Monday, May 25, 2015

Scientifically speaking

A flash from the past can certainly help inform our thinking today in a most scientific way!

Mesmerized: how Ben Franklin solved a mystery that baffled all of France by Mara Rockliff tells of a time in 1776 when Ben Franklin traveled to France to petition the King for money to support the American Revolution.  While there, a Dr. Mesmer was creating a stir in society by hypnotizing people.  He convinced people that plain water could taste like strawberries or vinegar; he seemingly cured people of illnesses; and for a price he was willing to share his secrets. Some in society were less than enthralled with Dr. Mesmer’s ability and the King decided to have Ben Franklin assess these magical powers.

So using sound scientific reasoning, B.F. began his assessment:
1.     He observed Dr. Mesmer’s effect on different patients and compared them to his  own experience.   (B.F. was unaffected.)
2.    He hypothesized that patients were convincing themselves of these changes     and not by Dr. Mesmer’s invisible force.
3.    By blindfolding the patients, B.F. was able to test his hypothesis. Being unable   to see the doctor meant patients couldn't tell if the doctor was even in the room let alone waving his wand in an attempt to hypnotize them.
4.   The testing supported B.F.’s theory.  He told the King his conclusions and Dr. Mesmer left Paris.

This is the strength of this book. It takes a true historical event and shows how science and scientific thinking was able to solve a conundrum.

Additional information is provided that explains that the placebo effect is credited to Dr. Mesmer.  We also learn that in France at the time of Ben Franklin’s visit, Paris was agog with many new discoveries such as invisible gases (hydrogen and oxygen) and the lift-off of a hot air balloon.  The French were impressed with B.F.’s own discoveries and inventions, making him somewhat of a celebrity. A few of the details of the story were gently ‘massaged’ and the afterward credits other French scientists with assisting B.F.

I really enjoyed the illustrations, as well.  Lots of play with fonts and sizing, pages divided into panels, interesting perspectives, dynamic facial expressions, and boxed information to clearly outline the process of testing a theory.

I highly recommend this for elementary grades.

But a word of caution --don't stare at the end papers too long, otherwise you may find yourself becoming sleepy, very, very sleepy....

Monday, May 18, 2015

Trio of fun

I've three recommendations that are interactive and fun, fun, fun.

First, is a book from Tara Books.  This is an Indian publisher known for its handmade books that are often illustrated by ethnic peoples from various parts of India in traditional styles.  Visit the Bhil Carnival by Subhash Amaliyar and Gita Wolf is one such book.

This fold-out, pop-up picture book features two children who wander through a maze-like carnival, enjoying balloons, Ferris wheel, ice cream, Indian sweets like coconut burfi, music, dancing, and visiting friends. Opening the book we see Neela and Peela starting off to the fair. Turn the page and two flaps that run along the top and bottom of both pages reveal a peak-a-boo opening that tells us to “Come In”.   Pulling the flaps open reveals the entire fairground in an explosion of colour and dots.

The illustrator is from the Bhil tribe from Madhya Pradesh in central India.  His folk style uses the colour and dots to convey the constant movement and excitement to be found in this type of celebration.  The fold-out page includes a small story-book tucked and affixed into the corner that tells us what Neela and Peela are up to and a pop-up Ferris wheel too. Try this one with grades 2 and up as it ties into the social studies curriculum about community, quality of life, and India very easily.

Walter was Worried by Laura Vaccaro Seeger is a terrific combination of visual and word play.  If Walter is worried, we see a boy’s worried face but the details are comprised of the letters that spells the word ‘worried’. If Shirley is shocked, we see a girl’s face with ‘s’ and ‘k’ as eyebrows, ‘c’ and ‘d’ for eyes, ‘h’ and ‘e’ are the pupils and ‘o’ for an open, shocked mouth.  It’s good fun and kids may be inspired to come up with their own depictions of spelled-out, facial emotions.  It’s a pretty sophisticated concept book that will work well with upper elementary.

And, my last bit of fun to offer you is Book-o-Beards: a wearable book by Lenke & Lentz. This oversized board book displays the bottom half of several hairy, male faces.  Holding the book up to your face with your nose tucked over the spine, you can try ‘wearing’ a new, bearded look before actually committing the time and effort in real life. If beards are back in, then anyone can be a part of this trend.  If you want to be a lumberjack, then you may want to try out a full, curly, orange beard.  Not into cutting down trees, then maybe take to the high seas as a black-bearded pirated complete with braids, bows and beads.  The knife held between yellowed-teeth is included for authenticity.  Also included are a cowboy, a sailor, Santa Claus, and a police officer. This will appeal to anyone with a sense of humour.

Thanks, Cowboy Barb, for showing us your beautiful beard.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Adventures with colour in Canada : Ted Harrison

Cover image: Magnificent Yukon
Besides being an immensely useful book in classrooms, A Brush Full of Colour: the world of Ted Harrison by Margriet Ruurs and Katherine Gibson, is filled with beautiful images and information about the life of Ted Harrison. Just what you’d hope for in a biography.

Set out chronologically, Ted’s childhood in a coal-mining town in England, his travels with the British army, and then as a teacher, are documented in his art, reflecting his growth as an artist as well as the myriad of artistic influences from various cultures. 

Eventually, settling in Canada (Alberta, Yukon and British Columbia), his distinctive style of bright colours, defining black lines, faceless people, juxtaposing contrasting and complimentary colours, and wide open landscapes, was developed and honed here
His work is easily identifiable and is often used in classrooms for students to model their own work on. The cheery colours and depictions of everyday life make this a style that can be emulated in elementary classrooms
Recommended for elementary grades but reading level would be best for the upper grades.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Residential schools, resiliency and reconciliation

Currently on display at the Calgary Public Library, is a unique art installation known as The Witness Blanket.   

“The Witness Blanket stands as a national monument to recognise the atrocities of the Indian Residential School era, honour the children, and symbolise ongoing reconciliation.”

 You will see a diverse range of artifacts arranged to represent a quilted blanket.  Items included are door knobs and handles, bricks, old painted wood, children’s skates, bowls, school badges, children’s beaded moccasins, letters, photos, a door from an infirmary, religious statues, part of a piano keyboard and even a couple of braids of hair.  These are only some of the items that have been collected from various residential schools, churches and other government buildings from across Canada.  The whole installation stands above several volumes of Canadian statues that include the Indian Act from 1857 to 1938.

The Witness Blanket is on display until May 9th.  There is a free app that can be downloaded from the Apple store that is well worth getting.  Each artifacts is described and located on a map of Canada and will add even more to viewing.

What a powerful piece of art to tie into literature relating the experiences of some of these survivors.

Very recently, I read The Education of Augie Merasty: a residential school memoir by Joseph Auguste Merasty with David Carpenter.  This short but essential volume is a collection of Augie’s memories of living at St Therese Residential School, in Sturgeon Landing, Manitoba. Many of the nuns and priests treated the children brutally, regularly subjecting Augie and the other children to cold, hunger, verbal and physical abuse, and sexual assault.

I found the introduction and other content supplied by David Carpenter interesting, too.  Where Augie tells of his childhood memories, David gives us insight into the man that he becomes.  In the decade that it took for David to collect these stories we learn of the many ups and downs that befall Augie.  His voice is always strong sometimes with tinged with humor and even regard for some of his kinder teachers.

I’m recommending this title for high school students and older

This book was recently featured on the CBC’s radio program, The Current.  Click here to listen to the interview with David Carpenter.  

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