Monday, April 18, 2011

Greetings Everyone.

I’m away right now (enjoying a snowless holiday) and will not be posting any new blogs until May 5th.

But since you’re here, why don’t you check out one or two of the blogs I’ve listed in my blogroll.  With the demands of the academic school year easing up, I’ve been dipping back into them more frequently.  I’m always impressed with how much good stuff is out there.

Happy reading. 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Spring is in the air

Well, it would be, if it would just quit snowing in Calgary.

This is not Calgary.

 This is the view at Barnacle Bill's Beach Bungalows, Belize. 
(Photo by Bill Taylor)

But that’s ok, I’m virtually on the cusp of hitting warm, sunny, snowless beaches way far south, meaning that it is imperative that I scoop up plenty of reading material.  So, with holidays pending, I’ve been frantically collecting books this week. Yes, lots and lots of books – mostly for my e-reader.  I had to break down and get one, as I just couldn’t justify packing a bag of books and paying extra for it at the airport.  It’s been an interesting experience for a semi-luddite such as me.  But enough of that, here’s what I’ve stashed both electronically and in hard copy:

Good thing I’m headed for ‘paradise’, as the many fantasy novels I’ve gathered seem to be about dystopian societies.  A little worrisome, maybe.  Included are Gone by Michael Grant , Fever Crumb by Philip Reeve, Shift by Charlotte Agell, The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, Winter’s End by Jean-Claude Mourlevat and Sapphique by Catherine Fisher.

If I’m not heading toward the future, I’m lingering in the past with Riot by Walter Dean Myers, A Drowned Maiden’s Hair by Laura Amy Schlitz and Daughter of Xanadu by Dori Jones Yang,

Contemporary stories include Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai, A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park and for something a little lighter, The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler.

I love mysteries, so will bring along Calling a Dead Man by Gillian Cross and  What Was Lost by Catherine O’Flynn

A few graphic novels that I’ve been meaning to read are Foiled by Jane Yolen, The Color of Earth by Kim Dong Hwa, Hereville by Barry Deutsch and Grease Monkey by Tim Eldred.

I don’t really ‘do’ short stories but have set myself the task to read Shelf Life edited by Gary Paulsen, This Family is Driving Me Crazy edited by Jerry and Helen Weiss and Best Shorts selected by Avi and Carolyn Shute.

And finally, just for fun, silliness and pure fancy, I’ve got The Doom Machine by Mark Teague and Zorgamazoo by Robert Paul Weston.

It’s not likely I’ll get to all of these in the next few weeks. But with summer (almost) around corner, I’ll have more time to get caught up with my assortment of reading, one-way-or-another.

Ahh, summer…

What will you be reading over the summer?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Hosting Nonfiction Monday

Welcome to Nonfiction Monday. 

This is a weekly round-up of blogs about children’s literature.  Through this venue, I’ve learned about some amazing resources over the last couple of years.  Please browse through the list following my posting and perhaps you, too, will find a book or two of interest.  If you wish to have your blog listed for today’s event, please leave your information in the comments box.  I have attached a Mr. Linky's Magical Widget for those of you who would rather use that (hopefully it works) and to be listed immediately.

My posting today is for Two Generals by Scott Chantler (940.5421 ChT 2010).
What a gem!

Right from the get-go, we are invited as readers to engage with this book as if it is/was someone’s personal journal.  The red ‘leather’ cover and black elastic band holding the covers together suggests that this is a field journal.  The title and cover illustration, two men (waist down only) in uniform, suggest a military story and the cemetery in the background tells us that this story will have grave and dire consequences.  This will be about war.

This nonfiction, graphic novel is an account of Scott Chantler’s grandfather’s experiences during the Second World War, as an officer with the Highland Infantry of Canada. We see a little bit about where Law Chantler comes from, what the 1920s and 30s were about (big band era, in case you’re wondering) and how it is that he comes to be fighting in a war halfway across the world.  Early on we meet Jack Chrysler, Law’s best friend who also enlists as an officer.

