Monday, December 15, 2014

Welcome to my world

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Really, I don't think this needs much explanation.  Enjoy.

Don't you love the eyebrow action?

Monday, December 8, 2014

A quick pick

Sam & Dave dig a hole  by Mac Barnett , illustrated by Jon Klassen has been getting lots of good press and being a fan of Jon Klassen (see I want my hat back and This is not my hat) I was eager to read it.

And, now it has finally arrived in the Doucette Library.

 I can remember wanting to dig to China when I was very young and thought it was on the other side of the world, having no clue as what that entailed geographically speaking.  I could be there in no time – a mere morning of digging and I’d be there.   An early desire to see more of the world foreshadowed here, perhaps.

And this ties into the premise of this picture book.  Two boys and a dog, decide to dig a hole.  Which they do.  But when do they stop?  They are on a mission and won’t stop until they find something ‘spectacular’.

Sounds exciting, doesn't it?  I wonder how far they’ll have to dig?  I wonder what they’ll discover?

The reader’s anticipation is tapped into as we’re allowed to ‘see’ what the boys are almost about to uncover – but then don’t!  ARGH!  Don’t you just hate when that happens?  The wryness of the text with the deadpan expressions of the characters all play into the understated humour of the story.

However, the dog who must have extra super-dooper, spidey senses, does seem to know where the treasures are -- showing us the potential for success.  The boys who blithely go about their digging business are oblivious to the dog’s extrasensory perception.

So, down and down and down they go, missing several increasingly large-sized diamonds along the way, strategizing as they go (change directions, splitting up) and hoping that soon they’ll strike the mother lode.

Where will it all ends?

This isn't so clear cut as it may seem. The ambiguous ending leaves us guessing as to whether the boys have dug themselves back home or if they've fallen into an almost exact replica of home, some kind of alternative universe, maybe.

It’s easy to enjoy this gem, which is all the better for not having to dig even one spade’s worth of dirt.

Recommended for grades K to 3.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Art with a story

Migrant by Jose Manuel Mateo and Javier Martinez Pedro is an intriguing bilingual (English/Spanish) accordion-style folding book that looks to generate awareness about children who take huge risks in trying to enter the United States illegally, either alone or with their families.

In this story, short narratives from a child’s perspective accompany specific sections of the unfolding mural-like codex.  In the beginning life is good, with people in the village leading hard but fruitful, peaceful lives growing crops for a landowner.  But things change when some of the men leave to find work.  Eventually, the father of the boy telling the story also leaves the village, sending money back home occasionally.  But when the money stops coming and the mother finds it too difficult to survive in the village without work, she makes the decision to leave as well.

The main part of the story is the journey to reunite with the father. The family travels long distances and takes great risks jumping on trains, scaling walls, and evading police, capture and ‘disappearing’, all along way until they arrive outside Los Angeles.  Here they will find jobs cleaning houses and search for the father.

The art work is what predominates here.  Nine panels ‘unfold’ this story in black and white illustrations with exacting detail that fills up every panel.  For example, the village scene is packed with people, vegetation, animals, houses, mountains, a starry sky and a beaming sun.  We can see the watermelons, maize, and papayas being grown and harvested from the fields, while the bordering sea provides fish and fun.  It’s a bustling place.

In the artist’s note he tells us that he is following in the artistic tradition of the Mexican state of Guerrero and the work does have a folk art feel. However, I was also reminded of Peter Sis’s illustrations, as well, with tiny details conveying a multitude of life’s minutiae.  Our main character is discernible by the distinctive cap that he wears so the reader is able to keep track of him in each section (though I did have to hunt a couple of times).

The book is gorgeous, striking and provocative.  It conveys a child’s sense of home, fear, excitement, hopefulness and home-sickness.  The illustrations express the movement of people and the tension that such a situation naturally produces.  One review I read suggested looking at this book panel-by-panel and I would agree with this for the first reading.  But do open up the whole book, otherwise you’ll miss seeing the patterns of ‘lines’ that convey the sense of movement.  You have to spend time with this book.  It’s not a ‘quick read’.

Reviews are suggesting that young children are the target audience for Migrant but I would disagree.  The amount of detail, the black and white illustrations and the content of the story would be too much for the primary grades, in my opinion.  You could have young children track the protagonist throughout the story but then the point of the story would be misdirected.  If a child has been through a similar journey, then they would have some context for the story and this might work. The actual written story would be easily understood but I think the illustrations wouldn't hold young readers attention.

I’m recommending this book for older students, grades 9 and up, who would derive more from the whole book and would likely have the staying power required to work through and revisit the story. However, a co-worker thought that grades 5/6 could use it to model their own work on.

