Book Review: Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life

Writer Amy Krouse Rosenthal might as well be me.

So many of her entries in her wonderful Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life feel as if they were cribbed from my journal — if I still kept one — or from any of the Slice of Life writing or Six Word Memoirs or Day in a Sentence writing activities that I often take part in. Well, sure, she’s a woman and I am a man, so there are a few differences in perspectives and experiences, and her insightful writing goes deeper than mine usually does … but this treasure of a book (recommended by Penny Kittle in Book Love) is a look at Rosenthal’s life, set up as encyclopedia entries (with scattered other tidbits woven in), that should resonate with anyone leading what they consider to be an “ordinary” life.

I liked that format here — that we can organize our thinking about the everyday events and people in our lives as a sort of encyclopedia that keeps on growing (which to me would give the digital book format a leg up on the paper format — the book is done and published, unless she writes a sequel — but a digital version could keep growing and expanding).

What I liked best of all in Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life is Rosenthal’s voice as a writer — her honesty about the world around her, which may seem mundane at times but is not (just like the lives of most of us), and it’s fascinating to watch the lens that she sees things through — with humor, compassion and off from an angle. Her lens helped me to look around and see things that way, too. While some of the entries might seem rather light (she writes about going out for coffee quite a bit), Rosenthal can suddenly take your breath away with a piece about the murder of the woman who was her nanny, and the last night they spent together as friends.

As a Meta-reading aside, I loved that the back of the book jacket is a blurb about how Rosenthal reads the back of a book jacket to gauge a book, and I adored the little lists that were hidden away inside the flaps of the book. I like how she opened up the last few pages to give her illustrator and bookmaker a chance to have a few words about the making of the book. There are all sorts of little tidbits of interesting information scattered throughout the book like that, and as a reader, I appreciated the fun of the discovery.

There are plenty of additional goodies at her website, too.

Peace (in the life),


Slice of Life: The Crunch of Snow and Ice

Please link up your slice of life story to this post today. As always, be sure to check out other bloggers’ writing by clicking through the links in the comment section of this post. If you’re dropping by to link up quickly today, then please come back later to read through others slicers’ posts.

Yesterday, we had a moderately messy snow storm. It was a mixture of freezing rain and snow, but not as bad as it could have been (and not as bad as our local television stations would like it to be, if you know what I mean). This morning, I took the dog out for a walk, and the air felt fairly warm but there was still this layer of ice on top of everything. There was a satisfying “crunch” as we walked in the dark morning hours before anyone else was up. Our crunching footfalls echoed off the houses. I like that feeling of the body just heavy enough to crash through the first layer of ice, and then sink down into the soft snow underneath. I suppose the warmth will melt a lot of yesterday’s snow, leaving it packed and dirty. But this morning, it was fresh and clean and full of sounds not yet created.

Peace (in the morning of the day),



Playing with Pixton Comics and Audio Layers

I’m reviewing the Pixton Webcomic site for some work that I am doing and want to see if the comic embeds OK here in my blog (if not, here is the direct link). I also used the interesting feature in Pixton that allows you to add sound to a comic. I used it for audio narration. I like that feature. (Hover your mouse over the text box and you will see the little flash icon for listening to sound).

Peace (on the strip),

Book Review: One Size Does Not Fit All

Nikhil Goyal is a self-proclaimed child of No Child Left Behind. That is, he is one of the generation of students whose educational experiences from elementary school through recent high school graduation was defined and structured through the lens of standardized testing and standardized curriculum. And he is not happy about that (nor should he be). His insightful book — One Size Does Not Fit All: A Student’s Assessment of School — is a powerful call for our country to rethink the ways schools are structured, and the way learning environments are established, from the most important constituency of all: the student.

Goyal wrote this book when he was just 17 years old. He conducted numerous interviews, did extensive research and considered his own educational experiences in New York to form a powerful screed on the ways that standardized learning is dulling the minds of too many students and sapping the creativity out of their lives. Luckily, he takes the next step, too, and proposed various ways that he thinks schools should (no, must) change in order to nurture the critical thinking skills and creative prowess of young people. Goyal’s book is full of voice, and passion, and frustration for the ways that the Bush presidency moved us in a direction of testing-first, and how the Obama administration has continued and built upon that theme.

If you, like me, feel as if the only voices we have been hearing are our own (educators, and maybe even some parents) and those of the government (local, national) and educational businesses (textbook companies, Gates), it is refreshing to get a glimpse of what a recent graduate is thinking. Refreshing, but saddening, too. Goyal might be in unique in his perseverance of his research and interviews, and in his ability to understand that his voice might lead to change (and his gift for writing), but you can’t come away from this book without thinking of those generations of NCLB/Race to the Top students and how the shifts in education have affected them.

I am sure educational policy wonks will point to One Size Does Not Fit All and say something like, “See? He learned to make arguments, was able to write and publish a book, and is now a speaker on the world stage. Our system works.” Gosh, though, I hope not. I hope, instead, they read Goyal’s book (they better read it!) and think, “Wow. Maybe we are sapping the creativity our of our educational system. What a miserable learning experience he had, and if he had that kind of public school experience, maybe many others are having it, too.”

