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),

Teaching the New Writing: the third podcast

The third and final installment of podcasts about the book I co-edited and wrote a chapter for (called Teaching the New Writing) is up at Teachers Teaching Teachers. The first podcast centered on why us three editors (myself, Charlie Moran and Anne Herrington) decided to publish a collection of chapters on how technology may be changing writing instruction, particularly in the age of assessment and standardized testing. The second installment dealt with the idea of collaboration in a technology-infused writing classroom.
And this last edition centered on the concept of expanding sense of audience and how that might impact student writing and projects. We were joined by some of the chapter authors (Troy Hicks, Dawn Reed, Marva Solomon and Bryan Crandall) to discuss a variety of projects.
Listen in:

Or download the file.
Peace (in the podcast),

Talking about Student Collaboration on TTT

The second webcast of Teachers Teaching Teachers that focused on chapter authors from my book, Teaching the New Writing, has been posted by Paul Allison (Thanks, Paul!). This episode had us discussing the concept of collaboration in a writing classroom that integrates technology.

You can also view the very active chat room that was underway during the webcast over at Edtechtalk.

Listen to the podcast or download it:

The third webcast was all about audience and I will share that when Paul posts it.
Peace (in the sharing),

Persepolis 2.0, the unofficial remix

This will probably run right into the Copyright wall, but while it lasts, check out this remix version of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis graphic novels about growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. This remix takes her art and puts the story context into today’s Iran, with its simmering election turmoil. It’s fascinating and you have to wonder if Satrapi will approve or not.

For now, though, take a look and experience another way into modern day Iran at the Persepolis 2.0 website where you can read the remix or download it as a PDF (you may want to do that).

Peace (please),

Join me for Round Three of TTT

Tonight (9 p.m. eastern time), I help wrap up the third episode of Teachers Teaching Teachers that center on the book I helped edit (and contributed a chapter to) called Teaching the New Writing: Technology, Change and Assessment in the 21st Century Classroom.

Two weeks ago, TTT hosts Paul Allison and Susan Ettenheim interviewed us editors about the project, which looks at changes in the writing classroom through the lens of technology and assessment. (listen to the podcast of that show over at TTT) Last week, Paul turned the host reins over to me as I chatted with some of the chapter writers about the concept of collaboration in the technology-infused classroom.

Tonight, as Paul once again allows me to host the show, we’ll be looking at the concept of audience and technology is opening up new doors for publication and expanding audiences and what that does to writing in the classroom.

Chapter authors Dawn Reed, high school teacher and teacher-consultant with the Red Cedar Writing Project; Troy Hicks, associate Professor and director of the Chippewa Writing Project; and Bryan Crandall, high school teacher and a teacher-consultant with the Louisville Writing Project, will share examples of their classroom practices to prompt a discussion about audience in writing using digital technology. The topics they discuss will include high school students using multimodal ways of writing in a speech class and an example of what happens when you take the senior project “digital.”¬† In addition, Marva Solomon will be joining us to talk about her work with a small group of struggling elementary school writers. The title of her chapter is “True adventures of Students “Writing Online: Mummies, Vampires and schnauzers, Oh My!”

Come join us in the chat room and listen to the livestream tonight at at 9:00pm Eastern / 6:00pm Pacific USA Wednesdays / 01:00 UTC Thursdays World Times.

Peace (in the conversations),

The first TTT podcast on Teaching the New Writing

Thanks to Paul Allison and Susan Ettenheim for allowing me and my co-editors to take over Teachers Teaching Teachers for a few weeks. Paul just put up the first of three shows, in which my co-editors (Anne Herrington and Charlie Moran) discuss Teaching the New Writing. The second show focused on collaboration and this coming week, we’ll be discussing the use of audience when it comes to writing and technology. (I’ll post about that another day)

Go to Teachers Teaching Teachers
See the chat room transcript
Listen to the podcast

Peace (on the air),