Monday, April 30, 2012

Can't stop me, Apple!

I was all excited about NetGalley until I realized that they used Adobe Digital Editions.  I was planning on reading the ebooks on my ipad, but ADE doesn't work on ipads.  Curse you, Flash wars!  Curse you, DRM!

After I got that out of my system, I searched the boards, and it turns out it's not even hard to read ADE PDFs on an ipad.  You just need Textr.  Since Textr has been around for 2 years, it's possible that my fellow bloggers using NetGalley already know this, but with thanks to those who already posted on this topic, I'm offering this short how-to for other ipad users:

You need to create an Adobe ID if you don't already have one.

Then install ADE on another computer (not your ipad, although my ibook plays nice).

Download the Textr app to your ipad.  This will prompt you to create a Textr account.

In the Textr app, go to settings and enter your Adobe ID.

Download your NetGalley or other ebook to the computer where you installed ADE and open the ebook in ADE.

On the same computer, go to the Textr website and login. 

Once you're logged in, click on My Books.  Click on upload.  Navigate to the Digital Editions folder on your computer (mine's in my documents).  Select the PDF you want to read on your ipad and upload.

Open Textr on your ipad and your book will be there!

I'm currently reading a NetGalley of a GN, and there's a little bit of lag before the images appear clearly, but it's readable, and I am victorious!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Review: Mr. and Mrs. Bunny--Detectives Extraordinaire! by Polly Horvath

This was my first Polly Horvath book, and that makes me feel like I might not be qualified to review it.  I've met some Polly Horvath fans, and they get a mushy look on their faces when they talk about her.  I think there might be some Horvath tropes that I didn't recognize and therefore didn't fully appreciate.  So I'm going to dive in, but here's the thing: I didn't immediately like the book.  But here's the other thing: The bunnies ultimately won me over. 

Mr. and Mrs. Bunny--Detectives Extraordinaire! begins with Madeline, a girl living in a remote part of Canada with her ditzy, hippie parents.  These are not endearingly eccentric hippie parents; these are annoyingly selfish ones who refuse to understand why their daughter wants to go to her 6th grade graduation, where none other than Prince Charles is scheduled to hand out the awards.  Thus responsible, resourceful Madeline waitresses at a local restaurant until she has enough money to buy the white shoes required for graduation herself.  She is walking home at night with the money in her pocket when a car speeds past her, almost knocking her off the road.  The car appears to be driven by foxes.  When she arrives home, there is a note stuck to the fridge: indeed, foxes have kidnapped her parents.

I really shouldn't explain any further, because the story is delightfully nonsensical.  Suffice it to say that Madeline hooks up with two bunnies who have recently moved to the city and bought fedoras with the desire of becoming detectives.  They take the case of her parents' kidnap by foxes, but they are often distracted by meetings of the local hat club and the need for home baked snacks.

One of the reasons I started to lose patience with the book is that all the adult characters, from Madeline's parents to the bunnies, are similarly dense.  The conversations Madeline has with these characters are funny, but they are all funny in the same way: the adults can't seem to stay on topic.  For example, when Madeline explains the situation to her uncle:
"Madeline, dear," he said when she burst in.  "What are you doing here?  Or am I imagining you?  My fever keeps spiking.  Still, why imagine you?  Why not imagine a piece of pie instead?" ...
Madeline ignored this departure into pie and gave him an organized and coherent account of events before handing him the note. 
"Extraordinary," he murmured.  Then he sighed.  "Still I do think you'd make a better piece of pie ... You don't suppose you could make an effort to be pie?"
Madeline doesn't meet the bunnies until one third of the way through the book, and by the time she has the same kind of loopy conversation with them (after they make her hop over 37 hills to get to their hutch for lunch), I was as frustrated as Madeline.  However, I stuck with the book because by then the bunnies had grown on me. 

Mr. and Mrs Bunny made me think of grandparents with cell phones.  The two of them have lots of enthusiasm, just enough knowledge to be dangerous, and no shame.  Mr. Bunny wears platform disco shoes so he can reach the pedals of his smart car.  Mrs. Bunny knits fashionable items out of used dental floss.  With their old fashioned appreciation of school graduations and hat clubs, and their sincere desire to reassure Madeline (even when they have no idea what they are talking about), the bunnies are a foil for Madeline's parents.  They're also hilarious in that old-married-couple-on-a-sitcom way, where they're always gently undermining each other and paying each other back for their jabs and jokes, but ultimately going to bat for each other.  I particularly liked when Mr. Bunny cried, "Mrs. Bunny, you have more enthusiasm than brains!" while following her into the fray.

