App Review: Adobe Voice for Digital Stories

I have to admit: the new digital storytelling app from Adobe, called Voice, is such a breeze to use that I wonder why other apps are not set up. With a clean design, clear steps and access to Creative Commons images and infographic symbols and my own pictures, Adobe Voice really raises the bar for how you can tell a story on a mobile device. I’ve been toying around with it for a few days.

Here, for example, is a book trailer that I did yesterday as my son and I finished reading Scat:

Here is one from the other day, as a promo for Making Learning Connected MOOC:

Both stories took me about 10 minutes each to make and to publish. I did not hit a single hurdle in either story. Clear commands on what to do — record your voice, add an image, choose a theme, pick a song — are easily accessible. You have to have an Adobe account to publish your story to the Web. And the story, as far as I can tell, can’t be saved natively to your mobile device, nor shared directly into YouTube or other video sharing sites. That’s too bad, but I suspect Adobe made this app free (yep, free) so that people would have to come under the Adobe umbrella.

If you are interested in Digital Storytelling, I suggest you check out Adobe Voice. For ease and design, I have not yet come across anything similar, and I can live with the drawbacks that I listed above if the trade-off is in design.

Peace (in the voice),
Kevin

Graphic Novel Review: Escape to Gold Mountain

(Note from Kevin: A few years ago, I was a reviewer for The Graphic Classroom. I really enjoyed the way we look at graphic novels with a lens towards the classroom. The site got taken over by another site, and then … I guess the owner of The Graphic Classroom stopped doing what he was doing. Which is fine. But I still had some reviews “sitting in the can” so I am finally digging them out to share out here.)

http://www.arsenalpulp.com/titleimages/book%20covers/9781551524764_Escape.jpg

Story Summary: After reading ESCAPE TO GOLD MOUNTAIN, David H. T. Wong’s account of 100 years of Chinese immigration to North America, I came away from the story feeling disgusted with so many things. First and foremost, I was struck by the level of discrimination and racism that the Chinese have encountered over the years as they left their home to try to build a better life, only to encounter violent racism and political hurdles in the United States and Canada. This is the rhetorical argument that Wong makes in ESCAPE TO GOLD MOUNTAIN as he traces a family’s descendants over the years as the lure of Gold Mountain (which is what the Chinese families called North America) looms large for poor families in China. However, I was also unsettled by the way Wong demonizes just about every white person we meet in the story, except for the periodic politician calling unsuccessfully for compassion in the face of stiff immigration policies aimed at the Chinese. Still, from the building of railroads through the labor of Chinese workers suffering under horrible conditions to the creation of Chinatown slums to the outright violence in some places against defenseless Chinese families, the story told here should ignite indignation in all of us. ESCAPE TO GOLD MOUNTAIN ends with a note of apology, from the governments of both America and Canada for the ways that Chinese immigrants were treated in the 1800s and early 1900s. Wong’s graphic story of the Chinese coming to North America opens a page in the history books that all too often gets forgotten because it puts countries in a bad light. Wong’s story reminds all of us that we need to learn from this history, and find a way to create a better future free from discrimination and racism that lines so much of the past.

Art Review: I can’t say I am a big fan of the art here in this book. The simple line drawings lack the kind of complexity and uniqueness in art that would really bring the stories of the family alive to the reader. All too often, the drawings lack depth and clarity, which unfortunately takes away from the reader’s connection to the characters that Wong is highlighting. In graphic stories like this one, the art is what first grabs a students’ attention, almost always, and I’m not quite sure how this book accomplishes that. Which is not to say that Wong is not an artist of talent. It’s just that, in my opinion, too many of the pages here don’t have the kind of vitality and detail that will keep the attention of a young reader.

