Friday, February 15, 2019

Creative Prompt for Kids - Start with a Machine

by Susan Stephenson,

My Creative Prompt Series has lots of ideas that nudge kids towards some kind of creativity. You can see all the Prompts embedded below. Today I want children to start with the idea or concept of a machine, or even an actual machine, and create something new from there. And don’t forget:

Challenges for Kids:

* What IS a machine? First discuss this with an adult. Next, list as many machines as you can think of in ten minutes.

* Draw a machine made only of straight lines. Now draw one made only of curving lines. Which one was easiest to draw? Which one do you like best?

* Just imagine all the machines in the world banded together, and rose up against their human overlords. Describe what happens. Use your ideas to create a cartoon or a story with the title, The Rise of the Machines.

* Get together with your friends and make a machine with your bodies. Each person joins in one by one, moving some part of her/his body in a repeated motion. When everyone is moving, then each person joins in and repeats the noise his/her part of the machine makes.

Here is a video that shows one way of doing this. Try speeding your machine up and slowing it down.

* Use geometric shapes and lines and only three colours to create an incredible machine. You might like to check out The Incredible Freedom Machines for some inspiration, or think about something that might defeat my Zaptron, below.

* Use junk material to make a robot.

* Dress up a machine to humanise it. Take some photographs of your machine/human hybrid. Give it a name. Invent its backstory. What does it want more than anything in the world and what stops its dream coming true?

* There is a problem in the world and you must design a machine that can solve this problem. What is the problem? How can your machine solve it? Draw a sketch of your machine and label all the important parts.

* Use LEGO or other building material to each design a machine. Display your machines somewhere safe.

* What would a war machine look like/sound like/smell like/feel like? How could you communicate the idea of war to someone through a drawing? How could you do it through drama or dance or sculpture or some other way? Choose one of these and go for it!

* Follow the same patterns as the one just above but this time with a peace machine.

* Design a cake with a Machine theme.

* If you could transform your washing machine, what might it become?

* Just imagine one morning you woke up transformed into a machine. What kind of machine are you? Are there any problems with being a machine like that? What good things might there be? What happens next?

* Draw plans for a machine you would like to invent.

* Imagine a machine called Trick or Treat. Describe and draw it. Label its parts.

You might also like to check out my list of Creative Children’s Book Week Resources.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

New Children’s Picture Books - Little Book Press

by Susan Stephenson,

I have reviewed Little Book Press books before, and discussed the tremendous work in general of Raising Literacy Australia. Little Book Press is the publishing arm of Raising Literacy Australia, and specialises in board and picture books to support early literacy and numeracy development.

Today I want to introduce you to three of their recent titles.

Let’s Go Strolling is a children’s picture book written by Katrina Germein, illustrated by Danny Snell and published by Little Book Press (2018.) RRP: $Au 16.99 PB.

From the publisher:

A delightful story with simple rhythm which centres on a family spending the day together out and about. Strolling to the park they say hello to a neighbour, marvel at the orange bus, wave to a rubbish truck and point to the ducks waddling by.

Look outside. See the Sun. Let’s go now, have some fun.
Puppy dog, butterfly. Aeroplane, cloudy sky.

A story that focuses on everyday experiences and surroundings providing lots of opportunity for talk between parent and child.

This is a charming gentle story, perfectly pitched at kids under five. It is written in simple rhyme, and there are lots of opportunities for children to hear and see the things that make up their own days. I love the way Germein includes vocabulary that involves children’s senses - we meet colours, textures, sounds and feelings as the walk progresses. The illustrations match the text perfectly, contributing to the atmosphere of gentle fun.

The little girl in the story likes to name things when she strolls with Dad - this is an unspoken invitation to play that same game with our youngest “readers” either before, during, after the story, or all three. A nice follow-up activity would be to go for a stroll in children’s own neighbourhoods and “spot” things from the story.

Hush Say the Stars is a children’s picture book written by Margaret Spurling, illustrated by Mandy Foot, and published by Little Book Press (2018.) RRP: $Au 16.99 PB.

From the publisher:

All is quiet, all is still as the first stars appear in the evening sky. As night closes in, the farm settles down with all the animals, big and small, knowing that now is the time to snuggle into their warm cosy beds.

Hush say the Stars, it’s time to be still. The gentle cows gather on the side of the hill. Time for sleep.

