Quote of the Month

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




Friday, May 30, 2014

Footwear Fascination

There must be some kind of scientific explanation.  I may have even read it when I was consuming puppy and dog training books like chocolate when Xena first chose me.  The truth is dogs, especially puppies, like to chew.  They seem to have a preference for shoes.

To make it even more interesting (or frustrating depending on whether you are the chewer or owner of the chewed), they select the most expensive and favorite pair for their munching. Author Megan McDonald and illustrator Katherine Tillotson are back together again introducing readers to the one and only Shoe Dog (A Richard Jackson Book, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division).  This newly acquired canine companion is possessed with the need to nibble and gnaw.

Ooh, look at the puppy!
Who's a good boy?
You're so cute.  Yes, you are!

He perked up an ear at the kitchee-coo words.

The sound of that voice was like music to this homeless dog's heart.  How he longed to leave the shelter for the comfort of a real home.  How he longed to have a place to roam.  How he longed to feel the touch of a human hand giving tummy rubs and a human nose giving those special kisses.

Unfortunately he had absolutely no interest in the normal doggy treats and toys presented to him.  No, this little dog craved shoes.  Within the first twenty-four hours fifteen various items of footwear were reduced to pieces.

 His human was not happy.  His first night was spent not on but at the foot of the Big Bed.  The coveted signs of affection were not delivered.

He was simply delighted when a new box was brought home the next day and the day after that.  He could not resist the sound of the tissue paper, the lure of those new shoes.  No dog gate was going to contain him.  No set of stairs or Big Bed kept him from his goal.  There was also no sleeping on the Big Bed.  Night number three was on the cold floor downstairs.  Maybe Shoe Dog needed to readjust his behavior.

What's this?  It's his human with a big, big bag filled with three...yes three...new boxes.  Over the gate, up the stairs, under the Big Bed, on the Comfy Chair and into the Forest of Dresses he went.  Persistent explorer, shoe-sniffer extraordinaire that he was, this pup made a purr-fect discovery.


There are those books when silently read will fill the reader with the intended warmth.  There are those books with words when read aloud will sing off the pages.  There are those books which do both beautifully.  This is one of those books.

Megan McDonald has penned a romping, rollicking narrative without the use of rhyme.  Her precise pacing and repetition of words and phrases is masterful.  Knowing what Shoe Dog will do; how he will act will have you thinking she might be part dog or at the very least share her life with one.  Her descriptions of the woman's bed, furniture, second floor and parts in the home add to the overall attachment readers will have for Shoe Dog (and his woman).  Here is a sample passage.

The next day,
She came home with
a New Box.
Not a big box.
Not a little box.
A just-right box
with Noisy Paper inside.
Grr!


Cuteness abounds with the same vigor as Shoe Dog in pursuit of his pleasing pastime from beginning to end and on all the pages in-between thanks to the crayon and charcoal digitally-combined illustrations of Katherine Tillotson.  I don't know about you but I want to hug the pup pictured on the matching dust jacket and book case.  Tillotson's free-flowing lines (on the back), arcing as he bounces from the box with the new shoe in his mouth, are guaranteed to bring on the grins.  Two shades of green in a scroll pattern cover the opening and closing endpapers.  They are identical to the quilt on the Big Bed.

Not a moment is wasted; Tillotson begins the story on the single title page showing a shoe store across the street from the animal shelter.  It continues with a large picture crossing the gutter from right to left including the verso as the woman walks into the shelter.  Ample use of white space gives her visuals the look of carefully designed collage.  Her line work showing Shoe Dog's body and motion is impeccable.

Choice of medium provides a strong sense of texture.  You want to touch the pages.  This with the altered perspectives encourages reader participation.  To tell you the truth, I like so many of these illustrations I simply can't pick a favorite this time.


Shoe Dog written by Megan McDonald with pictures by Katherine Tillotson is one of the best dog books of 2014; totally wooferlicious!  Every nuance of dogginess is perfectly portrayed with words and illustrations.  Without a doubt hand this book to dog lovers of all ages or to anyone who longs for a story that is better than best.

Be sure to follow the links embedded in Megan McDonald's and Katherine Tillotson's names above to access their websites.  This link to the publisher's site will give you a peek at several pages from the book.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

A Question As Old As Time...Well, Almost

It's spring! Everywhere you look new life is peeking through the soil, cheeping from a nest, waddling toward the nearest water or covering the landscape.  Looking across the wooded horizon, leaves are finally unfurling on the branching boughs.  For the first time in anyone's memory, the tiniest of trees are sprouting from seeds by the thousands, literally covering people's lawns and gardens.

I have become a third parent in the saga of guarding the new robins nesting in my hanging ivy; chasing away an enormous crow looking for an easy snack today.  Patient parents glide in and out of the nest, sometimes together taking care of their growing, hungry brood.  With growing joy, I saw wings flapping above the nest edge today.

All parents in the animal kingdom care for their young instinctively, as they have for year after year after year.  In the human realm, young children are understandably curious about the arrival of their new brothers and sisters; catching the vibes of the expectant parents.  In The Baby Tree (Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA)) author illustrator Sophie Blackall provides answers in her charmingly original signature style.

After I wake up
and after I get out of bed,
after I wake up Dad
and wake up Mom
and wake up Dad again,
and after I get dressed
and feed Brian,
we have breakfast.

In true youngster ramblings a boy tells us of his morning.  At the breakfast table his parents have news for him; big news.

A new baby is coming.

Loaded with questions, the boy asks the one his stomach dictates.  Fortunately his parents, happy with their announcement, allow him to have a second helping of cereal.

On the way to school with his teenage walking companion, Olive, he questions her.   Her reply, as to where babies do come from, is a seed.  This is no ordinary seed.  This seed grows a Baby Tree.  

His attempts to paint a Baby Tree during art at school, don't quite measure up to the vision he has in his head.  He asks his teacher the same question.  Without hesitation she says babies come from the hospital, quickly changing the subject.

Knowing his Grandpa was in the hospital, he is sure he will have the correct answer.  A stork?  He leaves a bundle at the door?  He keeps checking but there is no bundle.  He decides to ask the mailman, Roberto.  Roberto seems to think babies come from eggs whose origins are unknown.

Four people have delivered four different answers.  This boy is definitely befuddled.  After dinner, bath, and bedtime stories one and two, he asks his parents.

Where do babies come from?

And you know what?  They, as parents do, give him the perfect answer.


There is something completely endearing about this narrative written by Sophie Blackall.  She speaks to the reader with the distinct knowing voice of a young child.  Without hesitation, unburdened by inhibitions, he seeks truthful responses from those people in his life he trusts.  Their replies are small tidbits of fact (except for Grandpa who the boy is going to set straight).  I love this sentence after Grandpa's answer.

I check the doorstep every morning before breakfast but there are no babies, only the mail.


You want to sigh from the sheer adorableness of the dust jacket and matching book case.  Looking at those newborns, looking at one another and at their surroundings, wrapped in blanket buds with those pointed hats, is sure to elicit smiles.  This is a picturesque introduction to the gentle playfulness found throughout the book.  The soft blue background with the golden yellow bottom is carried to the back where a nest containing three eggs, two cracked sits in the center.  A head has popped out from one; a tiny foot is pushing out from the other.

