Archive for July, 2011

Children’s Book Illustrators in an Unexpected Place

Friday, July 29th, 2011

The best illustrators of children’s books are so talented that their work cannot be contained upon picture book pages alone.

Elizabeth Bird, children’s librarian at the Children’s Center at 42nd Street of the New York Public Library system, recently went through her and her husband’s collection of New Yorker covers.  She found many illustrated by renowned Parents’ Choice Award winning illustrators.  We’ve shared a few below, but for the full list visit her blog!

Ian Falconer

Maurice Sendak

William Steig

Singing–and Learning–in the Rain

Thursday, July 28th, 2011

Across most of the US, it’s hot out. Record-breaking hot. It’s the lead story on the news and it’s not the first time that weather, good or bad, has been the main topic of conversation. TV Weather Forecasters are the new stars with entire channels dedicated specifically to climate conditions, downloadable weather aps for computers and phones, simulated games and programs so that anyone can be a weather expert. It wasn’t always that way. For a long time, weathermen were color commentators, jokesters or simply filler for the local news–How do you think David Letterman got his start? Granted, most folks just wanted to know whether to bring an umbrella to work, so the idea of a channel with endless loops of the national weather map was akin to watching paint dry. Blame climate change or summer reruns, but weather is hot!

The Weather Channel (TWC) really changed things around, offering not only forecasts, but numerous weather related shows. Then others followed suit. Some, such as Storm Chasers, Full Force Nature and When Vacations Attack focus less on the science and more on the salacious, but whether you have a budding naturalist or even just a kid waiting for the next snow day, there’s lots of great stuff out there to nurture what can be some great learning opportunities.

Want to know how to build shelter in a blizzard? Discovery Channel’s Man vs. Wild has lots of tips for all kinds of situations. When Weather Changed History from TWC takes a close look at how climate conditions have impacted important moments in time, from the Titanic to the Chicago Heat Wave of 1995. Similarly, Laura Lee’s book Blame it on the Rain: How Weather has Changed History, is a great link between major world events and weather. Through Lee’s book, parents can get kids thinking about weather in ways they hadn’t imagined: Did warm weather speed up the bubonic plague epidemic? Does crime really go up in hotter weather? What does the red sky imply in Edward Munch’s The Scream?

Local TV stations usually offer programs for kids to serve as local weather trackers and include viewer reports and pictures on their news and web sites. Scores of projects, such as tornadoes in a jar and erupting volcanoes are easily found on the internet and have been a staple of science fairs for years, but as our climate changes, you can now find projects on melting ice caps, tsunamis, earthquakes and dust storms. At home, kids can also think about weather in practical terms by working on emergency kits and storm preparedness. And if they just want to have fun and games, the weather is good for that too—and not just on rainy days. Writer Rachelle Oblack has compiled a great list of weather related games, simulators and puzzles online.

Teaching Imagination

Monday, July 25th, 2011

Imagination SummitLast week, New York City’s Lincoln Center Institute held America’s Imagination Summit. The Summit attracted an incredible group of art, education, media, academic, and business leaders as speakers and panelists.  Scott Noppe-Brandon, director of the institute, spoke to PBS about what he hoped to accomplish by holding the event.  Noppe-Brandon defines imagination as “the capacity or ability to think of things as if they could be otherwise, to ask the ‘what if’ questions.” He calls creativity “imagination in action”. By having professionals in a wide spectrum of careers discuss how they use imagination to problem solve and lead, the Summit made a case for “why imagination and creativity in relationship to standards and accountability is an important statement for education in the United States today”.

Watch the full episode. See more PBS NewsHour.

Parents can teach imagination at home, too.  We strive to find toys, activities, and media that help do just that.  Here’s a list to get you started.  What would you add?  Use your imagination!

Imagination Generation, Audio CD

More than pure silliness, the album cover encourages listeners to use their imagination as a “toy and tool” that can “craft creative solutions to complex problems”. Song after song, the listener is transported to another place where they are free to be anything they imagine. Highlights include “The Wicky Wacky Song” and “A Pink Polk-a-Dotted Tiger”, both of which will spark far-flung associations within a child’s thought processes. Imagining a “sparkle berry flavored sky” and a “toothless, timid alligator” isn’t just a funny exercise – it’s a practice that will help kids create their own creatures and stories with ease.

