Monday, August 29, 2011

Sit -- and take a stand!

I’m glad that Viola Desmond won’t be budged! by Jody Nyasha Warner and Richard Rudnicki (971.6 WaV 2010) PIC BK) was waiting for me to preview on the new book cart. I’m glad because for whatever reason, this summer I’ve read a number of books about African-Americans and the Civil Rights movement in the United States. I love history but I can’t say that I go out of my way to read about American history. (Must have something to do with over exposure to the US and under representation of Canadian content. Maybe.)

But there have been several fiction and nonfiction books written recently that are really strong in the way they tell the ‘story’ of the people involved in the American Civil Rights Movement that have appealed to me. Books like Through my eyes by Ruby Bridges (379.263 BrT 1999 PIC BK), Claudette Colvin by Phillip Hoose (323.1196 HoC 2009), Sit-in by Andrea Davis Pinkney (323.1196 PiS 2010), A Sweet smell of roses by Angela Johnson , A Taste of colored water by Matt Faulkner, and One crazy summer by Rita Williams-Garcia (823 W6755O FIC).

They called themselves the KKK by Susan Campbell Bartoletti (322.42 BaT 2010) has also been brilliant to listen to as an audio book (read by Dion Graham) and gave me a lot of background information into race relations in the US. I would still recommend the book version as well, just for the illustrations and photos. Many primary documents are replicated which will work well in social studies classrooms and shouldn’t be missed.

So reading Viola Desmond won’t be budged! was timely. Finally, some Canadian history about Black Canadians and their struggle for equality.

In 1946, Viola Desmond went to watch a movie at the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. After purchasing her ticket, she found a seat but was quickly told that her ‘cheap’ ticket meant she had to sit upstairs not on the main floor. Her willingness to pay the difference, so she could sit where she wanted, made no difference as it became clear she was being asked to move because she was Black. Viola, refusing to move, was subsequently dragged off to spend the night in jail  and was fined the next day in court. The charge was for tax evasion of one cent. The Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People tried to appeal her conviction but, due to a technicality, failed. This is the story of a strong woman taking a stand for change.

For additional resources related to the civil rights movement in Canadian go to this earlier posting.

Today is Nonfiction Monday being hosted by Capstone Connect.  Check out other blogs that focus on nonfiction children's literature.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Journal entry #4 – Things -- just moving along

I’ve been struggling a little bit with the idea of journey related to ‘things’. This is a component of the larger ‘big idea’ selected by the teachers of Nellie McClung Elementary School for next year’s theme. I’m having no problem coming up with resources relating to people undergoing journey whether it’s internal or physical. But ‘things’ are different. Journey is a human construct. Things just are. However, things do change, develop, get moved, disintegrate, become obsolete, are extended or developed, etc. So, this is how I’m framing my thinking around the idea of ‘things’ and journey.
What constitutes ‘things’?

Short answer: This is wide-open.

In terms of the natural world I’m looking at cycles, processes and occurrences. Some of these include life cycles, water cycle, and rock cycle (geological processes). Processes and occurrences kind of go together in my head and include evolution, seasons, migrations, global warming, violent physical phenomena, and other weather processes to name just a few.

Human impact on the natural world is a subcategory. These disruptions to natural balances might include endangering animal and plant species, disrupting habitats, pollution, creating land, etc. Global warming might fall into this area, too. These are often interconnected.

Human endeavors (or whatever word works for you) includes things like ideas, technology, industry, organizations, countries, cities, buildings, culture, artifacts (things, stuff), etc. –the big and small of life.

Some of the resources I’ve selected that address the above three characterizations, include:
Chew on this / Eric Schlosser and Charles Wilson (394.12 ScC 2006)
Cycle of rice, cycle of life / Jan Reynolds (633.18 ReC 2009)
Fragile Earth: views of a changing world (550 Fr 2006)
How nearly everything was invented / Brainwaves (609 MaH 2006)
Ideas that changed the world (609 Id 2010)
The Jupiter stone / Paul Owen Lewis (823 L5877J PIC BK)
Lucy of long ago: uncovering the mystery of where we came from / Catherine Thimmesh (569.93 ThL 2009)
Meadowlands: a wetlands survival story / Thomas Yezerski (577.69 YeM 2011)
The Patchwork house / Sally Fitz-Gibbon (823 F577P PIC BK)
Stars beneath your bed: the surprising story of dust / April Pulley Sayre (551.51 SaS 2005 PIC BK)
A Street through time (936 MiS 1998 PIC BK) and A City through time (936 NoC 2004 PIC BK)
Technology (Groundwork guide) / Wayne Grady (303.483 GrT 2010)

