Monday, May 18, 2015

Trio of fun

I've three recommendations that are interactive and fun, fun, fun.

First, is a book from Tara Books.  This is an Indian publisher known for its handmade books that are often illustrated by ethnic peoples from various parts of India in traditional styles.  Visit the Bhil Carnival by Subhash Amaliyar and Gita Wolf is one such book.

This fold-out, pop-up picture book features two children who wander through a maze-like carnival, enjoying balloons, Ferris wheel, ice cream, Indian sweets like coconut burfi, music, dancing, and visiting friends. Opening the book we see Neela and Peela starting off to the fair. Turn the page and two flaps that run along the top and bottom of both pages reveal a peak-a-boo opening that tells us to “Come In”.   Pulling the flaps open reveals the entire fairground in an explosion of colour and dots.

The illustrator is from the Bhil tribe from Madhya Pradesh in central India.  His folk style uses the colour and dots to convey the constant movement and excitement to be found in this type of celebration.  The fold-out page includes a small story-book tucked and affixed into the corner that tells us what Neela and Peela are up to and a pop-up Ferris wheel too. Try this one with grades 2 and up as it ties into the social studies curriculum about community, quality of life, and India very easily.

Walter was Worried by Laura Vaccaro Seeger is a terrific combination of visual and word play.  If Walter is worried, we see a boy’s worried face but the details are comprised of the letters that spells the word ‘worried’. If Shirley is shocked, we see a girl’s face with ‘s’ and ‘k’ as eyebrows, ‘c’ and ‘d’ for eyes, ‘h’ and ‘e’ are the pupils and ‘o’ for an open, shocked mouth.  It’s good fun and kids may be inspired to come up with their own depictions of spelled-out, facial emotions.  It’s a pretty sophisticated concept book that will work well with upper elementary.

And, my last bit of fun to offer you is Book-o-Beards: a wearable book by Lenke & Lentz. This oversized board book displays the bottom half of several hairy, male faces.  Holding the book up to your face with your nose tucked over the spine, you can try ‘wearing’ a new, bearded look before actually committing the time and effort in real life. If beards are back in, then anyone can be a part of this trend.  If you want to be a lumberjack, then you may want to try out a full, curly, orange beard.  Not into cutting down trees, then maybe take to the high seas as a black-bearded pirated complete with braids, bows and beads.  The knife held between yellowed-teeth is included for authenticity.  Also included are a cowboy, a sailor, Santa Claus, and a police officer. This will appeal to anyone with a sense of humour.

Thanks, Cowboy Barb, for showing us your beautiful beard.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Adventures with colour in Canada : Ted Harrison

Cover image: Magnificent Yukon
Besides being an immensely useful book in classrooms, A Brush Full of Colour: the world of Ted Harrison by Margriet Ruurs and Katherine Gibson, is filled with beautiful images and information about the life of Ted Harrison. Just what you’d hope for in a biography.

Set out chronologically, Ted’s childhood in a coal-mining town in England, his travels with the British army, and then as a teacher, are documented in his art, reflecting his growth as an artist as well as the myriad of artistic influences from various cultures. 

Eventually, settling in Canada (Alberta, Yukon and British Columbia), his distinctive style of bright colours, defining black lines, faceless people, juxtaposing contrasting and complimentary colours, and wide open landscapes, was developed and honed here
His work is easily identifiable and is often used in classrooms for students to model their own work on. The cheery colours and depictions of everyday life make this a style that can be emulated in elementary classrooms
Recommended for elementary grades but reading level would be best for the upper grades.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Residential schools, resiliency and reconciliation

Currently on display at the Calgary Public Library, is a unique art installation known as The Witness Blanket.   

“The Witness Blanket stands as a national monument to recognise the atrocities of the Indian Residential School era, honour the children, and symbolise ongoing reconciliation.”

 You will see a diverse range of artifacts arranged to represent a quilted blanket.  Items included are door knobs and handles, bricks, old painted wood, children’s skates, bowls, school badges, children’s beaded moccasins, letters, photos, a door from an infirmary, religious statues, part of a piano keyboard and even a couple of braids of hair.  These are only some of the items that have been collected from various residential schools, churches and other government buildings from across Canada.  The whole installation stands above several volumes of Canadian statues that include the Indian Act from 1857 to 1938.

The Witness Blanket is on display until May 9th.  There is a free app that can be downloaded from the Apple store that is well worth getting.  Each artifacts is described and located on a map of Canada and will add even more to viewing.

What a powerful piece of art to tie into literature relating the experiences of some of these survivors.

Very recently, I read The Education of Augie Merasty: a residential school memoir by Joseph Auguste Merasty with David Carpenter.  This short but essential volume is a collection of Augie’s memories of living at St Therese Residential School, in Sturgeon Landing, Manitoba. Many of the nuns and priests treated the children brutally, regularly subjecting Augie and the other children to cold, hunger, verbal and physical abuse, and sexual assault.

