Friday, October 31, 2014

Create Presentations and Infographics with Visme

Create Presentations and Infographics with Visme
by Susan Stephenson,

I love finding new ways we can create images. Recently I discovered Visme, an online space that calls itself the Swiss Knife for creating engaging content. Right now, it’s focused on presentations, infographics and animations, with more to come. I think this site has the potential to be useful to teachers, bloggers and anyone interested in creating media for an audience. As a blogger, I am always looking for easy ways to illustrate my own articles. (I mentioned some of my favourites in Book Chook Favourites - Online Image Editors, and then updated that list in August.)

What I liked: the interface for presentations will be familiar to anyone who has used other well-known presentation software. You choose a slide and then add to it. There are a couple of free slides. There are lots of customisable widgets you can add (some free), plus video, audio and your own images.

Most of all I liked that there’s a blank canvas where you can create images from scratch. That became my starter project to try Visme out. Once you choose your dimensions, and a background from several colours and textures, you start work on your canvas. There are stacks of elements to choose from: shapes, lines arrows, infographics, entertainment, logos, people… You can add your own images to your canvas, or select from searchable free ones. The free image search results I got were not particularly well-targeted, however. It’s free to download your image as a jpg.

Generally, I found Visme quite straightforward to navigate. There’s good support already with a promise of more to come. I chose a wooden panel background, then added assorted elements and fonts.

The Basic Visme service is free. This entitles you to 3 projects/month. But your projects are supposed to be branded/watermarked. My image (above) wasn’t - perhaps it’s not classified as a project. There are some free templates to choose from under presentations; also some free templates in infographics. If you join up to their Standard service, you pay $4.50 per month for a year. The Visme Complete service is $14.25/month, again billed yearly. Both these premium services offer more storage and other benefits, as well as access to more templates. (I assume those prices are US dollars, no way of telling that I could see.)

Here’s a video to give you some idea of creating presentations with Visme.

As for me personally, I doubt I will pay for extra service with Visme. With only three free projects a month, it’s not likely I will use it on a regular basis to create images when Canva, Ribbet and PicMonkey already offer what I want. However, if I were going to create infographics on a regular basis, if I wanted to delve into their animations, or needed a web-based way of creating presentations, I would certainly look into it further.

If you're interested in articles about making presentations, you might like to read Set Your Stories Free with Haiku Deck.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Reviews: Recent Children’s Picture Books about Birds

Reviews: Recent Children’s Picture Books about Birds
by Susan Stephenson,

Recently I brought you Recent Children's Picture Books about Animals. Next week, we'll look at Recent Children's Picture Books about Dinosaurs. Today we look at some picture books for kids about birds.

Bring on the Birds:

Pre-schoolers can have very strong ideas of what they want to read. Some already prefer non-fiction. Bring on the Birds is by Susan Stockdale and published by Working Title Press, 2014. It’s a companion to Fabulous Fishes which I mentioned in Four Picture Books to Help Kids Learn.

Children will enjoy the lovely simple and clear illustrations and young naturalists will enjoy learning more about these fascinating feathered creatures. Teachers and read-alouders like me will appreciate the rhyming text and afterword with extra facts.


Max was written and illustrated by Marc Martin and published by Penguin Books Australia, 2014.

From the publisher: Max and Bob are old friends. Max helps out in Bob's shop, and in the evenings they go fishing together. Until one summer, when everything changes . . .

From the winner of the 2013 Crichton Award for Australia's best new illustrator comes this heartwarming story of enduring friendship.

I am a confirmed fan of Marc Martin’s illustration style. I have previously reviewed The Curious Explorer's Illustrated Guide to Exotic Animals.  In this book, we meet two unusual friends, a seagull and a man. Their story makes us ponder the meaning of friendship and interdependence. Martin’s illustrations are bursting with bright summer colours that will enchant young and old.

Little Owl:

Little Owl was written by Phillip Gwynne, illustrated by Sandy Okalyi and published by Working Title Press, 2014.

From the publisher: When Little Owl falls from his nest and opens his eyes for the very first time he has one big question. Whooooo? Whoooo? Whoooo am I?

Like many of us, Little Owl is not too sure who he is. He copies different Australian animals but none are the right fit. Until at last he hears someone who makes exactly the same sort of Whoo? Whoo? as he does. Fascinating brightly coloured illustrations and quirky character expressions round out a satisfying story.

The Pigeon Needs a Bath:

The Pigeon Needs a Bath was written and illustrated by Mo Willems and published by Walker Books, 2014.

From the publisher: Smell? What smell? I don t smell. YOU smell. The Pigeon needs a bath! Except, well, the Pigeon's really not so sure about that... Besides, he took a bath last month! Maybe. It looks like it's going to take some serious convincing to get the Pigeon to take the plunge!

The Pigeon Needs a Bath truly will make children and adults laugh aloud! Avoiding bath time is something kids can relate to. Mums and dads will love that here is yet another wonderful picture book to convince kids reading is ultra cool.

