Monday, February 29, 2016

Guest blogger - The Evolution of the E-Book App – A Review of Iain Pear’s Arcadia

Today's blog is written by my coworker Paula Hollohan.  She's the Doucette Library's technology-in-the-classroom guru. She writes the Doucette Ed Tech blog which is a terrific resource reviewing educational apps, technological devices, and issues (ie. Maker movement) that are relevant and current for classroom teaching.
I expect more from e-book apps.  I keep waiting for the perfect e-book app to be released, you know the one that you look at, read, say “wow, now that’s a great book AND great technology.”   Maybe I’m wrong in my expectations but surely, I can’t be the only one on the hunt.  Perhaps I am expecting an author to have equal stake in the writing and the technical presentation of their work.

Iain Pears has always been an innovative author, telling stories backwards or the same story from various points of view but, in an interview with the Guardian, he explains that, in an effort to make things easier for the reader, he chose to develop an app for Arcadia. 

The middle panel is the screen appearance on the ipad that shows you where you are and the flow of the story in general.

Readers may choose from various streams of storytelling on the main map page at the beginning of the app. There are 10 storytellers and you may follow one stream or read the story from various viewpoints or read to a point and return to the intersection of stories and catch up with other storytellers. 

It’s a great deal of work for a story that didn’t immediately capture my attention.  Was I interested in reading another storyteller’s episode of the story? Not so much.  Aside from the initial subway-inspired mapping of the story, the rest is black print on white background, no graphics, no pictures, no interaction.   Much like other e-books, after the decision is made about which part of the story to read, the app continues in a very conventional e-book, or even book format.

And here it is – the one thing in an e-book app that will certainly garner a negative review, the reader must pay, while deep into the story, $5.49 Cdn to continue.  What?  In that most awful of inventions, this e-book has subscribed to the “in-app purchase” debacle.  The initial download of the app for iPhone or iPad (not Android) is free.

Even with what seems, for me, an unsatisfactory outcome, Arcadia did garner many good reviews and comments on its innovation.  These are reviewers who have more patience than I do and a deeper reading commitment.  The target audience is adult and it may be attractive to an advanced high school reader. A hard copy of the book is also available.

And so, my research continues, for an e-book app that could be used in a high school classroom, which has content that is riveting, graphics that hook the reader in and some interaction that keeps the reader onboard.  Pears admits that this e-book took four and half years of development, three publishers, two designers, and four sets of coders.  Perhaps my expectations are too high.

Tammy's two-bits:  I, too, just couldn't dig this e-book.  I think I thought it was going to be something other than it was.  Maybe, more like an interactive plot-your-own-story.  Which it wasn't at all. I agree with Paula that I found the format of choosing which character to read very disruptive.  I kept wondering what I was missing by following through with one character and then jumping back up and over interrupting my flow. In the end I didn't find the story compelling enough to want to bother -- so didn't .  Guess that's two thumbs down for Arcadia.  Anyone else read this one?

Friday, February 19, 2016

Nonfiction 10 for 10

I’m posting a tad early this time so that I can join the gang contributing to this year’s Top 10 for 10 : the Nonfiction Edition.

Now in its fourth year, Nonfiction Picture Book 10 for 10 (#nf10for10) is co-hosted by Cathy Mere of Reflect & Refine and Mandy Robek of Enjoy and Embrace Learning.  Go to Picture Book 10 for 10 Community to see all the contributors.  It’s a great way to really build your library with recommendations from people who are really passionate about children’s literature.

Here’s a list of books that are new and some oldies but goodies that I go back to time and again.

Actual size by Steve Jenkins.
I never miss an opportunity to rave about Steve Jenkins’ books. This is one that continually impresses teachers-to-be.  The visuals are brilliant.

14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy
This one was published in 2009 but this story continues to resonate with students.  I’m finding that students currently in university were children in 2001 and now bring their lived experiences to this story adding another level of intensity.

When I Was Eight by Kristy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton
With the recent release of the Truth and Reconciliation Report there is a stronger emphasis on developing better relationships with First Nations peoples. Part of this understanding can come from reading books like this one about a young Inuit girl attending residential school and the impact on her and her family.  See also Not My Girl.

