Thursday, June 30, 2011

Summertime Reading Update #1

I’ve been busy reading since the education students finished in April. I must fess up that I’ve been indulging in a good many adult mysteries and a few nonfiction titles. Meaning that I haven’t read as many children’s novels as I’d want by now. Of course, I’ve already blogged about lots of those books that have captured my attention in some way. The following are a few of the other highlights that I’ve come across the last couple of months:

*Picture books - Fiction

Beach tail / Karen Lynn Williams
A lovely summer story of a boy and his dad and a day exploring at the beach. Suggested for grades K-2.
Benno and the night of broken glass / Meg Wiviott
Definitely for older kids (grades 4/5 and up), this book is about Kristallnacht, the November night Hitler’s Brown Shirts began terrorizing German Jews in earnest. It’s told from the perspective of a cat that enjoys living in a neighbourhood filled with kind people, Christian and Jews, and the changes he notices as the Nazis come to power.

Bridget’s beret / Tom Lichtenheld
A look at what is the impetus for creativity. A little girl is convinced that she is longer able to create art because her beret (the same kind of beret worn by all great artists) has gone missing. Suggested for grades K-3.
Chicken big / Keith Graves
A very funny story about size. A giant egg hatches a giant chicken who is mistaken by the other smaller (and rather feather-brained) chickens for an elephant, then a squirrel, an umbrella and a sweater. A cute play on the silly chicken from Chicken Little. Suggested for preschool to grade 3.

Flora’s very windy day / Jeanne Birdsall
Even though Flora finds her younger brother most annoying, she’s not about to let the wind take him away and goes to great lengths to bring him home. Suggested for preschool to grade 2.

Trudy / Henry Cole
Trudy is a goat, a thoughtfully chosen pet that seems to have the ability to forecast the weather, catching the attention of townsfolk and media. But Trudy has her own reasons for not always coming out of her shed. Very warm, family-oriented story. Suggested for grades K-3.

Wanted: the perfect pet / Fiona Roberton 
Another pet story, with Henry longing for a dog and a duck desperate to be adopted by Henry and going to great lengths to achieve his desire. Humorous story that ends happily for Henry and Spot (the duck). For preschool to grade 2.

*Picture books - Nonfiction

Guyku: a year of haiku for boys / Bob Raczka
Relly enjoyed this one. A series of very short poems that capture the experiences of boyhood through the seasons. Suggested for grades K-3.

In the belly of an ox: the unexpected photographic adventures of Richard and Cherry Kearton / Rebecca Bond
For elementary grades, a biography of two English brothers in the early days of photography, who devise ways to unobtrusively photograph the natural world. They built various blinds, including a fake ox, to photograph birds.

Not too many novels here. This is where reading too many adult mysteries got in the way. I’m currently reading Riot by Walter Dean Myers and What was lost by Catherine O’Flynn.

Amulet #2: The stonekeepers curse / Kazu Kibuishi
Continues right where the first one leaves off with the bad guys after Emily and her assortment of allies. Fast paced graphic novel great for grades 4-8.
Found / Margaret Peterson Haddix
A really intriguing premise for this sci-fi/fantasy from an author I usually enjoy. The premise: a group of kids, being sought out for some mysterious reason, discover that they are caught in the middle of a conflict between two groups from the future. Leaves you hanging. Which is why I’m taking the second one, Sent, home despite a couple of characters who kind of grate on my nerves. Grades 5 and up.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Good sport

I don’t ‘do’ sports books – in general. Just not my thing. But, never say never.

I just read two of the books in the RecordBooks series published by Lorimer & Company. This is a series developed to appeal to kids 11 years and up, with reading levels between grades 3-5. All the books focus on Canadian athletes who have had to overcome some kind of barrier (gender, race, economic hardships, etc.) to succeed in their sport. Athletes from many sports include boxers, rowers, skiers, lacrosse, basketball, football, and baseball players.

The first book I read was a biography, Jordin Tootoo by Melanie Florence, the first Inuit to play in the NHL. I learned what it was like growing up in Rankin Inlet in the high Arctic, leaving home as a teen to pursue a dream to play hockey, dealing with racism, the death of Jordin’s brother and about his hockey career with the Nashville Predators. Includes some photos, an index and a glossary of hockey terms.

Though the intent of the book is high interest-low vocabulary, I didn’t find the book talked down to the reader; it was easy to get caught up in the narrative, and overall, enjoyable.

