Monday, February 27, 2012

Breaking ground

13 Art Inventions Children Should Know by Florian Heine (702 HeT 2011) is an interesting, informative book that breaks down art history into a few key ‘inventions’.

It starts with the invention of painting around 30,000 BC, with the wall art found in caves in France and Spain. In a few pages we see some examples of the paintings and discussion of the technique, location and purpose of the art.

The timeline, at the top of each new section, places the innovations in a time frame that is easy to follow, in addition to indicating significant events (mostly in Europe) such as the 12th century outbreak of plague, Christopher Columbus’ ‘discovery’ of America, the birth of Shakespeare, the discovery of penicillin, when the Beatles released their first album, etc.

Several of the sections focus on the 1400s, during the Renaissance, establishing that this time was brimming with innovations.  Some of these include advancements in technique (central perspective), moving away from religious subjects and depicting people, places and things (including weather) more realistically.

Moving forward in time, the book features inventions that include photography, paint tubes, cartoons, abstract painting, action/drip painting (think Jackson Pollock), and aerosol spray cans (important for the development of graffiti).

The topics seem wide ranging, and a little random, but they do show a continuum of advancements and that some innovations directly affected the art that followed. Suggested short activities and a glossary deepen understanding of each innovation.

13 Art Inventions Children Should Know is one in a series that looks to break down the vastness of art history and engage kids (grades 4 to 8) with intriguing featured topics. In this one we get to see that art, which we take for granted, had to start somewhere.

 If you’re looking for a similar book for an older crowd (high school and up) look for The First Time: innovations in art also by Florian Heine (709 HeF 2007).

Today is Nonfiction Monday at blog, The Children's War.  Stop and read nonfiction childrens literature other bloggers are reviewing

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Crushing on Curtis

I love Christopher Paul Curtis’ books.  Just so you know up front.

I love his most recent book, The Mighty Miss Malone (823 C941M4 FIC).  The writing, the time period, the characters, the strong voice of Deza, and that it revisits one of the characters from Bud, not Buddy (823 C941B FIC), the Newbery winner from 1999, I loved it all.

This makes for a good endorsement but it’s not overly critically, I know.  But, there’s just something about the way Curtis writes his characters that allows me to crawl inside their lives  accepting them, kit and caboodle, warts and all.  He weaves complex stories with elements of humour that  allow us to readily buy in. I can’t wait to listen to the audio version on my next road trip.

The scoop:
The Great Depression in 1930s America is taking its toll on the Malone family. This African-American family is struggling to survive and stay together with only one small income to live on.  The main protagonist is Deza, a young preteen who’s considered the smartest girl in her class.  Her brother, Jimmie, is a bit of a schemer but has an incredible singing voice.  Both of their parents are rock solid in their commitment to keeping the family together, until an accident badly injures the father.  This incident initiates the family’s separation, their moves to different towns including a hobo camp, and their eventual reunion.

Back stories include issues about physical and intellecutal superiority between blacks and whites (played out with a boxing match between black Joe Lewis and white Max Schmeling in 1936 and Deza receiving a C in class by a white teacher who can not recognize her abilities), economics, and importance of education, jazz music, community and friendship.  This might sound like a lot, enough to over-burden a story but I can’t say I found it so.  It works together, creating a rich historical novel about a family we come to care about.

If you’re interested in connecting the book to classroom teaching, check out The Classroom Bookshelf, for lots of interesting teaching ideas.  I love how contemporary issues such as child poverty and mass unemployment can be tied to this historical novel.

I highly recommend this novel for grades 4 to 8.

Monday, February 20, 2012

North or bust

North: the amazing story of Arctic migration by Nick Dowson (591.568 DoN 2011 PIC BK) presents an overview of the migration of birds and animals back to the Arctic every spring and summer.

This beautifully illustrated book (by Patrick Benson) starts in the dead of winter when few creatures are active.  Polar bears and arctic foxes are two exceptions.  But as daylight and warmth increase daily the landscape begins to once again grow, enticing many species to come north to feed and breed.

Gray whales, terns, jaegers, godwits, snow geese, white cranes, caribou, gray wolves, walruses, silver herring, and narwhal and bowhead whales are the featured migrating species.

