Monday, March 12, 2018

We are all treaty people - Classroom resources

Today’s post is focused on three new books in the Doucette Library. I know these books will be useful for classroom teaching in the primary grades. But I have some concerns about recommending them, too.

Let me explain…

The three books are The Handshake and the Pipe, TheFriendship, and We Are All Treaty People by Betty Lynxleg, illustrated by Scott B. Henderson and Amber Green and make up the trilogy, Treaty Tales.

From western Manitoba’s First Nation of Tootinaowaziibeeng Treaty Reserve, Betty Lynxleg presents information about symbols of respect between peoples, early contact with settlers in Canada, and the establishment and intentions behind treaties. They are well-written, explaining the importance of shaking hands and sharing a pipe as symbols of respect. It clearly explains how Indigenous peoples in Canada helped Europeans survive in North America by showing them what to eat, harvest, how to navigate and live with the land. The third book conveys the importance of treaties and the significance they have (or should have) for all Canadians.

 One of the real strengths of the series, is the way the story is laid out. It is a conversation between a grandmother and her granddaughter, emphasizing oral storytelling as a way of teaching between the generations. I think trying to convey the values of First Nations peoples and their connection to the land is valuable and important for all children to learn and these books do that.

I know these will be used in classrooms as they give easily understood explanations about the basic relationship between Indigenous and non-indigenous peoples in Canada.

And that may be where my concerns arise from.

Because the books are an introduction for grades 1 to 3, the complexities of the history and current events of today between First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples and the Canadian government are glossed over.  These stories do not reflect the circumstances that drove Indigenous peoples to live on reserves or the realities of living there. The brutality, harsh living conditions and breaking of treaty promises is not addressed in any way.

Not that teachers are going to want books that really go into all the severity and ruthlessness that the past and the present encompasses. But when I think of books like Stolen Words by Melanie Florence, When I Was Eight by Kristy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton or When We Were Alone by David A. Robertson, all relating aspects of life in residential schools, these stories convey the deprivation without the horrific details which is appropriate for young readers.

All of these books require additional instruction for young students to begin to understand what Indigenous peoples have endured and continue to struggle with today. It will take a sensitive approach to tackle tough issues but these books will be helpful in initiating these kinds of conversations.

Another curriculum area that these books tie into nicely is social studies grades 1 and 2 about community.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Guest blogger: The New Smoke Signals

Paula Hollohan is the Instructional Technologies & Information Specialist in the Doucette Library who keeps up with technology trends in education. Today's blog reviews a  book that describes various modes of social media and how Indigenous peoples are connecting with it. Check in with Paula's blog, Doucette Ed Tech if you'd like to keep up with all sorts of cool and interesting, wide-ranging topics.

There are many benefits to working in an education library including reading many great books and working with some leading edge technology.  Once you are immersed in the collection, sometimes you find special interests that merit some study.  For me, I am always on the look out for ways that the indigenous people of Canada bolster the connection between young people and the elders of these communities.  

The importance of keeping the language and the stories of the past alive with younger generations and the capturing of these narratives in their original language is essential to begin the healing and to grow a strong future.

There is a powerful digital world out there that can be harnessed to capture these stories and connect indigenous communities together.

TheNew Smoke Signals: Communicating in a Digital World by Rachel Mishenene  is a small but powerful book that links the indigenous world to the digital world in a easy, uncomplicated way.  The book has a variety of information in it.  She says, 

"First Nation, Inuit and Metis people across the country have embraced this relatively new way of communicating with each other, learning new things and preserving the old teachings." (p.5) 

And so begins a look at modern technology like cellphones, social media like LinkedIn and blogs, to help tell the stories that are important to indigenous communities.  I especially liked the example of the blog, where a free-lance writer named Stan reflects on the life of his aunt in a blog post after she passes away.  Contained within this section are the reasons someone would blog and the fact that most blogs are read in the morning along with a complete reprint of Stan's tribute story about his aunt.

This book is from a small publisher called Ningwakwe Learning Press ( but does a fine job of bridging the gap between young and old indigenous people.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Five Star Fractured Fairy Tale

I’ve been getting lots of requests for recommendations for fractured fairy tales from the student-teachers as they head out on their practicums.  It’s just that time of the year, I guess.

I usually recommend checking out my Pinterest page first to see what grabs them. Many don’t come with any idea as to which fairy tale they want to look at so I find this kind of gets them started.

However, I have a recommendation today that I gave 5 stars to in Goodreads and would recommend for everyone. (I rarely give 5 stars for any books.)  After the Fall: How HumptyDumpty Got Back Up Again by Dan Santat is that wonderful!

This is Humpty’s story: he likes sitting high up on his wall to be close to birds; the Great Fall was just a silly accident; he was patched up but developed a fear of heights; not able to ascend his wall and commune with birds has left him joyless; a chance encounter with a paper airplane inspires him to construct a flying paper bird which helps take away a little of his sadness. His new found solace, however, is short lived as the paper bird flies over the wall by accident. Humpty almost walks away from the bird and wall but decides that he is not going to be defeated by this turn of events. He  tackles the wall, succeeds overcoming his fear and now wants to be known not as the egg who falls off a wall but the egg who gets back up.