I decided to try another from the series and stuck to hockey. Tough Guys by Eric Zweig (796.962 ZwT 2009) is a look at hockey in the early days, introducing some of the players, in addition to providing the social/political context of the early 1900s. I found this one fascinating.

The impact of World War I and the Spanish flu epidemic on the sport of hockey was immense. Players joined, or were conscripted into, the army, leaving teams shorthanded. This resulted in some teams being disbanded, so players could be reallocated amongst the remaining teams to increase their size and enable the hockey association to keep playing. This created interesting situations such as when Joe Hall and Newsy Lalonde, two bitter rivals, end up playing on the same team. Many crucial Stanley Cup games during this time are described in enough detail to build a bit of suspense, but not with too much minutiae to lose a reader, namely me. This was good. Great way to tie history into a topic like sports.

Each book in the series is written by a different author so the quality may vary between books. But based on the strength of the two books I read, I feel comfortable enough to recommend the series. Struggling readers (kids to adults) and ESL students with an interest in sports would do well with this series.

Today is Nonfiction Monday, a roundup of blogs focused on nonfiction children's literature.  Stop by Wendie's Wanderings to see today's offerings.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

I recently read a series of graphic novels written by Canadians, David Alexander Robertson and illustrated by Scott B. Henderson.

7 Generations is a four part series of graphic novels that tell the story of a contemporary Aboriginal family living through a pretty traumatic time. The first book, Stone, introduces us to Edwin and his mother struggling to cope with his suicide-attempt. The mother is desperate to help her son and begins to tell him stories of his family, starting with Stone who lived in the early part of the 19th century. She tells Edwin that he has much to live for and “our past has shaped us all. You, me, all of us…you should know where you came from.”

Stone, is a young man on the cusp of adulthood in the early 1800s, seeking his place within his community. A vision quest, the death of his brother, marriage, fatherhood, participating in a thirst dance and ‘making of a brave’ ceremony all set him on his path.

There is a message here as Edwin learns from Stone’s experiences that “we all have someone to fight for” giving us purpose and “maybe you will know that someone is fighting for you, too.” The storytelling is strong enough that the message doesn't dominate. I got caught up in both stories wanting to know more about Edwin and why he tried to kill himself and I wanted to see what happened to Stone, too.

Scars (pt.2) and Ends/Begins (pt.3) continue with Edwin’s story and we begin to piece together the source of Edwin’s pain.  His mother continues trying to make him realize that he is strong enough to confront his demons.  In the second installment, this is done with a story of a distant relative, White Cloud who survived a small pox epidemic that wiped out his family and immediate community.  The third novel tells of Edwin’s father’s experience at a residential school and how his own pain lead him to abandon his wife and son.

Each of these short graphic novels (30 pages) is very well done. The well executed illustrations tell as much of the story as the text. They can be very dramatic and will hold the reader’s interest.  Though the topic is a heavy one I found it to be not overdone.  The books are best read sequentially to follow with Edwin’s quest and to make the connections between the generations more easily understood.

Recommended for grades 10 and up.

I’m looking forward to reading the recently released, fourth installment, The Pact.

PS. Check out this YouTube video of the author explaining the creative process for developing the series.

Monday, June 20, 2011

National Aboriginal Day – June 21st, 2011

Since 1996, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada has acknowledged the contributions, heritage and diversity of First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples with a celebration on June 21st.

This provides a great opportunity for me to tell you about Fatty Legs: a true story by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton. Christy retells the story of her mother-in-law, Margaret's first two years living in a residential school in Aklavik, Northwest Territories, Canada.

As an eight-year-old, Margaret wanted nothing more than to learn to read. But to learn to read she must go to school, which her father forbids her. She struggles to understand why. Going away to school run by Catholic missionaries was not necessarily beneficial to Inuit children and if fact, was detrimental. Margaret’s father knows this and tries to explain to her, using the analogy of a worn stone:

Do you see this rock? It was once jagged and full of sharp, jutting points, but the water of the ocean slapped and slapped at it, carrying away its angles and edges. Now it is nothing but a small pebble. That is what the outsiders will do to you at school.
Margaret wears away his resistance insisting that she will work hard, be good and be strong. The school does to turn out to be just as awful as her father predicted. Margaret becomes the target of a nun she names Raven who has taken a particular dislike to her. She is ridiculed in front of the other girls, given extra chores, mocked for not knowing how to read English and humiliated when she is the only one given red socks. But Margaret’s resourcefulness, resiliency and strong spirit (with a little help from a kind nun) prevail over Raven’s cruelty.

