Friday, September 23, 2016

Encourage Kids to Write Poetry with Tools and Apps

Written by Susan Stephenson,

For many children, writing poetry is a daunting task. Adults are daunted too! I believe we shouldn’t ask kids to write poetry, until we have shared LOTS of poetry with them - poetry in all sorts of forms and from many different poets, particularly those who write for kids. Adding a poetry book to your read-aloud stash is one simple, yet enriching way to do this. Another idea I advocate is to check out the videos generously shared by poets who read their own works aloud, like Michael Rosen (see video below) Websites like Giggle Poetry, Scholastic and Poetry4Kids offer kids a lot too.

A regular subscription to The School Magazine means that children will regularly read not only short poems, but encounter fun and exciting stories, articles and word fun. And let's not forget that most magical tool of all - a library card - bringing kids access to all sorts of poetry from near and far.

Once youngsters have read and enjoyed lots of poetry, we can show them how we grown ups go about writing a poem, but remind them that there is no one “right” way. I often ease kids in by finding a short rhyming poem in a book, say four lines, and invite students to change it and make it their own. Nursery rhymes are great for this. Scholastic has a set of videos from US poets who share writing secrets with kids.

Many teachers start children off with the short forms of poetry, particularly those that support young learners by having some sort of template or scaffolding. Some apps and website tools are also specifically designed to encourage poetry creation. These include:

Acrostic: “Acrostic Poem is another free app by generous developers, ReadWriteThink. It’s a great way to introduce children to writing poetry because it supports them and gives them a concrete framework to operate in.”

Haiku: “Haiku concentrates on doing one thing simply and well. It supports and encourages children to create their own haiku. The support means it’s suitable for kids old enough to write, even those hesitant to write poetry. I loved that the result can be saved to the camera roll, emailed and then printed - great idea for a display sometime.”

Diamante: “Again, kids will feel confident because of the scaffolding in place - they are ‘walked’ through each step of the process, including examples of printable diamante poems to use as models.”

Theme Poems: “Theme Poems is an interactive online tool, an iPad app and an Android app. The ReadWriteThink website not only has the tool (Flash Player required) but also has grade appropriate lessons to support it.“

Alphabet Organizer: Not strictly for poetry, this app could be used by kids to make alphabetical collections of vocabulary or word images for poetry.

Lark by Storybird: Storybird is a website where kids can make use of wonderful art work provided as prompts for stories they create. Storybird’s app, Lark, was developed specifically so children could “… make and share art-inspired poetry” using art work as a prompt.

PICLITS: Sometimes, the actual mechanical ask of handwriting or typing is difficult for kids, so word magnets can help. Kids can drag and drop a word, and use a drop-down menu to add different endings to that word. PICLITS also offers a range of image prompts, and a way to add your own words.

Found Poetry with Word Mover: A great way to create blank verse, Word Mover is another app with “word magnets” kids can use.

The wonderful thing is that apps don’t always need to be designed for poem writing, to encourage and enhance it. Don’t forget some of the image editors where kids can create or edit an image that becomes a prompt, or the camera app with which children can make a visual record of something they would like to write a poem about. With any writing, we want our kids to become aware of all their senses so they can hook a reader into a story or poem. So (for instance) even an audio app can help them remember what they’ve heard, and they can ponder later how best to make a word picture of it for a reader. Apps like Adobe Spark provide the means to create video using voice and images, even add soundtracks - an amazing way to share a poem with an audience.

If you’re interested in my articles about poetry and children, check out the embedded Listly list below.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Reviews: Graphic Novels about Greek Legends

by Susan Stephenson,

If you would love books that introduce your tweens (perhaps) and teens to all the drama, the tragedy, the over-the-top excesses that are the Greek Legends, let me introduce you to George O’Connor. O’Connor is an author/illustrator who has created a series called Olympians, published by First Second (Macmillan). Currently at eight volumes, the series consists of Zeus, Athena, Hera, Hades, Poseidon, Aphrodite, Ares, and Apollo. Artemis is due out in 2017.

The three graphic novels I’ve read for the purpose of this review are:
Zeus: King of the Gods
Hera: The Goddess and her Glory
Poseidon: Earth Shaker

Zeus: King of the Gods (Olympians Volume 1) is a great introduction to Greek legends because it starts at the start: out of Kaos comes Gaea, and then Gaea makes Ouranos. Eventually Kronos kills Ouranos, and then proceeds to swallow all his children, except for Zeus.

