Monday, April 24, 2017

Sync for summertime listening

SYNC: Audiobooks for Teens returns for another summer with a fantastic line up of YA titles -- all for FREE!  

If you haven't already done so, set up an account with your email and every week you'll be notified about the release of two, theme-based pair of books that you can download for free. And keep forever. I think the selection looks amazing.  Enjoy!

Here's the line up starting this Thursday (April 27th):

Apr.27th    The Dead House by Dawn Kurtagich
                 The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

May 4th     Feed by M.T. Anderson
                 The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

May 11th    Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes
                  Teenage Diaries: Then and Now by Radio Diaries

May 18th    The Gathering: Shadow House, Book 1 by Dan Poblock
                   In Our Backyard: Human Trafficking in America by Nita

May 25th    Freakling by Lana Krumwiede
Go to Sync
                   Boy by Anna Ziegler

June 1st     Beast by Donna Jo Napoli
                  Of Beast and Beauty by Stacey Jay

June 8th      Plus One by Elizabeth Fama
                    If I Run by Terri Blackstock

June 15th    The Souls of Black Folk 
                   by W.E.B. Du Bois
                   The Red Umbrella 
                   by Christina Diaz Gonzalez

June 22nd   The Witch's Vacuum Cleaner and Other 
                    Stories by Terry Pratchett
                    The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff

June 29       American Night: The Ballad of Juan
                   Jose by Richard Montoya
                    My Name is Not Easy by Debby Dahl Edwardson

July 6th        Rebuttal by Jyotsna Hariharan
                    Remember to Forget by Ashley Royer

July 13th     The Dorito Effect by Mark Schatzker
                   Sugar by Deirdre Riordan Hall

July 20th     Gone: Gone Series, book 1 by Michael Grant
                   The One Safe Place by Tania Unsworth

Jult 27th      Airborn by Kenneth Oppel
                   Shadows on the Moon by Zoe Marriott

Aug. 3rd      In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer 
                   by Irene Gut Opdyke
                   Betweeen Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Aug. 10th    Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older
                   Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

Monday, April 10, 2017

Perfectly illustrated information

Animals by the Numbers: a book of animal infographics by Steve Jenkins is well worth picking up for teaching both science and math for grades 2-7.

As is Steve Jenkins’ typical MO (and stated in the title) this book is all about the animal world that he finds fascinating, giving us tons of statistical information as infographics. I keep waiting to have that ‘been there, done that’ feeling when Jenkins comes out with a new book but it's yet to come. He continues to find fresh ways to introduce us to the endlessly fascinating natural world.

And what’s not to be enthralled by?

Whether he’s looking at the big picture (invertebrates vs vertebrates or the number of species such as 5,500 mammals vs 1 million species of insects) or the finer details (size, speed, life spans, heartbeats, tongue size, amount of sleep) he presents the numbers in captivating graphs and charts.  And when you’re a math-a-phob like me, that says a lot.

Steve Jenkins has an amazing ability to capture and hold the interest of his readers by looking at ranges of animals, comparing and contrasting characteristics and behaviours that illustrate just how nuanced, varied and adaptive the animal kingdom is. Comparing humans in some cases certainly may put us in our place. Compare the biomass of all the humans in the world, 350 million tons to that of all insects, 100 billion tons and you can see what I mean.

The illustrations are composed of paper cut outs and paired with various types of pie, flow and bar charts, histograms, pictograms and graphs. These representations are clear and easy to understand.  He finds ways to make each topic relatable to basic knowledge levels. For instance when comparing the loudness level between species he includes noises produced by humans too such as those from lawn mowers, chainsaws, firetrucks or jet planes. Did you know that a cicada  produces the same level as noise as a firetruck? Or, that a bulldog bat makes a sound that falls in the same range as a jet plane?

I highly recommend this addition to Steve Jenkins' body of work for any classroom.  Those interested in animals and nature will be captivated

Monday, March 20, 2017

Harbingers of spring

Spring is just around the corner here in Calgary. Despite the little snow flurry we had this morning the temperatures are rising and the snow is melting. And the University of Calgary awaits the arrival of a mating pair of peregrine falcons any day now.  According to the webpage dedicated to tracking the falcons, they had already arrived by this time last year.  The falcons have been using a high ledge on a campus building since the mid 1990s to nest and raise their young. Check out their website for more information.

