Friday, March 26, 2010

Scott Pilgrim trailer

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World - Official Trailer

This looks like a lot of fun, and I'm hoping it will be a good reading extension.

It's the movie, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, starring (the adorable) Michael Cera. It's based on the very popular series of Scott Pilgrim books. Here's the official trailer which has just been released.

The movie was shot in Toronto, and lets the city be itself for once (Toronto usually doubles for a big US city). So that's kind of exciting.

Here's the website for the movie.
And the website for the Scott Pilgrim books.
And here's another book recommended by Michael Cera.
And here's a post on Boing Boing about the Scott Pilgrim movie.

Oh, and just for fun, here's that great Canadian please video that I do enjoy so much.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Alice movie too dark for (most) kids

As you know, I'm a big advocate of what I call reading extensions.

They're the added bonus events, movies, products and tie-ins that go beyond the book, and which may help some kids get interested in a book or explore a book more fully.

Alice in Wonderland
The other night, I saw Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland.

I enjoyed it. I thought it was a well thought-out interpretation of the book, with some nice visuals. (Why it had to be in 3D I'm not quite sure.)

But in my opinion it is not really a children's movie. I had high hopes for it, but I have to say that it's probably not a good reading extension for young children. Before you take your child to see this movie, I would urge you to either see it yourself, or check out some reviewers whose opinions you trust. (Here's Roger Ebert's review.)

Quick synopsis
Alice has previously visited Wonderland as a little girl. Now she has returned as a young woman to a very different Wonderland. The Red Queen has taken over, despoiled the landscape, and cast fear into the hearts of Wonderlanders. Everyone awaits "the Alice" who will slay the jabberwock and restore peace to Wonderland.

What's different about the movie and the book
Lewis Carroll's masterpiece (the book) relies heavily on the absurd. The Red Queen threatens to lop off everyone's head, but they all know that you just have to run away and she'll soon forget. In the movie, Burton's queen organizes a public beheading in the town square.

The lovely bits of nonsense, like having to repaint the white roses red, are glossed over and put into a flashback. No one's allowed to be very silly in this movie.

In the book, the Mad Hatter was mad as in loopy or wacky. In the movie, madness is flat-out insanity. As a result, we get a Hatter who is more Sylvia Plath than Daffy Duck.

That lovely character, the Dormouse, who walked such a fine line between pathos and silliness thanks to Carrroll's elegant depiction of him, has been Hollywoodized until he is flat and common.

The scary characters like the bandersnatch and the jabberwock, whose terrifyingness was only hinted at in the book, are made all too real in the movie. The jabberwock is given its own plot line. And don't get me started on "the vorpal sword." In the book vorpal is an adjective. In the movie, it's the sword's title, as if there is only one sword that could be vorpal.

There are a couple of pieces of nice new imagery, such as Alice becoming Joan of Arc as she battles the jabberwock. The caterpillar is given a more prominent and quite interesting role in the movie. And they haven't messed too much with the white rabbit, which is a good thing because he is a masterpiece as written.

But on the whole, while it may be an interesting movie, Alice in Wonderland 2010 is not for most children. It's rated PG and listed in the "kids and family" category, a misnomer that I think is almost as egregious as calling Slumdog Millionaire "uplifting," for which I will always despise those moviemakers.

Obviously, only you know your child and only you can judge what is or isn't suitable. But I think that most young children would be scared by the red queen's furious rants, the threat of the deadly jabberwock and the overall darkness of this typical Tim Burton-like fare.

As a palate cleanser, may I present Carroll's original nonsense poem (which, incidentally I memorized as a young girl, which feat I would be happy to demonstrate to anyone who would ask, which hasn't actually happened yet but I await...):

JABBERWOCKY, by Lewis Carroll
'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!"

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! and through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

"And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!"
He chortled in his joy.

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


What rock star had people at the Living Arts Centre in Mississauga, Ontario lined up two-deep, for blocks?

Robert Munsch, children's literature rock star!

Robert Munsch did two shows today at the Living Arts Centre, and in-between he signed books and had his picture taken with star-struck youngsters (and their star-struck parents).

It was truly impressive. People waited an hour and a half in line, with impatient toddlers, no less, to meet one of the biggest stars of the kidlit world.

Worth it?

Worth it!

Thank you to Andreas Kyprianou at LAC for helping me to get these great shots.

Mr. Munsch is turning 65 this year, and he's keeping up a pace that would shame a 20-year-old. Not only did he perform two shows today, but he signed hundreds and hundreds of books in-between and after the shows. Humble and proud of our fellow Canadian, we are. Humble and proud.
Here's his website.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Read what your kid's reading

My son’s copy of Percy Jackson has two bookmarks in it—his and mine.

