Monday, September 10, 2018

Making friends


With a new school just starting there are lots of lists that talk about first day jitters and some of the worries children having when starting school.

My list is looking at the jitter that relates to making new friends especially when you’re the new kid on the block. I’ve found books that span the grade range 1 to 12, in various formats (novel-in-verse, graphic novels, picture books), and with diverse representation of kids. 

Please feel free to add your recommendations in the comments section.

Have a great school year, Everyone.

Primary grade – picture books

One of Us by Peggy Moss

Nerdy Birdy by Aaron Reynolds

A Tiger Called Thomas by Charlette Zolotow

Lila and the Crow by Gabrielle Grimard

Stick and Stone by Beth Ferry

My New Friend is So Fun by Mo Willems


Middle School – novels, picture books, nonfiction

From There to Here by Laurel Croza

El Deafo by Cece Bell

Full Cicada Moon by Marilyn Hilton

If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric L. Gansworth

All's Fair in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson


Secondary Level – novels, graphic novels

Zen and the Art of Faking It by Jodan Sonnenblick

Alice, I Think by Susan Juby

Monday, August 20, 2018

Seasonal changes and the moon



We’re on the cusp of starting a new school year which for me feels more like the ‘new year’ than the one we start on January 1st.  A new school year also connects very strongly with seasonal change; Fall is not far off.  We can often see the early signs that cooling temperatures and less light bring to the natural world.  Trees and other plants change colour, drop leaves and flowers and slowly begin to die back.  Animals and birds start to migrate, change colour or grow thicker coats.  It’s all about seasonal change.


Taan’s Moons: a Haida Moon Story by Alison Gear and illustrated by Kiki van der Heiden with the Children of Haida Gwaii, beautifully illustrates seasonal change in a specific area, the northwest coast of British Columbia.

This book looks to present traditional Haida Gwaii knowledge that has been passed down through oral tradition and varies between villages, clans, families and language groups about the Haida moon cycle.

Each double page spread features one of twelve different moons spanning a year. Bear Moon, Snow Moon and Bears Hibernate Moon occur during the winter months, for example. Each title is in English, Skidegate Haida and Old Massett Haida. Every moon has a four line poem that speaks to the essence of that time period as it relates to the life of a bear.

Bears Hibernate Moon is described as,

Taan lumbers up the mountain;
hemlock curtains close.
She crawls into a dent or roots,
and then begins to doze.

The illustrations have been co-created by Kiki van der Heiden and primary grade children from various schools in the Haida Gwaii area, using felt.  The illustrator states, “the images that bring this story to life have come from the children’s imaginations, and have been enthusiastically and lovingly created by them, with final touches respectfully applied by Kiki.

Great care has been given to recognizing everyone involved in this project, appreciation for the traditional stories and the Indigenous people who tell them. The book includes a forward (by Richard Van Camp), a preface, back notes honouring contributors, artists and other participants of which there were many, a note about Haida language, a note about the illustrations and credit for where “a written record of this particular cycle can be found.”

This is a lovely book that works across content areas embedding Indigenous knowledge and connecting to nature.  What better way could there be to learn about culture, science, nature, art, story, poetry and language?

I recommend this one for elementary grades.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Top 10 on 10 – The picture book fiction edition


Well, I’m back from holidays and what better way to get back into the swing of things but by highlighting some of my favorite picture books.


For the last several years, I’ve participated in the Top 10 on 10 event where bloggers and other types of children’s literature aficionados  recommend their favorites picture books.  It can be a nail biting experience as you try to figure out how to rave about only 10!  count’em 10! books when really you could rave about 100s. But it’s a great exercise and I always come away with so many new (and old) titles that I know will be of interest to the student-teachers who use the Doucette Library.

I decided to focus on a theme and because I’m still in holiday mode decided to highlight mystery and detective stories. I do love mysteries and it’s what I typically read when I’m not working.  The following is my list of books some, new and some oldies-but-goodies which keep me guessing and leave me in awe of remarkable observation and deductive reasoning skills. 

 
Whether you’ve lost a pair of eyeglasses, a cat or a goldfish, Hermelin is on it. A master of observation, he finds all that is lost for those living in his neighbourhood. The gratitude of these neighbours turns to shock and horror when they realize he’s a mouse. All except for one aspiring detective…



Who knew that Fairy Tale Land was a hot-bed of crime? Five classic fairy tales are framed as if a crime has been committed and it’s up to Officer Binky to save the day. Goldilocks is behind bars for breaking and entering. In the case of Hansel and Gretel, killing the witch  was a clear case of self-defense. Humpty Dumpty was pushed and will not be living happily-ever-after. Snow White will no longer have to fear for her life from the evil, vain queen. And figuring out what the real story behind Jack, his beanstalk and the goose who can lay golden eggs is all in a day’s work for Officer Binky.


Pigeon P.I. by Meg McLaren
Another noir-type detective story involving an old-timer and a keen youngster looking to crack the case of missing birds. Did they fly the coop? Or, is there some other nefarious plan about to hatch?





