Picture Book Challenge, Day 2: The Boy with the Angry Stomach

I’m in day two of the National Picture Book Writing Week (NaPiBoWriWee — that’s a mouthful, eh?)  with Paula Yoo, and again, I turn to Storybird for the art and inspiration. In this book, I imagine a storyteller (a piece of bread!) telling the tale of a young boy learning about anger. The story emerged from looking at the picture on the cover here. I wondered: what would a face in your stomach say to you? And what would the kid think? From there came The Boy with the Angry Stomach.

The Boy With the Angry Stomach on Storybird

Peace (in the story),
Kevin

Day One: MoonSong

I realized that I needed to wait until the kind folks at Storybird moderated my picture book story until I could get the embed code for it. This is part of the Picture Book Challenge.

This book is called MoonSong.

MoonSong on Storybird

Peace (in the song),
Kevin

National Picture Book Writing Week

Not another challenge. Yes, another challenge. This one is National Picture Book Writing Week, in which blogger Paula Yoo is challenging folks to create seven picture books in seven days. That seems like a lot, and if I were to draw, it would be impossible. But I am a writer and I do love a challenge, so I am going to use Storybird to see how many books I can create this week.

Here is Day One. The book is called MoonSong, and I was thinking of how to weave music into a picture book story. I wondered: what if the moon were inspiration but didn’t know it. (I am having trouble finding the embed code, so here is the link to the book at the Storybird site).

MoonSong

Peace (in the books),
Kevin

Book Review: Building Literacy Connections with Graphic Novels

I recently picked up Building Literacy Connections with Graphic Novels: Page by Page, Panel by Panel, mostly because it is edited by James Bucky Carter, whose writing and links and insights around comics and graphic novels I enjoy reading about. (Check out his blog: EN/SANE World). In this collection of essays from various educators, Carter weaves together ways in which teachers can bring graphic novels and comics into the curriculum.

Carter’s introduction gives some nice background knowledge around the connections between art and writing, and the form of graphic novels. In the book, Carter makes the case for these forms to be considered real and authentic forms of literacy, and not just something to be laughed off or put out for the down-times of the classroom.

“There is a graphic novel for every learner in your English language arts classroom,” is how Carter begins, and he ends his introduction — first, by acknowledging that more inquiry research in the classroom needs to be done and shared — by declaring, “Bit by bit, we can expand the Golden Age of the graphic novel in the domain of education.”

Not every chapter had me engaged, but the one I really liked was  by Don Leibold, whose Abandon Every Fear, Ye That Enter: The X-Men Journey through Dante’s Inferno, about the connections between an X-Men story arc and Dante’s work, and how a teacher might use on to supplement the other. I vaguely seem to remember the comic that Liebold refers to, and it is fascinating to think of the two stories, side by side.

Most of the chapters deal with reading comics and graphic novels, and I have to say that the chapter that seemed to suggest the use of technology (Using Graphic Novels, Anime and the Internet in an Urban Setting by Nancy Frey and Douglas Fisher) didn’t really do much for me in terms of technology and comics. I was hoping and wishing for more, particularly given the influx of digital comics and the ability to create them easier than ever before.

Luckily, Carter ends the anthology with a sharp chapter on bringing young writers along with comics as a source of mentor text and inspiration with a Comic Book Show ‘N Tell Project in which students work on storyboarding, editing and writing with a voice for an audience.

If you are a teacher considering the merits of graphic novels, then Carter’s anthology collection is a good read and a good starting point for those folks trying to make a case for comics. And as Carter points out himself, I hope books like this one continue the push of graphic literacy in the classroom for all students.

Peace (on the page),
Kevin

PS — Today is Free Comic Book Day, so get yourself down to the nearest comic book shop and grab some comics for the classroom. The free stuff is not really the best stuff — mostly samples and anthologies — but still, they can make a good supplementary classroom resource.

