Friday, July 31, 2015

Children’s iPad App, Play Opera



Children's App Review by Susan Stephenson, www.thebookchook.com



Play Opera: Mozart, Puccini, Rossini, and Verdi masterpieces for kids is a recent app created by Dada Company. I have previously reviewed Dada’s Peek-a-Word.

From the developer:

Play Opera introduces children to the opera through the work of five great composers, encouraging the development and education of musical tastes. A challenging educational experience that promotes active listening thanks to fun interactions. Each piece includes character profiles and a brief synopsis of the opera to which they belong.

Play Opera combines music and art in a way never seen before on touchscreen devices. Get excited with princes, princesses, sisters, farmers, jesters, dukes and murderers with lyrics of treason, passion, revenge and above all, love.

Especially recommended for children between ages 5 and 12. This application presents a secure environment for children. CONTAINS NO THIRD-PARTY ADVERTISING NOR IN-APP PURCHASES. A unique opera experience for the whole family to enjoy!


This app has been designed to introduce children to opera. They encounter five pieces:

1. Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, illustrated by Violeta Lópiz.
2. Turandot (Nessun Dorma) by Giacomo Puccini, illustrated by Pablo Auladell.
3. Gioachino Rossini Cenerentola, illustrated by Marina Anaya.
4. Giuseppe Verdi's Rigoletto, illustrated by Mikel Casal.
5. Councilmen Choir of the Luisa Fernanda Operetta by Federico Moreno Torroba, illustrated by Ricardo Cavolo.

What I loved: I enjoyed the illustrations and animations very much. It was fascinating to me to see how artists had interpreted a song and animators had brought it to life. I found Papageno’s aria from The Magic Flute most appealing to kids and a cheerful interpretation of what has long been a favourite of mine. The art work for Nessun Dorma in Turandot was suitably dark.

I am not an opera buff, but enjoy popular opera and operetta. Because the app is aimed at children 5 - 12, I found myself wondering if all the presented songs were the best choices. Each song has some text putting it into context by providing a summary. So we read of seduction in Rigoletto, the womanising Moreno in Luisa Fernanda, and beheading in Turandot. Not surprising to find adult themes when opera is written for adults. But for some schools, the app may be challenged because of this text. As the app was sponsored by Opera XXI, this may have been a decision not made by the developers.
iTunes USA: $3.99

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Children’s Book Review, Don’t Think About Purple Elephants


Children’s Book Review by Susan Stephenson, www.thebookchook.com


Don’t Think About Purple Elephants is a children’s picture book written by Susan Whelan, illustrated by Gwyneth Jones and published by EK Books, an imprint of Exile Publishing, 2015. l

From the publisher:

Sometimes Sophie worries — not during the day when she is busy with family and friends, but at night when everything is calm and quiet. Her family all try to help, but somehow they just make her worries worse. Until her mother thinks of a new approach … that might just involve an elephant or two! But wait, don’t think about purple elephants, whatever you do! Whimsical and humorous, this little girl’s story of finding a way to ease her worry resonates with children and parents everywhere.

Don’t Think About Purple Elephants is an excellent resource for social and emotional learning for parents and teachers.


Most of the time Sophie is a happy, well-adjusted child who enjoys school and friends. But at night she finds herself worrying about all sorts of seemingly simple things. Nothing her family does seems to help until Mum has an idea. She tells Sophie NOT to think about purple elephants. What’s the first thing you do when someone tells you not to think about something? Start thinking about it, right? So it’s not surprising when young Sophie finds her bedtime thoughts dancing with enchanting purple elephants rather than bogged down with anxieties. Whelan gives us a character kids will relate to in young Sophie, and deftly allows children to sort out their own conclusions on coping with anxiety. I know that even young worriers will enjoy the humour in the story as well as empathising with Sophie.

Jones provides lots to think about in her illustrations. I like the way she used a different palette on the worry pages, and showed us the way anxiety seemed to twist Sophie into knots. Children will enjoy locating and determining the cat’s role in the story, and love checking out the antics of all the friendly purple elephants, especially the way they interact with Sophie’s former worries.

Have you noticed that it’s often the very intelligent and sensitive kids who are tortured by fears and anxieties? Somehow that very quality of imagination and creativity that we prize in kids can have a negative aspect as it amplifies worrying situations for them. Where one child can read about tsunamis and be mildly interested, an anxious child immediately starts checking for higher ground and straining for the crash of waves. There are things we can do as parents and teachers to help such children - and one of those is to suggest coping mechanisms. Luckily this is where a children’s picture book can help. One of the many wonderful aspects to children’s literature is that they expose kids to new points of view in an accessible and entertaining way. By reading of Sophie’s problems and her solution, children may experiment to see if it will help them too. My hope for every anxious child is that they too will have a phalanx of purple elephants to NOT think about.

Check out the teaching notes on the Purple Elephants website.

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

Monday, July 27, 2015

Creating with Kids and iPad Apps (July 2015 Update)


Creating with Kids and iPad Apps (July 2015 Update)
by Susan Stephenson, www.thebookchook.com



I've updated my List, Creating with Children and iPad Apps. Check out the List below (and don't forget to navigate to the second/third page via arrows bottom right) to browse those apps I’ve reviewed where children can create something. Whether that creation takes the form of telling a digital story, recording themselves making art, arranging elements to make a digital picture, creating a cartoon or a video, taking pictures with a camera, rearranging words and letters to make something new, making music… kids will be involved in some kind of creative thinking and often will need to make choices and experiment with producing something new. If your kids need a prompt to get them started, check out the latest prompt in my series: Creative Prompt for Kids, If Only... and link through to all the rest.

