New Ambassador for Children’s Lit

Katherine Patterson has taken over as the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, taking over from Jon Scieszka (God, I won’t miss having to spell his name!).

I know Patterson mostly from Bridge to Terrabithia, but she has garnered much praise for her other books, too. She certainly will be a change from the man-whose-name-I-can’t-spell, but I like that different kinds of writers can take on the role of promoting young people’s literature.

Patterson’s platform will be “read for life,” according to the press release.

With books, she said, kids (and adults) use their “powers of intellect and imagination” and experience “delight.” Stories also teach children about people from other religions, races, and countries, she said. “Books help us make friends who are different from ourselves.”

Good luck, Katherine. I hope you keep inspiring young readers.

Peace (in the book),
Kevin

Honoring Jon Scieszka

ImageChef On January 3, 2008, the Library of Congress named Jon Scieszka “Inaugural National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature”.

Over at The Year in Reading blog, Franki and Mary Lee are seeking to give the man his props for his work over the course of the year to promote and encourage literature for young people. They are encouraging more of us to write about his impact on us and those around us.

So,

I was never a huge fan of the Stinky Cheese Man fractured fairy tale stories, but I know my students are, and when we are talking about how to fracture a story, one reference to this now-classic collection is enough to get most of us talking the same wavelength. And The True Story of the Three Little Pigs is wonderful and a great way to teach point of view in any classroom.

But, I loved reading Knucklehead, which is Scieszka‘s memoir of childhood in a house full (literally) of boys, and reveled in the mayhem of his world. I wish he had gone a bit deeper into how that all effected his writing. He touches on it but I wanted more. The book is very accessible to young people and boys, in particular, will find a voice they know and adventures they can understand. Plus, how can you beat a title like Knucklehead?

Another great piece of work by Scieszka is the Guys Read collection, which springs from his work to promote reading among middle-school-aged boys. He asked authors to write about their own experiences and uses those stories to encourage writing and reading. The book is a joy to read and I was excited to see it on the shelf of the local Barnes & Noble yesterday in the young adult fiction area.

Finally, Scieszkalaunched the Exquisite Corpse project online this year, in which he began a nutty story and other famous authors pick up a new chapter each week, with the goal of the story expanding for an entire year. My students and I have been using the chapters for reading (prediction of text, foreshadowing, plot design) but also for prompts for writing (what happens next?). And now, with holiday break about over, we are behind a few chapters! Some of you may recognize the concept from my recent Three-Headed Collaborative Story Adventure, and yes, Scieszkawas one of the inspirations there, too. (oooh, I see Natalie Babbitt is the latest author to add to the story).

So, thank you, Mr. Scieszkafor making reading and writing fun during your tenure as ambassador to young people’s literature and my youngest son is looking forward to the next Trucktown books. (me too)

Peace (in the books),
Kevin

Considering Glogster

I’m considering bringing my students onto the educational arm of Glogster this coming week to create a book review of Three Cups of Tea (I’ll share the assignment later but it has to do with a series of Three Questions …) I set up a teacher account and created 80 student accounts and have started to build a database of names, usernames, passwords, etc. It’s all free!

I’m a little nervous about the messaging element of the site, though, and wish I could push a button and remove that option. I only want them to focus in on creating a poster review of the book and not get lost in sending messages (which I know happens).

So, my dilemma: does the positives of creating an online poster showing knowledge of the book that they are supposed to be finishing up this week outweigh my concerns about messaging?

I’ll let you know what I eventually decide.

But here is a sample book poster that I created for Peter and the Sword of Mercy, just to show some possibilities. I love how easy it is to make and how easy it is to embed a Glogster. I could see making up a site of all of the Three Cups of Tea posters.

Peace (in the poster),
Kevin

Are we now People of the Screen?

I finished up the collection of articles in The Best Technology Writing of 2009 (a recommended book for those of you with gift cards in hand, wondering what to read) and Kevin Kelly has another fascinating take on technology and culture in an article entitled “Becoming Screen Literate.”

