Evaluating Kids’ Media (of all kinds)

If you could see my office and house these days you would immediately recognize that I IMG_0943have a deep interest, okay maybe a passion, for illustrated books. This year the picture books, graphic novels, biographies, and illustrated nonfiction, each with colorful sticky notes peeking out like antennae, are piling up in even greater numbers than usual. The tall stacks and long rows of large and small books may seem half-hazard, but the spreadsheet and notebook that go along with them tell a different tale.

This year my work reviewing and evaluating books has taken on a new significance. I’m honored to serve on ALSC’s 2018 Caldecott Award Committee and that means I not only have to believe a book is exceptional, but I have to be able to talk about why the book and, in particular, the illustrations are worthy of the prestigious award. Those sticky notes have purpose! Each book in my growing collection is methodically evaluated using a rubric of sorts that draws on award criteria, research, and my experience working with children and teens.

My work evaluating media doesn’t stop with the paper book. While my book shelves and almost every nook and cranny of my office and home are filling up with Caldecott submissions, I continue to reserve space, virtual and real, for the apps, movies, video games, and programmable robots that all play a role in the daily lives of my community’s kids. As a media mentor, finding high quality media, in all of these formats, is an essential part of my work supporting the information, literacy, and media needs of my community’s families.

Along with serving on the Caldecott Committee, I have been collaborating with KIDMAP (Kids’ Inclusive & Diverse Media Action Project) this winter on a new checklist for evaluating children’s digital media. KIDMAP is a coalition “of media creators, producers, researchers, educators, and parents (that) support the creation of diverse and inclusive children’s media through research, best practices, and collaboration.”

KIDMAP DIG Checklist Overview

KIDMAP DIG Checklist Overview

The KIDMAP Checklist is designed to help reviewers, educators, librarians, and caregivers find and create digital media that is high quality and relevant to families with a variety of experiences. And while being glitch-free, entertaining, and age-appropriate is important, high quality also means being inclusive and rich in diversity. As with paper books for kids, digital media should provide a mirror, window, and sliding glass door; allowing kids to see themselves reflected in the stories told and learn about worlds beyond their own.

The extensive checklist, made possible with the financial support of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, includes sections addressing digital media’s content, art, audio, audience, purpose, functionality/navigation, support materials, and creative teams. The checklist can be used as a rubric or guide in both selecting digital media and designing it. New media is, well, new, but many elements of high quality traditional media can be applied to digital content and formats. Traditional media’s slow progress to broaden diversity and be inclusive does not need to be replicated however.

As with any rubric or evaluation tool, a specific app may not meet every criterion on the KIDMAP checklist and that is ok. Some elements may not apply to every type of media or title. The checklist is meant to be as all-encompassing as possible so that families, educators, designers, and decisions makers can consider inclusion and diversity alongside other elements of high quality digital media.  Each question draws attention to an aspect of digital media that impacts both kids’ ability to access the content and how positive the learning experience will be once they delve into it.

The checklist will eventually be available as a download and we expect to update it. Please use the checklist as you evaluate, select, and create digital media for kids and feel free to send your comments and questions about the checklist to KIDMAP.

Note: As a librarian and media mentor, I am especially excited by the ALSC Board of Directors decision in 2016 to recognize high quality digital media for young children (Excellence for Early Learning Digital Media) and I look forward to seeing the product of their first year’s work!

The checklist was inspired by the work of many including Nova Scotia’s Bias Evaluation Instrument (Canada), Reading Diversity (from the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance), Joan Ganz Cooney Center’s The New Coviewing, Tap, Click, Read by Lisa Guernsey and Michael Levine, the Bias Screening Instrument for Interactive Media crafted by Warren Buckleitner (Children’s Technology Review) and Kevin Clark (Center for Digital Media, Innovation and Diversity), and Evaluating Apps and New Media for Young Children: A Rubric.

