Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Reviews: Recent Children’s Picture Books about Animals, 2016



Children's Book Reviews by Susan Stephenson, www.thebookchook.com


Kids love animals and books about them. Here are some new picture books about animals that may well delight a child near you!

This and That A recently published picture book from Mem Fox is This and That, illustrated by Judy Horacek and published by Scholastic Australia (2015). RRP: $Au 19.99

I’ll tell you a story of this
And I’ll tell you a story of that

This charming bedtime tale creates a wonderful, whimsical world that young children will love — it tells the story of a mother rat and her child, and their adventures in the wide, wide world.

What a charming gift this would make for a baby and its young parents! Fox’s picture books are always special. This one has a rhythm perfect for gentle bouncing on a lap, but slows down and ends with love and a kiss goodnight. Horace gifts us with cartoon-style illustrations against a simple background, but then we come to a colourful and more detailed market and two giraffes in a tangle, and later a hospitable king welcoming an array of characters to his castle. The whole is just a little piece of perfection and one I think is destined to become a classic.

Underneath a Cow This children’s picture book was written by Carol Ann Martin, illustrated by Ben Wood and published by Omnibus Books for Scholastic (2015). RRP: $Au 24.99

We're under a cow.
We're under a cow.
We're under her here
We're under her now!

And for all the animals sheltering underneath Madge the cow, there's no better place to be when you are caught in a Great Big, Terrible, Awful Storm!

I really enjoyed Underneath a Cow. There’s lots of fun within its pages for adults as well as kids, including a wonderful Underneath a Cow song that chases the storm away.

Children will love the cover and immediately try to guess what will end up under the cow. Wood’s quirky cartoon-style animals are very cute. My favourites were the chickens, especially the little black one.

Clementine’s Bath This children’s picture book was written and illustrated by Annie White and published by New Frontier (2015).

Clementine runs away to escape a bath.
NOT A BATH! thinks Clementine.
She hides under the bed, behind the curtains and even in Baby’s toybox. Can her family find her in time to give her a bath?

I suspect most kids will know a dog that likes to sniff things. They may also know one that likes to roll in something disgusting. Clementine is not fond of baths and runs off as soon as she suspects that’s what will follow her encounter with some garbage. Unfortunately for the stinky dog, her smell gives each hiding place away until she somersaults and lands SPLASH into the bath. White’s rhyming story rollicks along, accompanied by endearing and humorous illustrations.

The Lion and the Bird This children’s picture book was written and illustrated by Marianne Dubuc, translated into English by Sarah Ardizzone and published by Book Island (2015).

A lion in dungarees and a bird with a broken wing form an unlikely friendship when they meet one Autumn day.

Here’s a cosy, friendly story about a lion who finds a bird with a broken wing and takes care of him. Even when winter brings snow, Lion makes sure Bird is warm and safe as they go tobogganing and ice-fishing, and later toasting their toes on front of the fire. Being together makes everything doubly enjoyable. Then Spring arrives, bringing the return of Bird’s old friends. Is there still a place for Lion in Bird’s life now?

Dubuc’s illustrations are striking yet gentle, and perfect for this story about changing seasons, compassion, and the enduring nature of true friendship.

The Bath Monster This children’s picture book was written by Colin Boyd, illustrated by Tony Ross and published by Koala Books (2015). RRP: $14.99

If you are looking for a picture book that’s slightly scary and will appeal to kids who love to get covered in mud, look no more. Jackson is told by his mother that if he doesn’t have a bath, the Bath Monster will come and get him. Readers see a picture of the ghastly creature, slurping dirty bath water through a straw. But Jackson gets older and begins to think the Bath Monster isn’t real. Until one day…

Boyd resists the temptation to scare kids too much with a clever twist, and Ross’s illustrations are the perfect complement to a story that teeters on the dark side. Lots of fun! (Re my title above: Is a monster an animal? It's certainly not a fungus.)

Find more children’s picture books and articles about animals by browsing here: Reviews: Recent Picture Books about Animals 2015,  Reviews: Recent Picture Books about Animals 2015 (2), Reviews: Recent Picture Books about Animals 2015 (3), Reviews: Recent Picture Books about Animals  2015 (4). Find some of my articles about using animal resources with kids here.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Review: Word Game App, Word Jewels 2


Review: Word Game App, Word Jewels 2
by Susan Stephenson, www.thebookchook.com


I enjoy word games. Some people closely related to me say it’s because I am yet to understand games that are more complicated. That’s unkind. I prefer to think I love word games because they are a celebration of my rich vocabulary and an ability to spell.