From the publisher:

Volume 1 of OLYMPIANS, ZEUS: King OF THE GODS, introduces readers to the ruler of the Olympian Pantheon, telling his story from his boyhood to his ascendance to supreme power.

Hera: The Goddess and her Glory (Olympians Volume 3)

From the publisher:

Volume 3 of Olympians, Hera: The Goddess and Her Glory, introduces readers to the Queen of the Gods and Goddesses in the Pantheon. This volume tells the tales of the many heroes who sought and won Hera's patronage, most notably Hercules.

Poseidon: Earth Shaker (Olympians Volume 5)

From the publisher:

In the fifth installment of the Olympians series of graphic novels, author/artist George O'Connor turns the spotlight on that most mysterious and misunderstood of the Greek gods, Poseidon: Earth Shaker. Thrill to such famous myths as Theseus and the Minotaur, Odysseus and Polyphemos, and the founding of Athens—and learn how the tempestuous Poseidon became the King of the Seas.

O’Connor has the clever knack of sticking to the “facts” of these Greek tales, but also bringing them to life for us. The art work in particular will appeal to kids - sometimes dark and mysterious, often violent and from a perspective that enhances the power and brutality of the characters. Some panels are full sized, others are smaller, focussed on a detail perhaps - so much variety and drama that kids will certainly want to read and re-read. Lots of comic book elements are used in this graphic novel - there are plenty of the exclamations and noises in speech bubbles, as well as the art work so often found in superhero tales, to make kids feel comfortably that this is like a comic. But there’s quite a lot of reading as well, and these books will make a great introduction to more research and reading of the Greek legends in other media.

I really like the way O’Connor reveals the Olympians characters through their thoughts and dialogue as well as their actions. Here is Poseidon, declaiming his powers: “I am Poseidon, earth shaker, ruler of the boundless sea, creator of storms, swallower of ships”. Often, the formality of the language used underscores that readers are learning about something momentous that happened long ago. Here is a caption just after Odysseus has blinded Polyphemos: “But for all his cunning, this Odysseus was a foolish and prideful man.” There are great touches of humour too like when Hera finds her husband, Zeus having a romantic picnic with a cow. Zeus blurts out that the cow is a gift for her, so Hera leads him to implicate himself more deeply, looking coy and exclaiming” Whatever made you think to get me such a romantic gift?” The shenanigans the gods get up to are handled carefully by O'Connor, with all scenes I read suitable in my opinion for kids 11/12+. However, it's always best to make your own decision before introducing books to students/your own children.

Not just a great introduction to Greek legends, but also a wonderful way to lure reluctant readers away from the dark side, I believe these graphic novels would be an asset to any home or library.

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

Friday, September 16, 2016

Useful GIF Tool at Picasion

Useful GIF Tool at Picasion
by Susan Stephenson,

Picasion turns images into GIF animations. There’s no need to register, but there are advertisements you may need to be aware of if you use it with kids. Maximum outcome width is 450 px, but you can choose a couple of different sizes and speeds. I tried a test with some LEGO type people from Reasonably Clever's Minimizer. At first I thought I needed to have images of the same size.  I deliberately popped a bigger image in, and Picasion modified it to match the rest. It looks like you can only have a sequence of three, but just keep clicking on “add one more image” for more. The result is a scrolling set of images that can be embedded on a blog the way I did below.

This could be a very useful tool! You could have GIFs of new book covers in your library blog or web page, screenshots you want kids to see, rotated samples of student work etc. Teachers could use it to share work with parents via the class blog, or publish a collaborative class story. A child could add text to images to compile a short narrative or ad for an event or cause, tell a short story, or show classmates work he is proud of. The embed function is great, but you can get other sharing options too.

If you want to avoid Flash or HTML, GIFs are an excellent alternative. There are other tools at Picasion, glitter text and avatar makers etc, but the GIF animation tool seems the most useful to educators. And easy to use is my kind of web tool!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Reviews: Interesting New Children’s Picture Books of 2016

by Susan Stephenson,

There are so many wonderful new children's picture books being published! Here are just six among the many that have caught my eye. More coming soon! 


