Book Review: Treasure Hunters

I have a mixed view of James Patterson. It seems to me that sometimes he mails it in and given his output as a writer, who can blame him? But the cover to Treasure Hunters (created with illustrator Chris Grabenstein) caught my eye as I was searching for a read aloud for my 9 year old son. In the style of Patterson’s Middle School series of illustrated novels, Treasure Hunters is a fine adventurous ride that my son and I both enjoyed.

The story is about a family who lives on a boat and makes their way as a hunters of lost treasure at sea. It opens with a storm, and the father being lost, and then we learn that the mom had been kidnapped by terrorists, and so it is up to the four kids (or Kidds, as the family name goes) to continue with the treasure and hopefully, find dad still alive and maybe even rescue mom. Along the way, the four siblings meet pirates of all kinds of ilk, rub up against secret agents, discover and lose and then rediscover the Greciun Urn that inspired Keats, and learn a few surprising things about their mom and dad.

The pace is quick and the story is finely illustrated, with great humor and suspense. The chapters are short, but most end with a cliffhanger that had my son forcing me to “keep reading” each time I tried to stop. Patterson’s talent for telling stories is on display here, even if the characters are a bit one-dimensional. But with a title like Treasure Hunters, you don’t go there for the depth of the characters — you go there for the spirit of adventures, and this book delivers nicely.

Peace (on the oceans),


Remix Activity: How to Build a Boy Band

boy band thimble

This was more for fun than for anything else. But in Seattle a few months ago (sorry, this post was in my draft bin for a long time, I guess), a friend of mine (Janet Ilko) from the National Writing Project joined some family members who lived in Seattle. She was with some young cousins, who convinced the adults to hang around outside a concert venue where One Direction was playing, so that they could get a glimpse of the singers when they left the concert.

The next morning, as Janet was describing the scene, I suggested we should build a Thimble page on “how to build a pop band” from the template that stretches back the Monkees, and maybe even beyond. Who knows. Certainly Disney and Simon Cowell have perfected the idea.

I started the page in Seattle (remixing it from an existing Webmaker template) and finished it up yesterday. Check it out and feel free to remix it. I’d love to see the “how to build a girl band” version, if you want a challenge. (There is a remix button at the top of the page. Click on that, and get remixing. You will need an account with Webmaker to publish. But the code and hints to change the code, are in there.)

Peace (in the hack),

Letting a Song Go: Getting Remixed

As part of the Make/Hack/Play mini-course I have been participating in, I wrote a song and then created this reflective video of my writing process.

Well, a friend from the summer’s Making Learning Connected MOOC — Bart Miller, who is also a musician — took my song and remixed it with some composition software. I was so grateful to have been hacked by Bart, and the remix took the song (even with computer sounds) in a different direction.
Hacking a Song by Bart Miller

I could not resist yet another remix. So, I downloaded the MP3 of Bart’s version of Put My Anchor in You, and used Mozilla’s Popcorn Maker to create another remix. This time, I found a nature video (Bart’s version had me thinking quiet nature, for some reason) and layered in the remix as the soundtrack.

Meanwhile, another friend of mine (the guitarist in my band, Duke Rushmore) took the same demo and added lead guitar, bass and some other production values to it, given the remix yet a third iteration.

It’s interesting the trail of mixing and remixing that can take place, rather seamlessly, with technology. The song comes out at the other end very different when in the hands of others than when I sat down on the floor with my acoustic guitar and wrote it as a demo.

Peace (in the song),


At MiddleWeb: Teaching Visual Literacy and Considering the Heart of Nonfiction

I am writing fairly regularly over at MiddleWeb these days and I like to point folks to what I have been up to lately.

If you have time, check out the review I did for the new book, Finding the Heart of Non-Fiction by Georgia Heard. I really enjoyed this book, on a few levels (including the production values of the book itself).


finding the heart of NF kevin

And I just added a new blog post about teaching the reading and writing of diagrams with my sixth graders. Check out how I went about this teaching of visual literacy and what they were learning, and why.

Student Diagrams

Peace (on the web),


Slice of Life: In The Reading Teacher

We get a lot of professional publications at our house — my wife is an administrator and I am a teacher and both of us are active readers and learners — so it was just another day at home when I was flipping through the November 2013 edition of The Reading Journal yesterday. I found myself (not surprisingly) at an article about integrating technology called “Love that Book: Multimodal Responses to Literature” by Dana L. Grisham. I was, however, surprised to see my own name referenced in her article, though. It was one of those “hey, I recognize that name!” moments. You know, “that’s me!”

Grisham referenced a Glogster poster project that I had done with my students around Three Cups of Tea, where they used media to present learning from the book and thoughts on their own lives. It was nice of her to include my students’ work as an exemplary, although the irony is that I have completely and utterly revamped the way we read that book. We now use Three Cups of Tea as our source for critical analysis – given that author Greg Mortenson’s veracity has been called into question and main events in the book are in dispute. It occurs to me that I thought I had put a note on that site — — to explain how we were now reading the book. I guess not.

Still, I appreciate shout-outs in a publication like The Reading Journal.