I always feel like the arrival of peregrine falcons is a triumph somehow. As recently as 1995 they were still considered endangered in Canada and now, are ‘watched’ for further decline even as their numbers increase. The pair that resides here on campus always seem successful at raising their chicks and I love to hear them calling to each other as I walk across campus.

This means that I buy many books and artifacts for the Doucette Library’s collection that focus on these exceptionally beautiful, resilient birds. Here are a few recent purchases:

The title of this book, Maggie, the One-Eyed Peregrine Falcon: a true story of rescue and rehabilitation by Christie Gove-Berg pretty much tells the whole story. It’s an interesting story about the lengths that a rescue team go to save Maggie, ensure her wellbeing and eventually, give her a job to teach children about falcons. The many photographs and clearly written short paragraphs make this a terrific classroom resource for early elementary grades.

In Skydiver: saving the fastest bird in the world by Celia Godkin relates how the peregrine falcon became endangered through the use of DDT. A clutch of eggs are taken from a pair of falcons in the wild by scientists who raise them to either stay in captivity to breed or be released back into the wild. We learn about the dangers, resiliency and efforts to save this breed of falcon.  Good for grades 1-4.

Queen of the Sky by Jackie Morris is another recent book but is best suited for higher grades. This is a story of a rescued bird by a woman who nurses ‘Hiss’ back to health eventually releasing her back to wild. The artwork is brilliantly done with woodcuts, watercolour drawings and photographs. The art paired with the narrative of the struggle to nurse the falcon and the growing bond between the bird and her rescuer makes for an interesting story. This is a wonderful book to share with grades 9 and up.

Another very informative book is Falcons in the City: the story of a peregrine family by Chris Earley. This particular family of falcons decided to roost and nest on the balcony of a high-rise building in Chicago. There are some amazing photographs taken from the balcony of the chicks hatching, growing and flying. Close-ups of the birds as they fly and glide by the balcony are captivating. Students in elementary grades will learn all about falcon behavior, habitats, food and challenges to survive in an urban environment.

The last book I’ll recommend is the Peregrine’s Journey: a story of migration by Madeleine Dunphy. Here we learn what it takes for a female falcon to make an 8,000 mile journey from Alaska to Argentina. Again, this book is appropriate for elementary grades.

Pair these books with the Doucette Library’s peregrine falcon puppet, replica skull, replica egg and talon to have a variety of interesting resources to complement this component of your spring unit.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Handful of books

I’ve had a soft spot for this book, Hands by Boris Cyrulnik, photographs by Tiziana and Gianni Baldizzone for a really long time. I often try to find reasons to bring it into my various workshops. It’s a beautiful coffee table book with loads of photographs showing close-ups of activities that hands do every day. Listen to the how the chapters have been organized: Hands of Pleasure, Hands of Beauty, Hands at Work, Hands of the Heart, Hands of Ritual, and finally By Hand… There are many beautiful images here that I think have lots of classroom potential.

Beautiful Hands by Kathryn Otoshi and Bret Baumgarten is a recent picture book that does the same thing; it asks what things will your hands do today? Will they plant seeds? Or maybe plant ideas? Or touch hearts? Will they lift spirits? Or stretch imaginations? Will they reach for love? Or peace, truth, dreams? 
The illustrations are unique using brightly coloured handprints to create images of birds, flowers and butterflies.

Using these two books together in a classroom would provide opportunities to explore the concepts the books embody as well as the actions that these hands engage in. At the youngest grades in social studies in Alberta where the focus is on identity, family, school and community, self, uniqueness and belonging, these books will start conversations. They could also be mentor texts that model work that students can engage in. Having students photograph the activities that they, their friends and family members do every day allows them to develop an understanding about what people do.  Hands, also speak to an individual’s identity and uniqueness.