The book is slightly oversized giving the illustrations prominence especially on the wordless, double pages.  The text is poetic and creates an almost romantic sensibility about this annual event.  Animals are drawn from far away and, at any cost, will attempt to forge their way ever northward.  Not a super realistic depiction but one that will provide an introduction to this occurrence.

Suggested for grades 3 to 6.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Graphic Novel Catch Up

I’ve been on a bit of a graphic novel kick recently (both fiction and nonfiction) trying to catch up with several books that seem to be making consistent appearances on best book lists.

I’ve enjoyed the following graphic novels and highly recommend them.

 Anya’s ghost by Vera Brosgol (823 B793A FIC)
What adolescent girl doesn’t feel self-conscious about something? Anya starts with typical teenage concerns, body image, embarrassing mother, ethnic food, boy issues but a misadventure in a park brings her into contact with Emily, a ghost. Initially, the relationship seems ideal but quickly deteriorates when it becomes apparent Emily is looking to control Anya and live the life that she never had.  When Emily threatens Anya’s family as a way to manipulate her, Anya takes a stand and control of her life once more.  Love the illustrations. Suggested for grades 7 and up.

  Bad Island by Doug TenNapel (823 T256B FIC)
A disastrous family vacation is the background for this story of two different boys/young men (or boy/man and boy/alien) growing up and finding their place in the ‘world’.  When Reese is stranded on an island with his parents and younger sister, life takes a bizarre turn as they struggle to survive the many weird, dangerous and deadly creatures that reside there. Eventually, the family discovers that the island is the body of a young alien who was kidnapped when he rebelled against his father.  This is a really fun, humorous, adventuresome read.  Suggested for grades 5 to 9.

 Manga Man by Barry Lyga (823 L986M FIC )
This is what happens when a character (Ryoko Kiyama) from a manga comic strip crosses over into the real world.  Unfortunately, all the personal (big eyes, super wavy hairy) and story telling characteristics (thought bubbles, speed lines, etc.) of manga are apparent to the people from the ‘real’ world resulting in a fair amount of humour for the reader. Falling for the most popular girl (Marissa) in high school (which Ryoko attends to help pass the time until he is able to return ‘home’) results in some conflicts with jilted boyfriends and confused best friends and a couple of lovey-dovey scenes, too. I recommend this book for the high school level.

 Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge (823 G951P FIC)
Another one best suited for secondary students (grades 7 and up) about a girl finding her place and learning to feel more comfortable with herself --in other words, a ‘coming-of-age’ novel.  Paige has recently moved to a new city and feels pretty isolated, recognizing that she’s not even sure who she really is.  She records her thoughts and ideas visually in a sketchbook. Her journey is not without conflict but ultimately rewarding.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Technological progress

After I finished reading The Genius of Islam: how Muslims made the modern world by Bryn Barnard (609 BaG 2011)(which I enjoyed and recommend), I was reminded of another series of books in the Doucette Library that also pertain to other cultures that advanced technology outside of North America and Europe. 
The We though of it series (by Annick Press) highlights successful inventions and technological innovations of different groups of people from around the world. 

 The series started with The Inuit thought of it by Alootook Ipellie (970.0049712 IpI 2007)showcasing how Inuit peoples met basic needs using mostly local resources in response to harsh environmental conditions.  From wood or antler snow goggles and kayaks to parkas and methods of food preservation, many of these items still exist in some form today. This book leaves the reader with a new appreciation for the  resourcefulness of the Inuit and their technological ingenuity.

The follow-up book is A Native American thought of it by Rocky Landon (970.00497 LaN 2008). I was a little concerned by the title, wondering if it was going to be too general about the technological innovations of First Nations peoples. And, while I certainly got the feeling that Natives across North America (both Canada and US) did fulfill their needs in diverse ways, sometimes the book felt too unspecific.  The best section is ‘shelter’, describing the many different kinds of houses developed by Natives from all over North America.  Other sections are little less successful in showing the diversity of approaches across North America. Descriptions of tools, for instance, are sometimes attributed to a geographical area (Northwest Coast, Eastern Woodlands, Plains, etc.) without many specifics given. When no geographic area is ascribed, then I’m guessing that the technology or tool (skinning hides and bow and arrows for example) applies to most Native groups wherever they lived.  The photographs for the most part are attributed to specific tribes.  I think this book is just trying to cover too big an area to effectively cover all areas evenly.  We do come away knowing that First Nations peoples were, and are, very innovative.

