Friday, February 10, 2012

Cowboy & Octopus by Jon Scieszka--Tikatok

Bibliography: Scieszka, J. (2007). Cowboy & Octopus. New York, NY: Viking.

Summary: Cowboy meets Octopus.

Cowboy and Octopus play.

Seven stories about friendship, a good joke, truth, beauty, and beans (Viking).

Tool: Tikatok

Tikatok's tagline is "Every child has a story," and this tool allows to children to write, illustrate, and publish their own picture books. Owned by Barnes & Noble, the tool is geared toward creating an end product that the parent will then purchase for his or her child--an actual bound book. However, making a digital storybook in Tikatok is just as fun because the presentation mimics a physical book complete with turning pages, copyright and dedication pages, and a front cover. Tikatok provides different options for different age levels--"StorySparks," which provides story prompts and structural tips on storytelling and is intended for younger children, and "Start from Scratch," intended for older children capable of telling a story on their own.

With Cat & Bear, I really wanted to mimic the collage approach Smith takes in his illustrations for Cowboy & Octopus, and Tikatok was great for that. Because you can use either the tool's clip art or import your own images, I was able to create a collage-like effect with a mixture of photographs and cartoons. Actually, the limited clip art selection was the only problem I had with Tikatok; older children may feel that there are not enough images to support their out-of-this-world creativity. Overall, however, I had a lot of fun creating my own digital storybook, and I would highly recommend this tool for elementary grade educators.

Review: The most recent collaboration between Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith is a bit of a departure from both writer’s and illustrator’s usual styles. While Scieszka’s writing is always snarky and Smith’s illustrations are always, well, a little bit gross—-think the Time Warp Trio series or The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales—-Cowboy & Octopus is surprisingly...charming. The creators’ aim with this book seems to be different than with their previous projects. First, it is intended for a younger audience than this duo usually attracts. Second, while Scieszka and Smith are known for celebrating “being different” in their work through their sarcastic alterations of fairy tales, historical events, and even poetry (see Science Verse), in a twist, Cowboy & Octopus shows how diversity and camaraderie go hand in hand (or in the case of Octopus, in hand in hand in hand in hand in hand in hand in hand in hand).

Of course, just because their latest offering is about friendship does not mean that Scieszka and Smith have gone sugary sweet. Rather, this book more closely resembles the beans that Cowboy serves Octopus in the story “Chow Time”: molasses is a key ingredient but doesn’t overpower the bacon. In Cowboy & Octopus, Smith’s illustrations are definitely the “meat” flavoring Scieszka’s [extremely] short stories. His paper-based collages utilize photographic images of everything from sheet music to the aforementioned beans. The brightly colored pictures are a refreshing change from the charcoal-based artwork usually associated with his Scieszka illustrations. The collage element still leaves room for wackiness, however, which Smith utilizes in his choice of images: Cowboy, for example, is a paper doll, and Octopus is cut out from a comic book (both drawn by Smith).

Scieszka also maintains his signature strangeness but tones it down for younger readers. His short stories about the unlikely friendship between the two characters are odd and make little sense, reminding me of the joke in which an orange and a banana are taking a bath, and when the banana asks the orange to please pass the soap, the orange says, “What do I look like, a typewriter?” The point of the joke, however, is that it doesn’t make sense, much like a friendship between a cowboy and an octopus doesn’t make sense. But it works, and at the end of the day, the two amigos set off into Smith’s pixelated postcard sunset. Grades 1-5.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Boy Toy by Barry Lyga--Stupeflix

Bibliography: Lyga, B. (2007). Boy toy. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin.

Summary: Josh Mendel has a secret. Unfortunately, everyone knows what it is.

Five years ago Josh’s life changed. Drastically. And everyone in his school, his town—seems like the world—thinks they understand. But they don’t—they can’t.

And now, about to graduate from high school, Josh is still trying to sort through the pieces. First there’s Rachel, the girl he thought he’d lost years ago. She’s back, and she’s determined to be part of his life, whether he wants her there or not.

Then there are college decisions to make, and the toughest baseball game of his life coming up, and a coach who won’t stop pushing Josh all the way to the brink.

And then there’s Eve. Her return brings with it all the memories of Josh’s past. It’s time for Josh to face the truth about what happened.

If only he knew what the truth was… (Houghton Mifflin Company).

