Oh! What a Surprise!

Suzanne Bloom has gifted her readers with a surprise that creates a friendly threesome – Fox, Goose, and Bear. Goose and Bear continue proving in this fourth installment that friendship is made through the give-and-take of the moment.

Kids of all ages love surprises, and so does Bloom’s trio. The tension that is created speaks to a common situation- someone feels left out. Although this is not a book for the holidays, it is a book that could easily be adapted to those circumstances where gift giving seems to be an expected behavior. And gifts that are handmade are special at any time of the year. But Bloom’s characters suggest that the real gift is the process in the closing line, “Let’s do it again!”

The closing line of the book shows great insight into the joy that children (and some of us adults) experience with many things. To “do it again” means many different things and it may even be repeated over and over till it grows old. To capture and recapture the joy and surprise of the unknown being made known is at the core of learning.

Parents and librarians serving early childhood populations will want to make sure to have this title available for early print experiences. The illustrative content also expresses joy and surprise in ways that will be identified by a young audience. But, heed this warning: be prepared to pull out the craft paper, scissors, glue and glitter to craft some of those gifts that will fill a memory box. This book will inspire creation, and with creation comes learning and sharing with others which makes life much more enjoyable.

 

 

 

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Occupy Old Folks

The “Occupy” movement has lost some steam, but it is alive and well if one has an elderly relative that is confined. My dad is a resident in a state operated veteran’s home and has LOTS of spare time during the day. He is a voracious reader, and even manages to compose an article for the monthly newsletter. But that is not nearly enough.

Dad needed a reason to write and an audience that might appreciate his endeavors. For Dad, it is as much about being appreciated and useful at 87 years as it is about anything else. Enter my wife, a first grade teacher in need of an ample supply of poetry that could be read, enjoyed, and replicated. She suggested that Dad compose a few poems for her class to read and respond to while staying within the boundaries that she provided.

Dad was quick to the task and was ready with some pointed with questions about topics that would be appropriate and universal for all the kids. Within a day or so, he had provided the first installment of his poetry via email. He soon had enough poems for everyone in the class to have their own.

The students responded with copies, illustrations, performances, and some of their own creations. They are now packaging some of those results to send him as evidence of their efforts. And the cycle continues.

Writers, especially children, need an audience and a purpose larger than we realize. As the aging process unfolds, some adults also need the same thing. Dad is one of those adults. For a while, he is occupied.

The connections are obvious about the children and older folks, but we all need to be reminded of the great resources that abound in our families and communities. It’s time to leverage those resources for everyone’s benefit.

Out of the Blue

Just when you think everything is going right: spring break trip to Ireland, great kids and teachers, summer projects planned, and then something out of the blue lights up the radar. And it continues to move closer. Late spring offered me the opportunity of a lifetime- to go to a large school system and become the lead media specialist.
After a lot of soul searching and some family conversation it was decided that it was time to make a move. The headlines that were never printed might have read, ” Fish moves from pond to lake.” it feels more like a move from a puddle to an ocean, but that is the difference between growth and atrophy.
I should have much more to reflect and write about, but will I?. Will I put some of those daily experiences and lessons to the blog? I hope so. This is a start and a commitment to myself to put up at least a new post each week.
By the way, “Out of the Blue” by the Electric Light Orchestra happens to be one of my favorite albums of all time. The closing ceremony of the Olympics featured “Mr. Blue Sky” which was just one of the many delights included on that double album of the mid seventies.

Spring Break: Refreshment and Renewal in Ireland (Part 1)

Ireland is not the typical spring break destination for most students or teachers, but it was high on my list of places where I wanted to spend time- at any time.

What is there to see or do that could interest a teacher/life-long learner for a week? There’s much more than time would permit. Many go for the bus tours that cover a wide swath and give the tapas bar experience, but I prefer to plan a few destinations and discover the gems that lie in between. And perhaps that is the way many of us approach education- to attempt to shove too much into too little time in a vain attempt to say we have had the experience.

The gem of my journey was a walking tour that I knew very little about in advance. I knew that I wanted to go on it and I knew the perspective of the tour guide; it was a rebel tour lead by the friendly folks of Sinn Fein. The tour brought historical perspective and identified several other points that I wanted to investigate on my own. But the lasting impression of the tour was the passionate and knowledgable guide who walked us through a narrative that included the prominent events, places, and lives of the 1916 Uprising. It also reminded me of those universal design elements that ought to be part of instruction at any level. The guide exhibited multiple means of representation, expression, and engagement at every stop. The facts were connected to lives and outcomes inside of a greater and more important narrative. And we became part of the ongoing story.

