Friday, September 21, 2018

Writing Tips for Kids 2 - Write What You Know

by Susan Stephenson,

This is the second in my new series of writing tips for kids. Over coming weeks you’ll see new 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.

Write What You Know

If you're choosing your own subject to write about, why not start with your own life? Writers call this "write what you know". If you love fishing, you could set your story near the water, and have your main character be a keen fisherman. If you once broke your arm, use that in a story sometime. Think back. Remember the pain, remember the way things looked, sounded, smelled at the emergency ward. Try to use words that draw your readers into the story, by appealing to their senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch.

It doesn't mean you can't write a story about aliens with googly eyeballs and blue tentacles. Or one about being captured and held prisoner by pirates. But when you do write your story, be sure to tap into your own life. If your main character is afraid, remember a time you were afraid. What happened in your body? Did the little hairs at the back of your neck prickle? Did your heart beat faster? What thoughts raced through your mind? Were you trying to be brave or perhaps convinced you were about to die? Use those feelings to help pull the reader into your story.

When you want to write a story about being a soldier for Anzac Day, if you haven't ever been in a war, how can you "write what you know"? Sometimes, we "know" things from reading or watching movies about them. But the best kind of "knowing" is real experience. Say your main character is trying to dodge bullets at Gallipoli. How do you imagine he's feeling? Scared? Close your eyes and try to remember a time you were really scared. What would a battle sound like? When you've heard loud sounds in your life, how did you react? What would an explosion smell like? Feel like? Jot down the words that come to mind and use your ideas in sentences to create a realistic scene for the reader.

Writers need to become observant. Be aware of the way things look, sound, smell, taste and feel with everything that happens in your life. Use your experiences, and your imagination to create your own stories, and you'll have readers coming back for more.

You might also like to read Writing Tips for Kids - How to Start

Clipart Credit: Phillip Martin

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Children’s Book Review, The Incredible Freedom Machines

Children's Book Review by Susan Stephenson,

The Incredible Freedom Machines is a children’s picture book written by Kirli Saunders, illustrated by Matt Ottley and published by Scholastic Press (2018.) RRP: $Au 24.99 HB. I have previously reviewed Ottley's book, Tree.

From the publisher:

She was small when she heard about them... the incredible freedom machines. In this sumptuous story of exploration and breaking boundaries, a young girl uncovers her very own freedom machine: a vehicle that carries her to all kinds of wondrous places.

Through this picture book we discover a world that is “sewn together by boundaries”. There's a child who wants a freedom machine of her very own to help her break down those boundaries, and fulfil her dreams. In the book, Saunders uses vocabulary that is a little challenging, which I think is great. We meet words like toilsome, unearth, abundant, persevered, unfurling. Reading and sharing books with kids is such a wonderful way to add to the language they routinely use, and to increase their comprehension. The theme of pushing boundaries, exploring and dreaming big is mature too, but I think the book can be enjoyed on two levels. Younger kids will simply enjoy the journey of the unnamed child and the illustrations.

With older kids, adults could explore concepts like transformation and freedom. I can certainly envisage children’s enthusiasm for delving into the book’s themes and for designing or painting their own freedom machines. I know they will begin to wonder about what a freedom machine that can take us to amazing places actually is, and maybe realise why the child on the last page has a book in her hands.

Ottley’s illustrations were done in oils. They are fantastical, atmospheric and quite simply stunning. I loved the machines themselves and his use of colour and light. This is a great text to use from a visual literacy perspective, with students being invited to decide on what the artist is communicating on each page, and what contributes to it. I'll be adding this review to my List of Picture Books with a Focus on Imagination. 

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

Friday, September 14, 2018

Children’s iPad App, Toca Life: School

Reviewed by Susan Stephenson,

Toca Life: School is another app in the Toca Life series. It’s available in iOS and Android. I have previously reviewed Toca Life: City, Toca Life: Town, Toca Life: Farm, Toca Life: Stable and Toca Band by the same developer.

From the developers:

- Five locations to explore: house, cafeteria, school building, youth club and playground
- 34 characters to play with and different outfits to wear
- Discover the school building with different themed lockers, a school office and a classroom that includes a lab for experiments!
- Set off the fire alarm sprinkles and use the fire extinguisher
- Learn to play the epic keytar and start a band in the youth club!
- Play sports or cheer on a game at the playground!
- Chew gum and throw stink bombs!
- Start a food fight in the cafeteria and clean it up afterward
- Record your stories in the app and share with your friends!
- No time limit or high scores — play for as long as you like!
- No third-party advertising
- No in-app purchases

What I liked:

Toca Life: School starts with a 3D map of a suburban block featuring a multi-storied school. Kids can explore to their hearts’ content and discover a cafeteria, classrooms, a playground a house and storage area. There’s even a Youth Club for after-school fun. As usual, there are surprises too, like games to play and parties to enjoy. Choosing characters to play with is simple, and so is sprinkling tomato sauce on someone’s head. Not that I tried it of course.