Opening and closing endpapers feature a pattern of delicate branches with tiny leaves.  Among the spaces they form are an egg, a stork, a hospital, and a tiny growing seed.  A design found every time the boy imagines a given answer begins on the title page; a large thought bubble extending to the edge of the page.

A thick matte-finished paper provides the perfect texture for Sophie Blackall's watercolor and Chinese ink illustrations.  Their size is altered to complement and enhance the boy's story.  Eight small pictures visualize the first sentence.  Usually she uses two pages to convey the message found in the text.

I could easily frame many of these illustrations to hang on my wall but two which fill my heart are the sequences with the boy speaking with Grandpa.  The two are standing close together with Grandpa placing his arm around his grandson.  The flight of the pigeons and the stork carrying the child are beautiful.  It's interesting to see a framed picture of the stork hanging on Grandpa's wall in one of the final pages.


Every bookshelf in homes, classrooms and school libraries will want a copy of The Baby Tree written and illustrated with exquisite care by Sophie Blackall.  I have never seen a book which answers this question with such intention and love for the audience for which it is written.  In addition to the parent's response Sophie Blackall has a page with six other questions and factual answers.  What are you waiting for?  Go now.  Get at least one copy. (Plus Sophie Blackall honors two of her studio mates.  See if you can find how she does this.)

Please follow the link embedded in Sophie Blackall's name above to her official web pages.  John Schumacher, teacher librarian, dedicated a blog post to celebrate this title at Watch. Connect. Read.  The delightful book trailer can be found there.  Carter Higgins, author and teacher librarian, highlights this title on her blog, Design of the Picture Book.  Her giveaway lasts until June 2, 2014.   Julie Danielson, author and blogger at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast reviews this book and has art pictured in a post. Head over to The Horn Book for Five questions for Sophie Blackall.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Shade...Sanctuary...Symbol

Growing up all our city streets were lined with trees.  Paths in our parks wound through wooded groves.  Even today, within minutes, I can be walking through a forest surrounding me on all sides as if I am the first and only person to have been there.  Rows of pines whispering in the breeze, stands of birches startling in their whiteness, and majestic maples and oaks cast their peaceful spell on all who stand in their presence.

If they could talk, the tales trees would tell would be astounding.  Under The Freedom Tree (Charlesbridge) written by Susan VanHecke with illustrations by London Ladd portrays significant events in the United States during 1861, 1862 and 1863.  An oak tree, still standing today, was a witness.

1861
May moon
gleams
bright as
Colonel's buttons.

Three slip out unseen.

Three African American men, fearful but resolved, are stealing away in the night.  They hope to find more freedom by crossing the water to the north.  As slaves their lives in the Southern soldiers' camp are tortuous.

With each stroke of the paddle their small boat moves closer to the other shore; their fate unknown.  They will not turn back.  Acting as a sentinel in the night, the old oak tree watches and waits.

In the Union camp a General considers his choices.  Before a decision is reached a soldier from the Colonel's camp, white flag waving, demands the return of their chattel.  In what can only be described as brilliant the General makes a decision based upon Virginia's secession the previous day.  These three men are now contraband of war.  The old oak tree watches and wonders.

The actions of these three, the decision of a single man, inspire others to make the journey.  Thousands seeking refuge and freedom come.  These resourceful, determined people construct a town, a town to call their own.

In the nearby ruins of Hampton, more people build what will be called the Grand Contraband Camp.  Home to increasing numbers these two places offer hope.  Then a teacher comes, giving boys and girls their first formal lessons.  The old oak tree watches and learns.

It is January 1, 1863.  Good news comes to the gathered numbers.  The old oak tree watches and rejoices.


In poetic free verse Susan VanHecke recreates the historic truths while giving readers a very real sense of the human experience in each.  Through her words we are in the boat with Frank, James and Shepard.  We stand with them as their future is being determined by General Benjamin Butler.  We understand the gift their bravery was for so many; the many who worked hard to build new lives for themselves and future generations.  To make her readers more a part of the story, VanHecke includes dialogue.  Here is a sample passage.

Frank,
James,
Shepard.

Three
become forty.

William,
Charlotte,
Waddy.

Then hundreds,
then more.

Runaways.
Stowaways.
Barefoot, mud-crusted.
Better forward than back.


Two gorgeous illustrations rendered in acrylic, pastel and colored pencil spread across the matching dust jacket and book case, giving readers a close perspective of the three men looking outward and on the back of them crossing the water toward the Northern army.  It would make for an interesting discussion before even reading the book to ask listeners on what their eyes are focused.  After the single page for the title featuring the old oak tree, all the other illustrations span two pages; the verso and first page picturing them running in the night.

Brush strokes and pencil lines by the talented hand of London Ladd add emotional texture to every scene.  His chosen color palette evokes an impression of the past.  We not only look at these visuals, we are in them with this people from the past.

I really think my favorite illustration in this book is the first.  The placement of the three men running along the bottom of the page through the tall grass against the trees in the background raises a response in the reader; the urgency, the fear and courage call out.  I think it's important to note that Ladd has a full moon providing light for them.  His attention to detail and accuracy shows the passion and dedication he feels for his work.

Both author Susan VanHecke and illustrator London Ladd did extensive research for their parts in bringing Under The Freedom Tree to readers.  I wonder how many people are aware of the value of this true story.  This is an important book that needs to be shared.

For more information about Susan VanHecke and London Ladd please follow the links embedded in their names to access their web sites.  At London Ladd's site are links to several outstanding interviews about the process involved in making this book.  Here is a link to an interview of Susan VanHecke relative to this title.  There is an additional link to a site dedicated to the book itself here.  It includes many additional resources.  Enjoy the book trailer.






As I say each week, Alyson Beecher, educator and blogger at Kid Lit Frenzy has been a true inspiration.  Her 2014 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge keeps me looking for the best books.


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

And The Answer Is...

A week ago Heather Moorefield, Education Librarian at Virginia Tech and chairperson for the American Association of School Librarians Best Websites for Teaching & Learning tweeted about a new site which features a product for classroom or lesson review like a game show.  Although some have ended their school year, many will be working with students until mid-June.  At first glance this seems to be a FUNtastic way to check for understanding on any given topic.

To the best of my knowledge FlipQuiz in its current form was released in February of this year.  You need to be eighteen years of age to create boards.  If you are between the age of thirteen and eighteen your parent(s) or guardian(s) can sign up for you.  No one under thirteen is to register.  This service is free. (There is a pro pricing for $7.00 per month. It allows you to have team scoring, upload images, and copy the boards of other users, plus more.)

On the right side of the navigation bar you can click on a tab for features, see a demo, login or sign up.  The key features are questions and answers (if you desire) are seen online, boards can be created and saved for later use, boards can be accessed from anywhere, engaging layout and design.  To sign up you need to choose a user name, provide your email address and a password, your first and last name, verify you are human, and select a membership level (free or pro).



Registration completed, you are taken to your dashboard.  Using the Search & Discover (3) button you are taken to a new window.  Searches can be done by keyword or most recently created boards.  You can choose to Create a Quiz Board (1), view your profile (2), see all your boards (4) or update your account information (5).  By selecting the right arrow key you will be logged out.






