Friday, January 30, 2015

Creative Prompt for Kids, If Only…


Creative Prompt for Kids, If Only…
by Susan Stephenson, www.thebookchook.com


I love what creative prompts offer us. A prompt is something that nudges us in the direction of some kind of creative endeavour. Writers young and old use them, and so do other artists and artisans. A prompt might take the form of an image, an object or some kind of media. Very often the prompts I’ve used with kids have been questions. The response might be in the form of a dance, a sculpture, a garden, or a haiku - whatever way you choose to respond that’s right for you.

I gained the inspiration for today’s prompt from Pie Corbett, a wonderful UK poet and teacher whom I greatly admire. Do watch this short video (embedded below) where he reads his If Only... poem, then goes on to give examples of using a similar structure with objects he sees.



If only… is a little like my prompt, What if…? but goes much further in encouraging the creation of lovely word pictures and poetry.

Let’s encourage kids to look around them and ponder what they see. For example:

  • If only the sunrise had a pause button, I would share it with all of you. 
  • If only I had frog legs, I could jump onto my neighbour’s roof to fetch our cricket ball.
  • If only I could slide down rainbows and swing on stars… 
  • If only I had the key to unlock the hearts of those who would close libraries.

Once kids have a list, they might like to go on and weave several fragments into a poem. Or take one fragment and let it be the brainstorm prompt for more with a similar theme. Or choose the one If only... sentence they like the best. A class poem could be constructed of individual poems like Carronshore Primary School did in this video. Children might also like to photograph the things around them that they use their imaginations to write about, then add their poems digitally via software or an online image editor.

If you’re interested in helping kids with writing, do check out the Writing button in my sidebar for more articles. I’ve written a whole series of prompts for creating at The Book Chook, and gathered them into a Listly list, below.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Children’s Book Review, Sam and Dave Dig a Hole



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

Children's Book Review


Here’s an intriguing new children’s picture book. Sam and Dave Dig a Hole was written by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen, and published in Australia by Walker Books, 2014. It was published in USA by Candlewick.

From the publisher:

Sam and Dave are on a mission. A mission to find something spectacular. So they dig a hole. And they keep digging. And they find ... nothing. Yet the day turns out to be pretty spectacular after all. Attentive readers will be rewarded with a rare treasure in this witty story of looking for the extraordinary - and finding it in a manner you'd never expect.

I know kids will love this as a story to watch and listen to. I can see their eyes getting bigger as they realise the boys are so close to real treasure, and hear their chuckles as they wonder aloud if the dog engineered the whole dig as a way to retrieve its bone. Perhaps Sam and Dave will inspire them to start their own digging adventure. Wise parents will harness all that energy and direct their kids to the vegetable patch!

Older kids too will enjoy discussing Sam and Dave’s adventure. What is the significance of the apple tree becoming a pear tree? Is the dug hole actually the gateway to a worm hole? Can we use string theory and parallel universes to explain what happened?

I’ve previously reviewed Klassen’s This is Not my Hat. I do love his illustration style. In this book he’s used lovely earthy tones that perfectly match hole-digging. His illustrations are such an integral part of the story, providing lots of humour for young readers.

There’s a fun trailer for Sam and Dave Dig a Hole you can show your kids to whet their reading appetites! And a great TED talk by Mac Barnett that reveals why he believes a good book is like a secret door.

Other reviews of this book: Jen Robinson’s Book Page, Good Reads With Ronna, 100 Scope Notes. Here's one young reader’s reaction to the book!

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

Monday, January 26, 2015

Let's Celebrate Australia Day with Books!


Let's Celebrate Australia Day with Books!
by Susan Stephenson, www.thebookchook.com



What better way to celebrate Australia Day than by sharing books with our kids? Here are two recently published books that I believe will make outstanding resources for home, school and public libraries: Celebrating Australia: A Year in Poetry by Lorraine Marwood, published by Walker Books Australia, 2015, and A is for Australia by Frané Lessac, published by Walker Books Australia, 2015.

Celebrating Australia is a collection of poetry by Lorraine Marwood, one of my favourite Australian children’s poets. I have previously reviewed Guinea Pig Town and Other Animal Poems and A Ute Picnic and Other Australian Poems.

Marwood has the knack of not only choosing language that create word pictures for kids, but speaking to their heads and their hearts in words they will understand:

'Spring is the soft popping of green shoots,
a tinkling of blossoms like butterfly wings.
'

She also includes occasional more challenging words like incomprehensible, spectacular and hullabaloo. There are a range of poems in Celebrating Australia, most entering around special days in the Australian school year - Book Week, NAIDOC week, Mother’s Day, April Fools, Athletics Carnivals, Grand Final Day, Human Rights Day. There are also poems about special events in children’s lives - the birth of a new baby, seasons, cake, Easter eggs. I loved reading each poem but my absolute favourite (wearing my adult head) was World Poetry Day. In this, Marwood summed up so eloquently my own half-formed ideas on poetry:

'What is a poem?