More Information:

• Reading level: Ages 12 and up
• Paperback: 256 pages
• Publisher: Arsenal Pulp Press (October 30, 2012)
• Language: English
• ISBN-10: 1551524767
• ISBN-13: 978-1551524764

In the Classroom: Certainly, for any unit around immigration and racism (particularly institutional racism and government policies around immigration), ESCAPE TO GOLD MOUNTAIN has a lot of potential value and would add nicely to textbook stories about the Chinese coming to North America for a better life and about immigration itself. As I was reading the book, I could not help but draw some parallels between what I know about other immigration waves from other countries in other time periods, including the more modern immigration debates that seem to center on Hispanic immigrants. History repeats itself, in some ways. But the Chinese endured more overt violence and hurdles than one can even fathom, and still they remain central to the American Dream of a better life. Wong’s story is an important one that needs to be remembered, and not repeated.

My Recommendation: I would recommend ESCAPE TO GOLD MOUNTAIN for an upper level high school or university class as a companion text for studies around immigration and racism. There are scenes of violence, and death, in this graphic novel, as Wong does not hold back his punches in telling the story.

Peace (in the book),
Kevin

 

Graphic Novel Review: They Changed the World (Edison-Tesla-Bell)

https://d2na0fb6srbte6.cloudfront.net/read/imageapi/coverforissue/239124/comic/300/new
What? Barely any Marconi?

I really enjoyed this nonfiction graphic novel — They Changed the World: Edison-Tesla-Bell – for the way it pulls together the stories of these three pioneering inventors as they worked to bring ideas to fruition that ultimately did change the world in so many ways. It’s amazing to think of how these men were working during a relatively common time period, and how their lives overlapped at times. (And how many women were also inventing but never written about in our history books? Just wondering)

The graphic novel by Campfire Press weaves in the biographies of Alexander Graham Bell, Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison in ways that bring their hardships and success to … eh … light, as each pursued visions of electricity and more. Each man brimmed with ideas and each man took a different route to success, failure and then success again. Writer Lewis Helfand does a nice job of showing us “warts and all” of the men — their failings and their goodness (when Edison gives space in his laboratory to Tesla, a bitter rival and former employee who lost almost everything in a fire, it comes as a shock and shows Edison — famous for his business acumen –  in a new way.)

The artwork by Naresh Kumar (who does many of the Campfire books) captures the spirit of the times, when innovation and invention were in the air, and when many people were suddenly working on similar inventions in different parts of the world.

As I mentioned, Marconi gets only scant mention, even though his work on transmitting voice and data over wires (and wireless) was also underway around the same time. I guess three inventors was enough to write about. He gets mentioned during some legal proceedings over who invented what, and when, and who would get credit for the inventions.

I want to mention a nice bonus at the back of the book, too.  In the spirit of the “Make,” the graphic novel details how a kid can create their own version of a rudimentary telephone, with a glass, some water, a nail, batteries and string. I love the story ends with an invitation to make a telephone and maybe have kids begin their own path “to change the world.” Nicely done.

Peace (in the invention),
Kevin

On Teachers Teaching Teachers: Teaching with Heart


On Teachers Teaching Teachers last night, I had the fortunate opportunity to hang out with host Paul Allison and some teaching folks who contributed or edited the upcoming collection of short essays by educators connected to poetry. The book (Teaching with Heart) comes out in a few days, but it was a great experience to talk about how poetry informs us as teachers, and to share some of our writing.

You can view the chat room discussion, too.

http://tiffanypoirier.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/slide117.jpg?w=940&h=705

And a blurb from the publisher:

In Teaching with Heart: Poetry that Speaks to the Courage to Teach a diverse group of ninety teachers describe the complex of emotions and experiences of the teaching life – joy, outrage, heartbreak, hope, commitment and dedication. Each heartfelt commentary is paired with a cherished poem selected by the teacher. The contributors represent a broad array of educators: K-12 teachers, principals, superintendents, college professors, as well as many non-traditional teachers. They range from first year teachers to mid-career veterans to those who have retired after decades in the classroom.  They come from inner-city, suburban, charter and private schools.

Peace (in the sharing),
Kevin

 

Teaching with Heart: A Teaser Video

teachingwithheartcover

I am one of a number of contributors to a new collection coming out this month in which educators write short essays about poems that are near and dear to their heart. Teaching with Heart: Poetry That Speaks to the Courage to Teach follows the path of two other collections that also engaged teachers in reflective inquiry and pointing to powerful poetry.

