Monday, February 8, 2016

Red Hand Day - February 12th

This Friday is the 14th year that the Red Hand campaign has sought to raise awareness for the plight of child soldiers worldwide.  It is estimated that there are over 250,000 children under the age of 18 who are forced to fight, kill, be sex slaves and otherwise support military initiatives around the globe. 

A very recent children's book, Child Solider: when boys and girls are used in war by Jessica Dee Humphreys & Michel Chikwanine was published as part of the CitizenKid series by Kids Can Press. 

It relates Michel Chikwanine's experiences as a five-year old abducted by rebel soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1993. In a rite of initiation he was drugged and forced to kill his best friend. His time with rebels was unrelenting terror and brutality. He came to Canada when he was 16 and now as an adult promotes awareness of the suffering of child soldiers.

This book is well done for such a difficult topic. It's done in graphic-nonfiction style that handles the violence with care (not much blood and gore depicted). The illustrations are on the cartoon-y side which suggests a younger audience than the 10 to 14 year-old target he had in mind when writing this book. Information at the back of the book fills in information about children involved in military conflicts and how readers can help.

The book Out In Front: Grace Akallo and the pursuit of justice for child soldiers by Kem Knapp Sawyer has a different format but relates very similar circumstances. Grace is taken from her school in Uganda and forced into the Lord's Resistance Army when she was 15 years-old.  She, too, is subjected to the horrors of being a child soldier and 'wife' to a lieutenant in the army. She escaped after seven months. Now she also looks to promote understanding and rehabilitation for former child soldiers and to raise awareness for the children caught up in such dire circumstances.

This book is also filled with much information about the broader context of children used as soldiers interspersed with Graces' story. End notes include sources, a bibliography, index and websites to go to for additional information. This book is for grades 7 and up.

I'm recommending both books for their content. This is a cause that is important and worth children knowing more about.

UPDATE: CBC news article highlighted the VTECS : Veteran Trainers to Eradicate the Use of Child Soldiers as an initiative that will enlist veteran Canadian soldiers to aid in the prevention of recruitment of children as soldiers.

Monday, February 1, 2016

It’s time for another letter

Dear Early Childhood Educators-to-be,

by Melanie Watt

Welcome to the world of children’s literature.
Boy, are you in for a treat! 

by Julie Morstad

There’s so many good books to tell you about, it’s difficult to know where to start

by Istvan Banya

Maybe I should start with telling you to have fun and look for those resources that excite you. If you’re enthusiastic about the book so will your students.

by Rob Gonsalves

The books that make you say, “Amazing”, “Oh wow!”, “Gross”, that make you sigh or cry, tickle your funny bone, or maybe revisit favorites from when you were little or maybe just think a little longer about what you’ve just read  -- THOSE are the ones to bring to class and treasure.

By Amy Rosenthal

by Steve Jenkins

Find wonderful authors and illustrators that will make you look at familiar topics with new eyes.

by Barney Saltzberg

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.  Not every book you bring in will be a hit. But that’s OK. Go find another one. 

by Justin Richardson

If you’re not sure about a book – go find a different one.

Really think about what you want your book to ‘do’ in the classroom. Do you want it to provoke? Surprise? Fill time? Provide information? Extend a topic? Enrich and deepen a topic? Entertain?

Find people you trust to recommend books like other teachers, librarians, booksellers, friends, and  family – you never know who might know of a ‘perfect’ resource to go with your topic.  The final decision is always yours.

These are just a few guidelines to get you started.

Oh, and don’t forget the Doucette Library has many library guides listed on the homepage to help with your literature choices.

Now, go and enjoy
by Aaron Becker

Monday, January 18, 2016

All in the name of public health

But tell that to Mary Mallon aka Typhoid Mary.

I’ve had two recently published books about Mary on my to-read pile for a while and finally got to them over the holidays.  (Not the most chipper reading, for sure, but entirely fascinating, nonetheless.)

