I forgot about this post and left it inside my draft bin as other things came up. A few weeks ago, I did a BookSnaps project with my students — using Google Draw to annotate the first page of an independent book, and then created this video with the results.
This is the third Kwame Alexander book that I have read in the past year or so and I am enjoying the ways he (and here, his co-author Mary Rand Hess) use free verse poetry to explore a character’s inner life and inner story. This one — Solo — captured my attention for the music element, as the main character is both a songwriter and musician, and comes from a musical family.
Blade Morrison, 17, has just graduated high school, and he’s a mess. Not quite ready to move on but oh, so ready to move on. His father, a world-famous rock and roll star with all of the stereotypical problems of drugs and alcohol and need for the limelight, has a suffocating personality that vexes Blade. Blade’s mom, who died years earlier, is a memory that both haunts him and guides him.
Oh, and Blade’s girlfriend … well, things are complicated.
And then the complications becomes even more so when Blade learns that he is adopted and that his birth mother is in Africa, doing work in a village in Ghana. So begins the second part of Solo, as Blade comes to understand a bit about himself, his father, and the world at large as he travels to Africa to meet his birth mother.
The book uses scattered verse, sometimes relayed in short dialogue-drive stanzas and sometimes just as short phrases as Blade tries to navigate a difficult world. Music is always just a heartbeat away, however, and the weaving of song and poetry, and story, is a nice mesh done well by Alexander and Hess. We see into Blade’s heart as well as his mind.
This book would be a solid fit for high school students and some upper middle school students. It captures the world of confusion often facing so many teenagers as they take their first steps out in the world, away from the protective net of family. And above all, the story reminds us that love does indeed bind us together, and holds us together even when we least expect it.
Peace (sings the blues),
PS — a bonus video as Kwame Alexander shares how he wrote Solo
Talk about a powerful story of resistance. This book by Russell Freedman — We Will Not Be Silent: The White Rose Student Resistance Movement That Defied Adolf Hitler— about the White Rose Resistance Movement in Nazi Germany, in which young people secretly organized a resistance movement against Hitler, is powerful on so many levels. It shows how courage and organization, as well as sacrifice, can change the minds of people, and give courage in the face of fear.
And it’s all a true story, too, documented with research by Freedman. There are images and letters and journals and context, all showing how the narrative of Germany during the war is often missing the stories of those common Germans who did what they could to resist Hitler and the rise of violent Nationalism and Fascism.
Here, the story focuses on a brother and sister, Hans and Sophie Scholl, who helped organize The White Rose to disseminate leaflets and information, with secret printings and clandestine meetings, and to counter the Nazi propaganda machine. The students who were part of The White Rose network began the resistance as high school-age and then continued into the University years as the World War unfolded.
And ultimately, both Hans and Sophie paid the cost of resistance with their lives, as they were caught with White Rose leaflets, brought before the ‘Hanging Judge,’ and quickly executed for their actions.
Their deaths brought a whole new level of energy to the resistance movement, however, and their story — the whole story of The White Rose Resistance — serves as a reminder that everyday citizens still have a chance to take a stand, even in places where the government has taken control with little regard to morality and ethics and common law.
Maybe the GOP leadership on Congress could use a historical reminder …
This book is geared more for high school students, given the content, but some middle school readers may find it interesting. It is a bit too intense for younger readers. Freedman does a nice job of turning non-fiction into a page-turning read.
Peace (in politics),
PS — I found this video which dovetails nicely with the book
I am always happy to help out an independent graphic novelist, so after bumping into Peter Wartman in another social media space, I followed his link to his page for the Stonebreaker series. I’m glad I did, for the story Wartman tells here feels like just beginning of an epic tale, but it has much complexity to it and characters I am already rooting for. (And this particular series is a sequel to Over the Wall by Wartman.)
In one sitting, I dug into all three of the available Stonebreaker books (and I imagine at some point, Wartman might try to unite the stories into a single graphic novel) and ended curious, wanting more. That’s when you know a story has gripped you.