You may remember I brought you some of my favourite word game apps last year. Here’s a new one to add to that list: Word Jewels 2. It’s fairly typical of the word games I like - the goal is to make words, the longer the better. It also has a long name: Word Jewels 2 - Fun and Addictive Wordsearch Crossword Game that Builds Vocabulary!

From the developer, Boy Howdy Technology LLC:

RELAX WHILE YOU SHARPEN YOUR MIND!

• No timers, so take your time and find the best words

• Beautiful graphics and animation

• Relaxing sound effects

• Listen to your iPod music while playing


GO FOR A HIGH SCORE!

• Score summary shows you how well you did

• Compare your scores with the world using Game Center (iOS4/5 devices)

• Post your scores to Facebook and Twitter to challenge far away friends


WORD LOVE!

• Huge English dictionary included to verify words even while not connected to the internet!
(Word Jewels uses the YAWL word list, which has 264,097 words! Valid words must be 3 letters long and NOT be proper nouns, as is typical for most every word game.)

• Automagic letter balancing, to help from getting trapped with a big ol' pile of consonants with no vowels, or with too many duplicates of the same letter in a group!

• Magic auto-save - go ahead and quit the game, take a phone call, send a text - when you come back, your game will be waiting for you! Works on both old and new iThings!

• 54 Game Center Achievements to earn!

What I like:

Free is wonderful. The ads aren’t too obtrusive and don’t bother me. I like the ease of play and the gradual increase of difficulty - good for the ego! Game play is intuitive but there’s a short tutorial in case you have trouble. You join up adjacent letters by swiping in any direction, and there’s different modes of play, depending on your mood and time to spare.

I think teens and adults would enjoy this game, and it may even increase their vocabulary. It might suit some primary/elementary kids too, but it would best for them to play in conjunction with a parent at the start.


Check out my iPad App Reviews on Pinterest, and find more apps and articles via my Listly page.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Three Parent Plans to Create a Strong Reader


Three Parent Plans to Create a Strong Reader
by Susan Stephenson, www.thebookchook.com


As parents, we all wish our kids would become strong readers. Wishing is fine, but did you know there are three strategies you can adopt as a parent that will HELP your kids grow into strong independent readers?

1. Read to your kids each day from when they are babies. It doesn’t need to be a long time. As little as ten minutes a day adds up over the weeks and months. Increase the time as kids develop the ability to listen and become absorbed with stories. Choose a time that suits you best and don’t be afraid to experiment. Some families read each night before sleep time for their little ones. Other people like meal times or even bath times. Lots of parents I know change it up - they listen to an audio book in the car, have a story before bed, or read aloud when kids get home from school while they eat a snack. I like to call this special time set aside for reading: “read o’clock”. 

If kids choose a story you’ve had before, that’s great, because repetition helps children internalise language and become familiar with text. Rhyming, rhythmic picture books are often easier for children to memorise, and this in turn helps them along the road to reading. I like to hold the book where kids can see as I read aloud, and I love it when they join in a familiar tale. It’s also an excellent idea to make sure our kids notice a range of materials in print - signs, names, labels, magazines, newspapers, catalogues all count as something we can discuss with our kids. Asking questions like “How do you think the little mouse felt then?” help kids think about stories, and develop empathy for others. Comments like “Oh, look, there’s an L, that’s the first letter in your name.” encourage kids to become aware of print.

2. Talk with your kids and listen to what they have to say. Yes, we all do that as we go about the day, but it’s important to discuss what we see and invite kids to respond too. Talking includes singing songs, chanting rhymes, playing rhyming and other word games. As parents we often do this instinctively with our babies and nursery rhymes, but older kids can really benefit too. One way to do this is to choose a rhyme kids know, but leave out one of the rhyming words and have kids supply it. Or supply something silly that also rhymes. (You can find other ideas in my article Let’s Use Chants and Rhymes with Kids.)