As part of the pre-publication push, I created a short Tellegami video about the poem that I chose, which was Taylor Mali’s famous “What Teachers Make” poetic response to a question posed to him at a dinner party. The poem is powerful on the page, but not nearly as powerful as watching Mali (who wrote the introduction to Teaching with Heart) perform his piece as a poetry slam in person.

Meanwhile, Paul Allison at the Teachers Teaching Teachers webcast is hosting a bunch of us teacher/writers this coming Wednesday night to talk about the book, about poetry, about teaching and, knowing Paul, probably a whole lot more. The webcast takes place at 9 p.m. on Wednesday night at EdTechTalk, and you can join in the chat, too.

What poems inspire you?

Peace (in the poem),
Kevin

 

Book Review: Rump

I can’t say that the fairy tale of Rumplestiltskin was ever a favorite. In fact, I remember being more than a bit scared of the story when I was little (which I know is the whole point of the Grimm brothers’ tradition of such stories). But I picked up Rump by Liesl Shurtliff as read-aloud with my son because so many folks were raving about it, and I am glad that I did.

The behind-the-fairy-tale, fractured-fairy-tale novel tells the “true story” of Rumplestiltkin, who only knows part of his name (Rump) and whose destiny is yet to unfold. Rump lives on The Mountain, where the village works to mine gold for the Kingdom far away. His father died in a mining accident, and his mother died as he was being born (whispering his full, forgotten name in his ear), and Rump’s loving grandmother also passes away, kicking the story of how Rump finds his name and his destiny by going on an adventure. First, though, he has to determine how the magic that courses through him can be tamed, and it won’t be easy, particularly with the level of greed that is around him.

Rump’s travels is both sad and sweet, with plenty of humor, and just enough touchstones from traditional fairy tales to keep you involved in his quest and cheer when he finds the inner courage and understanding to finally fulfill his destiny and emerge with a self-confident power that can change the world, even if it is only one small person at a time.

The pacing made Rump a solid book for read-aloud, and although my son was reluctant at first, he was quickly hooked and is now bookmarking Shurtliff’s future book about Jack and the Beanstalk for us in the future.

Peace (in the story),
Kevin

Graphic Novel Review: The Dusk Society

(Note from Kevin: A few years ago, I was a reviewer for The Graphic Classroom. I really enjoyed the way we look at graphic novels with a lens towards the classroom. The site got taken over by another site, and then … I guess the owner of The Graphic Classroom stopped doing what he was doing. Which is fine. But I still had some reviews “sitting in the can” so I am finally digging them out to share out here.)


Story Summary: A boring town becomes the center of a fight between the forces of evil and the forces of good. No. We’re not talking Metropolis. We’re talking Pembleton, and the forces of good are a fledgling squad of teens known as The Dusk Society. The force of evil? A character named Pierceblood who wants to rip the fabric of dimensions in time and destroy the world so that he can start it anew in his own vision of paradise. This event is conveniently happening just in time for the night of Halloween. Along for the ride are Dr. Frankenstein and his monster; Count Dracula; and a few other faces from classic horror stories. I wish I could tell you more but the story gets sort of convoluted at times and the writing here is fair, at its best, and schlocky, at its worst. For one thing, I wish the four teenagers who become The Dusk Society were further developed by writers Sidney Williams and Mark Jones, but the writers seem to reach for every cliché in the comic book, to the detriment of the story. In the end, I didn’t really care if they defeated Pierceblood or not. That says a lot about a book from my reader’s perspective.

Art Review: The artwork here by illustrator Naresh Kumar matches writing, with the cover art being the scariest thing in the book, in my opinion. There wasn’t the usual crispness I associate with Campfire graphic novels. Even the Aswang, a mythical Asian creature, lacked punch needed for a horror story. Ironically, Pierceblood himself looks a little like a loony panhandler, not a powerful being about to take over the planet with his evil dominions.