Thanks go out to Sandhya Nankani (Literary Safari), Amy Kraft (Monkey Bar Collective), J. Elizabeth Mills (University of Washington), Tamara Kaldor (TEC Center at Erikson Institute), Kevin Clark, Ph.D. (Center for Digital Media Innovation and Diversity, George Mason University), Chip Donohue, Ph.D. (TEC Center at Erikson Institute), Warren Buckleitner (Children’s Technology Review), Carissa Christner (Madison Public Library), and Daryl Grabarek (School Library Journal).

Review: Music Together’s Two Little Blackbirds & Hey, Diddle, Diddle

I recently received copies of a few new books created by the folks at Music Together. Known for their music classes for young children and their families, they have also been retelling traditional songs in picture book format, called Singalong Storybooks. Along with the books, Music Together includes recordings of the songs. Each book comes with a code for a free MP3 download or the songs can be listened to online here. What a great way to support the early literacy practices of reading and singing! Two of their latest books focus on songs familiar to many and the accompanying quality illustrations bring valuable context and meaning to the lyrics.

Two Little Blackbirds (Music Together, 2015)
Two Little Blackbirds is a simple and repetitive song from the 18th Century about a couple of birds, perfect for sharing with young children. In this retelling Jack and Jill are parents with young birds at home in the nest. Jack and Jill “fly away” to get food and “come back” to feed their babies. The text is easy to read and is nicely nested in the cheery illustrations that feel like collage, but are most likely digital. The images, many of which are double page spreads, offer both intimate views of the birds in the tree and a broader look at the surrounding landscape.

Two Little Blackbirds by Music Together (Photo Source: Amazon.com)

Two Little Blackbirds (by Music Together (Photo Source: Amazon.com)

The beauty of this book is found in the pages at the back which are as valuable as the actual story. At the back of the book, readers will find tips on how to share books, and in particular Two Little Blackbirds, with young children. These suggested activities extend the enjoyment and learning experience that the book offers and provide opportunities for families to explore the book in a variety of ways beyond reading the text or singing the lyrics. This addition to the book reminds me of the “10 Ways to Explore a Book” posters we’ve been making at our library.

Two Little Blackbirds Activity Pages (Photo Source: Amazon.com)

Two Little Blackbirds Activity Pages (Photo Source: Amazon.com)

The variations tip reminds me of the many additional verses to this song Dana and Lindsey, the Jbrarians, have recorded for librarians looking for storytime songs. Need suggestions for variations? Check out Jbrary’s YouTube recording.

Hey, Diddle, Diddle (Music Together, 2015)

Did you know that the fantastical song about a cow jumping over the moon first published in the Tales of Mother Goose (1765) is actually about a troupe of characters including a cow, a little dog, a dish and a spoon practicing for a play? So goes the Music Together retelling and it works, well in fact. The catchy song is made more memorable with colorful and humorous illustrations played out on mostly double-paged spreads. The text fits nicely into spaces purposely left in the images and is again easy to read in this book, demonstrating Music Together’s consistency.

Hey Diddle Diddle by Music Together (Photo Source: Amazon.com)

Hey Diddle Diddle by Music Together (Photo Source: Amazon.com)

Many of the activities at the back of this book are designed to get families moving and connecting with the story and song in a physical way, perfect for many preschoolers. Pretending to fiddle when the lyrics describe the cat fiddling, for example, is a simple way to engage young children. Along with the tips, each book includes the origins, or what is known of them, for each song which may be of interest to adults.

Verdict: These two new Singalong Storybook titles would be good additions to home and library collections for their high early literacy value.

An iPad for Anytime Use Now in the Library

2015/01/img_1662.jpg
Just last week, we finally made an iPad available for use in our modest-sized, but busy, children’s library! I’ve been using iPads in programs for almost two years now, but this is the first time we’ve had one for families to use anytime. The first week has seen regular play by kids, mostly in pairs or groups.  We’ll be adding another iPad to our Teen Space soon, but here are the ins and outs of managing our first mounted iPad.Friends Play With the Felt Board App

First of all, we chose the iPad, versus another device, for several reasons.

