Monday, August 29, 2016

Living Your Dream

It takes courage to follow your own path and ignore those who try to dissuade you from pursuing your dreams.

This thought really hit home last week when I was listening to CBC reporters recalling their favourite moments from the Olympic Games in Rio.

Paul Hunter was describing the impact of swimmer Kylie Moss' (bronze medal winner) comments about wanting to inspire other young Canadians to follow their dreams, to ignore those who say you can't win an Olympic medal. That really resonated with him. That’s when it struck me about how much gumption it takes to just keep on going when you’ve taken on such a huge challenge. That takes a lot of courage, in my opinion.

So here are a few recommendations of books with characters (real and otherwise) who do have the courage to achieve their dreams:

Junior is an American Indian growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. With encouragement from one of his teachers he decides to go to an all-white school off of the rez. This takes tremendous courage as he receives little support from those on the reservation who see him as a traitor nor those at the school in town who see him as if he was “Bigfoot or a UFO”. This is an opportunity to make a better life for himself but it isn’t easy. Recommended for grades 9 and up.

Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman
A little girl who loves to act is excited to take on the role of Peter Pan in a school play. But she’s told that because she’s a girl she can’t be Peter Pan. Then she’s told that because she’s black she can’t be Peter Pan. But with some help from her Nana she puts her mind to doing the best she can in auditions and is given the part. Recommended for grades 1 to 3.

Echo by Pam Munzo Ryan
I so enjoyed this book of three different characters in three different places from slightly different but contiguous time periods. Each of the children in these stories have musical ability with ‘potential’ to be great. But their circumstances (wartime Germany, homeless orphans in America, and migrant workers in California) don’t easily allow them to pursue them. However, due to their own tenacious characters (plus some lucky breaks) their futures do result in opportunities allowing them to live their passion. Recommended for middle grades.

Firebird by Misty Copeland
A young girl dreams of becoming a ballerina and Misty Copeland, a real-life African-America ballerina encourages her to follow her heart and shows that hard work and determination can make it happen. Recommended for grades 1-4.

Malala Yousafzai is a Nobel Peace Prize recipient. Her persistent canvasing for the rights of children, especially girls, to education put her life in great danger. Despite being shot by Taliban supporters because she refused to quit school and spoke out against the Taliban, she continues endorsing and fighting for children to go to school. Recommended for grades 3 to 6.

The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang & Sonny Liew
This graphic novel is about a wanna-be super hero. Well, he’s a reluctant wanna-be at best as it’s his mother who really pushes him to step up to the plate. But eventually Hank grows in to the role of “The Golden Man of Bravery”. This one really connects persistence, ability and courage with pursuing your dreams. Lots of wry humour, too. Recommended for grades 7 and up.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Coming together

A new school year is just around the corner and for those of us who view real-life through the lens of picture books then I bet you’re looking for a few titles that will help set the tone in your classroom come September.

When I think about those first few days of a school year I think about how I would want the class to gel as a community.  That –

-“we’re all in this together”;
-“we all have something to contribute”;
-we must be respectful, kind and helpful with each other;
-being different is ok and we all have a place here;
-we need to be ‘open’ to the experience of being in a new class.

You get the idea.  It’s all about being full to the brim with positivity and potential.

So here are some books that I think fit with this theme:

You’re Finally Here! by Melanie Watts
Great at conveying the excitment and anticipation of meeting new people. It also offers the opportunity to discuss how to behave when you’re in a group. Things like not interrupting, being patient, what being polite looks like and trying not to keep others waiting. It’s typical Melanie Watts fair with lots of humour and zaniness. (For K - Gr. 2/3)

Exclamation mark by Any Krouse Rosenthal
This one really speaks to appreciating differences and that we all have something to offer. Fitting in is important but also knowing who you are is just as crucial. See also, Red:a crayon’s story by Michael Hall. (For grades K. - Gr. 2/3)