Tool: Stupeflix

Stupeflix is an easy-to-use video tool that is similar to Animoto or PhotoPeach: simply upload your images, and Stupeflix will render them into a professional video. A feature that I really appreciated that is absent from many congruent tools is its text capability--i.e. users can insert text slides or add captions to their images. This feature was invaluable when making a book trailer for Boy Toy. Because Josh's story is told via flashbacks and because much of it is too graphic to include in a book trailer destined for YouTube, visual literacy must be assisted with a boost from actual literacy: a series of seemingly random images is drawn together using text. Users are also able to edit their own slide transitions.

Stupeflix has only two cons: 1) users are limited to one-minute free videos (anything over that limit will cost you), and 2) videos are unable to be embedded. They are, however, able to be exported to both Facebook and YouTube. From YouTube, users may embed their videos on other sites, as seen below; while this inconvenience would not keep me from recommending this tool, users should be aware of this additional step. Overall, however, I found my Stupeflix experience to be relaxing and enjoyable.

Review: I first read about Boy Toy in a School Library Journal article about self-censorship. Apparently, when the expected challenges to Barry Lyga’s book did not materialize, he did a little digging and discovered that because librarians were so concerned about its subject matter—-child molestation-—Boy Toy was not being purchased for collections. In short, Boy Toy was not offending anyone because it was not available to anyone. (Whelan, D. L. (2009). A dirty little secret. School Library Journal, 55(2), 26-30.)

The content is certainly mature. What I found offensive about this book, however, was not the protagonist’s detailed flashbacks of his sexual relations with his teacher, but that the author and/or his editors assumed that by producing controversial material, Lyga could get away with poor storytelling. Boy Toy is not written well, which is not evident at first. Josh is a humorous, engaging narrator, and he often uses the “F” word and talks about women in relation to their various body parts, seeming like a realistic 18-year-old boy…until the reader finds out he was molested. As the details of his childhood trauma are revealed, the character becomes less and less believable and finally loses all credibility post-climax when he “learns his lesson” and moves on.

None of the other characters—-with the exception of Eve, Josh’s abuser-—are believable either and are included simply to pad the juicy meat of the story, Josh's and Eve’s relationship. Rachel, Josh’s girlfriend, is especially pointless, serving only as a tool to initiate Josh’s flashbacks, which he relates after she coldly demands that it is her “right to know” everything that happened between the 12-year-old Josh and the adult that abused him. Um, what?

Lyga took a brave step by writing about such a heavy subject so graphically, but Boy Toy has no follow-through. He attempts to show that his character is scarred by referencing Josh’s affinity for math and including an awkward baseball subplot. These additions are clearly metaphors for Josh’s need to control the situations around him since he wasn’t able to as a child, but they wear thin quickly. The reality is that Josh will be struggling—-and healing—-emotionally and mentally for the rest of his life, and reducing child abuse to an "AHA!" moment is somewhat demoralizing. Real issues such as Boy Toy's are so important to include in the library, but this particular presentation is disappointing. Grades 10+.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Little Blog on the Prairie by Cathleen Davitt Bell--Jog the Web

Bibliography: Bell, C. D. (2010). Little blog on the prairie. New York, NY: Bloomsbury.

Summary: Genevieve Welsh has a nice, normal, regular summer planned. That is, until her mom signs up the family for Camp Frontier, a theme vacation that promises its guests the “thrill” of living like 1890s pioneers. Even though they’re forced to surrender all their modern possessions, Gen manages to secretly keep in touch with her friends back home, regaling them with all the horrible day-to-day details of life on this “Little Hell on the Prairie.”

In truth, frontier living isn’t all bad. There’s a cute guy named Caleb who lives in the next clearing. And who knew Gen would prove to be so good at churning butter? Besides, by the time Gen’s friends turn her stories into the most popular blog on the Internet, Gen’s got more important things to worry about—like finding a way to keep her family from failing the frontier competition and trying to keep the resident “Nellie Olson” from stealing Caleb... (Bloomsbury).

Tool: Jog the Web

Using Jog the Web, I get to examine two Web 2.0 tools: 1) Jog the Web itself and 2) the blogging platform. Jog the Web creates "slide shows" out of websites, which users can comment on much like adding a caption to pictures on Facebook or Flickr. This tool could result in some very cool student projects. For example, in a unit on current events and the media, a student might showcase different news, BBC News,, The Huffington Post, The Onion, etc.--exploring the pros and cons of each site and what each site considers newsworthy. I love that the final product, the jog, is not static: your slide show changes along with the web sites, so every day--indeed, every few minutes in the case of some sites--your jog is different, which is excellent if you are using Jog the Web in a project similar to the one just described.