I love the idea of how we use the word "hand" and the images that come to mind: hands up, hands off, hands on, hand out, hand-me-downs, a hand up, hands on, handful, handy, helping hands, heavy handed, show of hands, ‘talk to the hand’, shaking hands with the devil. What others come to your mind? There is both play and power with these words and the images they create. Hands create but they also destroy. Hands can be loving but also hurtful. Exploring binary opposites is a great way to introduce a kind of tension in a unit that will engage students.

Other books that would tie-in beautifully with these book titles would be:

These Hands by Margaret H. Mason is a history lesson embedded in a warm story about an African American grandfather telling his grandson all the things he could (tie shoe laces, play the piano) and could not do (not touch the dough at the Wonder Bread factory). It’s a gentle story about the civil rights African Americans had to organize and fight for.

Nadia’s Hands by Karen English is about a little girl worried about what her classmates with think of her and maybe tease her about having mehndi designs on her hands in preparation for an aunt’s traditional Pakistani wedding. This story speaks to culture and identity, about being one's self and belonging.

Sister Anne’s Hands by Marybeth Lorbiecki is a favourite of mine. Again its set during the civil rights movement in the United States and shows how a beloved teacher (an African American nun) makes a teachable moment out of a cruel, thoughtless act by one of her students to show how small acts of hate can lead to the big acts of societal discrimination.

Hands & Hearts by Donna Jo Napoli is about a mother and daughter who have a fun-filled day at the beach. They enjoy playing in the waves and sand, building castles and swimming.  They also happen to use their hands to speak with each other. There are 15 words introduced in American Sign Language.

Hands by Lois Ehlert is brilliantly designed with a hand glove shaped book. It speaks to all the activities that the busy hands in this household get up to: Dad is busy making a bird house and Mom is busy sewing. The narrator is given his or her own work space and is taught some the skills that Mom and Dad use in their activities. This book connects with the maker mind set that is now being promoted in schools here in Calgary.

These are only a few that would work well at the elementary level. 

Friday, February 10, 2017

Top 10 Nonfiction Picture Books - Activists

I’m posting a little early this time so that I can contribute to this year’s Top 10 for 10: the Nonfiction Edition. I love these events.

Now in the fifth year, Nonfiction Picture Book10 for 10 (#nf10for10) is co-hosted by Cathy Mere of Reflect & Refine and Mandy Robek of Enjoy and Embrace Learning.  Go to Picture Book 10 for 10 Community to see all the contributors.  There’s no better way to build your library than with recommendations from people who are really passionate about children’s literature and many of the teachers in the crowd generously share teaching ideas, as well.

This time round, I’m focusing on nonfiction books about people who are the do-gooders of the world, the righters-of-wrongs and the impossible optimists of causes, lost or otherwise.

#1.  Nelson Mandela by Kadir Nelson.
 The illustrations are particularly strong as you can see from the cover. This image introduces us to the man who had vision and was a great leader. The free-verse text sketches out the basic story of his life and a 2-page author’s note fills in more of the details of Nelson Mandela’s struggle. Recommended for elementary grades.

#2.  14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy.
 I’ve blogged about this book numerous times and included it at least twice in past lists for the Top Ten event. It really is a must-have. Again, the illustrations only emphasize the beauty of the story. A young Kenyan man studying in New York in 2001 when the Twin Towers collapsed returns home to seek support from his community to give a herd of cattle to the Americans as a way to show sympathy, support and as a way to heal. To the Maasi of Kenya, cattle are a way of life and mean everything to them as a people. I still tear-up when I read it.

#3. OnePlastic Bag by Miranda Paul
 I love this story because of the initiative taken by a Gambian woman named Isatou when she saw a problem that needed to be addressed. Single-use plastic bags were a problem in her community, polluting the area, killing livestock and attracting insects. With help from the community, repurposing the plastic bags, into crocheted carrying bags she is able to generate income and, at the same time, as reducing waste.

#4. Viola Desmond Won’t Be Budged! By Jody Nyasha Warner & Richard Rudnicki
This is a Canadian story about Viola Desmond, a black woman who in 1946 was asked to move from a main floor movie theatre seat to a seat located in the balcony. When she refused, she was jailed, charged, and fined. This incident rallied the black community in Nova Scotia to push back against long standing racial discrimination.

