Monday, September 30, 2013

Buoyant! Lighthearted! Upbeat!

All good words to describe this breezy book, What Floats in a Moat? by Lynne Berry.

This is will a terrific addition to the elementary science classroom for studying buoyancy, floating and sinking, constructing things and experimentation.

We have Archie the Goat and Skinny the Hen arriving at a castle surrounded by a moat.  Archie, who has a leaning towards a scientific nature, is not inclined to take the drawbridge option, unlike Skinny. “This is no time for a drawbridge.  This is a time for science!” Archie declares.

So, we get a series of trials of different floating contraptions made up primarily of a barrel with various amounts of buttermilk inside.  The S.S. Buttermilk, filled with buttermilk promptly sinks when cast off into the moat.  The S.S. Empty promptly tips over because it is too unstable without any buttermilk inside.  The S.S. Ballast is just right – it floats and sinks!

By the book’s end, Skinny is no longer a skinny hen due to drinking vast quantities of buttermilk and the Queen who lives in the castle isn't too impressed when she finds out that Archie doesn't have her buttermilk.  The life of a scientist is not an easy one.

The illustrations convey the comic sensibility of the story. An author’s note fills the reader in on a famous Greek scientist (of the human persuasion not the goat kind) Archimedes and his principles about water displacement.

This will be a fun and practical addition as a classroom resource.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The truth of the matter

As I was gathering resources around the ‘big idea’ of awakening earlier this past summer, I thought about how travel often ‘awakens’ us to cultural awareness and self discovery and thought I had found a great resource.

Imagine then a fifteen-year-old boy taken from this home on an island around Tierra del Fuego in 1830 and transplanted to London.  What did this boy awaken to?  What did he learn about the people of London?  What did he learn about himself?

 In Jemmy Button by Jennifer Uman and Valerio Vidali, a brief account of the true story of Orundellico (his real name), we can get a general impression of what a culture shock this young man experienced in these circumstances.

And a general impression is the best we get with this picture book.  The experience is described in fairly benign terms, “one day a boat came with visitors”, “they invited the boy to visit their land”, and “one of the visitors opened his hand to reveal a button made from the ocean’s most magnificent pearl.  They gave it to the boy’s family.”

I had a feeling that this was likely glossing over some of the facts.  How likely was it that Captain Robert FitzRoy ‘invited’ Orundellico to visit London?

The book describes the long ocean voyage and what Jemmy would have seen in this vast, bustling city.  It tells of his experiences, which sound like a whirlwind of social events (even to meeting King William IV and Queen Adelaide) and a little of his homesickness.  He eventually returns to his homeland where is resumes his traditional ways, shedding his European clothing and supposedly with “great effort, he learned his native language.”(from last page)

I was left with a lot of unanswered questions after reading this picture book.  A quick Google search fills in a few of the details which are more of what I expected: Jemmy was one of four hostages taken back to London with the idea to educate and Christianize them to Victorian civilities, so that they could be sent back back to their homeland to educate their own people. Very little about this historical episode really fits with the gentle, dreamy story depicted in the picture book.

I know this is a story for children and that this isn't the place to hash out the details of Britain’s imperialistic intentions.  I know the focus of the story is on the ‘wonder’ of being in a totally foreign environment and that by the end Jemmy knows where his home is.  (In reality, it is thought that Jemmy might have chosen to stay in London if given the chance and was initially unhappy at being returned to South America.)

On that level, the story works. Its unlikely children will have the same questions I do and will enjoy the story of Jemmy.  It’s likely they’ll see Jemmy as having a grand adventure.

But I'm left wondering, what’s the point of that when this is based on a true story?

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Sally's Bookshelf for a blog-wide review of nonfiction children's literature.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Making the most of unexpected opportunities

Primates: the fearless science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birute Galdikas by Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks looks at three women who, because of serendipitous circumstances became world famous primatologists.

All three introduced themselves to Louis Leakey, and although none were trained scientists, each impressed Leakey and with his support found funds to send them  into the field, Jane Goodall to Africa to study chimpanzees, Dian Fossey, also to Africa to study mountain gorillas and Birute Galdikas to Indonesia to study orangutans.