Peace (on the page),


Graphic Novel Review: The Titan’s Curse

I’m sorry to say this, but even knowing the story of The Titan’s Curse (part of the Lightning Thief series by Rick Riordan), this graphic novel version of that novel is a confusing, narrative mess. If you never read the book … well, let me just say that it is unlikely you would have made it to the end of this graphic novel version. Which is too bad. The Titan’s Curse is a good story, with the introduction of Nico diAngelo and the emergence of goddess Artemis as a force to be reckoned with, and the start of the hunt for lost god, Pan, by Grover.

But this graphic version of that story has few narrative anchors to let the reader know what is even going on. Sure, the visuals and illustrations are fantastic. You can see a lot of effort and creativity went into the art production of the book. If only some of those production costs were siphoned off to make the story flow and readable, but I fear that is not really the case here. The writing gets way short thrift to the artwork.

What’s interesting is that they probably could have fixed this problem with a few conveniently placed text boxes, bringing the reader up to speed on the sections and scenes. Instead, we jump from scene to scene with very little glue to hold the story together, and some of the characters — who are clearly defined in the novel — look so much like each other, so figuring out which one is Thalia and which one is Bianca, etc., requires more effort by the reader than should be expected. Particularly if your audience is middle school readers, which this is.

I’m all for challenging texts — and for graphic novelists using the parameters of the canvas to tell a story in a different way — but give me a chance to comprehend what I am reading. This version of The Titan’s Curse fails on that account.

Peace (in disappointment),


Collaborative Storytelling on a Grand Scale is CrazyFun

Day One Makeread wordcloud
I could not spend the entire day yesterday playing with the project known as Read/Make, or Digital Writing MakerText, in which people are invited to create a crowdsourced novel collaboratively in just 48 hours (see premise/rules). But after a lot of writing in the morning, I did periodically pop into the Google Doc where the novel (on theme of  how writing and reading is changing) is unfolding, just to see how things were faring. What was happening was magical and strange, and very fun to watch. (I created the word cloud about mid-afternoon from all the text, although there are links to videos and images and more, so it is merely a slice of the story in a moment in time).

I’ve been contributing to a few chapters, including a skit about a bear and some kids. I started that one, and watching how others have come along and edited my ideas (the bear eats the kids), added to the story and then shifted it in some very different directions provides a very interesting view of the entire writing process. I’ve gone back in to format the writing into a skit, but other than that, I have just left it alone. I did not want the bear to eat the kids, but it happened, you know? Here, you have to let words go, and you write them knowing they are merely “gossamer” (reference to another chapter in the story) that might take hold or suddenly become transparent and disappear when another writer enters the page.

How this entire document will hold together — what literary glue will emerge to bind the disparate parts — seems to me to be unknown at this juncture, mainly because we still have another day of writing. I suspect some grad student somewhere will have a blast with this 48 hour adventure, picking apart the way that distant collaborators write collectively in a digital age. It would be interesting to cull through the revisions, for example (if one had the time and inclination). One complaint about Google Docs for this kind of collaboration is that videos do not get embedded, which is a shame, since multimedia documents are anchored by video (and audio, which also do not get embedded into the story). You have to make links, which breaks the narrative. The reader leaves the page, and knowing how we read online, they might never return (particularly if there is a cat video in the YouTube recommendation sidebar).

I found myself weaving in and out of the stories, adding a line here and there, and maybe a part of two. I felt reluctant to remove text wholesale, even though I know that is part of what we sign up to do. It still feels like theft or vandalism. Someone put those words down on the screen. Who am I to remove them? And yet … we are both the collective writer, sharing the screen together on a single piece of text. I have as much right to remove as they do to add. I think. This is where the idea of a MakerText is intriguing and emblematic of the age we live in.

Who owns the words? Who owns the story? What role does the writer play? The reader?

A Ransom Note from the Reader poem

One of the chapters (which were set out through a collaborative brainstorming session prior to the launch of the story) had a term that I had never heard before: Harbl. It has to do with replacing words in text, partly in a snarky way to generate laughs and partly in a way to remind the writer to expand their vocabulary. I had to look it up. I created this visual, back of the napkin story, and here is where I was sort of wishing someone else would pop in and add to it. Yet no one has.

harbl word replacement app

The fact that no one else added to this chapter had me wondering about how different it is using image versus words here. If my words are in the text, you can change, add and remove my ideas. Not so with an image. You can completely remove it, but you can’t easily alter it. Maybe you can remix it (please, do) but it isn’t necessarily simple to do. Not like writing a word or paragraph. That story as image is mostly locked into place. I think I might go in and add some word buffers around the image, as a way to invite others to write with me. Will that change the collaborative nature of the chapter? We’ll see.

You come, too.

Peace (in the collaboration),

When Teachers Make Comics

comic teachers
I brought a group of teachers at a recent Professional Development session into Bitstrips to show them what a comic space looks like and to work around the idea of digital identity and avatar creation. Yeah, lots of laughter and giggling, and then thoughtful reflections at the end. That’s how PD should work, right?

Peace (in the frames),