After choosing Create a Quiz Board a new screen appears.  First give your board a title.  You will be generating questions (and answers if you desire) for six categories. 


Text can be written in bold, italics or underlined (1), subscript or superscript (2), a link can be inserted (3), an image can be inserted using a URL (4) and a video can be included as well (5).  The insertion of images can be as simple or sophisticated as you desire.  Videos from sixteen different providers can be part of the question or answer.  Instructions are given on which URL to use to add videos.   It's a good idea to save the board after each category is completed.  



Once you have your questions (and answers) completed for the number of categories you wish to include, you can add a cover to your board by uploading an image from your computer. At any time you can edit the entire board or a single item on the board. From the dashboard you can access your quiz board, editing it, viewing it in presentation mode or deleting it.









I am looking forward to using FlipQuiz more in the future.  It is extremely easy to use with professional looking results.  I believe students will enjoy using this for quick, simple review in your classrooms.  

Monday, May 26, 2014

To Follow Your Heart

Some decisions require lengthy deliberations, vocal or mental, accompanied by a list of pros and cons.  Other decisions need to be made in a split second.  There are also those choices despite the reasoning in your mind; you go with the convictions in your heart.

As a young bird, any bird, your first thoughts after food might turn toward the art of flying.  After all, it provides you with a means of transportation, safety and gaining a view of the world few ever see.  Whether they are fiction or nonfiction there is an uplifting joyfulness to the work of author illustrator Lita Judge.  Her newest release, Flight School (Atheneum Books for Young Readers) will send the hearts of readers soaring.

"I was hatched to fly," said Penguin.
"When do classes start?"

Penguin has zipped by outboard motor and rowboat from his home in the South Pole to the nearest flight school.  It's here that birds are given lessons allowing them to take to the air.  When Teacher gently reminds him he is a penguin he responds---

"Undeniable," said Penguin, "but I have the soul of an eagle."

Reluctantly the instructors allow Penguin to participate in the lessons.  First there is much flapping to gain heights.  This is followed by running starts.  Weeks pass with Penguin as eager as the next bird.

The big day arrives when the pupils are given permission to make their first flight.  When others lift and glide on the air currents, Penguin plunges into the depths of the water.  Dreams crushed, Penguin realizes the only thing to do is head home.

He really believed with the soul of an eagle he could raise into the wild blue yonder.  A shout brings Penguin back to the shore.  A cheerful heart is contagious encouraging the most glorious ideas.  Happy with the outcome, Penguin, a little later, comes back with a big surprise.


With the first conversational exchange between Penguin and Teacher Lita Judge introduces three elements into her story, hope, compassion and gentle humor.  Regardless of his body's characteristics Penguin chooses to pursue his dream.  Teacher and Flamingo even knowing Penguin's changes of flight are impossible allow him to be a part of their class.  We readers know without even turning a page the outcome.

Lita Judge, in this story, has created characters we view with affection.  They mirror those best parts in all of us.  Like a warm hug, the optimism in this narrative envelopes readers.


In this title, rendered in Judge's masterful watercolor and pencil illustrations, we initially feel drawn to the penguin on the matching dust jacket and book case wrapped in fishing line and feathers, sporting a pair of red goggles. The edge-to-edge illustration on the verso and title page begin the story as Penguin speeds away in his boat, riding in the bow toward flight school. Most of the remaining pictures cover both pages similarly but to accentuate a portion of the story she uses single pages or frames a visual in a loose line.

A pale glowing golden background adds to the joyous spirit in this tale.  Warm shades of brown, cream, orange, and yellow with a splash of red continue the sense of charming comfort.  Even her blues and greens shine.  Altered perspective draws the reader into each scene; flight practice, Penguin plunging into the water, and Flamingo's reaction to his return.

My favorite illustration is Penguin running down the beach decked out in the fishing line, feathers and his red goggles.  The jubilation on his face and in his body posture is endearing.  The legs of Flamingo, Teacher and the small friend in pursuit say a great deal about the tenderhearted bond which has grown between him and them.


If you are looking for a title about dreaming the impossible dream look no further than Flight School written and illustrated by Lita Judge.  It presents readers with a cast of lovable characters who look on the bright side of life.  Sometimes we truly need the help of our friends to keep our heart full; we gladly extend this goodness to others.

For more about his book and Lita Judge please follow the link embedded in her name to her official website.  She is asking educators to help her with ideas for using this book in the classroom.  Here is a link to an earlier interview at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast hosted by Julie Danielson.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Pesky Peepers On Patrol

Given the popularity of mystery books in a series, Nancy Drew Mystery Stories, The 39 Clues, The Sisters Grimm, The Boxcar Children Mysteries, The Hardy Boys Mystery Stories, A Jigsaw Jones Mystery, Cam Jansen, Nate the Great, Chet Gecko, Sammy Keyes and Encyclopedia Brown (to name a few), it's safe to say most children enjoy gathering clues and trying to crack the case.  Over the years with the introduction of a new series, a different group of boys and girls eagerly await the release of the next volume.  With each subsequent title, the bond between the readers and the fictional characters grows.

In 2011 author Doreen Cronin and illustrator Kevin Cornell presented readers with a comic cast in The Trouble with Chickens:  A J. J. Tully Mystery (Balzer + Bray) followed in 2012 with The Legend of Diamond Lil:  A J. J. Tully Mystery (Balzer + Bray).  Retired search-and-rescue dog J. J. Tully, mother chicken Moosh and her four chicks, Dirt, Sugar, Poppy and Sweetie are back in a spin-off from the original series titled The Chicken Squad: The First Misadventure (Atheneum Books for Young Readers).  Those four balls of yellow fluff take center stage in what can only be described as merry mayhem.

Welcome to the yard!
Meet the Chicken Squad: Four fuzzy little chicks who should fill their days pecking chicken feed and chasing bugs but instead spend most of their time looking for trouble and finding it.

The voice of J. J. Tully advises readers of the status of this latest episode before going off to do what he does best---take a little nap.  The quartet, minding their own business in their coop, are startled by the panicked cries and arrival of the local squirrel, Tail.  Something big and scary, enormous and frightening and huge and terrifying is after him.

Taking notes on her notepad Sugar praises Tail on his vocabulary but more information is needed.  When Dirt asks what shape it is so she can draw it on her sketchpad, Tail is at a loss.  Shapes are not his forte.  Awakened by all the fuss, J. J. sticks his head into the coop.  Tail promptly faints dead away.  To complicate matters Moosh walks in, thinking there is a dead squirrel on her living room floor.

With the adults off tending to business the four chicks try to get more information out of the squirrel in between his fainting spells.  Apparently the last fall knocked some sense into him as he is able to add additional facts to the now known shape, a circle.  Between Dirt's drawings and Sugar's notes, a startling conclusion is reached.

Having read this title twice, nearly three times now, at this point in the narrative, the silliness (but logical if you are one of the chicks) is off the scale.  Armed with grass clippings, a bag of rocks, a ball of string, a tank of helium, and an orange balloon the fearless four and one petrified squirrel set out to face their foe.  Let's just say a hose, some hot dogs and a single old shoe figure prominently in the satisfactory resolution to the chicks' first caper.