You might also be interested in:




Friday, July 24, 2015

Listly for Educators


Listly for Educators
by Susan Stephenson, www.thebookchook.com



Why Listly? Creation, Curation and Usability

Recently I’ve begun using Listly more and more. It’s a website and tool for making lists. But it’s much more than that. Listly is a way to gather resources and share them with others. It’s a versatile visual way to create all sorts of lists that curate the resources, or groups of resources, you gather. Listly enables the gathering of resources via a bookmarklet in your browser toolbar. If you find something, you click the bookmarklet and Listly prompts you to add it to the correct list on your own Listly page. Here’s a variety of ways to use Listly created by the Listly blog.

One of the things Listly does here at The Book Chook is make it easy for me to round up articles I’ve written according to a theme. For example, I can make a list of blog posts I’ve written with tips for young writers. Then I simply grab that list’s embed code from Listly, write an introduction and publish both as a new blog post. When I write other articles that fit this theme, I add them via my browser bookmarklet to the original list at Listly and that updates my blog post list with the new content. So Listly is working well for me as a blogger in the education arena to curate my own content. I particularly value this because when you’ve been writing as long as I have, content tends to get buried, and Listly helps me and my readers keep track of it.

I used Listly to make my lists of Book-related Special Days that I hoped would be useful to educators. Because I wanted to have the list in calendar order, I employed the editing feature of Listly that allowed me to drag List items into a different place. I chose to display the List minimally, so it would take up least space, but Listly also offers highly visual displays too, including the newly introduced Slideshow.

Listly offers ways for readers to interact with List content but I have found that isn’t important to me. Readers tend to email me if they have suggestions for additions to my Lists. When I first started with Listly, I had a question for Support and was impressed with how quickly it was answered. @Listly even tweet my content occasionally which I really appreciate.

As educators know, there are lots of online spaces where we can curate resources. Each has its strengths. I find I tend to get less distracted on Listly than I do on Pinterest, so I am using it more “seriously” than I do Pinterest. Now that Pinterest has changed its terms so that people need to join to view content, I value that Listly allows anyone to view Lists unless they are made private. I usually make a list private (Premium feature I think) until I finish the initial build, then change the permission in settings. If you have a school or class blog set up on the WordPress platform, there’s also a useful Listly plugin.

One drawback I find to Listly is that once a List reaches a certain number that you can set, it goes to a new page. Someone browsing your List needs to navigate to that page via an arrow bottom right. New users may not be aware of that, and so think the List is much shorter. You do need to be over 13 to use Listly, but I think it might prove useful to older students as a way of gathering resources they need for an assignment.

To see some of the public Lists I’ve made, check out my page on Listly (pictured above.)  Note that many of my Lists are to help me write blog posts e.g. When I write a new article, I can refer to other articles without adding them manually, just by adding a List e.g. Creating with Children and iPad Apps. Or I can write a short introduction, and add resources in the format of a List. Some of my Lists are a combination of links to other websites and links to my own relevant articles e.g. Image Resources to Help Educators.

Takeaway points:

Listly is quick.

Listly is embeddable.

Listly is at a glance.

Listly is free, apart from certain Premium features. (I now pay for Premium features, mostly because I think it’s worth it, and to support a project that works well for me.)

If you’re an educator, I believe Listly is a worthwhile, versatile and fast curation tool for you to consider.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Children’s Book Review, Thunderstorm Dancing

Children’s Book Review by Susan Stephenson, www.thebookchook.com


Thunderstorm Dancing is a children’s picture book written by Katrina Germein, illustrated by Judy Watson, and published by Allen and Unwin, 2015.

From the publisher:

When a sunny day at the beach turns stormy, a little girl runs for cover. Her daddy and brothers are wild in the wind and lightning, and her poppy is as loud as thunder. They fill the house with stamping and crashing while Granny plays piano to their riotous thunderstorm dancing... until the storm passes and they all fall down. Then, in the stillness, the girl is ready to play. What will she be, now that the rain has stopped and there's a glimmer of sunlight?

Germein has gifted us with lyrical prose carefully constructed to create tension. Each word contributes to the intense drama of an approaching storm, and yet this is all language kids will understand and relate to. What fun they will have using words like “flicking and flashing - tricking and dashing - crackling zap! - sizzling snap!” in their own poems to create word pictures and sound bites for an audience!

The choice of Watson as illustrator for this enthusiastic text was an inspired one. She has chosen unusual backgrounds and perspectives to nudge us toward an understanding of point of view. There’s lots to think about in each illustration. How has Watson used colour to communicate with us? How has she showed movement? What artistic techniques has she used throughout the book? Look carefully at the lines and decide what effect they have.

Germein has used lots of metaphors in the story: Granny is the sun, Mum is the rain. Can kids create metaphors about their own family members?

I love picture books that celebrate the sheer joy of playing with words. Watson’s illustrations make Thunderstorm Dreaming a visual feast as well. Do seek out this wonderful children’s picture book for your home or school. It will make a fine text for reader’s theatre and suits a unit on Families. I can visualise it being brought vibrantly to life as a performance by children using dance, body percussion, voice, language and art work.

Find more reviews at The Book Chook by clicking Reviews in the right sidebar.
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