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.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Children’s iPad App, Miximal

Children’s iPad App, Miximal
by Susan Stephenson,

A while ago, I saw that Miximal, a variation of the flip-book game we used to play as kids, was free for a time. So I downloaded it to see if it was something I could recommend here at The Book Chook.

It is! While I advocate that young kids not spend too much screen-related time, Miximal is one of those apps that’s perfect for when your preschooler or Kinderkid wants a “turn” on the iPad. Basically, it’s a digital toy. The screen is divided into three and children can swap heads, upper bodies and lower bodies with a simple swipe. Each part comes with a little animation that’s fun to watch and hear. Once a child is happy with the visual combination, he can press play to see the resulting animal name in chunks. So, if he chose an elephant head, a chimpanzee upper body and a flamingo lower body, he would see and hear “e-pan-go”. Isn’t that a nice way to incorporate word play into the fun?

From the developers:
Kids! Mix animals, mix syllables.
Parents! Over 1000 unique combinations filled with handcrafted animations and sounds.

MIXIMAL is an entertaining game based on the traditional flip books we all know from our childhood. We have taken this old-fashioned model and generated sweet handcrafted animations and sounds to compliment it. Each animation is created frame by frame to give MIXIMAL a warm and organic aesthetic. The sounds are taken from analogue sources.

MIXIMAL is a tactile experience, as we think our kids should play with quality toys.
What I liked: I love to find apps that support early literacy. With so many garish apps out there, I find myself constantly drawn to apps that have beautiful, gentle art work, like Miximal. Our children deserve to interact with excellent graphic design. I also liked that the app is intuitive, works well and easily from the start, and has lots of combinations available.

Follow-up: Miximal would be a fun activity to follow up as a family or class group. Older siblings will enjoy designing head and body combinations, and younger siblings will enjoy mixing! Add an element of chance to the game by asking children to choose parts with their eyes closed! Another literacy-based idea is to have children experiment with breaking animal words into syllables - el-e-phant, ti-ger - and then create new animals from mixing syllables - eleger. Keep it simple for younger kids by only mixing heads and bodies, and dividing animals and animal words into two. Issue older primary/elementary children with a challenge: what would a Tyrannophantazee look like? What sort of habitat would you expect it to live in? What would it eat? Describe its predators.

Check out my other iPad App Reviews on Pinterest

Friday, October 17, 2014

Creating with Kids and Apps

Creating with Kids and Apps

by Susan Stephenson,

I love to find ways for children to think creatively and express themselves. If I can find an activity that combines technology with creating something, I’m also pleased. That’s because I believe not only in limiting screen time for children, but encouraging them to use screens creatively where possible. In today’s post, I’ve gathered together all the apps (iPad and one Mac app) that I’ve tried out and reviewed so far that have potential for children to create something. Whether the creation process involves digital art, writing, photography, presenting information, making digital stories, or making music, it offers children ways to express themselves and think creatively. I've also added articles I've written about creative apps. I plan to update this list every couple of months. 

NB: This is a Listly list, and that means you can interact with it should you want to, share it, and also embed it on your own blog. Be aware that once you get past 25 thumbnail images, you need to navigate to the next page of apps. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Children’s Book Review, Lucas and Jack

Children's Book Review by Susan Stephenson,

Children's Book Review

Lucas and Jack is a children’s picture book written by Ellie Royce, illustrated by Andrew McLean, and published by Working Title Press, 2014.

From the publisher:

Every week Lucas's mum visits Great Grandpop at the nursing home. And every week Lucas waits for her outside. Waiting is boring! Until Lucas meets Jack.

A book to bridge generations.

I always appreciate finding gentle, understated children’s picture books. Royce presents us with a young character, Lucas, who like most kids thinks he has nothing in common with the older folk he sees while visiting the nursing home with Mum. Through meeting Jack, Lucas slowly realises that people like his great-grandfather -  Jack who once farmed the land under the nursing home, Leo the ex-detective, and Evelyn the the ballerina who danced for the Queen - all have stories to tell. They like some of the things Jack likes too, and Jack slowly changes from a bored kid to a youngster keen to return to the nursing home next time. Royce uses lots of dialogue to advance the story, and her characters all have the ring of authenticity attributed to a true storyteller.

McLean’s illustrations are perfect for this story. His charcoal and watercolour sketches complement the gentleness of the tale, and his clever use of colour really enhances the vignettes of residents’ earlier lives. Working Title have added great value to Lucas and Jack with habitually excellent teacher notes from Janet McLean.