Find more Children's Book Reviews on The Book Chook by clicking Reviews in the right sidebar. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Children’s iPad App, My Story - Book Maker for Kids

Children’s iPad App, My Story - Book Maker for Kids
by Susan Stephenson,

I love to find ways for children to create and express themselves, especially when that involves putting their thoughts into a digital story. My Story - Book Maker for Kids is an iPad app that facilitates creating with photos, voice, stickers, drawing and text, resulting in an ebook that can be shared various ways, including to iBooks. You can see two screen grabs from the test story I made about Fat Cat in the image above.

From the developers: Create and share ebooks and stories by adding drawings, photos, and stickers. Then record your voice on every page and share your story with friends, family and classmates. We’ve made My Story super teacher friendly by adding multiple authors and syncing across multiple iPads! So now you can have all your classroom iPads in sync! Perfect for the home or classroom.

What I liked: There are lots of good features in this app that encourage kids to engage in telling a story. Kids will love the decorative element - they can draw, paint, add a photo, add stickers (clipart provided.) Parents and teachers will appreciate the ease of use, the syncing capability, the sharing options, and the fact that kids will not only want to share their own stories, but to read others.

My wish list: I would love a way to do more editing of images e.g. face them in the other direction. I couldn’t find that function. I also wish captions could be longer. And that there was an editable speech bubble sticker. Greedy, aren’t I!

Wish list aside, this is an excellent way for kids to create a digital story. It's mainly about kids recording an oral story - but most will need to write first, to storyboard or organise their thoughts before recording it. It’s attractive and that’s a huge plus with an app that’s also solidly educational.

Find more of my reviews and articles about using iPads with kids on my Pinterest board

Friday, October 24, 2014

Secret Codes and Language Games for Kids

Secret Codes and Language Games for Kids
by Susan Stephenson,

Do you have children or students who want to be cryptographers (i.e. those who study techniques for keeping messages secret)? Maybe you know youngsters who want to drive an elder sibling crazy by writing notes they can’t read, or have passers-by look askance as they communicate fluently (and loudly!) in Pig Latin. Whatever the motives, codes and cyphers or just speaking gobbledygook have been intriguing we humans for centuries, so why should kids miss out on the fun?

Written Codes

Probably the simplest written code for children to use is one where they substitute numbers 1-26 for the letters of the alphabet. A = 1, B = 2 etc. Once children can manage that, they can try starting with M = 1, N = 2 and so on. Friends can each have a copy of the code or perhaps a secret way of indicating which letter is 1.

The code my little brother and I confounded our (nonexistent) enemies with was one we called the box code. I’ve also seen it referred to as the TicTacToe code. Kids draw four grids. They add dots to the second and fourth grids, and set the alphabet letters into each grid slot. By recording the grid lines and dot (or no dot) near each letter, you get a representation for that letter. Here’s a diagram to help.

Here are directions for kids (and maybe a helpful adult) to make a card spy decoder at Frugal Fun for Boys.

Using small images or squiggles to stand for letters is one way kids can create their own code. Have them check out dingbat fonts or pictographs like Vincan symbols for inspiration. Install a dingbat font they can use, or have them create 26 tiny pictographs. Skitch has special characters under the Edit Menu. I downloaded Monsterz by Fonts of Chaos at DaFont to create the code below. In Word, students could make a table, and insert their chosen clipart or symbols for each letter of the alphabet.

Rebus is another way to write in code. With rebus, you need to use a combination of small images and letters to represent words or syllables of words. For example, if I wanted to write a sentence, “You are so wise.” I could write: U R (draw a small image of someone sewing) YY. Or “I see a donkey” becomes: (small image of human eye) C A don (small image of key). See image below.

You can find lots of rebus messages under these bottle caps. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences has some trickier ones for kids to ponder. One other example is on Allen and Unwin’s website, supporting Ursula Dubosarsky’s The Cryptic Casebook of Carlo Carlomagno: The Perplexing Pineapple. This adds and subtracts letters from picture clues, perhaps making it easier for younger kids to grasp.

Don’t forget Morse code, a system where dots and dashes represented letters in Samuel Morse’s telegraph system. Kids can use a torch or flashlight to send a message with it, or use a sound maker like a flute or even try short taps and longer taps on wood. The Boy Scouts of America have a morse code machine kids can use. Here’s a great page (Flash) where morse code is linked to music.

Kids might like to make it doubly difficult for spies to decipher their words by writing them with invisible ink (lemon juice), or keeping the master code in a locked and cleverly hidden box.

Spoken Codes/Language Games


Gibberish isn’t a code at all. But it’s a great way for children to use all their skills to communicate without words. Basically, they must think quickly what they want to say and then “say” it in nonsense talk. So, one child might come up to another and offer to shake hands, saying briefly, “Ingaba”. The other repeats it, and shakes, fairly confident it’s some sort of greeting. Child 1 follows up with a question, “Zukela garba ding?” Child 2 answers with “Jenka willa ding dong” and holds his stomach as if ill. This makes a nice warm-up for learning the language-related games that follow.

