Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Microshelters Event with Derek "Deek" Diedricksen

So, the real strength of the Microshelters discussion is the pictures of the super cool tiny houses, offices, tree houses, and play forts (and under "play forts" we're including one tiny house designed entirely for reading and sipping wine in the backyard in peace and quiet. . . not school appropriate, perhaps, but clearly a basic necessity). We've discovered that snapping pictures of Deek talking in front of a screen with images projected on it doesn't really do justice to the inspiration. Here are links to resources that do:

We may now have come full circle from the 39 Story Treehouse book from our Early Chapter Books review a few weeks ago. The 13+ story treehouses were a little too over the top the review panel. But the classy tiny house treehouses, those work just fine. . .

From Deek's Blog: https://relaxshax.wordpress.com/

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Materials Review: Early Chapter Books

At the end of last spring's middle grade materials review session we had a request for Early Chapter Books as the next topic. . . and started to get ready then and there with:
Last Friday, we took a closer look at both series and stand alone books in this category and also invited in early chapter book author Dough Wilhelm to share his perspective on creating these books. Here is a list of the books we read (not all were reviewed on the panel):
And here are the reviews:
Plus, a list of recommended leveled readers - requested at the event:
And notes from the discussion with Doug:
We're keeping track of all our Materials Reviews in the Author-Educator Series speakers list, under Bear Pond Staff (ie. the end of the list). 

Next up for the Author-Educator Series: Sunday, October 18th, 11:30 am: A short workshop on creating creative reading space, forts, and "Microshelters" with national small building expert Deek Diedricksen. Details here

Doug Wilhelm: Treasure Town

Author Doug Wilhelm has written a variety of books for kids. He has contributed to the Choose Your Own Adventure series. He wrote the acclaimed middle grade novel The Revealers. Now, he and his sister, Sarah-Lee Terrat, have started a new series of "bridge into reading" books beginning with Treasure Town. Doug spoke on our Early Chapter Book panel about developing a book that would draw kids into reading.

Several children's authors who have spoken here before have given ideas for playing games of "What If?" to generate the ideas that become stories (see for example these workshops from Kate Messner, S.S. Taylor, and Gary Miller and Deb Fleischman). Doug followed a similar process. The specific idea for Treasure Town began with Sarah-Lee keeping a notebook of the odd questions her young son would ask. When her son started noting funny names, one thing led to another, and Doug and Sarah dreamed up a story of characters worthy of the names Yuke and Bug (changed from Butt) Luck.

Yuke and Bug Luck are gold prospectors who hop a freight train with the intent of heading to Alaska, but go the wrong direction and end up in Florida instead.

From that starting premise, Doug needed to add protagonists closer in age to the intended readers. He ended up with three kids living in the fictional town of Sandy Feet, Florida, who are looking for buried treasure and team up with Yuke and Bug. It was important to have kids who felt relatable to young readers to carry the story. It also took some time to get that right. For example, several early cover ideas got scrapped because they focused on the grown Yuke and Bug. Sarah-Lee worked a long time figuring out how to draw children with a lot of character and expressions - the goofy adults of Yuke and Bug were much easier to draw.

In his teacher's guide materials Doug notes where the child-adult relationship in the book works especially well:
[My favorite part of the book is] the conversation between Luis and Bug when they’re walking, talking and dreaming about the pirate’s treasure. I like how Bug, a grownup, sort of listens to Luis, a kid, but not really. I bet a lot of kids will make a personal connection with that.
These fictional children are part of what draws kids into the page, but Doug wanted to be sure that a strong narrative did as well. The narrative of the story emphasizes action, and specifically humorous action, that's reinforced by the drawings. The final cover, for example, shows an action scene of one person digging, another looking expectantly into the hole, and two others coming running with expressions of, if not alarm, at least surprise. Or, when the kids meet the two gold prospectors, they don't simply cross paths in the street, they cross paths after Yuke has dug his way into a water main in downtown and lifted the police car up on a geyser he unleashed.

