Thursday, April 18, 2013

Hip Hip Hooray! I'm away...

Hello All.

Yup.  You know the University's academic school year is pretty well done when I take a little R'N'R in April.

I'll be away for a couple of weeks to warm, green Hawaii where there is no snow except on Mauna Kea which not on this year's itinerary.

Down time means reading time and I've downloaded a multitude of mysteries and a bunch of  middle grade and YA titles onto my e-reader.

Here are a few of the titles I'm most looking forward to:

Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz
The Other Side of the Island by Allegra Goodman
Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead
The Traitor in the Tunnel by Y.S. Lee

I've got Son by Lois Lowry and I Captured the Castle by Dodie Smith download onto my MP3 player to keep me occupied on the plane trip, as well.

I'm all set.  See you in May.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Non-fiction. Where apps really shine -- Part 3.

Guest blogger - Janet Hutchinson

Janet has recently taken on learning about instructional technologies for the classroom.  Part of her time has been learning about iPads, their usefulness as a classroom tool and related apps.  We've gotten into a few discussions about some of the questions that arise when looking at some of these 'educational tools.'  Do these apps add anything to the reading experience?  Are they educational, entertaining, distracting or altogether off-putting? Do they replace the physical book?  What is lost without the physical book if anything? and so on.   

The two nonfiction books that are recommended below have a lot of classroom potential in my opinion and I will be including them in future workshops.

My third foray into book apps was in the non-fiction area. This is an area where it is just as easy to find apps that shine, as it is ones that flop. I am going to talk about two excellent examples of books made into apps.

I bought the app Fragile Earth, in part because we had the hard copy in the Doucette and in part because I saw it reviewed positively (don’t ask me where – I have 29 sites book marked for app reviews). The book presents Before and After pictures – generally highlighting environmental degradation, mostly as a result of human intrusion and climate changes, but also the impact that Mother Nature has on the world. As well, each picture is accompanied by a description of what is being seen in the before and after pictures.

The app itself does not exactly mirror the book – where the book presents 9 themes, the app presents 6 - Man’s Impact, Deserts and Droughts, Natural Phenomena, Warming World, Water’s Power and Wild Weather. However, each picture comes with a unique slider feature. The information about each picture is contained in a “pop-up” at the bottom. Once you make that disappear, then there is a slider, which can be moved across the picture to present before and after pictures – some with a great range of years (1900 – 2008, Rhone Glacier in the Theme Warming World Views), some just a few years apart (2008, 2009 Tidal problems, Venice, Italy) and the before and after in Natural Phenomena (Christchurch New Zealand, 2011 – before and after the earthquake). This app sends a very clear message about the impact of humans and nature on our earth. The part I really like about this app is that as new pictures become available, so too does the app update. Since I bought the app, it has updated to include (for example) two new pictures in Man’s Impact – the chemical spill in Devercser, Hungary and Air pollution at the National Stadium in Beijing, China (where the 2008 Olympics were held). The app then stays a current tool, rather than having to buy a revised copy of the book.

The only criticism that I have with the app is that in the book, each chapter opens with a general explanation of each theme. So for example, in the Theme in the book “Rising sea level” the reader gets a general explanation of why the levels are rising, and graphs that show the trends and where the major threats are, world-wide. This background information is support for the pictures themselves and it would have been nice to have had that general overview before each theme in the app.

The second book app that I bought came about as a result of a Tedtalk featuring Mike Matas from Push Pop Press showing the digital book Our choice by Al Gore. This book is a beautifully interactive book that incorporates all the features of a hardcopy book, but with options that turn it into a beautiful and truly interactive book. Would you believe one of the diagrams shows wind energy storage and use when you blow into the microphone on the iPad? The text pops out to full screen size, but can shrink again to the bottom of the screen so that you can scroll through to another part of the chapter or book. Individual graphs can be moved to full size and then other graphs can be viewed from that graph. Clicking on a globe embedded in each picture will show you where in the world the picture was taken. Many of the pictures link to videos and background narration on the content of each picture, so that you have additional information to incorporate. Unfortunately, this may be the only book that appears using this software. Push Pop Press has been acquired by Facebook – so look for the same level of interactivity on your Facebook page….coming soon.