The story itself follows what most of us know about a soldier’s experience in the army at this time.  Hitler’s advance into Poland galvanized many young men into enlisting.  Law marries before shipping out.  Once in England it’s a lot of hurry-up-and-wait, in between a lot of intense and dangerous training preparing Law and Jack for Operation Overlord, “the largest military operation in history, the greatest display of might the world has ever known.” (p.59)  It’s big and it’s bloody. This is the battle to retake the French town of Buron.

 The end notes tell us how Scott Chantler came to write this narrative and the research he did to depict his grandfather’s experiences.  Mostly, it’s based on primary resources such as his grandfather’s journal from 1943, letters written by his friend Jack to Jack’s wife, the War Diary of the Highland Light Infantry of Canada for tactical information, various interviews with veterans and relatives of veterans, in addition to various secondary sources.

So, from all this great research comes the ‘story’ of one Lieutenant.  There is an ebb and flow to the narrative, starting with a war scene which suggests a battle having just been fought. An element of suspense is created as we see a lone officer standing in a body-strewn battlefield, his back to us, leaving us in doubt as to who has survived and who has not.  Between the training exercises we see lots of letter writing to those in Canada, establishing the importance of family, and hanging out with army buddies, playing cards, watching movies or chasing girls. The battle scenes are fraught with tension which is intensified by the colour red introduced whenever someone is injured, killed or in danger.

The illustrations are brilliant.  The colour scheme is almost monochromatic (black, white and military khaki) until Law begins to experience some of the violence to be expected in a war.  As mentioned above, red is used to underscore and convey the visceral impact this had on Law.  Time and again, we see him remembering different ‘bloody’ incidents, so we know he must have been haunted by them.  Perhaps, Law reflected on this in his journals or it may be that his grandson has taken the liberty of imagining how Law was affected by the war, as it turns out that Law never spoke to his family about his wartime experiences.

I think this kind of book, used in secondary classrooms, has great potential to bring home the ‘story’ of a soldier’s life during World War II, what was damaged and lost forever, in addition to illustrating what historical thinking is all about.  The research feels personal and obviously was important to the author.  This in itself is important – remembering our personal stories.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

S(n)ow graphic

I can’t think of too many upsides to the never-ending winter Calgary is being subjected to – except one.  I’m getting a fair bit of reading done on the weekends, making my cat very happy, indeed. (I guess that would be two upsides.)

I’ve been catching up on graphic novels.  There have been so many good ones, some excellent ones and a few that were ok.   Here are those I think most worthy:

For middle school:
Amelia rules: the tweenage guide to not being unpopular by Jimmy Gownley
As usual, chaos is the name-of-the-game (however inadvertent it may be) for Amelia and her friends.  It’s all about fitting-in and being popular and not necessarily being both.  Riotous is the word that best comes to mind for Amelia.

Amulet: The stonekeeper, vol.1 by Kazu Kibuishi
A family, struggling to find their feet, after the father dies in a car accident, move to a dilapidated house left by a long-missing relative. The children follow their mother into an underground world with menacing creatures, helpful robots and a mysterious amulet that grants Emily guidance and power. 

Ghostopolis by Doug TenNapel
Great fantasy, where Garth (who is very much alive) is accidentally pulled into Ghostopolis, a ghost world controlled by various leaders, one with nefarious intentions.  Liked the humour.

Zebrafish by Sharon Emerson
A diverse group of kids start up a band, using their popularity to raise money and awareness about cancer and the importance of research. I liked the illustrations very much.  Good fit with the story.