While some of the narrative pull for young readers comes from the ridiculous, a lot of it also comes from real life. The kids in the book aren't searching for any old generic buried treasure, they're looking for the treasure of real-life pirate Jean Lafitte. The nonfiction book Florida Pirates (quoted in Treasure Town's introduction) explains
"Unlike most people who attempt to hide their wealth, Jean Lafitte. . . once state that, along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, he had buried enough gold to build a solid gold bridge across the Mississippi." 
So, there's no telling what you might find on a treasure hunt.

A last component for a successful early chapter book is how its produced. First there's the immediate hurdle of finding a publisher. Doug and Sarah-Lee looked for a traditional publisher before choosing instead to use their own publishing house Long Stride Books. A Kickstarter campaign to raised the funds for publication. They have since found an outside publisher, Pelican Press, to pick up the series.

The additional publishing component that audience members added was not only whether books appear in print, but how they appear in print. This issue came up with books in the panel review as well - since many were in galley form it was difficult to judge their final appearance. Participants noted that kids starting in early reader books often want their books to look like "real" books older children read. Jane observed that some books like the Tashi series collect individual early reader stories into one volume that has the heft of a book for an older audience.

Doug and Sarah-Lee have planned a series of adventure books featuring fictional searches for real lost treasures. . . we look forward to seeing them on shelves soon!

Friday, October 9, 2015

Early Chapter Books: Panel Reviews

Thank you for everyone who joined us last Friday for the Early Chapter Books Materials Review. We're posting the notes in a few installments . . starting with short reviews for all the books discussed that are below. Next up we'll add notes from Doug Wilhelm's discussion of writing Treasure Town.

Goofy Humor:

The 13 Story Treehouse by Andy Griffiths (series): We needed to defer to some younger readers for parts of this review. . . "It's exactly what it looks like" according to Carrie - and her kids love it while she does not. It's about brothers who live in a treehouse and write books. As you might imagine from being 13 stories high, the treehouse has many elaborate features like a bowling alley, a marshmallow machine and dangerous "burp gas-bubblegum bubbles." It works well for reluctant readers, is funny, and does inspire readers to imagine their own fantastic treehouses and books to write.

The Yeti Files - Meet the Bigfeet by Kevin Sherry (Series): Along the same lines as the Treehouse series, the Yeti series is a funny book for reluctant readers. The premise for the first book in the series is that the Yeti is going to a family reunion with the cryptids - creatures that live alone and have sworn that they can never be seen by humans. It's heavy on illustrations, in a very simple cartooning style. Like the Treehouse series, these books have the potential to inspire otherwise reluctant readers / writers to start both reading and thinking up their own stories.

Bowling Alley Bandit: Adventures of Arnie the Doughnut by Laurie Keller (Series): Arnie is a doughnut, bought from the best bakery in town, not realizing that doughnuts are for eating. But he convinces the man who bought him to keep him as a pet instead. He happily goes bowling with his new owner. When something is amiss at the bowling alley, Arnie enlists Peezo, his best buddy (who happens to be a slice of pizza) to help him investigate. Illustrations play a big role in telling this story. It's most similar to Bad Kitty in style. It may be goofball comedy, but it's also smart, as Keller is known for her clever use of wordplay.

Quirky Humor:

Milo Speck: Accidental Agent by Linda Urban: One day, Milo is grabbed by his clothes dryer and sucked into the land of Ogregon filled with ogres that eat children. Milo discovers that his father, who he thought was a fence salesman, is really a secret agent in Ogregon. Now Milo has to foil the ogres' plot against children and he isn't sure he's the hero for the job. Jane describes this as zany, Roald Dahl-esque humor. Linda Urban is coming to Bear Pond Books with Melissa Guerrette on November 7th at 11:00 am to teach a workshop on revision - details are found here. Also, Linda has an upcoming series of early chapter books called "Weekends with Max and his Dad" that will be published in spring of 2016.

Harriet the Invincible by Ursula Vernon (Series): Harriet is a princess (also, a hamster) who finds palace life rather dull. She is also under a curse --at age 12 she will prick her finger and fall into a deep sleep. . . except what happens is that she pricks her finger and everyone else falls into a deep sleep and now she needs to find a Prince who will kiss a whole palace to wake them up. There are some big vocabulary words, but the story is funny enough that they're worth it, or skippable. Jane describes this hamster princess book as having a "sophisticated wit." If she was allowed to say she loved two books the best, this would the best (but as things stood, she only got one and it's Dory).

