Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Children’s Book Review, Friday Barnes 2: Under Suspicion

Children's Book Review by Susan Stephenson,

Friday Barnes 2: Under Suspicion was written by R.A.Spratt and published by Random House Australia, 2015.

From the publisher: When Friday Barnes cracked the case of Highcrest Academy's mysterious swamp-yeti, the last thing she expected was to be placed under arrest. Now with the law on her back and Ian Wainscott in her face, Friday is not so sure boarding school was the smartest choice. From a missing or not-so-missing calculator to the appearance of strange holes in the school field, she is up to her pork-pie hat in crimes – and she swears not all of them are hers. There's also new boy Christopher, who has taken quite a shine to Friday, to contend with.

Can Friday navigate the dangerous grounds of Highcrest Academy and decipher a decades-old mystery without getting caught in an unexpected love triangle?

You may remember my review of the first Friday Barnes book, Friday Barnes Girl Detective. It ended with a cliff hanger, and Friday’s admirers were keen to find out what happened to the young sleuth with a terrible eye for fashion but an eagle eye for crime. Despite being arrested, she loses none of her sangfroid, and manages to make monkeys out of a range of villains and people who doubt her. I really enjoy Spratt’s humour, and kids will too, especially the scathing but recognizable portraits of teachers, parents and pupils at Highcrest Academy! Luckily Friday's second adventure also ends with a moment of high tension, leading us to hope for FB3's advent soon.

I am a huge Nanny Piggins fan, a different character in Spratt’s novels for children. While I am ever loyal to The Pig, I found both Friday’s adventures so far to be light-hearted, intriguing and the perfect vehicle for honing puzzle-solving skills. They’re a great choice for girls looking for a strong heroine, but they’re definitely not “girly” books and I doubt the hint of romance will put boys off. It might however make them laugh aloud!

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

Monday, May 4, 2015

Creating Images with Students

Creating Images with Students
by Susan Stephenson,

In a discussion with some Teacher Librarian friends a while back, we mentioned that it’s good practice for students to create their own images. We want our students to understand that it’s not okay to grab any image they see on the internet. We want them to understand that it’s important to respect a creator’s rights, and give attribution. We also want them to experience the joy of creating their own images, and take pride in their achievements.

Today, I plan to share what I’ve learned about creating an image from scratch, in the hope it might help kids do that too. (Please note that I use PicMonkey Premium (Royale) so not all the elements I choose will be available in the free subscription. If you see a little orange crown, it's Royale. However, PicMonkey offer lots for free.)

1. As a beginning to most images I create, I make a blank canvas at PicMonkey. At PicMonkey, near the top, you will find Edit, Touch Up, Design and Collage. When you roll your mouse over Design, it brings up some image sizes to choose from. Click Custom and you get two boxes for entering the number of pixels long and wide you want your image to be. I usually start with a rectangular canvas 700px x 1000px. Click Make It when you think the dimensions are right. (If not happy, you can always try again.)

2. Your default canvas will be white, but Canvas Color will be open in the Basic Edits menu on the left of your work space, and here you can choose a colour inside the rainbow palette OR, if you know it, enter a hexadecimal code in the small box above and to the right of the rainbow. Click on different colours in the palette and it shows you their hexadecimal codes. That code can be copy-pasted if you need to in a project. Underneath the rainbow, there’s a slider which changes the intensity of the colour you clicked. Underneath that, there’s a box you can check if you want your canvas to be transparent. Click apply once you’re happy.

3. If you wanted a blank canvas, you could go now to the Save function above and save it to your computer. But let’s try something else. Look at the left side menu again and locate the butterfly. When you click, it brings up all the overlays you can add to your canvas. I can add a geometric shape like a circle, and it brings up its own editable menu so I can change the size, position and colour(s) of my circle.

4. I changed the colour of my circle, then exited its own menu by clicking the X top right. I added some lips and a hat (overlays/the butterfly still) then went to the snowflake in the left side menu (themes), found Zombie theme and chose a corpse eye. By right-clicking on the corpse eye, I could duplicate it and then drag both to where I wanted them.

5. Back to the butterfly to choose a rectangle. To change its colour, I clicked in the small shape menu on the default colour (black). That brought up a colour chart and on its right, an eye dropper. By clicking on that eye dropper and moving it to the colour I want to make my rectangle, I can duplicate that colour. I decided I wanted my rectangle the same colour as my circle.

6. Now it’s time to add some text. Find the letters in the left side menu, and that brings up a range of fonts and a button at top, Add Text. Once you click the font you want and click Add Text, it brings up a box. Put your cursor in the box and write what you want. You’ll see another mini menu for the font that allows you to change colour, size etc.

7. Save your image to your computer. Give it a file name you want, choose the file size (Pierce is fine for most web images) and save it to where you will find it again. If for some reason it doesn’t work, just try right click and save as for an alternative.

8. That example was using multiple overlays to build an image. But you don't need to spend time doing that. You can quickly create a blank canvas and just add something like a chick and an egg from the butterfly menu. Then save it to your computer.

