Friday, February 10, 2017

Top 10 Nonfiction Picture Books - Activists

I’m posting a little early this time so that I can contribute to this year’s Top 10 for 10: the Nonfiction Edition. I love these events.

Now in the fifth year, Nonfiction Picture Book10 for 10 (#nf10for10) is co-hosted by Cathy Mere of Reflect & Refine and Mandy Robek of Enjoy and Embrace Learning.  Go to Picture Book 10 for 10 Community to see all the contributors.  There’s no better way to build your library than with recommendations from people who are really passionate about children’s literature and many of the teachers in the crowd generously share teaching ideas, as well.

This time round, I’m focusing on nonfiction books about people who are the do-gooders of the world, the righters-of-wrongs and the impossible optimists of causes, lost or otherwise.

#1.  Nelson Mandela by Kadir Nelson.
 The illustrations are particularly strong as you can see from the cover. This image introduces us to the man who had vision and was a great leader. The free-verse text sketches out the basic story of his life and a 2-page author’s note fills in more of the details of Nelson Mandela’s struggle. Recommended for elementary grades.

#2.  14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy.
 I’ve blogged about this book numerous times and included it at least twice in past lists for the Top Ten event. It really is a must-have. Again, the illustrations only emphasize the beauty of the story. A young Kenyan man studying in New York in 2001 when the Twin Towers collapsed returns home to seek support from his community to give a herd of cattle to the Americans as a way to show sympathy, support and as a way to heal. To the Maasi of Kenya, cattle are a way of life and mean everything to them as a people. I still tear-up when I read it.

#3. OnePlastic Bag by Miranda Paul
 I love this story because of the initiative taken by a Gambian woman named Isatou when she saw a problem that needed to be addressed. Single-use plastic bags were a problem in her community, polluting the area, killing livestock and attracting insects. With help from the community, repurposing the plastic bags, into crocheted carrying bags she is able to generate income and, at the same time, as reducing waste.

#4. Viola Desmond Won’t Be Budged! By Jody Nyasha Warner & Richard Rudnicki
This is a Canadian story about Viola Desmond, a black woman who in 1946 was asked to move from a main floor movie theatre seat to a seat located in the balcony. When she refused, she was jailed, charged, and fined. This incident rallied the black community in Nova Scotia to push back against long standing racial discrimination.

      Rachel: the Story of Rachel Carson by Amy Ehrlich
Having just watched a PBS documentary about Rachel Carson it reminded me about the importance of her work. These two books tell us Rachel’s life story, her strong connection to nature, and why she was committed to increasing awareness to environmental issues. The book by Laurie Lawlor really ties into the impact a single person can have in the world. The beginning of the environmental movement is attributed in part to Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring

#6. A Boy and a Jaguar   by Alan Rabinowitz
This book also speaks to a person committed to the environment. I really appreciated how this story illustrates a man’s commitment to wildlife conservation and how his connection to animals helped him overcome a debilitating stutter. Finding his voice has enabled him to speak for the animals found in the wild.

Jane Goodall is the quintessential conservationist, internationally renowned for her work with chimpanzees in Tanzania.  The other book to be aware is a 2012 Caldecott Honor book,  Me…Jane by Patrick McDonnell.

#8. I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel
Awareness of transgender issues have been prevalent recently and Jazz Jennings is certainly doing her bit to help people understand what this experience has been like for her and her family. This picture book is appropriate for younger children whereas Being Jazz : My Life (as a TransgenderTeen) by Jazz Jennings a much longer book is directed to students in grade 6 and up.

Emmanuel was born in Ghana with a severely deformed leg. The biggest challenge for him to overcome was the prejudice he experienced from others.  With a great deal of grit, perseverance and encouragement from his mother he went to school, learned to play soccer and ride a bike. He undertook a 4000 km trip across Ghana on his bicycle to raise awareness and change attitudes in his county towards those with disabilities.

#10. Dreams of Freedom : In Words and Pictures by Amnesty International
This book is a collection of quotes from famous activists including Nelson Mandela, Malala Yousafzai, Anne Frank, and the Dalai Lama who have lived experiences with ‘dreams of freedom’. Besides the provocative, beautiful, and inspiring words are provocative, beautiful and inspiring illustrations done by a bevy of international illustrators such as Mordicai Gerstein, Chris Riddell, Sally Morgan, Oliver Jeffers and Roger Mello. Works well with social studies when the Rights of Child is being taught. Beautiful book.

 Again, I highly encourage you to visit the rest of the entries in today’s event by clicking on Picture Book 10 for 10 Community. You will come away with many irresistible recommendations.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Building frenzy

Lots of building going on with our student-teachers these days: building lesson plans and units; building projects’; building prototypes of all sorts using various materials including Lego robotics, wooden blocks, foam blocks, straws, cardboard; and above all, building knowledge.

