Post Tagged with: "boys"

“Spirit Animals,” a new multi-author book series with an online game

  • September 30, 2013 at 11:59 am
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Wild Born Book 1 Spirit Animals Books in series are popular with kids because, once they’ve found a book they love, they can keep reading as long as the author keeps writing.

Sometimes, of course, that’s not often enough. After all, there are only so many books a writer can produce in a year. Kids can read ’em faster than writers can write ’em.

That’s one reason why multi-author series are so popular.

39 Clues, of course, is one of the best and most popular multi-author series, with some big-name children’s authors including Gordan Korman and Rick Riordan.

Scholastic recently launched a new multi-author series called Spirit Animals. Book I is Wild Born, by best-selling author Brandon Mull.

The series is almost certain to be a hit with kids. It deliberately hits all the right buttons—an interesting fantasy world in which kids are the heroes, likeable, imperfect protagonists that kids can identify with, and… animals. Kids love books about animals, there is no doubt of that.

But these are not just any animals. In Wild Born, certain children can conjure up a “spirit animal,” with whom they then bond for life. That spirit animal gives the child powers—but only after the child has already proven himself capable.

Wild Born’s world is Erdas (which, naturally, is in peril and will require the kids and their spirit animals to save it.)Hunted Spirit Animals Book II Maggie Stiefvater

Erdas is similar enough to Earth that kids don’t have to mentally venture too far from home. Relatability is important for middle-grade readers, some of whom may get turned off something that is just too “out there.”

Erdas’s continents are given relatively recognizable names: Arctica, Eura, Amaya (“America”) and Zhong (“Asia”) – in real life, the Chinese word for China is Zhong Guo.

Brandon Mull scoped out the plot for the whole series, which the other writers will follow and embellish. The uber-popular children’s author Maggie Stiefvater (The Raven Boys) picks up the torch for book two in the series, Hunted, which comes out in January. There will be seven books in the series; the last one comes out in April 2015.

Another plus for a middle-grade book is a plot that clips right along and Wild Born has that in spades. The reader is introduced to each child in turn and his or her spirit animal; the children are quickly united in a massive, action-packed save-the-world adventure.

While there is a lot going on—with four main characters and four spirit animals, it’s a lot for the reader to keep track of—kids love that kind of mental juggling.

The animals, incidentally, are an eagle, a cheetah, a wolf and a panda (whose bonded child never quite appreciates it in Book I: “What skills would it bestow on a fighter? The ability to eat bamboo,” Meilin asks herself.).

The Spirit Animals series is known as a “multi-platform fantasy adventure series” because it includes an online game kids can access using a code in their book. Kids create an adventurer and conjure their own spirit animal. In fairly short order, enemies start attacking–I was bitten by a magic rattlesnake quite a few times before I could find a way to right-click him into oblivion–and the Greencloaks waste no time in ushering your character into Erdas.

It’s not necessary to go online to enjoy the books. It’s just an added bonus to help get—and keep—kids reading.

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“The Hypnotists” by Gordon Korman

The Hypnotists by Gordon KormanEver since he was a teenager and winning awards for his fabulous Macdonald Hall series, Canadian author Gordon Korman has been getting kids reading, and turning them into life-long readers.

Korman has a knack for creating likeable, memorable characters, interesting worlds and unique situations.

His new The Hypnotists is no exception.

Like a playful punch in the arm exchanged between pals, Korman’s books will be enjoyed particularly by boys.

They will be instantly drawn to young Jackson Opus who, we discover, is descended from two families, each with the powerful ability to hypnotize.

As Opus’s gift becomes known he is enrolled in a special school and, ultimately, used as a pawn to create city-wide mischief.

Opus must recognize who the bad guys are, and then come to understand that he is much more powerful than they are, if much less experienced at using his gift.

We love The Hypnotists because the answers to problems aren’t immediately obvious. Korman is a master story-teller and as such, leads us to conclusions rather than simply dropping us into them.

An English teacher once told me that the best books have characters you will remember long after you have closed the back cover.

Jackson Opus now takes his place among the many Korman characters who will always occupy a happy corner of my memory.

Gordon Korman

Gordon Korman

And The Hypnotists takes its place among the very best of middle-grade books.

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The Hypnotists is the first book in a series.
Visit Korman’s website for more information about his many novels.
The Macdonald Hall series on Getting Kids Reading.

 

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Two great new additions to popular YA series

The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict By Trenton Lee StewartI am so excited to see that two books I’ve been waiting for have recently been published.

I haven’t read either of them yet. But I’ve read all the other books in the two series and they’re terrific.