In my jog, I wanted to compare various blogging platforms, evaluating their various features and determining why users might choose to blog on one site over another. Blogs are the titans of Web 2.0 self-publishing, and on a blog about Web 2.0 tools, I am excited to finally be able to feature them. I am even more excited that I can do so using another tool--yet another example of the "non-linear, non-subjective...wibbly-wobbly" world of Web 2.0 (to quote Doctor Who). We never find out which blog Genevieve's friends use to propel her to Internet superstardom, but here are a few they may have checked out:

Genevieve's Guide to Blogging Platforms (on the Prairie)

Unfortunately, jogs are unable to be embedded, so you will have to click the above link in order to fully interact with mine. Here is a screen shot of the first page of my jog in order to provide a general idea of the final format of Jog the Web:

Review: Instead of writing this post last night, I had an impromptu YouTube video dance party with my sisters, visiting from out of town. At the end of the night, due to the cold front sweeping through Texas, all three of us—-and the cat—-huddled in my bed under the quilt, trying to keep warm and keeping each other awake with sudden outbursts of Led Zeppelin songs. (I’m a starving student—-no, I’m not turning on the heat in October!) Gen, the protagonist of Little Blog on the Prairie, and her brother Gavin will do the same thing while sharing a trundle bed in a log cabin. And while they didn’t sing “The Immigrant Song” in 1890, the shared experience and the bond between siblings remains the same in 2011.

Gen, however, isn’t living in 1890 either—she lives in the present. Like the Laura Ingalls Wilder book from which Bell’s novel cheekily gets its name, Little Blog on the Prairie is a neat blend of both historical information and realistic fiction. In the case of Little House on the Prairie (1935), Wilder relayed an autobiographical account of historical events in the form of fiction, but with Little Blog on the Prairie, Bell has created something more complex. Gen is a contemporary teenager who has been relocated to frontier family history camp and relays her own autobiographical account of history via blog (and a smuggled cell phone). Both Wilder and Gen introduce their readers to the trials (and, with time, rewards) of homesteading, and both women become famous because of their experiences and their writing. Blogging, however, is a bit different than publication in 1935, and Gen’s fame grows beyond her control.

One obvious theme of this book is that young adults need to be aware of what they put online. Gen’s blogging has consequences, and how she deals with those consequences represents Little Blog on the Prairie’s subtler themes of growing up, learning how to make mature decisions, and re-connecting with and appreciating one’s family. Of course, Gen’s immediate concerns are learning how to use the outhouse without peeing all over her floor-length dress, milking the cow without getting kicked, and trying not to make a fool of herself in front of Camp Frontier’s resident cute boy. Who knew that pioneer life could be so hard and yet surprisingly fulfilling for a city girl from 2010? Grades 5-8.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The House of Dead Maids by Clare B. Dunkle--SlideShare

Bibliography: Dunkle, C. B. (2010). The house of dead maids. New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company.

Summary: The child who will become Heathcliff is already a savage little creature when Tabby Aykroyd arrives at Seldom House to be his nursemaid. But the Yorkshire moors harbor far worse. The ghost of the last maid will not leave Tabby in peace, yet this spirit is only one of many.

As Tabby struggles to escape the evil forces that surround the house, she tries to befriend her uncouth young charge, but her kindness cannot alter his fate. Long before he reaces the old farmhouse of Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff has already doomed himself and any who try to befriend him (Henry Holt and Company).

Tool: SlideShare

SlideShare is an effective means of putting your PowerPoint presentations online in an easily embeddable format. Simply create a presentation (or "webinar," as they are referred to in SlideShare) in PowerPoint, and upload it into SlideShare. This tool is wonderfully convenient if you need to share presentations with teachers and students but are unable to e-mail attachments to them due to size restrictions or software inconsistencies. For example, I used it last spring when I created a presentation advertising a poetry slam in the library--my presentation, made in Microsoft Office 2011, was incompatible with the 2007 version on the school computers. How did I get my presentation to the English department so that teachers could get the word out to their students? SlideShare.

This tool has some neat features that students often have trouble with when strictly using PowerPoint: Slidecast, the addition of audio (featured here), and the ability to easily import YouTube videos are two examples. I also really like that users can choose to play the entire webinar straight through or manually go slide by slide in order to peruse in more detail. Users also have the ability to download webinars, provided that the creators chose to license their products under the Creative Commons. SlideShare does have some minor inconveniences. Not all fonts are transferrable from the PowerPoint to Internet mediums, and don't waste time on slide transitions and animations in PowerPoint--they will be lost. If you need to change your project, you must change it in PowerPoint and re-upload the file. Overall, however, SlideShare is an excellent and user-friendly way to share your presentations.

