Monday, September 21, 2015

September 21 – International Day of Peace

You can’t miss hearing about the horrors of being a Syrian refugee at the moment.  Whatever mode of news you open or turn on each day, there are more stories to let us know just how terrible the crisis is. I don’t know how many times I’ve read about how someone hopes and yearns for a place to settle and just live their lives in peace.

September 21st marks the UN International Day of Peace, a day “devoted to strengthening the ideals of peace, both within and among all nations and peoples.”
Seems to me that we might have a ways to go on this one.

Here are a few recommendations to open discussions and explore issues: 

Peace by Wendy Anderson Halperin
The Toa Te Ching poses the question, how can we bring peace to the world?. Using beautiful quotes and illustrations the big concept of peace is explored, from a global perspective to more personal one.

A collection of poems beautifully illustrated with quilted pieces that offer reflections about the nature of peace and conditions that can conspire to create atmospheres where peace doesn’t exist.

Countdown by Deborah Wiles
A historical novel that looks at the trials and tribulations of preteens during the period of the Cuban Missile crisis in the 60s. Included are all sorts of primary document sources like headlines of news articles, songs, poetry, and government pamphlets about safety if a nuclear bomb should be dropped.

Thanadelthur was a Chipewyan woman, who worked to establish peace with the Cree to promote better trade relations with the Hudson’s Bay Company in the early 1700s.  This short play could be used for readers’ theatre.

Looks at real world conflict situations to explore the issues related to war and peace.

Not the easiest of reads but illuminating nevertheless.  Martin recounts her time and the people she met while living in a village in Sierra Leone.  She explains how civil war has played a huge part in contributing to brutal living conditions which continue to impact the villagers.

From the 50s to present, relates how this image has been used over time with lots of photographs.

Fascinating look at Hunter’s approach to teaching and his development of a simulation that taps into gaming and challenges young people to figure 

Monday, September 14, 2015

About Time

There’s some comfort in knowing that favorite things can have long lineages.  Whether we’re talking about family traditions, favorite objects such as toys (Much Loved) or books (Alice in Wonderland turns 150 years old this November) there’s security to be had in familiar things passed down.

Food falls into a category by itself in my opinion.  Besides being a necessity of life, we’ve imbued particular dishes with cultural significances or familial prominence that become part of people’s identities.  Think barbecue, pasta or tea and the southern United States, Italy or England (or China) come readily to my mind.

A Fine Dessert: four centuries, four families and one delicioustreat by Emily Jenkins and Sophie Blackall tie all of this together in a sort-of narrative timeline.
The dessert, blackberry fool, remains the same, made from the same ingredients, for over 400 years.

But so much else can and does change, too.

Four families, spaced 100 years apart from 1710 to 2010, show the reader lots of changes over that time, not just in terms of technology, but also who does household chores. The 1810 family includes female slaves who make and serve the dish, whereas in 2010, a boy and his father make this dessert for a gathering of very diverse people. However, the technological changes are interesting too, moving from twig whisks to electric mixers and outdoor ice houses to modern day refrigerators.

Getting the ingredients from picking your own berries and milking your own cow in 1710 to going to a grocery store in 2010, shows how we’ve been removed from the direct procurement of food.

The illustrations are terrific with historically accurate details included for each setting.  I enjoyed reading the author’s and illustrator’s notes about how they decided on which settings, families and details to include. They also include a recipe for you to try, too.

Elementary teachers would find this book useful for teaching concepts about the big concept of time and the nature of change within social contexts.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Happy New Year

I always feel that, for those of us tied to the academic school year, September is really the start of the new year not January. Being on a university campus everything ramps up, you can almost see the air vibrate with energy as students arrive and settle in.

So Happy New Year, everyone.  I wish you the best for the upcoming season.

My season started last week with a day spent with teachers at a local school taking us through a thinking process called Design Thinking.  It’s likely you will begin to hear more and more about this type of learning. I’m not going into details here but encourage you to check out my colleague’s blog, Doucette Ed Tech, that will outline more of the specifics plus a great, short 2 minute video that will enlighten you.  Suffice to say that the PD session was very worthwhile setting my brain to thinking about how I could use it in my own teaching.

So, being the eve of a new year and new thinking processes to work through my opening book recommendation for the 2015/16 academic school year is….[drum roll, please]….

The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires.

