Thursday, December 22, 2011

Holiday Break.

I would like to thank everyone who has stopped by Apples with Many Seeds and to invite you to do so again in the New Year.  I’m taking a break until early January.

I wish everyone enjoyment of all the activities that happen at this time of year whether is it indulging in family traditions or creating new ones, celebrating a religious holiday, or just hanging out and maybe reading a good book or two.

Here’s to 2012.  Happy New Year.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas fare

Christmas is just around the corner…(six more sleeps)… and I love Christmas.  I must admit I’m lucky that my family situation permits me to give the mall madness a miss, allowing me to enjoy the best bits (in my opinion) of baking goodies, visiting with friends and family, cooking winter fare, decorating the house inside and out (lights, Christmas balls, action!), more baking and more cooking and of course eating!!!

So, to help pass a little Christmas cheer along (Canadian style) I’m recommending A Porcupine in a Pine Tree: a Canadian 12 days of Christmas by Helaine Becker, illustrated by Werner Zimmermann (819.1 BeP 2010 PIC BK).

The title pretty much says it all– this is a remix of the Twelve Days of Christmas done with all things Canadian.  From caribou and beaver tails, to Stanley Cups and hockey players, to Mounties and loons, to sled dogs and squirrels -- Oh my!

The illustrations are particularly apt.  They capture the riotous nature of all these creatures cavorting to the tune of the 12 days of Christmas as the hockey players chase the Stanley Cups, the Mounties munch on doughnuts while the sled dogs playfully eye these same doughnuts, and the squirrels merrily curl away with their acorn ‘rocks’ and tiny brooms.   Everyone is having a blast.  And the bemused porcupine is adorable.

And, the author has managed to keep the tune of the carol without compromising its natural rhythm.  This impressed me a fair bit as this could have been a situation where the premise of Canadian symbols takes over and the singer is left having to make the words bend to the music.

This is a really fun book that is a Christmas treat to delight almost everyone

Thursday, December 15, 2011

How you look at it

Palazzo Inverso by D.B. Johnson (823 J6311P PIC BK is, without a doubt, a fun book. 
Based on Escher-like illustrations, a young apprentice to a master builder is accused of tinkering with the building plans of a grand palazzo.  The building is topsy-turvy causing all sorts of chaos for the carpenters, bricklayers, and painters, not to mention the mistress of the house.  Staircases run in opposing directions and ceiling and floors are mixed-up.  Are things upside down or downside up?
The text runs along the borders of each two-page spread.  Once you’ve reached the end of the book the text runs up the side border, directing you to turn the book over and continue the story, reading towards the front of the book.  It’s a continuous loop. Occasionally, the narrative feels a little contrived to work with the illustrations.
The optical illusions make this is a terrific book for looking at the concept of perspective.  When turned over the, pictures show a different point-of-view of the same scene.  It’s cleverly done and draws the reader’s attention in different directions all at once.
Pair this book with A Imagine a place  by Rob Gonsalves (823 G588I3 PIC BK) or one of his other books in this series, or Reflections by Ann Jonas (823 J692R3 PIC BK) for further play with perception and visual trickery.
I would recommend Palazzo Inverso for grades 2-6.
If you’re looking for more images created by Escher, look for M.C. Escher published by Taschen (769.924 EsM 2006).  Included are works for different periods of Escher’s life.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Joining the bandwagon

Swirl by swirl: spirals in nature by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Beth Krommes  (811 SiSp 2011 PIC BK) is getting a fair amount of attention from bloggers in the world of children’s literature.  It’s well deserved, too.  Both the author and illustrator are award winners for prior books (Dark Emperor and other poems and The house in the night, respectively).
This is a beautifully composed poem and a sumptuously illustrated book that invites the reader to look closely at the natural world.
Spirals are multipurpose forms that occur over and over again in nature, from animals that curl tightly while they hibernate, to expanding swirls of fern fronds or the shells of a nautilus, to the strong, protective spirals of rams’ horns, snail shells or a rolled up hedgehog, to powerfully moving currents of water and air.  The author’s fascination with spirals is further elucidated at the back of the book (she sees them  as both practical and beautiful) as is its classroom application.
Swirl by swirl is a lovely poetry book but it can be used in a lesson about patterns and shapes.
  Bring  in