Dory Fantasmagory by Abby Hanlon: Another in the quirky, spunky kid category, but Jane says this book really does rise above the rest. Dory is a kid who has populated her world with elaborate imaginary friends. She drives everyone around her crazy. Her older siblings think she's too much of a baby to play with and they invent the story of Mrs. Gobblegracker who will come for her if she doesn't leave them alone - and so of course this new imaginary being joins Dory's world. Very clever and funny. If Jane is going to choose one book as her favorite, this one was it.

Extraordinary Warren: A Super Chicken by Sarah Dillard (Series): Warren, a little chick, is learning how to fly and he's searching for his inner super chicken. The author uses a graphic novel style in her chapter book, making it a good picture book / chapter book crossover. Jane says the medium works very well. There are two Extraordinary Warren books out in the series. The author and illustrator lives in Waitsfield.

Charming Books:

The Kingdom of Wrenly by Jordan Quinn (Series): A book that is easy to read, light, good for sensitive children as "nothing alarming happens and it wraps up neatly in a bow." The stories follow the Prince and a seamstress' daughter as they explore the Kingdom of Wrenly. Carrie says that it's "innocent and sweet and not very well written." But, she notes, the writing is not so far off the mark that kids are likely to care.

Piper Green and the Fairy Tree by Ellen Potter (Series) A "lovely" (per Carrie) book in the tradition of the Clementine series. Piper Green lives on an island in Maine. She is struggling because she misses her brother, who left for boarding school, and she doesn't get along with her new teacher. It's a funny book but also deals with real issue. Well written. There are two books in the series so far.

Cody and the Fountain of Happiness by Tricia Springstubb (Series): It's the first day of summer vacation and while not much is happening in Cody's house, she's enthusiastic about inventing her own entertainment. The story is very Ramona Quimby-like. Cody's mother is feeling stress about a new job, her father is gone for long stretches as a truck driver, her teenage brother is moping over a girl, and there's a new kid in town staying with his grandmother and missing his parents. It's not wildly inventive but it's also perfectly enjoyable, which is just fine.

The Year of the Book by Andrea Cheng (Series): It's a "quiet, book lover's book" according to Jane. The protagonist, Anna, is the child of Chinese immigrants. She's having trouble navigating her social life. She's embarrassed by her mother's efforts to introduce Chinese culture into her daughter's American life. Anna decides that it's easier to find her friends in books, not people. She slowly learns to deal with friendships.

Princess Pistachio by Marie-Louse Gay (Series): Pistachio believes she is a princess, and when a mysterious crown arrives for her birthday she becomes truly convinced. Ramping up the spolied princess act isn't exactly popular with everyone around her. Jane found that, unlike other books where the main character drives the people around her crazy while being entertaining on the page, Pistachio was not. The words "sassy and entitled" were used, and not in a complimentary way. Jane recommends the author's picture books instead.  

Mystery Books:

The Diamond Mystery by Martin Widmark (Series): Two kids open a detective agency and this is their first case, of diamonds missing from a jewelry store. It's a classic whodunit structure: a client presents a mystery, there is a defined set of suspects each with reasons why they might have been the ones, and after a brief investigation of each person the real thief is revealed. Helen wonders if something was lost in the translation from the original Swedish - the language can read a bit like a vocabulary lesson. Also, she is disappointed that the publisher didn't work with the author and illustrator to convey more of Sweden in the book. The only geographical reference implies that the book is taking place in an American suburban town.

Smashie McPerter and the Mystery of Room 11 by N. Griffin (Series): When the classroom hamster goes missing, Smashie (who didn't really like the hamster in the first place) decides to solve the mystery. This is a good book for problem solving and vocabulary building. It's also a good reading aloud book. The author is coming to Bear Pond Books on October 24th at 11:00 am to do a workshop on teaching problem solving skills. The workshop details are here.

