Archive for May, 2013

Reading Illustrations: Sir Quentin Blake’s Case for Picture Books

Thursday, May 30th, 2013

Children need illustrations to read, said Sir Quentin Blake, illustrator of many Roald Dahl classics and the lovely Sad Book by Michael Rosen. Illustrations welcome young ones to reading, and they encourage children to develop an emotional connection to books. “There is a sort of intimacy about drawings. If you are small, you feel that they’re addressing you; it’s like a conversation,” he explains. Allowing children to explore picture books at their own pace, rather than encouraging them to switch to chapter books at too young an age, prevents them from being intimidated by reading. Blake, for example, tried to read Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist before he was ready for it. For ten years afterward he avoided Dickens, wary of the author who he would later learn to enjoy.

Picture books have a bright future, thanks to the host of talents creating everything from wordless books about the Underground Railroad to giddy celebrations of jazz music. The best picture books establish a future generation of readers, and they have as much to teach adults as they do children.

See also:

The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art

Picture Book Read Alouds

How Picture Books Work 

Tips for Teaching Kids to Enjoy Reading

Party on..Safely

Thursday, May 30th, 2013

As graduation season approaches, plans for the ultimate celebrations are underway. But in front of many high schools are the glaring reminders of taking graduation celebrations too far—the twisted metal is all that remains of cars and lives ruined from drinking and driving.

Graduation parties aren’t just for teens anymore. Kindergartens, elementary and middle schools now have graduation ceremonies. How do you celebrate the milestones in life without having to outdo yourself each year for the next party? How do you keep celebrations fun and safe?

For my daughter’s 8th grade end of year celebration, the school sponsored a white water rafting trip. They had group pictures, a picnic, and lots of fresh air and came home satisfied that they thoroughly–and memorably–marked this transition.

Our local high school has an annual All-Night Grad Party at the rec center. Sponsored by parents and area businesses, kids stay all night in a drug and alcohol-free environment and enjoy a mock casino, karaoke, air-brush tattoos, green-screen photos, prizes and raffles, and a Velcro wall. It’s a safe and fun way to mark one of life’s big moments.

Does your community have alternative grad parties?  Group field trips, over-night lock-ins for rock climbing, paint ball, bowling, laser tag and even museums are available for such events all around the country. Why not make graduation memorable in a safe and fun way so that it doesn’t become a sad memorial?

Time Shift Your TV – Cicadas

Friday, May 24th, 2013


They emerge from the ground every 17 years. And this summer is their year.

Billions of Brood II cicadas will swarm the mid-Atlantic, from North Carolina to Pennsylvania.

Curious to know more about the creepy creatures?

The Science Channel is airing Cicadas and Invaders 2013 on Sunday, May 26 at 9 p.m. ET/PT. Since you might be out and about enjoying the Memorial Day weekend, this is definitely a good one to DVR for later. Watch it when you’re ready to cringe!

Experts including University of Maryland entomologist Michael Raupp will examine the bugs and the phenomenon, explaining how long they’ll be flying around us, their life cycle, natural predators and more.

You’ll no doubt get answers to a lot of questions your kids may peppering you with about the insects, and information is always a good way to alleviate fears. Your kids will learn there’s no reason to cringe.

The show will also delve into other “invaders” such as ants, bats, mice and jellyfish.  In the meantime, check out the Cicada Cam set up by the Science Channel. You can watch the bugs all day long.

Make a Splash

Thursday, May 23rd, 2013

Memorial Day traditionally coincides with the opening of local outdoor pools. A holiday to remember those who have died serving in the armed forces, it is a particularly poignant time in our neighborhood, because our local pool is named after several children who drowned there.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 10 people drown every day in the US. The majority of the victims are children, and even more are minorities. It’s hard to believe that with so many educational advances, we are still behind in teaching all of our kids to swim.

Learning to swim isn’t a luxury. It is a life-saving skill. Studies show that if a parent doesn’t swim, then their children are very unlikely to learn as well. Yet, basic swim lessons reduce the risk of drowning by a whopping 88 percent.  We’re not talking about expensive, time-consuming lessons for Olympic-like racing times.  Just learning to float properly can save a life. Dog-paddling may get you out of a pool quickly, but it will also quickly exhaust a swimmer and isn’t an effective way to stay above water.

How many people in your family know how to swim? How does swimming as a skill rank in your family? Do you have a fear of water that you may have inadvertently passed onto your kids? Do you have access to adequate aquatic facilities? Check out USA Swimming’s guidelines for learning to swim as well as tips on drowning prevention.

Time Shift Your TV – Inside Out: The People’s Art Project

Monday, May 20th, 2013
Times Square

Artist JR’s work in Times Square

French street artist JR (that’s all he goes by), 30, believes he owns the biggest art gallery in the world – that’s because he believes the world is his gallery.

Calling himself a “photograffeur,” JR likes to flypost (place posters of images) on streets and buildings. Sounds like graffiti, doesn’t it? In fact, JR started out creating graffiti as a teen on rooftops and subway trains in Paris. Then he found a camera and began to take photos and pasting the photos up around the city.

His artwork evolved into billboard-sized photo portraits of everyday people, and it focuses on pieces with a message. In 2008, he initiated a project called Women Are Heroes, highlighting women who are often targets during war.

Now HBO has filmed a documentary of his Inside Out Project and its call to action: “Tell me what you stand for, and together we’ll turn the world inside out.”

The documentary, Inside Out: The People’s Art Project, airing Monday, May 20 at 9 p.m. on HBO, takes a look at how JR’s project is empowering people in perilous and politically unstable environments to create photographic messages. No logos or hate messages are allowed. People send their photos to JR and he prints giant versions of the shots for free and sends them back.

“It’s up to them to paste it up in a place with meaning,” he says, hoping they’ll be motivated to use the photos to define their most important causes. So far more than 130,000 people have sent photos to Inside Out, resulting in photos going out to more than 100 countries. Locations in the documentary include Haiti, Tunisia, North Dakota and the West Bank.

His recent Times Square Project has put dozens of face into a space that is bombarded with advertising. His faces are the only thing not trying to sell a product, he says on his Facebook page.

In 2011, JR won a TED prize of $100,000, given annually to someone with a creative and bold vision, to help advance his work. Although he spoke at the annual TED conference, we may never know who JR is exactly. He likes to stay anonymous, never using his full name and always wearing a fedora and sunglasses in public.

JR isn’t conventional. He has likely broken a few rules in his day. He’s creative and bold. And he believes that art can bring about change.

These ideas – art, change and big-thinking – are worth exploring and might also be worth discussing at your next dinner table conversation.