Friday, August 17, 2018

Creative Prompt for Kids - Start with Music

by Susan Stephenson,

This is the latest in my Creative Prompt Series. You’ll be able to link to all my creative prompts via the list embedded below.

Today I’d like kids to start with either the concept of music or some actual music and see where that takes them.

* Sit or lie comfortably, and listen to some music. Let your mind wander or wonder. If the music helps a story unfold in your mind, you might like to record that story in writing, a movie or draw a picture. You choose. If a story doesn’t unfold, that’s fine, the music might suggest something else. You could transform the music you hear into something else. You could create a dance, make a sculpture, write a poem or paint a huge picture - whatever your imagination suggests.

* What if music were a problem? Can you imagine why that might be? Where is this? Who is involved? What exactly is the problem and how could it be resolved?

* Find some music you like and make up a dance to suit it.

* Get together with some friends. One at a time, come to the middle of your circle and make some kind of repetitive musical noise with your voice. As one after another you join in, you make a kind of crazy music machine!

* Write a letter to your principal persuading her/him to allow kids to play music of their choice throughout the day.

* What can you use to create music? Explore some different instruments and ways to play with sounds.

* Take the music from a nursery rhyme you know and make up a robotic movement sequence to suit it.

* Invent something that can make music. Sketch and label your plans and then make your invention.

* What could music taste like? Feel like? Smell like? What colours and patterns would different kinds of music be?

* Imagine a musician came to your street and started to play. What might happen next?

* Describe your favourite music. What is so great about it?

* Create a cartoon about a character that likes very LOUD music. What problems does the character have? What is the resolution?

* What would happen if music were banned in your country? Brainstorm a list of possible consequences and choose one to explore further.

* What music or song would go best with your favourite picture book? Here's an explanation at Mrs Barker's Tea Room.

You might also be interested in all the creative and educational ideas in Activities for Children’s Book Week 2018, which starts 17 August!

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Children’s Book Review, My Dad is a Robot

Children's Book Review by Susan Stephenson,

My Dad is a Robot is a children’s picture book written and illustrated by Matt Cosgrove, and published by Koala Books for Scholastic (2018.) RRP: $Au 17.99 HB.

From the publisher:

Psssssst! Wanna hear something cool? Don’t tell everyone, But my Dad is a... ROBOT! Admittedly, this dad is an older model he doesnt have laser eyes or jet-powered feet and his batteries regularly run flat. But there’s one little boy who wouldn’t change a thing...

Just in time for Father’s Day on September 2 in Australia comes the perfect book for Dad to receive as a gift, and then share with the kids! I can imagine the fun to be had when Dad reads aloud from My Dad is a Robot only to discover that he is an older model who needs oil in his joints. I can also imagine the grins galore and rude noises when Dad reads that he “can let off a toxic stun gas at will.”

There are loads of jokes, many common to fathers everywhere apparently. Cosgrove’s illustrations are bright, colourful and quirky, adding even more humour to the mix. The ending is heart-warming and will definitely lead to hugs all round.

When the story is over, why not have a robot dance contest, or make robots out of cardboard boxes? Just for the fun of it, read the story again in your best robot voice. Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there who read to their kids!

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

Friday, August 10, 2018

Children’s Story Apps, Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy and Scarface Claw

Reviewed by Susan Stephenson,

Are you looking for apps that will encourage kids to read, and to enjoy reading? Here are two from world-famous author and illustrator, Lynley Dodd: Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy and Scarface Claw. I have previously reviewed Hairy Maclary, Scattercat.

From the developers:

• Personalize each book with ‘this book belongs to ...’ page.
• Swipe-to-Read™ the words to hear and playback the story at your own pace.
• Touch-to-Hear™ individual words spoken.
• Touch-to-Spell™ to hear the letters that spell each and every word.
• Auto Play to enjoy the narration.
• Use the My Narration function to read and record the story yourself and customize your book.
• Paint mode can be used on each story page!
• Paint has a paint palette, brush width, move and zoom, and undo abilities!
• Tap the paint palette icon and tap a color to change the paint color!
• Tap the brush palette icon and change the slider to change the brush size!
• Tap the Help menu to learn how to use a KIWABook

What I liked:

Both these story apps have the balance between Story and special effects just right. Story should always be paramount, something I wish more movie directors could learn! Lynley Dodd’s stories have been beguiling generations of children for many years, so I love that developers, Kiwa Digital, have come up with another format to continue the tradition. Yes, children can touch Scarface and hear him miaow, but the bells and whistles are at a minimum, allowing the story itself to shine. Dodd’s illustrations are just as lively and lovely in an electronic version! Kiwa have taken advantage of the interactivity that’s possible in a digital tool: while kids listen to the story read aloud, the print follows the narrator’s voice, lighting up each word as it’s read. I believe this develops phonemic awareness, helping kids see the sound to symbol correspondence.