I am always impressed with the emphasis Toca Boca put on encouraging exploration and telling stories. These digital playgrounds are an updated version of playing with cardboard box schools and dolls that we did in my day. I certainly hope children do both ways of playing, but this app makes great sense if you need to travel light.

Get more of an idea about Toca Life: School in the video below.

Where do I get it?

Check out my iPad App Reviews on Pinterest, and find more apps and articles via my Listly page. I'll be adding Toca Life: School to my List, Creating with Children and iPad Apps.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Children’s Book Review, Puffin the Architect

Children's Book Review by Susan Stephenson,

Puffin the Architect is a children’s picture book by NZ author/illustrator, Kimberly Andrews, published by Puffin, an imprint of Penguin Random House (2018.) RRP: $Au 24.99 HB.

From the publisher:

Puffin is an architect who always exceeds her clients’ expectations. That is, until she takes on the toughest clients ever – her own pufflings!

Puffin takes her tricky new clients on an inspirational tour of her builds. Together they visit all kinds of cleverly designed spaces –Otter's floating home, Pig's toolshed on wheels, Painter Goose's light-filled studio and Platypus's cosy underground bakehouse.

The pufflings are unimpressed.

Her clients really are a challenge! Will Puffin come up with a puffling-perfect home design?

This is a picture book that kids will pore over. I certainly did. It’s a story about a grown up Puffin who’s an architect and trying to figure out what sort of home to design for two pufflings. The young birds see inside many homes, reading excellent rhyming poems about the houses’ contents, but are never quite satisfied, until …. At the end of the story we discover Puffin’s gender, and who the pufflings belong to, making the book even more satisfying.

I LOVED the illustrations! Andrews understands what fascinates children. There are many cut-aways, showing us what’s on the inside of different structures. There are snippets of blue prints and plans. There are wonderful animal characters busy doing things, from Platypus who’s baking bread, to Moose, who’s lifting his groceries via a pulley. And there are lots of clever details. On the double spread that shows Detective Hound’s home, we read he has:

A lot of clever cupboards for his solved
and unsolved cases.
And furniture that folds away,
revealing hidden spaces
AND a tunnel system underground
that leads to secret places.

and we see those entrancing details depicted very skilfully. Puffins themselves definitely belong to the cute creature coterie, but I found the actual animal homes the stand out feature of this book. What an amazing resource for kids to use when they design homes for themselves!

I just know children will love this book. I hope it might inspire some of them to be architects. With the current emphasis on STEM books (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) Puffin the Architect makes an excellent choice for schools, homes and libraries everywhere. I’ll be adding it to my List of Picture Books that Celebrate Diversity.

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

Friday, September 7, 2018

Children’s iPad App, Fiete Match

Reviewed by Susan Stephenson,

Fiete Match is an app by developer Ahoiii. It’s available for iOS and for Android.

From the developer:

Our card challenges include:

Marine animals:
Match up the pairs!

Nautical flags:
Find pairs with abstract images!

World Tour:
Use a combination of images and abstract symbols to find the matching pairs!

Find logical relationships in the cards.

Assign an image to the correct number.

Find the correct solution to the calculations!


- Memory game with sailor Fiete as real opponent
- Hand-drawn
- Various levels of difficulty
- Funny animations

What I liked:

Matching games are fairly common in digital toy land. But Fiete Match has a couple of twists. For a start, Fiete the sailor is the one you’re playing against. There are also different themes and levels of difficulty to keep the game fresh. I believe five-year-olds could play the first level (bottom of lighthouse) but higher games will appeal to older kids more. Go down under the water and you can change some settings too.

I am very fussy about art work and I loved the colours, the delicacy and hand-drawn illustrations. The touches of humour won my heart too. I paused for a while to jot something down and Fiete put his head in his arms and went to sleep! Fiete congratulates himself when he is winning and is not so impressed when he isn’t.

Check out my iPad App Reviews on Pinterest, and find more apps and articles via my Listly page. I’ll be adding Fiete Match to my List of Intriguing Puzzle Apps for Kids.

Where do I get it?

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