For extra interest, try pairing this with Tsunami  by Joydeb Chitrakar another accordion-style narrative about the 2004 tsunami that devastated vast areas of coastline in Southeast Asia.  I blogged about this one back in 2010.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Visual literacy: Power of a photo

Right off the bat, I have to fess up to loving the series Captured History and Captured World History.

I've blogged about one of the books, Migrant Mother by Don Nardo a while back, in fact.
And I'm immensely grateful that the publisher (Compass Point Books) has branched out into world history with their latest offerings.

These books focus on iconic photographs that have had an impact on the viewing public, changing and forming public opinion about social issues such as migrant workers during the American Depression era, about child workers in the early 1900s,  the cost of war, specifically the American civil war, the environment, and international politics to name but a few.

They are organized following  a basic format:  rudimentary background about the ‘moment’ to set up the image,  in-depth historical information about  the period, information about the photographer, his/her work and what was happening when he/she took the photograph and then, what lasting impact the image has had. Also included are timelines, glossary, reading lists, internet resources, bibliography, index, and a few critical thinking questions.

These real-life stories really get you into the picture you’re looking at, establishing context so that we can understand why the photo was and often still is important and what were the implications for social change.

So, have I convinced you that these series are worth checking out?

Another recent arrival in the Doucette Library is PhotosFramed: a fresh look at the world’s most memorable photographs by Ruth Thomson.

It does a similar job focusing on notable images (27 of them to be precise).  These are organized into groupings according to the intent of the photo.  Categorized as portraits, nature, art, and documentary,   each section displays several photographs that range over time.  For example, Portraiture includes an 1844 image of Louis Daguerre who produced the first permanent photograph, a 1949 of Pablo Picasso, Che Guevara in 1960, Afghan girl in 1985, and the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011.

Each photo is accompanied by a preceding page that contains information about the photograph, the photographer, two boxed commentaries that zoom in on very specific aspects of the image, and three questions to make the viewer think a little more deeply about this image.

For example, when viewing the famous National Geographic 1985 photo of a refugee Afghan girl we are asked to think about:
*How does the girl’s direct stare make you feel?*How might the effect of this photograph have differed if the photographer had taken a wider shot?*If you had to put this photograph into a category, with would you choose: portrait or documentary or both? Why?

I found this book fascinating because it did include so many images, many that I was unfamiliar with, so I could browse.  The point of memorable images is that they draw you in, make you wonder what the story is, and then revisits you time and again.

Take the 1986 photograph of the Serra Pelada gold mine taken by Sebastiao Salgado (pp.52&53) that document
 the enormity of the man-made mine, with carved-out hollows and terraces and long, rickety ladders leaning against its steep sides.  The packed crowd of miners, shifting their loads of earth, appears to move as one, in a continuous flow, like ants.It is an evocative image.

There is some overlap between the Capturing History series and Photos Framed which I found interesting and great for comparing the two.

Check out Tank Man: how a photograph defined China’s protest movement by Michael Burgan and p. 54 and 55 in Photos FramedTank Man  (the book) is full on – everything you need to know.  Photos Framed is much more cursory with just the basics for context.   The questions posed by each are interesting and, I think, complementary.  Photos Framed gives us three questions that make us analyze and deconstruct this specific image whereas Tank Man provides questions that take us beyond the image having us think about the implications, like the attitude of the protesters, understanding aspects of democracy, and the power of such an image.

I’m recommending both books for the middle grades (grades 5-9’ish) but I think students in high school would find these fascinating and very approachable.  Students working below reading level might feel less daunted but still come away with an increased understanding about significant moments in history and today’s world.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Poetry: Girl issues

Poisoned Apples: poems for you, My Pretty by Christine Heppermann.

Wow!  Loved it!

The title tells you right from the get go that this book has some tie to fairy tales and that we can expect some kind of edge. It’s while reading the poems that you realize that the fairy tales are often the ones we tell ourselves or those that society wants us to buy into that the author wants to wrap your head around.

The title lets you know that there will be bitter truths to bite into and maybe to be swallowed – or not.

It also suggests that this will not be a smooth trip into the woods to grandmother’s house but then when was it ever a smooth trip?  This slight volume also shows us that it’s not only in the woods that girls can lose their way (see the first poem, The Woods).

The issues here are all about being a young woman and the many conundrums, tribulations, and horrors that can be part of coming of age.  Whether girls are dealing with body image, eating disorders, roles, sexuality, school, relationships with friends and boyfriends, the poems tells us of the pain, humour, irony, and bravery that are also be part of these tales.

It’s about power; having it, not having it, losing it, getting it back, and embracing it.

