Audiobook: The Legend of EnderZilla

Minecraft Maniacs. The Legend of EnderZilla. Narrated by Joseph Farnsworth. Audible Audio Edition, 2014. Audiobook.

Above image from: https://www.amazon.com/Legend-EnderZilla-Minecraft-Featuring-SSundee/dp/B00O2SQBEU/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1500307545&sr=1-1

The computer game Minecraft is an international hit, and it’s spawned a mega retail industry around it. Fans can buy clothes, key chains, stuffed toys, office supplies, books, and countless other Minecraft- related and Minecraft-trademarked things. Players who put their gaming exploits on YouTube have become celebrities and authors. And books by third (fourth?) parties that center around the characters created by Minecraft YouTubers are an industry, too. It’s mind-blowing, but it’s real, and gamers love it all.

My son and I listened to an ebook written by Minecraft Maniacs called The Legend of EnderZilla. In it, two well-known characters created by Minecraft players, SSundee and Skydoesminecraft (“Sky”) head off to an island to find a treasure chest. There they meet the giant EnderZilla, from the Ender world, intent on following and destroying them. They craft weapons and eventually deter the monster long enough to escape.

The plot is quite thin, and there’s no character development, but the story is action-packed and moves along quickly. The narrator, Joe Farnsworth, is a clear speaker with no discernible regional accent, and does a good job emoting. These things, coupled with the fact that the characters and settings are well-known to fans of Minecraft, kept my seven year old quiet and completely rapt. This is no small feat, as he tends to talk through the things he reads, as well as his ideas… and everything else. It could be that the audio format, which keeps things going unless it is paused, discouraged conversation. It is short enough to invite conversation after the story is told, and we surely did that. He also asked for more audiobooks, which was interesting.

I tend to have a difficult time just listening to stories; I am very much a text-based, visual person, and the act of extended listening uses a part of my brain I (unfortunately) don’t normally use.  But the use of audio to tell stories is a great way to share a book communally, to provide a break for those listeners who have a difficult time reading, and to simply sit back and enjoy a good story. While I probably won’t seek out any more from this Minecraft Maniacs series for myself, I just might for my son on a long car ride… and maybe I’ll practice a bit more extended listening, which can’t be a bad thing.

 

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Ebook: Pink is for Blobfish

Keating, Jess. Pink is for Blobfish: Discovering the World’s Perfectly Pink Animals. Illustrated by David DeGrand. New York: Knopf, 2016. Ebook.

Above image from: https://www.amazon.com/Pink-Blobfish-Discovering-Perfectly-Animals/dp/0553512277

Pink is tough! in Pink is for Blobfish, Jess Keating takes a look at some of the world’s animals that are pink, from the adorable hippopotamus baby to the poisonous dragon millipede, offers interesting facts about them, and introduces readers to some important scientific concepts along the way.

Keating has chosen her pink animals well. Readers may find some cute, like the hippo, pygmy seahorse or red uakaris, and she explains each creature’s interesting and unique features, including some “gross” things, too. But Keating also includes predatory pink animals, too, like the pink tarantula and the orchid mantis. Others, like the starfish, have weird features; “Some might think [the starfish’s external stomach digestion process] is gross, but seasoned animal explorers know the truth: it’s seriously cool.”

Each animal has, in addition to several large colorful photographs and quick biography, a section where its scientific name, habitat, diet, size, and threats are included. The book contains a glossary of introduced terms, an appendix for more reading and career options for those interested, as well as a map to locate each of the creatures in the book. The format changes up for each section on the page, and it set off by graphics, colors, and fonts, making it easy to read. Pages are black with easily read contrasting color print.

The book also works particularly well as an ebook; while it doesn’t necessarily have any additional or interactive features included in the ecopy, its bold photographs and color bring each of the animals alive on the computer screen, and the structure and format of the book looks beautiful on screen.

Pink is for Blobfish is an excellent book for elementary-level children, but especially for sparking girls’ interest in science; it takes a color traditionally associated with girls (pink) and demonstrates how pink animals aren’t necessarily like some characteristics also traditionally associated with girls. As it states in the back of the book, “Pink is slimy, scaly, feathery, fanged, venomous, graceful, big, small, jumpy, sly, nocturnal, loud, strong, brainy…”

Diverse voices: Ke Ahiahi Mamua O Kalikimaka (‘Twas the Night before Christmas in Hawai’i)

MeneHune. Ke Ahiahi Mamua O Kalikimaka (‘Twas the Night before Christmas in Hawai’i). Illustrated by Barbara Ewald, based on the original poem by Clement C. Moore. Honolulu: Bess Press, 1994. Print.