I found the introduction and other content supplied by David Carpenter interesting, too.  Where Augie tells of his childhood memories, David gives us insight into the man that he becomes.  In the decade that it took for David to collect these stories we learn of the many ups and downs that befall Augie.  His voice is always strong sometimes with tinged with humor and even regard for some of his kinder teachers.

I’m recommending this title for high school students and older

This book was recently featured on the CBC’s radio program, The Current.  Click here to listen to the interview with David Carpenter.  

Monday, April 27, 2015

Keen observations and kind impulses

Sidewalk Flowers by Jon Arno Lawson and Sydney Smith perfectly captures the intense level of observation that can occupy a child once something has caught their attention.

This wordless, paneled picture book shows us the walk home for a little girl and her preoccupied father, after picking up groceries at the store.  The little girl wears a red coat which ‘pops’ her out of the black-and-white landscape of her urban neighborhood.  A bright dash of yellow dandelions catches her eye and starts her bouquet of wildflowers that she collects as she goes along.

Walking through a park she notices a dead bird in the middle of the walk.  She leaves a few of her flowers with the bird.  She leaves a spray of lilacs or lupines by a homeless man sleeping on a park bench.  As she shares her floral gifts with those she meets, the city landscape starts to take on more colour, too. After leaving flowers with the bird, the grass in the park changes from grey to green. As she gets closer to home, people and houses also take on more colour.  She leaves flowers in her mother’s hair as she hugs her, and in that of her younger siblings.  Everything touched is transformed.

The close observation she does and the empathy she has for everything around her is effortlessly embodied in the illustrations.  The winsome bouquet that she gathers and again disperses, reflects the girl’s kindness and the overall gentle nature of this slice-of-life story. The end pages are beautifully illustrated with a scattering of these wild, city flowers.

It reminds me a little of Bob Graham’s How to Heal a Broken Wing in which a little boy is the only one in a very busy, bustling city to notice a small injured bird in the middle of the sidewalk.  He follows his impulse to rescue the bird and nurse it back to health.

Both books work well for the primary grades. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

The creative process for writing a story

Any Questions? by Marie-Louise Gay is a treat.  It’s an exploration of the creative process for an omnipresent author as she writes a story.

It starts as the author visits a school where children ask all sorts of questions:

 How did you learn to draw?
How many books have you written?
Which is your favorite book?
Can your cat fly?
Where do your ideas come from?
Where does a story start?

…and many, many more.  You get the idea.Though I did notice she didn't include the one I remember always coming up: How much money do you make?

It’s the last couple of questions that I listed above that really drive this book.  It’s about how Marie-Louise Gay comes up with idea.  Maybe the colour of the paper she’s working with will inspire her and she’ll end up writing a story about a snowstorm or a jungle or the sea.

Or maybe random words and ideas will give her an idea to play with.  Sometimes these fragments might sit around for a long time before they get used.  You just never know what might work.

 And if she comes up with a blank? Well, she’ll doodle, paint, sketch, play around and ‘shake up’ her ideas, letting her mind wander. Things might get a bit messy and be a bit hard but eventually, something always comes.

Using a story-within-a-story to illustrate this process works really well.  Besides showing this as being a ‘process’ there’s always a great sense of play, curiosity and exploration that is emphasized.  The children in the book become part of the process of working out ideas, creating a portion of the story being developed and just enjoying the ride to the end.

I've always loved Marie-Louise Gay’s illustrations.  If you know her Stella series then you’ll know what to expect. (Stella and Sam even have a cameo early on.)

I highly recommend this for early elementary grades when discussing story development and creative process.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Through the eyes of a poet -- Gentle rain

It must be spring.  Compared to last year, I’m early in posting about a poetry book rhapsodizing about the poetic qualities of rain.  But spring seems to have arrived in Calgary rather early this year and it’s been really difficult not to tuck away the snow shovels and winter boots.  Calgary is renowned for getting large, wet dumps of snow even into May, so the shovels remain out and the winter boots remain accessible, shoved into the coat closet.

Nevertheless, I’m really hoping that precipitation in the near future will be of the non-white, fluffy kind.

“Rain plops. It drops./It patters./It spatters.”

Raindrops Roll by April Pulley Sayre is a beautifully produced book of photographs and words.  With lots of macro shots of insects, leaves, flowers, grasses and webs we can see how the rain falls, lands, pools, soaks in, clings, magnifies, reflects and eventually, dries. I love zoomed-in shots that show such detail.

“It thuds./Makes mud./It fills./It spills.”

The close-ups are of creatures and objects found in a backyard garden which makes is seem like anyone can observe the natural beauty of a gentle rainstorm and its aftermath.  The rhyming is simple but dynamic and lets us see and feel what falling and fallen rain is like.

“Yet raindrops remain./They gather./ They glob together.”

At the end, there are a couple of pages that explains a little more about the science of water,  from the physics involved in making a drop of water, how water magnifies and reflect things about them, and how rain connects to the water cycle.

“Raindrops reflect./They reveal./Raindrops highlight what is real.

A terrific classroom book for the elementary grades connecting science and language arts.

“They linger in lines./And when the sun shines…/raindrops slowly dry.”

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