One topic that came my way recently was students wanting to develop a unit for primary grades around the idea of building a community. Did I have any recommendations that would inspire and inform a unit like this?


With the idea in mind that young children would connect readily with building homes (and ties neatly into the Alberta social studies curriculum to boot) we decided to start with that.

I recommended browsing the series, Young Architect with the following titles:

Futuristic Homes by Sa.Taylor       Working Homes by G. Bailey
Towering Homes by G. Bailey        Storybook Homes by G. Bailey
Adventure Homes by G. Bailey

Though the suggested grade level is 3 to 6, I think the illustrations would certainly spark the imagination of students in grades 1 and 2, as well. These particular student teachers got excited when they started flipping through them, for there’s lots of information about construction techniques and materials and definitions for specialized words. I didn’t think these books provided everything but were a good starting point.

I matched these books with the picture book by Chris Van Drusen, If I Built a House because it takes a fanciful, pie-in-the-sky approach to building a home for the narrator’s family.

Because the unit was going to go beyond homes, the student teachers wanted books that would show different kinds of buildings. They wanted iconic buildings from around the world, so I showed them 13 Buildings Children ShouldKnow by Annette Roeder. Also graded for grades 3 to 6, it does feature the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Taj Mahal, the Sydney Opera House, The Eiffel Tower and many others. Each entry includes photographs, illustrations, information about when they were built, construction techniques and the occasional quiz question.

I’m hoping I’ll find out how the students developed this unit further in the near future.

Monday, January 30, 2017

The darnedest things

Weird & Wacky Inventions by Jim Murphy is a gem.

I’m wrapping up January’s design thinking blitz with a focus on the fourth phase – prototyping.

 (If you’re just joining us and wondering what design thinking is please visit the blog DoucetteEd Tech and read the last couple of weeks blogs to learn more. Here's the link to Paula's blog where she's review some resources that fit with the prototyping phase.)

Prototyping is about producing a product that can be tested in the real world to see if it fits with the need that was initially deemed worthy of investigation in the first place with an eye to improving the situation.

 So back to Jim Murphy’s Weird & Wacky Inventions.

One of the things that make us human is the ability to solve problems and in this book, the reader is introduced to a myriad of inventions and the associated problems. These devices were all patented in the United States going all the way back to the early 1800s.
The information is presented as a quiz; there is an illustration of the invention with a wee bit of description about what the device might do or the problem it might solve. After you make a guess you turn the page and learn what is really was for.

For example, here’s one that cracked me up:

The answer is # 2(of course), a sunbather’s toe-ring. This was designed to in 1973 by Russell Greathouse to help with the problem of uneven tanning. His toe-rings looped around the big toes and prevented the legs from splaying outwards thus resulting in the unsightly appearance of uneven tan lines. The flower was purely for aesthetics.  He’d thought of everything.

There are so many more inventions highlighted in the book that are ingenious, ridiculous, and amazing in their own ways.  Having students browse through this will certainly give them a very good sense about idea generation and that in the prototyping phase of design thinking everything is on the table for consideration. Nothing is too crazy. You never know when a bit of one idea meshed with something else will give you an outcome you wouldn’t have come up with in any other way.

The format is very approachable and easily read, great for dipping into and browsing. The illustrations have an old-fashion quality to them which I liked but may not appeal to students. Nevertheless, I’m recommending this for upper elementary, middle grades and struggling readers in high school.

Any guesses?

(Tell me what kid wouldn't be thrilled with a pair of jumping shoes with strong springy steel legs that would allow kids to jump farther? My track and field days would have been soooo different if I'd had these. Design in 1922 by May and George Southgate.)

Monday, January 23, 2017


Definition from Merriam-Webster's online dictionary: 


1     : the imaginative projection of a subjective state into an object so that the object appears to be infused with it
2     : the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thought, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner, also : the capacity for this

You could make a strong case that one of the main reasons people read literature is to learn about other people.  It might be on a totally superficial level like learning what it's like to live in another country or what activities make up a person's day. But the stories that go beyond the surface and take us into the mind of another person, get us to feel what that person is feeling, is where the power of literature really lies.  The stories that stick with me are the ones where I connected emotionally with the characters.

I'm focusing on empathy today as a wrap up to the instruction I've been doing the last couple of weeks about design thinking. (See last week's blog for more about this.)