For high school:
Mercury by Hope Larson
Two stories, one in the present and one in 1850, of two teenage girls.  Tara is coping with a different life after the farmhouse she lived in her mother burned down.  Jossey, Tara’s distant relative, falls in love with a young man who convinces her father to venture into gold mining. The young man proves to be untrustworthy and ultimately, a killer.The stories connect with a necklace that seems attracted to metal – very handy when you’re looking for lost keys or perhaps buried gold…

Moving pictures by Kathryn Immonen
It’s World War II and France is occupied by the Nazis.  Ila Gardner, an art curator, refuses to leave her work at the gallery but also hides significant works of art from the Nazis.  Her relationship with an officer, Rolf Hauptmann, complicates everything.  The narrative, which reflects Ila’s seemingly indifferent attitude toward everything around her, means I didn’t emotionally connect with her either.  But that only contributes to some of the bigger questions posed in this story about the significance of art and the choices we make. Kind of bleak but  deep.

Ooku: the Inner Chamber, vol. 1 by Fumi Yoshinaga
This story takes place in historical Japan but in an alternative world where many men have died due to a fatal virus. Because of men’s scarcity and vulnerability, women now shoulder the bulk of all work and government.  Thus the emperor is a woman with a palace filled with men who, as may be expected in confined quarters, establish many different kinds of relationships to further their own ends.  Some interesting scenes about sexual relationships between men and women and men and men.

Stitches: a memoir by David Small
David Small is well-known as a children’s author/illustrator.  This is his reflection about growing up in an unhappy home with undemonstrative and uncommunicative parents.  He isn’t even told that a ‘minor’ operation he undergoes on his neck is to remove a malignant tumor and he wakes to find one of his vocal cords removed.  His imagination and interest in drawing is a constant throughout the narrative and, with support, he does come out on the other side of this appalling time. Gripping.

That’s it for now.  In spite of the opportunity all this snowing has given me for reading, I’d really, really like it to stop – NOW, please.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Something wicked this way comes…

Genghis Khan: 13th-century Mongolian tyrant by Enid A. Goldberg and Norman Itzkowitz (950.2 GoG 2008) is part of the A Wicked History series.

While looking for resources to beef-up the Doucette Library’s collection of books about tyrannical leaders, I came across this series. I must admit, it was the books’ cover art that caught my eye.

The cover for Genghis Khan is illustrated with a drawn likeness of the titular man complete in armor, sword and a hard-nosed or ruthless look.  In fact, the word ‘ruthless’ is scrawled, graffiti-like, across the figure so, as a reader we have no doubt on opening this book that we will become better acquainted with one of the all-time tough guys of history.

And the book does just that. It provides enough information to take us into the time and place of 13th-century Mongolia.  It gives a context for how Temujin (Genghis Khan’s birth name) grew up (kills older brother at a very young age for starters), structure of society (tribe based, alliances critical for survival) and the qualities that honed Temujin into a ‘ruthless’ leader.

Included are a ‘wicked web’ showing significant people in Genghis Khan’s life, a section with images (mostly art images) depicting people and important events, a map, a timeline, a glossary and bibliographical/additional information.  Perfect for report writing.

I didn’t find the writing all that bloodthirsty.  I had an expectation that it was going to have more hype about the brutality of Genghis Khan.  The brutality and killing are dealt with but presented in such a way that it seems to be more a necessary evil that Genghis Khan didn’t kill just for the sake of killing. He did it so his enemies would understand exactly what price was to be paid if they crossed him or to those allies who would consider betraying him.  He really was ruthless, make no mistake, but he wasn’t a psychopath either.

I’ve only started looking at the other books I’ve purchased in the series and will likely read them in the near future.  There is a fascination with historical (celebrity) figures out-of-control (Charlie Sheen, anyone?), gone bad or off the rails and these books are looking to appeal to kids on that level.  The writing and information are sound enough and pretty straightforward.  The format of the books, I think, works too (these are not your typical ‘history’ textbooks) and will work best for kids in the middle grades, or for senior high students who find their textbooks too difficult to understand.

Other leaders found in this series include, Attila the Hun, Catherine the Great, Adolf Hitler, Napoleon, Otto Von Bismark, Vlad the Impaler, Idi Amin, Mao Zedong and many others.

Bad boys, bad boys… what’cha’gonna do?

Today is Nonfiction Monday, a round up of blogs about nonfiction children's literature.  Today's event is at L.L. Owens.  Take a look.

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