3. Make sure your kids see you reading too. Sometimes as parents we can forget that we are the most powerful role models in our children’s lives. When children notice mum and dad reading the newspaper, a recipe, a bus timetable, or a book, they are absorbing the fact that reading is useful and pleasurable. By pointing out others who are reading or doing reading associated activities like using the library, we are also helping promote a positive attitude towards reading in our youngsters. I believe it’s becoming increasingly important for our kids to see us turn off digital devices too. What sort of message are we sending to our kids when we listen to them with one eye on a screen? How can we expect our children to become strong readers if they only see grown-ups engaging or semi-engaging with phones and TV and laptops?

Once these three strategies become daily habits and attitudes in your family, I truly believe not just your children will benefit but you too!

If you'd like to browse more articles about reading, click on the Reading button in my right sidebar, or check out Let's Hear it for Reading Aloud!, A List of Book-related Special Days for Kids and Let's Hear it for Picture Books!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Children’s Book Review, The Skunk


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


The Skunk was written by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Patrick McDonnell and published by Five Mile Press in Australia (2015). (First published by Roaring Brook Press.) RRP: $Au19.95

From the publisher: When a skunk first appears in the man's doorway, it's a strange but possibly harmless occurrence. But then the man finds the skunk following him, and the unlikely pair embark on an increasingly frantic chase through the city, from the streets to the opera house to the fairground. What does the skunk want? Soon the man has bought a new house in a new neighborhood to escape the creature's attention, only to find himself missing something. . .

Many young Aussies will understand the ramifications of skunks, especially if they have older relatives who remember Pepe le Pew. When the un-named bespectacled and red bow-tied gentleman opens the door to a red-nosed skunk, he backs carefully and understandably down the street. But the skunk follows him. No matter what he tries to elude the skunk, the creature manages to find him, even appearing on a lady’s head at the opera. Finally the gentleman becomes skunk-free and begins to celebrate, only to realise he misses the skunk!

I really enjoyed The Skunk. There’s an instant retro feel to this charming children’s picture book. Illustrations are cartoonish and minimal, many with a limited palette of black and white, and highlights of red. Only when the gentleman celebrates being free of his nemesis do we see yellow and blue appear.

The narrative arc of the first half of the book reminds me of the twists and turns of the game Fortunately/Unfortunately. While younger kids will certainly enjoy it on face-value, I think children from older grades will appreciate its quirkiness and nuances too. So many unanswered questions. What does the skunk want? Why does the man miss the skunk? Older children will love using it as a model for their own imaginative stories. There’s a lot to learn about tension, point of view and particularly about satisfying resolutions in The Skunk. I hope you’ll share it with children who appreciate humour and great stories.

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

Monday, February 1, 2016

Children’s iPad App, Toca Life: Town


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


Toca Life: Town is not just a useful app for parents and teachers to use with kids, it’s lots of fun too.

From the developer:

- 21 characters to play with. Do you recognize any of them?
- 7 locations to explore - park, pond, store, police station, restaurant, house, apartment
- 30 different dishes to cook in the restaurant
- Go on adventure - light a campfire and sleep in a tent
- Control day and night
- 5 different animals to play with
- Open game play with no rules or stress
- Kid-friendly interface
- No third-party advertising
- No in-app purchases

Toca Life: Town is made for kids as young as 3 yet can capture the imagination of those much older. It's filled with surprises and exciting things to do - there are no limits, just fun! Come play!

There are so many places to explore and elements to interact with in this app. Each part of the town presents opportunities for kids to discover effects and causes, to play out scenarios, The game starts with a map and kids simply touch where they want to go. After that it’s up to their imaginations and your purposes as to what happens. There’s a store where players can shop for groceries, homes to visit, a park to play in - and inside each, there’s a range of things to open/shut, turn off/on, wrap, cook, eat etc.

Alas, I found myself doing “naughty” things like flushing a toothbrush down the toilet and throwing the teapot in the bin. In the police station, I locked the sheriff in the jail! (See image above.) If you’ve run Professional Development sessions for teachers where you’ve asked them to role play being kids, you’ll understand my evil inner child wanting to create havoc. I am sure kids will want to do this too. What a wonderful opportunity for some vocabulary extension and language development! I think that’s the beauty of this app: it will be enjoyed by kids for the play and dramatisation opportunities it offers, but it can also be incredibly useful for educators. Particularly for teachers and parents working with a child who needs to develop language skills or explore real life situations via an app.


Check out all my iPad App Reviews on Pinterest, and find more apps and articles via my Listly page.
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