Doreen Cronin has spun a tale for younger readers loaded with one laughable moment after the other.  You can tell with every sentence how much she enjoys using language to establish a humorous scenario which envelopes the reader.  The individual personalities of the characters shine through in the snappy dialogue.  Here are a couple passages from the book.

How was I supposed to know the twitchy squirrel was going to faint?  I mean, sure, sometimes I chase him around the yard.  Big deal.  You'd do the same thing if you were a dog.  Especially if you were bored out of your mind and had nothing to read.  So yeah, the squirrel took one look at my mug and fainted.

"I hope that's not what I think it is," said Moosh.
"What do you think it is?" asked Dirt.
"A dead squirrel in my living room," she answered.
"The squirrel's not dead, Mom," said Sugar.  "He just fainted."
"How can you be so sure?" asked Moosh.  "He looks dead to me."
"Dead things smell bad," answered Sugar.  "He just smells like squirrel."


When you combine the writing of Doreen Cronin with the illustrations of Kevin Cornell rendered in graphite, watercolor and digital, you have a book guaranteed to produce a profusion of giggles.  I simply can't look at the faces of Dirt, Sugar, Poppy and Sweetie without laughing.  The shapes of their heads and beaks, the placement of their eyes, their head feathers and the huge glasses on Sugar, not to mention their body language, are designed to make readers fall in love with them.  The facial expressions on Tail, the squirrel, are delightfully dramatic.

There are no two pages (well, maybe just two) without an illustration.  They are meticulously placed to amplify the flow of the story.  The size and perspective change according to the narrative.

One of my many favorite illustrations is of Dirt and Tail hiding in the grass.  Wide-eyed and waiting they are discussing their next move in the big plan.  There is so much animation in the illustration you can almost hear their whispered conversation.


If you like to laugh, if you like to hear the laughter of others, especially children, The Chicken Squad:  The First Misadventure written by Doreen Cronin with illustrations by Kevin Cornell is the perfect pick.  You couldn't ask for a more ridiculous romp starring characters you've enjoyed in the two previous books.  This is an easy book to read aloud with voices given the gifted collaboration of Cronin and Cornell.  I can see portions of this tale being used for readers' theater.

To discover more information about the author and illustrator please follow the links embedded in their names above to access their websites.  This link to the publisher's website gives you a peek at several of the pages.  Here is a link to a fun page with a couple of news items and an engaging activity.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Comic Camera Action

Time and time again when boys and girls, my students, get in front of a camera a different truth of which they are emerges.  Hidden talents are revealed.  A previously shy person becomes a comedian.  A rather talkative individual becomes an origami artist.

It's as if the camera gives them permission to be the way they want to be.  This Is a Moose (Little, Brown and Company) written by Richard T. Morris with illustrations by Tom Lichtenheld records the activity on a documentary film set gone wild.  Moose has a dream; an out-of-this-world dream.  Are you ready to laugh?  Well, then...

This is a Moose---Take one!
This is the Mighty Moose.
His father is a moose.
His mother is a moose.

So far this is your typical, standard rather dull, but truthful, as we know it, dialogue about a moose.  The problem, as the director sees it, is the next line.  This moose wants to be an astronaut more than anything else in the world.  The director asks someone politely to help the moose out of his space suit.  Yes, readers he is wearing astronaut gear specifically designed for his moose features.

A decidedly grumpier moose is ready for Take Two when a voice calls out from the lake.  It's Grandma Moose suitably attired to be a lacrosse goalie. Take Three is interrupted by giraffe (Isn't he supposed to be in Africa?) who wants to be a doctor.  Take Four has the characters taking matters into their own hands.

What's this?  A giant slingshot tied to two tall evergreens?  Is that moose sitting in a chair in the center?  The director is sputtering with incredulity.  Take Five can't be taken.  It would seem moose is on his way to the moon.

Duck the director is about to go quackers.  In a rage he shouts a question which is met with silence, a long, thoughtful silence.  Take Six---A sound, so loud the trees shiver, reverberates throughout the forest.


You have to admire the mind of an author who can generate a sense of impending laughter within four sentences.  Richard T. Morris manages to increase the hilarity with every take by introducing new characters acting in most unexpected ways.  The humorous tension is increased further with the interplay of conversation and narration.


Three little words in a speech bubble off to the side of the matching dust jacket and book case on this title are a huge clue as to the fun-filled action about to happen.  The placement of the ISBN riding in the center of the canoe with rabbit riding on top and the giraffe paddling are bound to bring on the smiles.  Moose, hands on his hips, glaring cantankerously at the reader makes me burst out laughing every single time.  The opening and closing endpapers in tones of brown are as if we are looking through the lens of a video camera.  A slightly blurry image of a moose is front and center.  Two spoken words,

Focus! and
That's A Wrap!

become part of the narrative.  Careful readers will notice the difference in the battery icon shown at the beginning and ending

A page turn features the title page on the right with the first spoken sentence by the director on the left of a double page panoramic view of the lake and forest.  All the illustrations by Tom Lichtenheld rendered in ink, colored pencil, and gouache extend the text superbly; telling stories of their own.  Most cover both pages, others are single page pictures.

An example of Lichtenheld's creative spirit is in the illustrating of the text

His father is a moose.
His mother is a moose.

The first time the duo are framed portraits hanging on a tree next to moose.  In the second set of sentences they are part of a fold-out brochure with a picture of Saturn in the center.  When we see them the third time father moose is driving a speed boat, pulling mother moose behind on water skis.

Moose's best friend a chipmunk mirrors moose's actions accentuating the bond between the two while increasing the wonderful wit.  Comic facial expressions, body language and extra details make the visuals soar to the moon along with moose.  Details like chipmunk holding a rope which he uses to pull Grandmother's canoe into shore, the big lipstick lips on pearl-necklace-wearing Grandmother, bear holding a cup of tea, and rabbit using a carrot to point out moose's position in space on a blackboard diagram are playfully perfect.

I have many favorite illustrations in this title but my most favorite has to remain a secret.  I simply can't spoil anything for you.  I can't look at it without grinning like crazy.


When you read the narrative of this book for the first time, in between fits of laughter, you know you can hardly wait to read it aloud to a group of children.  This Is a Moose by author Richard T. Morris with illustrations by Tom Lichtenheld is meant to be shared.  And trust me when I say you will be reading it more than once at each sitting.  You might want to have extra copies on hand too.

Please follow the link embedded in Tom Lichtenheld's name to access his website.  Carter Higgins, teacher librarian and blogger at Design of the Picture Book features this title in a recent post. UPDATE June 16, 2014 Carter Higgins has invited Tom Lichtenheld back for another post.


Finding Balance

"What is that sound?" I thought aloud as I walked Xena late one night this month.  We stopped so I could listen more closely.  In a matter of seconds I realized the fast clip clop noise was two deer running down the middle of the road in our subdivision.  Earlier this month within forty-eight hours of replacing the ivy in a hanging basket near my front door, robins had built a nest in its center.  Today I saw Mama Robin bringing in a bit of worm to outstretched baby beaks.

