Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Children’s Book Review, The Croc and the Platypus

Children's Book Review by Susan Stephenson,

Children's Book Review

The Croc and the Platypus is a children’s picture book written by Jackie Hosking, illustrated by Marjorie Crosby-Fairall, and published by Walker Books, 2014.

From the publishers:

The croc and the platypus trundled off in a rusty old Holden ute. They took some damper and tea in a hamper and bundled it up in the boot. Join Croc and Platypus for an Australian outback hullabaloo!
Great read aloud, rhyming text.
An Australian twist on a classic poem.
Strong Australiana themes with beautiful illustrations make it perfect for education.

What I liked:

Hosking presents her version of The Owl and the Pussycat and does it with flair and an authentic Australian flavour. Young readers will encounter vocabulary like hullabaloo, didgeridoo, and damper. They’ll peek inside a shearing shed, and check out a camping site next to Australia’s most famous rock. Best of all, they’ll enjoy a fun and energetic story, and perhaps be inspired to play with rhyme and rhythm themselves.

I’m not familiar with Crosby-Fairall’s work, but certainly hope to see more of it. Her detailed illustrations reflect outback colours, and are filled with movement. Character expressions will make kids grin, especially the sheep, which seem quite bemused by Croc and Platypus. The end-papers have that little bit extra for kids to think about.

Extend the literature experience:

Kids will have fun with The Croc and the Platypus. Can they work out what landmark is referred to by “…the great ochre pebble/In the shape of a hill.”? What did the Croc and the Platypus do with the fleece? Crosby-Fairall has visual clues to the answers.

The Croc and the Platypus is based on The Owl and the Pussycat. Can older kids research to find any other works of art that were inspired by earlier works? Can they use the text’s rhyming scheme and rhythm as a model for their own adventure in words?

Stand-out features:

Rhyming fun, Australian theme, gorgeous illustrations - a great read-aloud to share with kids!

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

Monday, September 22, 2014

Organising a Literature Festival - on a Budget

Organising a Literature Festival - on a Budget
by Lisa D’Onofrio

So you want to put on a Festival?

Before I go any further, I need to reveal my bias. I’m all for events which put children, young people and families at their very centre – events which are creative, interactive and community conscious, where the audience are creative participants and producers, not just passive recipients. These can take a little longer to plan and put on, but in the long run I believe have more benefits – after all it takes an entire community to raise a literate person!

Firstly decide why you are doing the Festival. What do you need/want to get out of it? How are you going to make sure all your hard work, time and effort make an impact? And how are you going to evaluate the process and outcomes, so that you can improve for next time?

In part, putting together a festival that makes an impact involves 5 P’s:


This can take weeks, months and even years. Planning involves, for me, a multitude of sticky notes (imagine my joy when coloured ones came out) and a very messy kitchen table for months on end. A really big whiteboard is helpful too. The better your planning, the more likely your Festival will go smoothly. And don’t forget to work out how you can evaluate your Festival – will this be built in, or done at the end? How can it be a literacy activity in itself?


Give real thought to this. A strategic partnership can go a long way; by providing you with a whole new audience, giving you access to resources and in general being long lasting and fruitful.

Who can you work with to achieve your goals? Take a look at the community organisations in your area, and read the local newspapers. Think laterally. My Literature Festival has partnered with land care groups, the circus, community gardens, scientists, a historic house, the Farmers Market and chefs amongst others, as well as the more traditionally literature related libraries, book shops and writing organisations.

Make sure roles and expectations are spelt out, agreed and confirmed. A fraught partnership, especially in a small community, can be very damaging.


Programming begins with asking a series of questions. This is why it is helpful to already know your aims.

Who do I want my audience to be?
What do I want them to get out of this?
Should I have a theme?

Consult with your potential audience on what they want to see/do. Ask kids what they have liked in the past and why – better still get together a group of kids to help with the programming. I did this last year, and the kids came up with a Harry Potter performance/installation. Would I have thought of it myself? No! Was it really, really successful? Yes!