Books with Clear Teaching Tie Ins (History, Science)

Tales from Maple Ridge: Logan Pryce Makes a Mess by Grace Gilmore and Petra Brown (Series): This series tells the story of a farm in 1892. The father needs to take a job off the farm because it is struggling, and the young son, Logan, is looking for ways help keep the farm going. It's very relatable and would appeal to Little House on the Prairie fans. There are two books in the series currently available, with two more slated for publication.

Ranger in Time by Kate Messner (Series): This series follows a search and rescue dog who failed his exam by chasing a squirrel. Through a little magic Ranger is transported back in time to the Oregon trail where a young girl has gone missing. The writing is solid and the conceit of the series lets history lessons be folded into the narrative. The author is local and has led workshops at Bear Pond before. We wrote an article on writing exercises based on Kate's workshops "New Ideas - Creative Jumpstarts that Work in the Classroom"

Frank Einstein by Jon Scieszka (Series): The first in a series, this book follows a familiar plot line of a genius scientist with a brilliant creation (an antimatter motor), stolen by a bad guy, and in need of being re-acquired. This book builds from ideas in science that are entryways to pretty sophisticated stuff (self-teaching artificial intelligence or the large hadron collider for example) but are presented in the context of madcap adventure and goofy humor. The book hits the gold standard of conveying that reading is A. fun and B. full of big ideas that change your understanding of the world. It wasn't Helen's sort of storyline, but that's personal preference, and her one "I love this book" went to Frank Einstein.

Totally True Adventures: The Race Around the World by Nancy Castaldo (Series): This book tells the story of reporter and adventurer Nellie Bly in simple language suitable for a classroom with children at different reading levels. It's neither creative nor fun, but it's probably useful - combining history, biography, and reading skills. The book promises additional materials online that connect to the classroom and common core but Helen gave up on finding them after a fair amount of searching. When she finally tracks down these promised materials, they'll appear here. For now we're giving up. This book is part of a series of Totally True Adventures.

Strong Read Alouds:

Emma and the Blue Genie by Cornelia Funke: Emma frees a very small blue genie who needs help getting his nose ring back so he can have his powers restored. It's a stand alone book. The reading level is on the challenging end of early chapter books. This author has many solid books, including Inkheart, The Pirate Pig and the soon-to-be-published Ruffleclaw.  

Appleblossom the Possum by Holly Goldberg Sloan: A book by the author of the DCF-nominated Counting by 7's. Carries summarizes this book as "delightful imaginings of what possum family culture would look like." Appleblossom goes out into the world and falls down a chimney into a human home, and her brothers launch a rescue mission. The story is enjoyable for both kids and grown ups.

Firefly Hollow by Alison McGhee: Carrie was allowed only one book to say she "loved" and this was it. The book chronicles the firefly who dreams of flying to the moon, cricket who dreams of being Yogi Berra, Vole who is the last of his kind and dreams of sailing his father's ship (but there is no one to teach him) and Peter who is a Miniature Giant who will grow up to be a Big Giant. The book plates are beautiful. It's a good read aloud for any age.

Diva and Flea by Mo Willems & Tony DiTerlizzi: A Lady and the Tramp-esque story of a dog and cat in Paris. Diva is a dog who has never ventured into the big world of Paris, but who meets Flea, a streetwise cat "flaneuring" about the alleys of Paris. This book has a lovely classic feel and tremendously vibrant line drawings.

Books You Might Have Missed:

Some great series have been around for a while, but are still being newly discovered. Here are a few:
  • Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke - Anna lives in Africa and these books are a good introduction to new cultures. Jane (who is a big fan) describes them as "sweet as the day is long". They can be hard to find but call the Children's Room and Jane will track them down.
  • Matter of Fact Magic by Ruth Chew - These books are now being reprinted. They're a collection of stand alone stories about kids and magic. You can read the books' summaries on ruthchew.com
  • Tashi by Anna and Barbara Fienberg - An Australian series, filled with the tall tales of a gnome-like imaginary friend named Tashi. Always popular during the holidays.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Hold This! - Q&A with Carolyn Scoppettone

Last Friday while we were reviewing early chapter books (more on those tomorrow), Kellogg-Hubbard Library was hosting a launch event for the publication of Hold This! a debut picture book by Montpelier author Carolyn Scoppettone. Hold This! recounts a walk through the woods with a daughter discovering many treasures - or "treasures" - to share with her father.

