Book Review: You Can Never Find a Rickshaw …

  • You Can Never Find a Rickshaw When It Monsoons: The World on One  Cartoon a Day

I’ve been slowly savoring Mo Willems’  You Can Never Find a Rickshaw When It Monsoons for a few months now. This book — with its subtitle: The World On One Cartoon A Day —  is a collection of one-page comics and illustrations that Willems did when he went on a low-budget backpacking tour of the world, starting in the United States and then heading out to Europe, Asia and more. The tour began before Willems was a published author of crazy kids’ books  (the Pigeon books and more) and before he was married, so he was a single man on an adventure with his pen and paper.

Unlike most tourist guides, Willems’ illustrated insights capture the daily color of life (shining through Willems’ own sense of humor) and what makes the book special is that Willems went back to his drawings and added short narratives of his memories of the scenes. Or his faulty memories. Or, in some cases, he admits he doesn’t even remember drawing the scene.

The use of comic illustrations is another lens into culture, I realized, and I think I learned as much about Nepal and Paris and China as I have from any other book that I have read.

Give Willems’ book a try. You won’t be disappointed.

Peace (in the sharing),
Kevin

It’ll be Cartoon-a-palooza With Mo Willems

Tomorrow, I am bringing my little guy to a benefit show that features the wonderful and talented Mo Willems. I just realized this week that Willems now lives in my small city (along with a host of other illustrators, writers and artists) and he is donating his time, and  few of his animated shorts, to this event to raise money to revamp the children’s wing of the city library.

Willems has created the Pigeon books, which will bring the giggles to just about any little kid (or big kid with little kid still inside)  and the Knuffle Bunny picture books, and more. He has a great sense of humor and his off-kilter stories hit you in the heart as well as the head. They are simple, but great.

As it turns out, I am reading a book by Willems called You Can Never Find a Rickshaw When It Monsoons, which is a day-by-day travel journal from when Willems spent a year in Europe and Asia, traveling mostly on foot and without much money. He drew a comic each day, and years later, he he wrote a short narrative. The comic journal is hilarious, and insightful about an American in different cultures.

Peace (in the cartoon/picture book world),
Kevin

Reviewing: To Teach- The Journey, in Comics


Wow.

I finally had some time to read through To Teach: the journey, in comics by William Ayers and illustrated by Ryan Alexander-Tanner and I have to say that Ayers message and Alexander-Tanner’s illustrations meshed so powerfully together that I decided I need to pass this book along to my student teacher (who left the other day as her time with me ended).

In this graphic interpretation of Ayer’s reflections on being a kindergarten teacher (which were told prior in a book format), but also his philosophies of teaching in general (particularly the conflict between inquiry-based teaching and standardized curriculum) hit right home with me. I could have lived on Ayers’ words alone, but by bringing the medium of comics into the story, the entire thing just came to life perfectly.

Ayers gives us stories of real teachers, and real students, making discoveries around learning and he doesn’t sugarcoat the hard work of teaching, either, noting that the teacher is often learning alongside their students, even in the younger grades.

“The intellectual challenge of teaching involves becoming a student of your students, unlocking the wisdom in the room, and joining together on a journey of discovery and surprise. The ethical demand is to see each student as a 3-dimensional creature, much like yourself, and an unshakable faith in the irreducible and incalculable value of every human being.”

Tell me that is not a powerful statement! Again and again, Ayers relates how he, and how we, must try to resist the pigeon-holing of our students as special needs or labeling them with ADD when what we are seeing is the curiosity, the inquiry and the impact of home life on school life.

The comic illustrations here are modeled on Scott McCloud’s work and the images are not just for fun. Alexander-Tanner effectively uses the medium to move from the concrete to the abstract, using visual representations of teaching and education, along with fine doses of humor, to help move Ayers’ writing along. The comic element is not just a throw-away device here — not just some selling point in this time of graphic novels — but a real addition to the storytelling.

I highly recommend this book.

Peace (in the book),
Kevin

More use of Glogster: Independent Book Report

We just finished up an independent book unit and students had to choose some way to present their final thoughts about the book they chose. A few of them used Glogster, and I sort of wish more had. My room is filled with posters, which are wonderful but soon to be sent back home. This report by one of my students is well-done, and is about the 38 Clues series. Notice how she used a good design that combines the media with text and your eyes flow over the page. She “gets it,” I think.