9. You can also use PicMonkey and other image editors to add a photo you’ve taken to a blank canvas, the way I did for the image at top. In PicMonkey, this is found via the Overlay/Butterfly where it says “Your Own”, just above General. You need to know where the image is on your computer to do this. I began with a blank white canvas, added my own photograph via the butterfly, added text, then popped some bunting underneath. I changed the colour of the bunting using the eyedropper tool so it matched two colours in my photo.

Websites that encourage us to use their free images

Several online spaces offer free images that we’re encouraged to make use of. It’s important to find out all you can about that offer. Some sites will tell you in plain English that the images are free to use in various projects, so long as you give attribution (usually by linking to that website.) Some sites will even allow you to use an image with no attribution. Some sites offer images that have a clear Creative Commons license. The Creative Commons website has lots of information, including this page about sourcing CC licensed materials. The main thing to remember is not everything is free, and not everything is licensed for you to use. Sometimes, because of this, people just decide it’s a whole lot easier to make or take their own images and use them.

If you do decide to use someone else’s images, here are some sites I have used. I MAKE NO GUARANTEES OF SUITABILITY or anything else! Teachers and parents always need to supervise kids carefully on the internet, where websites can change very quickly. Check each site’s terms of service as some don’t allow use by people under a certain age. Be sure to also check each individual image for its license and how you may use it.

Flickr is a huge website of images uploaded by users. You can filter with Creative Commons, but it’s always worth double-checking as people can change the license they put on one of their images.

PhotoPin includes image attribution in the code it gives you making it ideal for blogs.

morgueFile has free searchable images with no attribution required. However, lots of people think it’s a good idea to always give any image credit as courtesy. Be careful as morgueFile also has other tabs that lead to paid sites.

Pixabay has searchable free photos, vectors and art illustrations.

PicMonkey is an Image editor and it includes clipart. It is free for some things then you can pay for a premium subscription.

Ribbet is an image editor that includes clipart. It’s free for certain things.

Canva is an image editor. It offers images, some of which are free. It also has a wonderful Design School which offers tutorials in design.

If you do decide to use a camera or i-device to take your own photographs, or you want to build an image from scratch with a blank canvas, try one of the three image editors I mentioned just above. PicMonkey, Ribbet and Canva not only offer a blank canvas of your required dimensions, you can also use them to make changes to your photographs by editing them. Editing might mean applying a special effect, adding an overlay or stamp or clipart, adding text or a frame etc. You can also start an image in one editor and move to another, the way I mentioned in Book Chook Favourites - Online Image Editors.

Creating our own images isn’t the quickest or easiest creative activity. But once you understand the basics, it’s not only fun but very satisfying. You might also like to read iPad Photography Ideas for Kids, Ways Kids Can Create Images with iPad, and Creative iPad Photo Apps.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Let’s Celebrate Screen-Free Week, 2015!

Let’s Celebrate Screen-Free Week, 2015!
by Susan Stephenson,

Screen-Free Week will be held from May 4 to May 10 in 2015.

Why is Screen-Free Week important? Lots of families, schools and communities use this week to remind themselves to switch off screens and spend time together doing other things. As our lives become increasingly entangled with, and dependent on screens, I think it’s vital to take regular stock of screen time. How long do we spend reading text messages, chats and emails? How much time do our kids spend with a screen? Does our family spend time together without any screens being involved? How long? Is that what we want? Are we all so busy that there’s no time for daydreaming, watching clouds, playing pretend?

Screen-Free Week prompts us not only to examine our relationship with screen-based activities, but to celebrate the enormous benefit of activities unrelated to screens. Some people rediscover the fun of playing card games and board games together in the evenings. Some people dedicate daily time for a family walk and chat after dinner perhaps, or go to a nearby park to fly kites. Others look forward to taking turns to read aloud from favourite books. This is not a week to send kids off to do extra homework! The emphasis is on reminding ourselves and our kids just what a joy it is to spend quality time with each other that doesn’t involve a screen.

Some of us can be less than enthusiastic, even desperate, about going screen-free. While we embrace it in principle, when it comes to the crunch we have a million reasons why we need to use this device for a few moments or hours. Here are some tips that might help:

* Explain the concept to your kids. Enlist their ideas and enthusiasms to make the whole thing work for you. It’s NOT a punishment, and any group or family has the right to configure and schedule Screen-Free Week so it works out for them. Maybe it will be a challenge or a competition? Maybe kids can log screen-free hours to earn something special? Maybe it will only be one day at your school, or each evening for a week for your family?

* Organise your week ahead of time and include as many wonderful events and activities as you can. Give children some things to look forward to for the week. Yes, allow plenty of time for doodling and moodling, cloud-watching and dreaming, but let's also include candlelight picnics, new games, LEGO building, fort or cubby building, campfires, sports or whatever is suggested by those involved.