This story definitely has a message, which might have been too didactic, but the way Dan Santat tells Humpty story, it’s not that in the least.  Humpty is very relatable as a character. He conquerors his fears that have developed from an incident that just happened. The illustrations add a level of humour which is subtle and wry but obvious. I especially loved the pages depicting Humpty grocery shopping for his favorite cereals which he can no longer reach because of his fear of heights.  All the ‘good’ cereals (aka. High sugar ones) are on the top shelf so he now must eat those he can reach which are all the ‘bo-rings’, ‘twigs & berries’ and ‘chicken feed’ brands on the bottom. The ending is uplifting and eye-opening, too. I had never really considered what kind of egg Humpty was and in this story we find out. Brilliant!

I highly recommend this title for elementary grades.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Today’s recommendation is Which One Doesn’t Belong? : a Shapes Book by Christopher Danielson.

It would be an interesting resource to bring into a math classroom especially when doing geometry but not necessarily only limited to mathematics. This book presents four varying shapes on a page and asks the viewer to select which one doesn’t belong.

There is no wrong answer.

Each shape has some feature that makes it distinct from the others. This promotes critical, analytical thinking and rationalizing skills as students look to justify their answers.
There is a teacher’s guide that I haven’t seen yet but the publisher’s information suggests that it will promote mathematical thinking across many grades going beyond the obvious geometry connections.

I do think the student book is quite clever in the way it gets the viewer to work through the reasoning behind their selections but then also to see how the other shapes are different in their own ways. I see this as good (and fun) practice for developing logic thinking skills.

I’m recommending this for elementary and middle grades. I have hopes that the teacher’s guide will have suggestions to use with high school students.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Hurray for imagination

I love This is Sadie by Sara O’Leary, a quiet reverie about a little girl using and enjoying her imagination.

Everything from a box becoming a boat that lets her sail the high seas, to imagining that her dresses have feeling which could be hurt if they knew she had a favorite, to being a mermaid, a wolf boy, and a fairy tale hero, she's been there, done that and bought the t-shirt. Her life is filled with colourful characters and play.
“But more than anything she likes stories, because you can make them from nothing at all.”
 Isn’t that the best?

This reminded me of a few other titles that also showcase the wonder and power of imagination.

Here are a few recommendations:

Imagine a city by Elise Hurst

Scribble by Ruth Ohi

Over the Ocean by Taro Gomi

What to Do with a Box by Jane Yolen

Use Your Imagination by Nicola O’Byrne

Imagine a World by Rob Gonsalves

There are so many more that could be added to this list.  These are only a few of some recent publications.
I recommend all of these for the primary grades.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Doing the Right Thing

I’ve two recommendations for today’s post that promote understanding for what it’s like to be Black in the United States today.

The first one is by Jason Reynolds’, Long Way Down. This story takes place in an elevator as it descends seven floors in an apartment building and Will, the protagonist, is on his way to avenge the death of his older brother Shawn.  He’s struggling with THE RULES that govern the lives of black men and boys in his big city neighbourhood: No Crying – No Snitching – Get Revenge. As the elevator goes down seven floors, seven ghosts who knew Will and his family and experienced gun violence too, visit Will and offer subtle guidance that will help him make up his mind about his next set of actions.

Jason Reynolds is a fantastic writer. This story, told in narrative verse, took me to a place that I had no way of knowing about and gave me a glimpse into the mind of a young man like Will. Reading about gun violence and gang-related murder in the news does not provide much insight as to how this kind of thing continues to be perpetuated.  It’s the strength of a novel like this that allows me to feel the pain and the hopelessness that must consume young black men when they feel that have no choice but to live by THE RULES.

The next book, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas has been getting lots of well-deserved attention in review journals and blogs. It was a National Book Award Finalist. Again, this story puts the news reports that we hear nightly, into a perspective that is totally relatable and gives new resonance for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Starr is a sixteen year-old high school student who lives in a poor, black neighbourhood but goes to a predominately white school in another part of town. She’s working out how to mesh the two people she must be to live in two vastly different universes. When a friend, a young, black man, Khalil is shot by a white police office while with Starr one night, everything changes.

By telling people, school mates, police, journalists and neighbours about what happened that night puts Starr in a precarious situation. Those fighting for the rights of black people see this as an opportunity to create awareness and demand justice. Those in positions of power are cautious about the information Starr provides as it will jeopardize the police officer. Starr fears that if her classmates know she is the witness that will jeopardize her place in the school.The desire to do the right thing is strong and eventually overcomes Starr's fears.

Again, this was a compelling story that opened a world that I will never experience firsthand. There is considerable profanity (tons of f-bombs) used by almost all the characters but this made it feel very authentic. The ending is also very realistic, sadly.

I highly recommend both of these books for grades 9 and up and for adults. Amazing reads!

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