The illustrations by Liz Amini-Holmes are wonderful. The stylization of the nuns is very evocative of their characters, whether sinister in the case of Raven or more serene for the kind nun. I particularly like the illustration of Margaret as she is about to deal with the problematic red socks.

Small boxed footnotes, mostly at the beginning of the book, provide context by explaining Inuit words, natural phenomena such as pingos and the northern lights, and occasionally other words that might be unfamiliar such as Dominion Day.

Also, thumbnail photos are interspersed throughout the book, directing you to pages at the back with the full-sized picture and a line or two from her memoir to help young readers visualize Margaret and her family, the Arctic landscape, and the school.

It’s a short story that will likely find an audience with grades 3 to 7. It will start readers on the way to learning about residential schools but also address issues of resiliency in the face of bullying and hardship.

Today is Nonfiction Monday, a round-up of nonfiction children's literature.  Drop by Geo Librarian for this week's event.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

World Refugee Day – June 20th, 2011

This year’s theme, selected by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), is One Is Too Many.

Every day, millions of refugees face murder, rape and terror. We believe even 1 is too many.
Two resources that capture the refugee experience that I’d recommend are:

Inside out and back again by Thanhha Lai, a first novel based on her experiences living in Vietnam prior to the fall of Saigon, as a refugee and finally, in 1970s Alabama as an immigrant.

Culture shock and homesickness consume Kim Ha and her family as they adjust to their new lives. Though physically safe (well, mostly) the locals are not always welcoming and Kim struggles with finding her place in school, dealing with bullies and feeling ‘dumb’. The short, narrative verse format gives us ‘snapshots’ of Kim’s experiences but does convey the emotional upheaval as well as the physical. What was left behind in Vietnam and all the longing for things to be ‘normal’ are epitomized in Kim’s desire to taste fresh papaya. A very touching story for grades 4-9.


War child, (962.4 Wa 208 DVD) a multiple award winning DVD. Emmanuel Jal, a hip-hop artist who sings of his experiences as a Sudanese refugee and child soldier and is driven to make a difference in the lives of people in Sudan and Kenya. We see Emmanuel return to Sudan and reconnect with family members, in concert, and in a Kenyan refugee camp as a seven year old boy. (Rated PG-13).

Monday, June 13, 2011

Eggs – not just for breakfast

Did you know that there are over 100 animals that lay eggs? I didn’t. Or at least, I hadn’t really thought before about how many creatures lay eggs.

Animal Eggs: an amazing clutch of mysteries and marvels! by Dawn Cusick and Joanne O’Sullivan include lots of great photographs of animals laying eggs, protecting them, stealing and eating eggs of other species, plus pictures of newly hatched various hatchlings. For all the information that is packed into this little book the text is far from overwhelming. The small, bite-size chunks of text will appeal to new or struggling readers.

So some cool facts:
-2 types of mammals lay eggs – platypus and spiny anteaters

-eggs come in a myriad of colours, (from muted to gaudy tones), shapes and sizes

-eggs are laid everywhere depending on the critter laying them: on the ground, above the ground, on water, under water, in the open, buried in sand, nests, silk sacs, etc.

-some sharks and skates lay a special casing, a ‘mermaids purse’, where the eggs will mature.

The last few pages present a few unidentified eggs that will challenge the reader to guess who had laid this egg.

I originally read a review of the this book at SimplyScience Blog a couple of months back. That posting includes a couple of classroom ideas to use with this book.

Easy on the eyes, easy to understand and easy to get caught up with, I highly recommend this book for elementary grades. Pair it with An Egg is Quiet by Dianna Hutts Aston for an egg-cellent match.

Today is Nonfiction Monday, a round-up of nonfiction children's literature.  Take a look at Books Together for today's event.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Right Stuff

I probably should have written about this book about a month ago, as it might have been a bit timelier. But just having come across it, thought it still worthwhile to note.

So Many Days by Alison McGhee is one of those seemingly simplistic picture books that look like they’re for young children but in reality are more for adults, maybe young adults.

THE BOOK: A poem of sorts that asks the ‘big’ questions about life.
The refrain in repeated throughout the text. The text is filled with metaphors that characterize qualities about hope, strength, growth, bravery, spirit, and love. An adult narrator speaks to the child (girl or boy) in the text about life’s opportunities, the qualities they need and have to get through good times and bad times, and that they are deeply loved.

THE ILLUSTRATIONS: Digitally manipulated linocuts add to the appearance of simplicity. They too contribute to the lyrical styling of the book with softly muted colouring with a limited palette. Soft and gentle.