Above image from https://www.amazon.com/Ke-Ahiahi-Mamua-Kalikimaka-Christmas/dp/1880188929

From Bess Press, the most well-known educational publisher in Hawai’i, comes Ke Ahiahi Mamua O Kalikimaka, a version of the well-known poem ‘Twas the Night before Christmas told from  Hawaiian perspective.

It begins with the Clement C. Moore poem, published in 1862, and then says “Now, Keiki… here is a happy Hapa-Hawaiian version”  which begins ” ‘Twas the night before Kalikimaka…” The home in this story is a traditional grass hale, and the scenes depicted are Hawaiian domestic scenes: “The keiki [children] were nestled all snug in koko beds [string hammock]”and “mama in her hainaka lei, and I in my papale cap had just settled down for a long island nap.” The book follows the structure and story of the poem, but makes substitutes or slight changes based on the Hawaiian perspective. It finishes with a “Mele Kalikimaka to all and to all aloha!”

This book is an interesting blend of western European storytelling with indigenous Hawaiian language and culture. The colorful illustrations feature a Hawaiian family in their home, celebrating a Christian holiday in somewhat similar ways many Americans might be familiar with. And it offers a fascinating look at the inside of a house that might be very different from ones many children might be familiar with– but a family that may also quite familiar.

The book offers an introduction to some basic Hawaiian vocabulary– those things that a child learns first: house, child, hat, mouse, quick, bed, candy, and so on. There is a note about Hawaiian pronunciation and translation at the beginning, as well as a glossary of introduced words, so that readers can go back and practice. The story begins and ends with the sheet music to “Mele Kalikimaka,” a popular Christmas tune by R. Alex Anderson.

This book is very readable– with, perhaps, the exception of the Hawaiian words, which are a fun challenge to parse out with help from the key at the bottom of each page.  The illustrations are a strength, because they tell so much about the family in the poem. Because the original work is familiar, the reader guided by the similarity when engaging with the text. The poem is divided carefully across the pages, with very few lines per page, and a lot of white space for clarity and ease for young eyes.

Highly recommended for a seasonal read-along in the lower elementary grades, and offers a good jumping off point for a unit on indigenous Hawaiian culture.

Games/apps: Code.org

Code.org. 2017, https://code.org/. Accessed July 16, 2017.

Above image taken by C. Cournoyer.

It’s hard not to notice the giant push in education toward coding and STEM in general. When I visited a retiring librarian at my son’s school and asked her for advice in becoming a school librarian, she said “Learn code. Go on to code.org. Have your son teach you.” So that’s what I did– my son Henry (age 7) showed me around Code.Org, his favorite educational website, he taught me some beginning code using some of its games, and he helped me write this review.

Henry (as dictated to me, mostly, with some editing and prompting): Code.org is a lot of fun for kids because coding makes up computer games… and kids love games, right? It’s easy to start because you can set up your own account, or you don’t have to– you can just start right up so you don’t have to remember your password. Then you can choose courses, but instead at school we like to do Hour of Code. We take our computer or library time and start a lesson and work on it as long as we have the time. There’s fun stuff like Minecraft, which is my favorite of course, and Moana, and you can make her canoe sail through the ocean with 3D graphics when you learn how to. It’s so cool.

Code.org has coursework for students of all ages and literacy skills (pre-reading and beyond, and anyone new to coding regardless of age) in the form of units with set objectives and activities, some of which are “unplugged” and some involve computer work. The site also has resources for teacher professional development– how to code as well as how to teach coding, and where to go for in-personal PD as well. The site is mostly easy to navigate once you figure out what exactly you’d like to do. Logging in is optional, but an excellent way to track your progress.

All lessons for students start out with a video where kids who code or adults who do it professionally explain what they do, how it works, and how kids have used that skill in their own game-playing. It’s a fantastic way to answer the ever-present why do we have to learn this question, and gives users concrete examples of a specific coding skill at work.

I usually skip over the vids, mom. They’re fine but kind of boring. I usually just want to start the activities.  So I like that they have Minecraft and Disney stuff. It makes it more fun. I get stuck sometimes on some steps. I have to be patient and I get irritated. But if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, and you have to try again. Once you figure out how to do the basic stuff, they give you options like creating a game, where you can choose sound effects and you have to do certain challenges, like create loops and come up with rules for the game. I love coming up with rules. Me and my friends at school laugh at the stuff we make our birds [the character that is programmed] do.

Each lesson in the sequence builds on the last. Students are told at the beginning what they’ll be learning, so there’s a clear learning objective, and a sense of what the end result might look like– good scaffolding techniques in terms of instructional design. Many lessons are branded with things familiar to kids, including Disney characters and, yes, Minecraft. Because Code.org has made it a fun game with graphics, sound, color, and a challenge to complete,  there’s an intrinsic motivation for students to figure out why things go wrong, and to correct them. Excellent hands-on problem solving at work.

