Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Children’s iPad App, LumiKids Backyard

Review by Susan Stephenson,

You may remember I reviewed LumiKids Park in February. Here’s another digital play space by developers, Lumos Labs, and it’s just as fun and just as educational. It’s available in iOS and in Android.

From the developer:

** WATCH FRIENDS CONQUER THEIR FEAR OF THE DARK: What’s making that noise in the dark? Shine a light on the bushes to empower your new friends and observe their emotional responses as they conquer their fears.
** HELP WITH BED-TIME ROUTINES: Help the backyard critter with an everyday self-care routine - the sleepy squirrel needs to brush his teeth and get ready for bed.
** LEARN ABOUT QUANTITIES AND WEIGHT: The gang of raccoon bandits is hungry! Help them get to the pies inside of the house by using the right platforms. Try grouping the different sized raccoons to find equal quantities and weights in order to balance the platforms.
** EXPLORE SPATIAL RELATIONSHIPS: Explore flocks of colorful bugs that all fit together like a living puzzle. Figure out how to arrange the bug flocks on to the leaves, seeing how the flocks fit together based on spatial arrangements.
** USE PROBLEM SOLVING AND LOGICAL REASONING: The garden gnomes need your help making their dazzling mushrooms in their underground factory. Using critical thinking and deductive reasoning, identify what pattern they want you to paint on the mushroom and plan how to use their painting machines to create that pattern.

What I liked:

Free is very generous and will be much appreciated by parents looking for something fun but developmentally appropriate for their children under 5. I also liked the way the app has obviously been well planned. Exploring at night is so much fun, and not scary with a light and friendly critters to meet. Helping racoon bandits steal pies by working out how to lower them is fun too - and kids will incidentally learn lots about balancing and equal quantities. There are heaps more problems to solve and critters to interact with, and the art work and animation are truly engaging.

You can see what I mean in the video below.

Where to find it?

I’ll be adding this app to my List of iPad Puzzle Apps for Kids. You may like to check out my iPad App Reviews on Pinterest, and find more apps and articles via my Listly page

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Children’s Book Review, The Selected Adventures of Bottersnikes and Gumbles

Reviewed by Susan Stephenson,

I was delighted to discover that The Selected Adventures of Bottersnikes and Gumbles had been published recently by HarperCollins. Written by S.A.Wakefield and illustrated by Desmond Digby, the books were originally published last century (which only means around 30, 40 and 50 years ago, but doesn’t it sound ages!) The books were absolute favourites in my classes and I read serialised episodes for many months.

From the publisher:

Deep in the bush live some very strange creatures ...

Bottersnikes live in rubbish heaps along dusty roadsides in the lonely Australian bush. They have green wrinkly skin, cheese grater noses and long, pointed ears that go red when they are angry. Which is most of the time.

Giggling Gumbles live in the bush, too. They are cheerful little creatures who can be squashed into all sorts of shapes, but cannot pop back into their proper shape unless helped. This makes the friendly Gumbles useful to the lazy Bottersnikes, who have some very nasty plans ...

The Bottersnikes may have some tricks up their sleeves, but so do the resourceful Gumbles.

The battle has begun!

Ages: 8+

The stories centre around two very different species living in the Australian bush. First of all, we have the Gumbles: cute, fun-loving, squishy, hopeless when they go giggly, and unable to get themselves out of containers they’ve been squashed into. Then there are the Bottersnikes: scaly, green, irascible, lazy and with long pointed ears that go red when they’re angry. How clever the Bottersnikes think they are when they decide to keep the Gumbles as canned slaves, and make them fix up the disgusting rubbish dumps they live in!

Apart from holding a wonderful environmental message, my students found the original books full of humour and excitement. They LOVED little Tinkingumble, the one Gumble who has brilliant ideas that come to him with a clear “tink” like a bell. They adored the cunning plans as different Gumbles saved their friends from the mean and cranky Bottersnikes. They enthused over the detail of the cleverly built world Wakefield constructed, and they grinned when inherent Gumble goodness triumphed over bad Bottersnikes.

Do seek out this new edition of many Bottersnike and Gumble adventures for your children. I’m also pleased to tell you that there’s an animated series on Australia’s Channel 7 to help excite kids about the book! Check out the video teaser on Vimeo, below.

Bottersnikes and Gumbles from Mighty Nice on Vimeo.

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

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Books for Kids Who Love Sport

Sport-themed fiction, reviewed by Susan Stephenson,

Children who live for sport might think they have no time for reading. But introduce them to a book set in the world of their favourite sport, or starring active and competitive kids like themselves, and their eyes will light up! Below are books for young dancers, cricketers, footballers, swimmers, handballers and for kids everywhere who like to read exciting, funny stories with stacks of action.

Israel Folau 4: Standing Tall

Israel Folau 4: Standing Tall is a chapter book by David Harding with Izzy Folau, published by Random House Australia (2015). RRP: $Au 14.99.

