Friday, April 18, 2014

Children’s iPad App, Write About This

Children’s iPad App Review by Susan Stephenson,

Write About This intrigued me as soon as I read about it. I love to find and share any tools that encourage children to write, so I was excited to discover Write About This not only prompted kids to write, but also to create their own prompts. Double delight!

From the developer:

Write About This is a visual writing prompt and creation platform perfect for classrooms and families! With endless ways to respond and the ability to craft custom photo prompts, it will kick-start any writing activity. 125 categorized images and 375 text+voice prompts included!

Full version Includes:

An easy way for students to compose and share Opinion and Narrative digital writing!

Carefully selected and written by teachers, all 125 pages and 375 prompts are interesting and appropriate!

Multiple authors can write and save to the gallery. Save to the Camera Roll and share a polished .pdf by email!

Authors can now add a voice recording with their work to create a personalized movie on the Camera Roll!

Use your photos, ideas and voice to capture unique Write Abouts!

Voice and Level options based on learning theory and real classroom experience!

From single teacher iPads, to carts, to 1:1...educators are using the app to meet their unique needs!

Search content based on interest, curriculum, season or theme.

What I liked:

There’s a free version of the app that gives you a taste of the full version so you can try before you buy. One of its creators is teacher, Brad Wilson, who saw a need in the app market for picture-related prompts for primary (elementary) school kids. I love its versatility and that it celebrates kids not only as writers but as prompt creators themselves. Having children create prompts for each other introduces a collaborative and game-like element that I applaud. Let’s have fun with writing!

Navigation and layout is simple and obvious. The built in prompts consist of pictures and some text to further tease out ideas. I like the thoughtful range of prompts - some that require kids to look inside themselves for a response, some that provoke fun and mirth, others more serious that would make excellent topics for children’s speeches or essays. The prompts are also categorized.

There’s a notice under Parent/Teacher information that explains there is zero data collected from within the app.

Kids can save their work to the camera roll, and best of all, they can create prompts from their own saved pictures, or snap pics intentionally. You can see the format of a created prompt in my sample below.

iTunes US: $3.99

You can check out the iPad apps I reviewed in 2013. Or browse my Pinterest board of Book Chook reviews.

*****The Book Chook will be taking a break over Easter. Look for the next post, Creating Digital Stories with iPad, on 28/4/14.*****

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Children's Book Review, Little Red Riding Hood

Children's Book Review by Susan Stephenson,

Every family needs a picture book version of the Little Red Riding Hood tale. This version, Little Red Riding Hood, re-written by Katie Cotton and illustrated by Alison Jay, has lovely simple language and illustrations. It was published in Australia by Koala Books (2013) and the RRP is $14.99. In the UK, the publisher is Templar.

Even though the Wolf is suitably menacing, this isn't a violent story. The woodcutter uses rope and the wolf is not cut open, but carted off in a barred wagon to a special school for naughty fairy tale creatures. There's a sub story told via the charming illustrations, and kids will delight in recognising folk from other fairy tales.

To extend the literature experience of Little Red Riding Hood, children could create puppets to re-tell the story. They can make their own dioramas from cardboard boxes, and add card figures too. Creaza has a Red Riding Hood world where children can create a comic version online. This is a fun place to invent headlines for the Fairy Tale Times, the way I did below.

I believe in sharing fairy tales with kids. It’s up to parents, teachers and librarians to decide whether they share the original, often darker versions, or one that retains lighter elements, like this. If you're interested in fairy tales, you might also like to check out these resources:

Read KBR's review of Little Red Riding Hood. Find more Children's Book Reviews on The Book Chook by clicking Reviews in the right sidebar.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Story Bags as Prompts for Storytelling and Writing

Story Bags as Prompts for Storytelling and Writing
by Susan Stephenson,

Story bags are wonderful zero-tech tools that work well for both children’s story writing and their story telling. I like to use them with children who find it hard to start from the abstract. A story bag contains things that are real and physical - often holding an object, or arranging several on a surface seems to unleash creativity.

At home, story bags make fun games that allow kids to practise vocabulary, practise sequencing a story, and gain confidence with speaking skills. Changing the objects in the story bag keeps the game fresh, and objects can be tailored to children’s interests and needs. A story bag also make a wonderful activity to take on a family trip.