Part 4  - Book apps written only for the iPad. Or is it a good book just because it is an app?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

What if …

I love books that show me alternative perspectives, whether they come from history, from non-North American, or European viewpoints, alternate or parallel histories, are stories told from multiple perspectives, or stories with a twist.

So, OK, I've got a good one for you. 

What if Superman had landed in the USSR and not the good old USA, raised by good people from the Soviet farmlands and came into his powers at the height of the cold war?

Mind boggling, isn't it?

This is exactly the premise of Superman:Red Son by Mark Millar (and gang), a student recommendation that I'm glad I followed up on.

Superman is still portrayed as looking out for vulnerable humans, but eventually, after reluctantly taking on the mantle of President following Stalin’s death, he also has the capacity to enact laws that restrict humans so that they stay ‘safe’.  This raises some interesting questions. How far do we go to keep people safe?  What is the role of government with this question in mind?  How do political philosophies play out in reality?  Does power corrupt?

Other characters from the Man of Steel storyline also get alternative stories.  Lois Lane is a journalist, but is married to Lex Luther, a ‘concerned’ genius who thinks Superman is the corrupt force.  The United States is a ‘hold-out’ country on the verge collapse as it tries to resist Superman’s ‘the best way of living is the safest way which is my way.’  Batman is brought into the storyline too, as a rebel agent looking to take on the Communist regime, the political force that was responsible for the death of his parents.  Wonder Woman is Superman’s ally and unrequited love interest.

The production of the book is fantastic as are most DC Comics. Glossy pages and terrific illustrations with lots of iconic Soviet propaganda-like art work, are a treat to read.

I'd recommend this for grades 9/10 and up.

Monday, April 8, 2013

A YA Book and a YA App. Or – Does having the accompanying soundtrack make the book better? - Part 2

Guest blogger - Janet Hutchinson

Janet has recently taken on learning about instructional technologies for the classroom.  Part of her time has been learning about iPads, their usefulness as a classroom tool and related apps.  We've gotten into a few discussions about some of the questions that arise when looking at some of these 'educational tools.'  Do these apps add anything to the reading experience?  Are they educational, entertaining, distracting or altogether off-putting? Do they replace the physical book?  What is lost without the physical book if anything? and so on.   

Janet's conclusions about the following book app has made me want to revisit Chopstick 'the app'.  My first time round with it didn't impress me and I found all the bits to click on rather distracting.  I didn't finish it.  I'll try again .

The second book that I bought was the YA book Chopsticks by Jessica Anthony. Not exactly a graphic novel (in the true sense of the word) but not a traditional “book with words”, nevertheless, it tells a compelling story through snippets of the lives of the main characters. It opens with a conglomeration of ‘talking heads” (news anchors, in other words) and then moves to one anchor, telling the breaking news-story of the missing world famous young pianist Glory Fleming.

We then move to 18 months earlier and the story of Gloria (or Glory) unfolds. From her parents meeting and marrying, through to her birth, her gradual development as a piano player and then her mother’s death, all stages are presented through photographs, cards and recital programs. Her continuing rise as a piano prodigy is shown through music programs at progressively bigger venues. Then Francisco moves in next door – and they meet and it is clear from the start they are a couple. But they are a star-crossed couple and through the next few chapters we learn of Glory’s obsession with the tune Chopsticks, Frank’s obsession with her and her decreasing touch with reality.

The app is exactly the same as the book – but this would be a case where I think the app for the book enhances and expands on the book. Throughout the iPad book, there are pages with moving musical notes. When you touch the notes, dialogue appears, pictures can be moved around, and applause is heard. But the theme of Chopsticks is where the true genius of this story comes through You see that it is Gloria’s first recital piece – you see a YouTube video of Joanne Castle playing The Chopsticks Rag – and at various points throughout the book, the theme appears in several ways and at different times and I began to really see the story through her eyes. (And it was in using the iPad version of the book that I realized that F for Francisco and G for Gloria start together in “Chopsticks” and then move further apart – foreshadowing what is to come perhaps?)