Stonebreaker is set in an ancient city that has been destroyed by a Demon God (whose origins we learn here but not much else, but is probably covered in the earlier book, Over the Wall). The city is now mostly abandoned by people, except for folks like our hero, Anya, whose friendship with another Demon (a librarian who is friendly with Anya but who has past memories are just arriving) seems to be central to the larger story narrative. Anya’s brother has a backstory, too, in which he also went into the city, but lost his memory in some encounter with another demon.
There’s a lot of mystery here in Stonebreaker, and Warton is sprinkling hints of where the story is going. The reader has to immerse themselves in the world, and make some inferential leaps about characters. I don’t mind that, particularly with graphic novels like this, but it may be confusing a bit for some other readers not accustomed to diving right in to an imagined world.
I also later ordered and then read Over the Wall, the prequel story that sets Stonebreaker in motion by introducing the characters, and setting, and storyline.
It’s admittedly odd to read the second story first before the first story, and I found myself enjoying Stonebreaker a lot more than Over the Wall, which itself is a fine bit of storytelling. I just happen to think Stonebreaker is a richer experience, perhaps the results of Wharton’s sense of the story and world expanding as he continues to create.
The Stonebreaker series (so far) and Over the Wall are perfectly appropriate for elementary and middle school (and high school) readers.
The latest in a series of Science Comics coming out of First Second Publishing will surely catch kids’ attention. It’s about dogs. Artist/writer Andy Hirsch’s Dogs: From Predator to Protector is a lively romp through the canine world, told with humor and gusto and jam-packed with science.
In fact, there is so much scientific information — told engagingly and with a nice mix of comic images and writing — that I wonder about the audience of this book. The text complexity pushes it into upper middle school/high school, I would think, as we learn about behavioral science, mapping of genetics, breeding for traits, the history of humans to animals (and vice versa), and more.
It’s all very interesting, but deep and dense. Luckily, the mascot of the book — a dog off chasing his ball as a portal into time — is cute, and engaging, and very dog-like in his mannerisms.
I suspect many kids will pick up the book because of its cover, and hopefully, they will stay to learn more about the complex canines in our midst. This book is another example of how the graphic story/comic format can engage learners and impart informational text, in a fun way.
I understood the gimmick behind this book but I could not resist it. Mark Dawidzkiak’s Everything I Need to Know I Learned In The Twilight Zone is a fabulous read, with references to a myriad of stories that unfolded in Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone. I won’t pretend I got all of the references to all of the episodes, but there were enough to jar my memory banks to the crafty stories of Serling’s show.
Broken up into 50 lessons — from Always Keep Your Heart Open to the Magic that Comes Your Way to Don’t Live in the Past to Imagine a Better World to Angels Are All Around You and more — this book explores the strange terrain of the television show by reminding us of how stories can expose the truth of our lives.
Reading the book had me digging out my old box set of DVDs of The Twilight Zone, to find reference points. It’s pretty amazing how Sterling’s production and his and many other writers’ stories still stand up over the decades. That is probably the result of the stories themselves, and the twists and themes that emerged on the small screen.
Dawidzkiak is a media critic, whose beat has often been television. You can sense the love he has for Sterling’s art, and how these narratives can be grouped around important themes, or lessons that we best learn (or suffer the consequences, as often happens in the twisty ending of the show). Dawidzkiak remind us that Sterling sought to bring to the surface the good of people, yet was never afraid to punish those whose choices damaged the world, those around them, or themselves.
Yesterday, I shared out a few student sample BookSnap projects (inspired by Tara Martin), but I wanted to make a video collection as way to include all of the student work, for all of our students (and families) to see via our classroom blog. Animoto did the job.
I wrote the other day about my plan to try out BookSnaps with my sixth graders. BookSnaps are images of reading books, with “stickers” and short text annotations. While the original idea is to use Snapchat, we used Google Draw, and it worked out just fine.
