Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Children’s Book Review, Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey



Reviewed by Susan Stephenson, www.thebookchook.com



Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family's Journey is a children’s picture book written by Margriet Ruurs, illustrated by Nizar Ali Badr and published by UQP (2017.) RRP: $Au 21.95

From the publisher:

When I was little, not so long ago,
my brother, Sami, our friends and I
played on sunbaked soil.
We laughed, ran across rocks and sand,
free as birds.

Then the birds stopped singing.
People began to leave our village.
First a trickle, then a stream,
across dusty fields under a burning sun,
a stream driven by hope.
Mothers, fathers, children,
seeking a better place, a better life.

This is a dual language picture book with text in both English and Arabic. In lyrical language, it tells the story of Rama and her family who are forced to leave behind everything they know and love - to search for a new home in a place where bombs do not fall. Carrying their belongings on their backs, their journey is painful and difficult, especially for the children. Thoughts of a better life help them persevere. And then they reach their future.

Nizar Ali Badr is a Syrian artist. He composes images using rocks, and takes photographs of them. This makes the illustrations unusual and striking. It also makes them perfectly suited to a book that makes us think about the land, and the places we call home. Children will be amazed at how much an artist and sculptor can say through rocks. I loved the variety of colours and shapes, and how eloquently they spoke to me.

Every public and school library will want this book. It’s so important for us to try to understand the plight of people whose countries have been torn apart by war. Stepping Stones allows us to enter into the feelings and experiences of a young refugee girl, and by so doing, get an idea of her past and her future. It’s a moving story, and one that I hope touches many hearts.

There are Australian Curriculum aligned Teacher Notes available via UQP’s website.

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

Friday, August 18, 2017

Children’s iPad App, TotemUp


Reviewed by Susan Stephenson, www.thebookchook.com



TotemUp is an educational and creative app for preschoolers. I have previously reviewed Minilab’s Artie’s Magic Pencil.

From the developer:

-Combine different faces, outlines, colours, patterns and arms to make unique TotemUp creature blocks
-Build over 200.000 different creatures
-Build billions of different combinations of funny TotemUp blocks
-Save pictures of your favourite TotemUp towers
-Familiarise children with pre-school math concepts
-See the local time of day reflected in the colours of the sky
-Ideal for kids 2 to 5
-No goals or objectives, simply an endless digital toy experience!
-No in-app purchase, No third-party advertising, No social media

What I liked:

TotemUp is a digital toy which offers young children the opportunity of free play in an environment where little monsters can be created, customised, popped into a ladder/tower, then knocked over when the ladder is full. I really like the way the app mirrors real-life play - isn’t it amazing how many times little ones can build and knock over a structure while giggling helplessly? At the same time, kids are indirectly learning about maths. Eggs can have 1, 2 or 3 dots and the monster that emerges is correspondingly of 1, 2 or 3 ladder rungs in height. This means when kids add a 1 monster to a 2 monster that is taking up two rungs, they will see the combined monsters now take up three rungs. The fun comes in with creating different monster combinations according to easily navigable buttons, and then seeing the subsequent animations.

I loved how the developers included a way for kids to take a photo of their monster ladders, and the very cute and attractive colours and patterns that go to make up a monster. The developers have also included a parent’s area which has a text box for parents to enter their birth year, and this area has access to a store.

Where do I get it?


Get more of an idea about TotemUp from the video below.



Check out all of my iPad App Reviews on Pinterest, and find more apps and articles via my Listly page. I’ll be adding this app to my List, Creating with Children and iPad Apps.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Children’s Book Review, Spot the Mistake: Lands of Long Ago



Reviewed by Susan Stephenson, www.thebookchook.com



Spot the Mistake: Lands of Long Ago is a children’s picture book by AJ Wood and Mike Jolley, illustrated by Frances Castle, and published by Quarto Group UK (Allen and Unwin in Australia) 2017. RRP: $Au 24.99 HB.

From the publisher:

Would an Inca warrior have ridden a camel? Would a Viking have listened to his radio? Test your knowledge of history and spot 20 mistakes in every scene from ancient civilisations, then turn to the back where you’ll find the answers and more fun facts about ancient civilisations, including the Ancient Greeks, the Ancient Egyptians, the Romans, the Mayans, the Vikings, and many more! For ages 7-10.