It’s taken me a week or more to come to this conclusion, but I knew that it was important for more than my personal enjoyment of the content and the location. My visit to Trinity College and the Book of Kells was also inspiring, but that will be illuminated in another post.

Till and Toil: A photographic view of Appalachia

When you put a camera in the hands of a student and give them a shooting assignment good things are bound to happen. But when students are asked to select their subjects from their family and community, the likelihood of something great happening is increased. And when you multiply those possibilities by the number of students involved with the project, then an exhibition is soon to follow. After viewing the The Appalachian photographs of Doris Ulmann, students will set out on their own photographic expedition to collect portraits of working people in their community.

TillandToil

Tempest and Julie Cross Nail It

Most storms are never fully predicted in relation to time and place. Tempest, the first novel from Julie Cross reinforces the thought, and it will not be long before readers can acquire their own copy.  Here are my Top 10 Reasons for school libraries to acquire the first part of this soon -to-be epic trilogy:

10.  Guys want to be “Holly’s Guy”

9.  Girls will prefer Jackson to Jacob

8.  Samuel L. Jackson wants to be Jackson Meyer

7.  Time travel : All the cool kids are doing it

6.  The government, or certain…agencies…will not approve

5.  It’s more readable than Shakespeare’s Tempest, and more exciting than Lost

4.  Timelines have never been so cool

3.  Enemies of Time

2.  All the kids will talk about the books you have instead of your clothing (Ok, some of the kids)

1.  It’s your chance to prove that reading has always been about time travel and the ability to leave one place and appear in another over and over again

John Parker

Media Coordinator

Andrews High School

50 HS Drive

Andrews, NC 28901

Raj the Bookstore Tiger- Can’t Miss Cat

Calling all cat lovers! Raj the Bookstore Tiger is a multifaceted book that will provide joy, entertainment, and many new connections to young readers and their classrooms. The story is a good one, in terms of both the idea and the execution of it. It is somewhat predictable, but that is not always a bad thing, and especially in this case. The story and its characters, combined with the warm tones of the illustrations, make for an interesting journey into many possibilities.

Classroom teachers will find great utility because Raj has the capacity to transport classrooms into many different units of study. Will students be intrigued with the poetry of William Blake? Or, maybe they are studying cats of all sorts? Perhaps they are beginning a study of India? Or book stores and libraries? Whatever the choice, Raj may be a great fit. Add it to the early childhood classroom and all libraries that serve that population.

Having just seen a portion of the Maximum India celebration at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, I am more appreciative of the watercolors selected for use in the book. They evoke India and they make me think of cats, but in a softer, less conspicuous way. Pelley’s words and Keiser’s brush strokes are an effective pairing that create a world that is inviting to kids to exercise their imaginations. Fortunately, I am still one of those kids.

John Parker

Media Coordinator

Andrews High School

50 HS Drive

Andrews, NC 28901

www.slamguy.wordpress.com

Swing Cafe – Great art and music, but no story

Swing Café contains a lot of vibrant illustrations that bring to mind the best of a fantasy-laced swinging time. Dautremer has her pen finely tuned to evoke the emotions and era of the recording artists featured on the included disc, but that is about it as far as the book is concerned. There is no argument about the music selections, but there is a problem with the story.

At several points, I found myself saying, “Huh?” Those points included the intended audience and the continuity of the text as it relates to the story. I tried, honestly, and I did find a use for a page here and a page there. But a page here and a page there is not enough to persuade teachers or parents to purchase the book. Yes, those pages can be used in isolation for teaching about instruments and some basic literary concepts, but the reader is often left with the lingering question: “Huh?”

More than anything else, the colorful illustrations were buried in the amount of text presented to the reader. I wanted to erase all the text and begin again with a truncated version that provided a more concise and exciting experience. I do not believe the story has a cultural disconnect, but I do believe it takes a few unnecessary turns that renders it inert. I did get the point, finally, but it was too late, and I’m afraid a really clever idea has missed the point, and a unique opportunity to fill a niche in the market. To that end, I had hoped for a text that expressed the color of the illustrative content and followed the rhythms expressed in the music.

A page here and a page there does not give me reason to recommend Swing Café to any group of potential readers. One for the illustrations and one for the music; story is everything.