 The two books are:

Both books cover pretty much the same content: an outbreak of typhoid that is tracked down by a vigilant and somewhat obsessive sanitary engineer, Dr. George Soper to a household cook, Mary Mallon.

Mary is identified as a healthy carrier of the typhoid bacteria. She is able to contaminate raw food when she prepares it for the families she works for, making them sick and killing a couple of them over a period of years. She is eventually apprehended, tested and quarantined at a hospital on an island in the East River between Queens and the Bronx. She lives there for three years until the health department releases her when she promises not to cook for other people. She struggles for a few years doing other types of work but eventually returns to cooking at a hospital only to infect newborn babies and mothers. She is returned to North Brother Island where she lives until 1938.

The tension in the story is the balance between personal rights and liberty and public health.

The most interesting part of this for me was reading the two books back-to-back. Starting with Susan Campbell Bartoletti’s book, Terrible Typhoid Mary, (I have found her books about the KKK and Hitler Youth fascinating), I anticipated a strongly told narrative about Mary Mallon’s trials and tribulations. The book attempts to make Mary a real person and tries to get us to empathize with her. And I did get there in part. Bartoletti doesn’t down play that Mary created some of her own problems. Mary knowingly went back to cooking for others knowing the consequences.  Nevertheless, a good part of her life was lived fairly isolated.

It wasn’t until I read the second book, Fatal Fever, that I realized that Bartoletti’s book, Terrible Typhoid Mary, had gone further in suggesting that Mary Mallon, despite her noncompliance and resistance to testing, had not been treated fairly.  Other healthy carriers had been identified but not incarcerated and isolated like Mary.

In Terrible Typhoid Mary, it is also suggested that she was given experimental medical treatments to see if she could be cured, whereas other carriers were not experimented on. In Bartoletti’s book, Soper comes across as especially diligent and perhaps biased against Mary describing her more like a man than a woman because of her fiery temper (she threatened him with a sharp carving fork when he asked to test her blood, urine and feces), her strength, and use of rough language saying “her mind had a distinctly masculine character” (p.45). Because Mary didn’t fit society’s or Soper’s ideal of a woman, this may have biased him against her.

Bartoletti also emphasizes that by identifying the first healthy carrier of the typhoid bacteria he had an opportunity to make a name for himself.  After Mary was quarantined and living on North Brother Island, he spoke at public engagements and published works about Mary’s case.

In Fatal Fever, aspects of Soper’s work are framed differently by not including the information about his perceptions about Mary and down playing his seeming desire for public fame. His passion for finding people like Mary was for the benefit of public health.

Both books are referenced in-depth, with footnotes, bibliographies and indexes. Bartoletti’s book also includes a timeline.  I liked the layout of Jarrow’s Fatal Fever and think students will find it a little more appealing because of interspersed illustrations and photographs and white space framing the text. Bartoletti’s book has the pictures mostly grouped into a section at the back of the book.

Still the question remains: how far in the interests of public health should an individual’s right be protected when others can be placed in jeopardy?

I recommend both books be used together to compare the way the same information is used but framed differently.  Both books would be suitable for grades 7 and up.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Walking in someone else’s shoes

John Marsden can certainly set a scene that makes you think – “What would I do if this happened to me?”

With so much in the news about Syrian refugees, Home and Away by John Marsden is a book that’s timely to post about.  His book really brings home the ‘me’ part of my question.  What would I do if this was happening to me and my family?

This is not an easy book with a happy ending. 

We are introduced to a typical Australian family (though there’s little that identifies them as specifically Australian) Mom, Dad, Claire, Toby, Grandma (who lives next door) and an unnamed narrator.

Initially, our narrator documents briefly a few defining things about each family member so we can get a sense of who they are, their hopes and dreams and includes a family picture. We get a glimpse of a typical day of everyone busy with their work or school day.

And then the war starts.