I’m always open to suggestions.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Bitter sweet

I knew I going to love Sugar Changed the World: a story of magic, spice, slavery, freedom and science by Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos (633.6 ArS 2010) even before it arrived in the Doucette Library. 

**It's a nonfiction title that reads with the captivating resonance of a story being told.  Whenever people are subjected to inhumane treatment for the sake of greed you have the makings of a dramatic narrative.
**It's a personal investigation for the two authors (married) who discovered that both have family connections to the sugar industry. 
**It has cross-curricular connections with history, science, technology,
health and commerce.
**It connects different places and times to events happening today.
**Sugar is one of those things that we take for granted today but that has had a huge impact on a lot of people over time, with far reaching consequences. The Story of Salt by Mark Kurlansky struck me in a similar way -- lots of depth for something that flies beneath our radar on a daily basis.

The book is filled with fascinating photographs, illustrations, and maps from many time periods.  The front cover includes a picture of children carrying bundles of sugar cane, a photo I assumed was 'historical' but discovered (on page 52) was taken in 2005 in the Dominican Republic. The point being that for some people, like these children, this backbreaking, dangerous and underpaid work is still very much a reality.

The book includes a table of contents, index, bibliography, timeline, web resources and a note on how the authors researched the book.  There is a fairly extensive teacher's webguide with lesson plans and background information.

There are lots of sources for reviews if you're keen to read further but I would encourage you to visit Book Blather to read some interesting points made in an interchange between this blog's author and Marc Aronson.

Today's event is being held at Ana's Nonfiction Blog.  Check out other blogs recommending nonfiction children's literature.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Journal Entry #3 – Tripping along

I’m having a really hard time not getting caught up with journey = travel. Mostly because it fits so well with personal growth, opening one’s horizons, experiencing life in new places, meeting different people, adjusting to new circumstances and maybe taking a few risks. My own personal experiences are feeding into this and are always niggling away in the back of my mind, while I’m looking for resources related to the next ‘big idea’ to be explored at Nellie McClung Elementary School.

And, there are so many good books, both fiction and non-fiction, that could work with this aspect of journey.

Here are just a few examples of what I mean:

Marco Polo by Demi (910.4 DeM 2008 PIC BK)
Our Journey from Tibet by Laurie Dolphin (951.5 DoO 1997)
Shipwrecked!: the true adventures of a Japanese boy by Rhoda Blumberg (952 BlS 2001)
Uncommon traveler: Mary Kingsley in Africa by Don Brown (910.9 BrU 2000 PIC BK)
The Wall: growing up behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sis (823 Si81ZS PIC BK)
100 Great Journeys: exciting voyages through history and literature edited by Keith Lye (910.202 On 2008)

Home of the brave by Katherine Applegate (823 Ap53H FIC)
Grandfather’s journey & Tea with milk by Allen Say (823 Sa99G PIC BK; 823 Sa99T3 PIC BK)
I Know here by Laurel Croza (823 C8862I PIC BK)
Kensuke’s Kingdom by Michael Morpurgo (823 M829K FIC)
My name is Sangael by Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed (823 W6733M PIC BK)
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
The Watson’s go to Birmingham – 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis (823 C941W FIC)
Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula LeGuin (823 L527W FIC)
Ziba came on a boat by Liz Lofthouse (823 L8275Z PIC BK)

There’s a range of other things going on besides people traveling in these books. Some of these journeys are voyages of discovery and exploration (Mary Kingsley; Grandfather’s journey) whereas others are more happenstance (Shipwrecked!; Kensuke’s kingdom). Some of the journeys are undertaken because of desperate circumstances (Home of the brave; The Wall; Ziba came on a boat). Or sometimes it’s the desire to return home (Tea with milk) and be in the place you feel most at home (I know here) that drives the journey.