His premise is that the Age of Books on paper is in serious decline as we become more and more People of the Screen, using our computers and mobile devices for creating content, viewing content and interacting with content — including the stories that now rest between the shelves.

“We are now in the middle of a second Gutenberg shift –from book fluency to screen fluency, from literacy to visuality,” writes Kelly (177).

It’s hard to argue the point. Kindles are everywhere, and other ebooks are on the way (hello Apple). We are in the midst of some transition for sure, although whether we ever lose the emotional need for bound pages is another question (I say, no) but if a device comes out that makes an emotional impact as a reader, the book industry as it is set up right now will be in deeper trouble than it already is.

Kelly argues that this shift of visual fluency opens up more doors for us as participants. He cites sites such as Seesmic that are built around the idea of posting via video, and responding via video, and having those discussion archived like blog posts — systematic video conversations. The concept of the Mash-up — of grabbing and remixing media — show the possibilities of the screen fluency age, Kelly suggests.  He cites a site called TimeTube that shows the various iterations of videos from the original to the various creative spawns of the original — a video timeline of mashups.And he notes, the mashup has its roots in the age of Literacy.

“You cut and paste words on a page. You quote verbatim from an expert. You paraphrase a lovely expression. You add a layer of detail found elsewhere. You  borrow a structure of one work to use as your own. You move frames around as if they were phrases. (179)”

Here, I just did that, didn’t I? With Kelly’s words. Now, if I had a video of him, I could possibly remix his ideas (and the old Jumpcut site used to be a place to do that, although it has since disappeared. I’m sure there are already others in its place.)

Kelly admits that what is missing from the full-blown visual literacy movement is a search tool that can smartly scan through videos and find moments based on key phrases that would allow you more freedom for those reconstructed moments. Video search tools are incomplete, but does anyone doubt that someone (Google? Microsoft? Some unknown?) will invent a way to search the actual content of videos this way?

“Text, sound, motion will continue to merge into a single intermedia as they flow through the always-on network. (187)”

Clay Shirkey, meanwhile, has the last say in the book collection, noting in his piece “Gin, Television and Cognitive Surplus” that more and more people are using technology for their own creative aims because we have migrated away from television and onto the computer. That “cognitive surplus” that we used to use for watching Gilligan’s Island or Friends is now being used to compose our own media (see the ever-increasing popularity of YouTube, for example, or Flickr or ….).

“Media in the 20th Century was run as a single race — consumption … People like to consume, but they also like to produce, and they also like to share. (216)”

Shirkey’s point is that we are now in the midst of trying to figure out what to do with all of this cognitive surplus we have (now that we no longer care to sit like vegetables in front of network television, we have the time and energy to do other things) and the messy nature of the Net is evidence of that. Content and creation goes in all sorts of directions during these times (the “gin” reference in the title points to another time in history when there was a cognitive surplus) and watching it settle and move forward will be one of the most exciting things to watch in the next decade.

Don’t you think?

Peace (in the future),
Kevin

Why I read …

Yesterday, I wrote a post about Why I Blog (please add your reasons, too, as it helps me in my own reflections). Last night, as I was reading the essay by Nicholas Carr entitled Is Google Making Us Stupid? in the Best Technology Writing of 2009 (I know I know — everyone else in the world has read it and discussed it. I’m late for the party), I realized that much of the argument being made by Carr is similar to what I have been experiencing with reading lately. Still, something about his reasoning did not quite sit right with me.

But, why do I read? And is my presence on the web impacting my reading habits?

I’ve been a reader since I can remember and spent much of my childhood curled up next to books. I’d read voraciously and in all kinds of genre, although my favorite was and still is good science fiction. (There is plenty of bad science fiction). I read because it transformed me into other places, through the eyes of other characters. I could escape. I could explore, and I could do it alone. This appealed to me as a reader.