Peace (in the glog),
Kevin

3D Picture Book Experiment w/Zooburst

I saw this new site — Zooburst — somewhere or another, and given that my student teacher is right now doing pop-up poetry books, I was intrigued. The site is still in beta and they are only allowing new memberships on a vetted basis, I think, but you can make 3D pop-up books. Sounds strange, right?
There are are few levels going on here, including using your webcam and a special printout that allows you to view your picture book on your hand (!), but check out what I have embedded as an example of a picture book from the site — this is my first book called The Writer Within.

(Hmm – the embed code was too big and when I shrunk it down, I seem to have lost the controls to move to the next pages. There’s just a bit of the arrows on the left and right side. See them? Click on them. If not, go HERE to read the book).

But here is where the site is fascinating — if you print out the special image they provide (branded with their logo, of course), and hold it up to your webcam, you get to “see” your 3D book come alive in the webcam window. I’m not sure how to explain it. I was hooked, though. And ZooBurst wisely has a button that will take a screenshot of you and your book, together, and email it to you as a jpeg. How cool is that? Wicked cool, man.

Peace (in 3D),
Kevin

PS — If you are wondering how a teacher finds time during the day to do this, I am home with a sick kid. I tried to get him to try it, but he wasn’t all that interested right now. Too busy being a sick pre-teen, I guess. But he did come over when the webcam kicked in and stared at it with me.

Reflecting on Writing Books with Storybird

I’ve been thinking of my writing process when it comes to using Storybird for creating my 7 picture books in 7 days, as part of Paula Yoo’s challenge. Honestly, I could not have even considered this challenge if I had to do the art, and my hats go off to anyone who has been able to keep the pace. Even Paula has been reflecting on the challenge of the challenge.

I decided early on to use Storybird, which provides you with illustrations and a book-creator tool. You write the story, constructed out of the images at the site. There is a wide selection of art, and styles. The end result is an e-book that you can embed in other sites as well as become part of the Storybird community.

I purposely went into each day with no story idea whatsoever. None. I really wanted to find a story as I discovered the illustrations, which is an odd way of going about writing a book, if you think about it. Mostly, we write stories from idea that germinate in our minds or come from characters that start to live a bit in our imagination.

I avoided that. Purposely. I felt as if I were backing in, using some sort of reverse writing.

I would wander around the Storybird collections, trying to find some art that piqued my interest and then I would slowly formulate a story idea. A lot of times, it was nothing but dead ends. The story didn’t always hold or gel. I tried not to think of audience, either, which is another no-no for writing stories, right? We are often told to keep our intended audience in front of us. Here, I kept the audience behind me and only at the end, when Storybird prompted me, did I even think about who my story might be a appropriate for.

The result is a series of hits and misses this week.

I really liked the first book — MoonSong — and I enjoyed the one about a girl dreaming of her future — Remember — but wished I had done a better job with another — To Dance is To Disappear (I couldn’t find the right rhythm consistent with what I was trying to convey about the creative process of dancing) — and I thought two of the books to be too cute with not enough substance — The Best Ice Cream in the Galaxy and Go Outside and Play! — while another one tried to teach a lesson but got too bogged down on me — The Boy with the Angry Stomach (although I did have fun with “voice” in that one, particularly the talking piece of bread and the invisible audience of listeners).

One of my stories completely and utterly derailed itself midway through. It was an odd one about a girl who has been shipwrecked, and is now all alone, but is discovered by the forest animals who lead her to a house situated on top of a mountain. That’s as far as I got because none of the illustrations led me any farther into my story narrative and I could not for the life of me figure out how to get this girl moving forward in any feasible direction of the narrative. Here, instead of being inspired by the art, I was held back, and the story died in the draft bin.

All in all, it was fun to do this challenge, but it was a challenge. I have one more book in the bin for tomorrow, the seventh day. It’s no award winner. It’s about how to write a story. Come back tomorrow and check it out, if you have a minute.

Peace (in the reflection),
Kevin

http://storybird.com/

Picture Book 6: Go Outside and Play!

I saw one of the illustrations in this set in Storybird and thought: that was so me as a kid — reading books, oblivious to the world. And my mom or dad would tell me to get outside and play. Inspired, then, I created this picture book story as part of a challenge by Paula Yoo to come up with seven books in seven days.

This is Go Outside and Play!

Go Outside and Play! on Storybird
Peace (in the imagination),
Kevin