* Look for new board games and library books you think your kids will enjoy and have them ready for Screen-Free Week. Old friends are great too, but something new can make things even more exciting. Or learn some new games you don’t need equipment for. Look inside my Book Chook Bag of Tricks for some I like, or check out two of my favourite silly games.

* Gather any special materials you might need ahead of time. Having a cardboard building challenge? Grab boxes or crates from local stores. Campfires are always better with marshmallows on sticks, and picnics really swing with yummy food, so take steps to have things ready there too. Would Screen-Free Week be a great time to teach kids some of the games and hobbies their grandparents and parents used to do? Consider sharing the fun of:
clapping and skipping games
jiggly-joggly wheelbarrow rides
cat’s cradle or string games
knitting or crochet
magic tricks
painting and drawing
campfire cookouts
reading at the beach
learning something new
billy cart building
backyard cricket
creating anything!
model making
games like murder in the dark, charades and sardines
pencil and paper games
guessing games
card games
word games
colouring in
jigsaw puzzles
visits to the library, art gallery, museum, bowling alley, skating rink, fun park
There are useful resources for those who want to organize a community or other event at the Screen-Free website, plus lots of things to think about before, during and after you participate. Whatever you decide to do during Screen-Free Week, I hope you and your children/students reap the benefits of lots of fun and less technology-focussed days!

I’ll be adding this special day to my List of Important Special Days for Kids

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Children's Book Review, Gaston

Children's Book Review by Susan Stephenson,

Gaston is a children’s picture book, written by Kelly DiPucchio, and illustrated by Christian Robinson. It was published in Australia by Simon and Schuster, 2014, and in the USA by Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

From the publisher:

This is the story of four puppies: Fi-Fi, Foo-Foo, Ooh-La-La, and Gaston. Gaston works the hardest at his lessons on how to be a proper pooch. He sips—never slobbers! He yips—never yaps! And he walks with grace—never races! Gaston fits right in with his poodle sisters.

But a chance encounter with a bulldog family in the park—Rocky, Ricky, Bruno, and Antoinette—reveals there’s been a mix-up, and so Gaston and Antoinette switch places. The new families look right…but they don’t feel right. Can these puppies follow their noses—and their hearts—to find where they belong?

I haven’t encountered DiPucchio’s books before but I’m an instant fan. She addresses young readers directly, inviting their responses, and making the book more interactive. I loved her character names - so beautifully appropriate for the pups. Children will enjoy the subtle underscoring of the differences between the puppies, and the resulting humour. I think they’ll also appreciate the theme about following your heart to find out where you belong.

My hardback copy of the book is perfectly sized for a library read-aloud. The paper is that high quality kind and combined with Robinson’s art work, makes you enjoy running your fingers gently over the pages. The puppies themselves are portrayed simply, and I envisage many young artists copying that style in their own art work. As with all excellent children’s picture books, Robinson’s illustrations add lovely extra details and subtext to the story.

Gaston will go immediately onto my list of top picture books reviewed in 2015. It’s a stunning book, with a clever and amusing story, perfectly complemented by acrylic art work children will love. Do seek it out for home/school enjoyment and share it soon with children you love.

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

Monday, April 27, 2015

Children’s iPad App, Peek-a-Word

Children’s iPad App Review by Susan Stephenson,

Here’s a really simple iPad word game app for young kids - Peek-a-Word: A Game for Developing Observation Skills.

From the developer:

An entertaining game that helps young children develop observation skills, improve visual perception and learn animals and languages. The animals want to play with you and challenge you to discover the hidden name. Can you guess the name and choose the right animal? Don’t be shy!

The child chooses from the animals in front of him/her to see if it matches the hidden name. When the child touches animal, the game shows if the guess is right or wrong. Once the right animal is chosen, the others disappear and the complete word appears. As children play, they learn the names and environments of each animal: the farm, the sea, the jungle, the savannah, etc.

What I liked: When you’re dealing with young children, it’s great to have a simple interface, and easy, obvious navigation. The focus of the app is for children to tap on the animal represented by the given word. Each habitat is represented by a handful of different animals. So if the child sees 'PENGUIN',  he ignores the polar bear, walrus, seal, squid etc and taps the penguin. Once the correctly matching animal is chosen, a short animation results, and the noise of cheering. Tap the wrong animal and that animal makes a gentle “uh-oh” type noise. But there’s more to it than that, because you can change to one of 12 languages in the app’s settings, making it useful for children learning Spanish, French, German, Chinese, Korean and so on. I also like that there are no third party ads or in-app purchases, and to see other Dada apps, grownups need to enter given numbers.

All the words are represented by uppercase letters. I’d love it if Dada added the feature where parents/teachers could choose lower case letters as an option instead. The music isn’t obtrusive, in fact it’s quite calming, but it would be nice if it were more child-like, or tunes kids can recognise.

Peek-a-Word is just one of many apps created by Dada. Get more of an idea about Peek-a-Word in the video embedded below.

I'll be adding Peek-a-Word to my lists, Word Fun for Kids, and iPad Puzzle Apps for Kids.

Check out my other iPad App Reviews on Pinterest.
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