      Rachel: the Story of Rachel Carson by Amy Ehrlich
Having just watched a PBS documentary about Rachel Carson it reminded me about the importance of her work. These two books tell us Rachel’s life story, her strong connection to nature, and why she was committed to increasing awareness to environmental issues. The book by Laurie Lawlor really ties into the impact a single person can have in the world. The beginning of the environmental movement is attributed in part to Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring

#6. A Boy and a Jaguar   by Alan Rabinowitz
This book also speaks to a person committed to the environment. I really appreciated how this story illustrates a man’s commitment to wildlife conservation and how his connection to animals helped him overcome a debilitating stutter. Finding his voice has enabled him to speak for the animals found in the wild.

Jane Goodall is the quintessential conservationist, internationally renowned for her work with chimpanzees in Tanzania.  The other book to be aware is a 2012 Caldecott Honor book,  Me…Jane by Patrick McDonnell.

#8. I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel
Awareness of transgender issues have been prevalent recently and Jazz Jennings is certainly doing her bit to help people understand what this experience has been like for her and her family. This picture book is appropriate for younger children whereas Being Jazz : My Life (as a TransgenderTeen) by Jazz Jennings a much longer book is directed to students in grade 6 and up.

Emmanuel was born in Ghana with a severely deformed leg. The biggest challenge for him to overcome was the prejudice he experienced from others.  With a great deal of grit, perseverance and encouragement from his mother he went to school, learned to play soccer and ride a bike. He undertook a 4000 km trip across Ghana on his bicycle to raise awareness and change attitudes in his county towards those with disabilities.

#10. Dreams of Freedom : In Words and Pictures by Amnesty International
This book is a collection of quotes from famous activists including Nelson Mandela, Malala Yousafzai, Anne Frank, and the Dalai Lama who have lived experiences with ‘dreams of freedom’. Besides the provocative, beautiful, and inspiring words are provocative, beautiful and inspiring illustrations done by a bevy of international illustrators such as Mordicai Gerstein, Chris Riddell, Sally Morgan, Oliver Jeffers and Roger Mello. Works well with social studies when the Rights of Child is being taught. Beautiful book.

 Again, I highly encourage you to visit the rest of the entries in today’s event by clicking on Picture Book 10 for 10 Community. You will come away with many irresistible recommendations.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Building frenzy

Lots of building going on with our student-teachers these days: building lesson plans and units; building projects’; building prototypes of all sorts using various materials including Lego robotics, wooden blocks, foam blocks, straws, cardboard; and above all, building knowledge.

One topic that came my way recently was students wanting to develop a unit for primary grades around the idea of building a community. Did I have any recommendations that would inspire and inform a unit like this?


With the idea in mind that young children would connect readily with building homes (and ties neatly into the Alberta social studies curriculum to boot) we decided to start with that.

I recommended browsing the series, Young Architect with the following titles:

Futuristic Homes by Sa.Taylor       Working Homes by G. Bailey
Towering Homes by G. Bailey        Storybook Homes by G. Bailey
Adventure Homes by G. Bailey

Though the suggested grade level is 3 to 6, I think the illustrations would certainly spark the imagination of students in grades 1 and 2, as well. These particular student teachers got excited when they started flipping through them, for there’s lots of information about construction techniques and materials and definitions for specialized words. I didn’t think these books provided everything but were a good starting point.

I matched these books with the picture book by Chris Van Drusen, If I Built a House because it takes a fanciful, pie-in-the-sky approach to building a home for the narrator’s family.

Because the unit was going to go beyond homes, the student teachers wanted books that would show different kinds of buildings. They wanted iconic buildings from around the world, so I showed them 13 Buildings Children ShouldKnow by Annette Roeder. Also graded for grades 3 to 6, it does feature the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Taj Mahal, the Sydney Opera House, The Eiffel Tower and many others. Each entry includes photographs, illustrations, information about when they were built, construction techniques and the occasional quiz question.

I’m hoping I’ll find out how the students developed this unit further in the near future.

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