Sunday, December 14, 2014

In the Name of Reading Education


This is my last post in 2014. I promise I will be better about posting book reviews more regularly in the new year. So for now, here is one last rant to close out 2014. Happy Holidays!

As I have been writing my new book, which will be out in Spring 2015, I have been wandering the internet for resources and have uncovered an unfortunate trend: teachers still do crap in the name of teaching children to read that life-long readers would never tolerate. I have seen so many "alternative" to book reports postings, using digital resources to make kids do the same waste-of-time assignments I tried to rally against when I write my first book on the Reading Workshop in 2001.

Why does anyone think having children post images on Pinterest from their iPads is any more worthwhile than writing book reports on paper plates? Why waste their time? The next thing you know someone will be suggesting that we use auto-cad architectural programs to build digital dioramas.
So what should we ask young readers to do when they have finished reading? The answer is only asking them to do the same things we do ourselves when we finish reading. We share ideas with other readers, make suggestions, read another book, conduct research, go out and play, buy another book like the one we read, we talk, and we write about the books we love on a goodreads website or blogs like this for other readers to read. That's about it for me. I don't make trailers, I don't build collages or write found poetry, and I definitely don't cook food from the book.

Friday, November 28, 2014

PBD: Misadventures of Sweetie Pie - Van Allsburg


Van Allsburg has changed course in his new release - The Misadventures of Sweetie Pie. When I read the reviews on Amazon about how horrible this book was, I had to see for myself. I absolutely love it. But, I also hate hamsters. The story revolves around a girl that gets a pet and doesn't take care of it and it ends up being discarded in a park and other places only to be taken up by another owner. Sounds familiar to me. Many people wrote about how they hate this story. They challenged it as supporting the bad treatment of animals. To that, I would say yes! Children do take poor care of animals and that is what the book is about. Read this to your children and talk with them about this problem, don't skip the book - skip the pet sometimes!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Novels of the Day: Asylum and the Mrs. Peregrine Trilogy


and now for something completely different: I have decided to add a few novels along with my picturebook reviews. To start, there have been some interesting novels with "found" images that I have enjoyed reading. The first, and probably most notable, is Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. This is an excellent dark, fantasy and has been extended due to its popularity into a trilogy. The second book Hollow City has been released and the final should be out in late 2015.
The second novel Asylum also uses found images and tells the story of a prep school boarding house that used to be an asylum. The characters uncover the dark secrets in the house....



Friday, October 31, 2014

Humor in Children's Literature

The renowned children’s author E. B. White once quipped, “Humor can be dissected, as a frog can, but few people are interested and the thing dies in the process.” While we agree with his sentiment, we also suggest a brief exploration of the roles of humor in children’s picturebooks may be a worthy endeavor.

            Children’s picturebooks and humor have had a close association since Randolph Caldecott enticed young children to read his picturebooks by poking fun at everyday events and illuminating the humorous aspects of the human condition.

Theories of humor fall into three primary categories; functional or relief theories offer explanations of why we laugh and the value of laughter, stimuli or cognitive theories look at surprise and incongruities to understand what makes things funny, and superiority theories look at people’s responses to humorous events and phenomenon and why people find things funny. Whatever theories help us explain why we find things funny, it might be better to take White’s advice and not dissect things too far or we might kill the funny.

PBD: Picturebooks by Peter Brown



Peter Brown has become one of my new favorite illustrators and authors. I enjoy the humor in his books and his understated style of illustrating.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

PBD: The Numberlys


In much the same fashion as The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, The Numberless is a picturebook - app - augmented reality based narrative. These books are excellent examples of the "transmedia" productions we see when gaming meets children's literature. The picturebook version contains wonderful illustrations and interesting design elements. The story is rather formulaic but works.

Monday, September 29, 2014

PBD: What If? by Anthony Browne


Anthony Browne, the former Children's Literature Laureate of the UK has recently released a new picturebook called What If? This enjoyable story documents a young boy's fear of going to a birthday party. He forgot the address and he and his mother search the houses along a street for the right home. In typical Browne fashion, what is revealed as the two of them look into the windows of various houses along the street is unexpected. Great story for facing your fears.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Book Review: Reading Visual Narratives



This is an excerpt from my review in Linguistics and Education about Reading Visual Narratives. This is an excellent resource for understanding how picturebooks work from a multimodal perspective:
          The book, Reading Visual Narratives: Image Analysis of Children’s Picture Books offers educators and visual theorists a detailed analysis of the visual-verbal relations in children’s picturebooks. Aligned with systemic functional linguistics (Halliday, 1975, 1978), this volume adapts the theories of visual grammar first proposed by Kress and van Leeuwen (1996) to focus attention on the verbal and visual narratives in contemporary children’s picturebooks. By doing so, the authors have presented a comprehensive analytical framework for considering the multimodal aspects of picturebooks and serves as a valuable resource for researchers and educators to approach multimodal ensembles, in particular contemporary picturebooks, with a more enlightened eye (Eisner, 1998).
          This book is an extension of the frameworks and techniques associated with multimodal discourse analysis (Baldry & Thibault, 2006; Machin, 2007; O'Halloran, 2004; Royce & Bowcher, 2007). Developing new analytical tools to address multimodal ensembles and other complex visual and verbal narratives is a necessary component in moving the field of multimodal discourse analysis forward. Drawing on the original three metafunctions of language proposed by Halliday (1975, 1978), namely: 1) ideational, 2) interpersonal, and 3) textual, many working in this area have adapted these concepts for analyzing written and spoken discourse to consider and explore visual images and multimodal ensembles. In the continued trajectory of other studies and monographs involving social semiotic analyses of images and visual phenomena based on systemic functional linguistics (Kress & van Leeuwen, 1996; O'Toole, 1994; Rose, 2001; van Leeuwen & Jewitt, 2001), this volume provides a detailed framework for considering the visual choices and the meaning potentials available in contemporary picturebooks.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Excerpts from the Epilogue to my new Book: Reading Workshop 2.0

You can’t teach what you don’t know, so anyone who doesn’t know how to enjoy reading literature, thinking about it, and entering into dialogues about it shouldn’t try to teach those pleasures to others.