These travelers found themselves in situations (voluntary or involuntary) that took them out of their familiar surroundings, making them vulnerable and perhaps allowing them the opportunity to perceive themselves in different ways. Some of the questions the teachers at Nellie McClung School have come up with include those asking about whether a journey ever ends or what compels us to undertake a journey or what is a destination or what happens along the way and how linear does this path have to be. There’s a lot here to ponder and many of the above books will also give you lots to think about.

Monday, August 15, 2011


A recent release by Tara Books, Following My Paint Brush by Dulari Devi and Gita Wolf, tells the life events that lead to Dulari Devi becoming an artist. This autobiographical picture book beautifully depicts what growing up in India was like and the difficulties her impoverished family had filling even the most basics needs. From a young child her expectations were of nothing but hard work. It is not until one of her employers provides the opportunity that she discovers the wonders of art. She is immediately drawn in and eagerly wants to learn more. Through her art we see her as a child, her family and where she gets her inspiration. This is her journey from labourer to artist.

The illustrations are done in the traditional Mithila style of folk painting derived from eastern India. These detailed, heavily lined paintings have customarily been used to decorate the walls of houses depicting religious Hindu gods, goddesses, icons and scenes of everyday life.

Another book that also focuses on self-portraits of artists is Just Like Me: stories and self-portraits by fourteen artists edited by Harriet Rohmer. These artists, predominately living in North America, most from the United States, also tell their stories about becoming artists and how their identities are reflected in their art. Each two-page spread features a different artist with one page dedicated to a visual portrayal of themselves, showcasing their art style. I really enjoyed the range of styles, finding out what inspires them and what lead them to this path. The piece done by Michele Wood (p.27) is especially evocative of journey, detailing several important points in her life.

In case you’re wondering, I will be drawing these two books into my mega-book talk to the Nellie McClung Elementary School teachers as they both reflect the ‘big idea’ the school will focus their teaching around next year.

Today is Nonfiction Monday at Amy O'Quinn's website.  Check out the links to other blogs focusing on nonfiction children's literature today to learn about other resources.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Top 10 on the 10th

I missed this event last year and decided that I would take up this year's challenge of coming up with a list of my ten favorite, most indispensable books for the classroom. Imagine. Only ten!!!

First, to give you a bit of context for my choices you should know I introduce and discuss children’s literature to student teachers in an undergraduate university education program. These students typically (with a few exceptions) have had little exposure to kid’s books since they were little or reading to their own kids. I find it’s a blend of them knowing more than they think and not realizing how much there is to know about children’s literature -- its depth and breadth. I love these classes. I get a charge out of introducing books that totally blow them away. Books that deal with really heavy or dark subjects surprise them the most. Homelessness, war, 9/11, environmental disasters, death are not what they perceive as topics for picture books. Or books that are totally silly or incredibly beautiful. These books open the door and start discussions.

So, back to a list of ten (Just ten? Really, just ten? Are you sure?) essential books.
In making this list, I realized that several of them fall into what I call the ‘less-is-more’ category. These are seemingly simplistic ‘little’ books that have huge potential in the classroom. Books like Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems,

Shadows by Suzy Lee or
 Elephant Elephant by Francisco Pittau. They tell a funny story that we all can relate to, or plays with our imagination while connecting to other topics such as science, or stretches our understanding of commonplace concepts.

 Do! by Gita Wolf could fall into this category as well with simplistic looking illustrations and few words. But there’s a lot going on here. This is an action book showing us the many everyday activities that go on in a Warli village. The illustrations are based on traditional folk designs from Western India. The book itself is beautifully constructed with recycled kraft paper, silk-screened, typeset and bound by hand.

Students are also surprised by picture books that are not just for little kids. Many picture books are being written for older kids and even adults. The Rabbits by John Marsden and

The Coyote Columbus Story by Thomas King are two excellent examples. Both tell bigger stories about indigenous peoples that work on different levels depending of the age on the student. Metaphor is strong in both of these works offering many points for discussion. The older the student the more meaningful they are.