I don’t think I’ve ever met a child who didn’t love a puzzle book! What a wonderful idea to combine visual puzzles with history - kids can test their knowledge of history by identifying anachronisms and other mistakes, and perhaps use any of the double-page spreads as a jumping off point for further study. There are 20 mistakes to spot in each scene, then clear explanations are given that kids will understand. The time periods covered go from the Stone Age, Ancient Greece and Rome, the Mayans, all the way through to the pirates who operated in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Castle’s illustrations are colourful and attractive. Most importantly, they make the mistakes look an everyday part of each scene which will appeal to kids who like to be challenged. This robust book will stand up to the repeated re-readings it will no doubt get - an excellent choice for libraries everywhere, but also a great coffee table book for home.

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

Friday, August 11, 2017

Exploring Story Elements with Kids


by Susan Stephenson, www.thebookchook.com


Delving into the elements of a story can help not just with storytelling, but with children’s reading and writing. Whether they use and understand terms like “complication” and “resolution” or are at the stage of sorting out beginnings, middles and endings, the key I believe is to share LOTS of stories with kids, then help them begin to understand story structure. After they become aware of story elements like setting and character, they can consolidate their learning by taking a text or a story and making changes to it. 


If kids aren’t too sure of story elements, here’s an interactive that uses the story of Cinderella to explore many story elements. ABC Splash have interactives that help kids explore text types, sequencing, story mapping etc and a digi-book from Sydney Story Factory on building stories. Below you will find some ideas of mine that guide children to innovate on the story of The Three Little Pigs.

For kids: Taking a story that’s already written, but changing it somehow, can be lots of fun. You get to piggyback on someone else’s ideas, but change things around so you’re creating something new. Below you will see some ways you can play with the classic story of The Three Little Pigs. You might decide to choose one of these, or combine two or three to help you think up your new tale.

* Change the title of the story. You could have The Three Little Cupcakes or The Four Frantic Fish. Play with titles until you find one you like.

* Change the beginning of the story. Perhaps the main characters are pirates who go to sea, or decide to stay at home with their mother.

* Change the middle of the story. What else could happen besides the wolf doing all that huffing and puffing?

* Change the end of the story. Did the wolf change his ways? Did the pigs behave differently? How will your story end?

* Change the genre. Some people call The Three Little Pigs a fairy tale, others say it’s a fable or a folktale. What do you think? You could re-write The Three Little Pigs as a space opera, an action adventure or a romance.

* Change the characters. In The Three Little Pigs, the characters are all animals, but animals that behave a lot like humans. You could make the characters human, or creatures like aliens or fantasy beings. Or you could have a mixture of characters.

* Change the hero of the story. The hero of The Three Little Pigs is probably the third little pig. What if one of the other pigs was the hero? Or the wolf? or the mother pig? Or a completely different character? You decide.

* Change the villain. Instead of the wolf, you could have a Big Bad Mouse, a teacher or a billionaire. Or you could keep the wolf as the villain but change his personality and the part he plays in the story.

* Change the setting. The setting is where and when a story takes place. You could set your story in a park, a jungle or a shop and the time could when dinosaurs roamed the earth, in 3000AD, or last week.

* Change the main conflict or problem in the story. The wolf wants to eat the pigs and the pigs understandably don’t want this. You could change this to the wolf wanting the pigs to become his servants, or the pigs wanting the wolf to give up pork forever and eat only vegetables.

* After playing with these ideas, take your own version of The Three Little Pigs story, and then ... change it again! You could re-write it as a poem, a song, a dance, or a play - or something completely different.

You might be interested in Creative Prompt - Start with Some Story Elements and Story Bags as Prompts for Storytelling. I also have a free PDF at my website which is a Reader's Theatre version (BookChook-style) of The Three Little Pigs.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Reviews: The Mapmaker Chronicles


Reviewed by Susan Stephenson, www.thebookchook.com



The Mapmaker Chronicles are middle grade chapter books by A.L.Tait, published by Lothian, an imprint of Hachette, Australia (2014.) Find out a little about each book, or scroll down to Books 1-4 to read my reaction to the series so far.

Book 1 - Race to the End of the World RRP: $Au 14.99

From the publisher:

The King is determined to discover what lies beyond the known world, and has promised handsome prize to the ship’s captain who can bring him a map. To do that, they’ll need mapmakers – and 14-year-old Quinn is shocked to be one of the chosen. While his older brothers long for adventure, Quinn is content with a quiet life on the farm, but when word of his special talent gets out, he has no choice but to pack his bags and join the mismatched crew of slaves and stowaways on board the Libertas.