Written and illustrated by Tohby Riddle, and published by Allen and Unwin (2016) Milo is a children’s picture book with a difference.

It’s obvious Riddle loves word play from the subtitle of this book - a moving story. And who can blame him with a name like Riddle? Nominative determinism strikes again perhaps? The result is a glorious romp in the form of a narrative about Milo and his friends.

From the publisher:

A sweet and funny story about a city-dwelling dog, a day when everything goes wrong, a curious rescue and a surprising gift.

Milo's life is almost entirely unremarkable. He lives in a solid kennel in an okay part of town. Every other day he has a job delivering parcels.

Then Milo's life is turned upside down by an argument with his friend Snombo, followed by a strange wild storm that leaves him and his kennel in a precarious place.

So begins Milo's surprisingly remarkable journey back to his friends.

Although young school age kids will certainly enjoy the story, I think it’s a great one to share and discuss with kids 7+. There are so many quirky and humorous bits they will appreciate. One of my favourites was that the dog friends seem to like Barbershop, and sing lines of Give My Regards to Broadway across the city to each other as their way of staying in touch! I know that parents and teachers will appreciate the way Riddle doesn’t dumb down, but uses interesting vocabulary and images that work seamlessly together. I really like the way he touches lightly on friends falling out and getting back together - something kids will certainly relate to, and perhaps take comfort from.

Do look out for this one - it’s special!

Pig the Winner

Written and illustrated by Aaron Blabey, Pig the Winner was published by Scholastic Press for Scholastic Australia (2016).

Pig was a pug and I’m sorry to say if he didn’t come first it would ruin his day. Won’t he ever learn?!

Pig, the world’s greediest Pug, won’t play fair. He’ll do anything to win!

Alas, Pig is back to his old tricks. Carrying on from Pig the Pug and Pig the Fibber, this third book in the series sees Pig, our favourite pop-eyed pug, proving himself to be a cheat and a very sore loser. Will a near-death experience change his flawed character, or does Pig still have a trick or two up his sleeve?

Blabey’s illustrations are energetic and zany, complimenting the hilarity of a rollicking rhyme of a tale that’s bound to please.

This is a Circle:

Written and illustrated by Chrissie Krebs, this hardcover children’s picture book was published by Random House Books Australia (2016).

From the publisher:

A 'name the object' book that gets completely out of hand and is all the more fun for it

This is a wonderfully educational ‘name the object' book to help children learn about their environm–

Oh. Oh dear. Look at that.

I beg your pardon. This is a very silly book about a wild-looking one-eyed bear, a big-bottomed cat and a pants-wearing fox and the havoc they can wreak with a few simple objects. That sounds like much more fun.

Never has a simple name the object picture book become so zany! It starts out simply enough, introducing two shapes and the main characters who seem, different but not yet displaying the mayhem to come. Then…the bear, cat, goat and fox begin interacting with shapes and their environment, displaying lots of emotions all the while. Finally Bear uses his wits to climb up and reach the others….or does he? The illustrations are alive with colour and character, the rhyming story speeds along at breakneck pace, and there are so many great educational opportunities for discussion and language activities. Where else can we see squares? Who is on top? Who is below? How does this character feel? How do you know?

Teacher Notes available at the website. Oh, and I forgot to mention the circular cut-out in the middle of the front cover, perfect for framing young faces. This one’s a winner!

The Pocket Dogs and the Lost Kitten

Written by Margaret Wild and illustrated by Stephen Michael King, this charming children’s picture book was published by Omnibus, an imprint of Scholastic Books (2016). RRP: $Au24.99

It’s a sequel to The Pocket Dogs and The Pocket Dogs Go on Holiday - who could resist a story about Biff and Buff, little dogs who ride around in Mr Pocket’s coat pockets? This time though, a bedraggled and needy kitten comes into their lives. Kids are sure to recognise someone they know when jealousy rears its head!

With a creative duo like Wild and King, do I need to say more? The story is heartwarming, and makes us grin ruefully when we recognise our own feelings and behaviour in the two little dogs. Many kids will “get” it and perhaps think over the story and take something important away from it. The lesson about acceptance and sharing isn’t preachy though. There’s lots of humour in the text, and the whole is enhanced by King’s energetic and colourful artwork. There are Teacher Notes available at Scholastic’s website.