In the classroom, story bags are useful as prompts for both oral storytelling and writing. Kids working in groups can draw out three or four items and should include those objects somewhere in their stories. Small toys, LEGO pieces, small household objects, weird and wonderful items from junk sales or the tip - all make great fodder for a story bag. You can see some examples in my story bag above. Older kids who think they’re "too old" for objects (they’re not!) can try a story bag activity with small cards. Add another dimension by having a bag for character names or types, a bag for where the scene takes place, and a bag for the story problem, climax or resolution.

A story bag can be such a useful tool to include in story time at the library. I like to start by having kids make predictions as to what MIGHT be in the bag (a purple penguin), and then what is more LIKELY to be in the bag (a key.) Sometimes I’ve included objects that might give a clue as to the story I’m about to read. Depending on age, a child can then reach into the bag to draw out an object, perhaps trying to name it before it appears. Younger children might be content with naming; older kids might like to describe the object, invent a different name for it, tell a little story about it.

You can also ask kids to make a story bag for a partner at school, for themselves or for a sibling at home. Remind children to be on the lookout for items that will work well in a story bag. They might like to think of themes that draw items together (from nature, weird and wonderful, mysterious) or just try for a group of completely disparate objects. In my experience, the stranger the combinations, the more participants need to think creatively. Kids can also invent story bags as guessing games (blindfold the guesser) or as prompts for 2 minute speeches.

Extend the idea of a story bag by having children use cameras to snap pictures of their objects. They can then weave a digital story around them, perhaps by adding captions to images, the way I did in Visual Story Telling. Or children can create a story from the cards they draw out of a story bag, then set up scenes to photograph them as an accompaniment to their stories.

You might also like to read:

Friday, April 11, 2014

Children’s Books for ANZAC Day 2014

Children’s Books for ANZAC Day 2014
by Susan Stephenson,

Originally, ANZAC Day in Australia was to remember the ANZACs - soldiers who fought in Gallipolli during World War 1. Generally though, ANZAC Day is a national holiday set aside on April 25 for us to remember all Australians and New Zealanders who have lost their lives in wars and conflicts. Because many parents, teachers and librarians do their best to help children understand the spirit of ANZAC Day, I want to introduce some books you might appreciate.


Midnight is a children’s picture book by Mark Greenwood and Frane Lessac. It was published by Walker Books Australia in 2014. RRP $Au27.95.

A foal is born at midnight, on the homestead side of the river. Coal black. Star ablaze. Moonlight in her eyes. On October 31, 1917, the 4th and 12th Regiments of the Australian Light Horse took part in one of the last great cavalry charges in history. Among the first to leap the enemy trenches was Lieutenant Guy Haydon riding his beloved mare, Midnight. This is their story.

I really enjoyed the narrative non-fiction format Midnight is written in. I am a Story person myself; so too are many kids. The narrative style helps them come to grips with the facts they learn in this book. Obviously based on meticulous research, and dedicated to the Light Horsemen and their horses, Midnight is above all a story of one man and his horse. The Charge at Beersheba is brought to life for us through the eyes of Guy Haydon and Midnight. Lessac’s striking illustrations perfectly complement Greenwood’s evocative text.

The Poppy

The Poppy is a children's picture book by Andrew Plant (Ford Street Publishing 2014) RRP $26.95 via Pan Macmillan Australia.

Stunningly illustrated in over 70 paintings, The Poppy is the true story of one of Australia's greatest victories, and of a promise kept for nearly a century. On Anzac Day, 1918, a desperate night counter-attack in the French village of Villers-Bretonneux became one of Australia's greatest victories. A bond was forged that night between France and Australia that has never been broken. Villers-Bretonneux is 'The town that never forgets'. What was achieved that terrible night - and what happened after - is a story that, likewise, Australians should never forget.

The Poppy is not so much a story as a description of a significant event in Australia’s history. Accompanied by more than seventy paintings that manage to convey both the sombre reality of so many lives lost, and the joyous celebration of a link forged between two countries, The Poppy makes another excellent children’s picture book for schools that need to augment their ANZAC Day resources. Although not specifically about Gallipoli, the fact that it sprang from a WW1 event and that it shows the positives that can come from conflict definitely make it qualify, in my opinion.
(I’ve previously reviewed another publication Andrew Plant illustrated, The Little Dinosaur.)