Israel Folau wasn’t much of a reader as a child, but that might have been different if more books like Standing Tall were available to him. In this fourth book of the series, Folau stars again as the coach of a team of Junior Rugby playing kids. This time the team has made it to the State Championships. The book includes training tips from Folau, but concentrates on all the highs and lows, excitement and worries young fellows feel when they are engrossed in winning their game of choice.

From the publisher:

Daniel and Sione have landed in Sydney for the State Championships. This is the biggest stage they have ever played on and the boys are full of nervous excitement. Valley will meet their toughest opponents yet and have the weight of family expectations on their shoulders. Can the team remember all they have learnt on their training trip around the country?

With Izzy's help, Daniel and Sione will have to dig deep and play like never before to make it to the final and win!

Both sets of books are written by Patrick Loughlin and published by Random House Australia, 2015. RRP: $Au 19.99.

Kids will understand the reverence and awe young T20 youth players feel for Australian cricket legend, Glenn Maxwell, who appears in the book to give the players some cricketing tips. There are lots of details to make readers feel they are present and caught up in the action. I like that Random House has packaged two books into one, making the price more affordable. Both are a cricket fan’s must-read!

From the publisher:

Lucky Break
Will Albright is a batting whiz and captain of his local cricket team. But when he is nominated to attend a T20 training camp, Will soon discovers that standing out in a sea of young talent isn't easy. Especially when Darren ‘Killer' McKinnon's bouncers are coming his way! Luckily his idol, Glenn Maxwell, is on hand to provide some much needed advice.

Academy All-Stars
Once again, Will Albright is in an unfamiliar situation and his cricket skills are being put to the test. To make things even more challenging, Will must compete with his best mate, Shavil, for the highly sought-after opening batsman spot. Can Glenn Maxwell help Will adjust his game before he loses his friend and his head?

State Showdown
The T20 National Youth Shield is about to begin and Will can't believe that he is living his dream of playing on the hallowed MCG grounds. But if Will can't focus long enough to get his form together, his dream might soon turn into a nightmare! Can some tips from Glenn Maxwell help Will overcome his sudden crisis of confidence?

World Domination
Will and his Australian teammates are travelling to England, the home of cricket, to take on the best of the best in the T20 Youth World Cup. With mounting interstate rivalry tearing the Aussie team apart, Will and his fellow players are going to need to dig deep to keep the nation's hopes alive. Can Glenn Maxwell show Will how to lead his team to victory?

Super Sports Stories for Kids

Super Sports Stories for Kids was also written by Patrick Loughlin and published by Random House Australia (2015).

Decent sized font and a range of different sport-themed stories make this book ideal for kids who might be put off by a chapter book with one plot. Tight, active writing with lots of believable dialogue and situational humour add to its value.

From the publisher:

12 legendary sports stories for kids!

Meet a champion swimmer who loses his swimmers in the pool. Experience the most amazing handball rally of your life. Go for a ride on a wave with a hungry shark. Run an exciting race against Maggie the swooping magpie, and discover the curse of the dreaded wooden spoon.

Silver Shoes 8: Studio Showdown

Studio Showdown is the eighth book in the Silver Shoes series by Samantha-Ellen Bound, published by Random House Australia (2016).

Is Dancing a sport? Yes, and it’s also an art form. Regardless of categories, young dancers can be just as obsessed with the dancing world as other sporty types. They’ll relish this book about kids who attend a dance studio called Silver Shoes. The fact that Studio Showdown is also part of a series will come as great news to young dancers who like to read about characters they feel comfortable with. The icing on the cake is that Bound obviously knows the world of dance and how to write a believable and entertaining story.

From the publisher:

Paige is known for doing every style of dance. But can she choreograph as well?

It's time for the end-of-year concert at Silver Shoes. Everyone is super excited and the studios are buzzing. Miss Caroline assigns Paige and Ellie a junior class and challenges them to put together a dance for the concert. Paige is thrilled to be choreographing with her best friend and can't wait to use some of the new jive moves she has been learning. But it soon becomes obvious that Paige and Ellie have completely different ideas about what they want to do! Will they learn how to work together in time for the final performance?

Both books are part of The Kaboom Kid series, with illustrations by Jules Faber, and published by Simon and Schuster (2015). RRP: $Au 14.99 ea. The Kaboom Kid 5 was written by David Warner with J.V. McGee; The Kaboom Kid 6 was written by David Warner with J.S. Black.

David Warner is a sporting hero to many kids, and they’ll relish reading about the exploits of young Davey Warner, cricket-mad and learning how to cope with all that life throws at him. They’ll laugh along with Davey when his dog Max saves his skin by eating everyone’s homework, resent the ever-so-perfect Josh Jarrett (who turns out not to be so bad after all) and cheer with the crowd as Davey saves the day against the Whackers.

Faber’s illustrations are few, not too many to make kids feel the book doesn’t have the status of a novel. But the covers in particular hint at disasters and fun to come! Do look out for this series too - your kids will thank you!

From the publisher:

The Big Time
Happy days! Davey Warner, Sunil Deep and Tay Tui have been selected to play for the local rep team, the South-East Slammers. It’s a dream come true, even if Josh Jarrett, AKA Mr Perfect, is captain. 