The first is blockbuster YA (young adult) author Rick Riordan’s latest. Serpent’s Shadow is tSerpent's Shadow by Rick Riordanhe third and final book in his Kane Chronicles, which is set in Egypt. Siblings Carter and Sadie Kane have to battle–well, a magic snake (hate it when that happens). The whole series is fast-paced and exciting and loaded with real-life facts that kids love, mostly about Ancient Eqypt. If you’re thinking that Riordan (rhymes with “fire-dun”) sounds familiar, it’s because he’s the one behind the huge and wonderful Percy Jackson series.

The second one is a prequel to the fantastic Benedict series. In The Mysterious Benedict Society series a band of extraordinarily gifted children, led by Mr. Benedict–himself extraordinary and gifted–save the world from an evil-doer who is trying to claim our thought waves. In author Trenton Lee Stewart’s new book, The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict, we meet the man himself as a young boy. I can’t wait! These books are quirky, fun and thoughtful… and a little teensy bit dark.

Here’s the trailer for the new Benedict book:

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Big on literacy… big on gross

Gross-abulary, bacteria cardGROSS-ABULARY is very up-front about what it is.

It’s a literacy game that’s gross.

And we all know that kids—okay, especially boys—love gross.

If your kid is “one of those,” then GROSS-ABULARY will be right up his alley.

It’s a game about building gross sentences, using starter concepts like belch, armpit and flu for inspiration.

You take a card with a caption like bacteria and your job is to build a sentence around the word before the three-minute timer runs out.

You’re given a pile of words and word endings (suffixes) to choose from. And your sentence can be as silly, serious, gross or normal as you’d like. The longer the sentence, the better, since you get a point for every word you use.

The winner of each round gets to answer a multiple-choice trivia question on the back of his card:

How many more bacteria are on an office desk than in a toilet, 20 times, 200 times or 400 times? A: 400 times—I think it’s time to clean your desk.

Gross.

If the player answers the question correctly, he wins that card; the player with the most cards wins the game.

My son and I were a bit worried that GROSS-ABULARY would be a bit too gross. But as you play it, you find that the sentences don’t have to be gross–unless you want them to be.GROSS-ABULARY

To add to the literacy angle, my son and I read each other’s sentences out after every round. That also added to the surprise factor, since I could shock my kid a bit with some very ridiculous sentences that unfolded for him as he read them out.

So if you’ve got a kid who loves gross more than reading, GROSS-ABULARY is definitely your game. He’ll be so caught up in the gross, he won’t even realize that he’s building his literacy skills.

GROSS-ABULARY (ages 6+, 2-10 players) sells for $24.99 and is available at Chapters/Indigo and Mastermind stores.

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Literacy opportunities are everywhere

Mandarin oranges signYou don’t always need books to help your kid read better.

When my son and I go for a walk, there’s always something weird, funny or unintelligible to read, correct or figure out.

Example. We went on vacation and on the buffet we saw this sign. (Click on the picture for a larger image.) I called my son over and showed it to him – I didn’t say anything. He said, “hey,  that should be Mandarin!” And together, we showed the buffet lady and we all laughed about it.*

It was a great opportunity to get a bit playful with words, while at the same time showing my son the way to approach typos (and the people who make ‘em) - while it can be helpful to point out someone’s typo,  it’s not cool to be judgmental or become some kind of self-appointed “grammar cop.”

Another time we were playing some miniature golf. As you go around the course, sometimes you have to wait for others to finish their hole. Rather than just wait, I would point to a sign and ask my son to rearrange the letters in the sign to form new words.

OK, it sounds nerdy, but it’s actually a pretty funny game because you wouldn’t believe some of the stuff kids come up with! There are no “rules” to the game – you can use all the letters, or just some of the letters – you can even add some letters if you see a phrase you’d like to create.Mini golf sign

The idea is just to take signs that you otherwise might not pay any attention to, and create new meaning from them

The next time you’re out with your kid, even if it’s just walking to school, take a look around you at all the reading possibilities. Every little bit helps.

*If you have a kid like mine, you’ll know immediately why a sign that says “mandrain” is hilarious. Even the buffet lady thought that one was funny – and then she immediately removed the sign.

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Test your Potter fan with these clues

Harry Potter, magical quills; image: www.pottermore.comWe’ve all been missing Harry and the Gang, of course, which is why we were so excited to see the new website, Pottermore.

