Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Can books play games?

I’ve been enjoying reading a book about video, computer, and alternate reality gaming called Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World by Jane McGonigal. I saw her by chance on a segment of a show that plays with the notion of what is news, The Colbert Report (you have to watch a silly ad first, sorry):

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Jane McGonigal
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogVideo Archive

There are many concepts she discusses that could be incorporated directly into a book or story app or be a part of the extended world around one (e.g. via an author’s web site). My monthly post on I.N.K. (Interesting Nonfiction for Kids) goes into more detail about it: Playing games with information.

A few of the interactive, gamelike ideas that would be fun to add to my books include: 
Layered images so readers could see under the surface of something
Changing images to show sequence over time (e.g. metamorphosis)
Non-linear paths through a book
Interactive timeline with pop-up elements

Pop-up word definitions
Audio feedback to let readers know they’ve found right answer, etc.

I would love to hear how authors or educators are tapping into the techniques of game design to engage readers, please let me know of any cool ideas.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Measuring Penny story

Dear Loreen,
Two days ago my husband and I were walking our Boston terrier, Stellaluna, in the Dallas City Park. Dallas is a small town in northern Oregon near Salem.

During this walk a small boy and his mother approached us.  The young boy came right to me and said...“are you the lady who wrote Measuring Penny?”  

I replied “No.” His mother then explained that you had written the book and he was very impressed with it. He thought I might be that lady.

After hearing about the book, I told the young man that I would like to read it. I went to the library the next day and got a copy.  I found your book delightful and educational.  A “Delightful Book”, indeed!

I explained to the little boy that our dog was named Stellaluna and asked if they were familiar with the story Stellaluna. They were.

It was a wonderful experience for us. I thought you might like to know how your book continues to please young people.

Warmest Personal Regards,

Beverly H. Kentch, Kindergarten Teacher (retired)

Post Scriptum:

Notice that Stellaluna's Ears are greater than 1 cotton swab long!!

Isn’t that a charming story and letter? I asked Beverly’s permission to post it here, many thanks to her. She’s right, Stellaluna’s ears are quite magnificent. (In the book, Penny’s ears are measured against a cotton swab). I also must mention that seeing Post Scriptum written out is a rare sight, love it!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

How Andy Went to Mars

Today’s post is in celebration of Share a Story ~ Shape a Future week. For more links to similar posts, please visit Elizabeth O. Dulemba’s blog.

Once upon a time, 
there was a little boy in the 4th grade who had loads of fun at school every day. He loved to sit in the last row of the classroom making his friends giggle and folding paper airplanes. Andy was reading well below grade level, but he thought:
One day his mom gave him four quarters for book club day. On the way to school, he saw a pretzel vendor and bought one. Mmmm…Andy loved pretzels!

After polishing off the salty snack, Andy sat at his desk studying the order form. With 50¢ left, he searched for a book that was cheap enough. A book called Mission to Mars looked okay and cost 49¢, so he ordered it. Then he folded a paper airplane and aimed it at a kid in the front of the room. The boys in the back row giggled as usual.

A week or two later, the brand new book arrived. The story was about a family that moved to a Mars colony (wow!) The two children played hooky from school, snuck outside and got lost, wandered into a cave, and then met some (previously unknown) native Martians!

Andy was amazed at how much fun a book could be and that it could bring a story to life in his mind. When that adventure was over, he had to have more. Books, books, books, he wanted to read more books. After a few months, Andy was reading at 6th grade level. He went on to attend collage, then graduate school, and earned his Ph.D.

Nowadays, Andy is a research scientist whose lab is at the Kennedy Space Center. He investigates a variety of topics in astrobiology, which is: the study of the origin, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe. (Quote is from NASA.) He even has a Mars chamber in his lab that simulates the conditions on the Red Planet.
After Andy and I met and eventually married, one topic that often came up was “Why don’t we do a book together?” and “...about what?” One day the obvious solution occurred to us…Andy began downloading incredibly detailed NASA photographs taken on Mars and I started drawing characters to populate the barren landscape. The end result was our picture book Messages from Mars:
The story takes place one hundred years in the future and stars a group of students that get to visit Mars. They explore the historic sites of the Viking, Pathfinder, and Spirit and Opportunity missions, and fly over many of the planet’s spectacular features such as the largest volcano in the solar system and a canyon as long as the United States is wide.
So, because Andy read a book in the 4th grade that captured his imagination, not only did he get to go to Mars, so did I! You never know which book a child will fall in love with so it only makes sense to keep offering kids as many diverse options as there are stars in the sky.

Happy Reading!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

A “highly recommended” review (yay!)

My Teacher Is a Dinosaur and Other Prehistoric Poems, Jokes, Riddles and Amazing Facts. Loreen Leedy (Author and Illustrator), Marshall Cavendish, 48pp, $17.99, 2010, ISBN 97807614557084.
Gr 3-5–Fascinating facts and entertaining illustrations combine to make this trip through prehistory a fun adventure for all. The author not only includes fun facts about the earth’s formation and its first inhabitants, but also incorporates some of this information in the format of a poem and/or riddle within each spread, making it all the more eye-catching and memorable for young readers. The layouts are artistically appealing, and the placement of the animals and their related facts within each period gives the reader a better understanding of how life forms have evolved. Science teachers and school librarians will want to have this in their collection, not only because of the educational value of the information, but also because of its unique presentation of facts and the graphic illustrations and simple depictions of various life forms through the ages. Teachers can use this to show how poetry can be used across the curriculum. One of the most important features of this book is the inclusion of the fun-factor, but they will also seek it out as a resource for various areas of study.  HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Library Media Connection 
Jan/Feb 2011

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