Nerdy Birdy by Aaron Reynolds

This one also tells the story of how the title character, Nerdy Birdy comes to realize that there are more nerdy-birdy-type birds than “cool birdies” and this means you can always find a friend who will be very much like you. The book does a terrific job going beyond this idea though. When Nerdy Birdy becomes friends with vulture who doesn’t really fit with either the nerd-birds or the cool-birds, he learns that even though they’re not alike and have many differences, this is just fine. I love the illustrations by Matt Davies, too. You can pair this with Be A Friend by Salina Yoon and Friendshape by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld. (For grades 1-3)

Junkyard Wonders by Patricia Polacco
A good one for older kids about a class of students with learning challenges. The notions of “being in this together” and “we all have something to contribute” really shine through in this book. This is a class that has definitely gelled.  (For grades 3-6)

The Knowing Book by Rebecca Kai Dotlich

A lovely, philosophical kind of book that encourages children to being open to new experiences; to follow unknown paths, to be curious, playful and adventurous, to discover who you are and want to be, learn from your experiences and from this to trust yourself and finally, to take comfort in the constant things in your life.  This book is a terrific for either starting off a school year or finishing the school year. (All ages)

Monday, August 15, 2016

Wrap up for Picture Books Top 10 on the 10th

Last week I took on the challenge of listing my top 10 picture books in the meme Picture Book Top 10 for 10th Event. I encourage you to pop by and browse through some of these lists. It's good fun to see what makes these lists and how creative educators are.

As always, I struggled to list only 10 and decided to focus on a theme versus just my favourites. The theme focused on some of my favourite Canadian authors and illustrators instead was sort of a compromise. Only 10 writers but I sometimes included more than one of their books. I guess that might be considered cheating rather than a compromise -- but really who's counting? 

But taking part in this meme is a really fantastic endeavor as I'm able to glean a number of titles of picture books that are favourites of other teachers and librarians. They are often generous enough to include bits of information about how they use these titles, too.

I wanted to wrap up this experience by listing a few of these new titles that I'm now eager to bring into the Doucette Library for the upcoming year.

Here are my top 10 choices: 

Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty

They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel

The Whale by Vita Murrow

The Stick by Clay Rice

Octicorn by Kevin Diller

Explorers of the wild by Cale Atkinson

What to do with a box by Jane Yolen

There by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick

Running the Road to ABC by Denize Lature

More-igami by Dori Kleber

Okay, one more to keep the cheating even:

Brief Thief by Michael Escoffier

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Picture book Top 10 on the 10th - The World needs more Canada

It’s August 10th today and that means I’m participating in the Picture Book Top 10 for 10th Event once again. This is an annual event co-hosted by Cathy Mere of Reflect & Refine and Mandy Robek of Enjoy and Embrace Learning celebrating the top-picks, can’t-live-without picture books of blogging teachers, librarians, and other keeners who appreciate children’s literature. I’ve participated in a few of these events and always make a point of stopping by even when I don’t post a list of my own. I never come away disappointed, only with many, many recommendations of titles, new and old. Please stop by and take a gander at this diverse list. 

"The World Needs More Canada"

I decided to answer this call with my list today and focus on the Canadian authors and illustrators whose books continually appear in my workshops for student-teachers. These books often speak to something specifically ‘Canadian’ but for the most part I select them because they tell good stories or the illustrations are stunning, clever, beautiful or all three. In making my list there were a few who got cut only because we are limited to selecting ONLY TEN! Rest assured I've many more favourites that could have easily made the list.

So in no particular order, first up is Marie-Louise Gay

I've been a long time fan of this author-illustrator and am particularly partial to her series about Stella and her brother Sam. Stella is an older sister who is more than willing to answer and reassure Sam about the things he wonders and worries about. I love the whimsical illustrations and the affectionate relationship that comes across between these two characters. I would also recommend her book Any Questions? which addresses the many questions children often ask authors about writing books. 