Carr, in The Atlantic piece, suggests that our reading on the Internet has become that of “power skimmer,” cruising across the surface of information as opposed to going deep into one thing. Carr admits there are benefits to this (he is a freelance writer and so he now has a world of information at his keyboard) but he worries that this kind of reading is rewiring our brains in a way that is making sustained deep reading more and more difficult. The joy of being lost in a test for long stretches of time are fewer and fewer, he writes. His metaphor is that of someone jet skiing over the top of the ocean as opposed to scuba diving down into the world below.

So here is where I found an echo in my own thinking lately.

This past year, more than most, I have started and abandoned an alarming number of novels. I’ve tried to keep my interest up, gotten far enough to know it was not just laziness and then, poof, decided that the book was not worth my time. I’d toss it aside, and then worry: am I losing my skills  as a reader? Can I no longer sustain my attention? Carr suggests, yes, and puts some of the blame on my brain being rewired by my time on the computer.

I’ve also delved into graphic novels and one thing I do like about them is that I can finish them in short bursts. I love the intersection of art and writing, but I can’t help but wonder if the ability to read a graphic novel in a day or two isn’t part of the appeal for me (and for others, perhaps).

The more I think about it, though, the more I wonder if I am just being more judicious in what I read and have less patience for what I consider bad writing. I used to feel an obligation to finish a book when I started it, as if I owed the writer something (even though I paid the money for the words). It’s possible, too, that technology has made me a more engaged reader, in that I think I know what I want and I am reading more and more kinds of writing.

The world of words is open farther than ever before and I don’t have to sit still when I am not being moved by a writer’s craft. I may have an obligation as a reader to immerse myself into the writer’s head, but the writer has an obligation to give me a path there that I can believe in. In some ways, technology makes me see this relationship in a new light — at blogs and other sites, I can engage with writers and books directly. My expectations as a reader have changed.

Life is too short for feeling like I am stuck in a book just because I cracked it open and my time, too valuable. I want a book that engages and entertains me, not bores me. As I get older (more a factor than my use of technology, I am convinced), I am less likely to remain patience with books that don’t engage me.

I read because I want to be inspired. The moments when I put down a book and think, “My Gosh, that was an incredible journey,”  may be few and far between, but when they happen, they are like thundershots in the night and spur me on as writer. (The last book to that was Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Foer).

A good book makes me want to run out and write. Just as I wrote about why I blog, I read because I am a writer.

Peace (in the books),

Kevin

What kids are reading: a report


What Kids Are Reading Cover

This report is worth a read — it is a look by Renaissance Learning at books that kids have been reading in 2008-2009 school year (based on data from Accelerated Reading programs, so just keep that in mind).

Here is the PDF of the report

Looking at the sixth grade list, some fiction titles jump out:

  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney
  • Twilight by Stephenie Meyer (plus all of her other books)
  • The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
  • Hatchet by Gary Paulson
  • A variety of Lemony Snicket books
  • And more

Neat and in time for anyone wanting to buy a book gift for a young person.

Peace (in the pages),
Kevin

Reviewing Socially Networked Classroom with Glogster

Thanks to my friend, Gail D., I ventured into Glogster (the edu version) this week and decided to use it to post a book review of William Kist’s The Socially Networked Classroom: Teaching in the New Media Age, which is put out by Corwin Press.

Glogster is  a poster-like application, where you use “stickers” and other tools to post text, add video and audio and images, and do things around design. I’m not completely happy with mine, as I think it is too busy. But I wanted to dive in and see the possibilities for the classroom.

Glogster seems school-friendly, allowing teachers to set up accounts for students under one login (haven’t tried it yet but seems decent). I can imagine my kids working on a book report with this site, but it will require lessons on focus and design, for sure.

Here is my book review on Glogster:

Peace (on the glog),
Kevin

Storming the Castle with a five year old

Last night, after getting tired of listening to “What can we do now” from my five year old, I pulled up Storybird and together, my son and I created this ebook story. He told me the story, I asked a few questions, and he created the pages. He loved it and you can see elements of his fascination with Star Wars in it (or, at least, I can).
The Castle Rescue by dogtrax on Storybird
I had somewhat forgotten about Storybird (which I tried a few months ago in a story about reading called The Book and the Frown) but it is easy to use and could find a nice place in some lower elementary classrooms. There are image groups to choose from and the interface is simple to use.