I enjoyed the narrator voices for both stories. David Tennant narrates Hairy Maclary and Kyle Prior narrates Scarface Claw. The slight Scot’s burr added to the charm for me. Kids will love the extra activities too. They can colour in pages from the books and share them, record themselves reading aloud, and touch one part of an illustration to get a response. Parents will be thrilled that Hairy Maclary also has a sign language feature, and also with the fact that there are so many more books by Dodd available. Like all apps, children will get the most from these by sharing them with an adult. They would be great to load on a phone/iPad for those inevitable queue moments, and make excellent companions to their print counterparts.

Where to get them?

Hairy Maclary from Donaldson's Dairy

Scarface Claw

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

I’ll be adding both these apps to my List of Charming Children’s Story Apps which is embedded below.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Recent Children’s Picture Books 2018 (4)

Children's Book Reviews by Susan Stephenson,

This is the fourth in my series of children’s picture books reviewed this year. Find the first here, the second here, and the third here.

Welcome - a Mo Willems Guide for New Arrivals is a board book by Mo Willems, published by Walker Books. RRP: $Au 24.99 BB I have previously reviewed Willems’ The Pigeon Needs a Bath.

From the publisher:

Mo Willems has won the Caldecott Honor three times, the Theodor Seuss Geisel Medal twice (as well as five honors), and six Emmy awards for his work on Sesame Street.

Captures the zeitgeist and appeals to the digital (hipster!) generation with emoticon-inspired art.

"If there’s a living creator of children’s books who stands a chance of occupying a cultural position akin to a Dr. Seuss, it’s Mr. Willems." The New York Times

Welcome - a Mo Willems Guide for New Arrivals is a cute concept. It purports to be a guide for newborns but I think will definitely be appreciated by new parents and parents-to-be! Willems cleverly writes for both - with the idea being the parent reads the book aloud to the child. For instance, there’s a page that introduces an upcoming highlight - MUSIC. There’s a song on this page with very goofy lyrics and I chuckled to think of Baby and Parent’s reaction to all the “boopy loopy loo”! Illustrations are large, simple, monochromatic and easy on Baby’s eyes. Those same eyes will be entranced with the mirror just inside the front cover. The Parent reads aloud reassurances too eg  "…There will be human error. Fortunately we are happy to provide you LOVE at no extra cost." It’s a lot of tongue-in-cheek fun and makes a perfect gift, as well as a great discussion starter for school kids exploring needs and wants.

I’ll be adding Welcome to my List of Picture Books about Babies.

Zoo House by Heath McKenzie, published by Scholastic Australia (2018.) RRP: $Au 16.99 HB. I have previously reviewed several McKenzie illustrated books, most recently Do Not Open this Book.

From the publisher:

One morning young Oscar jumped up, wide awake, he headed for breakfast, but stepped on a snake!

What will Oscar do when he wakes up to find his house... is a zoo!

This is one of those children’s picture books with a “grabbable” cover. The title “Zoo House” is depicted in 3D letters which make a house, complete with hippo, giraffe, monkey, lion and people peeking from its windows. It shrieks, “Fun ahead!” and so it is. However I found the rhyming text difficult to read aloud and would advise a couple of run-throughs to adjust. The real strength is the art work which has lots of details to amuse. I love that McKenzie included 11 koalas inside the book for kids to find - a picture book that doubles as a puzzle is always a plus!

Errol! is a children's picture book by Zanni Louise and Philip Bunting, published by Scholastic Australia (2018). RRP: $Au 16.99 HB I have previously reviewed Zanni Louise’s Archie and the Bear and I've reviewed many of Bunting’s books, for instance Koalas Eat Gum Leaves.

From the publisher:

Meet Errol, a cheeky and lovable character, who refuses to follow his mum. Even when she counts to three.

Here’s a very cute but naughty penguin named Errol. Ever noticed how youngsters ADORE stories about naughty kids? This story is a simple one, mostly dialogue and showing an interaction between the mother penguin and Errol. I just know kids will relate to someone who doesn’t always like to follow instructions. And perhaps they will cheer Errol on and wonder what he really gets up to when he’s out of Mum’s sight. They will almost definitely roll around laughing when Errol turns the tables. As usual, Bunting’s illustrations are simple, elegant and hilarious.

Not So Scary Bear by Ruth Waters, published by Windy Hollow Books (2018.) RRP: $Au 25.99 HB.