We’re both reading it. Not only is it a great series and a lot of fun to read, but I’m realizing there are huge benefits to reading what he’s reading.

The best part is catching those really subtle teaching moments. For instance, part of the third book takes place in the Smithsonian, which we visited last year. So I’ll be able to talk to him about that. To me, that’s a great learning extension.

If I hadn’t been reading the book, I’d never have known about that opportunity.

Also, having read the book I know there are a lot of Greek names that are pronounced very differently from the way they’re spelled. I was able to tell him the correct pronunciations.

And I can judge for myself how scary the book is, given my son’s tolerance for certain types of scariness. For instance, you can hack the limbs off a monster all you like and it won’t bother my son. But show a little “portent” or foreshadowing, and he’s gonna have nightmares all week. Which explains why Voldemorte never bothered him, but he couldn’t sit through the evil queen’s threats in Cinderella 2.

Of course, you’re not going to want to read everything your kid reads. Nothing’s going to entice me to read the Scooby-Doo series, no matter what the benefits. So it helps to have a great children’s book reviewer you know and trust.

But if you can, pick up what your kid’s reading. It’s worth the effort.

The hardest part is finding time to read it, when he’s not reading it. I’ve found that the best strategy is to wait until he… falls… asleep… and then take the book out of his hands. Then I can read it for an hour or so before I go to sleep. Sneaky.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Get your video-kid reading

Kids can be into video games and enjoy reading, too!

Your child loves video games but isn't a big reader? No problem. Here are some tips that will get your video-loving kid reading.

1) GO WITH THE FLOW. Studies show that kids are more apt to read things that interest them.

If video games are a huge interest for your child, try to work with that:
*Subscribe to a gaming magazine. There are tons of them, and they contain what gamers crave-tips to help them unlock secrets in their favourite games.

*Suggest gaming websites that have a lot of written instructions, or which require the player to type instructions in order to progress in the game. For instance, Dungeon Scroll is a new kind of hybrid game combining a word game with a RPG (role-playing game).

*Kids who like video games may also like comics and graphic novels. At websites like Make Beliefs Comix they can create their own comics online.

*There are some cool online literacy and math games at Bite-Size Literacy.

2) THINK LIKE A GAMER. If your child has a Nintendo DS, get him to use the PICTOCHAT function to type messages back and forth with his friends. From the DS's main screen, click on PICTOCHAT. It will bring up a screen and a mini keyboard your child can use to type messages.
How about PICTOCHAT Hide-and-Seek? Have one child hide and have his friend type messages via PICTOCHAT with clues to find him. (This game was developed by an eight-year-old boy who loves video games.)

3) GET HIM TYPING. It's a skill he needs for gaming anyway, and it will develop his literacy skills. Once kids can type, getting them to write stories and essays will be much easier since they'll be able to get their thoughts down as fast as their brain can come up with them.

Make sure the typing program you choose is QWERTY-based so they'll learn to use the Home Row. An excellent one (that worked for my child) is Dance Mat Typing, by the BBC.

4) SUGGEST ONLINE GAMES that include a literacy component. For instance, at Club Penguin, kids control a virtual "penguin" who plays games and can chat with other "penguins." In the Club Penguin book room there's a great typing game where the penguins can type a virtual book to earn all-important Club Penguin dollars.

5) GET YOUR CHILD BOOKS WITH SHORT BLOCKS OF TYPE AND LOTS OF IMAGES. Boys in particular like books with facts, lots of visuals and chunks of text.

Here are some suggestions:
*The Encyclopedia of Immaturity by Klutz.
*Guinness World Records
*Books on magic or featuring science experiments

6) CONSIDER V-BOOKS. This is a brand new genre in publishing, and it may be appealing to kids who like gaming. Kids read the book, and every few chapters there's an instruction from the writer to go to a website and input a password that lets the child see a video. The video supports the book in some way and furthers the plot. The v-books that are currently available (Skeleton Creek, by Patrick Carman, for instance) are too scary for most kids. However, he recently released Trackers, which is apparently less scary (although it's still pretty intense, from what I've seen). In any case, this is just the tip of the iceburg. This is clearly a new realm in publishing for kids and young adults, and within a very short time we're going to see an explosion in the number of books that cross the boundary between paper and technology. To check out Skeleton Creek and Trackers, visit the author's website. For a book series with a different type of online accompaniment, read The 39 Clues, by Peter Lerangis. Kids can go online ( to track down clues and enter a contest to win prizes.