Training is twice a week, no excuses. Davey, Sunil and Tay would go every day if they could – the only problem is that it clashes with cheeky Max’s doggy school.

How can Davey keep his promise to his mum to train Max and play for the South-East Slammers? And how can his other friends help out so Davey can live his dream?

But why is Mo Clouter looking so pleased with himself? And will Max ever behave himself?

Home and Away
Road trip! Davey and the South-East Slammers travel to the country for a match against the dreaded North-West Whackers. 

Not only is cranky Mr Mudge coming along, school bully Mo Clouter and his band of buffoons have joined the cheerleading team. What are they up to?

Soon it’s time to play – but where is their captain, Josh Jarrett, AKA Mr Perfect? And what on earth does Mo have planned?

Will the team ever pull together against the might and skill of the North-West Whackers?

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

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Children’s Book Review, Bear Make Den

Children's Book Review by Susan Stephenson,

Bear Make Den is a children’s picture book, written by Jane Godwin and Michael Wagner, illustrated by Andrew Joyner and published by Allen and Unwin (2016).

From the publisher:

Bear is great with his hands, but not so smart when it comes to relationships. If he fixes up his den, will everything else follow?

Bear loves to get things done. He can make just about anything! He even builds a wonderful den. But something is missing. What could it be?

From this talented trio comes a warm, playful picture book about what truly makes a home.

Bear won my heart at first sight and sound. We see him setting to with a will, carving a den out of a mountain with shovel and hard work. He has a book too: How Make Den. From the first pages, readers notice that while Bear is enterprising, he’s a man of few words. He realises that “Den not done” and attempts several projects until finally he concludes that what the den needs is more bears. So he puts a sign outside, appealing to bear psychology: “CAKe + GamE” and hollers: “Den need bears!”

The partnership of Godwin, Wagner and Joyner is inspired. The story is deceptively simple, but Bear’s enthusiasm and can-do attitude come through clearly. Joyner’s illustrations zing with cartoon-style humour and show us the details of all Bear’s projects. Lots to discuss with kids!

The wonderful side benefit of having a main character who uses few words is that it makes the book perfect for memorising by young readers. I can imagine kids “reading” Bear Make Den to all who will take time to listen. The benefit? Children cementing a love of books and taking another step along the path to reading. And…this charming children’s picture book will leave kids and adults sporting a bear-sized grin. Must read!

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

Friday, April 29, 2016

Three Parent Plans to Create a Strong Writer

Three Parent Plans to Create a Strong Writer
by Susan Stephenson,

There are lots of things we can do as parents to encourage our children to enjoy writing and master it as a skill. As I did with Three Parents Plans to Create a Strong Reader, I have condensed creating a strong writer into what I see as three crucial plans:

1. Make sure your kids SEE you writing. Point it out to them and explain your purpose when you make a list, write a thank you note/invitation, or create a plan for your next holiday. Encourage kids to join in when you write. Little ones could help by drawing a picture; older kids might spell out part of a word or write their own ideas. Participate as a family in events like Put a Poem in your Pocket Day and International Book Giving Day. Writing something as simple as a poem for your pocket or a hello card to accompany a book gift definitely counts as writing.

2. SET aside writing time on as many days as you can. Just like reading should be a daily habit, so too should writing. Think about when you can fit writing in so it becomes a natural part of your day. Do you keep a journal? Writing time! Would your kids like their own journals to write in - whatever they want? Do you make a list of groceries to buy perhaps? Writing time! Can your kids help with that list, jotting down items they know you need? (You may have to explain the difference between needs and wants!) Some writing may be on paper, some will be typing - kids should see and experience it all.

3. GRAB any excuse for writing. Just read a great book? Let’s write down its name so we can keep a record of great books. Loved that author? Let’s write down her name so we can see if the library has more books by her. Just made up a silly story? Let’s type it up so we can send it to Grandma. Need some funny jokes for when our friends come over? Let’s make a joke book and write out some of our favourites. Reading and writing go very well together - kids might like to make a list of silly characters or scary villains and draw them. When kids are just learning to read and write, it can be fun and useful to draw or take pictures of all their toys, then label them and make a little book. Tracing over or just sounding our the words is a great way to embed that word in our brains.

The more we link writing as a natural extension of family activities and play, the more natural and habitual it becomes for kids. I believe natural and habitual writers grow into strong writers - and that’s cause for celebration!

(Image Credit: My Cute Graphics

NB: The Book Chook will be cutting down on articles over the next several months while Susan is studying. From next week, you will mostly find one article each Wednesday, and mostly book and app reviews. The more usual program of articles -though only on Wednesdays and Fridays - about children’s literacy, literature and learning will probably recommence later in August.

If you’re interested in encouraging kids to write, you might like to read Easy Ways Parents Can Encourage Kids to Write, Top Tips for Young Writers, and Nurturing Readers and Writers.

Or check out my Listly list on Teaching Kids to Write, embedded below.

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