Getting Kids Reading has qualified to be an early, beta-tester of the new Harry Potter site.
That means we’ll be able to bring you an insider’s view of all of the magical outpourings of J. K. Rowling’s imagination, a month or so before the site is open to everyone in October.

(There are one million other beta-testers, incidentally, so we’re not exactly letting our special status go to our heads.)

They chose the beta-testers through a special contest. For one week, pottermore.com asked a question a day to elicit a clue which we then used to “find” a magical quill.

Test your little Potter fan and see how many he or she would have gotten correct!
Here are the clues they asked:

Day 1 Clue
How many breeds of owl are featured on the Eeylops Owl Emporium sign? Answer: 5

Day 2 Clue
What is the number of the chapter in which Professor McGonagall cancels the Quidditch match between Gryffindor and Hufflepuff? Answer: 14

Day 3 Clue
In the Gryffindor versus Slytherin Quidditch match, in Harry’s third year, how many points is Gryffindor leading by before Harry catches the golden snitch? Answer: 60

Day 4 Clue
How many students take part in the Triwizard Tournament during Harry’s fourth year? Answer: 4

Day 5 Clue
What is the house number of the Headquarters for the Order of the Phoenix in Grimmauld Place? Answer: 12

Day 6 Clue
How many chapters are there in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince? 
 Answer: 30

Day 7 Clue
How many deathly hallows are there? Answer: 3

The image of the magical quills came from the “Pottermore Insider’s Blog,” which magically disappeared after I clicked on it. OK, maybe I’m not so much “magical” as I am “technically incompetent” – but my point is, I’d love to know who the artist is. These are beautiful. And, clearly, magical.

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The news, in kid-friendly language

TitanicKids love reading about what’s happening in their world.

But so often, the newspaper is full of inappropriate and difficult articles.

Teaching Kids News (TKN) is a sister website to Getting Kids Reading. We offer kid-friendly news articles, taken from the headlines of real newspapers.

One of the great things about TKN is that kids can read the articles themselves and parents don’t have to worry that they’ll be exposed to scary stories or inappropriate language. However, TKN doesn’t shy away from the hard news. We covered the Japan earthquake, the ousters in the Middle East and hockey violence. Of course, we’ve also presented stories on undiscovered tribes, Justin Bieber and Harry Potter.

TKN uses kid-friendly language and a ton of context to explain ideas that adults tend to know automatically, but which would be new to most kids.

Thousands of teachers and home-schoolers use TKN every day because each article includes “curriculum connections” to create an instant lesson plan.

During the school year TKN offers daily news articles; in the summer we present weekly articles and there are more than 150 great articles in our archives.

This week’s article is about some new 3-D photos of the Titanic. Very cool.

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Bubbles are fragile things

bubble-pin; image at http://techcrunch.com/2011/03/01/angel-turned-vc-mike-maples-yes-theres-a-bubble/I resolve not to burst my kid’s bubble.

I’ve been noticing lately that kids are subjected to a lot of scolding.

The problem with scolding is that it can so easily be the cold bucket of water that douses the flames of creativity.

Here’s what I mean.

Kid: “Hey mom, flies spit stuff on their food that makes it dissolve!”
(This kid is excited, he’s sparkling, he’s on fire, beautiful bubbles are rising from his brain.)

Mom: “Wow, that’s cool!”
(The mom is kind of grossed out, but wants to share her kid’s excitement.)

She continues:
Mom: “Where did you learn that?

Kid: “This really cool comic book called Zombies And Things That Kill. It’s so cool—”

Mom: “Where did you get that comic book? You know you’re not allowed to have comics with violence in them!”

Pop!

The mom just wants to be a good mom. She wants to uphold the rules she’s laid down for her family. She doesn’t mean to burst anyone’s bubble. But there it is.

The kid’s excitement is gone. Now he’s a “bad kid” because he broke a rule. Now, instead of going back to reading—or reading something else—reading has pretty much been ruined for him today. Hopefully only for today.

And the moment he was about to share with his mom, that fragile beautiful thing, has been ruined as well.

I scold, of course I do. We all scold from time to time. But from now on before I scold, or even get the urge to scold, I’m going to look for the bubble and make sure I’m not the one to burst it before it can even be enjoyed.

By the way, this bubble isn’t the “reading bubble.” That’s another beautiful bubble that we don’t want to shred. Apparently I’m a bit light on new metaphors. Read about the reading bubble here.

And while you’re at it, check out this thoughtful blog post on a similar subject, over at Storytiming.

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uKloo: the perfect literacy game for early readers

uKloo - fun literacy game for early readersThis could be the perfect literacy game.

So simple and so brilliant.