With diminishing wild places, those creatures whose living spaces have disappeared, are moving into areas populated by their human partners on this planet.  Increasingly what we would once see out in areas without our footprints are appearing in our backyards, in our town and city centers.  Wild Animal Neighbors: Sharing Our Urban World (Twenty-First Century Books, a division of Lerner Publishing Group Inc., August 1, 2013) by Ann Downer examines and explains eight separate such meetings from places around the world.


I live in Somerville, Massachusetts, across the river from Boston.  In this city of seventy-five thousand people, the houses are packed tightly together---but not too tight for wildlife. 

In this introductory chapter author Ann Downer goes on to list all the critters that have walked near her home with the exception of bears.  On May 26, 2012 a youthful black bear was seen two hours away in Provincetown.  Over the course of several weeks his presence provides points to ponder about our ability to live in harmony with animals.  Included with her discussion of black bears in general are two pages on the type of features found in a city habitat focusing on their effect on animals.

Most readers will be able to identify with the chapter discussing close encounters with those masked bandits know as raccoons.  Their abilities to assimilate into human culture go back hundreds of years.  Astounding intelligence on their part and our desire to outsmart them may be working to their benefit; super raccoons?

The sad fate of a mountain lion in Santa Monica brings to readers' attention the problem faced by them in finding food within existing territories.  Highways are creating habitat fragmentation.  Several pages are devoted to the interesting discussion of wildlife corridor technicians.  For many readers this field will be new to them. (It was new to me.  I was thrilled to learn of their work.)

In Tokyo, Japan an invasion of clever jungle crows is causing power outages.  Over the course of twelve years beginning in 2000 nearly four hundred coyotes were trapped and collared in Chicago, Illinois.  Flying foxes numbering in the tens of thousands, a type of bat with a three-foot wingspan, are destroying one-of-a-kind trees in botanical gardens in Sydney, Australia. Lights brighter than the moon are creating dangerous conditions for turtles in Sarasota, Florida.

You have to admit it's not every day you find a six and a half-foot alligator in your garage.  Weather, heavy rains, and shrinking habitat had created the perfect conditions in 2012 for this unforeseen visitor to pay a call in a Texas community.  The need for humans to be educated about existing with their reptilian neighbors has never been more important.


Informative, engaging text makes the reading of this sixty-four page book a true pleasure.  Painstaking research is apparent in every paragraph.  You can also feel the passion Ann Downer has for her subject as evidenced by the narrative in each chapter, particularly her epilogue.

Built in the discussion of each animal incident, black bear, raccoon, mountain lion, jungle crow, coyote, gray-headed flying fox, loggerhead sea turtle and alligator, are black fact panels including their scientific name, other common names, their relatives, size, native habitat and their endangered status.  Other relevant information is covered in turquoise panels covering additional incidents, popularity of certain animals after the release of a book, intelligent adaptability, folklore, conservationist groups versus the general population, light pollution and signage.   Here is a single paragraph from the beginning of the chapter titled, The Crow in the Crosswalk.

Tokyo is home to tens of thousands of urban crows.  The relationship between the city's human residents and its crows is anything but peaceful.  In 2001 one of the large, black birds dive-bombed a golfer on one of the city's many golf courses.  That golfer just happened to be Shintaro Ishihara, Tokyo's governor (like a mayor in North America).  Not amused, Ishihara famously vowed to make "crow meat pie" into Japan's national dish.


No turn of page is without a photograph.  Size and placement vary according to the layout and design, which is outstanding.  Footprints relative to the animals discussed on a group of pages track from one section to the other.

A table of contents, source notes, a selected bibliography, further print and web resources and an index are included.


Wild Animal Neighbors:  Sharing Our Urban World by Ann Downer is an extremely timely and important book.  As she notes, the loss of a single member in the chain we call life, lessens our existence too.  Her final sentence is a question we all need to consider.

Will we use all our intelligence and resourcefulness to shape an urban world where both people and other living things can survive?

Please follow the link embedded in Ann Downer's name above to access her website.  By following this link to the publisher's website you can use additional resources.  These include items such as Citycritter Kits, Encyclopedia of Life activities and WAN tour instructions for educators.


Without the 2014 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy, I wonder how long it would have been before I read this book.  I am so thankful it has become a part of my reading life.  It should be in every school and classroom library and personal libraries at home.

 




Wednesday, May 21, 2014

2014 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge

This is a very short note to all the wonderful readers of my blog.  Due to unforeseen circumstances my normal post for 2014 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Alyson Beecher on her blog Kid Lit Frenzy will not appear until tomorrow.

Not only will I be posting a review for a fantastic nonfiction picture book, but another stellar fiction book will be featured in a second post.  There will be two posts in one day!

I thank you all for your visits to my blog where we can share our love of children's literature.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Quick As A Wink

The man is a marvel of ingenuity creating free applications for educators to use.  According to Richard Byrne, educator, presenter, author and blogger at Free Technology for Teachers in a post dated March 3, 2014, Russel Tarr, Head of History at the International School of Toulouse, France and also host of Active History, has a new item at ClassTools.net.  I have previously talked about BrainyBox, SMS Generator! and Mission Mapquest.  His latest creation is called QwikSlides.

As soon as you access the home page for this multimedia presentation creation tool, you can see that Russel Tarr has used the application itself to provide instructions for use.  Beginning with an introductory slide, the subsequent nine provide information about generating your own program.  Along the top of the page are seven icons which offer the following:

  • go back one or more slides
  • select a font
  • select a color for the background 
  • save your presentation
  • edit your presentation 
  • the HTML embed code and
  • go forward one or more slides (arrow on the far right).

Begin creating your presentation by selecting the pencil (edit) icon at the top of the page.  The new window shows ten lines Russel Tar typed for his explanation of this application.  You need to erase his lines and add your own.  Each line you type is a separate slide.


If your text extends to the next line, a new slide will not be created unless you hit the enter key.  Images and videos get their own slide.  Simply place the URL for either on a line.  Here is the beginning of a presentation I am creating followed by images of the first four slides.  








In order to see your presentation you need to click on Submit.  To add more slides or change any, click on the pencil icon again.  

The background remains the same for all of the created presentations but the color can be changed.  There are thirty-six choices. (1)  The font is always white.  When your presentation is complete click on the save icon (floppy disk).   You will be prompted to provide a password so you can edit your work later. (2)  You have to save your work before you can get the embed code.



If you are viewing this presentation on a device where you swipe the screen, that function is possible with this application.   You can move through the presentation by using the arrows or clicking on the dots below to scroll quickly to a particular slide.  When you choose the gear icon, your options are to get the URL link or HTML embed code, the QR code or download the web shortcut.



  My presentation is embedded below along with the QR code.  










You could not ask for a more user-friendly tool for creating a multimedia presentation.  As with other items at Classtools.net QwikSlide requires no registration allowing for use by younger students.  The possibilities for QwikSlide presentations are numerous; providing step-by-step instructions, gathering book trailers for favorite books, highlighting a single trailer with a list of reasons you like the book or the trailer, a day-in-the-life writing prompt, or a list of books by a special author or illustrator.  The best part is once you have all the items, text, videos and images, it can be completed in mere minutes.  Thank you Russel Tarr.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Snapshots

Some people never leave their homes without their camera.  I am one of them.  My eyes always seem to be framing photographs; moving in close to preserve a special detail or moving back to save a larger whole.  While our eyes see more wonders than ever imaginable, a camera freezes seconds.