  • the App Store has by far the best selection of high quality apps at this point
  • the iPad screen is a great size for viewing toy and story apps as part of a pair or small group
  • the mounted iPad is one of several we received as part of a grant so apps can be shared with the other devices we use in programs
  • I am a savvy iPad user so installing an iPad was helpful because I am the primary manager of this device

We mounted the iPad horizontally on one of the few free walls in the space using a MacLocks Wall Mount. It is across the room from the desktop and AWE computers, and also on the other side of the children’s library from the space where families with young children most commonly sit and read together. It is, however, in clear site of the circulation desk through the windows that separate the children’s library. The iPad is actually nicely situated in amongst the stacks in a part of the space that needs a draw- the 900s, biographies, magazines and audiobooks- and the device may be another tool for broadening kids’ exploration. While kids may like these types of materials, the device is actually attracting them to a space they may not naturally gravitate towards when they visit the library.

One unexpected wrinkle we’ve been dealing with is charging the iPad. There is an outlet located right below the iPad, but it’s difficult to plug the charging cable into the device while the iPad is in the mount, which we were hoping to do. Since we don’t want to open the mount every night to charge the device, we decided to tuck the cord into the mount and leave the small square piece that goes in the outlet out of reach until it gets charged at night. We’re hoping that works.

Like other libraries we decided to offer one app at a time on the iPad. We don’t have the resources to switch out the app each day, but we are going to keep each app on the iPad for one week. The device is locked into the one app using Guided Access and prevents kids from accessing the settings or other content we want left alone. The one app method also has proven to help kids focus on the task at hand and self-regulate their digital media use. Once they are done exploring the app, they move on to another activity and allow other kids and families to have a turn. We don’t enforce time limits based on our experience with the AWE computers which targets a similar age group. Over time we found that AWE users rarely explored for more than 30 minutes and so we don’t feel the need to control their use.

Because this iPad is in our children’s library, we have chosen to focus on apps, both toy and story, that support early literacy among kids under 9. Will older kids test out the apps and even enjoy them? I have no doubt. In fact a group of 10-12 year olds giggled away as they told each other stories with the iPad this past week.Felt Board app and Older Kids

To select apps for the public iPad, in addition to apps I share in programs, I use the rubric I mentioned in an early post. The first app I added to the iPad was Software Smoothie’s Felt Board. It’s one of my favorites and it doesn’t use sound. While sound isn’t a deciding factor in what apps we’ll feature, we didn’t want to add much more background noise to the children’s library. It’s a non-shushing space, but after school the volume gets pretty loud with just a conversational level because of the number of people.

Every week I also add the App of the Week to my library’s Pinterest App of the Week board so family’s can find the apps we’ve previously recommended.

What’s up for next week? Toca Boca’s new Toca Kitchen 2, an updated version of Toca Kitchen. Here’s why:

Toca Kitchen 2 let’s kids play with pretend food and imaginary guests who respond to meals in silly, and sometimes surprising, ways. This is a toy, not a game with points, coins, or levels, and kids will delight in the freedom to create digital concoctions from the array of whole food items found in the kitchen’s fridge. Food can then be prepped, cooked, or juiced and fed to one of three culturally diverse guests (a woman, a man or a kitchen monster).
The mostly wordless app supports multi-touch and is easily enjoyed by friends or family members playing together. The app is free of 3rd party ads, links and in-app purchases.

Toca Kitchen 2 is currently only available on iOS. The special launch price is $.99. The app is great for ages 3-6, but older kids (and adults) may enjoy playing along also!

Social and Emotional Skills Are On My Mind, part 1

Like many librarians and educators, I spend a lot of time focused on early literacy. Whether its in storytime, when I’m selecting materials, or in conversation with parents and caregivers I’m thinking about how fun activities, stories and tools can strengthen early literacy skills. Underneath the literacy layer, though, is a deep interest I have in the social and emotional development of little ones. I’ve been looking at books and digital media through this lens. With this post, I’m starting a mini-series about some of the books, literacy tools and apps I like for their overall high quality and the way they address the emotional and social side of growing kids that are creative, flexible, curious, caring, and ready for the dynamic world we live in. The recent release of Toca Boo was well-timed, so I’ll start there.