How do you ensure maximum participation – for those who come to the Festival, and for the wider community? Can you find students to write blog posts, design posters and write reviews? Talk to everyone you can think of, and ask others to be advocates. Ask advice, and not just from “literary” types. Make sure your local council knows what you are doing. And ask them for guidance too!


There is often no money in a budget for marketing so use social media all you can – if you don’t know how to do it, find someone who does. Ask EVERYONE involved in your festival to promote – sending them a short blurb and image so that what gets put out is consistent.

If your event is in a school, you have a captive audience, but think about promoting your event to a wider audience. Having at last one event which is open to the general community not only means you get to showcase your school, it encourages community ownership, and allows you to create a bigger buzz.

Activities you can do which don’t cost money

1) Get school staff to read out a gripping story (which can be done in installments) over the PA. Or if you aren’t a school, what about doing it in your supermarket?

2) Have a Poetry Picnic. Ask the children to bring in their favourite poems and nursery rhymes (and have plenty available for those who don’t) then eat lunch outside, taking it in turns to share your poems.

3) Work with your local library on putting on a story/rhyme time session in a park or other non-traditional location.

4) Talk to your local library (or Friends of Library) about having a used book sale.

5) Make Poetry Posters and put them up around your town.

6) Ask local leaders to chose their favourite children’s stories and read them aloud.

7) Involve older kids in making a Bear Hunt or Treasure Hunt for younger children.

8) Hide characters in the local shops/park and get children to name the characters and books they come from. This is a good way to involve local businesses that might be more likely to sponsor you! For an example, see the Great Castlemaine Character Caper.

9) Get permission for the children to draw (in chalk) book-related images on the footpath or road.

10) Publish children’s stories in the local newspaper, or broadcast on community radio.

A step that can be over-looked after the hopeful elation and possible exhaustion of putting on a Festival, is evaluation. Take note of what worked and what could be improved, as well as things that can be developed for next time. Write down all you’ve learned. When staff leave, they often go with all this important information in their heads!

Finally, don’t forget to say thank you to everyone who was involved. A handwritten note or acknowledgement online goes a very long way, and apart from just being courteous, makes it easier to work with the same people next time.

Lisa D’Onofrio is a literacy/literature advocate and activist who has worked in community arts for a very long time in both the UK and Australia. She is the Director of the Castlemaine Children’s Literature Festival, and the Children’s Literacy Facilitator for Go Goldfields.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Book Chook Favourites - Picture Quote Makers

Book Chook Favourites - Picture Quote Makers
by Susan Stephenson,

Last year I mentioned lots of ways to create posters online in Online Poster Makers. Do take a look at that article, because there’s crossover here with some of those editors mentioned that are also useful to make picture quotes. Basically, the biggest difference I see between the two is that poster makers may include quote makers i.e. the poster may only be an image with a quote on it. But a picture quote maker usually doesn’t have all the options a good poster maker has.

While I find picture quote makers useful as a blogger, perhaps as a way to highlight certain text and provide a pinnable image, I think they’re also useful in an educational setting. We need to encourage our children to look for ways to create images, so as to avoid licensing problems, and picture quotes are a quick and easy way to do that. Particularly if students blog themselves, picture quote makers make yet another way to visually communicate with an audience. Picture quotes are very popular on social media sites, with people collecting them on Pinterest, and publishing them on Facebook, Twitter etc. I love the idea of children thinking about their own values and beliefs and searching for inspirational quotes that resonate with them, or perhaps of creating their own “quotes” for others to share. Below you'll find my favourite ways to produce a visual quote, both online and with an iPad app.

Here are my current favourite ways to make picture quotes online:

Quozio is one I mentioned in Online Poster Makers. If I want to grab a quote quickly, I use Quozio. It sits as a bookmarklet in my browser, so it takes seconds to grab text in a quote, and add its source. Quozio presents me with options for backgrounds for that text. Alternatively, I could go to the website and enter my quote, and source. Quozio presents you with around 30 backgrounds, and their accompanying fonts, that you scroll through until you find the one you want. You need to register if you want Quozio to save the quotes you make, but you can easily save to your computer. You can’t customise backgrounds, size or fonts. It does what it does simply and well, and is free.