Beautifully written by Margaret Spurling with superb illustrations by Mandy Foot. A joy to read with your children right from the start.

Here’s a lovely choice for settling down before going to sleep. Spurling has used rhyme, assonance and repetition to great effect in Hush Say the Stars. In my mind’s eye I see freshly-scrubbed youngsters helping turn its pages while their eyelids get heavier. And because of the lovely gentle text, I just know there will be parents fighting sleep too. Foot has matched illustrations to reinforce the text, using water soluble graphite pencils, chalk pastel pencils, watercolour and gouache on Fabriano watercolour paper. It truly is a beautiful picture book, just right for a bedtime read-aloud.

Garden Stew is a children’s picture book written by Carrie Galasch, illustrated by Zoë Ingram and published by Little Book Press (2018.) RRP: $Au 16.99 PB.

From the publisher:

Join Quokkas, Tattie and Tiny Spud as they head outside for lots of fun.

A pot, some sticks and petals too, it’s time to make garden stew!

Reminiscent of making mud pies in the backyard.

What fun to find a quokka as a main character in a children’s picture book! It’s a very cute, smiley quokka, with rosy cheeks and a red and white striped top. Apparently quokkas, like children, love to make garden stew. Kids will resonate immediately with play that involves combining spoons, bowls and garden bits and bobs. If they don’t already play at making garden stew, I know it will definitely be on the agenda after reading this book.

Garden Stew is full of joy. From the brightly coloured, happy illustrations to the simple rhyming text, Garden Stew brims with things to delight us. On one page, a line of beetles ambles by; over here, feathers and gumnuts; and look there! three snails balancing on each other. The stew itself ends up looking a muddy mess which is just as it should be, and the quokkas end up under the garden hose - summertime fun for Australian kids everywhere. Another excellent choice for children under 5.


Books for toddlers and babies may be dismissed by some, but they are in fact tremendously important. Little ones learn so much from being read to. For a start, they learn that reading is pleasurable. They pick this up from having that one-on-one very special time with a caring adult, who not only reads to them but chats about the story and the illustrations.

Some clever adults also “play” with the story, emphasising certain words that make special sounds like “pop” or copying activities from the story. Little ones also learn from the actual story being read-aloud. They pick up so much about the natural rhythms and cadences of language, they meet characters important to their own culture, and they encounter activities, things and ideas that are new to them.

My sincere congratulations go to all six book creators, above, and to Little Book Press for recognising quality and publishing it!

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

Friday, February 8, 2019

Writing Tips for Kids 6 - Remove Repetitions

by Susan Stephenson,

Last year I began a series of Writing Tips for Kids. This is the sixth in the series. Over coming weeks you’ll see more short articles, each of them addressing young writers and dealing with a topic helpful to them. I’ve created a new List for these articles and will add to it over time. The List is embedded below.

How to Look for and Remove Repetitions

Repeating words can slow a paragraph or whole story down.

Sometimes we repeat things deliberately, for effect. Thud! Thud! The drums were louder now, and her heart thudded an echo. The reader is caught up in the excitement of these thuds. But if we repeat words unconsciously, it makes our story slower, heavier. That might make a reader give up.

Here's an example. "What's in the treasure chest?" asked Pirate Pat. "Is that the treasure chest we've been searching for all these years? It's not much of a treasure chest to look at." Can you think of a different way to write that part of the story to avoid the repetition of “treasure chest”?

Here's one way: "What's in the treasure chest?" asked Pirate Pat. "Is that what we've been searching for all these years? It's not much to look at."

Here’s another example: “The monsters looked mean and had mean grins. They were so mean they gave me the shivers.” How could you re-write those two sentences by removing repeated words and perhaps replacing them with different words?

You could look in a thesaurus and find different words for “mean”. You could sketch a quick picture of a monster and brainstorm different words to describe it - like “evil”, “scary”, or “gruesome”. Try to choose words that give your readers a clear er picture of the monsters in their imaginations.

NOTE: Two words that don’t fall into this general guideline are “said” and “asked”. Real writers use “said” in dialogue rather than fancier words like chortled or exclaimed because “said” has become almost invisible to a reader. Published writers only use fancier words very occasionally and deliberately.