There are times when looking through the pictures taken, I am amazed at the precise moment the camera catches.  In the instant it takes to press the shutter, miracles happen.  Half A Chance (Scholastic Press) Cynthia Lord's new title centers on photography but zooms out to embrace people, change and the strength to move forward through life.



"Lucy, we're going to love this place!" Dad called to me from the porch of the faded, red-shingled cottage with white trim.  "We can hang a swing right here and watch the sunset over the lake.  And these country roads will be great for biking."

Lucy's family of four (Ansel, her dog and her Mom and Dad) have arrived at their new home; the third move in her twelve-year-old life.  The next morning her famous photographer Dad will be leaving for two months on a new assignment.  Constantly hoping to improve her own photography skills, winning her Dad's praise, Lucy heads outside to walk Ansel camera in hand.

She quickly makes the acquaintance of Nat, a boy staying for the summer at his Grandmother Lilah's cottage next door, and Megan, a girl spending the summer at her cottage farther down the lake.  As the new person, figuring out the dynamics of relationships cemented over years is never easy.  The next morning reveals two opportunities for Lucy; a chance to be a part of the Loon Patrol for the summer and a Photo Scavenger Hunt with her Dad as judge.

In New Hampshire loons are a threatened species.  A group monitors their activities and the hatching of eggs.  Due to Grandmother Lilah's inability to get in and out of a boat, Nate's family has assumed her duties watching a pair nesting on a nearby island.  

As Lucy's Dad is packing for his trip he hands her the flyer announcing the contest, asking her to watch the mail for the arrival of the portfolio containing the entries.  She is not sure why he failed to mention it to her.  Nevertheless, she decides to begin taking pictures to match the twenty-four ideas on the announcement.

As the summer days come and go Loon Patrol brings excitement, conflict, tragedy and hope.  Nate and Lucy work on finding subjects for the Photo Scavenger Hunt; their purpose changing, inspired by a new goal.  Challenges and serious decisions need to be made.  What is right?  What is wrong?

Both families, Lucy's and Nate's, face difficulties as a balance is sought between personal desires and doing what is best for others.  Seeing someone you love or someone you've come to care for in a short time, declining, becoming unwell, is not easy.  Deep affection for the loons, for the beauty of nature, for friendships forged, and for family makes the heartbeat of the story strong, steady and sure.


What makes this title shine is the writing of author Cynthia Lord.  No matter your age you immediately care for her characters; every single one of them.  Her descriptions of place and the people within these places are real and relevant.

This summer represents huge adjustments for Lucy and each of the people in her world.  We are privy to...no captivated...by the events as they unfold.  As we read Lord's depictions we long to know how each moment will shift to the next.  Characters' conversations and Lucy's thoughts move us forward as our reader's soul fills with compassion for them.  Here are several passages from the book.

Dad always promises me things before he leaves and then forgets by the time he's home again.  But I couldn't help having that little bit of "I hope so" that this place would be different.  That's the thing with new beginnings---sometimes, they're more than just starting over again.
Sometimes they change things.

Ahead in the cove on the other side of the lake, dragonflies zipped over the water, crisscrossing and weaving like tiny helicopters on a search-and-rescue mission.  

Every time I sang his name, Ansel slowed down his panting---until the next thunder boom.
"Lucy?"
I saw Mom's feet first.  Then her knees as she knelt down.  Finally her face looked under the bed.  "I came in to tell you to shut your window.  What are you doing?"
"Ansel's shaking like a washing machine."  Thunder crashed again and his whole body tensed.  I covered his ears. "Shh."
I heard the window slide closed, then Mom lay down on the floor with us.  As she rubbed Ansel's face, he licked her finger.  "It's just thunder," she said.


Realistic fiction does not get any better than Half A Chance written by Cynthia Lord.  Her insights into the human mind and spirit are beautifully true, even in the parts that hurt.  She offers her readers an open door into a world many have experienced, are experiencing now or will in the future.  She gives us a way to develop empathy, have hope and ultimately heal.  She gives us love.

Please follow the link embedded in Cynthia Lord's name above to access her website.  An excellent discussion guide for this title is found there.  Head over to John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read., for an interview with Cynthia Lord.  At author Kirby Larson's blog, Kirby's LaneCynthia Lord talks about writing this title.  UPDATE:  At the blog Andrea Skyberg|Author & Artist take a tour of Cynthia Lord's studio.


Saturday, May 17, 2014

Who's Missing Now?

Have you ever had that feeling of total panic when two seconds have passed, you turn around and a child or a pet has vanished?  Heart racing you back track as quickly as you can, looking in all the possible places either might be.  Thankfully what seems like minutes is usually less than one, when they are found or reappear.

Granted, depending on where you are during this vanishing act or on the size of the beloved being, it may be easier to locate them.  Have You Seen My DRAGON? (Candlewick Press, April 8, 2014)) written and illustrated by Steve Light traces the path of a boy looking for his faithful (but wandering) friend.  Finding a dragon among the busy cityscape is much harder than you think.

Have you seen my dragon?
No? I will look for him.

Traveling to seek his pal, a young boy's first stop is a street vendor selling a favorite food.  He can't see his dragon but we can.  Lots of people travel to the city center on a bus but his dragon does not.

Let's go to the harbor to see if the dragon is riding the waves.  Is he thirsty enough to seek out the water towers on building tops?  Is he feeling playful enough to swing with the monkeys in the zoo?  He may be doing his good deed for the day.

Perhaps his fiery breath is causing problems above and below ground.  Or, best of all, he may be reading a book.  Let's take a look there, on the scaffolding of a painter or among the pigeons roosting up near the sky.

Is he ready for a cool treat?  Will the dog walkers or gathered children notice his presence? How is he moving through the streets?  How is he getting from place to place?  Where is the dragon?  Oh...there he is.


Steve Light addresses the fantastical thoughts held by many children (or children at heart) of having a dragon for a best friend.  He introduces readers to all the many opportunities and symbolic modes of travel, places to visit and structures found in a large city.  Clever readers will easily see which city this is even though there is no mention of a name.

As the boy looks for his adventuresome chum, each statement or question he poses to the reader is accompanied by a number from 1 (dragon) through 20 (lanterns) traveling from point to point.  We follow him because we can identify with his need to be reunited with the dragon.  We follow him because he is speaking directly to us; including us in his search. Here is a single passage.

I want ice cream!
Maybe my dragon wants some, too.


It's impossible to simply glance at the opened dust jacket of this book.  A single intricately detailed illustration extends from the back to the front.  Done entirely in black and white except for spots of color on the dragon and his boy, it invites closer consideration.  The book case is a solid spring green with black outline drawings of the boy with his dragon, different for the front and the back.  A map of the city, again in black and white, arrows drawn from each of the points to the next, are numbered in colored circles on the opening and closing endpapers.  The same colors appear on the pages within the book.