Of course, the important question is, will kids love it?  I think they will, and I think the repetition will soothe rather than frustrate them.  However, like me, I think they will hanker for a little more villainous action.  The foxes are great bad guys, but they only make two appearances, and they seem lacking in commitment to their evil plan.  There are also a number of plot points that seem like they are going to be weaved into the stunning conclusion, such as a scientific article on explosives that Mr. Bunny is reading, which turn out to be irrelevant.  I wonder if these red herring plot points are signature Horvath elements.  I feel a bit as though the joke's on me as the reader for trying to make sense of a nonsensical book.

In conclusion, I think I should have started with a different Horvath book, because I definitely understand her charm after reading this one, but I feel vaguely disappointed by the way it ended.  Perhaps that is partly the disappointment of knowing I will not be having any more kooky conversations with Mr. and Mrs. Bunny.  Perhaps it is also the disappointment of knowing that Madeline is going to go back to living with her helpless parents rather than her new animal friends.  (In the flurry of events at the end of the book, she barely has time to say good-bye, which I think hurt my feelings as well as Mr. Bunny's!)  Perhaps it's just the disappointment of being done with a wonderful book.  It's the same disappointment you feel when you're waving out a car window to someone you love.  And if a book can make you feel that way .... well, I think I might have a mushy look on my face after all. 

Ah, but I would be remiss if I did not mention the occasional black-and-white illustrations.  I adore Sophie Blackall, and her tendency to decorate her characters' clothing with playful patterns is put to good use here.  The animals' faces are toothy and not too cute, and the picture in which Madeline gets stuck in the doorway to the bunnies' house evokes just the right amount of Alice in Wonderland.  There are a few action shots where the perspective seems to be a bit wonky, which is weird since the running scenes in Big Red Lollipop were some of the most masterful.  However, it could be the weirdness of seeing bunnies and people running around together.  They are very different sizes, you see.  But apparently, the bunnies are large enough to drive smart cars as long as they have platform shoes.  Surely, this is easier to imagine than to draw.

I do think the last illustration is perfect: Madeline is on stage talking to Prince Charles, and at the foot of the stage are two rows of the backs of people's heads, and at the very back are the silhouettes of two bunny heads.  I  missed them the first time I looked, which perfectly illustrates what Prince Charles says to Madeline on the stage: "I've often heard animals speak.  Plants, too.  It's all a matter of noticing, isn't it?  The richness of our lives depends on what we are willing to notice and what we are willing to believe."

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Garbology! I must use you in a lesson!

I'm on a roll today.  Also, here's where I'm getting this stuff.  You know how AASL has its annual best websites for teaching and learning?  Well, they're not the only organization giving out awards for excellent websites.  I just discovered the Webby awards!  They have awards for great sites in about a zillion categories, but I found the Best Use of Animation and (duh) Education categories to be most relevant to what I do.

Anyway, here's my other find: Garbology.

Description: Users drag and drop an item on the bottom into the right receptacle (trash, recycling, compost, or "reuse") and are treated to a short animation that teaches them about how products are made and what happens to them after they are disposed of.

The animation is broken into short clips and in between, users sometimes have the chance to play around with what's on the screen.  When they're done, they click "next."  An example of how they can play around is dragging a slider to show a banana in various stages of decay.

It reminds me a lot of an interactive ebook or an app, because it sort of has pages, but on each page there are animations and/or interactive features.

Curriculum connection: Science!  Specifically conservation, recycling, natural resources, compost, and consumerism
Technology Required: Flash, audio equipment (sound is integral)
Skills Required: Reading, Dragging and Dropping, Clicking "next"
Grade Level: 3rd and 4th (because of concepts like "global warming" getting thrown around ... 2nd grade could probably have fun with it, too, although they wouldn't get all of it.)
Teacher Involvement: I think students can do this one pretty independently.  It's also somewhat linear--they can click next and back, but they have to complete each section before moving on.
Advertising: No
Login/Personal Information Required: No
Quirks: When I tried to start the game a second time without closing my browser in between, the play button didn't work.  Restarting my browser solved the problem.
Bonus: The site has some nice lesson plans, too.

Stickman! I must use you in a lesson!

I've been trying to find websites for a third grade research project, and while following a weird tangent, I discovered this website.

It's like Adventures in Cartooning came to life!  Surely this must teach something.  As soon as I figure out what I learned by assisting in the development of a webshort staring a stickfigure of my own making, I will create a lesson around it.