The next books in the series move away from North America.
 The Chinese thought of it by Ting-xing Ye (609.51 YeC 2009) and African thought of it by Bathseda Opini (960 OpA 2011) are very informative following the same format of the first two books: maps, timelines, sections covering basic needs as well as aspects specific to cultural development such as music, arts, and sports.  Good overviews with examples drawn from vast geographical areas with diverse cultures within them.

The next book to be released in March is Latin Americans thought of it by Eva Salinas.

Overall, I like the series and love that it brings our attention to technological advancements that developed in other places and times outside of North America.  Good introductions that could lead into deeper discussions and research.
Suggested for grades 3-6.

 Today is Nonfiction Monday, a round-up of blogs focused on nonfiction children's liteature.  Stop by Wrapped in Foil for  a look.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

February 12th : Red Hands = No More Child Soldiers


On this day, international attention is drawn to the plight of children used in military conflicts. Red Hand Day,Child Soldiers International, Amnesty International, UNICEF among several other organizations seek to eradicate the recruitment and retention of child soldiers.
 To mark this day, I’d like to direct your attention to a few books that will inform both you and your students about the lives of children living as soldiers:
They fight like soldiers, they die like children by Romeo Dallaire (355.0083 DAT 2010)
Dallaire’s first hand experiences of child soldiers comes from his time in Rwanda as commander of the UN mission during the 1994 genocide.  There can be no mistaking his passion and frustration about this issue as he outlines the conditions under which children are drawn into fighting in military conflicts.  He includes information about girls as well as boys.

A long way gone: memoirs of a boy soldier by Ishmael Beah (966.4 BEL 2007)
As a twelve-year old living in Sierra Leon, Ishmael’s childhood was cut short when rebel forces destroyed his village.  Struggling to survive, he was easily recruited by the army with the promise of revenge against the rebels.  His life is brutal as he is coerced into becoming a killer, until the UN extracts him from the army and sends him for rehabilitation. Suggested for grades 10 and up.

Chanda’s wars by Allan Stratton (823 ST828C3 FIC)
A young African girl, from a fictional sub-Saharan country, struggles to raise and protect her young brother and sister after their mother dies.  Chanda desperately hunts for the two kidnapped children after rebel soldiers raid their village, forcing the youngsters into their army.  This sequel to Chanda’s Secret works best with knowing the back story of the first novel.  The story here is a bit pointed but still does a good job of telling it like it is.  Suggested for grades 9 and up.

Speechless by Valerie Sherrard (823 SH557S6 FIC)
Junior high student Griffin has a problem I would have related with, all too well, when I was a young teen – the nightmare of public speaking.  Griffin will do anything to avoid it. So when best friend Bryan comes up with the idea to protest against child soldiers by taking a vow of silence Griffin is ready to go along, but unexpectedly becomes totally consumed with this cause. This lighter take on the issue draws student activism into the story quite naturally.  Suggested for grades 5-10.

War brothers by Sharon McKay (823 M1929W FIC)
Uganda, 2002: five young people (four boys, one girl) become caught up in the civil conflict between government and guerrilla armies.  Realistically portrays the brutal conditions in which the children live.  Suggested for grades 5 -9.

Many fantasy or science fiction books often feature children who act in the capacity of soldiers.  This might be another approach to this topic if the above books are too ‘real,’ or maybe use them to compare and contrast with reality.  Somehow the kids who get caught up in wars in a fantasy world don’t seem to be in the same psychological place as the kids who are actually living this kind of life.

Ender’s game by Orson Scott Card (823 C178E 1991 FIC)
Ender Wiggin’s is six-years-old when he is recruited into the military to eventually fight against invading aliens.  Gripping story.  Suggested for grades 6-9.

