Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Picture Books that Promote Imagination


by Susan Stephenson, www.thebookchook.com


I am compiling a list of children’s picture books that encourage kids to use their imaginations. You’ll find that list embedded below, but before that a review, and then some questions to nudge kids’ thinking. All of these books by their very nature would make excellent choices for an exploration of the CBCA Children’s Book Week theme: Escape to Everywhere. With our imaginations, and books, we can not only escape but play, have fun and learn. How wonderful the gift of reading is!



Here’s a review of a new book. One Thousand Trees is a children’s picture book by Kyle Hughes-Odgers, published by Fremantle Press (2017.) RRP: $Au24.99

From the publisher:

Deep in the heart of the city, Frankie dreams of a thousand trees … over them, under them, through them, above them. Award-winning artist Kyle Hughes-Odgers takes readers on a journey of imagination and discovery, exploring the art of nature and the nature of art.

In the beginning of the book, we meet Frankie, sitting at the top of a building, looking out over a city made of lines, angles and drab colours. Nearby is a tiny shoot and leaf, growing from a crack in the concrete. Frankie’s imagination soars, and we see her in different spatial and emotional relationships with trees. Simple prepositions like between, up and atop add to the images to show us Frankie’s imaginary journey from tree to tree. Then to the very top of a tree where she sees beyond the city to distant fields and mountains. Finally, Frankie’s imagination and some paint helps the city become transformed.

As you might expect in a picture book that encourages imagination, Hughes-Odgers' illustrations are unusual, emotive, often showing different perspectives. I love to think of children losing themselves in these pages, allowing their imaginations full rein, and dreaming. Hughes-Odgers uses a limited palette of sepia, ochres and grey-green water colours, and this reinforces the book’s other-worldly “feel”.

As well as being a visual delight, I think One Thousand Trees is a very useful book for schools looking to supplement their resources about art and the environment, or resources that promote imagination. There are teacher notes available at the Fremantle Press website. I’ll also be adding One Thousand Trees to my list of children’s picture books about Change.

Questions to prompts kids thinking and discussion about imagination:

* What IS imagination? Where is it?

* What is the opposite of imagination?

* How do we use our imaginations?

* Is an imagination positive or negative?

* How can you tell a writer, an artist or some other creator has used imagination themselves?

* Do you know any books or movies that have examples of characters using imagination?

* How have you used your own imagination?

* In what way does your imagination work when you play?

* What is the difference between imagination and dreams?

* Why is imagination important?

* Can you imagine a purple penguin? Can you NOT imagine a purple penguin?

* Can you draw, model, create or write about something imaginary?

You might also also be interested in Change: Picture Book Suggestions and Questions, and Picture Books that Focus on Friendship.

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Friday, July 14, 2017

Helpful Resources for Young Writers, 2017


by Susan Stephenson, www.thebookchook.com


There are some excellent free resources online that help young writers. Some are in the form of tools and interactive gadgets that generate a prompt in the form of an image or a structure, something that might spark the beginning, middle or even the end of a narrative. Others are directed more at teachers who are looking for ways to help their students with writing, but these include excellent prompts too. At the end of this article, I’ve embedded a list of more tips for teachers and parents who want to help kids write.


Here you'll find a range of ideas and prompts that help kids get an idea to START their first draft, something many students struggle with.

*** Find picture prompts for writers at Once Upon a Picture.

*** Find more picture prompts at Pobble 365.

*** Here is my Creative Prompt Series at The Book Chook. These prompts can be used for lots of different kinds of creating, including writing. Like all prompts, I encourage kids to build on an idea or deviate completely if that’s how they want to go.

*** Having kids play with language to make silly sentences can not only spark an idea for their own writing, it also gives them a handle on how to structure a sentence. Here is Ambleside’s The Amazing Sentence Machine. The Ambleweb Crazy Story Machine is different but similar.

*** Another type of visual prompt is this Emoji Generator. Kids can keep clicking on “And then…” to produce a new emoji to weave into their story, or start over.

*** Scholastic Story Starters is a kind of virtual machine that has four themes. Once kids choose from Adventure, Fantasy, Sci-Fi or Scrambler, they then push a lever to generate a story idea e.g. “List five presents you would buy for a nervous cousin who spends a week in an amusement park.” and also change those elements they want to. There’s an associated guide for teachers.

*** Scholastic also offer Writing with Writers where authors guide students through workshops about different kinds of writing.

*** Writing Prompts for Children (part of Writing Exercises UK) has several interactive “buttons” to press that generates a story prompt - a character, a plot suggestion, a first line, an object to incorporate into a story etc.