Hand Tattoos, Toy

For all adults whose reprimand refrains include “don’t talk with your hands” we say, please reconsider. These irresistible temporary hand tattoos of farm animals, robots, monsters, and more, bring storytelling to life as characters emerge, elaborate plotlines develop, and the joy of imaginative play unfolds.

Super Scribblenauts, Video Game

With all of the different possible objects, you can keep going back and solving levels in different ways. For instance, one puzzle is to help a man jump safely off a cliff. You can give him a parachute or hang glider to have him safely jump, but you can also give him a giant balloon, or line the bottom of the cliff with a lake, or a mattress, or a sofa, or a polka-dot pillow.

All the Backyard’s a Stage, Activity

Though all the world’s a stage, the perfect place for kids to debut their dramatic talents may be in your own backyard. With a favorite book in hand, a couple of bed sheets and some clothespins, and a lot of imagination, Broadway is just a step or two off the porch.

Time Shift Your TV: Wonders of the Universe

Monday, July 25th, 2011
Brian Cox

Brian Cox, host of Wonders of the Universe

Hot summer nights are upon us, making it easy to stay outside until well after dark to enjoy the balmy air. Next time you’re out late, take a look up at the starry sky. Then come inside and watch the new Science channel series, Wonders of the Universe. Stars will take on new meaning for you.

Rock star-turned-physicist professor Brian Cox is the host of the four-part series kicking off on Wednesday, July 27, at 9 p.m. With wonder and curiosity, Cox, a former keyboard player in the UK pop band D:Ream, explores the beginning of our universe in the series, which expands on 2010’s Peabody Award-winning Wonders of the Solar System.

Cox is intrigued by chemistry, by the cosmos and the roles stars play in both. In the first episode, titled Children of the Stars, Cox looks into the Big Bang Theory. He makes a case for a star’s death bringing about our life as he asks, Where do we come from? What are we made of? He notes that every religion and faith has a creation story, and he presents his, based on stars and the fact that the same 92 elements we have on Earth are found throughout the cosmos. In episode two, Cox tackles the nature of time.  In three, he looks at gravity’s role in the cosmos. And in episode four, he shows how light holds the key to our understanding of the universe.

Wonders of the Universe

One of the most appealing parts of the show is that Cox travels to distant lands to make his points, providing interesting backdrops to accompany footage of fiery stars. Episode one may prompt a discussion in your house of the story of creation. Or it may prompt a discussion of Supernovas, as it did in our house. Either way, the show is thought-provoking and worth checking out.

Happy Trails to Harry

Thursday, July 14th, 2011

Unless you live under a rock, then you have probably heard that the last Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, debuts this week. Though this marks the end of the series, it will probably not end the love affair many have with Rowling’s wizard universe. Mass marketing of the Potter-sphere probably turned off the few who never got into JK Rowling’s elaborately conceived world, which is understandable, but still a shame. They who refused to read the books may have thought it was all kids stuff. Silly Muggles, these books are for everyone. I was late to join Harry’s world, jumping in at about The Order of the Phoenix. The movies looked too scary at the time for my young daughter, especially since I was unfamiliar with the plot. Then, during one extremely long night in the hospital with my son, I was bored and found a copy of the first book to read. It was cute and a fast read. I decided to try the second, then the next, and suddenly I was one of those people anxiously awaiting the next book. I started reading them to the kids, and when my daughter was old enough, she read the series—all told at least five times. The release of the last book a few summers ago is etched forever in my memory. The main street of our town was turned into Diagon Alley, the train station, Platform 9 ¾. It seemed like the entire population was there, old and young, celebrating a book. How cool is that?  These stories have depth and meaning beyond the boy wizard plot and JK Rowling has shown remarkable continuity throughout. The story captured our imagination. It brought disparate groups together with a common interest. It turned non-readers into book lovers.  The movies did a tremendous job casting the perfect actors to embody these beloved characters as well as convey (as much as possible) complicated storylines. I’ve got my midnight showing ticket in hand. It was a great ride and I am sad to see it come to an end.

Thanks, Harry, for everything.