Told as a graphic novel, all three stories succinctly cover their initial meetings with Leakey, early experiences in the field, with brief insights into their personalities.  The stories also overlap as the women did occasionally meet.  Their passion for the work in well depicted as well as some of their struggles.

Great production value with glossy pages and coloured illustrations.  Each woman is given a distinct voice and it’s easy to follow the shifts between them.

Highly recommended for grades 7/8 and up.

Check out Nonfiction Monday, a blogging event that celebrates nonfiction children's literature.  This week's event is hosted by Booktalking.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Tripping on life

The academic school year is just underway and Line 135 by Germano Zullo is a great reminder about possibilities.

A little girl is on a train journey to visit her grandmother who lives in the country.  As she passes through the city landscape and countryside, she’s excited to think that one day she will be big enough to travel the whole world.

Is doesn't matter that both her mother and grandmother try to tone down her dream by telling her that that’s impossible, that she’s too small, and  that knowing yourself is hard enough.

But our intrepid future traveler will not be denied.  She holds firmly to her belief that once she’s big enough she will go everywhere, here, there, this way, that way and see the entire world.  She’ll prove to her mother and grandmother that it is possible and that they've only forgotten this.

It’s one of those stories that works for many ages because it captures very childlike thoughts but with a sophisticated overlying meaning about not forgetting what is possible.

The line found in the title of the book is the train line of course, the line that passes through varying landscapes, journeys and ultimately, lives.  To heighten this awareness of lines, all the illustrations are composed of highly detailed, thin, black line drawings.  The only colour is the brightly hued train.

Another book that I've written about  that came to mind when I read Line 135 is Stormy Night by Michele Lemieux.  Both share the same kind of line drawings and kind of touches on the questioning and questing that goes on in the minds of young people. 

One other book that twigged was the Lost Thing by Shaun Tan which touches on how we can lose our ability to see and take pleasures in our lives as we grow older.  (Click here to see past blog.)  Line 135 is less melancholy focused on a world filled with possibilities.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Journey of a traditional artist

Okay, another blog about another Tara Books publication.

Waterlife by Rambharos Jha.

But this one is so beautiful I just had to let you know about it. 

It’s another handmade book with gorgeous textured paper and coloured printed illustrations (you can smell the ink) that are so lush and vibrant they shimmy on the page.  A piece of art you can hold in your hands.  (Has anyone noticed that Tara has started numbering their handmade books?)

The author/illustrator, Rambharos Jha is an artist born in the Mithila region in India.  Growing up, he was influenced by the women who traditionally painted the walls, floors and courtyards of their homes during festivals, participating in a government supported program that gave them opportunities to earn a living from their artistic endeavours.

Rambharos Jha learned to draw by watching.  He came to appreciate the accessibility of the dyes and colours derived from nature, local markets and household detritus (such as lamp soot) that coloured his paints.

Starting with Hindu mythology, his art work reflected these traditional stories while he learned how to detail in a traditional style and motifs.  Gradually, he began to follow his “own creative impulse, and to register the impact, like all artists do, of my surroundings, the place and time I found myself in…I was now beginning to journey into my imagination. I was also working with new colours, having begun to use acrylic paint.  During this experimental phase, I started doing pictures of water…”

In this book, his illustrations reflect the meshing traditional motifs (fish, turtles, crabs, snakes) and traditional line patterning with his interest in the natural world centred around water.
"It is an enormous challenge, even technically speaking: how for instance, is he to show movement using the conventions of an art form that is essentially static?  Rambharos does it masterfully: he adapts the Mithila tradition of signifying water through fine lines but extends it into a complex whorl of eddies and currents.  He solves the problem of naturalism by side-stepping it elegantly, giving his fish, tortoises and crabs and home and habitat in water – while keeping essentially with their traditional symbolic representation.  Sometimes he invents creatures like the lobster who never appear in Mithila art.  At other times he plays with his swans and lotuses as they appear within a conventional Mithila composition." --from publisher, Gita Wolf
This is the journey of many artists. Creativity is about  blending tradition with the artist's own yearnings to create something fresh and of their own.

Highly recommended.  This book is an art piece and could be used with all age groups for that reason alone.  

Today is Nonfiction Monday, a blogging event that celebrates nonfiction children's literature.  Please stop by Wendie's Wanderings for see a raft of reviews.

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