Peace (in the story),
Kevin

Read Aloud Suggestion: Peter and the Sword of Mercy

Peter and the Sword of Mercy (Starcatchers)

It’s been some time since I wrote about things I am reading, but if you are on the search for a good read-aloud for young and slightly older kids (mine are 5,9 and 11), the I would recommend any of the books in the Peter and the Starcatchers series. This collection is written by Dave Barry (yep, that Dave Barry) and Ridley Pearson and retells the story of Peter Pan in an incredibly rich and exciting way.

Basically, the book centers on magical Starstuff that falls from the sky and the battle between the good people (Starcatchers) and the bad (the Others) as they try to either keep the magic safe or use it for nefarious means. There are plenty of spooky scenes and characters. Although the books are published by Disney, the stories are not saccharine sweet. There is a menacing undercurrent through the stories.

What my own kids love is the multiple storylines that weave in and out of the books and the cliffhangers that end every chapter. They are always begging me to keep reading, which is good news when you have boys, right?

The latest book in the series — Peter and the Sword of Mercy — is just as good as the previous batch (which includes two shorter novels that center only on the Lost Boys and Captain Hook on Neverland Island). In this novel, the plot revolves around the broken tip of sword by Charlemagne, which can be used to open up a treasure trove of starstuff. Oh, and the new king of England is being controlled by the others. Plus, Molly — who helped Peter in the earlier books but is now a mother to three kids — has been kidnapped, and her daughter — Wendy — needs to help her.

The female characters here are just as strongly formed as the male ones, and in the earlier books, it was Molly who was the brains, smarts and courage of the adventures, while Peter was a flying boy (too much Starstuff ingested, in case you are wondering) with big ideas.

Peace (in Neverland),
Kevin

NCTE: Focus on the work of Teaching the New Writing

I am off to Philly next week for a variety of events — including the National Writing Project Annual Meeting, a day-long conference called Digital Is that is the product of a partnership between NWP and the MacArthur Foundation, and the annual meeting of the National Conference of Teachers of English. I’ll try to write more about what I am going to be up to later, but on Saturday (11/21), I am going to be with my co-editors of our book Teaching the New Writing, pen in hand and ready to sign books.

A book signing! Wow. This will be the first. And my handwriting stinks, so it will be a challenge for me.

The book signing (at booth 702 at 11 am) comes right after a session that we (co-editors Charlie Moran and Anne Herrington and fellow chapter writer Dawn Reed)  are doing for NCTE called Assigning and Assessing Multimedia Writing. We’ll be showing some student work (digital science books and podcasting work) and talking about ways to look at (or listen to) digital compositions from a teaching and assessment standpoint. That session takes place on Saturday at 9:30 a.m. at Marriott/Franklin 4, 4th Floor.

Here is the blurb:

Title: Assigning and Assessing Multimedia Writing
(Sponsoring Group: National Writing Project)
How can we responsibly assign multimedia writing projects when state and national standards favor the five-paragraph theme? And what criteria can we use to assess this new writing in our own classrooms? This workshop will offer two models of multimedia projects, one a sixth grade digital picture book project and one a high school ‘This I Believe’ podcast project. The presenters will focus on the ways in which they hve assigned and scaffolded their students’ work in multimedia, the criteria they have used in assessing these multimedia projects, and the ways in which they have aligned the projects with state and national testing programs. Participants will then collaborate to develop assessment criteria for another multimedia text.

Chair: Diane Waff, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
Presenter: Anne Herrington, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Kevin Hodgson, Leeds, Massachusetts
Charles Moran, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Dawn Reed, Okemos High School, Michigan
Reactor / Respondent: Cozette Ferron, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

At 1:15 that same day, I am one of the presenters at the Technology to Go kiosks and I will be showing people webcomics and hopefully, I will have a ToonDoo site ready for folks to get into and try out for themselves.

So, if you are there, please say hello.

Peace (in the sessions),

Kevin