The Wall by Peter Sis
I love Peter Sis’ work and this autobiographical picture book for older readers is fantastic. Living in Czechoslovakia under the Communists wasn’t conducive to living a creative life and Sis makes the decision to leave and start over in the United States.

Not being a ‘math person’ any book that can convey mathematical concepts, hold my interest, get me to learn something and be beautiful is going to be included in a top 10 list.

I See a Pattern Here by Bruce Goldstone
I know – another math book! Bruce Goldstone also writes really good picture books with a math focus. This one is very appealing to work through and has a lot of potential for classroom use. 

Trout Are Made of Trees by April Pulley Sayre
I love the title of this book.  It’s an intriguing way to introduce the interconnectedness in ecosystems. I use this is workshops that promote trying to come up with interesting or essential questions when developing lesson plans. You tell me what you’d rather learn about: listing the characteristics of trees and the interactions of local animals; OR, finding out how trout are made of trees.

A Street Through Time by Anne Millard
This one has been around for a while but it and the others in this series again offer so much classroom potential. Historical and geographical thinking, visual literacy, model for student work and a terrific book for browsing without connecting to a curriculum are how I see this book being an incredibly useful addition to a classroom library.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba
The true story of a boy in Mali who created a windmill that pumped water and generated electricity for his village from scraps of whatever was at hand and translating old textbooks written in English is a fantastic book for STEM connections and innovative thinking. Comes in adult and junior editions, too.

And last but not least –

The combination of mixed-media illustrations and expressive text creates a feeling for this poet that still resonates with me. Not knowing much about this poet besides the ‘wheelbarrow poem’, I was immediately caught up in his life’s story. A really beautiful book. 

Monday, February 15, 2016

Picture books for older readers

I was given the opportunity to run a workshop with English language arts students who are looking to teach at the secondary level.  The instructor requested exposing the students to literature with the broad focus around diversity and keen to use picture books.  I asked if I should pull novels and other secondary level literature to which she causally said sure, if I could match them up with the picture books.

The game was on.

I must admit I didn’t really start with the idea of matching my picture book selections with novels, nonfiction, poetry, plays, etc. but once I began making connections with  a few of the books then it became a challenge to try and match them all.  It was really fun.

And I came up with quite a list of items.  If you’re keen to see the list of paired picture books and non-picture books visit the library guide where I’ve attached it.

I felt the session went well and some of the students we’re sold on the idea of using picture books in classrooms beyond elementary.  It was a new thought for some. After reviewing some of the reasons why picture books can be a good resource for the higher grade levels such as:
      ·         Accommodates differences in reading abilities
·         Increases motivation of students by going deeper into a single topic (versus a textbook which is usually takes a more cursory approach)
·         Presents a child’s or young person’s point of view making it more relevant to the reader
·         Explores universal themes, literary devices, parts of speech, etc. with short texts that accommodate short class time
·         Develops visual literacy and appreciation for the aesthetic of picture books
·         Provides models/patterns for students to base their own work on
·         Provokes discussion

We moved on to looking at the strength behind pairing fiction and nonfiction texts. This allows for much greater depth of understanding to be developed for the readers.  So with all this in mind it was time for some browsing action.

A good part of the session was dedicated to the students looking through many of the groupings and discussing their observations with their table companions. Later we discussed practical concerns they had about bringing ‘non-authorized’ resources into the classroom and some of the books that got them excited.

Here are few of the groupings that are my favourites. Picture books are listed first:

*14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy and *In the Shadow of No Towers by Art Spiegelman

*Terrible Things by Eve Bunting and *In the Land of Punctuation by Christian Morgenstern

*Rose Blanche by Roberto Innocenti (both the American and British editions) and *Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

*A Man Called Raven by Richard Van Camp 
and *Super Indian by Arigon Starr

*The Girl in Red by Roberto Innocenti and * Red Ridin’ inthe Hood by Patricia Santos Marcantonio ALSO Lies, Knives and Girls in RedDresses by Ron Koertge ALSO *The Magic Circle by Donna Jo Napoli


*Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress by Christine Baldacchino and *When Everything Feels Like the Movie by Raziel Reid ALSO *October Mourning by Leslea 

I could list so many more but encourage you to visit the link above to view the whole list. 