It’s a terrific picture book that captures the creative process of a girl and her assistant (pet dog) as they devise ‘the most magnificent thing’.  But this isn’t as ‘easy peasy’ as she first thinks.  There’s a lot of failed attempts along the way – or so it seems.  Growing increasingly frustrated and finally exploding after pinching her finger -- she quits!  Her assistant takes her for a walk where she is able to calm down. Reviewing all her rejects she discovers that each of them have a little something right about them.  They’re not all bad. One more attempt brings a more successful end result.  Happy days.

I love the illustrations.   The contrast between the little girl’s bright red tunic and the predominately white backgrounds with occasional pastel coloured objects holds our attention as we eagerly await the unveiling of the masterpiece. There’s not a lot of clutter to distract from the action and the antics of the assistant and a neighbour dog are fun, too.

This book has great classroom potential too for any building unit at the elementary level.  The trial and error process is the predominate storyline. There really aren’t any failures here as even her rejects are scooped up by neighbours who can see how the cast-offs will solve a problem for them. We’re able to understand that the thinking never stops; starting over doesn’t mean failure but a step towards deeper understanding; success can be redefined as the process unfolds; stepping away from a problem to reevaluate is a good strategy; perseverance pays off; cute dogs make the best assistants.

Endless possibilities for this book. Just like for this shiny, new school year.

Monday, July 6, 2015


I'm away for the next few weeks enjoying friends, family and hopefully lots of good weather.

I've taken bags of books home as I'm ever hopeful I'll have loads of time to read.  With friends and family hanging about this may be optimistic thinking on my part.

Happy summer reading, Everyone.


Monday, June 29, 2015

Okay.  So.  Once Upon an Alphabet by Oliver Jeffers is not your typical a is for apple, b is for ball kind of alphabet book.  It won’t be the one you’ll use with a preschooler to help them learn their ABCs.

Once Upon an Alphabet: short stories for all the letters will be much better suited to older kids.  Humorous, twisted, silly and sometimes slightly macabre, these 26 stories are an entertaining romp, playing with language and story.

A is for Astronaut Edmund who is working to overcome his fear of heights.  Check in with Z and we learn that Edmund has now reached a cruising altitude of 4 feet while flying in a Zeppelin.

F is for Ferdinand and his pet frog who throw a penny into the world’s biggest hole to see how long it will take to hit the bottom. Fast forward to the future and Old-man Ferdinand still stands with hand cupped to ear waiting for the sound of the penny hitting the bottom. His pet frog, unfortunately, is now long past his best before date.

O is for Owl and Octopus, two friends who look solve some of life’s little problems.

S is for a regular cucumber who wants to live the life of a sea cucumber. Taking ‘the plunge’, he dives into the sea but realizes too late that he doesn’t know how to swim and sinks straight to the bottom.  Owl and Octopus to the rescue.

Not all the stories connect to each other. Some rhyme, but most don’t. Many have playful alliteration that obviously focuses on whichever letter of the alphabet is mentioned.
It’s the illustrations that convey the silliness or wryness of the stories: not overly detailed, with a fairly simple colour palette with watercolour washes that capture the whimsical nature of each vignette.

I love Oliver Jeffers.  Don’t you?

Monday, June 22, 2015

Last week I gushed about Calgary’s glorious spring and how lush the vegetation looks.

But with flowers, shrubs, and trees that we love and admire, come those plants that we don’t admire. They can become the bane of one’s existence and mar our gardens.  I’m talking about WEEDS!

In Weeds Find a Way by Cindy Jenson-Elliott, we learn about what makes a plant a weed.  She describes various adaptions that plants/weeds acquire that allow them to thrive as a species.  Whether it’s the way they disperse their many seeds, overwinter, live in less-than-ideal conditions, and resist being removed, all have mechanisms in place that give them advantages when it comes to survival.

Background information about over 20 different weeds is included at the back of the book which accompanies an explanation by the author of what makes a weed a weed. Illustrations are big and splashy with a zoomed-in perspective to get us up-close to weeds.

Overall, this is a good book for elementary classrooms when talking about plants, growth, adaptation, seasons, or current events (at least here in Calgary).  Pair this with Sidewalk Flowers which I blogged about back in April. Children often have a much different perception about what’s a pretty flower and what’s a weed like the little girl in Sidewalk Flowers.  Very different indeed.

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