A Thousand Words

At the Art of Storytelling web site sponsored by the Delaware Art Museum users are treated to a visual feast.  By selecting one of three tabs at the top of the initial web page, Experience a Story, Tell a Story or Picture a Story one can view or use pieces of art to inspire.  By selecting the first tab those stories written by others can be read or listened to along with viewing a single piece of art.  The second tab offers various pieces of artwork which can be chosen.  Write and then record the story which has been prompted by the selected illustration.  Picture a Story is the tab best suited for students.  First choose a genre from either adventure, romance, fantasy, comedy, fairy tale, drama, mystery, western or horror.  Next from eight backgrounds which are actual artwork make a selection.  Users are allowed to choose from 31 characters and 31 props which can be positioned on the background and sized accordingly.  At the fifth step they are reminded of their choices, given space to write their script and then it can be recorded.  Having produced their story they can have it emailed to three others including themselves.  An email address must be entered and persons using this site under 13 years must have parental permission. 

This site not only gives our students a glimpse at artwork that they might not ever see but are guided through steps in generating their own stories which can be saved and shared.  As with many tasks/projects it is not the final project that is important but the true value lies in the ability to know what to do to get there.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Who's going to blow the house in?

Jan Brett has fashioned yet another dazzling example of her signature artwork in her newest book, The 3 Little Dassies.  Widely traveled gaining inspiration for her books, she collects details of the flora, fauna, culture, customs and clothing.  The locations shown in her stories are a true reflection of that part of the world.  Knowing just a little bit more about people, places, animals or vegetation unlike their own, is a given for the reader of Jan Brett's books.  Using watercolor and gouache (watercolor paint which is opaque rather than transparent) each highly detailed illustration not only complements the storyline but true to her style the side panels tell another tale giving the reader a glimpse into that which is to come.



After making a trip to Namibia located in southern Africa with her husband, Jan kept thinking about seeing the rock hyraxes (dassies) and the agama lizard.  Having been introduced to the Namibian women and their traditional dress, Jan acquired many pieces of the brightly colored fabrics as well as varying types of grasses native to the area.  She uses these fabrics not only to dress her characters but as frames for each piece of art.  Never missing a chance to surround her reader with the story Brett begins and ends this book (endpapers) showing woven grasses dotted with insects found in Namibia.


The 3 Little Dassies is, of course, an adaptation of The Three Little Pigs but readers will find it richer in characters, lessons and a wee bit of a pourquoi message.   As the dassies leave home they meet the Agama Man at the base of a mountain.  He welcomes them having been lonely for too long.

Making their homes of grass, driftwood and stone resting as each is completed the dassies settle in their new surroundings.  It is the wily eagle, chicks in her nest on the mountain top, that seeks out the dassies for food.  Chanting

I'll flap and I'll clap and I'll blow your house in. 

she manages to fly upward with the first two sisters, Mimbi and Pimbi. 

Equally as clever is the Agama Man who sees a chance to save the already captured dassies.  Mirroring the story's predecessors is the eagle's flight down the chimney only to have her feathers severely burned changing their color for generations to see.  At Timibi's stone house all are reunited celebrating with their extended family who have come to live.


I have long been a collector of Jan Brett books enjoying them again and again as have my students over the years.  We eagerly await each of her new books.  Reading The 3 Little Dassies to them and adding it to our library media center collection will be a joy. As Jan Brett says, A picture is never finished until I feel I can walk into a page.  We will all be gladly walking with you, Jan Brett.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Riordan Rocks!

Readers are in for a rockin' roller coaster of a ride in Rick Riordan's latest and greatest, The Lost Hero.  This first book in the new Heroes of Olympus series takes fans back to the familiar territory of Camp Half-Blood.  Who could resist this opening line?--Even before he got electrocuted, Jason was having a rotten day.



To begin Jason finds himself on a bus with other students attending the Wilderness School; a school for those teens that live on the wrong side of the law.  He does not recognize his best friend Leo or his girlfriend, Piper.  When the bus arrives at its destination of the Grand Canyon an unnatural storm brings in the evil wind spirits, venti that threaten each of their lives.

Jason finds that a gold coin in his pocket can bring forth a weapon of gold that suits whatever situation presents itself to him.  He is also amazed to learn that his father is non-other than the King of Olympus, Zeus.  Finding himself at Camp Half-Blood after this first battle should be a relief to Jason but his loss of memory has him feeling uneasy.

He somehow knows that this is not where he belongs.  If so, why is he here?  And more importantly where has he been instead of at Camp Half-Blood?

From as far back as he can remember, Leo, has had a gift with tools.  Growing up by learning with and helping his mother in her workshop, Leo can build just about anything.  He also has a secret.

Calling forth fire through his emotions or for protection has cost him more than it has helped him.  In his younger days his mysteriously appearing babysitter offered words and situations of instruction and encouragement.  Imagine his surprise at finding out she is the Greek goddess, Hera, who is currently imprisoned by a force greater than the gods.

Hephaestus, god of blacksmiths and fire, has claimed him as son.  Where has this god been all his life especially when his mother died?  What is the explanation of the air-hanger-size cave in the woods around Camp Half-Blood that Leo discovers?  What is this Bunker 9? 

Leo is not the only one with a secret.  Piper's famous movie star father is missing.  Appearing to her in dreams, a huge ugly creature has told her that her father will lose his life unless she betrays her friends.

Even though the time spent with her father has been infrequent during her lifetime, her love for him is strong.  When it is revealed that Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty, is her mother, she understands that her father's Cherokee heritage is not the only trait that will lend her strength when needed.  But can Piper use those strengths to help both her friends and her father? 

These three new champions of the demi-gods have until the solstice, just four short days, to save Piper's father and free Hera.  Through the use of visions and dreams of each of the heroes Riordan guides the reader through the events that have culminated in this quest that begins that fulfillment of the Great Prophecy:

Seven half bloods shall answer the call,
To storm or fire, the world must fall,
An oath to keep with a final breath,
And foes bear arms to the Doors of Death.

Alternating chapters between the voices, thoughts and actions of each of these characters creates a tension that supersedes the term, page-turner. 

This past spring when Riordan unveiled the first book in the Kane Chronicles, The Red Pyramid, which opens up the world of ancient Egyptian mythology to readers, I personally felt at that time that his writing was sharper; more descriptive and finer tuned.  Unlike what my father used to say, Anticipation is greater than realization, The Lost Hero takes it up another notch.  It's a total blast!  It seems downright cruel that fans and readers have to wait an entire year for the second book in the Heroes of Olympus series, The Son of Neptune, which is coming in the fall of 2011.  We can only hope that in the meantime another book in the Kane Chronicles will appear as planned in the late spring of 2011.

In addition to the web site in blue above check out Rick Riordan's blog .