Main advantage: free, fast, has bookmarklet. Disadvantage: limited number of backgrounds, no customisation.

QuotesCover is interesting because it provides lots of quotes to browse or you can enter your own wording. It then presents you with different formats e.g. Twitter Header, Twitter status update, high res business cards etc, and there are further choices inside. Once the quote is rendered, you can tweak again, with lots of options available, colours, fonts etc, but you need to click through them - next, next, next - rather than choosing a particular one by its name from a menu. You can draw on the quote too, and you can also insert a picture of your own to use as background. It’s a slower process than Quozio because of all the options. It’s free and no need to log in unless you want to publish to Facebook - I think. You seem to be able to save unlimited quotes to your computer.

Main advantage: free, some customizing. Disadvantage: no way to choose a particular font or colour, takes time.

PicMonkey and Canva

My favourite way to illustrate quotes is via PicMonkey and/or Canva. I mentioned them both in Favourite Online Image Editors (Updated). I really like being able to choose the exact size and shape of my background image.

I used PicMonkey to illustrated the Mary Oliver quote at top. Users can upload an image and fade/reduce transparency, then add the quote as text. Sometimes I use photos I’ve taken; at others, I source images at a site like Morguefile which doesn’t require attribution. It certainly spoils the look of an attractive image to have to add a detailed url to it. It’s also easy, instead of starting with your own image or someone else's, to choose a background offered by the sites themselves. The process of visually reproducing a quote is not as simple as using a website like Quozio, with it’s handy bookmarklet in your browser, but I think the results are much more elegant. It’s enjoyable to create an image and apply a font that matches the theme of your quote too. We should let kids share the fun of creating!

Main advantages; original, very customisable, great way to develop some visual literacy skills. Disadvantage: takes longer.

Here are my current favourite ways to make picture quotes with iPad apps:

Imagination Box app
Imagination Box is an app I reviewed earlier this year. When we’re working with younger children, a quote may very well be something Mum or Dad said. An app like Imagination Box helps kids compose and picture such a quote.

Over app
Over is a great app for typing over an image. It also offers words in special fonts and limited free art work, with the option of purchasing more. Lots of sharing options too. Older kids will enjoy decorating their chosen quotes with Over.

Pizap app
Pizap is a nice image editing app to use with younger kids because it has lots of bling. I like the fact you can start with one of their backgrounds and add clipart, text etc, meaning you don’t even have to import an image. It doesn’t satisfy that side of me that likes “elegant” but I doubt kids will agree. It's also an online editor.

TypeDrawing app

Type Drawing is an interesting app because it allows users to make curving and straight text pathways. Once you input the text you want, and choose your image, you draw on your screen with your finger and the text follows that curved path, or set it to straight. You can have the path set to continuous, or not allow it to repeat, plus choose font, colour etc. You can also change the opacity of an image.

Book Chook Challenge for Kids:

Find your favourite quote about reading and work out a way to represent it as an image. Consider things like how to best represent what you think the quote means, or why it’s important. You could paint a picture, and write the quote over it when it’s dry. Or you could use digital tools to create it with. Think about taking a photo that would add to the quote’s meaning, or give it context, and then fading that image a little so you can type over it.

Here’s my example:

To make a background pic for this quote by Mason Cooley: “Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.”, I thought about how reading can take us to other worlds. I imagined a space ship bursting from the pages of a book. I went to Canva and chose a canvas size for my image. Then I looked in icons for a space travel image, a book, and some people shapes. I arranged them the way I liked, changed the people colour to match, and added my quote as text, plus the name of the person who originally said it.

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, September 17, 2014

Children’s Book Review, Nursery Rhyme Comics

Children's Book Review by Susan Stephenson,

Children's Book Review

You may remember I reviewed Fairy Tale Comics early this year. Nursery Rhyme Comics is just as fascinating; just as much fun. Published by First Second books, and edited by Chris Duffy, it features the work of 50 cartoonists and illustrators.

