Friday, August 31, 2012

Storytelling Thurs??? Friday (oops)

I just finished The Violinist's Thumb by Sam Kean.  Not a story book at all.  HOWEVER, Kean tells the stories of how dozens of scientists, explorers, and other learned folks - to say nothing of isolated Scandinavian villagers and good old Neanderthal - contributed to what we know about DNA, the building block of our very selves.

If Kean had given his readers, "Just the facts, Ma'am," as Joe Friday was wont to say, I would never have finished the book.  The science is daunting - all those A's and C's and G's and T's and mitochondria and mtDNA and messenger RNA and, please, please DON'T ask me what these things are (I sort of know but I will bungle it, I'm sure).  But the stories, the life histories, the theories, the mangled logic, the loves, the victories and failures...the embarrassments and personalities - even the insane experiments - add them all together and you have a page turner.  Man, that Sam Kean can sure tell a good story.

And after we find out everything that is now known about DNA, Kean tells us stories of how scientists hope to use what they have learned.  DNA is awesome.  We, this world, all living things - totally awesome and scary and thrilling and wow....  Read the book.

Storytelling is a most effective way to get humans to swallow facts and remember them.  There is an organization dedicated to helping educators teach through storytelling.  Good Stories for Good Learning is made up of storytellers and educators who have seen how their personal stories have made the subjects they were teaching become real to their students.  Adding stories, your own or folktales or riddle tales or other people's stories, brings life to learning.  Try it.

There are studies that have shown how the brain reacts to stories differently than to lectures, and there are studies that have proven that students remember the stories they hear - and the facts attached to the stories - longer than those facts without stories.  (And, yes, I promise to share links to some of those studies soon but I am already a DAY LATE with this post, OK?  You can trust me.  Honest.)

So the next time you want to make a point, or help someone remember a fact, or teach something to someone, do what Sam Kean did in his book and what effective teachers are doing in classrooms all over the place - AND what humans have been doing since language began.  Tell a story.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

90 Second Newbery - KBWT

It's time for the 90 Second Newbery Video contest.  In this contest, children are asked to make a 90 second (or thereabouts) video of their favorite Newbery Award winner or Honor book.  Hmmmmm, this year's winner, Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos might require a safety warning - as in DON'T TRY THESE STUNTS AT HOME!!!! 

Scroll down on James Kennedy's 90 Second Newbery page to see some very clever short adaptations of wonderful books.  I especially liked the shadow puppet version of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin.

The deadline for the 90 Second Newbery Contest is November 10, 2012.  So please read the rules carefully.  You will find them here.  Then grab your camcorder and get filming.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Storytelling Sunday - vote for HUGGGS

First, you MUST watch Kristin Pedemonti's Talent Talk for TED.  MUST! MUST! and if you agree that Kristin's talk is funny, fun, touching and life affirming (how could you NOT agree?) then you must vote for her to earn a TEDTalk spot. You MUST click on the "vote for her" link and then rate her content and presentation in the rating area to the right of the video.  In order to vote, you will need to log in with Facebook or sign up for a TED account but TEDtalks are the BEST THINGS on the Internet, so it's all good.

Second:  The Lititz Storytelling Festival happens in a couple of weeks - three actually - on September 14th and 15th.  This is the very first Lititz Storytelling Festival and the line-up is truly awesome.

See???  What did I tell you?  Go to to get the full scoop.  I hope to attend on Saturday.

Third: Looking ahead a bit, The National Storytelling Festival in Jonesboro TN happens on Oct. 5 - 7th.  I have only attended this event once and it was so totally amazing.  I want to go back and LIVE at the Storytelling Festival except it only lasts one weekend.  Sigh.   It's All Storytelling, All the Time, All Over the Place...  You will have trouble finding lodging at this late date but try anyway.  You will not be sorry.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Because It Is My Blood

In All These Things I've Done by Gabrielle Zevin, Anya Balanchine ends up in juvie.  She "belongs" there because of all the things she's done to protect her older brother and younger sister.  Worst of all, though, is her relationship with the son of NYC's DA.  The Balanchines have been a crime family for a couple of decades.  Nuff said.

At the beginning of Because It Is My Blood, Anya is released and her life has changed.  Her family is fractured; her Nana dead, her older brother hidden away.  Only her younger sister is still around.  Anya wants her life to go back to pre-crime days when she tried so hard to keep everyone safe.  No school wants her.  The Legalize Cacao Movement is the only group who welcomes her and Anya needs to avoid them.  An indiscretion lands her back in Juvie and suddenly Anya is in hiding in Mexico.  When she, her younger sister and her brother are all threatened on the same night, Anya must return home to a family business in chaos and a bucket of grief.  The peace, freedom and deep friendship that she found in Mexico makes the violence and loneliness of her real life dismal in contrast.