Empathy is the first component in the design thinking process and is used in a way to generate a better understanding of a problem from the perspective of someone who is closely associated with that problem. One of the scenarios we used in the workshops was based around the picture book, Home and Away by John Marsden and Matt Ottley. We wanted to have students get into the mindset of a refugee family who had lived through a horrific war and wanted to escape to another country, hoping for a better life but lose a great deal in trying to survive.

In one of the last sessions (Paula and I co-taught 15 sessions) a student directed us to the following YouTube video about the difference between empathy and sympathy which I really liked.

Take a look: 

It really is about connecting to someone else on an deeper level. 

I wanted to recommend some books that perhaps could be used to promote empathy in a classroom. But "Holy-Tons-of-Books, Batman!" almost any book could fall into this category. So this becomes super easy or incredibly difficult depending on how you look at it.

The following is a list of 10 titles that represent a range of stories that could be used in many different ways:

1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee : novel for secondary level

2. Charlotte's Web by E.B. White : novel for middle grades

3. Moo by Sharon Creech : novel for elementary grades

4. Wonder by R.J. Palacio : novel for middle grades

5. Enemy Pie by Derek Munson : picture book

6. The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig : picture book

7. Camel in the Sun by Griffin Ondaajte : picture book

8. Red: a Crayon's Story by Michael Hall : picture book

9. Crazy Hair Day by Barney Saltzberg : picture book

10. Ivan: the Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla by Katherine Applegate : picture book

Monday, January 16, 2017

Designing Workshops Using Design Thinking

This past week has been incredibly busy in the Doucette Library with loads of teaching.

The workshop in high demand is Introduction to Design Thinking.

The workshop, as the title suggests, is an introduction for undergraduate students, giving them the  opportunity to learn the process and vocabulary associated with design thinking by working through two examples. One example we show is the IDEO group designing a new shopping cart (click here to see the video we’re using)  and the other is the work that my colleague, Paula and I did to construct this very workshop using the design thinking process.

It’s very interesting to see what the uptake is with students and the differences between those students looking to become elementary school teachers and those headed towards junior high and senior high schools.

If you’re keen to learn more about what’s happening in these workshop then you MUST go to Paula’s blog, Doucette Ed Tech where we are documenting our work on a daily basis.  Because one of the premises of the workshop is using it as a PROTOTYPE and having students go through the last step of this process – TESTING and FEEDBACK – giving us feedback about the workshop, we often make modifications as we go along. So, if the students seem to consistently struggle with one of the activities, we try to improve our instructions or tinker with the format. Time has been a big issue for us since the earliest stages of planning as 80 minutes isn’t really enough time to have students work through all five steps:


in a meaningful way while they’re still coming to understand the very basics of the process. This means we’re very conscious about the length of each section and activity and have moved away from barking out how long they have to do something to let the activities unfold and deciding as we go how long something should be. We do have to keep an eye on the clock but this is working for us much better.

If you’re looking for a great introductory resource for yourself or to use with kids, I strongly recommend Design Thinking by Kiristin Frontichiaro. This very short book walks you through the steps using a scenario of helping a girl confined to a wheelchair use her school elevator more easily. She has difficulties reaching the buttons. This book is easily accessible and the concrete example works well.

Remember to stop by Paula’s blog, Doucette Ed Tech to follow along with us.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Let it snow. Let it snow. Let it snow.

Happy New Year, Everyone!

Calgary is ‘enjoying’ a winter-wonder-land at the moment; seemingly, arriving within a couple of days over the holiday break.

Lots and lots and lots of fluffy snow, everywhere.

This is the perfect time to bring out the picture books that are about snow.
April Pulley Sayre’s latest offering, Best in Snow would be one such book. 

I do love her books.

This one also includes stunning photographs which draws the reader into a simple poem that incorporates the beauty of winter while giving us tantalizing bits of information about snow.

First, the photos: really gorgeous. Her images capture the jagged edge beauty of frost and ice crystals perfectly; the soft, lightness of the snow itself as it gently but irrefutably accumulates or the way wind and light can make the air bright and sparkly as if filled with polished gems.

Secondly, the poem: With so few words, the author is able to create a landscape that becomes redefined by the snow. Woodland birds and animals are shown within this landscape, adding depth to her words as the reader sees how life goes on. Nothing is static. Warming temperatures change the qualities of the snow and shows that within the bigger seasonal cycles there are lots of mini-cycles, too.

And last, are the information pages at the back of the book that make this a terrific book for connecting science and poetry. Each line is given some explanation and shows us how important snow is and where it fits into the hydrologic cycle.

I highly recommend this for elementary grades.

Other snow books that I love and worth checking out, include:

Blizzard by John Rocco 
Red sled by Lita Judge

Snow sounds by David Johnson

Stay warm.

Template Design | Elque 2007