(Note: In my webinar, I feature Kate Bush's classic single, "Wuthering Heights." In accordance with copyright regulations, I only use 30 seconds of this track. Remember to always respect others' intellectual property when creating your projects.)


This slim volume only takes a few hours to read, and I recommend that you budget that time and read all of The House of Dead Maids at once…especially if you’re reading it alone after dark. Dunkle’s prelude to Wuthering Heights is surprisingly disturbing, even for a ghost story, and the action begins almost immediately, with our heroine encountering her festering predecessor by Chapter Two. Dunkle leaves little to the imagination when it comes to her unholy spirits, but just in case a gore-hound reader finds her gruesome descriptions lacking, they are wonderfully accompanied by Patrick Arrasmith’s chilling illustrations.

For all of her fleshed-out horrors on the moors, Dunkle’s boy Heathcliff remains a mystery, and here lies the novel’s strength. In Brontë’s original novel, the gypsy-like Heathcliff was found and taken in by the Earnshaw family while still a small child, and little, if anything, is known of his history. While one might assume that a prelude would shed some light on his background, Dunkle leaves the reader just as confused about her antihero’s origins as Brontë did over 150 years ago, simply alluding to atrocities that he may or may not have witnessed before becoming Tabby’s charge. If Heathcliff, or “heathen git,” as he is cruelly called in Dunkle’s novel, is a tragic figure as a man, he is even more so as a child. As in Wuthering Heights, readers will be left struggling, unable to determine whether “Himself” is appealing or horrifying.

Dunkle does not leave Tabby’s character unaffected, however, and her development from pious child to dark storyteller is notable. Tabitha Aykroyd was the Brontë’s housekeeper for most of her life, and according to Dunkle, while little is known about her, we do know that her ghost stories were beloved by—-and probably influenced—-the Brontë children. I have never read Wuthering Heights (a travesty, I know, and that is why I chose to learn more about it by creating the above webinar), but my experience in The House of Dead Maids was certainly not lacking for that; in fact, it served as a successful gateway to Brontë’s classic novel, inspiring readers to explore new, dark worlds just as Tabitha's stories once did. Grades 6+.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J. K. Rowling--the dark arts

Bibliography: Rowling, J. K. (1997). Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. New York, NY: Arthur A. Levine Books.

Summary: Harry Potter has never been the star of a Quidditch team, scoring points while riding a broom far above the ground. He knows no spells, has never helped to hatch a dragon, and has never worn a cloak of invisibility.

All he knows is a miserable life with the Dursleys, his horrible aunt and uncle, and their abominable son, Dudley--a great big swollen spoiled bully. Harry's room is a tiny closet at the foot of the stairs, and he hasn't had a birthday party in eleven years.

But all that is about to change when a mysterious letter arrives by owl messenger: a letter with an invitation to an incredible place that Harry--and anyone who reads about him--will find unforgettable.

For it's there that he finds not only friends, aerial sports, and magic in everything from classes to meals, but a great destiny that's been waiting for him...if Harry can survive the encounter (Arthur A. Levine Books).

Tool: the dark arts (in collaboration with and

In preparation for the opening of Pottermore, I wanted to show how Web 2.0 has affected J. K. Rowling's series. It is unclear right now whether or not Rowling's new interactive website will allow users to collaborate and create, Web 2.0-style, and critics have argued that Pottermore's survival will depend not only on its "transmedia storytelling" as told by Rowling but also on its support of fan contributions to that storytelling process...because Harry Potter has been living in the digital world for quite some time already.

In an article entitled "The Boy Who Lived Forever," Time details the underground culture of fan fiction, beginning with "J.K. Rowling probably isn't going to write any more Harry Potter books. That doesn't mean there won't be any more. It just means they won't be written by J.K. Rowling." (Grossman, L. (2011, July). The boy who lived forever. Time. Retrieved from,8599,2081784,00.html). Web 2.0 has taken fan fiction--and the Potterverse--to a whole new level. Because my site focuses on visual storytelling, I will explore the unique relationship between the dark arts, a graphic design forum, and, the oldest site completely dedicated to Potterverse fan fiction (or "fic"). is already an excellent example of the Web 2.0 facet of self-publication. People share their fics and leave them open for others to post reviews. With the dark arts, however, writers are able to access other elements of Web 2.0: collaboration and visual storytelling. the dark arts is a forum for graphic designers to create Harry Potter-themed art. If you have a validated fic on, you are eligible to request an accompanying banner for your story, and an artist will visually interpret your fic. Writers can request specific characters and images; however, the final product is the result of the artist's imagination.