Second is Tomson Highway.

I love the trilogy he wrote about a Cree family living in Northern Manitoba. The series includes Caribou Song (2001, 2013), Dragonfly Kites (2002, 2016) and Fox On the Ice (2003, 2010). Each book lets the reader look into a very different way of life that engenders a love of the land and family. The focus on a First Nations family 'shows' us how they lived without having to 'tell' us. These are bilingual books written in Cree and English.

Third is Ted Harrison.

Ted Harrison's art is very well known and easily identifiable.  He has illustrated two Robert W. Service poems about the far north, The Shooting of Dan McGrew and The Cremation of Sam McGee which are popular in schools. I often bring out Harrison's O Canada, an illustrated version of the national anthem. Each spread of pages captures evocative and iconic images of each province and territory; open spaces in the prairie provinces, the mountains in Alberta, the vast depths of ocean waters for the coastal provinces are just a few examples.

Fourth on my list is Melanie Watt.

Another author-illustrator, she is well known for a series of books featuring the most anxious, paranoid, safety-obsessed rodent you'd ever hoped to meet -- Scaredy Squirrel. I'm a wee bit more partial to Chester, a cat with authorial aspirations who will do anything to hijack Melanie's latest book. It's fun and cheeky besides having some classroom potential, as well.

My fifth author to note is Richard Van Camp.

I love this author for his storytelling ability, hands-down. Whether you are reading his books or listening to him as a presenter you will be easily caught up in the characters and places he's introducing us to. Two of his picture books for older readers that I often showcase for student-teachers are What's the Most Beautiful Thing About Horses? and A Man Called Raven. Van Camp is very much into incorporating traditional Native perspectives and values into his stories. He's is a Tłı̨chǫ writer from Fort Smith, Northwest Territories.

Sixth up is Frank Viva.

I love his retro-style illustrations and the concepts behind Along a Long Road and A Long Way Away. Lots of playful language and interplay between words and images. Whereas Young Frank, Architect plays with the idea of differences in perspective. This one is a good one for units about building things in elementary science and STEM classrooms.

Number seven on my list is Roy Henry Vickers

This Northwest Coast artist illustrates traditional stories like Raven Brings the Light and Cloudwalker that relates how the three largest salmon-bearing rivers in British Columbia came to be. The artwork is simply stunning with vibrant colourwork incorporating Northwest Coast iconography.

The eighth Canadian author I'd recommend is Rukhsana Khan.

 I first read The Roses in My Carpets back in the late 90s. Her story of refugees living in a camp and yearning for a better life resonants even more strongly for me now than it did back then. Others of her books that I promote in workshops with students are books that feature everyday concerns for children such as learning tolerance and sharing with a younger sibling (Big Red Lollipop) and overcoming fears (The Ruler of the Courtyard).

Ninth on my list is Rob Gonsalves.

He's best known for his Imagine a... series of books that play with our visual perspective of common and uncommon scenes. My favorite is his first book, Imagine a Night. The cover gives you a sense of what this might look like. Until you look closely at the picture you see the reflection of coniferous trees backlit by the moon. But the reflected trees turn out to be a woman carrying a lantern coming from the water instead. The pictures can be surprising, amusing and eerie. Others in the series include Imagine a Day, Imagine a Place and most recently, Imagine a World.

And, the tenth Canadian author I urge you to check out is Paul Yee.

Many of his books appear in my workshops because his strong storytelling shows us life in Canada as a Chinese immigrant. Many of his stories are historical and are great to tie-in with the social studies curriculum in Grade 5. The Ghost Train and Roses Sing on New Snow are two that I use frequently.

So, how about it?  Have I given you a few new Canadian authors to check out? Or maybe I just reminded you of some books that you might just have to revisit. New or old these authors and illustrators are well worth becoming acquainted with.

PS. I know this 'looks' like more than 10 but count'em.  There's really only 10 authors. Just don't count the number of actual books, okay?  

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