It’s a snatch of time
stilled, distilled, enriched.

It’s a trill and a skip,
It’s the moonbeam
and the sun dream.'


A is for Australia is such a visually exciting book. I love Lessac’s illustrative style, and have previously reviewed Simpson and his Donkey and Midnight.

Kids will love delving into A is for Australia. Its visual appeal is huge, with brightly-coloured single and double-page spreads, dotted with occasional pertinent facts. Lessac used gouache on arches paper. Truthfully, I don't actually know what that means, just know I love the artwork!

From the publisher:

A factastic tour of Australia from A to Z with award-wining author and illustrator Frane Lessac.

What is the Fremantle Doctor? Where is Qui Qui? And why are some islands named after days of the week? You'll uncover these exciting facts when you explore the A to Z of Australia - from Bondi to Kakadu and all the way to Taronga Zoo. Discover why Australia is one of the most amazing countries in the world!


There are lots of lesser-known Australian places featured in this beautiful children’s picture book. I is for Iron Pot Lighthouse in Tasmania, Y is for Yallingup in WA, and O is for Oodnadatta, SA. I really appreciated the thoughtful choice of facts for each topic - most relate to themes covered at school; many are quirky, adding information to parts of the pictures; all are designed to grab children’s interest.

If you’re interested in acquiring still more great resources about Australia for your home or library, don’t forget my recommendation of these beauties: The Big Book of Australian History by Peter Macinnis, Australian Backyard Naturalist by Peter Macinnis and An Aussie Year by Tania McCartney and Tina Snerling. Check out A Swag of Australian-themed Picture Books, and my list of general ways to find Great Australian Children’s Books.

Wishing all my Aussie friends a safe and happy Australia Day 2015! You might also like to read Let’s Celebrate Australia Day with Boomerang Play!

Friday, January 23, 2015

A List of Useful Clipart for Education


A List of Useful Clipart for Education
by Susan Stephenson, www.thebookchook.com



Most people with an interest in education need a couple of good sources of clipart. Whether to add to posters advertising a community function, enrich an activity destined for students, or help kids illustrate a communication destined for school, we love to find quality clipart. When it’s also free, and clearly labelled okay for educational use, we’re over the moon!

After being asked by several teachers where I find the clipart I use for The Book Chook, or the free PDFs I make and offer at my website, I decided to share my favourite sites. I’ve included graphic editors here because many have excellent clipart (also known as overlays or stamps.) Again, I’m making a Listly list so I can embed it below, and easily update it over time. If you like, you can check out all my other Listly lists here.

Do please let me know in comments if you recommend any other great clipart sites we can use for education. You can also vote for clipart sites, or suggest them within the Listly list.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Children's Book Review, That Car


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

Children's Book Review

Here’s a charming children’s picture book I grabbed as soon as I noticed the author. Cate Kennedy is one of my favourite Australian writers for adults, and I was keen to see her first book for children. I wasn’t disappointed! That Car was written by Cate Kennedy, illustrated by Carla Zapel, and published by Allen and Unwin, 2014. RRP: $Au24.99.

From the publisher: We found the old car in the shed the very first day we moved to the farm. Dad put it under the peppercorn tree. 'You kids might as well play in it for the time being,' he said. We couldn't wait to find out where that car would take us.

A story about three children, one old car, and a world of imagination.


What I loved most about That Car is that it celebrates play and imagination. We had a rusting car next door when I was a kid, and it became our vehicle of choice, cubby house, picnic spot and fort. So the fact that the children journey off around the (imaginary) world in their car really resonated with me. Children will respond to the way Kennedy plunges them immediately into different scenarios. No need for tedious explanations when you play!

I also loved that Kennedy’s skill as a writer shines through without overwhelming the story. The language isn’t dumbed down, and there are little shafts of humour for the alert - instead of Cruft’s International Dog Show, we read of Ruffs International Dog Show - plus there’s some lovely word play. I loved it when the kids met the Queen and made her a cuppa “because queens drink tea all day long.”

Zapel was an inspired choice as an illustrator. There’s a lovely mellowness to her pictures. Her use of soft colour and detail adds a whole extra dimension to the story, while still leaving lots of room for our imaginations. Each illustration gives us lots to pore over, and frequently made me grin.

Do look out for That Car if you want a story that helps kids make connections to their own play and imaginary fun. I know lots of schools look for resources about Australia - grab That Car!

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