7) SET SOME BOUNDARIES. There's no getting around it--you will have to set "screen-time" limits. Kids can't read if they're gaming all the time. How much will depend on your child, but some parents say no gaming during the week, and then two hours of screen-time a day on weekends.

This post is part of the Literacy Blog Tour (March 8-14, 2010) - welcome tourists! We hope you'll be back again and again.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Getting active kids reading

Sitting and reading is not the only way.

At age five, girls are able to sit still and listen about 2.5 times longer than boys, according to studies.

But we don’t need research to tell us that most boys would rather get up and move around than sit and read.

Here are some great ways to keep active kids happy while they’re learning. (Statistically, this tends to be a boy issue--so we're using the male pronoun--but if you’ve got an active girl these tips will apply just as well.)

1) LET HIM MOVE. Let your son play with a ball while you read to him. Having a ball to quietly hold and catch helps lots of kids concentrate better.

2) INTERRUPT THE STORY. When you come to a plot point, stop and ask him, “why do you think that happened?” or “what do you think that meant?” Not only does it help with comprehension, but it breaks up the monotony of listening.

3) GO OUTSIDE. It's called "environmental literacy" - finding things to read outside. There are tons of signs and advertisements to read out there, and even word puzzles to figure out. What does that parking sign mean? When can you park here? How much is parking? What is that an ad for? Do you believe the ad? He’ll have to read carefully to figure out the answers.

4) MAKE EVERYTHING A CONTEST. Active kids, and especially kids who like sports, love to be timed, challenged, and rewarded. When you play literacy games, getting out a stopwatch can bring the right measure of fun competition to it.

5) PLAY ACTIVE GAMES. Take a long strip of paper – say four feet long by four inches high (or several strips). In marker, write a sentence on it. Then cut the sentence up into words. Hide the words around your backyard or playground. Have the child run around and collect the words, bringing each one back to you when it’s found, before running out and getting the next one. When he has them all, he can piece them all into a sentence. Time him and see if he can do it faster the second time around.

6) HOST A TREASURE HUNT. Use signs to lead your child up to his bedroom, across to his dresser, over to the bathroom, down to the basement, into a closet, up to the attic, into the fridge… and then over to the dining room table, where he’ll find his treat (chocolate, or a wrapped book, or some other small reward). It’s a great game that combines reading with physical activity.

7) WRITE A STORY WHILE YOU’RE WALKING. Schedule a long walk, just the two of you. While you’re walking, lead him to create a story – with characters, an interesting setting and a couple of plot points.

Extending this activity: When you get back home, he can dictate the story so you can write it down, or he can type it up. Make it into a book and add illustrations. He’ll have something tangible that he has created.

This post is part of the Literacy Blog Tour (March 8-14, 2010) - welcome tourists! We hope you'll be back again and again.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Fishy literacy game

A do-it-yourself game that helps early readers connect capital letters with their lowercase equivalents. Thank you to guest blogger Dawn Little, for this post.

Here is a fun letter match game to help your child recognize and match capital letters to lower case letters.

1. Gather your materials: One small magnet, a wooden dowel, yarn, glue, construction paper, markers, scissors, and 52 paper clips (and 26 googly eyes, if you'd like).

2. Make a fish template on a piece of construction paper. Use the template to cut out 52 fish (26 capital letters, 26 lower case letters). Give your fish smiles and either make an eye using marker or glue a googly eye on each one. Attach paper clips to the mouth of each fish, like a fish hook.

3. Make a fishing pole by tying a piece of yarn to one end of the dowel. Put glue on one side of the magnet and attach it to the hanging end of the yarn.

4. Scatter the fish on a table or the floor. Give your child the fishing pole and call out letters, calling out a capital letter first. After your child catches that fish, call out the lower case letter match. Ask her to match the lower case letter with the capital letter.

It's a good idea to use only half the alphabet at a time; for instance, A through I. Do J through K next time; you don’t want to overwhelm your child. Plus, if you only do half the alphabet, you’ve separated out the tricky b/d and p/q, which can be confusing for kids.

I adapted this game from the School of Fish Game at No Time for Flashcards.

Have fun fishing!

Dawn Little (aka Links to Literacy on Twitter) blogs at Teaching With Picture Books, providing educators with picture book lessons based on comprehension strategies and the Six Traits of Writing. She also blogs at The Literacy Toolbox, where she provides educators and parents with tips and tools to enhance the literacy lives of children. She is the founder and owner of Links to Literacy, a company dedicated to providing interactive literacy experiences for children and families.

Did you spot those cute little Dawn's-daughter's-toes in the bottom left of the photo? Cute little fisher-girl.