More Information:
• Paperback: 88 pages
• Publisher: Campfire (June 7, 2011)
• Language: English
• ISBN-10: 9380028636
• ISBN-13: 978-9380028637

In the Classroom: There are probably some high school students who might get a kick out of the Goth-like elements of the book, and some kids may connect with the four teenagers who slowly realize their talents and come together as a team. Or maybe they will relate to getting stuck in detention together by a know-it-all teacher who sees their best qualities at last. I don’t see the book as a real teaching tool, however.

My Recommendation: There’s nothing too inappropriate in here, and maybe that is its short-falling: in order to avoid offending the targeted readership, the writers pulled their punches on what might have been a truly scary story.

Peace (in the book),
Kevin

 

Graphic Novel Review: Tall Tales (Great American Folktales)

(Note from Kevin: A few years ago, I was a reviewer for The Graphic Classroom. I really enjoyed the way we look at graphic novels with a lens towards the classroom. The site got taken over by another site, and then … I guess the owner of The Graphic Classroom stopped doing what he was doing. Which is fine. But I still had some reviews “sitting in the can” so I am finally digging them out to share out here.)

Story Summary: This collection of previously published graphic tall tales by Stone Arch Books brings together the humorous and sidesplitting stories of Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, John Henry and Johnny Appleseed under one roof. I won’t use hyperbole here to sell this collection. Suffice it to say that if you are a teacher with tall tales in your curriculum (you know how you are), then TALL TALES: GREAT AMERICAN FOLKTALES should be part of your collection. There’s plenty to love in these story, and the use of the graphic novel format is perfectly aligned because the pictures tell the story, and stretch the tales beyond imagination, just as one would expect. I sort of wish the collection had added a lesser-known story or two (maybe Sally Ann Thunder Ann or someone like that. Sally Ann often gets regulated to sidekick status with Davey Crockett). There is something unique and wonderful about the bizarre structure and exaggeration of the American tall tale, and this collection is yet another way for students to gain access to that rich folklore of storytelling.

Art Review: The illustrations in all four of these stories are wonderfully done. Some, like the Paul Bunyan story, are wacky and outrageous. Others, like the John Henry story, are muted, and allow the story to unfold in its own time. The weakest of the bunch of probably Johnny Appleseed, which sort of seems like the throwaway story of the collection (or maybe that is just my opinion of that tall tale, which never did much for me). There, the artwork is fairly plain, and after reading the other three pieces and viewing the art magic of the tall tales, one feels sort of let down by the Appleseed story.

More information:

• Paperback: 144 pages
• Publisher: Stone Arch Books (January 1, 2012)
• Language: English
• ISBN-10: 1434240681
• ISBN-13: 978-1434240682

In the Classroom: It’s no secret that American tall tales are a main element of curriculum at a certain grade (in some states, it is second grade; in others, third or fourth grade). TALL TALES: GREAT AMERICAN FOLKTALES is a great addition to other resources, and the use of graphic stories to tell the tales might make it more inviting to some students. And hopefully, the introduction of classic characters such as Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill will open the door to investigation of lesser-known (but still very interesting) characters of tall tales, which staked their claim as classic oral storytelling around campfires before becoming serialized in newspapers, eventually coming into their own as books and short stories (and now, graphic novels).

My Recommendation: I highly recommend this tall tale collection for any classroom. While it might fit nicely in the elementary curriculum, I suspect that even middle and high school students would get a kick out of revisiting some old friends and their outlandish escapades in the wilds of American history.

Peace (with hyperbole and more),
Kevin

Graphic Novel Review: Mal and Chad (Food Fight)

(Note from Kevin: A few years ago, I was a reviewer for The Graphic Classroom. I really enjoyed the way we look at graphic novels with a lens towards the classroom. The site got taken over by another site, and then … I guess the owner of The Graphic Classroom stopped doing what he was doing. Which is fine. But I still had some reviews “sitting in the can” so I am finally digging them out to share out here.)