From the publisher:

Every day Scary Bear roams the forest looking for animals to scare. Every night he roared so loudly even the leaves on the trees shake. But looks can be deceiving.

What is Scary Bear’s secret?

Not So Scary Bear is a tale of deception, friendship, and of being yourself, scary or not.

Bears are scary, right? They have pointy claws, lots of teeth and they roar loudly. Apparently they LIKE scaring others. We discover that in fact Scary Bear would rather knit and watch the stars. And he longs for friends. Kids will love Scary Bear’s ideas to solve his problems and feel satisfied by the happy ending. I loved the collage-style illustrations which Waters describes as “…handmade using acrylic, glue and mess.” They are rich in colour, pattern and detail, adding depth and charm to a simple and delightful story.

These Are Animals is a children’s picture book by Daniel Egnéus, published by Bloomsbury (2018.) RRP: $Au 24.99 HB.

From the publisher:

Join some of the world's most incredible animals and many more in this beautifully illustrated book.

Daniel Egneus takes readers on a magnificent journey across the land and under the ocean in this stunning first introduction to animals.

Travel through the misty meadows, enchanting forests and sparkling seas to meet the animals that live there and find out what they do. A gorgeous book to read out loud that will have you jumping, growling, splashing and howling.

A real visual feast, We Are Animals depicts animals that live in various habitats. We see polar and woodland animals, animals of grasslands and rainforest. The illustrations are an absolute delight with animals in different poses and seen from different perspectives, each one almost leaping off a page or brimming with attitude. There is lots of emphasis via clever font and formatting on words like ROOOAR and sliiide. Kids will adore identifying each animal and pretending to be them. Although the animals as far as I could tell belong to the northern hemisphere, nevertheless I believe We Are Animals makes a wonderful acquisition for home and library. I’ll be adding it to my List of Picture Books that Focus on Environment.

Pig in a Wig by Chrissie Krebs, published by Omnibus for Scholastic Australia (2018.) RRP: $Au 16.99 HB.

From the publisher:

The pig was feeling pretty good -
even better than a piggy should.
His skin was pink. His eyes were big…
and he was wearing a glorious wig!

When a wig lands on a pig, expect the unexpected in this hilarious tale of mistaken identity!

Kids love rhyme, and rightly so. Add a rollicking rhythm and a rhyming read-aloud captures even the wriggliest young readers! When Pig finds a wig, all sorts of problems crop up and he lurches from one disaster to another. Children will not only appreciate the story, they will love the colourful, zany illustrations and have fun discussing the final question: “Where on earth did that wigged pig go?”

I’ll be adding Pig in a Wig to my list of Children’s Picture Books with Strong Rhyme and Rhythm.

I am Little Fish is a board book by Lucy Cousins, published by Walker Books (2018.) RRP: $Au 16.99 BB. I have previously reviewed Cousins’ Splish Splash Ducky, Hooray for Birds, and Yummy.

From the publisher:

Time to splish, splosh and splash in the deep, deep sea with Little Fish and his fishy friends! Dip, dive and swim along to the rhyming text and delightful underwater illustrations, with a colourful finger puppet and peek-a-boo holes on every page. This introduction to Lucy Cousin’s Little Fish character is a perfect first interactive reading experience for little ones.

Cousins excels in creating books that are perfectly pitched at their audience. I am Little Fish has rhyming text, simple, brightly coloured illustrations and the added attraction of a very cute orange fish finger puppet. This fish is attached to the book in an ingenious way that enables the reader to have a finger inside the puppet for each page. Kids can follow the text and do the actions with the fish - shimmy and twirl, swim around in a whirl. The throat of the puppet is actually fastened right inside the cover. My assessment (without conducting surgery in a spirit of scientific interest!) is that the puppet will stay attached to the book through many respectful readings. But I’m sure many libraries will pop it into their special shelf for read-aloud only, just to be on the safe side. It makes a great gift but I hope libraries will buy it too, especially to augment a Cousins collection.

Missing Marvin is a children’s picture book by Sue deGennaro, published by Scholastic Press (2018.) RRP: $Au 24.99 HB. I have previously reviewed deGennaro’s Eddie Frogbert.

From the publisher:

Marvin loves his job. He has never missed a day of work. Sometimes his friends play jokes to pass the time. Sometimes the jokes are on Marvin. Then, one day, Marvin isn’t where he usually is. Where is Marvin?

Will kids understand what it’s like to be the butt of somebody’s jokes, to a point that borders on bullying? Sadly, yes. There’s an important lesson here about standing up for ourselves. Marvin speaks out honestly, telling his friends directly and simply, “I don’t really like your practical jokes.” This might be just the book that sparks a conversation or a resolution in a child who needs to hear Marvin's message.