Within a couple of months food becomes desperately difficult to find.  A few weeks later, Toby becomes sick, Claire doesn’t speak and Mom and Grandma are shadows of themselves.  They are reduced to eating roadkill and scavenging in abandoned gardens.
By the fifth month, Dad has made arrangements, at great expense, to get the family out and to a country where they’ll be safe with plenty of food and medical care. Escaping their war torn home means taking a leaky boat filled with strangers to a distant place called Hollania.  They spend 11 days seemingly adrift with few resources where even a few scraps of fish can cost a life. When they see another boat they think they will be rescued but that is not the case.  The naval vessel is there to drive them away but because the boat is in such bad shape they are allowed to land and are taken to an isolated camp in the middle of a desert. The government doesn’t want to encourage more illegal immigrants from coming so provides minimal care. Others say that these people aren’t really desperate refugees and are there to make money.  And then there are those who do provide the detainees with some help and kindness. People die including some of the family members we’ve gotten to know at every stage of this drama.

Sound familiar?

None of this is new.  We’re reading about people like this in the news right now. What is different is the family is from a country like our own.  The author and illustrator have made this narrative where we can easily place ourselves. The illustrations are often dark and bleak.  Some of them are drawn in crayon as if by five-year old Toby and show us what he sees if not how he’s making sense of it all; lots of planes flying overhead, explosions and dead bodies.

The diary entries are brief and intermittent bringing us up-to-date about what’s happening in a very matter-of-fact way.  Being so matter-of-fact made reading the story bearable. I was adding my own layers of emotion and understanding as I read through the book.  I kept going back over the timeline to see how quickly normal life breaks down when all our conveniences are taken away. Life quickly becomes very basic – food, water, safety.  Also, this story shows just how tenuous life really is and how much we take for granted. I’m having a difficult time imagining losing a father in the manner described in this story. The mental toll that this situation takes on everyone: Toby’s conviction that he’s done something bad (killed everyone) and that’s the reason he’s living in prison and Claire’s confinement in a psychiatric ward keeps coming back to me. 

So, the question is what would you do if this happened to you?

I’m recommending this as a terrific, powerful and difficult classroom resource for grades 5 or 6 and up.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Holiday Cheer

Well, the holiday break is almost upon us here at the University of Calgary and the only list I'm checking at this point is the one in my head for the  books coming home with me from the library.

Winter's Candle by Jeron Frame

And as expected, the list keeps changing and growing.  I mean many books can a person read in two weeks with company coming, meals to plan and shop for and then cook, puzzle-making, movie-watching, and dinner-settling walks?  Apparently, many....Many, many, many.

Marguerite's Christmas by India Desjardins
A Gift by Yong Chen

Can't wait!

Wishing you much holiday cheer celebrating the traditions that bring you joy.

Happy New Year, Everyone.


Monday, December 14, 2015

Holiday shopping list

If you work with children's literature you've probably been asked once or twice (at least) what would be a good book for a daughter, son, grandchild, niece, nephew, 13 year-old boy who doesn't like to read and only wants to play video games, etc. at this time of year.

This year co-worker Paula and I spent some time at a local bookstore browsing the shelves looking for titles to add to a list that we would circulate to our co-workers and students with recommended titles for this year's gift giving season.

It was great fun adding familiar favourites and discovering a couple of new titles along the way for ages 4 to 18. Dividing books into groups was fun too as it allowed us the freedom to classify by types of readers not just by age. The list was long enough that we decided publishing it in sections over four days would be less overwhelming.

If you're curious (or perhaps, desperate) to see what made our list click on Recommended Literature for the 2015 Holidays.

Some of my personal favourites include:

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen

I Really Like Slop (Elephant and Piggie series) by Mo Willems

The Day the Crayons Came Home by D. Daywalt

Hold Me Closer: the Tiny Cooper Story by David Levithan

Erebos by Ursula Poznanski

Popular: a Memoir, Vintage Wisdom for the Modern Geek by M. Van Wagenen

The Marvels by Brian Selznick

Truth Commission by Susan Juby

Book with a Hole by Herve Tullet

Wet Dog by Sophie Gamand

 If you're not in the market to buy books but still want to pick up a couple of our recommendations, stop by the Doucette Library.  We do have most of these titles.

Happy shopping!

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