                                                                                    Perry Nodelman

Teachers can’t just read about web-based and digital resources, they have to begin exploring these resources for themselves. Teachers also need to begin thinking about how these resources might be used in their reading workshops.
To help teachers move forward into the digital age, they need to be given time to explore a wide range of digital resources, time to talk with other teachers about how they have been using these resources in their classrooms, time to play around with them, provide time for their students to play around with them, and visualize new ways to use these resources in the reading workshop.
I will be the first one to admit there are factors that make using new technologies in one’s classroom a challenge. Teacher limited experience and familiarity with new technologies and limited resources are probably the first two challenges that come to mind. The lack of resources in some low socioeconomic schools and classrooms, often referred to as the digital divide is a real challenge that needs to be overcome. Maintaining safe environments for our students through the use of firewalls is vital as we expose our students to the Internet. But, these challenges must be met head-on if we are going to take advantage of the web-based and digital resources available and help our students be successful in the digital age.

PBD: It's a Book


In this lovely, irreverent story about a gorilla and a jackass, the divide between the digital generation and book lovers is explored in great humor. In typical Lane Smith fashion, readers are offered a look at things from a slightly different point of view. One of my favorite books to use during professional development workshops on Reading Workshop 2.0.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

PBD: Varmints


This dark picturebook from Helen Ward and Marc Craste is an allegory for urban plight and the challenges of environment protection. The award winning illustrations are subtlety rendered in dark hues and set the mood for the narrative. This book mends me of Marsden and Tan's book The Rabbits. Excellent!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

PBD: Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan


Shaun Tan's new book Rules of Summer reminds me of every summer vacation with the other boys in my neighborhood. The book is a bout two brothers, but since I never had a brother my memories were drawn to the rules my friends and I made up every summer about crazy things. This delightfully illustrated book (all of Shaun's are) takes the reader back to summertime and shares with them the exploits of sibling rivalry and brotherly love.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Commenting on Texts in a Digital World

Here is an excerpt from my upcoming book: Reading Workshop 2.0: Teaching Reading in the Digital Age about commenting on texts (coding and marking up) with digital apps.

Commenting Using Apps on Mobile Devices
            In addition to online, computer, and browser based programs, there are numerous apps available for mobile devices like smartphones and tablets that allow readers to highlight, comment on, and aggregate a variety of digital texts, including books, PDFs, images, and webpages. In general, these apps allow readers to import a text, highlight specific sections, type or handwrite notes in the margins, aggregate these highlights and notes, and share highlights and notes with other readers online.
            For the past few years, I have been trying out a variety of note-taking apps and have found Goodreader.com, Notes Plus, and Penultimate to be the easiest apps for importing texts (mainly PDFs) and adding highlights and comments. Depending on whether you are on an Android, Apple, or other platform, these note-taking apps offer similar features and capabilities and are easy to navigate once you get used to them. There are many apps available to choose from in the iTunes and Google Play stores online. Again, I suggest beginning with the basic or free versions of these apps before investing in the full or premium versions.
            Goodreader seems to be the most advanced of these three apps, offering a range of highlighting, annotation, and sharing features. Let me take you through how I have used this app on my tablet (iPad) and offer some ideas for using these apps in the classroom. I have used Goodreader primarily to annotate and comment on PDF files of journal articles. In this app, the main menu is accessible by tapping on the screen of my tablet and offers the following capabilities:
  1.      Highlight sections of text that can be aggregated and share
  2.      Add bookmarks to particular pages
  3.        Attach annotations or comments that can be aggregated and shared
  4.        Create outlines of my notes in an attached file
  5.        Search through the text of the document for particular keywords
  6.        Add arrows, boxes, circles and markers for calling attention to sections of texts or images
  7.        Compile notes and annotations into a file that can be uploaded or emailed


The Goodreader app could easily be used by students to take notes, add comments, and share highlighted sections with other readers in a literature study group or for a research project. The sync features in Goodreader allows multiple readers to upload and share notes about a document while reading it at different times, in different places.
            Penultimate and Skitch are two more of my favorite note-taking and annotation apps. Both of these mobile apps are part of the Evernote suite of apps and they sync with one’s Evernote account for sharing highlights, comments, and screenshots. These apps allow me to import a PDF version of a text, highlight it, add comments, draw arrows on it, circle sections, and make margin notes. These apps require an Evernote account and offer basic and premium versions for working with various documents and images.

Notes Plus, Paperport Notes, and Notability are additional note-taking apps that can be used in a variety of ways to read, highlight, annotate, and share ideas across readers and classrooms. In addition, many of these note-taking apps allow readers to audio record lessons, make audio recordings of their own ideas, take pictures of images and classroom presentations, and share these files online. I recommend you start with the free versions of these apps when available, play around with the various features offered on each app, find one you like, and spend time getting to know its capabilities.