Kids will find loved nursery rhymes and new ones inside. They’ll also find slight variations on old favourites. Was there ever a more peculiar spider than the one who sat next to Miss Muffett? No wonder she ran off screaming! I predict children will adore the use of humour in so many rhymes. For instance, here are tiny details that made me laugh: In Old Mother Hubbard by J. Crane, in the final panel when the dog is buried, there’s a bone-shaped monument in the graveyard with the vertical inscription, “Dear Dog”. In Little Boy Blue, while the boy himself is sleeping, the farmyard animals are playing cards and one of the sheep is cheating! It’s absolutely fascinating to absorb all the different styles of illustrations and think about why a particular style or perspective was chosen.

I truly believe this book should be in every library! Why? Kids who are visually oriented will adore the illustrations. They’ll appreciate seeing how each creator puts an individual stamp on his work, and interprets a nursery rhyme. (See more page examples at Macmillan.) Children who struggle with reading can borrow this book, and experience success with it. Because they’ve grown up in our culture, many of the rhymes will be familiar to them, allowing them to predict the text. Of course, the illustrated panels help too. It’s also a great book for children to share and read collaboratively. Teachers will appreciate what it offers for helping kids develop visual literacy skills. If you’re a parent who wants a nursery rhyme collection for your kids, do consider this one as it can be shared with younger kids, but also appreciated over and over again as children grow.

Lots of libraries and school libraries have fairy tale and nursery rhyme resources, and this book makes an excellent choice for such a collection. What fun for children to use Nursery Rhyme Comics as a model for their own interpretations of loved rhymes! You might also like to check out Let’s Celebrate Fairy Tale Day, and Let’s Use Chants and Rhymes with Kids.

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

Monday, September 15, 2014

Children’s iPad App, 30 Hands

Children’s iPad App, 30 Hands
by Susan Stephenson,

As you have probably guessed by now, I love to find ways for kids to create digital stories. I have a huge list of tools suitable for this creative activity in Creating Digital Stories with iPad. Today I want to tell you about the iPad app, 30 Hands Free. There’s also a Pro version which has all the in-app purchases bundled from 30 Hands Free.

From the developer:
30hands Mobile is a fun, innovative storytelling app that allows students, teachers and anyone with creativity to easily create narrated stories or presentations based on photos, images, drawings or video clips using an iPad, iPhone or iPod.

Different from other presentation apps, 30hands Mobile focuses on the power of storytelling and ITERATIVE CREATIVITY(TM). Drag photos, images or video clips around the desktop into the order of the story. Next, record audio over each image. Easy editing allows students to take learning to a higher level and creates a better final video whether created by a student or teacher. Finally, the story or presentation can be published to the device’s photo area or uploaded to a 30hands Cloud collaborative learning site.

Registration in the mobile app provides login credentials for the 30hands Cloud Community site at
What I liked:

The process of creating a presentation with 30 Hands is simple. Once children draw on a slide, take a photo/video or add an image/video from the Camera Roll, they can then edit the order images are in, and record audio for each slide. The resulting creation can be added as a video to the Camera Roll.

What I did: 

To make a sample story, I found some pictures on my Camera Roll that’d I’d used in Visual Story Telling, and chose them to work with. They appeared on my screen, and re-ordering them was easy - tap and hold until they jiggled, then move the images to where I wanted. Once done, I clicked on each image and added audio. When the story came together, I told 30 Hands to save it as an MP4 to my camera roll. Other options were available if I’d paid for those or owned Pro. In my iPad's Camera Roll, I found the video and exported it to YouTube. You can see it embedded below.

Possible Learning Activities:

I think 30 Hands is a superb way for children to tell a story. Kids could use it to make a little video to explain how to do something for their classmates, or tell a relative about their birthday party, or to record their narratives for others. Teachers and students could certainly use it for recording science experiments and sharing book reports. For younger kids, it makes a nice vehicle to create a list of alphabetised toys, or to draw and re-tell a nursery rhyme.

30 Hands Free on iTunes

30 Hands Pro, all the in-app purchases bundled from 30 Hands Free on iTunes

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. 

Check out my other iPad App Reviews on Pinterest.
Related Posts with Thumbnails