I’m not holding my breath, though.

Peace (in the pages),
PS — here is Goyal giving a talk:



Step Back Stickman: Using Stykz for Stopmotion

Mac Interface

The other day, I wrote about the technology hemming me in, and I use a song that I had written and recorded as a demo as an example of why I was feeling that way. Today, I wanted to share what I did with that song, and maybe reversed things a bit. I still liked parts of the song, even though it had been changed irrevocably from what I had first envisioned it as for my band. And I didn’t want to lose it completely. As it turned out, I had also finally gotten around to downloading and toying around with the free Stykz software — which is a sort of updated version of Pivot Stick Figure stopmotion software (both are free).

I wondered: what if I created a stopmotion video in Stykz that used the chorus of the song? Yeah.

Here’s what I ended up with:

Peace (in the dance),


Considering Text Features: Narrative Versus Informational Text

The opening activity of a workshop that I gave on the Common Core on Friday to my colleagues had us moving around the room, thinking and talking about the text features of narrative text versus information text, which I broke down further into the content areas of science, math and social studies. The carousel activity was designed to spark our thinking about content area reading, in particular, as that was the focus of a lot of our discussions that day.

Here are the charts we ended up with:
text features narrative

text features info math

text features info science

text features info history
Peace (in the share),


App Review: Marble Math

My son and I tried out the free, limited version of Marble Math Multiplication on the iPad. Here is one example of an app that functions better on the smaller screen, in my opinion. Given that the math skills game works mostly via the twisting of the device to move the marble to the right answer in a maze, the larger iPad seemed to be more of a pain in the neck than an optimized playing experience. We’d twist the iPad to put the marble in play, and then lose sight of the play. (You may feel different, and there is an option to use your finger to “guide” the marble instead of tilting the device, but really … what kid will choose that?) An earlier version of Marble Math on our iPod Touch was easier to play, since the Touch is there in the palm of your hand at all times.

The free iPad app is a taste of the larger Marble Math app (two versions — one for younger kids and one for older kids). The larger app has more options for creating avatars and choosing the math operations that will be featured, which is handy. While the concept of the app is clever enough — you have to solve a math problem and then move the marble through a maze to the right answer, avoiding various obstacles along the way — the arcade-style app loses its flavor after a while. In this situation, the app really is more of a skill re-enforcer than a game that keeps kids coming back for more and more. The developer certainly tried to bring in elements to make it more engaging — the ability to redo a level that you do wrong, a scoreboard, levels of increasing difficulty, etc.

What I did notice with my 8 year old son, however, is that he gave up on solving the math problems and instead, began moving the marble randomly around the screen, hoping to bump into the right answer and purposely hitting the obstacles. When he failed at that a few times, he quit the app altogether. In the classroom, you’d be wise to set up some system for kids making progress, I suppose. In the end, Marble Math is one of a growing stream of skill-related apps that are a notch above worksheets, but will not likely keep all kids busy for long stretches of time. For parents, it is a game that can help reinforce some basic math concepts.

Peace (in the app),


Book Review: The Secret Ginger Mice

Now, here’s a book that my 8-year-old son and I chose from the library shelves for a read aloud based entirely on the cover: a watercolor illustration of two mice on a raft tumbling over a waterfall. Plus, the title intrigued us. The Secret of the Ginger Mice. We had a whole discussion about that word “ginger” and he guessed it had to do with ginger ale, the soda.

Well, not quite, but Frances Watts’ first installment in a series she is calling The Song of the Winns is a fast-paced adventure that tells the story of a mouse who gets kidnapped (perhaps), and then whose brother and sister set off to find him, only to run into trouble left and right. The book shifts back and forth between two different stories — that of the mouse who has disappeared, who begins making his way south to come home with a companion, and that of the siblings, who head north to rescue their brother. Plenty of cliffhangers ensue!

The larger story is that of a country that is in rebellion against a monarchy, and the mice kids’ family has some roots as rebels, although our protagonist mice — Alistair, Alice and Alex, plus a friend, Tibby Rose — don’t quite know that until near the end of the book after they are reunited, make their way home, and then realize that they are in danger and must leave again (just in time for book two). Oh, and ginger refers to the color of the fur of Alistair and Tibby Rose, and that shading is important to the larger context of the story, for reason I will not give away.

My son and I really did like this book, and it is a perfect read-aloud. Plenty of adventure (even pirates!), intrigue and mystery, and the weaving of the stories works nicely, too The use of mice as main characters connected us back to The Rats of NIHM and other stories, which was a nice connection to make. My only complaint is that as the designated reader-alouder person (!), I kept stumbling over the names Alice, Alex and Alistair when they were together (go ahead, read those three names fast a few times and tell me you aren’t stumbling, too. Hrumph).

Peace (in the adventure),