Earlier this month, Islandport Press published a short written Q&A with Carolyn about the origin of the book, linked here. Now, she has nicely taken the time to do another round for our educators blog. 

This is a playful book describing exploring the outdoors, how did you approach finding the right text to prompt the feeling of "playfulness", which we usually think of as an impromptu emotion?

The inspiration for “Hold This!” came directly from my own children. When they were little, we walked in Hubbard Park frequently. I loved their irrepressible desire to explore the outdoors through their senses. They wanted to look at nature, of course, but they also wanted to hear it, smell it and touch it. So, I knew that I would need sensory language to capture the story I wanted to tell. From the earliest drafts, fun, sensory words like “splash gurgling” and “swissshing” appeared.
In addition to those Hubbard Park walks with my own children, I had plenty of experience exploring nature with other young kids. As a volunteer educator for the Four Winds program at Union Elementary School, I led outdoor nature lessons for many years. It struck me that the children were most deeply engaged when they were having fun. The experience of playing opened the door to forming a connection with the natural world. I wanted my main character to find joy in the woods. That joy bubbled up into playful language.
We've had authors in our educators series before speak about the sense of play and wonder as an important part of engaging kids in learning - looking a little beyond the text on the page, do you have thoughts for inspiring the feeling of play in planned activities, like you would find in a school setting?
At the end of “Hold This!,” Mika builds a fairy house. For young children, building small structures like these engages the imagination as well as the senses. Handling bark, leaves, stones, and other natural materials gives a child a chance to notice shape, texture, and fragrance, among other things.
While you might not build a fairy house in a classroom, natural materials can come into school to be used in crafts and art activities. I especially like art activities that highlight the complexity and beauty found in nature. Leaf rubbings, natural collages, shoe box dioramas, and many other activities allow children to create something beautiful out of things they find in nature.
There are also many crafts that highlight certain properties of natural objects. For example, when studying snowflakes in Four Winds, we would have the children cut out paper snowflakes. This is a simple but beautiful craft that reinforces the concept that the shape of each snowflake is unique.
 Puppet shows and felt board activities are always great, as well. In the Four Winds program, we would start each lesson with a puppet show that introduced the learning objectives. For a unit on camouflage, for example, the puppet characters blended in with the background. When I do an author visit with a preschool audience, I bring along a felt board version of “Hold This!” Children love helping me find the various natural treasures that Mika asks her father to hold. There are a wide variety of games, as well. Memory games, for example, work particularly well with a nature theme.
- Do you have any examples of school-based play and learning from your own time as a student? 
I grew up in San Diego where it was easy to be outside all year. My mother was a preschool teacher who loved nature.  So, from an early age I was encouraged to approach any excursion into the outdoors as a chance to truly observe the natural world. I don’t recall specific school-based play and learning from that time, but I’ll never forget how Mom would plop down on the ground to show me tiny flowers, “belly flowers” she called them, or how she would point out a swallow’s nest tucked in the eaves or a sparrow’s distinctive song.
When I was a kid, I loved scavenger hunts. There was an undeveloped canyon right near my house and I spent every afternoon playing imaginative games or combing the canyon for treasures. The shark’s teeth I found told me that the desert landscape I was exploring used to be an ocean. The horned toads, rocks and chaparral spoke to the changes the landscape had undergone over eons.
Despite the difficulty of getting children outside during the school day, I think it is crucial to do so on a regular basis. Just the experience of being outside is valuable. Any game that is played in nature allows a child to form a connection to the natural world. In a time when so much of our learning is indoors or on the computer, getting outside is even more important.
Interested in reading more about the theme of discovery, nature, and learning? Check out this earlier set of articles about author / illustrators Dierdre Gill and Jason Chin "Picture Books that Explore Nature"