Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Children’s Book Review, Du Iz Tak?

Reviewed by Susan Stephenson,

Du Iz Tak? was written and illustrated by Carson Ellis, and published in Australia by Walker Books (2016.) RRP: $Au24.99.  I have previously reviewed Ellis’ picture book, Home.

From the publisher:

In her follow-up to the internationally acclaimed Home, Carson Ellis invites readers to imagine the dramatic possibilities to be found in the natural world ... even the humblest back garden! With gorgeous, exquisitely-detailed illustration that will appear to children and art-lovers alike, and a wonderfully playful invented language, we soon find ourselves speaking "Bug" ... Du iz tak? What is that?

First, Carson Ellis explored the many possibilities of home... now she turns her eye to the natural world.

The invented, nonsensical language is hugely fun to read aloud (even though you don't know exactly what you're saying!) - it's BUG language!

Children will delight in following the various funny episodes exquisitely captured in Carson Ellis's trademark colour palette.

Some kids are going to love this almost wordless children's picture book; others will be bewildered by it at first. I think it needs careful introduction and promotion. Some of us don’t want to be challenged or nudged outside of our comfort zone when we read, but having someone lead us always helps. Once children realise an invented language is a lot like a guessing game, I think they will embrace Du Iz Tak and relish using all their inference skills to make sense of the story. It follows the discovery of a sprouting plant by some bugs, and their subsequent use of it to build their own treehouse/fort. The arrival of a huge spider causes problems, but nature has a few tricks up her sleeve, thankfully. Behind the almost wordless narrative, we gain an appreciation for the ever-changing cycle of life in the Bug kingdom and beyond.

There will be lots of opportunities for discussion when adults share the book with kids. For instance, when three little bugs stand at one end of a log and each calls “Icky!” and on the next page we see the door on the log open, and the bugs say to someone inside: “Icky, ru badda unk ribble.” what can we infer about the name of the log-dweller? The vaguely Germanic language might be able to be completely translated, but it doesn’t need to be to enjoy the story, and kids will take great pleasure in declaiming it, I’m sure.

I love Ellis’s illustration style. The details and whimsy will result in children begging to share Du Iz Tak? with their friends, and I foresee lots of discussion in bug talk too. I particularly liked the rich colour palette and patterning Ellis used.

Du Iz Tak? is certainly an intriguing new children’s picture book. It also makes an excellent resource for schools that know how important it is for children to learn visual literacy. I loved it, and hope you do too. Other (almost) wordless picture books I’ve reviewed are Mr Wuffles by David Wiesner, The Umbrella by Ingrid and Dieter Schubert, and The Gift by Deb Gilmartin.  I'll be adding Du Iz Tak? to my list of Picture Books about Change, embedded below.

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

Friday, February 17, 2017

Word and Image Puzzles for Kids

by Susan Stephenson,

Rebus and other word and image puzzles can be lots of fun for kids. Puzzles help kids think creatively and analytically. Because they are often a little cryptic, it can be very satisfying when they are solved! Add an extra layer of complexity and challenge kids to create their own puzzles for others to try.

Some puzzles for kids to solve

The following puzzles containing some words and pictures represent words, phrases and expressions.

How to create your own word and image puzzles:

Here’s a description of the puzzle I made, above. I decided I wanted to make a puzzle about a Mexican wave. I knew this was something a crowd of people did by slowly sitting and standing while raising their arms, but I knew I should be able to draw or find a pice of clip art of another kind of wave, the one in the sea. For the Mexican part of my puzzle, I found a clip art picture of a Mexican sombrero. (I found both the wave and the hat at the clipart website, Clker.)

That’s just one method of making puzzles by using words and/or images for others to solve. But how do you get the idea in the first place? One way is to think of phrases with prepositions like “over a barrel”, “man overboard” or “hitting below the belt”. These can be represented in a puzzle by their position on the image. For example, “man overboard” could simply be the word “man” written over or above the word “board”. Or you could add variety by having a small picture of a man above a picture of a board, or a combination of word and picture. “Man in the moon” could be a picture of a man inside a picture of the moon, or you could write it like I did in the puzzle below, where MO-ON is split up by the word, “MAN”, making it MAN (in the) MOON.

Phrases that contain homophones can work well too. For example, you can represent to, too, or two like this: 2. Or fore, for and four can be: 4. “To be” becomes 2B for short, and perhaps makes your puzzle trickier to work out. Another way to make it tricky, is to mix up letters or words, and images. So you could show "to be, or not to be" by starting with 2b and adding a picture of an oar, a knot, and two pictures of bees. (2b oar knot 2 bee)

Sometimes you might need to highlight something about your puzzle, perhaps to help readers understand they should focus on the first or last in a series. For instance, if you wanted someone to guess “to have the last laugh”, you could write laugh several times in a row, but point an arrow to or a circle around the last “laugh” in the row.

You can write a word backwards or going upwards to show something important about it. Even writing something very large, small or in a special colour can convey something to a reader. If you wanted to make a puzzle about the expression “true blue” you could just write the word “true” in blue letters. How would you make a puzzle about the expression “Once in a blue moon”?

Try to represent these, using words, images or words and images: up in arms, to wear your heart upon your sleeve, to be in a pickle, to see red, a tall story, to think outside the box,  two peas in a pod, tickled pink. Now try to invent your own!

Puzzle answers: out on a limb, over a barrel, oops-a-daisy, jack-in-the-box, to keep it under your hat, head over heels, redeem, vicious circle. 