Hackers, revisited


In the recent Wired Magazine article, writer Steven Levy has an interesting revisit to a book that I once just loved, Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution, which sought to document and profile those folks who sought to revolutionize the personal computer, mostly with the ideals that technology could eventually be put into the hands of many. In Wired, Levy tries to reconnect with some of the people he profiled in his book, including Steve Wozniak and Bill Gates.

It should be noted that Levy’s use of the word Hackers does not donate someone seeking to crack into a computer or software for malicious intent; Instead, a Hacker defined by Levy is someone who understands the underlying structure of a computer or network, and seeks to improve it or re-imagine it through skills and imagination.

What is striking is how Levy also shows how many of the ideals of that earlier generation have splintered into a couple of directions. Gates urged early on that his work be compensated (which caused an uproar in the technology community at the time) so that he could use the money to hire more engineers and make better products. Others, such as Lee Felsenstein, still held the line that technology should be adapted and used by as many people, and with as few hurdles as possible, which comes into conflict with the for-profit model.

For me, I was never nor will I ever be a Hacker, per se. I don’t have those skills. But when I was creating my webcomic, Boolean Squared, I used some of the ideas behind Levy’s profiles to inform the motivation and personalities of my two central characters — Boolean and Urth. These kids love to dive into the computer and make it work for them, not the other way around, and they are not afraid to yank the cover off anything. I wanted that adventuresome spirit from the beginning days of computer programming to come through with my characters.

Today, Levy notes, we have the continued development of the Open Source Movement — as shown by such companies as Mozilla and the various Linux offshoots — along with ad-driven companies such as Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook. Levy suggest that Zuckerman and his kin are the indirect offspring of those early days of hacking, although Zuckerman notes that he is less interested in the underlying “code” than the overall use of technology to connect people together as a social fabric. And my guess it that more than a few of the original hackers would be mortified by that association.

Check out the article on Wired.

Peace (in the wired world),
Kevin

Writing Graphic Novels: Podcast with Barbara Slate

I recently had the opportunity to interview author Barbara Slate, who has written and illustrated many comics and graphic novels and just put out a fantastic new book for teaching graphic novels from the view of writing them. The book is called, appropriately enough, You Can Do a Graphic Novel. I did a review of the book over at The Graphic Classroom but I wanted to follow up with an interview (plus, I wanted to see if I could record an interview on Skype — some mixed results but mostly, it is fine).
The interview is in two sections.
In the first, Barbara talks about how she got into comics, some gender elements of the business, why she wrote her recent book and other interesting tidbits. In the second part, I asked her specifically about how to help teachers who want to bring graphic novels into the classroom as a writing activity, but don’t quite know how to begin.

Peace (in the learning),
Kevin

Powerless: A Prezi of Reading Responses

Most of my students are embarking on a month-long independent reading project where they get to choose their own books, do a project at the end (I made Glogster one of the options and I bet a lot of kids are going to use that …. mark my words) and answer some basic questions about theme, character development, plot, etc.

They also have to keep a reading journal and I am really pushing them away from summarizing the text, which they all seem to want to do even though I say, “I have probably read most of your books and I don’t need to know what happens in the story. I want to know what you think about what is happening.”

To help them, I do provide a list of possible entry ideas to help spark their writing, including connecting their lives to the story in the book, pulling out quotes or passages and reflecting on them, and asking questions about where the story is headed. But I know a lot of them will struggle with these critical thinking prompts, so yesterday, I modeled some responses based on the book I am reading in class (I read while they read) that was recommended by my friend, Tony. The book is Powerless by Mathew Cody.

I put my sample responses into a Prezi and walked my students through my thinking process, and I already saw some positive results in quality of responses. It reminds me of how important it is for me to share my own thinking and reflecting, and make that process as visible as possible.

Peace (in the prezi),
Kevin
PS — here is an interview with the author of the book:

Books, Boys and the Phantom Tollbooth

Phantom Tollbooth

Phantom Tollbooth

I am a bit jealous because tomorrow night, the Mother-Son book group that my wife and middle son are part of are going to be discussing The Phantom Tollbooth …. with author Norton Juster, who wrote this classic book and who works as an architect in a nearby town. One of the moms is a former journalist and she picked up the phone on a whim, called Juster up and asked if he might be willing to sit down with a bunch of boys to talk about his character, Milo, and the strange journey he goes on.

