Monday, October 22, 2018


Town is by the Sea by Canadian author, Joanne Schwartz and illustrated by Sdyney Smith, is perfect.

It perfectly captures a time and place with its simple, evocative writing. The illustrations also perfectly convey a sense of tranquility in this small community at this time.

The story tells of, what feels to me, to be an average day in the life of a boy living in a 1950s small town in Maritime Canada located close to the sea. We learn that his father is a coal miner who works deep underground, under the sea. It becomes a refrain throughout the story that the boy remembers, time and again that his father works deep below the surface away from the light, the town and the sea.

There’s a rhythm of life that is palpable whether it’s depicted with everyday activities such as waking up, eating or playing on beat-up swings in the playground and going to bed; through nature's sun rising and setting; and work that will connect generations of family. The boy visits his grandfather’s seaside grave and at the end of the book remarks that he too will likely become a coal miner as the other men in this family and community have become.

The illustrations perfectly capture the calmness of this life (maybe there's an element of small town sameness that might be part of what I'm feeling) that I think reflects life for this time period. Subtle earth tones colour the illustrations giving them a sepia wash that contributes to that sense of a time in the past.  I especially love the picture which shows sunlight reflected off the sea water which is almost too bright to look at. This picture was perfectly realized.  The illustrations of life on the topside contrast with the illustrations depicting his father at work in the dark of the coal mine.  I can feel the density of the land and water that bear down on the miners and feel claustrophobic seeing the men bent over in the cramped dark space.

I highly recommend this book for elementary grades. It is especially relevant when studying curriculum about community, family, and Canada.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Cause and Effect – From sharks to us

 If Sharks Disappeared by Lily Williams presents a simplified explanation of a complex process, trophic cascade, which tells us why sharks are critical for maintaining balanced, healthy oceans. This is an excellent book for demonstrating how creatures in an ecosystem are interconnected and when one component is missing the impact can have devastating consequences.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve notice a few more books at the juvenile level that portray sharks in less a scary light. I think promoting a better understanding of the important role sharks play in their ecosystems is crucial for changing out views about them.

According to William's book, it is estimated that 100 million sharks are killed every year.  This is driven by market demands for shark fins to make soup as a Chinese and Vietnamese delicacy, fishing practices that inadvertently kill sharks, as well as human fear that fosters the idea that fewer sharks is better for human safety. Overfishing has resulted in 1/4 to 1/3 of shark species being vulnerable to extinction.

As apex predators sharks help control population numbers of other species such as seals and sea lions. If their populations are left unchecked fish populations would be at risk and seals and sea lions would starve. If fish disappear, then plankton, the food that many fish eat could also over multiple, turning ocean waters into a thick sludge. Oceans would be unable to support much life and this would eventually impact animals and humans living on land.

I recommend this book for elementary grades study science topics such as life cycles, food chains, ecosystems, and sustainability issues.

Other resources I recommend are:

Sharkwater (DVD) by Rod Stewart

Wandering Whale Sharks by Susumu Shingu

Ocean Soul by Brian Skerry

The World Without Fish by Mark Kurlansky

Monday, October 8, 2018

I’ve been extremely busy the last few weeks teaching various library workshops.  One of my favorite ones is for Interdisciplinary Learning. This workshop lets me introduce student-teachers to some really fantastic resources from the Doucette Library’s collection.

Showcasing resources is only part of what the workshop is about, though. We talk a lot about concepts and conceptual thinking. Concepts often will facilitate connections between disciplines. The Arrival by Shaun Tan is an example of a resource with a plethora of concepts associated with the story. Check out this wordless, graphic novel about a man who leaves his family to settle in a new country with the intention of giving them all a better life. The brilliance of the book is placing us in the same situation as this man as he struggles to find his way in this sort-of-familiar-yet-very-different environment.  We, too, struggle to make sense of what’s going on.  Conceptually, there is so much to dig into like immigration, power, identity, family, community, communication, conflict and so many more.

Today, a new book arrived called Our Planet by Jimi Lee.  It’s an older title that I hadn’t come across until now but was thrilled to find.

Maybe it’s just because I’ve been immersed in conceptual thinking for the last several weeks but I see this small board book filled with concepts that will work at the classroom level.

It starts with a small single plant growing along the edge of a hole (an actual hole has been die-cut into the centre of the book to represent the earth). As we flip pages we see more plants/trees growing, then a tree cutter starting to cut them down and houses popping up. After the houses, we see tall buildings taking over and then industrial buildings encircling the earth/hole. The cost of progress, however, is overwhelming refuse and pollution, which in turn, impacts the natural world causing glaciers to melt to the point where there is extreme flooding. Turn the page and a girl and a boy begin to scatter seeds and the cycle begins again with new plant growth. But instead of over-exploitation of resources and total domination over the environment this world is depicted with more balance.  Trees, plants, animals, houses, and buildings can co-exist with each other.

There are so many concepts embedded within Our Planet: cause and effect, change and continuity, transformation, sustainability, regeneration, balance, harmony to name the ones that came to mind for me.

One possible design flaw is a page (paper not cardboard) that comes at the end of the book with a message from Jane Goodall.  My copy arrived damaged and without this page so I didn't even know it was missing the first time I looked at it. Because of the die-cast hole in the middle the book the paper page is at risk to be damaged.  I think... I haven't seen the undamaged book yet.

I would recommend this book for all grade levels even without the message from Jane Goodall.

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.

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