Written by Libby Hathorn and illustrated by Gaye Chapman, this lovely children’s picture book was published by Little Hare/Hardie Grant Egmont (2016).

It tells us of Little Georgie and her two older siblings. Harriet and Max are busy with their own games and often forget about Georgie. She tries to explain about her own game, one that involves “seeing” and “hearing” messages in the world around her, but the older kids though kind, are still involved in their own activities. When Georgie begins to gather things from the garden to play Incredibilia, Harriet and Max are curious and ask to join in. They agree to collect things and run off. But this time they remember, and all the children go to a special place and play Incredibilia together.

Such a deceptively simple yet profound story! There is nothing there to tell children explicitly of the benefits of sharing, or of collaboration. Nonetheless, children may well think about the power of imagination, playing together, and acceptance of each other after reading it. Hawthorn has gifted us with a picture book that children will delight in listening to, and poring over each page as they read it to themselves.

Incredibilia is also a visual feast. Chapman uses so many interesting techniques. Child-like scratchy sketches show us the magical messages Georgie receives, bleeds of watercolour provide more solid splashes, and the children themselves are beautifully depicted. Little Georgie has a riot of red hair which becomes wilder as the story progresses, and her two older siblings show their change by becoming freer and more decorated. Children will love identifying different repeated elements and I hope they will be inspired by Chapman to go on and experiment with line and colour themselves. From the cover, through the endpapers, to the gradually developing depiction of the Land of Incredibilia, each part of this picture book book is a testament to the power of creativity and imagination. Grab it!

Space Alien at Planet Dad

Written and illustrated by Lucinda Gifford, this children’s picture book was published by Scholastic Australia (2016).

The dramatic and colourful cover certainly gives kids an idea of the determined space-loving kid the story is about! Jake loves going on intergalactic missions to his dad’s place on Saturdays. He and Dad build things and have space battles, as well as eating spaghetti and meteorite sauce. But one Saturday, things change. When Jake arrives, there’s an alien at Dad’s place, one who ignores Jake’s high glare laser beam and sips wine with Dad during a candle-lit dinner. Can our young hero learn to cope with the interloper?

The message is one kids will pick up and hopefully apply. Jake’s perspective on the change in his world is portrayed with striking comic-style special words and vibrant colours, making his hurt and anger almost palpable. We never see the alien as anything other than a one-eyed, two-toothed green blob, but that blob and Jake find common ground by the end of the narrative.

Lots of fun!

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

Friday, September 9, 2016

Children’s iPad App, Diamante Poem

Diamante Review by Susan Stephenson,

Previously I’ve reviewed several ReadWriteThink apps. You may remember Word Mover and Trading Cards, Theme Poems, Alphabet Organizer and Haiku? Diamante Poem is another free educational app by ReadWriteThink. It’s a great way to introduce children to writing poetry because it supports them and gives them a concrete framework to operate in.

Diamante Poem is available as an online interactive, in iOS and in Android.

From the developer:

In this app, users can learn about and write diamante poems, which are diamond-shaped poems that use nouns, adjectives, and gerunds to describe either one central topic or two opposing topics (for example, night/day or winter/spring). Examples of both kinds of diamante poems can be viewed online or printed out.

Because diamante poems follow a specific format that uses nouns on the first and last lines, adjectives on the second and fourth lines, and gerunds in the third and fifth lines, this tool has numerous word-study applications. The tool provides definitions of the different parts of speech students use in composing the poems, reinforcing the connection between word study and writing. It also includes prompts to write and revise poems, thus reinforcing elements of the writing process.

What I liked:

As usual this ReadWriteThink app is free, works well, and works straight out of the box. Diamante Poem is also great because it extends the simple concrete diamond shaped poem by offering both a synonym and an antonym poem. Again kids will feel confident because of the scaffolding in place - they are “walked” through each step of the process, including examples of printable diamante poems to use as models.

Just as in other ReadWriteThink apps like Theme Poems, Alphabet Organizer and Haiku, children are encouraged to set up a profile, and are supported as they proceed through their poetry creation project. It is saved to the camera roll once finished, as a jpeg file.

Where to find it?

You may like to check out my iPad App Reviews on Pinterest, and find more apps and articles via my Listly page. If you’re interested in creating Poetry with kids, take a look at all my Poetry Resources.
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