If you suspect you've repeated words in some text, an easy way to check is to paste the text into a Word Cloud like Wordle or ABCya Word Clouds. The word cloud will show you repeated words in bigger font. You could also ask your parent or teacher to help you find a text analysing tool on the internet. You don’t need to worry about little words like “a” “in” and “the” because a reader’s eyes mostly slide over them.

Something else that writers try to avoid is repeating the same kind of sentence over and over. Here’s an example:

The boy jogged to the mountain. The boy climbed the mountain. The boy fell off the mountain. The boy fell onto the rocks. He hurt his arm. He went to the hospital. He got a needle in his arm. He got plaster on his arm.

Those sentences aren’t all exactly the same. But they are kind of the same. Writers try to have a variety of sentence types. They might start “The boy jogged to the mountain.” But their next sentence might be longer, and joined up eg “He climbed and climbed until he made it to the top, but wobbled, overbalanced and crashed onto the rocks below.” Can you re-write the paragraph in italics (above) without having such an obviously repeated pattern of sentences?

Here’s a different example. What has been repeated here that needs to be changed? “The wolf attacked! It jumped for my throat! It scratched its claws along my face! It mangled me! It hurt!”

If you’re keen to improve your writing, searching for, finding and removing repetition will really help.

You might also like to read Writing Tips for Kids - How to Start, Writing Tips for Kids 2 - Write What You Know, Writing Tips for Kids 3 - Developing Characters, Writing Tips for Kids 4 - Writing Funny Stories, Writing Tips for Kids - Start with a Hook.

Clipart Credit: Phillip Martin

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Children’s Book Review, Bonnie and Ben Rhyme Again

by Susan Stephenson,

Bonnie and Ben Rhyme Again is a children’s picture book written by Men Fox, illustrated by Judy Horacek and published by Omnibus Books (2018.) RRP: $Au 19.99 HB.

From the publisher:

A companion to Good Night, Sleep Tight!
Join Bonnie and Ben as they rhyme their way through the day...until a twinkle, twinkle, little star calls them home.

From Mem Fox and Judy Horacek, the team behind best-selling classics including Ducks Away, This and That and Where is the Green Sheep?

We first met Bonnie, Ben and their friend, Skinny Doug, in the children’s picture book Good Night, Sleep Tight, also by Men Fox and Judy Horacek. In Bonne and Ben Rhyme Again, the two children go for a walk with Doug and they encounter all sorts of things that prompt them to think of nursery rhymes they know by heart. A hill? Jack and Jill of course. A sheep? Quickly the children recite Little Bo Peep. I am sure real children will use the words and illustrations as “clues” to the nursery rhymes that follow, and I love that Fox has built this element of play into the story as well.

As with Good Night, Sleep Tight, there’s a refrain for kids to proclaim:

I love, I love it!
Well done, and hurrah!
Can you tell me another?
How clever you are!

and I just know families will adopt this refrain for their own nursery rhyme recitations.

Men Fox has long encouraged parents to read and share nursery rhymes with their little ones, so my adult head enjoyed the reinforcement of this precept found in Bonnie and Ben Rhyme Again. As well as the classic nursery rhymes, Fox has written the story rhythmically and with her own rhyme, making this an excellent picture book for kids to memorise and “pretend” read. Horacek’s brightly coloured and cartoonish illustrations are perfectly pitched at children 2-8.

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

Friday, December 14, 2018

App Reviews and Articles July - December 2018

by Susan Stephenson,

The Book Chook will be taking a break until early February. However, most days l’ll be sharing educational things I find and re-find via social media e.g. Twitter and The Book Chook Facebook page, so you’re welcome to follow me there. If this hasn’t completely exhausted you, check out all my iPad App Reviews on Pinterest, and find more apps and articles via my Listly page.

I wish everyone who gets to take a break at this time of year: a wonderful holiday, and really restful re-charging!

If you arrived on this page to see what all the fuss is about, why not check out my right sidebar, and click on the buttons where you’ll find all sorts of goodies like book and app reviews, articles for teachers, librarians and parents, Free PDFs, and ideas to help kids create, write and love reading.

If you came to find some great new apps and ideas for children, read on!

Instead of publishing an app review round-up four times a year, I’ve switched to twice a year. Today you’ll find a list of all the apps I’ve reviewed from July to December 2018 embedded below. You can find App Reviews and Articles from January to June in 2018 right here.

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