THE AUDIENCE: Most worthy for new graduates who are just setting off in new directions. I don’t think young children would get much from this book as it’s a bit too esoteric and maybe a bit sleepy. I think it would take work to get kids at the elementary level interested enough to make connections.

I would be very interested to hear from any teachers who’ve used this in the classroom and what the students thought. Drop me a line.

If you are looking for a book that takes a lyrical approach to asking the big questions, a personal favorite is  Stormy Night by Michele Lemieux.  I think that younger children might get more out of this one, too. They'd see themselves as this young girl who lets her imagination soar, wondering about the future, confronting fears, asking ,

Is there only one of me in the world?
Where does infinity end?
Am I nice looking?
Does Fido think he's good looking?
When I dream at night where am I?
Can we each see our own soul?
--and many more questions besides these ones.  And the line drawings are brillant.  This little book is well worth checking out.

So many doors in all your days,
so much to wonder about.
Who will you be and where will you go?
And how will you know?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Historical connections

Recently, CBC aired a documentary called Famine and Shipwreck: an Irish Odyssey and was fascinated to learn of the particularly appalling set of circumstances for passengers of one of the coffin ships, the Hannah. A repeat of the doc is coming up June 9th. I highly recommend it.
Reading You Wouldn’t Want to Sail on an Irish Famine Ship!: a trip across the Atlantic you’d rather not make written by Jim Pipe, fit well with what I had watched in the documentary representing this historical period fairly accurately with many interesting anecdotes to appeal to kids, ages 8-12.

The basic premise has the reader assume the identity of an Irish farmer in the 1840s. Life is difficult and staying alive takes a lot of hard work. The political situation is such that the landlord has all the power and basically would love to get rid of the farmers so that he can have more land for pasturing more sheep. We are given a glimpse about why there are tensions between Catholics and Protestants. When a pervasive disease causes the potatoes in the fields to rot, life becomes even grimmer, with the threat of starvation, the poor house or immigration. Once the decision is made to leave Ireland a dire choice must be made as to where to make a new life. Upon leaving Ireland, immigrants must still survive the horrendous conditions aboard the ship, enduring hazardous icebergs, fires, and diseases all for the promise of a better life in America.

The text is broken into small blocks of information that fit into the narrative. The illustrations are catchy and sometimes humorous. A glossary and index are included, as well. This hardly provides an in-depth look at the Irish Famine and the resulting exodus, but You Wouldn’t Want to Sail on an Irish Famine Ship! will spark some interest.

This is only one in a series of books that looks at various historical periods such as the French Revolution, the English industrial revolution, Cleopatra’s Egypt or ancient Rome to name a few.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

World Environment Day - June 5th, 2011

 The United Nations has dedicated this year’s World Environment Day (WED) to the forests of the world.

"This year’s theme, Forests: Nature at Your Service highlights the myriad benefits of forests towards human wellbeing, as well as the imperative to conserve them."
 Not too long ago, I posted  about a really fantastic photographic book about trees, The Life and Love of Trees. So, I’m not going to reiterate what I’ve already written but I do encourage you to check out this book.

But I will highlight a group of books that tell the story of the power of an individual with vision and the interdependency between forests and the well-being of people.

At least four children’s books have been written about Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Wangari Maathai and her determination to improve the lives of Kenyans by reestablishing forests. Each book tells of Wangari’s connection with her natural environment, her education in the sciences and her desire to reestablish the forests of Kenya through her Green Belt Movement. Some are written for younger children but for the most part they will work in elementary as well as junior high levels (ages 8-12 or 13).

These four books are:

Mama Miti by Donna Jo Napoli (333.72092 NaM 2010 PIC BK)

Planting the trees of Kenya by Claire A. Nivola (333.72092 NiP 2008 PIC BK)**

Seeds of Change by Jen Cullerton Johnson (333.72092 JoS 2010 PIC BK)

Wangari’s Trees of Peace by Jeanette Winter (333.72092 WiW 2008 PIC BK)**

 (** indicates my favorites.)

To learn more about the Green Belt Movement there is also Wangari Maathai’s own book, The Green Belt Movement: sharing the approach and the experience (333.72 MaG 2006) that will tell you everything you need to know about the effects of degraded environments on the quality of life of the people of Kenya, the work involved in starting and maintaining the organization, some trials and tribulations with government officials and international developers, and the impact the movement has had on lives and environment. This book has very little about the personal story of Wangari, which more likely to be found in her memoir Unbowed. I’ll  look to read this in the near future.

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