Meet the ANZACS

Meet the ANZACS is a children's picture book written by Claire Saxby, illustrated by Max Berry and published by Random House Books Australia, 2014.

With perfect timing as we approach the centenary commemorations of World War 1 and the Anzac legend, this new picture book in the Meet… series (which includes Ned Kelly, Saint Mary MacKillop, Captain Cook and forthcoming Douglas Mawson) has been beautifully executed with younger readers in mind. The simple but eloquent text describes the beginning of the Anzacs as young men in Australia and New Zealand enlisted and their subsequent travels and experiences leading up to Gallipoli. (Quote from Sue Warren's review at Just So Stories.)

Find another review of Meet the ANZACS and The Poppy via Barbara Braxton's The Bottom Shelf.

Simpson and his Donkey

Simpson and His Donkey, written by Mark Greenwood, illustrated by Frane Lessac and published by Walker Books Australia, 2008, is not a recent children's picture book, but I urge you to consider it as a wonderful resource for ANZAC Day.  Here’s a quote from my earlier review: “But this is not just a story about a battle. It shows us the human side of war, the courage, the waste of human life, the brotherhood engendered among men fighting for a common cause. When Jack was just a lad in England, before he sailed off to Australia and adventure, he vowed never to forget his young mate, Billy. Billy was one of more than three hundred men whom Jack rescued at Gallipoli.”

An Anzac Tale

For older children, I recommend a graphic picture book I reviewed last year, An Anzac Tale. Here’s a quote from my review: “I have to admit, I am still blinking away tears as I write this. Despite the "animal" characters, this is a moving and I feel accurate account of the ANZAC story told from the perspective of an average soldier. It's obvious a great deal of research has gone into this book: the uniforms, the authentic tone of the dialogue, the sentiments expressed by the soldiers, the history revealed - even the slight deviations noted - all contribute to putting the reader right in the thick of the action.”

Find more wonderful books with an ANZAC theme via the CBCA's Reading Time.

Find other children's book reviews at The Book Chook via the Reviews button in the right sidebar.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Children’s Book Review, The Swap

Children's Book Review by Susan Stephenson,

Children's Book Review

The Swap is a children’s picture book written by Jan Ormerod, illustrated by Andrew Joyner and published by Little Hare, an imprint of Hardie Grant Egmont (Australia 2013). I’ve previously reviewed Ormerod’s delightful 101 Things to Do with Baby and When an Elephant Comes to School.

When a baby is born, little brothers and sisters are not always enthusiastic about the new arrival. Such is the case with Caroline Crocodile. Her baby brother is smelly, dribbles, is no fun and takes up all the room in Mum’s lap. So she decides to swap him for a new model. The Baby Shop assistant enters enthusiastically into the idea, and supplies her with different babies. Alas, those babies turn out to have their problems too! Ormerod tells such a fun tale, and there’s humour for adult readers too - like when Caroline complains that the chair-eating Baby Panda is a fussy eater, or the assistant suggests that twin baby tigers would be: “Twice the fun!” Yeah, right! I can hear every parent saying.

I love Joyner’s illustration style. It’s just as perfect for this book, as it is for Too Many Elephants in this House! (look for my review in May.) He brings his animal characters so beautifully to life and portrays an amazing amount of information through their expressions and body language. The limited palette choice in The Swap gives what to me seems a lovely retro style to the illustrations. There are also many, many visual details for kids to pore over, giggle about and discuss.

Get more information about The Swap from Joyner’s website, including great illustrations for kids to colour. It’s great to know The Swap is available in other countries, or will be.

As a follow-up to the story, your youngster might like to play at being a baby. What dress up clothes can he/she find or make to help? You could make special food for babies together, sing baby songs, have lots of cuddles and even have a nap! Kids could also act out the story with the help of their toys, and build a Baby Shop from a cardboard box.

If you're looking for books about/for babies, perhaps a great gift for a new-born, as well as The Swap, take a look at my reviews of:

Find more Children's Book Reviews on The Book Chook by clicking Reviews in the right sidebar. You might also like to read Bedtime Goes Better with Books. 

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