An then there is Win, the ex-DA's son, who has never given up on their love.  And her best friend, Scarlett, has made a "pact" with one of Anya's devils.  It's a mess!  And a fabulous read!

Anya thinks like a very intelligent 17-year-old.  Getting through high school seems like such a HUGE problem to her, when everything else in her life is in shreds.  Anya's tunnel vision is so believable.  I mean, her life is in constant disarray and danger.  And yet, getting into a school and graduating with her class looms so large in her plans.  It overshadows the conspiracies and treachery in the family business that need her attention.  So, tell me, what would YOU do in Anya's place?  I think she's awesome, myself.

So read the book.  It's in bookstores on September 18th.  Pre-order it at your favorite Indie bookstore now.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

3 for KBWT

It's Tuesday!  And sometimes on Tuesday, I post little reviews of websites that feature children's books, reviews of children's books, or activities to encourage reading of children's books - by kids and their grown-ups.

So look what I found!!  Author/illustrator Hans Wilhelm has made several of his books into pdf files that can be used in classrooms, read online, projected, printed out - whatever!  The only requirement is that the use be non-commercial.  So schools and libraries and parents at home can share these fun titles with their young readers.  The website is called Children's Books Forever.  Check it out.

If you are someone who only wants your young person to read the BEST of children's books, then you will like The Best Children's Books.  It's a book finding service that lists best books by a variety of categories.   These sites are always useful and fun to browse through. 

Me, I think the best book for a child is the one that makes that child want to read.   Sometimes, that's a flimsy grocery store mass-produced book about a TV character.  Sometimes it's a classic.  Kids need both.  Like the creators of The Best Children's Books, above, I lean heavily toward classics. But I can still recite the opening lines of The Huffin Puff Express (words by David L. Harrison and art by Art Seiden) which I bought at the grocery store for next to nothing years ago.  Just saying.

Now for some fun!  Funbrain!  It's a website chock full of games that reinforce reading and math skills for kids.   You will find reviews, comics, books to read online, and games at Funbrain.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Shhh, I'm reading The Violinist's Thumb

That's what I've been doing.  Reading.  Because It Is my Blood by Gabrielle Zevin, the second book in her Birthright series (due out next month I think);  A Fistful of Collars by Spencer Quinn - I'm still working on this one.  When the narrator is a dog, it takes a little longer to solve a crime (due out on Sept. 11).  Also, The Applewhites at Wit's End by Stephanie Tolan. I loved Surviving the Applewhites.  This book is almost as much fun as the first.

 And Sam Kean's The Violinist's Thumb.  That last one might take me a whole month to finish.  It is an AWESOME but very detailed history of the exploration into DNA and genetics.  Kean bounces all over the timeline relating gene studies to grammar and math and spelling and 16th century explorations and just about everything you can think of.  And he pulls in the stories of scientists whose studies into fallible hypotheses laid the groundwork for later solid research.  I got the e-galley and I hope it's one that stays on my reader because I'm sure I will need to re-read this book. 

So, that is what I have been doing.  Expect reviews of the other titles soon.  Zevin is a fabulous author.  Chet the Dog can sure, um, tell a story. (I wonder, could Spencer Quinn be a pseudonym for a dog who has learned to type? And how would that work, dogs typing?) And the Applewhites once again rise victorious from chaos. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

Templeton Twins and silenced wind

I finished two books today and they are about as different as two pieces of fiction can be.

The Templeton Twins Have an Idea by Ellis Weiner stars a very snarky narrator - somewhat bossy, actually - and two very smart twins, a girl and a boy.  There is a handsome but despicable whiny villain, a loving but grieving widowed inventor Dad, a ridiculous dog, a bossy Nanny and a nefarious plot.  PLUS!  Review questions (hahahahaha) at the end of the chapters.  So, pay attention readers. Fans of Cuthbert Soup (where is the third book, hmmmm???) will definitely enjoy this book as will readers of Smells Like Dog.  
 Let the Narrator explain all in this trailer.

Meg Medina's The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind tells the story of Sonia, who at 16, has led a life of duty. The villagers in her mountain mining town believe that Sonia's prayers have special value and so she must sit by every death bed, attend every birth, follow every bride down the aisle. When her prayers do not save the life of a boy who is killed by bandits, she loses her faith and resents her burden. She leaves for a job in the capital. Then her beloved brother disappears.