Also, you might be interested in visiting a new Pinterest board I created that lists picture books suited for older readers. 

Monday, February 8, 2016

Red Hand Day - February 12th

This Friday is the 14th year that the Red Hand campaign has sought to raise awareness for the plight of child soldiers worldwide.  It is estimated that there are over 250,000 children under the age of 18 who are forced to fight, kill, be sex slaves and otherwise support military initiatives around the globe. 

A very recent children's book, Child Solider: when boys and girls are used in war by Jessica Dee Humphreys & Michel Chikwanine was published as part of the CitizenKid series by Kids Can Press. 

It relates Michel Chikwanine's experiences as a five-year old abducted by rebel soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1993. In a rite of initiation he was drugged and forced to kill his best friend. His time with rebels was unrelenting terror and brutality. He came to Canada when he was 16 and now as an adult promotes awareness of the suffering of child soldiers.

This book is well done for such a difficult topic. It's done in graphic-nonfiction style that handles the violence with care (not much blood and gore depicted). The illustrations are on the cartoon-y side which suggests a younger audience than the 10 to 14 year-old target he had in mind when writing this book. Information at the back of the book fills in information about children involved in military conflicts and how readers can help.

The book Out In Front: Grace Akallo and the pursuit of justice for child soldiers by Kem Knapp Sawyer has a different format but relates very similar circumstances. Grace is taken from her school in Uganda and forced into the Lord's Resistance Army when she was 15 years-old.  She, too, is subjected to the horrors of being a child soldier and 'wife' to a lieutenant in the army. She escaped after seven months. Now she also looks to promote understanding and rehabilitation for former child soldiers and to raise awareness for the children caught up in such dire circumstances.

This book is also filled with much information about the broader context of children used as soldiers interspersed with Graces' story. End notes include sources, a bibliography, index and websites to go to for additional information. This book is for grades 7 and up.

I'm recommending both books for their content. This is a cause that is important and worth children knowing more about.

UPDATE: CBC news article highlighted the VTECS : Veteran Trainers to Eradicate the Use of Child Soldiers as an initiative that will enlist veteran Canadian soldiers to aid in the prevention of recruitment of children as soldiers.

Monday, February 1, 2016

It’s time for another letter

Dear Early Childhood Educators-to-be,

by Melanie Watt

Welcome to the world of children’s literature.
Boy, are you in for a treat! 

by Julie Morstad

There’s so many good books to tell you about, it’s difficult to know where to start

by Istvan Banya

Maybe I should start with telling you to have fun and look for those resources that excite you. If you’re enthusiastic about the book so will your students.

by Rob Gonsalves

The books that make you say, “Amazing”, “Oh wow!”, “Gross”, that make you sigh or cry, tickle your funny bone, or maybe revisit favorites from when you were little or maybe just think a little longer about what you’ve just read  -- THOSE are the ones to bring to class and treasure.

By Amy Rosenthal

by Steve Jenkins

Find wonderful authors and illustrators that will make you look at familiar topics with new eyes.

by Barney Saltzberg

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.  Not every book you bring in will be a hit. But that’s OK. Go find another one. 

by Justin Richardson

If you’re not sure about a book – go find a different one.

Really think about what you want your book to ‘do’ in the classroom. Do you want it to provoke? Surprise? Fill time? Provide information? Extend a topic? Enrich and deepen a topic? Entertain?

Find people you trust to recommend books like other teachers, librarians, booksellers, friends, and  family – you never know who might know of a ‘perfect’ resource to go with your topic.  The final decision is always yours.

These are just a few guidelines to get you started.

Oh, and don’t forget the Doucette Library has many library guides listed on the homepage to help with your literature choices.

Now, go and enjoy
by Aaron Becker

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