The Strange Case of the Missing Sheep: a thriller by Mircea Catusanu
Apparently, this one was inspired by true events. Ten sheep go missing and it’s up to Doug, the sheep dog to find out where they went.  “Careful” deduction indicates that Wolf living in the Dark Forest is responsible. But as will all good mysteries, things are not what they seem. The twist is – well, you’ll just have to read and find out for yourself. The illustrations are a treat.



Piggins by Jane Yolen
This one falls into the classic category for me. In this case, “the butler did it” refers to the butler solving the mystery of the stolen diamond necklace belonging to his employers. I love the early 1900s vibe and details.






The Eleventh Hour by Graeme Base
If you love solving puzzles then this one’s for you. Every page has clues and codes to be figured out. The illustrations are detailed and will give you a run for your money. The answers are provided in the back of the book.

The LaRue dog books, are hilarious! In this caper, LaRue is accused of catnapping a neighbour’s two felines. As he explains to his human who’s on vacation, writing her frequent postcards it’s all a big misunderstanding. It’s up to LaRue to find the cats and perhaps, those responsible for the crime spree that is spreading through town that started the same night the cats went missing. Coincidence? I think not!



I love this noir mystery for the puns it works into the narrative. (See title.) We have an elephant detective who “works for peanuts”, a chanteuse whose “lost her marbles”… you get the idea. This one works through the clues and a list of suspects in a pretty linear way. The black and white illustrations add to the atmosphere of a gritty 30s noir flick.

Ever notice how many picture book mysteries and detective stories feature fairy tale and nursery rhyme characters? Well, this one feels like it’s a bit of a pop quiz. A traveling painter requests that his family return several portraits he’s painted to their owners. There are clues attached to each painting that will help with this task. This one will appeal to kids who really like fairy tales.



The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg.
My last recommendation is not so much a mystery but definitely falls into the category of mysterious. The set-up is an illustrator, Harris Burdick, dropping off a portfolio of his illustrations to a children’s book publisher. It features a single picture from several different stories with only a title and a caption to give us a clue about what’s going on. Each picture has some element of spookiness, creepiness or intrigue. It leaves the reader wanting to know what the stories are about and what happened to Harris Burdick. He never did return to pick up his illustrations.

So, there’s the list for this year. Please check out some of the other blogs and lists for going to 2018 #pb10for10.  You won’t be disappointed.

Monday, June 18, 2018

At the Mercy of Mother Nature


Volcanoes have been making the news lately with the Big Island of Hawaii and Guatemala reeling from the devastation caused by recent eruptions and a skeleton found underneath a large rock in Pompeii that had been jarred loose when Mount Vesuvius let loose in 79 A.D. Geology rocks! (Pun intended.)

Because erupting volcanoes can be such a dramatic and, sometimes, traumatic event, it can capture the imagination especially for young readers.  There are a number of books that I recommend to support this interest and learning for a budding geologist.

Here are a few of my top picks:


An Island Grows by Lola M Schaefer
A picture book for the primary grades that shows how an underwater volcanic eruption can be the starting block of new land mass being created. Over a long period of time, this mass of rock will result in new land being formed that will eventually allow life to take hold and begin to flourish. Told in rhyme with very few words it captures the dynamic nature of Earth and that things are changing all the time.  The concept of ‘geological time’ may be difficult grasp from this book as this process is not a quick process.


The next two books I recommend are from the Scientists in the Field series.  I love this series. It is fantastic and I highly recommend it.

The first one is Life on Surtsey: Iceland’s Upstart Island by Loree Griffins Burn. It is perfect for middle grades to see how new land off the coast of Iceland is being ‘colonized’ by plants and animals.  This has become an opportunity for scientists to observe this process as it happens in front of them.



The second book is Eruption!: Volcanoes and the Science of Saving Lives by Elizabeth Rusch.  This books looks at how scientists are able to prevent loss of life for populations living near active volcanoes around the world. Science is a critical tool for predicting when a volcano will erupt to give people enough notice to evacuate regions that will be hit with ash, lava, gases and related earthquakes.


Into the Volcano: a Volcano Researcher at Work by Donna O’Meara conveys the passion that volcanoes can ignite (no pun intended, here) in people.  O’Meara’s life work is tracking volcanos around the world to study and understand them better and to help people who live in the vicinity of active volcanoes.  As she describes her adventures, studying volcanoes, we learn a lot about all facets of volcanoes along the way. Student in middle grades will find this book appealing.


Another series that explores many different fields of science is the Max Axiom, Super Scientist Graphic Science series.  Using a comic book format, The Explosive World of Volcanoes with Max Axiom by Christopher Harbo, illustrated by Tod Smith will appeal to elementary level students for a basic introduction to the different kinds of volcanoes and their characteristics.



Some of the interest about volcanoes has come from scientists looking at historical eruptions and the impact they had on people.  The book, Bodies From the Ash: Life and Death in Ancient Pompeii by James M. Deem shows us what Pompeii the city looked like before 79 A.D., the eruption and then lots of pictures of the casts that were made of the people who died there. There is a morbid fascination with these images as we see who died and we are left to wonder about them as well. I recommend this for grades 7 & up.