Growing patterns: Fibonacci numbers in nature by Sarah Campbell (512.72 CAG 2010 PIC BK) or

A star in my orange: looking for nature’s shapes by Dana Meachen Rau (516.1 RAS 2002 PIC BK) for complementary pairings in math or science.  If you have access to the Doucette Library collection, look for the ammonite specimen (564.53 AM 2006 A/V) or the pine cone kit (512.72 Fi 2011 A/V) for real life examples of natural spirals.
I would recommend this book for all ages because it’s so beautiful but it will work very well with primary grade students.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Colourful metaphor

Reading the title and looking at the cover of The Sound of Colors: a journey of the imagination by Jimmy  Liao (823 J5635S PIC BK), my first thought was “looks like this might be an interesting one to recommend for the science unit, ‘The Senses’, with connections to art.” Great.
Well, maybe.

This book has a lot more going on than an interesting way to explore the senses or colours.   (Think Black book of colors by Menena Cottin (535.6 COB 2008 PIC BK)).   
After I finished reading it, I kept thinking it reminded me of another book and realized it was Stormy Night by Michele Lemieux (823 L543S PIC BK).  In Stormy Night a little girl lies in her bed at night asking all the big (and small and silly and profound) questions about life. 
Then I read The Sound of Colors again and it started to evoke some of the same feelings I had when I read The Lost Thing by Shaun Tan (823 T155L PIC BK) about a boy finding a very peculiar object that few others can even see, especially adults, and trying to find the proper place to take it. Along the way he questions how things get lost and why it is that older people can’t see all these ‘lost’ objects.

But don’t get me wrong -- The Sound of Colors is unique.  A girl/young woman, who has recently lost her sight, takes us along with her as she travels on the subway.  Instead of her blindness limiting her, it allows her imagination to soar.  Subway stations are filled with color and interesting people, monsters or storybook characters. The subway stops in surreal landscapes -- under the sea with dolphins and fishes, high in the sky into clouds, a forest filled with fallen golden leaves and so on.   Sometimes she describes the sensations she experiences (very poetically, too) and asks questions that I think pertain more to life’s journey than it does to her trip.
            Trains rumble and clank and rush past me.
            Which is the right one?  It’s easy to get lost underground.
            I wonder where I am and where I’m going,
            and if I’m getting closer to what I’m searching for.
            A little boy asks me how to get home.
            “I’m looking, too,” I tell him.
The illustrations are brightly coloured and playfully draw the reader in, as we accompany the protagonist on her unnamed quest.

Who would I recommend this for?  I think using this book with older students (grades 7 and up) would be great for discussion about metaphor and similes.  I don’t think this will be first book I'll recommend for elementary students doing units about the senses.  But I’m left wondering what the kids at Nellie McClung Elementary School would make of this book.  In case you missed my blogs written this pass summer, this was a school working with the theme of ‘journey’ for all grades, kindergarten to grade 6.  Teaching to this theme, I’m confident the teachers from Nellie would make the most of it, allowing their students to access the journey this girl has undertaken.

Monday, December 5, 2011

On the QT, very hush-hush.

If you know anything about Harriet Tubman, then you probably know that she was an escaped slave who became a conductor on the Underground Railroad, bringing many slaves to safety at great risk to herself. She was strong and she was brave.

But less well-known is that she acted as a spy for the North during the American Civil War. Many of her activities are unknown, or unconfirmed, with only a few sources documenting Harriet Tubman’s spy work. Apparently, there is little surviving documentation, from either the North or the South, about intelligence work as much of it was destroyed to protect agents from reprisals.  (This insight could make for an interesting discussion about doing research under such conditions.)