All of the pictures, rendered

in ink using a Mont Blanc 149 with a B nib that"flips" to a fine line,

are double-page spreads; one even requires the reader to turn the book to view it vertically.  The items being numbered are the only color on the pages.  Every visual is an exquisite exploration of a specific area in the city.

Even though the boy is unable to find his dragon in any of the pictures until the final one, we readers seek him out, finding him tucked into each of the scenes.  He is an active element in each of them.  He may be on the roof of the street vendor's cart ready to take the hot dog out of an unsuspecting customer's hand, posing as a fountain inside the monkey's cage, blowing smoke through the underground tunnels forcing it out a manhole cover or peeking around a tree with a ball in his mouth, ready to give it to a grateful dog.

Xena's favorite illustration is for the number 14-Dogs. With the city buildings and a bridge as a backdrop, dogs on and off leash are scampering through a park.  Squirrels are taunting them in the trees as birds chirp away. Dogs greet one another as humans look in opposite directions.  Humans greet one another as dogs look in opposite directions.  Barking dogs, birdsong, chattering squirrels, the laughter of children and quiet conversation can easily be imagined.


This book, Have You Seen My DRAGON? written and illustrated by Steve Light is one to love on several levels.  Captivating illustrations with a conversational narrative make it a wonderful kind of story to share.  The spot color, the hiding dragon, and the counting are captivating and participatory.

To discover more about Steve Light follow the link embedded in his name to access his official website.  This link is to a great interview with many sketches and illustrations about this book at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast hosted by Julie Danielson.  Here are links at the publisher's website for A Note From Author-Illustrator Steve Light and an activity kit.  Have fun with this book everyone!

Friday, May 16, 2014

A Place For All

One of my favorite quotes is attributed to Albert Einstein.

There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle.

This seems to go hand in hand with my thoughts on the difference between extraordinary and ordinary.  The more you know, the more you come to understand there is a line barely visible between the two.  Simply stated it relies on point of view.  What may be counted as normal for some is unusual for others.

I would venture to say most people who have been chosen by a dog, who have had the very good fortune to share their life with a canine companion, can relate to this connection being anything but typical or predictable.  Every single day is an adventure.  Every single day is important because each living thing has value.  In her debut picture book author/illustrator Hannah E. Harrison invites readers into life under the big top in Extraordinary Jane (Dial Books for Young Reader, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA)).

Jane was ordinary, in a world that was extraordinary.

Jane, a sweet fluffy little dog, lives in a circus.  Her mother can pose on the back of a galloping horse.  Lifting an elephant in the air is an everyday accomplishment for her father.  Being shot out of a cannon or walking along a high wire are feats her siblings achieve with ease.

Jane can do none of these things.  It's not like she hasn't tried but her efforts fall short of their goal.  Being up high makes her woozy.  Listeners usually wish for earplugs when she tests her musical talents.  In fact, attempting one particular skill leaves most of the residents in the circus bandaged and bruised.

Jane is friendly.  Jane is helpful.  Jane is a sweet fluffy little dog.  Her caretaker, the ringmaster, watches, learns and loves.  Barnaby Beluchi is a very wise man with a pure point of view.


The simplicity of the words used by Hannah E. Harrison delightfully beckons readers to her story of Jane.  It's a timeless storytelling technique establishing an intimate bond between the teller and the reader or listener.  Her word music will have readers cheering for and identifying with the lovable pup.  She designs a cadence by repeating what Jane is in contrast to what others around her are capable of doing.


Readers initially are drawn to the matching dust jacket and book case resplendent in an array of soft colors.  The single illustration, spanning across the front and back, of the clothed, costumed and animated characters, with the exception of Jane, portrays those who most definitely enjoy their lives as members of the circus.  Six different full length portraits of Jane set within intricate oval frames pattern the opening and closing endpapers.  Every single one is guaranteed to create a smile.  Hannah E. Harrison chooses to continue this on the next page, front and back.

The formal title page shines the light on three circular pictures, the ringmaster on the left and the circus tent on the right with a close-up portrait of Jane in the center.  The verso and first page of the book includes a series of circus posters highlighting the outstanding artistry of all the circus members except Jane. A turn of page shows the inside of the tent; three red rings in place, with all the acts in full swing.  Jane sits patiently observant off to the side.

Rendered in acrylic paint on bristol board each visual glows against the pristine white background. This white space acts to draw your focus to important elements in each picture.  The altering of perspective on all of the illustrations makes you feel a part of the story; the close-up of Jane's mother on the horse's back, her six sisters balancing on the high wire as the ringmaster looks up from below or Jane looking down at everyone as she tries the trapeze.

Humor plays a key component in these pictures; Jane leg raised scratching as her mother balances on the horse, Jane head down, paws over her eyes before her brothers are shot out of the cannons and the looks on all the circus members' faces as they sit in a row in the emergency ward.  What readers will come to understand is the love Barnaby Beluchi feels for Jane, noticing his looks of affection as she plays her part in the circus day or his gentle care in giving her a bath.  The color palette, the layout, the details, facial features...well everything...works to generate a feeling of goodness and warmth.

I think one of my favorite two pages is the series of four small pictures of the ringmaster with Jane.  He has removed his red coat and top hat to bathe and towel her dry.  As he sits in his chair she then brings his hat to him.  When she sits up in front of him, the look on his face is total joy.


Author illustrator Hannah E. Harrison has delivered a treasure to each of us who read Extraordinary Jane.  It's a superb choice for a read aloud.  I can almost see the looks on the listeners' faces and hear the collective sigh at the story's conclusion.  Sharing this title with others is a pleasure you don't want to miss.  I will be adding this title to my Mock Caldecott list for 2015.

Please follow the link embedded in Hannah E. Harrison's name above to access her official website.


Thursday, May 15, 2014

Fun-Filled Fraction Action

Every time we divide a whole into parts our mathematical skills are put to use.  Without even being aware we are constantly fractionizing our day and many things in it.  We know it takes forty-five minutes to get from point A to point B; every fifteen minutes we are a third of the way closer.  The last two brownies are cut in half to share between four family members.  It takes ten pails of water to fill the kiddie pool one quarter full.

While we may not be consciously aware of these numerical nuances, there are those thrilled with any opportunity to practice their expertise in this area.  In fact there are even people who collect fractions. I know it's hard to believe it's true but in Fractions in Disguise: A Mathematical Adventure (Charlesbridge) written by Edward Einhorn with illustrations by David Clark, three people are victims of an evil mind.

Some kids collect baseball cards.  Some collect action figures.  Me?  I collect fractions.  I've been collecting them for exactly 2/3 of my life.  In my bedroom, shelves full of fractions cover 3/4 of the walls. 

As you may have surmised George Cornelius Factor is a walking, talking fraction fanatic.  He is joined in this love by Baron von Mathematik and Madame de Geometrique.  The three are in attendance at an auction for a beautiful object, a brand new 5/9.  A rather sinister figure, Dr. Brok, is lurking in the background.

Bids are reaching the one million dollar amount when the room suddenly goes dark.  All eyes land on the empty pedestal when the lights are turned on once more.  The valuable 5/9 piece is missing; so is Dr. Brok.