*** ReadWriteThink’s Fractured Fairy Tale tool is Flash-based. It helps kids better understand story structure at the same time as encouraging them to have fun and imagine.


Here you'll find resources for teachers who want to encourage students to write.

*** ABC Splash writing resources include interactive games, videos and advice from adult writers for kids.

*** There is a great Facebook Group, specifically for teachers interested in encouraging kids to write: On Butterfly Wings ~ Writing Inspiration. Teachers need to apply to join.

*** Australia Post has detailed, step-by-step instructions for students on writing letters.

*** Find excellent teacher resources to support writing at the Wicked Young Writer Awards.

*** Here is a UK site that is well worth browsing: Talk 4 Writng.

*** NaNoWriMo has resources for young writers who want to write a novel - primary/elementary students included.

*** The Literacy Shed has many excellent animations and videos with activity suggestions for teachers who work with young writers.

*** ReadWriteThink, a US organisation, has a vast amount of writing resources that cover areas like persuasive, narrative and other types.

*** Have you thought of having your students create the text for a wordless picture book? You can find some of my favourites here. The Box is a children’s picture book by Kevin O’Malley and is available on his website as a free downloadable PDF. Why not have your children tell this story in their own words? There is another free PDF story too: Bruno, You’re Late for School.

If you’re interested in teaching kids to write, you might like to read Encourage Kids to Write Poetry with Tools and Apps or How Do Kids Write a Book Review? Many of my Free PDFs also have writing activities in them.

(Clipart Credit: Phillip Martin)

My list, Teaching Kids to Write, is also embedded below.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Children’s Book Review, I’m Australian Too

Reviewed by Susan Stephenson, www.thebookchook.com


I’m Australian Too is a children’s picture book written by Mem Fox, illustrated by Ronojoy Ghosh and published by Scholastic (2017.) RRP: $Au19.99 HB.

From the publisher:

I’m Australian! How about you? Many people from many places have come across the seas, to make Australia their home. How Australian is that?

From countries near and far, many have made their home in Australia, sharing it with the original inhabitants, and living in peace beneath the Southern Star.

Mem Fox celebrates Australia's incredible multicultural heritage in this beautiful book illustrated by Ronojoy Ghosh.

I loved the emphasis in I'm Australian Too on celebrating Australia’s cultural diversity, but doing it in a matter-of-fact way that avoids the tub-thumping kids don’t need to hear. Instead, we meet a range of kids who share their backgrounds with us. One Melbourne-born child has a dad born in Sydney, and a mum born in Ballarat; three kids looking out of an apartment window tell us Dad grew up in Darwin, Mum in Humpty Doo and that their “mob’s been here forever…” leading us to infer their heritage is indigenous. Kids whose families came from Ireland, Italy, England, Somalia and Syria share brief snippets of their past and current life, and we slowly become aware that some of those lives have been very difficult and different to ours. Fox’s text is simple, spare almost, even in the final two pages where she reminds us that Australia is ours to share with others, and a place where broken hearts can mend.

Ghosh’s illustrations are interesting, and I think they suit the text very well. He shares different views of the Australian way of life - many clearly showing the children we meet in the text, others portraying Australian icons. Repeated white birds range from cockatoos to a classic dove of peace, adding a nice sense of continuity to the visual story. One stark page stands out - a little girl next to a razor-wire topped high concrete wall. She is a refugee and confides that if Australia lets her in, she would love to be a vet.

This new children’s picture book works at different levels. Younger ones might enjoy the surface story and wonder where their own grandparents came from. I think it will certainly give older kids pause for thought. I hope they will feel thankful to live in a country where diversity and multiculturalism are celebrated by most people, and understand that not all countries have this freedom.

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

Friday, July 7, 2017

Creative Prompt for Kids - Start with Emoji


by Susan Stephenson, www.thebookchook.com


Did you know World Emoji Day is on 17/7? What a great day to have kids explore and create with emoji! Emoji are ideal as prompts to creativity. They are visual, so it doesn’t matter what grade or reading ability a student has. The standard emoji available via a computer keyboard are finite, restricting kids and therefore almost forcing them to be creative, or to think outside the box. Most kids are familiar with emoji, and they’re fun.


Here are prompts that might spark some kind of creativity in your kids. The choice of activity is up to them. I have made suggestions within prompts but the whole idea of a prompt is to start the creative process off. A complete change of direction is not just okay, it’s encouraged!

*** Look at an emoji database. Here’s one at Emojipedia of all the Apple emoji, or all the Google emoji. Choose your favourite and bring it to life the way you choose. You might paint a picture of it, design a cake like it, write a poem or song about it, make it the main character in a video commercial or story, or create a puppet of it.