My aim was to talk about annotations, with text and images. I also wanted to show them Google Draw, another app within their Google accounts that can be tapped for various projects.
I walked them the process. We ended up using PhotoBooth to take the pictures (while I was going to use an extension created by Alice Keeler, I realized that our students don’t actually log into the Chrome Browser but instead, log into Google itself.) It turns out our librarian had already shown them how to use PhotoBooth, so that was … a snap.
Next, I talked about what could be in the texts, which were call-out shapes within Google. I explained that annotations make thinking visible, so they could
Ask questions of the text
Find connections with other books
Pull out phrases or words that seem interesting
One friend suggested creating a Google Draw template with call-outs and stickers in the margins of the drawing field, which is a good idea, but I went with a blank Draw slate, and let them build from there. It took longer but I think it gave each BookSnap its own flavor.
And the ‘stickers’ were merely Google Images, related to the text on the page. I did some mini-lessons around cropping (which some used and some apparently didn’t), and the fading tool, so that they could better manipulate the image within the design of the page.
Overall, the BookSnap project was a success, and kids were very engaged in the activity. I have now shared all of the folders of BookSnaps with all students across four classrooms, so they can peek in and see what their friends and fellow readers are reading, and maybe get inspired to pick up a new book.
I ran across a reference to an idea called BookSnaps that seemed intriguing so I followed the thread to Tara Martin’s blog, where she shared out information about how to use digital tools, particularly Snapchat, for annotation and layering of media.
Watch Tara’s short talk/presentation about the idea:
I was intrigued because I am interested in finding more ways to engage my sixth graders with annotation and digital tools, for many of the reasons that Tara gives: the ways annotation focuses attention, how it helps us remember, how to it makes visible the learning of a text.
While Tara shares about Snapchat as the platform, I was more interested about using something within our students’ Google accounts, to make it easier to teach and easier to save. We are in our Independent Reading unit right now, so this is a perfect way to share the first pages of books they have chosen, I am thinking.
My sample — for Philip Pullman’s The Book of Dust, see above — was done in Google Drawing and it all went quite well, using call-out text boxes for the writing and some images searches for the “stickers.” There’s not a lot of space, so finding focus will be key, as will setting parameters for how many overlays can be on a page. I can see my kids getting carried away with images.
Tara does have a video about using Google Drawing that helped me think this through:
(Note: Google has now changed the way one can take image snapshots within its system, so the direct method that Tara mentions in her video may no longer work. I used PhotoBooth for my sample, but Tara kindly mentioned a free extension by Alice Keeler for Chrome that takes pictures and puts them into a Google Drive folder, which can then be moved into Google Drawing. I tested it out and it seemed to work quite well.)
I envision this BookSnap idea as one of the first steps of our work with digital annotation, and the connection to Snap Chat (even though we won’t be using it) with layered text and layered image, and sharing, should grab my students’ attention. And sharing out books, and reading about what others are reading, is always a powerful sharing experience, made more fun with layers of annotation.
I’ll let you know how it goes …
If you are thinking that the use of Snapchat App is of interest, this video by another teacher (not Tara) gives a good walk-through of each step along the way:
This weekend, I came to the end of Gee’s book, and I found myself once again appreciating the perspectives he brings to the picture. It’s most pertinent now for me because I am bringing my sixth graders into their game design unit, starting today. While Gee’s work looks more at the player within a game system, and all the literacies that are part of it, my aim is more around teaching my students how to think of a game as a story, and the story as the framework of the game.
Gee’s wrap-up thoughts around Affinity Spaces and the fluid nature between game designer and game player (particularly as more and more games have open ended entry points for players to mod, or hack, games) is intriguing. It reminds me there is so much I don’t know about video games when it comes to reading and writing and thinking.
And Gee also admits that this kind of literacy moment is still emerging (he wrote the book a few years ago, but that is still true, I believe) and there is much we don’t know, and may not know, for some time. That makes it all very intriguing as a curious teacher of writing and reading, right? I think so.