 

Story Summary: Stephen McCranie’s graphic novels about Mal and Chad (a boy and his dog) are a nice balance between solid storytelling, gentle humor, and the difficulties of being a smart kid in a typical world that still frowns on genius. Mal, the protagonist of McCranie’s series of books (FOOD FIGHT being the second in the series), is an overly intelligent boy who hides his smarts from his family and the world for fear of being further ostracized from kid culture than he already is. Chad, his dog, is his faithful, talking friend who gives advice to Mal. The books capture the two friends as they off on adventures. In MAL AND CHAD: FOOD FIGHT, the main story centers around a series of bad dreams that Chad is having, involving a lion on the loose, and Mal is determined to help Chad overcome his fears. So, he invents a device that allows him to enter Chad’s dreams to help his canine friend confront the lion, and his fear of cats. Unfortunately, things go awry, and the genius boy and his dog scramble to save the day. Secondary stories here involve Mal’s difficulties in making friends at school, but even that story arc is told gently, with humor and with respect for McCranie’s character, who often comes across with a bit of Calvin (from Calvin and Hobbes). That’s not a bad thing at all.

Art Review: One look at the boy, Mal, will reveal the influence of Japanese Manga art on McCranie and his vision of Mal. With bulging eyes and a large round face, Mal is very expressive. And Chad is cute, too, as a little white dog with a smile on his face. The black-and-white inside pages are filled with interesting uses of panels and perpectives, and when the lion appears, McCranie wisely uses the extended length of the frames to make the creature loom large in both Mal and Chad’s vision, but also ours, the reader.

More Information

• Reading level: Ages 8 and up
• Paperback: 224 pages
• Publisher: Philomel; Original edition (January 19, 2012)
• Language: English
• ISBN-10: 0399256571
• ISBN-13: 978-0399256578

In the Classroom: MAL AND CHAD: FOOD FIGHT is a thoroughly enjoyable story, and McCranie successfully weaves in the main plot with minor storylines that bring out the full character of Mal to the reader, even if they have not read the first MAL AND CHAD book. From a teaching standpoint, the influence of Manga on the art of the graphic novel might be worth pointing out. But from the standpoint of talking about kids who are different, Mal is a perfect example of a kid who feels left out the social circles and is trying desperately (and humorously, at times) to connect in with his peers. This storyline might open up some interesting dialogue in the classroom.

My Review: I really enjoyed MAL AND CHAD: FOOD FIGHT and look forward to reading more of Stephen McCranie’s work in this series. This collection of MAL AND CHAD books is perfectly attuned to the upper elementary school audience, with no violence or profanity to worry about. I highly recommend MAL AND CHAD: FOOD FIGHT for the classroom or school library.

Peace (with yer dog),
Kevin

 

Book Review: The Best of McSweeney’s Internet Tendency

http://asburyandasbury.typepad.com/.a/6a010535893544970c017d428ba16e970c-800wi

Good lord.

If you want to laugh at some of the more absurd humor writing to be found on the Internet, then visit McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. Or you could buy this book: The Best of McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. Why spend money on a book when the content is free online? Because books rock, that’s why. Books are the ereaders of the present. Plus, writers go hungry all the time. Feed the writers.

Can you tell McSweeney’s has affected my writing voice? Because it has, and that lighthearted snarkiness (which sometimes becomes heavy-handed ridicule) is what makes the pieces collected in this collection such as collector’s edition.

With pieces focused on types of font (told from the prickly perspective of an angry Comic Sans), to how to become a better writer (which would not likely include writing a blog post about this book, to be frank, if my name was Frank, which it isn’t), to the absurdity of being hailed a conquering hero for plugging in a wireless router (don’t ask), to more Shakespeare references than you can shake a stick at (although, to be frank again — and I’m still not — the collection goes a little heavy on ol’ Will but I guess dead writers have it coming to them), to the ongoing debate about the plausibility of the Death Star trash compactor in Star Wars (who knew there was so much to say about it? Not me.), this book is a barrel of laughs … in the shape of a paper-bound square that, unlike a barrel, would not hold much tasty wine for the reader.

Still …

There’s more … much more …. but if I told you more, I’d have to open the book up again … and I’m not doing that. At least, not yet.
:)

Peace (on the pages),
Kevin