It explores different perspectives of fairy tale characters.  Yes, fair maidens are here, Snow White, Rapunzel, Red Riding Hood.  And Beauty, she’s here too, though with such self- loathing that she recognizes only herself as the Beast. We also get see the unloved Ugly Sister after Cinderella is whisked away by the Prince. We get to know of the terrible pressure that ‘the’ Witch (aka, The Fairest) lives under as she frantically tries to keep pace doing away with all young, beautiful, upcoming challengers (beware Gretel, Bo Peep, Goldilocks in The Assassin).

Black and white photos are interspersed throughout and certainly add to the provocative tone of the poems.  Some are outright disturbing while others just make us think a little bit more deeply.  Check out Nature Lesson (p.76) with a striking image of water eroded canyon walls, all curves, edges and striated walls that reflects a natural process. The associated poem speaks to girls’ natural beauty that must be covered up so that boys will not be distracted and stray from the path to their peril. Here's a snippet:

                We say
                that if a hiker strays
                off the path, trips, and
                winds up crippled,
                is it really
                the canyon’s fault?        

 Poisoned Apples is deliciously clever and bitter and well worth biting into.

Highly recommended for high school.

Loved it! (Just saying.)

Monday, November 10, 2014

In Remembrance

There’s nothing like a story about an underdog to grab the hearts and imaginations of a reading public. 

Two of today’s recommendations are about dogs in World War I and how their companionship made the war a little more bearable, a little more human for the regiments and friends they accompanied.

Stubby the War Dog: the true story of World War I’s bravest dog by Ann Bausum is almost the ultimate “boy-and-his-dog” story.  It’s about a stray mutt  adopted by recruits training at the Yale University stadium.  Stubby eventually singles out one of these enlisted men for himself and the two become fast friends for life.  After basic training, Stubby (a Boston terrier cross) is smuggled across the Atlantic to Europe where he accompanies James Robert Conroy for the duration of World War I.  Becoming the mascot for Conroy’s regiment, he provides companionship for all and invaluable service running messages and warning soldiers of incoming shells.  Recommended for middles grades 5-8.

Rags, hero dog of WWI: a true story by Margot Theis Raven is recommended for younger kids, grades 1-4, and that tells a similar tale of the bond between an American soldier and a stray pup he finds in Paris.  Rags also perform acts of bravery and service to his regiment, just like Stubby.  But it’s his loyalty to Private James Donovan that remains steadfast until Donovan’s death and beyond that he best remembered for.  It’s a sad story but it’s the nature of war that is captured here so poignantly.

A Canadian story to know about is, Bunny, the Brave War Horse: based on a true story by Elizabeth MacLean.  Obviously not about a dog, this stalwart horse (named Bunny for his long ears) survived the war living through numerous attacks, appalling conditions of wet, cold, mud and starvation while still providing an element of companionship for the men he had to work with particularly Constable Thomas H. Dundas.  This is a story of hardship and endurance,  recommended for grades 2-5.

Lest we forget.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Birds of a feather or facsimiles thereof

Aviary Wonders Inc.

 Spring Catalog and Instruction Manual
Renewing the World’s Bird Supply Since 2031
By Kate Samworth

Imagine a near future that did not include our feathered friends.

What To Do?

For all us Do-It-Yourselfers, you’d turn to the Aviary Wonders Inc. Catalog and Instruction Manual and let your fingers to do the walking (oh, hang on that’s Yellow Pages and for those who don’t know what yellow pages are and wonder why your fingers would have to walk - just Google it, sigh…).

This catalogue offers only the highest quality bird assemblages from basic body types, feet, wings, tails and collars all made with the highest quality materials and precision.  Feather colours are vibrantly captured using 100% Indian silk. Functional , hand-crafted beaks come in many patterns that range far from reality.  Collars, crests and wattle and combs are resplendent and varied. Browsing through this catalogue is thrilling as one ponders the possible combinations and permutations.

But when it comes to selecting and putting your bird together it gets more involved – way more involved.  There's nothing slap-dash about it.

*1st, body type: Do you want a swimmer, wader, percher or bird of prey?
*2nd, beaks: What will your bird eat?  Insects? Meat? Plants? Fish? This is crucial!
*3rd, tails:  Used for braking, balancing, steering and display.
*4th, legs and feet:  Selected based on body type, habitat and lifestyle.
*5th, wings:  Depends on flight patterns and specific needs for maneuverability and quick get-a-ways.

There is so much to consider. All selections have vital consequences for the end result for your feathered friend.  Improbable portions could end in disaster. Therefore, do not put paddling feet on a bird of prey with finch wings and a rooster tail.

Then you have to actually put the dang thing together - challenging even the most apt IKEA furniture assembler, if you ask me.  By the time you begin putting parts together, you wonder if it’s really worth all the effort. Maybe we should just get down to saving the birds we still have on this earth and enjoy these perfectly constructed, adapted creatures that we often take for granted.

A very clever book that would work well with elementary and middle grades.  Great tie-ins with science, environmental education, activism and art.

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