In these workshops, I always include many books that are really just ‘beautiful’ in how the illustrations and text work together. My most recent favorite is My People by Langston Hughes, photographs by Charles R. Smith, Jr.. The striking, sepia toned photos combined with Hughes’ poem simply takes my breath away.

For something completely different, I love to bring in The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith.  Typically, this gets a chuckle out most students (though not all) and has great classroom application. Looks at how stories are told, how books are organized, the interaction between the characters and the audience, and our perceptions of fairy tales.

Another favorite essential book is The Black Book of Colors by Menena Cottin. The story of how a blind child perceives colour is so poetic and when combined with the clever way the illustrations are done (raised embossed black images on black pages) we can start to feel what it's like to 'see' an object without the usual visual cues.  This ones provides opportunity to connect art, science and health.

And, last but not least is David Wiesner’s Flotsam. Really, I could have listed almost any of his wordless (or nearly wordless) books as they never fail to engage. The wonderful illustrations draw us in and get us to really look into them. His books play with our imaginations, tugging at our perceptions of reality and time. Brilliant.

And there’s my list of ten. Oh, my. That was very, very difficult. So, many others that I consider essential that just didn’t make the cut. (…heavy sighs and gnashing of teeth…). When I do these workshops I usually have an almost full cart of books (well over 100) to spread around and distribute to students. Selecting only ten was no easy feat but a very cool exercise, nevertheless.

What are your favorite ten?

Check out this year’s event to see what others in the children’s literature world find ‘essential’.  This jog lists all the blogs participating.

Monday, August 8, 2011

I'm hosting Nonfiction Monday today!

Today is Nonfiction Monday, a round up of blogs that recommends nonfiction, children's literature.  This is a fantastic event where you can learn about many titles for kids of various ages.
Please add your blog using the Mr. Linky's Magical Widget attached following my post.  It should add your link immediately.  If there are any problems, please leave your blog post for today's events in the comments box and I'll add it.

Serendipity strikes again!
What great timing to have read The Boy in the Picture: the Craigellachie kid and the driving of the last spike by Ray Argyle (971.05 ArB 2010).

And you’re thinking, “Why would that be?”

Well, first let me ask you to take a close look at the book cover. Anything stand out? What about the young man standing in the centre of this crowd of bearded gentlemen, just to the right of the fellow pounding in the last spike of the Canadian Pacific Railway? You could play “Which One is Not Like the Other Ones” with this picture.

Now you may be asking, “Who’s this kid? What’s his story? How’d he end up in the middle of a pack of hairy dudes?”

Which is exactly the story -- true story -- I had the pleasure reading about.

He’s Edward Mallandaine. It’s 1885. This 18-year-old too clever kid, often in trouble, known to his teacher as ‘flea bag’, wanted to join the militia to help put down the rebellion instigated by Louis Riel on the Canadian prairies. This true life adventure follows Edward from Victoria, British Columbia through the wilds of the Canadian Rockies. This was a time when much of the interior was inaccessible except on foot or horseback. Traveling was not easy even when there were roads. However smart Edward might have been, his life in Victoria had not prepared him for rough living but his resourcefulness kept him moving eastwards. However, he was sorely disappointed to find out that the rebellion had been quashed without his assistance before reaching his destination.

Despite his unfilled desire of joining the militia, he did have lots of adventures. He meets many colourful people: the ‘Hanging Judge’ Matthew Begbie, Colonel Sam Steel, Governor General Lord Lansdowne, bandits, prostitutes, and Chinese coolies.

Along the way we learn snippets of what was happening during the last stages of construction of the railway – how it was constructed, who was building it, the backbreaking and dangerous work required to get track laid through the mountains and why it was significant in uniting Canada, from the west to east coasts. And, we learn about the circumstances that led to Edward edging his way into a significant moment in Canada’s history, forever captured in the ‘picture’.

Read all about it!

Yes, this is a very readable history book that seems more like a novel. Lots of high adventure illustrating the wildness of the railway building days. The author grew up as a neighbour to Edward and heard many of these stories first hand. Included are a good bibliography and index. I would recommend this for grades 4-9.