Here, for example, are banners for two different Marauders-era fics (used with permission).

"By the Light of the Moon" by Queenie Shacklebolt. Banner by violet ephemera from tda.
""By the Light of the Moon" is the compelling tale of the werewolf, Remus Lupin. Follow Remus from his days at Hogwarts to the rise of the Dark Lord Voldemort and, eventually, to the birth of Harry Potter and the Dark Lord's downfall. Find out how Remus deals with the prejudice and hate he is faced with when people discover his secret...he's a monster."

"The Padfoot Chronicles" by Lady Snape of Spinners End. Banner by angelic. from tda.
""The Padfoot Chronicles" is the story of Sirius Black--the rebel, the friend, the brother, the-risk taker, the wizard, the prisoner."

The collaboration between writers on and artists on the dark arts is a really neat example of Internet culture fusing with fan culture, and the process of acquiring a banner is a relatively painless introduction into the weird, wide world of Internet forums. Also, users should take note that the artists on the dark arts are committed to respecting intellectual property--they will only use images available for public use, and writers must commit to crediting the artist when posting his/her banner.

Because I assume that most teacher-librarians are already very familiar with the first book in the Harry Potter series, I am going to do something a little different with this post. Rather than review Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, I am going to preview my own fic, inspired by Rowling's first novel.

Fan Fiction: Chapter One of "The Skeptical Chemist"
England is on the brink of the Enlightenment, and who should be setting the stage of the Scientific Revolution but Albus Dumbledore? Joined by his partner in alchemy, Nicolas Flamel, and by Robert Boyle, known today as the "father of modern chemistry," the young Dumbledore struggles in his work both on the Philosopher's Stone and in understanding his professional--and personal--relationships. Note: This story contains material of a sensitive nature and is for mature audiences only.

Gramercy, as the Elizabethans would say, to (sol) from the dark arts for this banner!

“Paracelsus be naught but a hasty-witted jolt-head, plaguing all pursuit of chemick with his gibble-gabble,” the young man muttered to himself, thrusting his flask down so vehemently that Albus feared the glass would crack.

“Corpus bones,” Albus thought, shaking his head silently and continuing on at the fireplace, the small laboratorium growing more stifling with each suck and pump of the bellows. In—“God’s wounds!” Out—“God’s teeth!” Each successive curse was accompanied by a fiery blast from the furnace, like licks of hellfire…or the merciful end to the suffering Albus endured at the bickering tongues of Masters Boyle and Flamel, morelike.

“In the writings of our philosophical father,” Master Flamel replied loudly and acidly, “Paracelsus doth admit that his pursuit of alchemy is not for the making of gold but to consider only what virtue and power may lie in medicines, thou great ape. Though why one would shun the making of gold, I know not.”

Boyle looked up from his labor with a shrug, although Albus saw that his eyes glittered angrily. “Forsooth, Paracelsus did do much for the study of toxins, but what of chemistry? My experiments be corrupted by his hokum on the spiritual attributes of mercury, sulfur, and salt. These elements be elements only, not the very foundations of our spiritual disposition, and to say otherwise is to keep company with fools.”

“Careful, thou Irish wastrel, with thy criticisms, or thou will lose thy position here with us as alchemist. Master Dumbledore, please kindly remind Master Boyle of what are the actual elements and of what kind of knowledge he will be able to pursue as a beggar on the Londontown streets. These blasphemies have put me in ill humor, and I must relieve myself.” And with a pointed look at Boyle, Flamel swept from the room to locate the nearest privy.

“D’anam don diabhal!” Boyle muttered under his breath. Albus knew that Master Boyle only used his native speech when truly vexed. He wondered at the meaning of the Irish words but thought it better not to ask. Rather, he lamely offered: “Master Boyle, the four basic elements are earth, fire, water, and ai—“


“Pray pardon?”

“Please. When you speak at me, speak at me as Robert…Albus.”