It has all the elements you could want in a game that encourages reading: it’s fun, it offers an immediate reward for reading, it’s easy for parents to quickly learn and set up and it has lots of “reading helpers” to make sure kids are successful.

uKloo will get your kids reading. It’s as simple as that.

uKloo (“you-clue”) is essentially a treasure-hunt game. You may even have done this yourself with your kids (I’ve recommended the idea – #6) but there’s no work for you to do, other than hiding the clues.

How to play

You hide cards around the house. The child picks the first card and reads, for instance, “look in your mom’s sock drawer.” When he gets there, he’ll find another card: “Look under the mat beside the bathtub.” Under the mat will be another card… and so on, until he gets to the “reward” card.

There are lots of wonderful things about UKLOO:

The “reward” is left up to you. If you believe in offering treats you can make the reward a Hershey’s kiss or some other candy. If your kid loves Lego, maybe he’ll find a Lego character at the end of his journey. Or a book. Or a loonie. Or a card that says, “good for one trip to gramma’s.” You can use whatever you feel will motivate your child, and whatever fits with your family’s values.

Children are set up for success. The game comes with a poster (which you stick up on the fridge or a nearby wall) that helps the child work through the words on the cards. Nouns, verbs and prepositions are listed with a picture to show the child, for instance, what “under” and “behind” mean. If the child can’t figure out a word, he can check the poster for help.

The game has three levels, depending on your child’s reading level. For instance:
Level 1: Look in your shoe.
Level 2: Check in the bathtub.
Level 3: Search behind the pillow on the couch.

As your child becomes a better reader, the game grows with him. Or, siblings can play alongside each other, using different levels.

uKloo was invented by Doreen Dotto, who was having trouble getting her kid to read. That was when he was in grade two. Today, the kid is an English major in university. Just sayin’.

uKloo sells in independent toy stores for $14.99 or on the company’s imperfect website, here. Now, Doreen, how about creating a version for older kids who are reading but still love to play fun reading games and find rewards in their shoes?

Here’s a video (1:18) of the game in action. (Spoiler alert: the kid finds the reward card.)

 

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langman: great Internet game that encourages wordpower

Langman

Here at GKR we’re always looking for cool literacy games.

Cool + literacy? Not the easiest combo.

Nevertheless, we’ve found you one. This game is retro, so you know it’s cool. (For future reference: if it looks like something we would have played in the 70s, it’s cool. Just so ya know.)

langman is hangman plus… well, something starting with an l. Basically it’s hangman with a platform gaming element.

(Update: Here’s a link to langman.)

Instead of just typing in the letters you want to guess like regular online hangman, you steer a little guy over to the letter using your keypad. If you guess wrong, the letter drops into space and tries to take you with it. As you proceed in the game, it becomes more difficult to reach the letters you want. There’s a lot of hopping and running and leaping. (Maybe the l is for leaping?)

The little man ends up in all sorts of difficulties, like having a big block fall on the letter he wants to select and having to figure out how to move the thing. If you guess wrong too many times you could be left with vast craters which become unjumpable (which is what the R-reset button is for.)

langman was created by Ehren von Lehe , who was nice enough to send us these great screen shots. He wants you to know that you can also customize the words the game uses, adding in some of your own. I think you hit “E” to get into the level editor to do that – but frankly that would require someone more technologically oriented than me… like, say, your kid? (I tried to add Harry Potter and Dr. Seuss but then I got confused and then scared and then I bailed before I saved it properly. I’m sure your kid will do a lot better than me.) * See Update, below.

langman - customize the vocabulary

If you want, you (or your kid) can customize the vocabulary langman uses.

In order to play the game you have to download Unity, which is similar to Flash. At first I balked, but I think Unity is becoming quite popular (von Lehe points out that some big online games like Lego and Star Wars use it). Plus, my Norton program told me it was safe and I always listen to Mr. Norton.

As a literacy tool, it’s not bad. The real draw is that it’s fun and cool enough to keep kids engaged so if they want to play on the computer but you’d like them to do something that challenges their brain, langman may just be that happy medium you’re both looking for.

Thanks to Bart Bonte for pointing us towards langman.

*Update from Ehren von Lehe
To customize the vocabulary:
1. From the main menu, press E.
2. Delete all the text in the “Levels” text box. (This will cause it to just use the default levels.)
3. Enter your custom words and phrases in the Vocabulary text box.
4. Press the “New Game” button.

Viola! You’re now playing the game with your custom vocabulary.
If you want to change something, just press E to get back to the editor.

Thanks, Ehren!

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