You might also be interested in reading Literacy-based and Other Guessing Games, Book Chook Favourites - Word Game Apps, Messing about with Words to Increase Literacy,  Secret Codes and Language Games for Kids, Book Chook Favourites: Word Play, and Fun Word Games for Kids.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Children’s Book Review, We Found a Hat

Reviewed by Susan Stephenson,

We Found a Hat was written and illustrated by Jon Klassen, published by Walker Books (2016.)

From the publisher:

Hold on to your hats! From the Kate Greenaway-winning creator of I Want My Hat Back and This Is Not My Hat comes the much-anticipated conclusion to the celebrated hat trilogy. Two turtles have found a hat. The hat looks good on both of them. But there are two turtles. And there is only one hat... Evoking hilarity and sympathy, the shifting eyes tell the tale in this perfectly paced story in three parts, highlighting Jon Klassen's visual comedy, deceptive simplicity and deliciously deadpan humour.

This is the third in Klassen’s series of Hat books. I have previously reviewed This is Not My Hat You can see a trailer about I Want my Hat Back here.

From the front cover, we know that tension will come. There’s a gradient of soft brown to grey and highlighted against it, we spy two patterned turtles gazing at us, and between them a ten gallon type hat that each turtle is equidistant from. What do you do when there are two of you and only one hat? It’s a problem any child will understand completely. There’s a delightfully enigmatic resolution, too.

I love the use of eyes to prompt readers' thoughts as we infer just what is going on in the turtle’s head. I also love the detail in the artwork. The limited palette used by Klassen really sets off the night time and desert scenes beautifully. Conversely, I love the lack of detail in the text! Somehow Klaassen knows when to leave words out and leave it up to his readers to work out a character’s thoughts.

Quite simply, kids will love to read, share and listen to We Found a Hat!

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

Friday, February 10, 2017

Children's iPad App, Toontastic 3D

Reviewed by Susan Stephenson,

Recently I discovered that the Toontastic app I reviewed in 2015  has become Toontastic 3D. Google have made it available for free - for tablets, phones and Chromebooks. As far as I’m concerned, what was already a nifty way for kids to tell digital stories has become even better!

From the developer:

3… 2… 1… ACTION! With Toontastic 3D you can draw, animate, and narrate your own cartoons. It’s as easy as play. Just move your characters around onscreen, tell your story, and Toontastic records your voice and animations and stores it on your device as a 3D video. Toontastic is a powerful and playful way to create interstellar adventures, breaking news reports, video game designs, family photo albums, and anything else you might imagine!

• A giant toy box chock full of swashbuckling pirates, transforming robots, nefarious villains, and many more characters and settings to spark kids’ imaginations
• Design your own characters with 3D drawing tools
• Add yourself to your adventures with photos and custom colored characters
• Mix your soundtrack with dozens of built-in songs
• Choose from three Story Arcs for digital storytelling (Short Story, Classic, & Science Report)
• Export videos to your Photos library to share with family and friends
• An idea lab chock full of playful stories, characters and settings to inspire new adventures

What I liked:

I downloaded the iPad version, and I’ve been delighted with my experiments. Toontastic 3D is responsive, intuitive, gives professional looking results and has scaffolding for kids. Basically the app encourages children to make their own little cartoon-style movies. There are lots of pre-made settings, characters and soundtracks for kids to use - they supply the narration, the animation by moving the characters around and can even supplement settings and characters with their own creations. Explanations about story elements - like the middle of a story often having a problem - are great scaffolding for little storytellers who need reminders.

I was particularly pleased with the drawing canvas where kids can create their own backgrounds for their digital stories and draw their own characters - there’s a fill tool, a huge range of colours, and an adjustable brush. How wonderful to have this way for kids to tell their own stories, but also to be more deeply involved in the design process! Once a character is drawn in 2D, it is rendered in 3D and becomes one of the many characters kids can choose from.

Children can also export the video to their camera roll, meaning it can be shared or emailed to a different device and saved.

Where do I get it?

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 of Tools to Involve Kids in Digital Storytelling and to the list, Creating with Children and iPad Apps

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Children’s Book Review, They All Saw a Cat

Reviewed by Susan Stephenson,

They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel, published by Hardie Grant Publishing Australia (2016.)(Chronicle Books in USA.)

From the publisher:

The cat walked through the world, with its whiskers, ears and paws . . . and the child saw A CAT, and the dog saw A CAT, and the fox saw A CAT. Yes, they all saw the cat.' In simple, rhythmic prose and ingeniously stylized pictures, Brendan Wenzel takes young readers on a walk alongside a cat. But is it really a story about the cat, or is it about the creatures who see it? This is a glorious celebration of observation, curiosity, and imagination from a bright new talent on the picture book scene, Brendan Wenzel, who promises to be the next Jon Klassen and heir apparent to Eric Carle.

With minimal but carefully chosen text, Wenzel invites kids on a walk with a cat to encounter different creatures and environments. As each animal sees the cat, we get to see what they see. Wenzel uses considerable skill to show us an image influenced by the animals’ physical eyes, and also what they feel about the cat. My favourite page has to be when the terrified mouse looks up at the hideous, snarling cat monster!

Teachers and parents are conscious of the need to help kids see life through different points of view. They All Saw a Cat is a great start to this, as children look through the eyes of goldfish, foxes, snakes etc to perceive the cat according to their visual and emotional abilities. The picture book also makes an excellent choice for schools wanting to help kids learn about visual literacy, with each perspective being clearly delineated. Book Chook Feather of Approval for this brilliant book, and many thanks to my wonderful local librarian for sharing it with me!

The cover (above) really doesn't do the book justice. Check out the book trailer below for more of an idea of the fabulous illustrations.

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