Startled, Albus stopped with the bellows, and the laboratorium grew silent other than the burbling and babbling of this or that potion. He and Masters Boyle and Flamel had known of each other for several years past but only in the capacity of alchemical colleagues. To be addressed so informally…

Albus looked up. The laboratorium was a small, cramped chamber perched precariously at the top of the rather run-down residence of Master and Mistress Flamel, or the House of the Silver Crescent, as it was so-called, for every house within the City of London was blessed with a name. Although the room spanned several strides, crossing that space would be nigh impossible for all the equipment crowding every available surface, and it was even less feasible for one to stand upright beneath the roof’s many gables.

At Albus’s back stood the open furnace. As one of the four natural elements, fire was key to much of his and the others’ work—essential for the distillation and transmutation of silver and mercury, as was his focus; for the creation—theoretically—of the Philosopher’s Stone, as was Master Flamel’s; and for whatever observations Rob—err, Master Boyle was making on gaseous properties. Of course, the other elements were present in the attic as well. Earth, in her metallic splendor—antimony, arsenic, bismuth, zinc—lay strewn across his own workspace like a not-so-blushing bride upon her wedding bed. Water flowed swiftly through tubings knotting Master Flamel’s table, as though she, too, were in a rush to transfigure herself into the aqua vitae, the Elixir of Life, that the alchemist had so bent his head upon.

And air? Why, air was in the very name of the device upon which Master Boyle labored so intently: the air-pump, although of what be its designated purpose, Albus could not yet fathom. As his eyes roved over the mess of tools—aludels for condensing vapors, alembics for distilling mixtures—and texts—ancient scrolls of Zosimos of Panoplis, Andreas Libavius’s Alchemy, fresh from the printers—they settled on the odd contraption and the long, white fingers fiddling with its knobs. Slender yet strong, connecting to a well-muscled forearm used to holding tinctures over heated coals for hours on end. As the man stretched to lift a lever on his machine, his back arched and then tensed, sending his muscles a-rippling beneath his length of burnished hair like kelpies galloping about beneath a river’s surface. He reached back down, doubling over, showing off a firm, shapely—

“—Pigeon pie for the good sirs?” Albus’s mouth watered as Mistress Flamel shuffled into the room, laboring under a tray laden heavy with vittles and nearly upsetting Master Boy—err, Robert’s air-pump as she did so. “Pray pardon, Master Boyle,” she mumbled, as the man quickly righted his experiment.

“Twas naught, good lady,” he reassured her kindly. “It be our fault for littering your attic with our noisome machinations and odorous potions. Let me lighten your load—verily, I can ne’er resist a pie made by the right beauteous Mistress Flamel!”

The frailsome woman—who surely was no beauty—blushed at the compliment, but her rosy coloring paled quickly, as she heard her husband’s heavy tread in the stairwell. The room fell silent.

“Wherefore thou be bothering these men, Perenelle?” Master Flamel said, as quiet and cold as the grave. Mistress Flamel stared, unseeing, at a point fixed somewhere beyond Albus’s head.

“Answer thy husband, thou witless slattern.”

“Nicolas, I—I—“

CRACK. Albus winced at the blow, which sounded for all the world like the whip lashing ‘cross the backs of the poor souls in the stocks on the street below. Mistress Flamel crumpled to the floor, whimpering and clutching her left cheek in both hands.

“When thou speakest at me, thou willt address me as thy lord and master, slut. Now leave us to our business. We work for the greater good and will suffer no more interruptions.”

Albus stared at the stone floor. He did not look up as he heard Mistress Flamel stagger to her feet and stumble out of the laboratorium. He did not look up as he heard Robert say coldly, “I am finished with my work this day,” and briskly follow her down the staircase. And he did not look up as he heard Master Flamel say, “Master Dumbledore, the fire is in want of building.”

Albus again picked up the bellows.

To find out what happens next to the young Dumbledore, please click here:

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Mixed Vegetables, Vol. 1 by Ayumi Komura--Embedding 101

Bibliography: Komura, A. (2008). Mixed vegetables (Vol. 1). (S. V. W. Lucianovic, Trans.). San Francisco, CA: Shojo Beat. (Original work published 2005).

Summary: Hanayu Ashitaba is the daughter of the celebrated Patisserie Ashitaba, but all she wants to do is be a sushi chef. Hayato Hyuga is the son of the prestigious Sushi Hyuga, and all he wants to do is be a pastry chef! It’s love and leftovers in the Oikawa High School Cooking Department as these star-crossed gourmands do their best to reach their cuisine dreams!

Hanayu knows that it will break her parents’ hearts if she defects from the bakery to become a sushi chef. But if she marries into a sushi family, they’ll have to understand her decision. Now she just has to get Hayato Hyuga interested in her, and what better way than to wow him with her cooking skills?!