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (823 C696M FIC)
The third book in the Hunger Games trilogy moves beyond Katniss’ own struggle for survival.  Here rebels use her and other children in various capacities in their attempt to overthrow the Capitol.  Really gripping story (well, the whole trilogy is, really).  Suggested for grades 8 and up.
Virtual war by Gloria Skurzynski (823 SK76V FIC)
In a future where groups of people live in contained bubbles and fight for resources, three young people are brought together forming a perfect team for virtual combat. Interesting characters with plenty of action.  Suggested for grades 6-9.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Nonfiction Graphic Novels Monday

I’ve two biographies and one autobiography to recommend this week – all in graphic novel format.
First is Around the world : three remarkable journeys by Matt Phelan (910.41 PhA 2011).  This should appeal to anyone who enjoys travel, adventure, history, geography and good stories.  The three stories take place in the late 1800s, after Jules Vern published Around the World in Eighty Days and recount adventures by three very different people – a miner turn cyclist, Thomas Steven; a female journalist, Nellie Bly; and a retired sea captain, Joshua Slocum.  Each travelled in their own unique mode and for various reasons.  There’s a lot to keep the reader entertained  as each intrepid traveller makes their way (can you imagine cycling around the world on a bicycle with the super large front wheel?)  overcoming various challenges -local customs, bad weather, time constraints, delays in transportation, loneliness, etc.  We know they get to where they’re going, but the book really is about the journey.  Matt Phelan’s illustrations are wonderful and the expressions of his characters are very telling.  I suggest this for grades 4-9.
Next is a completely different autobiography,though Lost Trail: nine days alone in the wilderness by Donn Fendler (613.69 FeL 2011) has its share of excitement and adventure, too.   This is the story of 12-year-old Donn who becomes separated from his hiking party during a sudden rain/hail storm on Mont Katahdin in 1939. He wanders for days with very little food, following a stream and hoping that he will come upon someone to help him.  Hundreds of volunteers comb the mountain looking for him and eventually presume him dead.  Finally, Donn does stumble upon a seasonal hunting camp with people able to rescue him and reunite him with his family.   This is one wild story of a boy's pure determination to survive all manner of trials (little food, fear, bears, exposure to the elements) to be with his family.  Illustrations are excellent and add to the overall narrative quality of the story.  Again, kids in grades 4 to 9 will enjoy this read.

The last book I’m recommending is not an adventure story but a graphic novel that makes a small fragment of Canadian history very manageable for students.  Hyena in Petticoats: the story of suffragette Nellie McClung: a graphic novel by Willow Dawson (305.40971 DaH 2011) is pretty basic in its retelling of Nellie McClung’s life.  Nellie is a strong –minded and -willed girl who wanted what she wanted – to become educated, to write and to make lives better for women living in Canada in the early  1900s.  The facts are all here, which makes it easy to follow along chronologically with Nellie’s  social and political activities (this is the height of the prohibition era and restricting alcohol was a priority for her, as was getting women the right to vote and, later, having women recognized as  legal ‘persons’).  Her determination and forbearance are remarkable.  The dialogue is a little clunky as it often supplies information about this time period that the reader needs to know to follow along, making it a bit wooden.  I liked the stylized illustrations even though the people are stiff looking (works with the dialogue).  Nellie McClung was an amazing women and I enjoyed reading about her. This is a good history book and I recommend it for middle grades, too.

Today is Nonfiction Monday hosted at Capstone Connect. Check out reviews of nonfiction children's literature from around the blogosphere.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Hurry! Don’t miss out.

Last year I recommended an interesting book, Besa: Muslims who saved Jews in World War II by Norman H. Gershman (940.5318 GeB 2008).

I found it fascinating because I had been unaware of the connection between Jewish  and Muslim communities in Albania during World War II.  At this time many Albanian Muslims went to extreme measures to help Jews escape from Nazi persecution.
Right now, in Calgary, at the Calgary Jewish Centre, an exhibit that accompanies this book is in town but only until February 11th.   Everyone should take this opportunity to learn more about this extraordinary episode.  There is no charge and everyone is welcomed.
The Calgary Jewish Centre is located at 1607-90th Avenue SW.

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