Harriet Tubman, Secret Agent: how daring slaves and free Blacks spied for the Union during the Civil War by Thomas B. Allen (973.71 AlH 2009) gives us a full picture of this time period: what it meant to be a slave; the risks to both self and those who assisted if a slave decided to escape ; the Abolitionist movement; the Underground Railroad; the Fugitive Slave Act; Southerners fear of a black uprising;  key figures such as John Brown and Frederick Douglass, amongst many others, as well as the role spies played in the Civil War.

Harriet Tubman was only one of many whites, blacks, freemen and slaves in the service of the government of the North.  Confederate General Robert E. Lee recognized  that slaves were the source of the most significant leaks of information. It’s not difficult to imagine what the consequences were for a slave if caught passing information.

The book includes a 'cast of characters' that helps young readers track significant players. It has fantastic illustrations (woodcuts, photographs) from the 1800s plus contemporary pictures, as well, maps, a timeline, appendices for footnotes, sources and bibliography and an index. Throughout the book are encrypted secret messages which can be decoded using the cipher (p.172) Elizabeth Van Lew devised when smuggling messages to the Union army.

The book itself feels like an old text that could have come directly from this era, with its small size, Caslon Antique font and illustrations.

This is an intriguing read about a lesser known element of the American Civil War that I would recommend for grades 6 and up.

Today's Nonfiction Monday event is being held at Gathering Books.  Stop by to find a list of children's literature focused on nonfiction.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Grade 3 – readers in the making

My big adventure this week will be meeting with a couple of classes of grade 3 students at Nellie McClung Elementary School. I’ve been asked to come in a talk about how to pick a good book. Can’t say I’ve got all the details worked out but I know I’ve got a box of books ready to go. Stay tuned.

In preparing for this outing, I’ve been getting caught up with a few shorter novels/early reader-type chapter books. I’ve discovered that not all of these kinds of books are created equal. Some are just boring or have a message that hits you over the head. Ouch!

The following titles are the ones I enjoyed the most. It wasn't until I compile this list that I noticed the emphasis on humour in this selection.

Iggy and me by Jenny Valentine
I love this author’s young adult books and was curious about this one. Sweet family-life story focused on two sisters. Well-written.

Justin Case: school, drool, and other daily disasters by Rachel Vail
I can totally relate to Justin, a worry-wart of profound proportions. This was me in elementary school.  Well, ok -- maybe I didn't have a 'bjillion' worries like Justin but it would have seemed like it.  I'm sure that me and Justin aren't the only ones.

Sideways stories from Wayside school by Louis Sachar (823 Sa138S 2003 FIC)
This is not a new book -- but some how I’ve managed to miss the Wayside school stories. I can’t say I thought it uproariously hilarious but I did enjoy the silly, dark humour. I can see why kids love these books.

The Talented Clementine by Sara Pennypacker (823 P3837T FIC)
Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. I love Clementine and her quirky character. She even takes herself to the principal when she thinks she might be in trouble. I particularly like the ending where Clementine is appreciated for her true talents.

The Trouble with chickens by Doreen Cronin (823 C881T FIC)
I’m curious what kids will make of this one. The humour is sly and witty and has the feel of Sam Spade as played by Humphrey Bogart. J.J. Tully, a retired search and rescue dog turned detective, tells this story of missing (kidnapped?) chicks.

I’ve also revisited a few older favorites:
The Dragon’s boy by Jane Yolen (823 Y78D1 FIC)
A version of the King Arthur story. 13-year-old Artos meets up with an old ‘dragon’ who teaches him the value of friendship, honesty and courage. The twist at the end is interesting.

Rats on the roof by James Marshall (823 M356R FIC)
Totally ridiculous stories! Animal characters who, intentionally and unintentionally outsmart each other. Goofiness galore.

The Time Travel Trio series by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith (823 Sci27K FIC)
Again, with the humour!!! Nerdy, goofy boys always ending up where they don’t want to be, having near-misses while experiencing high adventure. The illustrations are just as enjoyable as the narrative. Great boy books.

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