Pig Latin

When I was young, many many moons ago, my friends and I became fluent in Pig Latin. We much preferred it to real Latin, and fondly imagined we drove passers-by crazy by so disguising our dialogue to each other. It’s pretty simple. Take the sound or sounds before the first vowel in a word and move them to the end of the word, adding an extra ‘-ay’. Dog becomes ‘ogday’, boy becomes ‘oybay’. If a word starts with a vowel, add ‘way’ to the end of the word. Apple becomes ‘appleway’, egg becomes ‘eggway’. Our teacher is great would become “Ourway eachertay isway eatgray.” (Spell check is fighting me on this!)

Pig Latin isn’t exactly speaking in code, but it’s close - a way of disguising your real speech so only those initiated to it can understand it. Kids do not need to know that sadly, most people DO understand it. I think it’s not only fun, but good brain training to have to visualise a word and change it before speaking.

Here’s an online Pig Latin translator that alters my rule above and adds ‘yay’ rather than ‘way’ when a word starts with a vowel. With this rule, “Bewilder your friends by speaking to them in Pig Latin” becomes “ewilderBay youryay iendsfray ybay eakingspay otay emthay inyay igPay atinLay.”

Ubbi Dubbi

Ubbi Dubbi is a fun language I found out about at PBS Kids. Similar to Pig Latin, in Ubbi Dubbi, you must say “Ub” before any vowel sound. Therefore, “Kids will have such fun with Ubbi Dubbi” becomes “Kubids wubill hubave subuch fubun wubith Ububbubi Dububbubi.” After children have had a try for themselves, introduce them to the cheat’s way - a PBS machine that will translate for them!

If the language games above are too easy for your kids, challenge them with Tutnese or Double Dutch. Here’s a wiki entry that explains the rules. Wish them luck!

Link codes with even more reading! Keep an eye open for children’s books with a code theme e.g. Ursula Dubosarsky’s book, The Perplexing Pineapple: The Cryptic Casebook of Coco Carlomagno (and Alberta) Bk 1, Sally Rippin’s Biliie B Brown Mystery, Code Breaker and Graeme Base's The Jewel Fish of Karnak.

Apart from being lots of fun, learning to think cryptically is great training for the brain. One way to introduce children to this kind of sideways thinking, is to teach them how to play games like Hink Pink and My Aunt Likes. You’ll find descriptions of how to play both in the Book Chook Bag of Tricks. Older kids might enjoy an encounter with a cryptic crossword, a wonderful puzzle for exercising the brain.

{In conjunction with this article, I’m offering a free PDF, Secret Codes for Kids, via my website with some code-related activities kids can try. Mostly you’ll find grids for kids to create their own written codes, all mentioned above, along with brief explanations. Click here if you’re a parent, teacher or librarian who would like to offer it to your kids.}

If you've enjoyed this post, or any others at The Book Chook, I'd love you to help me spread my literacy, learning and literature ideas by promoting via Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, StumbleUpon, G+ or any other way you decide.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Children’s Book Review and Activities, The Storm Whale

Children’s Book Review and Activities, The Storm Whale 
by Susan Stephenson,

The Storm Whale is a children’s picture book written and illustrated by Benji Davies, and published by Simon and Schuster, 2013. You might recall I promised a review of The Storm Whale earlier this month when I reviewed On Sudden Hill. I’ve also added some activities below that might help parents, teachers and librarians extend the literature experience for The Storm Whale.

From the publisher:

Noi and his father live in a house by the sea, his father works hard as a fisherman and Noi often has only their six cats for company. So when, one day, he finds a baby whale washed up on the beach after a storm, Noi is excited and takes it home to care for it. He tries to keep his new friend a secret, but but there's only so long you can keep a whale in the bath without your dad finding out. Noi is eventually persuaded that the whale has to go back to the sea where it belongs. For Noi, even though he can't keep it, the arrival of the whale changes his life for the better - the perfect gift from one friend to another.

This is a gentle story in a beautiful children’s picture book. I know I tend to only review children’s books I really like, or, more importantly, think that children will really like, but The Storm Whale is truly becoming a firm favourite. Each time I look at it, I find something new to value. I know librarians and teachers will appreciate what The Storm Whale offers as a resource to support studies of the environment and the family. Kids will adore the illustrations and the story.


The Storm Whale is a great vehicle for developing children’s visual literacy skills. The first sentence tells us, “Noi lived with his dad and six cats by the sea.” Can kids find the six cats? How has the artist made finding them a little difficult? Can they make a picture for a friend to find several items with some almost hidden in the same way? We rarely see Noi’s mouth. Where do we see it, and why does the artist show us Noi’s mouth on that page? We read that Noi tried to make the whale feel at home. What might we infer from the illustration that he did? The end papers are both double page spreads of whales in the ocean. Can children see a difference between the illustration at the front of the book and the one at the back? What may have motivated the artist to make that change?

Older children could discuss whether it was the right thing to return the whale to the ocean. Is it always easy to do the right thing? Have they ever done something difficult that they knew was right? How would they go about getting a whale from a bathtub in a house to the ocean? Can they write a detailed plan? Do they think Noi might be lonely in the future when his dad must work such long hours? What advice would children have for the dad?

Here's a Pinterest board with activities, crafts and other ideas based on The Storm Whale.

You can find more Children's Book Reviews on The Book Chook by clicking Reviews in the right sidebar.
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