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),

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),

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),


My Friend Glen and Scrooge

My friend, Glen Bledsoe, has published a book he wrote that comes out just in time for the holiday season. It is entitled The Charity of Ebenezer Scrooge, and it is a follow up to the original Dickens classic (which comes out again as a new movie soon).
Glen does amazing work with comics, digital storytelling and more with his classroom. His most recent project is a serialized graphic novel about a truant officer. Read Benny & Sid.

You can find the book on Amazon. And here is an interesting trailer that he created for the book. Glen always amazes me.

Peace (in the charity),

Scientific Method Adventure: a graphic novel review

Yesterday, my review of a book in a really engaging graphic novel series finally hit the page at The Graphic Classroom. It revolves around a series of graphic novels called Max Axiom, who goes on adventures around scientific themes. Capstone Press, which publishes the books, also just put out a new series in which a character — Isabel Soto — goes on historical-based adventures (I sent in a review of The Great Wall of China).

As part of my review, I interviewed my fellow teacher — Lisa Rice — about using the Max Axiom graphic novel in her classroom as she was teaching our students about the Scientific Method. Lisa loved the idea and I think the use of these graphic novels opens the door to comprehension for some students (not all, perhaps).

Peace (in the books),

Creating a Storybird Book

I found out about this site called Storybird via my Twitter network and decided to give it a try. Songbird is a collaborative story builder in which you are given some illustrations and you can build a flash-style book. You can also add collaborators, which I did not do (this time). Instead, I tried to fashion a story about the start of school and the magical power of books and reading.

You can read my book — called The Book and The Frown — here.

I found the experience interesting and I loved the illustrations. I did have some trouble finding the illustrations that I wanted, as they kept getting buried underneath the pile. It’s hard to explain, but I felt as if I spent as much time finding a pictured I wanted to reuse as I did writing the story. That might cause some frustration for young writers.

See what you think. Storybird has some great possibilities. (I do wish I could embed the book right here at my blog, but I did not see a way to do that from the site).

Peace (in stories),


A Review of “The Cartoonist”

My son and I bundled under some blankets this rainy weekend to watch the documentary on Jeff Smith, creator of the very popular Bone comics/graphic novel. The documentary is called The Cartoonist: Jeff Smith, Bone and the Changing Face of Comics and it is a treat. The video features extensive interviews with Jeff Smith and friends and admirers, and tracks the evolution of Bone in Jeff Smith’s fertile mind.

Here are a few things that really jumped out at me:

  • Smith notes that he remembers making some of the characters that are in Bone back when he was five or six years old. He says he drew all the time, everywhere, and talks about the evolution of the Bone characters over time. He uses three main characters, who are archetypes for Smith himself, and notes that he got one of the names for Fone-Bone from Mad Magazine via Don Martin’s site gag comics. I chuckled over that one.
  • Smith was interested in using the comic concept to create a long-form story (a 1,000 page book, as he put it) in the vein of The Odyssey or Moby Dick. From the start, he knew the story arc that would take place over time — in this case, more than 10 years of comics that told one big story. If you have ever held the collected Bone book in your hand, you’ll see that he has succeeded. It’s huge and hefty and rich with story.
  • Smith got his start in commercial animation — there are some scenes of he and his partners making “cells” of animation, which are overlays — and the documentary notes how his experience in moving pictures seeps into his comics, through the use of movement across frames and consistency of characters.
  • Smith explains how he uses symbolism, imagery and allusions in his Bone stories and one interesting scene shows Smith hiking through a forest area with waterfalls and streams that are depicted in his Bone book as the epicenter of the story. My son said, “That’s just like in the book!” Smith also notes how important the symbol of water is to storytellers and how he uses it himself in his book.
  • At one point, Smith notes how much the audience for comics and graphic novels have changed. It is no longer 30 year old men in comic shops. Now, there are kids (again) interested in comics and graphic novels, and he notes that librarians understand this shift. While book lending is mostly down in libraries, the one stack that shows constant growth is the graphic novel/comic stack. And the film notes that librarians and teachers see the use of graphic novels for engagement of young readers in text and can be a “bridge” to novels and other forms of reading.