Can Hanayu create the recipe for happiness (Shojo Beat)?

Tool: Embedding 101

I hope everyone is enjoying these last dog days of summer before the real work begins. As a special treat (literally, since this post is food-themed), I want to offer some helpful hints on embedding so that you are able to utilize these Web 2.0 tools to their full, shareable potential. Recognizing and using HTML embed code is probably old hat to many readers; however, some people may be confused as to how share their creations--YouTube videos, Flickr photos, Google Maps, MP3 files, Word documents, PowerPoints, etc. The list is endless. As an example, I found "Sushi Go Round" (see below), which the game makers generously allowed users to share on their own blogs and websites. It is both quick and addicting, and I highly recommend it...especially right now before school starts, and access to gaming sites is restricted by your district's policy.

And now for the how-to in three easy steps:

1. With most Web 2.0 tools, there will be an option you can click on labeled "Share" (or even simply "Embed"). Sharing, after all, is what makes Web 2.0 so extraordinary. In many cases, such as the "Sushi Go Round" game, you will be able to share not only your own work but others' products as well. (This feature depends on their pre-determined user settings. For example, they may have not released their Flickr images under the Creative Commons license, in which case you shouldn't use them.) The tool will then provide you with the embed code. It will look something like this:

Image courtesy of Tom Thomas' Web Tracker: A glitter free blog about Myspace

A complete embed code will look something like this:

2. Copy and paste the provided HTML code into your own blog or site. It's as simple as that! HyperText Markup Language (HTML) is the publishing language of the Internet, and your site will recognize it and convert it automatically to your desired video/image/animated project/etc. Note, however, that some blog providers, such as WordPress, do not allow Flash or JavaScript embeds (which is why I chose Blogger for my needs).

3. If you wish to embed a project that is not originally web-based, such as a file from Microsoft Office, there are many sites that will convert your uploaded files into publishable material and provide you with the HTML code. Examples that I recommend are Scribd for Word documents, SlideShare for PowerPoint presentations, and Zoho Sheet for Excel spreadsheets. (Note: Zoho Sheet is still a beta site, meaning that it is still being tested.) There are similar sites that create embed code for audio files-- MixPod is the easiest to use and provides the most versatile player designs.

Got the hang of using embed code? Still tempted by "Sushi Go Round?" Go on. Treat yourself.

Review: School library media specialists will sometimes hesitate when
confronted with manga. This particular format of graphic novel is complex, with several different genres—action-cenered shonon (boy's manga), romance-centered shojo (girl's manga), seinen (manga for adults), redilsu komikku (women's manga), kodomo (children's manga), and hentai (erotic manga)--and from each genre sprout many different offshoots. For example, shonen-ai, or the lightly homoerotic "boy love," is a form of shojo meant to appeal to teenage girls, while yaoi is “boy love” on a more graphic, hentai level. Navigating through this terminology may be intimidating, but since manga is so popular, ensuring that patrons have access to [age-appropriate] titles is a librarian's responsibility.

Mixed Vegetables, for example is shojo (The name of the publisher might have given that one away!). It is a cute, relatively non-sexualized romance between a girl and a boy that would appeal to high school students while still being very appropriate for middle school readers. Hanayu is a very modern, likeable heroine who, of course, wants to get the boy...but only so that she can advance her career! Naturally, Hayato has some surprises of his own, and watching the two characters attempt to establish their respective careers while sidestepping around their emotions and playing mind games with each other makes for a quick, fun read. Girls of all ages (including twenty-somethings like me!) will appreciate that Hanayu refuses to give up her dreams to get the guy but instead incorporates him into her plans.

Why I was drawn to Mixed Vegetables, however, is that it is an example of yet another subset of manga: the whimsically named “mangia manga,” or food-themed manga. I love to eat, and I love to read, and a graphic novel focused on food seemed especially intriguing. While readers shouldn’t expect any recipes from Komura, she does provide a lot of interesting asides and trivia about Japanese cooking techniques and eating habits. For example, the first dish Hanayu shows off with (much to the chagrin of her instructor) is an ikizukuri platter, which is a sushi tradition of preparing sashimi while the fish is still alive. The customer selects their fish, and the sashimi chef fillets and guts it, serving it to the customer with the heart still beating. Would that American sushi chefs be so bold with their presentation!

