Thursday, July 28, 2011

Summertime reading update #2

So, I'm back from a few weeks off at home.  And read I did.
The following are few of the highlights:

** Candy Bomber: the story of the Berlin Airlift's 'Chocolate Pilot' by Michael O. Tunnell.
Super narrative about American airmen distributing chocolate and candy to Berlin children after the end of World War II when the city had been blockade by the Soviets. I would recommend this for grades 5 to 9.

Following my paint brush by Dulari Devi
A picture book biography of an Indian artist and how her passion has changed her life.
Just like me: stories and self-portraits by fourteen artists edited by Harriet Rohmer.
Gives us insight into what makes an artist tick, from their childhoods, to their inspirations and techniques. 

Look! really smart art by Gillian Wolfe
Looks at works of various artists and the techniques they use to create special effects which draw viewers in, make us look closely and get us to think and feel.

Through my eyes by Ruby Bridges
I don't know how I missed this one as it comes up all the time in children's literature.  But I did and gladly have rectified my oversight.  A short memoir of Ruby's experience attending one of the first racially integrated schools in New Orleans in 1960.

Fiction - Picture books
A place where sunflowers grow by Amy Lee-Tai
Based on the experiences of Lee-Tai's mother as a child in an American internment camp for Japanese-Americans in the 1940s.  Suggested for grades 1-5.

**Perfect square by Michael Hall
 Imagination and possibilities are celebrated when a square becomes so much more - when it becomes two triangles to make a mountain or is torn into bits to make flowers in a garden or cut into rectangular ribbons to become a river. Suggested for grades K to 3.

The secret river by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
Nice message with an old-time feel in this picture book first written in 1947 and published in 1955 with a different illustrator.  This edition is illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillion.  Their work adds considerably to the storytelling.  A real treat.  Suggested for grades K-4.

Fiction - Novels
Fever Crumb by Philip Reeve
Steampunk fantasy fiction and prequel to Mortal Engines. Interesting character and lots of action will keep you turning the pages.  Amazing world building. Suggested for grades 5 to 8.
Junonia by Kevin Henkes
A gentle story about a little girl returning to a beach cottage for a summer holiday. She looks forward to the usual summertime occupants and doing all the usual beach stuff with her parents.  But this year is different when everything doesn't go according to plan and not everyone is able to be there.  A growing up story with everyday little dramas and no big explosions.  Recommended for grades 2-5.

**Karma by Cathy Ostlere
I really enjoyed this local Calgary author's YA novel told in narrative verse.  India, 1984 - Indira Gandhi is assassinated and chaos ensues.  Fifteen-year-old Maya (Canadian-born of immigrant parents), caught up in the turmoil and separated from her father, witnesses horrific acts of violence.  This leads her to meeting Jiva, a young Indian man with his own issues of identity and family. Gripping story.

London calling by Edward Bloor
Not quite what I thought it was going to be but then I'm not sure exactly what I thought.  Part ghost story, time travel during World War II, yes. But there's also a school story about class inequities, justice, what makes a hero, family reconciliation, and a smattering of spirituality. Lots going on with a thoughtful main character.  Sometimes a little slow but overall enjoyable.  Suggested for grades 6-9.

**Okay for now by Gary D. Schmidt
Easily my favorite book this summer.  Love the voice of the main character, Doug, new kid in town who has few hopes of fitting in. Rough family life and a sarcastic streak a mile long makes him a prickly person to get to know.  But slowly, he does makes friends and finds his place within this community. Really loved it! Recommended for grades 7-10.

Fiction - Graphic novels
**Grease monkey by Tim Eldred
What good fun.  This one had been sitting on my shelf forever and I finally thought "read it or else". Glad I did.  It's the future where gorillas have been given 'higher intelligence,' after 60% of humankind was wiped from an attack by aliens, to help rebuild and prevent future attacks.  Mac Gimbensky is one cool dude, er - gorilla mechanic with some very definite opinions about what it takes to be a mechanic.  Enter Robin, young apprentice who's more than a little apprehensive about his assignment. It's all here -- spaceship battles, master/grasshopper relationship, friends helping friends, romance and growing up.  Great illustrations. Recommended for grades 10 and up.

Resistance, book 1 by Carla Jablonski & Leland Purvis.
Another World War II story this time in France.  The story is told from the perspective of three children who learn about the impact of  the Nazis in their community. Eventually they become involved with the French Resistance.  This first in the trilogy  feels like it's mostly setting up the story for the next installment. Suggested for grades 7 and up.

What have you been reading?  Please feel free to send in your recommendations.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Check back

"Summertime and the living is easy" -- well, supposedly.

If you could see the multitude of books I'm taking home to read over the next few weeks, I don't know if 'easy' is the right word.  But, I'm not complaining...

Nevertheless, I will enjoy what sun Calgary might have to offer and a good number of novels and nonfiction titles that have been sitting on my 'to-read' shelf.

I will be back late July and will have a new post up for Thursday, July 28th.
Please check back then.

Monday, July 4, 2011

2011 Journal Entry #1 – Moving on

I’ve just started mulling over the newly selected ‘big idea’ that the teachers from Nellie McClung Elementary School have chosen to focus on for next year. Each year the whole school will base their learning around a central theme. My role is to present a ‘mega’ book talk at the end of August, before the school year begins and suggest resources that may inspire or support their ‘big idea’.

This year’s topic is – journey.

I’m excited.

So far, my preliminary thoughts have snagged on the transformative nature of journey for humans and non-human elements. In the planning sessions, the teachers came up with words they associate with journey including growth, challenges, quests, adventure, risk, opportunities, destinations, rites, baggage, beginnings, endings, regrets, freedom, pace, choice, survival, cycles, planning, spontaneity, mistakes, dreams, searching, fear, revisiting, forks, explorers, carpe diem, etc. Lots more besides these.

It really is wide open. This is looking to understand journey in the broadest sense, metaphorical and literal. Some of the questions they’ve come up with also reflect a philosophical bent, such as:
How do you know when something is a journey? Is not journey?
Does a journey ever really end? Is anything/anyone ever really gone?
Who owns, directs, and influences a journey?

My challenge will be to look for resources that reflect this all encompassing ‘big idea’. I see a lot of the children’s literature fitting with the inquiry as most stories have characters undergo some transformation on some level. There’s usually some ‘conflict’ which the character must resolve and likely come to some understanding about. Finding resources outlining human journeys won’t be a problem.
 I’ll need to keep in mind that the inquiry also includes non-human elements as well. This was explained as all things having histories and that things change over time. An example is water. In this inquiry it will likely be used more as a metaphor for journey because its nature is so variable – it can flow fast or slow, be still, cut new channels, seemingly disappear, etc. The historical depth of inanimate objects will be an interesting component for me to work on, as well, as the human stories.

I’ve a couple of months to think and read about the nature of journey. Should be interesting.

What are your thoughts on this? I’d love hear your suggestions for resources. Please feel free to leave a comment.

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