I think this iPad version works almost better than the physical book. The ability to connect to YouTube and hear the various versions of Chopsticks – or to actually hear the playlists that the two lovers make for each other really make the story alive (although you do need an internet connection to use the book in its’ entirety – otherwise, it is just a book on the iPad). I had read the physical book when it first came into the Doucette – and then I re-read the iPad version – maybe it was familiarity – or maybe not – but the story resonated with me (and raised more questions) than in the paper version.

Part 3 – Non-fiction books - Where book apps really take off!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Public Announcement – April is 30 Poets / 30 Days

Please stop by Gotta Book this month (the sooner the better) to follow along with new, unpublished poems posted daily from a wide range of poets including Jon Agee, Doug Cushman, Nancy Bo Flood, Mary Lee Hahn and Naomi Shihab Nye, to name only a handful.  The full list is found in the left-hand column at Gotta Book.

I signed up last year and enjoyed reading a different poem every day.  This is a great way for me to open a portal into an area that I don’t feel is my strong suit.  I like poetry but I’m not drawn to it in the same way I’m drawn to other forms of narratives.

And speaking of poetry, I’d like to drawn your attention to Spinning Through the Universe: a novel in poems from Room 214 by Helen Frost. (A poet who participated in last year’s 30 Poets/30 Days event.)

A school year is depicted through poems written by a fictional fifth grade class that introduces us to the everyday realities of their lives (homelessness, abuse, teasing, death of a parent) and the ups and downs (good marks, bad marks, being late, homework, supporting each other)  that make up a year in Mrs. Williams’ classroom.

There’s a section at the back of the book that explains the poetic forms the author chose and how she sometimes deviated from the rules occasionally.   She’s used a good many different forms (many I've not heard of) including blank verse, tanka, pantoum, acrostic, kyrielle, bragi, rondelet, haiku and many others.

A lovely, short read filled with everyday details that I’d recommend for middle school grades (5-8).

Monday, April 1, 2013

Shaun Tan – Wary of ‘inspiration’--“Just start drawing.”

My byword for this year is creativity.  (See here to learn more.)  With this in mind, I'm very interested in reading about how creative people think.  In children’s literature this means gaining insight into the words and illustrations of some of my favourite children’s books.

So imagine my utter delight to learn that Shaun Tan (one of my all time favourite illustrator/authors of The Rabbits, The Arrival and The Lost Thing) had published a book with a selection of sketches/draft illustrations for many of his published and unpublished works.

The Bird King: an Artist’s Notebook presents the idea that there is value in our random ‘doodles’ and early stages of visualization of creative projects. Exploring ideas as they emerge, following along to see where they go or don’t go, being spontaneous and not too rigid in thinking is all part of the creative process.

These drawings are taken from over a twelve year period, “ranging from fairly precise drawings to scruffy scribbles” of mostly imaginary creatures, some familiar and found in his books and others we've yet to meet (maybe someday?).  He also includes a few sketches of real landscapes, real people and studies of museum artefacts.  Most images are colourless line drawings with a few coloured ones scattered throughout. 

A few of my favourites drawings include ‘Reading’ (pages 28 & 29) of a fantastical beast carrying adults and children on its broad back as they read books.  This one should be made into a poster to promote books, I think.  ‘Automatic teller’ on page 11 is very clever with a human or part human ATM machine waiting to help customers.  And on pages 34 and 35, he has a ‘portrait of the artist as a young man’ leading a parade of his imaginary creatures (also on the cover of the book).

The book has been designed to feel like a journal so we feel invited to delve a little further into Tan's private world. Overall, there is a sense of playfulness that comes through this book.  That Tan is letting his imagination ‘go’ and willing to see what happens.  Not everything is planned out.  Because he’s a good artist even his most ‘scruffy’ sketches are pretty good, a pleasure to peruse and dissect.

But then again, maybe it’s just my bias as he is one of my favourites (in case you missed that point.)

Check out Wendie's Wanderings for this weeks roundup of nonfiction children's literature.

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