I highly recommend spending some time working through Code.org. It presents a fun challenge to think concretely and sequentially to complete a task. And it’s important for librarians to understand and do a bit of this themselves, as increasingly library spaces are incorporating computer labs and makerspaces.

 

 

 

Challenged: The Adventures of Captain Underpants

Pilkey, Dav. The Adventures of Captain Underpants. New York: Scholastic, 1997. Print.

Above image from https://www.scholastic.com/kids/book/adventures-of-captain-underpants-the-by-dav-pilkey/

Dav Pilkey’s immensely popular Captain Underpants series has been a firm “favorite” on the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom’s Top Ten Most Challenged book lists for years. All 12 titles have been challenged or banned, some more vocally than others, but this review examines the book that started it all.

George and Harold are best friends at Jerome Horwitz Elementary School. Creative, spirited, and active, they create a comic series called Captain Underpants, and sell them at school. They also enjoy playing pranks on students and teachers, and have developed quite a reputation among the faculty at the school. Caught red-handed in a series of masterful pranks at a big school football game, “mean Mr. Krupp,” the principal, forces them to obey his every command or he will release the incriminating tapes to the football team, a victim of one of their pranks. Desperate, they send out for a 3-D Hypno Ring, and four-to-six-weeks later, they manage to hypnotize Mr. Krupp into thinking he is Captain Underpants, and switch the tape with another.  The Captain flies (falls) out the window looking for a crime to foil. He somehow manages to stop a bank robbery, but then finds himself kidnapped by jewel-stealing robots and in the lair of Dr. Diaper, who has a laser he intends to use to rule the world. The boys distract Dr. Diaper, destroy the robots and free Captain Underpants, who uses “wedgie power” (a pair of white briefs shot onto Dr. Diaper’s head) to escape. They bring Dr. Diaper to justice and throw water on the Captain to turn him back into Mr. Krupp. We learn at the end that, with the sound of a finger snap, Mr. Krupp turns back into Captain Underpants.

The Adventures of Captain Underpants is full of non-stop “action, thrills, laffs.” The two central characters, George and Harold, are pretty easily identified with if you’re a child– they’re energetic, bored, smart kids who feel like most of the adult world exists to crush their spirits. They do what they can to carve out their space in the midst of this injustice, and while they are troublemakers, they aren’t mean-spirited. Adults in the book are exaggerated symbols of grown-up oppression, and Mr. Krupp happens to be the meanest of them all. No doubt every child has felt the frustration of being a child in an adult’s world, and George and Harold tap into this, offering a silly, fun, fantastical way to work through some of that frustration.

Pilkey’s illustrations are wonderful comic-style drawings. His depictions of Mr. Krupp/ Captain Underpants (large, egg-shaped) and Dr. Diaper (extra short, balding, with a diaper) are quite funny. George and Harold are just cute little kids. Tthe illustrations are supportive of the text– and the text is written in extremely accessible (but not too simple) language, with lots of white space and usually no more than 12-15 lines per page.

The Captain Underpants series has been challenged or banned for a few reasons: partial nudity (partial– adults are in their underpants), offensive language (they refer to adults as “mean” and “old”), misbehavior (they play practical jokes, but no one gets hurt). There are misspellings (included is the boys’ latest installation of their Captain Underpants comic). There is an “extremely graphic violence” chapter in the middle of the book that asks readers to flip the pages to create an animation of George and Harold bonking robots on the head. (This chapter actually provides a wonderful reading break and hands-on interaction for young readers who need it– a brilliant idea!)

Did I mention it’s hilarious? Even if you don’t find potty humor funny, it’s hard to ignore Pilkey’s wickedly subversive writing– adults will find it hard not to chuckle knowingly at his silly portraits of adulthood. And kids of course love references to those things they’ve been taught were taboo. Adults stripped of their power (and hairpieces) and wearing their underwear, kids saving the day– what better way to attract those  elementary-level reluctant readers? What better way to attract boys, who are often turned off to reading at this age?

That said, it is definitely worth  nothing that there is no female presence in this first book. Will this turn off girls? (I don’t believe it will; I think the story is too much fun and the two boys too lovable.)

Perhaps Captain Underpants is so threatening to some adults because it IS challenging– gently, hilariously challenging the way adults and children interact, and giving children a voice within a seemingly unfair power structure. If it can get boys reading, and keep them reading, or if it sparks kids’ interest in comics, or writing and drawing them– or even if it  just gets them excited over a book, all this is just fine with me.