*** What would your favourite emoji wear/like to eat/do?

*** Use emoji and other elements like text, symbols and images to create an image, or infopic, that says something about you. Image editor, PicMonkey, has recently aded PicMoji to their Overlay collection (found under the butterfly symbol in the left side menu)

*** The RSPCE (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Emoji) has discovered a terrible plot. The evil genius, Percival P. Plompenfleck, wants to remove all positive emoji and leave only negative ones. Which emoji do you think he would get rid of? Which emoji would Pompenfleck allow to remain? What do you think makes an emoji positive/negative? Could an emoji be both positive AND negative? Create a story about this.

*** Translate a book or movie title using emoji, then give it to a friend to work out.

*** Can you create an emoji of you? You could simply draw yourself, or try a different way. Here are some emoji created by Year 3 and 4 students with the Assembly app.

*** Can you dress up as an emoji? What message does your emoji have for the world? How will you communicate that message?

*** What new emoji would you like to see introduced? Poll your friends to choose the most popular new emoji suggestion, and then hold a design-an-emoji contest.

***With World Emoji Day taking place on 17 July how can we use emoji to celebrate?

*** You and your friends are trying to steer clear of the Meanies. You want to send messages to each other but are worried that Beanie Meanie or Deanie Meanie might grab the note and read it. Can you and your friends use emojis and letters or other symbols to create a message you’d like to send?


*** Create a comic with emoji as characters. I made my example, above,  by inserting an emoji into a text document, making sure I enlarged my font size to maximum, exporting it as a PDF, then as an image which I made transparent, then adding it to a blank canvas so I could add speech bubbles etc. I used Comic Life for this final part, but you could use PicMonkey or another image editing program.

*** Invent an emoji-themed toy. You could try knitting or sewing one, use recycled materials to create a board game, even change sporting items to look like emoji. Or think up a much better idea yourself!

(NB for Teachers: If kids aren’t sure how to enable emoji on their keyboards, or if their i-device is compatible, here’s an article that will help. Also, you can find an Emoji Prompt Generator made by Eric Curts via this article.)

If you’d like some more creative prompts for kids, check out the list embedded below.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Reminder and Giveaway - Escape to Everywhere

by Susan Stephenson, www.thebookchook.com




There’s not long now until Children’s Book Week takes place in Australia - August 20 - 26, 2017. You can find loads of ideas to help parents, teachers and librarians tease out the theme, Escape to Everywhere, in my article Ideas for Children’s Book Week 2017, and there are many prompts and suggestions to engage kids with books and learning in Activities for Kids - Children’s Book Week 2017.

Giveaway: Escape to Everywhere - with an Escape Room Kit!

To help with your Children’s Book Week 2017 planning, Lock Paper Scissors, Escape Room Kits are giving four readers of The Book Chook two free printable escape room kits, each. What a fun way to celebrate the Book Week theme - Escape to Everywhere!

The first kit is Escape Quest. It’s designed for kids’ parties, ideally for children aged 8-10, and comes with over 80 printable puzzle cards. But it would also work at school or camp.

As Lock Paper Scissors says, “Before the party, follow the step by step instructions to place the clues around your home and garden. When the kids arrive everything's set up so there's no need to stress about getting everything done at once. You, or another adult, will guide the kids through the game by following the simple story cards included in the kit. All up, it takes about 45 mins to complete and is an amazing focus for any party.”

The second kit on offer is The Lost Mummy. It’s designed for kids 10-12 years, and like the other kits is editable and customizable.

I have to admit I am impressed with Lock Paper Scissors. There is so much generosity of spirit in evidence with this company. Basically, the business sells escape room kits, but marketing is aimed at people who don’t have time to start making an escape room kit from scratch. The website also offers a wealth of free advice and suggestions. For instance, here’s a great explanation of why and how to use escape rooms in the classroom. Here’s a list of 32 escape room puzzles that are reasonably inexpensive to create at home. And here’s an excellent detailed explanation of how to craft your first escape room. The kits themselves seem reasonably priced to me (e.g. the two mentioned above are $US 19.99 each) for people who simply don’t have time to do all the preparation involved in creating one.

If you would like to be in the running to gain access to both Escape Quest and The Lost Mummy, you should send an email with Escape in the subject line to thebookchook (at) gmail (dot) com within the next three days. A random and possibly sleepy chicken will choose four lucky recipients at 5.00am on July 8 eastern Australian time, and I will notify those people soon after. Update: The giveaway is over, and the four recipients have been notified. 

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