The book describes the plight of the poor South American miners, and their counterparts who serve in the mansions of the capital's rich. But it is Sonia's coming to grips with reality and the love and faith of her friends that make this book a satisfying read.    I appreciated the mythical weight given to the events surrounding Sonia's birth.  I was pleased that she did not actually have magical powers - that her "powers" are all in the minds of the villagers.  The ending - not at all the happy ending I hoped for - was more realistic and more touching than I expected.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

All about the ladies

According to The Ladies Home Journal, 34% of American women do not vote.  What is THAT all about?  Ladies, you have to vote.  A lot of the talk in this presidential campaign is about you - your health, your employment, your family and who gets to make decisions about your life.  You might be fine with letting the men have the final say.  But you still need to VOTE!!!  I have to say, I think the men should listen to the women in the world.

Like that Pope Benedict.  What is he doing, ordering the Nuns on the Bus about?  And not just the more outspoken nuns, either.  Benedict wants to take over the whole Leadership Conference of Women Religious.  What these nuns seem to be saying is the world needs more kindness.  When you ask a group of people - nuns in this case - to work with the country's most marginalized people - the poor, the sick, the troubled, - well, you have to expect them to want to HELP the people they work with.  American nuns are just taking their Christian gospel to the streets, admonishing law makers to remember all the citizens of the United States, not just the rich, the white, and the male.

Here's what the Huffington Post reports on how the LCWR responded to Pope Benedict at their annual conference. The ladies are behaving like ladies and offering to keep the lines of communication open.

Now, I went to parochial school, and I KNOW just how scary a determined sister can be.  Maybe Benedict ran into one or two of those determined nuns back in his younger days.  But he's a grown-up now.  And if the best he can do, when negotiating with committed members of his flock, is to threaten them with take-over, he might not be the World Leader he thinks he is.  I'm just saying.

So back to voting.  If you have two X chromosomes, are over 18 and have not registered to vote, do so tomorrow.  There are laws about being registered at least a month before an election in many states.  In Pennsylvania, until the law is overturned, you will need a photo ID and possibly another form of ID to register.  And you will need a government issued photo ID to actually cast a vote - unless fairness prevails.  Take a lesson from the sisters.  Get involved.  Work to make things better.

I try not to get political on this blog - much.  I don't care if you vote R or D or I or L or G or even, gasp, C.  I DO care if you vote.  Register.  Vote.  Here's a site that will tell you what you need to know.

Do it.  Now.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Friday Catchup

I've been "gone".  So now I have to catch up. 

Seems like everybody has an idea of what books kids' should read.  Oprah has a whole page dedicated to suggestions for age appropriate books for children.  When your young reader has run out of Big Nate books or Dear Dumb Diary books, here's another place to look for ideas.

I finally read David Benedictus' Return to the Hundred Acre Woods.  I didn't want to read it because the original Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner are tied for my number 1 favorite book of all times.  (It's a three-way tie with The Lives of Christopher Chant. )

I was afraid of what Benedictus would do with my memories.  I mean, Disney already reduced Eeyore to a one-note joke.  Without the superb humor of A. A. Milne, how would Pooh and Rabbit and Piglet, to say nothing of Eeyore, fare?

Benedictus is not as laugh-out-loud funny as Milne.  I should not even have hoped for that!  But Benedictus respects Milne's characters.  Sometimes, there is a joke that is overdone or a characteristic that is overemphasized.  But Pooh is not a "fuzzy little tubby all stuffed with fluff" or whatever.  The stories reflect the ways that 8 or 9 year old boys play.  When the animals decide to open a school, Benedictus hits all the right notes.  And Christopher Robin's cricket instructions were quite edifying!  I prefer Lottie the Otter in this book to that whistling gopher in the Disney adaptations. The illustrations were nicely close to E. Shepard's originals.

And the ending left me misty-eyed. So hats off to you, Mr. Benedictus.  You did quite well.  But, one revisit was enough for me.  Thank you.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Hunger Games - Feed a Child

Over on 366 Random Acts of Kindness, Ryan is trying to spend five days below the poverty line.  In researching his attempt, he discovered a cooperation between the publishers and producers of the Hunger Games books and films and the World Food ProgrammeTake the Hunger Games Quiz, and a hungry child will get food.  It is that easy to help someone in need.  Just take the quiz.  And then, share the quiz with everyone you know.

If you want to have your view of how the world eats changed forever, join Ryan and his wife and thousands of others in the Live Below the Line Challenge.  Try to live on $1.50 worth of food for 5 days.  I think I ate $1.50 worth of cherries and grapes as a snack tonight!  I am thinking about doing this - if I can get the Hub to go along.  $1.50 doesn't even buy a half gallon of milk nowadays.  Good luck to those who do try.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Candlewick Believes!

Well, yeah!  Who DOESN'T believe in picture books???!!  They are so wonderful!  Thanks, Candlewick.