My last recommendation is The Day the World Exploded: the Earthshaking Catastrophe at Krakatoa by Simon Winchester. This book is an adaptation of Winchester’s adult book, Krakatoa. This renown explosion took place in 1883 in the Sunda Strait, between the islands of Java and Sumatra. This volcanic eruption and the after effects were felt around the world, killing thousands of people. I would recommend this fascinating book for students, grade 7 and up.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Inspirational Photos Instilling Wonder While Teaching


In looking closely at the three books I’m blogging about today, I realized that there was a connection between them going beyond the fact that these are all coffee table books filled with beautiful photographs. The connection is that these beautiful books engage our imaginations, opening up the worlds they present to us, provoking questions, instilling wonder and informing us, along the way.

First up is a book published by National Geographic, Stunning Photographs compiled by Annie Griffiths. As soon as I mention National Geographic, you’re assured that this book will not disappoint. Divided into six sections, Mystery, Harmony, Wit, Discovery, Energy and Intimacy, the photos in each embody some sense of the section’s title. I especially enjoyed the section, Wit as there was a great deal of humour and playful tweaking of our perceptions in these pictures. Really lots of fun. There are hundreds of pictures in this book, created from every corner of the world, I’m sure, and that will amaze viewers of any age.

My next recommendation is, Microsculpture: Portraits of Insects by Levon Biss.  I adore macro photography and this book is fantastic. Using preserved insect specimens from the Oxford University Museum of Natural History collection, Biss takes thousands of pictures of each insect and its parts and then reconstitutes them to give the viewer an amazing close-up. We get to see every pockmark, scale, whisker, hair, and ridge, plus an array of beautiful colours and shapes of 36 insects from various parts of the world. Each insect is given a short descriptive paragraph often discussing some weird feature and the importance of this particular adaptation. There are some amazingly bizarre looking creatures out there. When thinking about the number of science fiction and fantasy movies  that incorporate ‘out-of-this-world’ looking creatures, designers need go no further than Earth’s own insect population for inspiration.


My last selection is Through Darkness to Light: Photographs Along the Underground Railroad by Jeanine Michna-Bales. This photographer recreated a 1400-mile journey, from Louisiana to Ontario that slaves may have taken when trying to escape to freedom. Based on her research, she went looking to document some of the areas that slaves and sometimes, those helping slaves escape, would have passed through but also convey the sense of what it might have been like traveling, mostly at night, through unknown landscapes, living in fear of being recaptured.  The photographs are not necessarily the most interesting as they’re often murky and show deeply shadowed forests, meadows, and wetlands. But taken in context of a fugitive running for their life, the book does convey the danger, fear, and beauty that might have been experienced. The accompanying essays also provide a lot of interesting information about the Underground Railroad. This book will be most effective in the classroom that is already studying American slavery and the Underground Railroad and would be an interesting companion book to novels such as Underground to Canada by Barbara Smucker, Crossing to Freedom by Virginia Frances Schwartz, and A Desperate Road to Freedom by Karleen Bradford.

I recommend all three of these books for all ages.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Fact or fiction?


Now this is a book that teachers, librarians and those of us who teach research skills will approve –

Two Truths and a Lie: it’s alive! by Ammi-Joan Paquette & Laurie Ann Thompson is a pretty fun book that teaches us about the natural world (plants, animals and us, humans, too) but promotes critical thinking and digging for the truth, along the way.

The book is divided into three parts each focused on either plants, animals or humans. Each part has three chapters and within each chapter there are three stories written loosely connected about a particular topic. 

Now, the three stories within a chapter has two stories based on facts and one that is fabricated.  All the stories capture the mystical nature and sometimes strange wonder of the natural world making it tricky to figure out which one might be the ‘lie’. The fake story often does contain bits of information that is true but the overarching information is false.

Along the way, there are pull-out boxes that give us additional information, quick lists of true or false statements to research, define words, provide maps and photos, and suggest activities and tips on research.  The answers are provided at the back of the book as well as a bibliography of the sources the writers consulted.

The introduction sets up the book, what to expect and how to read through it.

A section at the back of the book provides the reader with suggestions on how they might tackle figuring out which stories are true and which are not. It promotes using the internet and how to best work through the information found there. They caution the reader to be extra careful as there are people out there who intentionally want to fool us into believing false information. Selecting reliable sources, checking these sources, verifying information from more than one source, visiting libraries and thinking critically about what you’re reading are outlined in the book and promoted as crucial for good research.

This will appeal to a certain kind of reader who will likely be keen to work through it on their own but I think this book will have a bigger appeal for classroom work teaching research and critical thinking skills. The stories have a ‘wow’ factor that holds the reader’s attention and then there’s the gaming element that presents a challenge of figuring out fact from fiction.

I can see introducing this book to student-teachers when I next hold a workshop about information literacy or dealing with ‘fake news’.

I highly recommend this book for grades 4 to 8 but could see it being used at higher levels, as well.

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