All in all, The Cartoonist is a wonderful look at the man behind Bone, and the life of a comic book artist. Smith is engaging and open and excited to be where he is, and when you see the lines and lines of people of all ages waiting at conventions and book signing just to shake his hand or get an autograph, you realize just how much effect Smith and others are having on our views of literature when it comes to Sequential Art.

What I wonder is: what impact will these graphic novels have on young writers and what will the results of that influence be when we look at the field in 10 years? I can’t wait.

If you are a teacher searching for a movie that explains the creative writing and art process of comics and graphic novels, I suggest you consider The Cartoonist for your collection.

Here is a clip from the documentary:

Peace (in the comics),


Using my iTouch as an eReader

This week, I posted a review of the new Comic Application ComiXology for the iPhone/iTouch over at The Graphic Classroom. (See the review yourself — mostly positive).

Last week, I was quite interested in an article in The New Yorker about the Kindle eReader. The Kindle has been on my radar screen but I could never get up the nerve to spend that much money on a device that works only with Amazon and for Amazon eBooks. It didn’t make sense to me. The article by Nicholas Baker (read it yourself, if you want) is an interesting take on reading with an eReader and it calls into question a lot about the design of the Kindle and what is lacking. (What he doesn’t mention is that Apple is about to get into the eReader business, so Amazon better watch out).

Baker notes that you can get a pretty good reading experience from an application right on your iPhone or iTouch, so I of course had to give it a try with Stanza. This application is pretty good, I have to say, and I spent a long morning waiting for some car work to get done reading a free collection of short stories called Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link (a local author, it turns out).

I was immediately lost in the book, and not in the device or application, and that says a lot, doesn’t it? We want our technology to be seamless and invisible.

Stanza has access to a variety of book depositories — some have free books for download, some provide books that are for purchase — and the application turns the page when you touch the side of the screen. The resolution is pretty decent and you can even change the background and text colors, and fonts, so there is plenty you can do to make it fit yourown ¬†needs. The screen, of course, is small, but I didn’t feel as if that hindered my reading of a story about a 24-hour convenience store on the edge of chasm visited by Zombies (you read that right!).

I also downloaded a bunch of books for my upcoming week in Maine, including some children’s books, although whether the battery in my iTouch will hold out for long periods of reading, I don’t know. But, no matter, my primary reading material will still be paper books. The technology is making progress, but it still doesn’t beat the feeling of hanging out in a chair, book draped open to a page, lost in literary thought.

Not yet, anyway.

Peace (in the book),

Reaching Out to the World

I had two experiences with Skype this week that reinforced in my mind just how powerful the connective tools of Web 2.0 really are. It’s not a new revelation, yet both were so interesting and both, as it turns out, used Skype as the connector tool.

First, I spent the weekend with some good friends of mine from the college days. We have known each other for more than 20 years now (wow) and although we are scattered geographically, we still find room in our calendar to come together once a year at one of our homes (wives and children often scatter). Two of our friends are in the military and it is sometimes the case that one of them is overseas. Three years ago, one of my buddies was stationed in the Middle East as a patrol guard, searching beneath vehicles for bombs. This year, my other friend who flies helicopters is on a year-long tour just outside of Baghdad. So, obviously, he could not attend the weekend here. So, what did we do? We skyped him and had a long conversation using webcams and laptops and wireless connections to see how he is doing over there (so far, so good). The ability to talk to a friend in Iraq during the war …. that is pretty amazing.

Then, last night, I Skyped my way into a graduate level education class at Columbia University, where the future teachers had been using our book — Teaching the New Writing — as a class text, generated questions for myself and another editor (Charlie Moran) using Web 2.0 tools, and then peppered us with outstanding questions about writing, technology and more for about an hour. Just think how cool that is: to be able to converse with and ask questions of the writers and editors of a text that you are using in the college classroom. It was a great conversation for both us — the producers of the content — and them — the readers of the content — and it really shows how technology is changing the relationship of how we interact with text, don’t you think?

Peace (in the world),