Mixed Vegetables is a great addition to any secondary school library’s graphic novel collection. If you have a manga club at your school, this book would be a great pairing with a candy sushi-making activity. My mom tried it with her middle school students, and it was a great success. There are many easy-to-follow recipes online: the “nigiri” below, for example, is made from Rice Krispie treats, Swedish Fish, and Fruit-by-the-Foot. Almost as delicious as the real thing! Enjoy! Grades 7+.

Image courtesy of Flickr: bloody marty mix

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Kissing the Witch by Emma Donoghue--Storybird

Bibliography: Donoghue, E. (1997). Kissing the witch: Old tales in new skins. New York, NY: Joanna Cotler Books.

Summary: Cinderella forsakes the handsome prince and runs off with the fairy godmother; Beauty discovers the Beast behind the mask is not so very different from the face she sees in the mirror; Snow White is awakened from slumber by the bittersweet fruit of an unnamed desire. Acclaimed writer Emma Donoghue spins new fairy tales out of old in a magical web of thirteen interconnected stories. Women young and old wander this strange and delightful landscape in search of shelter, power, or their heart's desire. They work, struggle, marry for love or money, lose children or steal them, plot escape or revenge. Above all, they tell each other their own stories. The alliances they form are sometimes treacherous, sometimes erotic, but always unpredictable (Joanna Cotler Books).

Tool: Storybird

Storybird is a really excellent demonstration of the collaboration that defines Web 2.0. A Storybird is a short, art-inspired story designed to be worked on by multiple users, and it can be read online, shared (i.e. embedded), and printed. Professional artists contribute a set of related images to Storybird. These images cover a range of mediums, styles, and themes, and users choose the set that they like the best. Then they, along with anybody else they invite, write a story to "tell" the images, rather than the conventional method of using illustrations to tell a story.

Storybird is a wonderfully innovative way to foster creativity, and the images range from light pastels of fluffy bunnies to heavy woodcuts of tattooed fairies, so the tool should appeal to youth across the K-12 range (I used the artist HidenSeek). To accompany Kissing the Witch, I wanted to create a new fairy tale with a strong female protagonist, and I wanted this fairy tale to be a collaborative effort between the strong women in my life. With each contribution to "Aisling's Island," these women's lives interweave for a brief moment in order to create a story, much like the women's lives in Donoghue's stories. When several minds are involved, the Storybird takes on an almost Surrealist element, becoming sort of an "exquisite corpse"--a parlor game turned modern art method in which words or images are collectively assembled. Think of drawing a person's head on a piece of paper, folding it, and having the next player draw the torso. Now think of re-enacting that same process online using professional art. That is the possibility of Storybird.

Aisling's Island by nmalesa, mjmalesa on Storybird

Review: Like Russian nesting dolls, Donoghue’s re-imagined fairy tales richly reward the reader as he or she delves deeper into the characters’ lives, each one a story within a story. Unlike the dolls, however, these narrators are far from mute, and women who traditionally have little to say—-usually because they are unconscious and waiting for a man to “save” them—-are given their own voices that resonate with oral storytelling conventions. Since oral storytelling was traditionally a male occupation (Any female bards come to mind?), Donoghue’s use of writing in the feminine voice to re-claim a masculine art is a not-so-subtle act of revolution, and it is only the first. She challenges patriarchal norms of female sexuality by having well-known fairy tale heroines engage in lesbian relationships or even (and perhaps even more shocking) in no relationship at all, choosing business and freedom over love. She challenges the god-centric Western religions by having her characters reincarnate, sometimes simply by passing on their stories but sometimes by actually being reborn from a woman into a bird or a horse. Finally, she challenges people to think.

Kissing the Witch’s major flaw is that, despite its very good attempt at inclusiveness, it encompasses only stories from European tradition. While the voices of Cinderella, Snow White, and the little mermaid are easily recognized, some readers may be less familiar with the Grimm brothers’ goose girl or Perrault’s Donkeyskin. Because Donoghue chose to highlight these lesser-known but equally important female voices, taking the chance that she might alienate her readers in the process, she should also have allowed women from African, East Asian, or Native American folk tales to tell their stories.

After Cinderella chooses the fairy godmother in the first tale, she asks “Who were you before you walked into my kitchen?” The woman replies, “Will I tell you my own story? It is a tale of a bird” (Donoghue, p. 9). So it goes, with each woman offering to "tell you [her] own story." Much later, the witch of the title ends her own tale—-and, in doing so, all thirteen tales—-with “This is the story you asked for. I leave it in your mouth.” And this reader’s response? “Will I tell you my own story? It is a tale of a computer.” Grades 8+.