Nobody knows what lies off the edge of the map, but Quinn is about to find out that it's more than anyone bargained for . . .

In Book 1, Race to the End of the World, we meet Quinn, the main character for the whole series. Quinn is a hero many will relate to - someone who loves to read and learn, not over-flowing with confidence, and happier out of the limelight. But when he is chosen to be a map-maker, he is thrust into a life he could never have imagined. He must draw on his abilities and inner resources, become resilient and physically strong. His friend, a girl named Ash, is brave and very determined - both qualities she needs when she decides to stow away on Quinn’s ship in Book 1.

Book 2 - Prisoner of The Black Hawk RRP: $Au 14.99

From the publisher:

Tomas laughed. 'You think that's terrifying? Wait till you meet the pescarn . . . they will eat the flesh off your bones in minutes.'

In the second book in this thrilling series, Mapmaker Quinn is far from home in an exotic land filled with dangerous creatures and ruthless enemies.

When he is betrayed by someone close to him and comes face-to-face with blood-thirsty pirates, he has to decide once and for all who is a friend and who is a foe . . .

Is this the end of the race for Quinn - or just the beginning of another incredible adventure in THE MAPMAKER CHRONICLES?

In Book 2, Quinn and his party explore a different part of the world, and eventually Quinn finds himself in a small wooden cage aboard the Black Hawk. I loved that despite the way everything seems stacked against him, Quinn never gives up hope. There’s so much drama and excitement at times, kids will need to remind themselves to breathe!

Book 3 - Breath of the Dragon RRP: $Au 14.99

From the publisher:

Quinn, Ash, Zain and the crew of the Libertas are racing against the clock to get back to Verdania before the King's deadline. Will they make it in time? Will Quinn complete the first map of the whole world? Will Zain bring back enough treasure to satisfy the King? Will they win the race to the end of the world?

Or will their enemies stop them from getting back at all?

In Book 3, the tension seems to ratchet up even more. There are new lands to explore, new treachery to deal with, and some very serious setbacks. Zain, the enigmatic Libertas captain, needs rescuing and Quinn needs all his wits, his resolve and his maturity to come to Zain’s aid.

Book 4 - Beyond the Edge of the Map RRP: $Au 14.99

From the publisher:

Quinn is back! He finished his race around the world and is living a quiet life on the family farm, until he discovers that the King's enemies want to capture him. Quinn is forced to go on the run, taking to the high seas once more. Can he survive when he is double-crossed and left for dead?

In book 3, Breath of the Dragon, we saw the end of the race between the ships’ captains and their mapmakers, but in Book 4, Quinn must put to sea again. This time he has two of his older brothers with him, but again he must face treachery and then try to survive many challenges. There’s lots of tension and excitement as is usual in The Map Maker Chronicles books. Young readers will be pleased to see that it looks like Quinn and his friends might be back in a fifth book for the series.

Books 1-4

As an adult who wants to encourage children to read, I read STACKS of children’s books. If I don’t like a book, I don’t review it, but I try to look at a book from a child’s point of view and find the merit a child might see. I think kids will really enjoy The Mapmaker Chronicles but I think they are books that can equally be read by adults. Yes, the sentence structure and language used may be simpler than in an adult book, but there is no dumbing down. These are rattling good yarns, well-told.

The main character, Quinn is a strong point-of-view character, and we mostly see the story through his eyes and experience what he experiences. But other characters are well-drawn too. There’s Zain, captain of the Libertas, and Quinn’s mentor; Ajax, a fellow map-maker and friend of Quinn’s; Ira, arrogant and untrustworthy; and lots of villains who are both cruel and treacherous. I love the way Tait allows her characters to speak in modern vocabulary and expressions kids will recognise, because I have read books where the use of dialect and archaic speech has slowed a book right down. On the other hand, I also love the way readers can look through a startled character’s eyes, and experience the mind-boggling wonder, to them, that is a volcano or an elephant.

I would recommend these books to kids 8-12 who like adventure, who love to enter a detailed, believable fictional world, who like action, flashes of humour, quests and moments of nail-biting tension. Suggest The Mapmaker Chronicles too to children who like a series - there’s something very comforting about understanding main characters and growing with them over the course of several books.

For educators, there are useful resources at A.L.Tait’s website.

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