As the Baron and Madame are lamenting its disappearance, GCF has a plan.  Dr. Brok may have met his match.  Dr. Brok thinks he's pretty clever with turning 1/2 into 4/8 or 3/6 attempting to hide a fraction's true essence but GCF goes to work spending the entire night creating his own device, the Reducer.

This gizmo has the ability to take a fraction down to its lowest terms.  A number is dialed before it shoots.  If the fraction is divisible by it, an immediate change can be witnessed; otherwise either the numerator or denominator simply struggle to shift but remain the same.

George Cornelius Factor goes to Dr. Brok's mansion demanding entrance and accusing him of the theft. The shifty swindler loses some of his oily charm when he sees the Reducer in action.  Up, down and all around GCF goes but the missing 5/9 is nowhere to be found in the piles of fractions...or is it?


Cleverly inserting numbers into the narrative and dialogue Edward Einhorn manages to entertain while informing in a flawless flow.  Engaged in the puzzling mystery and humorous action, readers will accept the mathematical terms like any other descriptive words in a story.  His use of word play supplies the final elements in the formula for fractional fun.  Here is a short sample from the book.

Dr. Brok lived in a mansion that had to be 1/10 of a mile tall.  When I rang the bell, he opened the door halfway.  


The colorful comic cartoon figure (none other than George Cornelius Factor) on the matching dust jacket and book case, piles of circles (fractions) within a larger circle, the Reducer resting on his knees, is the type of scene on every page in this title.  All the pictures are set on a white background with the exception of one spanning a single or double page.  Using ink and watercolor David Clark inserts exaggerated personality traits in his character portrayals giving an academic, old-world feel to the surrounding items in each illustration.

His details add an extra dimension; the 4/8 spike on the Baron's helmet, the complicated machine Dr. Brok uses to disguise the fractions, the paper scroll coming from the Reducer with the mathematical fraction action on it and the mouse looking a bit scared as it gnaws on a broken fraction. The larger than life eyes, hairstyles (including bald), noses and lips along with the attire worn by the characters will definitely raise the smileage level they bring to the story.  Splashes of red, hues of red, add warmth and zing to the pictures.

One of my favorite two page spreads is when George Cornelius Factor holds up the ultimate clue to trapping Dr. Brok in his deception.  The look of triumph on GCF's face contrasts nicely with the look of pure guilt on Dr. Brok's face.  George's arm extending from his body on the left grows larger in perception as he grips the object between two fingers in front of Dr. Brok.  Readers will be thinking "Ah-Ha" when they see this.


Fractions in Disguise written by Edward Einhorn with illustrations by David Clark is one of those fun-filled books about math adults will want to have because their children will enjoy the story completely.  Even after several readings I still find myself grinning at the exclamations made by the characters.  I recommend reading this with a separate voice for each one.  George Cornelius Factor and fractions are the heroes of the day.

Back matter on the final page further explains reducing fractions.  For more information about Edward Einhorn please follow the link embedded in his name above.  This is one of many books in the Adventures in Math series found at the publisher's website.

Wednesdays are a terrific day for nonfiction books.  I am pleased to be a part of Alyson Beecher's 2014 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge highlighted on her blog, Kid Lit Frenzy.  There are many excellent titles listed there by other bloggers.


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Inspirational Sound

Twice last week one of my favorite people for learning about new websites and apps, Heather Moorefield, Education Librarian at Virginia Tech and chairperson for the American Association of School Librarians Best Websites for Teaching & Learning sent out tweets about a web 2.0 application she feels is worthy of exploration.  The original platform Booktrack: Soundtrack for Books was officially launched on January 5, 2012.  The company launched their dedicated education platform on March 21, 2014.  It is called Booktrack Classroom.  In their about section they state:

Booktrack Classroom is an exciting new technology that synchronizes audio with text to create an immersive reading experience.

When first accessing the home page the navigation bar along the top invites you to go to separate pages if you are teachers, parents, need help, want to log in or click on the free to use button.  You can also view a short video about the site, read six research-based features, and visit another page as a student.  At the bottom of the home page you can read the about section, the teachers' blog, a lesson plan library grouped by elementary, middle and high school ages, press releases, university studies, the terms of service and privacy policy (very detailed) and go to the download page.



To begin using the site I clicked on the green Free to Use button.  A new window opens with several choices, bookshelf, create, register, login and help, available at the top.  I clicked on the register tab.  A form pops up asking you for your display name, email address, and password.  You need to read and accept the terms of service and privacy policy.  An account confirmation email is sent immediately.  You should note that students under the age of 18 need to have a parent or guardian read and accept the terms of service and privacy policy before they can use this site.  This was stated in the terms of service.


When your account is created and you have logged in, you can then create a classroom.  For the purposes of this review I will only have a single student.  When I selected the + Add a Class button a new window opens.  You are asked to enter in a class name, country, school, grade year, school year and a rating.



Once you save your class, you can add student first and last names.  I then clicked on the student details tab.  Enter in a student's name, clicking add when you are done. As you can see in the images below you have the option to choose a common password, and select all to block, unblock, delete and change password.  I have added one student.  It shows their name, login name and assigned password.



To continue with my tour of Booktrack Classroom I selected the Bookshelf tab.  At this new window you can view previously created Booktracks.  They are grouped by content, genres, styles, and languages.  They each have star ratings. If you choose to read one the second image below appears on your screen.  When clicking on read the third image appears advising you on the options for reading the selection. Simply click in the middle to start.  




I then went to the top navigation bar choosing create.  Again an overlay with complete, easy-to-understand instructions appears. Click anywhere to begin.  First you type in a title for your chapter, then type in or copy and paste the text.  You can make any of the text bold or in italics.  There is an undo and redo option.  


Before moving to sound I did select save.  Upon clicking on the sound tab a new overlay appears giving you more instructions.  Click anywhere to start.  After your text is highlighted you can choose between music, ambience and effect.  



With your choice made more options appear above the highlighted text.  You can change the track, adjust the volume, the fade in and fade out seconds, choose to loop or delete.  Plus at any time you can view your work in the reader.  Again before clicking on publish I saved my work.



At the publish screen you add a title, the author and creator are entered in for you, a description, genre, type, rating and language.  You retain the copyright of everything which you held prior to creating this Booktrack.  When you select to create a cover, you are adding text with font style options, font size choice, font color and bold or in italics text.  Clicking adds the text box.  Double clicking allows you to make changes.  You can upload a cover image from your computer or browse through their gallery.
  


You can save, publish or delete your final work.  Choosing publish causes a new window to open asking in which class you would like the Booktrack placed based on your rating.  Make sure you place a check mark in the correct library box; otherwise your Booktrack will not appear on a bookshelf.  Once a Booktrack is on a bookshelf it can be read.






This application makes the reading of your writing much more engaging; actually fascinating.  Including sound with your written words gives them an emotional edge.  I highly recommend you give Booktrack Classroom a try.  My Booktrack, because I created a teacher account, is only available to me and my students.  You can go to the site and read other previously created Booktracks.  I do have a question submitted to see if I can make my Booktrack available to others.  UPDATE In order to make a Booktrack available to the public, you need to use the original global platform linked above.