Oh, and why was I so excited to have come across this book in the first place? It fits in very nicely with the ‘big idea’ selected by the Nellie McClung Elementary School for the next school year. The big idea is journey. Everything I read right now is geared toward finding resouces that fit with this theme. The Boy in the Picture fits perfectly.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Journal Entry #2 – Journey continues

I’ve been doing lots of reading the last few weeks, keeping an eye to next year’s ‘big idea’ at Nellie McClung Elementary School which is focused on journey.

I’ve been working on a mind map to keep track of some of my ideas connecting journey and the Alberta curriculum. At this point, I’ve envisioned a spiral with the ‘individual’ at the centre spiraling outward from community to country to world. Peeling off from each of these are factors related to an individual’s journey or a community’s journey or perhaps the world’s journey. Factors include history, personal experiences, quality of life, industry, arts, geography, geology, culture and traditions, globalization, environmental conditions and many more.

In looking for resources, I’m making connections with almost everything I read, because ‘journey’ is transformative, most likely resulting in some kind of change (or not). That makes for an interesting question about what happens when we (an individual, community, etc.) do not change or adapt?. Children’s literature is filled with stories about characters growing from their experiences and deepening their understanding of their place within their families, communities or even the world.

A book that fits with this is my favorite summer read so far. Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt is about a sarcastic kid, Doug, newly arrived in a small town and feeling totally displaced. His family life is anything but ‘nice’ with an abusive father with questionable friends, a downtrodden but steady mother and two brothers who seem to be following in their father’s footsteps. Doug slowly begins to find his feet when he starts making friends with some of the people in the community, which is not an easy thing to do when they often assume the worse about his nature. Doug also connects with a librarian who introduces him to the world of art, teaching him the techniques needed to draw birds like John Audubon. Doug’s journey then encompasses growing into his own person: tapping into his artistic nature, making friends on his own terms, stepping away from his father’s reprehensible behaviour, and even pushing his eldest brother, recently returned maimed and bitter from the Vietnam war, into ‘doing’ something with his life. It’s all here – personal growth, connection to community, family values and private and public personas.

I will be recommending Okay for Now to the teachers of Nellie McClung.

Finding resources about an individual’s internal journey will not be difficult. Finding resources that record the ‘journey’ of a community or country will likely be more about historical ‘development’, how a country has progressed (or not) over time or what has contributed to a community’s development. I’ll delve a little deeper into this aspect soon.

Again, I’m keen to hear any suggestions that would fit with the theme journey.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Glorified ingenuity

Steampunkery: polymer clay and mixed media projects by Christi Friesen proved to be an interesting book – and not just for the projects it outlines.  I don’t know why I was surprised to find out that many adults find this whole topic fascinating. But they do.  Check out the reviews on GoodReads or Amazon.

Steampunk is a science fiction sub-genre focusing on the Victorian (or Victorian-like) era, with a bent towards science, gears and gadgetry integral to the story lines. It’s described somewhere as ‘retro-futuristic,’ which I think works well as a label. If you’ve read any of the following books then you’ve had a brush with steampunk:
Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
Flotsam by David Wiesner
Mortal engines by Philip Reeve
Incarceron by Catherine Fisher
Airborn by Kenneth Oppel
          Time machine by Jules Verne

So, back to Steampunkery. I can’t remember where I read about it, but still being a newbie to the genre I thought kids would love it This is an arts and crafts project book that presents eight steampunk projects, interspersed with tips to create additional steampunk looks and featuring ‘galleries’ of guest artist photos as well as Christi Friesen’s own work.  It’s great fun to look at and if you are at all inclined to be creative, then you’ll enjoy this book. It really is inspiring and will make your creative spot itch.

However, I don’t think this is a kid’s book.  Not that it was promoted as such as far as I can remember.  The publisher does suggest that it accommodates all skill levels but I think young kids would find this an exercise in frustration. Nevertheless, the end products will appeal to and fascinate kids of all ages.  I’m thinking high school kids who are really into this genre would find this book appealing and be willing to work through the detailed explanations that Friesen provides.

There are opportunities to capitalize on this interest with school topics, too.  Science, of course, is the most obvious connection.  But also history and the industrial revolution especially with the creativity and inventiveness of some of the gadgets and how they are used.  Do-it-yourselfers beware!

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