Picnic Basket Rating: 2 out of a possible 5

John Parker

Media Coordinator

Andrews High School

50 HS Drive

Andrews, NC 28901 

http://www.slamguy.wordpress.com

A Present for Milo: A rockin’ app for the iPad and emerging readers

Mike Austin’s A Present for Milo has been one of the most rich and vibrant experiences of my holiday season. It is the first children’s book that I have viewed on my iPad, and I hope it will not be the last from Austin and Ruckus Media because they got it right. That’s not only my opinion, it’s the opinion of my Pre-K grandson, Malachi who proved to me that a book is more defined by its content than it is its form.

Malachi and I started the book together and went through a couple of pages worth of exploring the background and flipping pages before he took over the task. Three readings later he was still going strong. During one of those readings the teapot in the background whistled and his grandmother said, “Is that a teapot?” He confidently replied, “Yes, I’m reading a book.” Malachi’s own recognition of the reading event was distanced from the technology at hand and that says a lot about skills that transfer to any environment filled with print. Another predictable advantage that Malachi gleaned from the book was that he mimicked the tone and intonation of the reader. He was able to use language expressively, rather than just call out words or repeat what he had heard. With interactive background pictures and characters the book feels analogous to a popup book. The variance and connectedness of those images inspired Malachi to take the book off the page and into his own world as he literally ran “around and around and around” the iPad with Milo. With every successive reading, Malachi added his own new elements to the story and the concepts that were presented.

Malachi requested use of the iPad several other times during his visit, and each time he found his way to A Present for Milo. He never asked if I had any other books on the iPad because he was satisfied to occupy himself with a story that enticed him and invited him to be a part of it. Needless to say, I will be looking for a few more books to add.

 The book and its imagery is playfully reminiscent of both Eric Carle and Leo Leoni, and that’s certainly meant as a compliment. The strength of the images and their textures transition well into an application that runs flawlessly on my iPad. Like Malachi, I was engaged by the story and the creative use of language that abounded in the story. No matter how well the application works, no matter how well illustrated, there isn’t anything worth mentioning unless there is a story; and what a story it is. Emerging readers need concepts, but they also need repetition and predictability without the constraints of a corporately controlled vocabulary. Austin hit the mark and did it in a natural way that complimented both the illustrations and the medium. Even with his recorded narration there is still plenty of room for interpretation and interaction with the characters. Malachi took the characters into new conversations with his family and through our kitchen and up and down our stairs.

 My only complaint about the book is the fact that author and narrator Mike Austin did not continue the voiceover on the last page. Instead, it was left for us to read more about him on our own, since that seems like a page that kids might ignore. Kids like Malachi will notice, at least once, and ask that it be read after their initial examination. Or maybe the design provided by Sequel Digital did not provide for that option, since theirs is the only active link on that page, and clicking it takes one out of the book and opens a browser? No matter, Malachi’s grandfather only made that mistake once, and Malachi never did.

 Who should acquire this iPad book? I firmly believe teachers using iPads in early childhood programs should add this book to their devices. It also makes sense to send those iPads home with students so all families can have this rich experience together. Even one iPad loaded with ten titles that rotates through a classroom could make a huge difference in promoting a culture of reading in many homes. Teachers and libraries will also want to acquire this title for similar use and as an addition to their center-based activities. Media specialists might consider featuring this title in a technology fair to promote both the technology and the book.

 Can it be used with an entire class? There are a few ways that the book could be utilized with a class, but one would need a VGA adapter, active board, projector and some planning to turn this into more than the equivalent of sticking in a movie.  For a teacher to treat it as they would a read-aloud defeats the purpose of both the book and the technology on which it is delivered. Yes, maybe demonstrate how it works, but then turn the kids loose and let them go at it in a center in which they can discover and extend the book into new areas. Observe and listen to the comments of these young readers as they build meaningful experiences with print within a community.

 Forget the newest iPad commercials and the apps that they feature because  A Present for Milo holds its own with any of those featured in the commercials. Add this app to your basket and enjoy a feast at any time of the year.

5 out of 5

John Parker

Media Coordinator

Andrews High School

50 HS Drive

Andrews, NC

http://www.slamguy.wordpress.com

Give Kids a Venue

Have you seen anything amazing from students lately? If not, it’s likely they’ve not been given an appropriate venue. As educators it’s our obligation to create spaces where expression is natural and then open the gates. I had the pleasure of seeing some of our kids shine tonight when they spoke to a group of community leaders. We were there to share our class blog and address issues related to social networking, but it was so much more than that.
The kids were not only well spoken, but they spoke with authority and passion about learning and their digital lives.
Now, the ball is back in our court to provide an opportunity for more students to speak with their community. We’re searching for another venue.