Colin the Chameleon is a children’s picture book by Rachel Quarry, published by Starfish Bay Children’s Books (2018.) RRP: $Au 24.99 HB.

From the publisher:

At first, Colin is dismayed by his differences—but eventually he learns just how valuable his quirks can be.

Colin the Chameleon tells the story of a chameleon who, unlike his siblings, cannot change color, and therefore faces certain dangers. Eventually, Colin finds that it his very difference that makes himself special and helps keep his family safe from a greater threat.

I wish we lived in a society where we could accept others and ourselves for what they/we are. Unfortunately we don’t, and kids often need to be reassured that it’s okay to be different and that each of us is special. Colin’s story shows us that standing out from the crowd can be a good thing. The illustrations are a fascinating combination of ink, collage and mono print - perfect for showing habitats and chameleons! Schools looking for books with concepts like friends, family, and individual differences will embrace this book, and it also serves well for younger kids as a counting book.

Valdemar’s Peas is a children’s picture book by Maria Jönsson, published by Gecko Press (2018). RRP: $NZ 26.08 HB.

From the publisher:

“Peas? No way! Valdemar may be a little wolf, but he knows what he wants. ”
Valdemar's Peas is a cheeky, fresh and fun story that the whole family will enjoy.

Here’s a cute story about a little wolf that I know many kids will relate to. Haven’t most youngsters been told to eat something healthy before they can have dessert? With young Valdemar it’s peas he hates. Dad says no chocolate ice-cream until all the peas have gone, so Valdemar comes up with a self-serving plan involving his pea-eating baby sister. With illustrations in limited palette - mostly black, red and green on white background - the book makes an attractive read-aloud and is sure to generate lots of discussion.

Thimble is a children’s picture book by Rebecca Young, illustrated by Tull Suwannakit, published by Scholastic Australia.  $Au 24.99 HB.  I have previously reviewed Suwannakit’s Sad the Dog.

From the publisher:

When her grandmother’s time comes, Mabel finds something left behind. A beautiful story about how a tiny thimble and an unfinished blanket can help mend a heart.

Schools and families often look for books that will help children cope with the loss of a loved one. I really appreciated Young’s gentle but non-preachy style in Thimble. The story is well-structured, satisfying and will, I think, lead to pondering and productive discussions in classrooms. It follows the story of young Mabel who visits Grandad just after her Grandma has passed away, and finds Grandma's silver thimble close by a rug she was knitting. We witness Grandpa, Mum and Mabel obviously missing Grandma very much, but each deals with grief in a different way. The illustrations are lovely - muted, soft and full of atmosphere. This is a sad but ultimately positive and satisfying story that deserves a place on every bookshelf.

I’ll be adding Thimble to my List of Picture Books about Change.

Duck! is a children’s picture book by Men McKinlay and Nathaniel Eckstrom, published by Walker Books Australia (2018.) My most recent McKinlay review is of Once Upon a Small Rhinoceros and the latest Eckstrom review is of Stubborn Stanley.

From the publisher:

Duck can see that something is falling from the sky. He tries to warn the other farmyard animals by telling them to "Duck!" but they won’t listen … A hilarious picture book of farmyard disaster by award-winning author Meg McKinlay and emerging illustrator Nathaniel Eckstrom.

Kids need a huge range of books with a variety of themes. And yet I do love to find a truly funny book that is brimming with fun and pizzaz, one that will convince kids that reading is a wonderful activity and worth prizing. Duck! grabs attention from the start. How appealing it is, that little bucket-wearing duck on the front cover!

Inside too, there is so much humour - humour in the choice of words, in the sight gags, in the hilarious expressions on the animal’s faces, in the clever way McKinlay and Eckstrom work in tandem to create distinct animal characters. Duck! would make an excellent choice for children to compare with the story of Henny Penny, and even with the myths about Cassandra. I hope you’ll grab Duck! for the kids near you!

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

Friday, August 3, 2018

Update: Free PDFs for Those who Work with Children

by Susan Stephenson, 

I have made lots of educational and creative PDFs for kids this year. They are copyright to me, which means nobody can steal or sell them, but I give permission for teachers, parents and librarians who work with kids to download and use them for free. I've updated the list of PDFs recently to include all the ones that I've made for Children's Book Week 2018 - which starts in Australia very soon: August 18 - 24!

There's no advertising and no catch. It's not fake news. There's no need for a risk assessment. This is my way of doing a little bit to help the wonderful people of this world who work incredibly hard to help kids become independent, creative learners: the parents, teachers and librarians who read to children, encourage them to read, create, write, learn - and have fun with it!

The list is embedded below.

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