Juster said yes, and so, tomorrow night, they are meeting at a local restaurant. Pretty neat. I can’t make it because of other family events, but I sure wish I could be there, too.

I loved Tollbooth as a kid, and I use it in the classroom as read-aloud in some sections when talking about idioms and other figurative language techniques. The inventiveness of the language as it weaves around the story remains interesting, I think.  I am always surprised that very few kids even know of the book anymore, and I hope my reading of it in class sparks some interest. I know the book used to be a regular part of a fourth-grade curriculum, but not anymore.

Remember the movie version created by Chuck Jones? It used to be available at YouTube, but not anymore. It may have run into copyright problems. Someone did post it on Vimeo, so you can find it there, if you want.

A sample from the script:

Officer Short Shrift: Now then, would you like a short sentence or a long sentence?
Milo: Well, I suppose a short one, if I have a choice.
Officer Short Shrift: How about “I am”? It’s the shortest sentence I know.
[Writes “I AM” on his pad and hands it to Milo]
Milo: It’s very kind of you to give me… such a short sentence.
Officer Short Shrift: And when do you think you can go to prison and start serving it?
Milo: Serving it? I guess I can’t, not until I get back from Dictionopolis and the Castle in the Air.
[Thunderclap]
Officer Short Shrift: The what in the what?
Milo: Why, the Castle in the Air.
[Thunderclap]
Officer Short Shrift: Boys are guilty of everything! Guilty, guilty, guilty…

Peace (in the tollbooth),
Kevin

Anna Quindlen: The Lamp of Self

In the recent edition of Newsweek, Anna Quindlen sounds off about where the world of books and reading may be heading, particularly in light of the oncoming bus known as the iPad (which writer Daniel Lyons writes about in an interesting way in the same magazine, pointing out the benefits and dangers of Steve Jobs/Apple’s closed systems).

Quindlen notes that there “is and has always been more than a whiff of snobbery about lamentations that reading is doomed to extinction.” Books in book form are still everywhere, and most of us are still in the transition from paper and digital form, and that transition may be around for quite some time.

I am a digital guy, for sure, but I have not yet made my way to the Kindle, Nook or iPad or any other (although I have read books on my iTouch and on my XO computer, just to see what it was like).  I am still attached to the  physical substance of the book, even though, I understand the interesting aspects of eReaders and am fascinated by the possibilities of multi-layered composition.

I liked this point made by Quindlen, too:

“Reading is not simply an intellectual pursuit but an emotional and spiritual one. It lights the candle in the hurricane lamp of self: that’s why it survives.”

I imagine that this holds true, whatever the “container” the book comes in.

Peace (in the digital world),
Kevin

How to make a movie? Ask Amelia.

I stumbled into this neat picture book in our local library and finally got around to reading it yesterday with my youngest son. Amelia Makes a Movie by David Milgrim is a whimsical look at making a home movie from the viewpoint of two creative kids, and supportive parents in the background.

I love how Milgrim captures the essence of how to really make a movie — Amelia and her little brother plan out the story, build a set, shoot the video on the camcorder, re-imagine and re-shoot the movie when a better idea comes along (thanks to the little brother), and then after some editing, the kids showcase the movie before friends and family, just like a Hollywood premiere.

In a playful way, Amelia shows the reader how they, too, can make a movie themselves. It reminds me of a conversation that I had yesterday with someone who is writing a movie script in hopes of eventually shopping it around, and we were wondering what movies will be like in 10 years or so when this current crop of young video producers make their way into Hollywood. Just think of how young kids are with all the tools at their disposal for creating visual compositions.

I am going to try to add this book as resource over at my Making Stopmotion Movie site.

Peace (in the shoot),
Kevin