With Grandparents Day coming later this month on October 26, and lots of teachers, librarians and parents wanting a focus resource, Lucas and Jack would be an excellent picture book choice to share with kids. Students could share information about their own grandparents, perhaps interviewing them first to make sure the information is accurate! Grandparents and great-grandparents could be invited to the classroom to participate in a shared read-loud of Lucas and Jack, and to tell children a little about their lives now, and when they were young(er).

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

Monday, October 13, 2014

Bringing the Wow Factor to Reading

Bringing the Wow Factor to Reading - Inspiring a Love of Literature
by Amie Butchko

I have loved literature since I was in the 3rd grade and learned how to write a haiku. My teacher truly encouraged me and what a difference that made, as any child shines in the light. I just knew words were for me. There have been few things in my life that have inspired me more than this love of words. In college, I studied Christina Rossetti, Ezra Pound, Dylan Thomas and T.S. Elliot. I delighted in Shakespeare’s Othello and in Poe’s The Raven. I marveled at how symbolisms of religion, fertility, death and life, can all blend singularly into one work.

Now, as a mom, I freelance write. However, I have little time to revel in what really makes my heart sing. I always thought, “I will teach my children to love these things…” Yet, motherhood and the moment often dulls my better intention.

You see, as I found when teaching high school English, sometimes kids just don’t get it – or want to. They just don’t connect. As the bells and whistles of technology take over our world, it is more so. So, here I’ve made a list for all us “readies” out there with small children. How do we inspire the next generation with a fire for literature (if only to spark some initial appreciation for the greats, perhaps to be fleshed out later in life)?

Ways to Bring the Wow Factor to Reading

1. Bring out the Grimm. The fairy tales, that is. The ones that are dark, oh so dark, for our slightly older children. Tell them ghost-story style, around the fire pit with a side of Edgar Allen Poe. These chilling tales will deliver as they are scary and kids love scary.

2. Host a child-produced play at your next family vacation. Each year, my family gets together in Cape Cod for a few nights. There are fifteen grandchildren in all that attend, ranging from 14 to a year old. The girls, each year, organize and produce a talent show which gave me this idea. Give a group of kids a book, and simply tell them to turn it into a play. Let them work on the rest - from reading to doling out the roles to practicing for a day or more. When they have had ample time, hang a curtain in a doorway, or set up lawn chairs in the yard for all the adults to watch. Make popcorn, give them poetic license and see what they can create along with great memories!

3. Go to a local book signing. I live in a town where there are many child-tailored events. Our local tea room has book signings for children’s books. Taking kids to something special like this can definitely inspire them to be a reader or can impress them toward the idea of becoming a writer. The book they receive will certainly become a favorite.

4. Frequent the library. With all the hustle, bustle, playdates and extracurricular activities, there is barely time to settle into a quiet spot and read. I find that a family trip to the library can be just the thing my kids need to set their focus on a book. Something about letting them choose their own, and the quiet and comfort of the children’s room, makes it that much more of an inviting prospect for them. Surprisingly, they will check out more books than they can possibly get through in the allotted time! As well, you will find, that many a local library has fun children events centered around inspiring a love of reading. All you need to do is a little research and then, attend. Sign up for a story-time group, watch a puppet show… these are just a few surprises your library may have up its sleeve.

5. Use technology to your advantage. Before a child can develop a love of learning, he must first learn to read. If you find you can’t get your child away from the computer on a rainy day, use it to your advantage. There are learning sites that turn reading into games, with bright color and animations that delight. You child will hardly know he or she is doing something good for themselves. Try interactive sites like, Interactive Learning Sites for Education, or to name a few of my children’s own favorites.

6. See the movie. If all else fails, see a movie based on a classic. At least your child will learn the literature and maybe even become interested in comparing it to the written version or find a series they may want to explore further in print. Maleficent is a good place to start, or try The Fault in Our Stars, Ender’s Game and the Harry Potter movies. You could share the book in a family read-aloud first, and then make a parent-child movie night out of the big screen version as a fun family activity and/or tradition in the making.

7. Read to your kids. I know this is about bringing the WOW, but for me, there is nothing as wonderful as reading aloud to your kids. If it is not something you frequently do, you’re missing out. Older siblings can do it with younger siblings as well. It is a bonding moment and given the right book, can be an almost sacred happening. Use a kindle, grab a hammock, read by candlelight when the power goes out, or just fireside on a winter night. I bet your child won’t get bored. In fact, slowing down is so out of the ordinary nowadays, creating focused one-on-one time may be the most surprising thing to happen in ages.

Bio: Amie Butchko is a freelance writer in Warwick, NY, United States, where she lives with her husband and three children. She writes on topics ranging from education to parenting to medicine to religion. You can read her works at

(Image credit: Morguefile.)
Related Posts with Thumbnails