I'm thinking either basic mouse skills, which I do with first and second grade, or storytelling.  Or perhaps I could relate it to Diary of a Wimpy Kid?  Jeff Kinney's website also allows you to create a stick figure ...

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Eisner Nominations

Here are the ones I care about:

Best Publication for Early Readers (up to age 7)
Beauty and the Squat Bears, by Émile Bravo (Yen Press)
Benjamin Bear in Fuzzy Thinking, by Philippe Coudray (Candlewick/Toon Books)
Dragon Puncher Island, by James Kochalka (Top Shelf)

I'm thrilled that Dragon Puncher Island has been nominated. It's one of the most delightfully weird books I bought for my library this year, popular across grades. If you haven't read the series (the first one is just called Dragon Puncher), it involves a catlike creature who hunts dragons and a small furry creature who wants to be the catlike creature's sidekick. What the furry creature brings to the table: a spoon, called spoony, with which he will beat the dragons.

Nursery Rhyme Comics, edited by Chris Duffy (First Second)
Patrick in a Teddy Bear’s Picnic, by Geoffrey Hayes (Candlewick/Toon Books)

Best Publication for Kids (ages 8-12)
The All-New Batman: The Brave and the Bold, by Sholly Fisch, Rick Burchett, and Dan Davis (DC)
Amelia Rules: The Meaning of Life ... And Other Stuff, by Jimmy Gownley (Atheneum)
The Ferret’s a Foot, by Colleen AF Venable and Stephanie Yue (Graphic Universe/Lerner)

I was thinking about Colleen Venable's Guinea P.I. series last night as I read one of the Joey Fly Private Eye graphic novels. Unfortunately, reading the Joey Fly GN was like reading one of those kids activity books about fire prevention or Halloween safety. It wasn't even trying to teach me anything, but the heavy handed narration made me feel like I was supposed to learn something. Maybe in this case, it was a lesson in the P.I. trope. Anyway, Guinea P.I. is the opposite: Hilarious! Kids can love a grumpy guinea pig solving mysteries whether or not they get the noir motif.

Princeless, by Jeremy Whitley and M. Goodwin (Action Lab)
Snarked, by Roger Langridge (kaboom!)
Zita the Space Girl, by Ben Hatke (First Second)

Zita the Spacegirl is another favorite from this year. Something crashes out of the sky and presents Zita and her friend with a remote control that has one tempting red button on it. Zita presses it and her friend rockets to another dimension. When I think of the book, the first image that pops into my head is Zita hiding in the woods, hugging her knees and crying, right before she goes back to the scene of the crash and pushes the button again, following her friend into the unknown.

Best Publication for Young Adults (Ages 12-17)
Anya’s Ghost, by Vera Brosgol (First Second)
Around the World, by Matt Phelan (Candlewick)
Level Up, by Gene Yang and Thien Pham (First Second)
Life with Archie, by Paul Kupperberg, Fernando Ruiz, Pat & Tim Kennedy, Norm Breyfogle et al. (Archie)
Mystic, by G. Willow Wilson and David Lopez (Marvel)

Read all about it ...

Now I really need to get my hands on a Princeless. Usually I wait for a TPB, but this one has more buzz than a hornet's nest, and it's, like, so perfect for my library. And I've never heard of the Beauty and the Squat Bears, but now that I've read the synopsis, I'm fascinated.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Hunger Games for second graders

Last week, all my second and third graders were asking me for The Hunger Games, which I don't have in my elementary school library. So I read them Hansel and Gretel. At first, I wondered why it popped into my head, but it makes weird sense: kids fighting for their survival in the woods, violent deaths, same initial letters.

And then this weekend I started reading The Uses of Enchantment, by Bruno Bettelheim. I know Maurice Sendak has called him "Beno Brutalheim" and I know that there are many more recent feminist discussions of fairy tales that I probably should read, but I wanted to start by seeing what Bruno had to say for himself, and I came across this passage, just a few pages into the book:
The acquisition of skills, including the ability to read, becomes devalued when what one has learned to read adds nothing of importance to one's life. We all tend to assess the future merits of an activity on the basis of what it offers now. But this is especially true of the child, who, much more than the adult, lives in the present, and, although he has anxieties about his future, has only the vaguest notions of what it may require or be like. The idea that learning to read may enable one later to enrich one's life is experienced as an empty promise when the stories the child listens to, or is reading at the moment, are vacuous.
That perfectly expresses my criticism of so many reading curricula, including the one used at my school.

I think this is going to be an important book in my professional life.