Photo credit: tocaboca.com

Photo credit: tocaboca.com

Toca Boo
Toca Boca
iOS (5.0+)
$2.99
3-5 years

This new app by the developers at Toca Boca is an interesting one. I’m a huge fan of Toca Boca’s apps so I was ready for the smooth navigation, the open-ended, noncompetitive play, inclusion of facial expressions and representation of emotions, multi-touch capability that encourages joint media engagement and the minimal language that makes the app universal. This app has all of the elements that I look for in an app to share in a program or recommend. Toca Boca knows their audience well.

What’s different about Toca Boo is that it deals with the illusive fear emotion, underrepresented in the world of apps for young children. Just in time for Halloween, Toca Boo features a a small ghost named Bonnie who happens to be a young girl who dons a white sheet for the scare games she instigates in the low-lit house at bedtime.  Inspired by the classic hide and scare game and Tove Jansson’s Moomin world, the open-ended game lets kids play with feelings of fear, tension and the element of surprise in a nonthreatening, kid-friendly experience.

Bonnie is the mischievous star in a cast of colorful characters who’s theatrical reactions to Bonnie’s scares spark instant giggles. The identical twins, the braces-clad, phone obsessed teen, the blanket-toting toddler, the old man with stilt-like spindly legs and the disco dancing rotund old woman wander the house with Bonnie in pursuit. When Bonnie is near, a tap on the unsuspecting victim causes a scare. Many of the rooms, like the bathroom and bedrooms feature hiding places highlighted by a subtle blue light.  Dragging Bonnie to the hiding place lets her sneak up behind her next victim more easily making his/her reaction more hilarious. The app player can tap lights and sounds to startle the family members, adding to the not-so-spooky atmosphere.

Each family member reacts in a different comical way- the twins may bump into each other and see stars, the old woman’s hair might pops out of her tightly wrapped hairdo, the old man’s spindly, stilt-like legs sometimes wobble before he falls down. The teenager sometimes falls down and sometimes screams revealing a mouth full of braces just before his pants fall down. (Not to worry, a long shirt keeps things covered so nothing is exposed.)

To ease any anxiety, the developers have added a few special touches. They gave each character a light source which they can shine on Bonnie if the app player doesn’t hide her quickly enough. If she is spotted, the light bearer chuckles. They also provided some refreshments for Bonnie that customize her scare tactics and help lighten the mood. Bonnie farts to scare her victim after eating plums and breathes fire after eating peppers. The results are hilarious, helping to make this noncompetitive game easy to enjoy!

Over time the small number of rooms and characters may limit repeated play, but the developers may have plans for that. In the meantime, Toca Boo is a fun, not so scary app to explore together with young ones during the Halloween season.

Here are a couple more apps that help kids address fear and tension (and may be perfect for Halloween):
Go Away, Big Green Monster!
The Monster at the End of This Book…starring Grover!

What apps do you like for talking about fear and tension?

Dot: A Book Review by Claudia Haines

Today I’m over at Little eLit reviewing Randi Zuckerberg’s debut picture book, Dot, illustrated by Joe Berger. Let us know what you think of the book!

Little eLit

dotDot
by Randi Zuckerberg
illustrated by Joe Berger
32 pages
Harper Collins, 2013
ISBN: 978-0062287519
Hardcover, $17.99

Young Dot knows her electronic devices. She navigates tablets, desktops, laptops, and smartphones with ease. She’s not just tech-savvy, she is in fact obsessed with all things digital and spends her days researching, exploring, and communicating online. Eventually, Dot is seen on a double page spread laying on the floor with frazzled eyes. She’s had enough of her excessive digital media diet. Dot’s mom comes to the rescue and sends her outside to reconnect with her friends face to face and with outdoor play. The last page of the story reveals the balance of the virtual and real, with Dot using her phone to record her friends as they all enjoy the outdoors.

In creating Dot, her debut picture book, Randi Zuckerberg has done several things right. With the help of well-known illustrator…

View original post 224 more words