Monday, September 18, 2017

Setting the Tone - Better Off Together

It’s a new school year and establishing the kind of learning environment you want to have from the get-go is important. Classrooms imbued with qualities like a safe space for taking risks and  trying new things, being respectful, curious, and determined are but a few of the many that will help with classroom management issues, as well as, learning.

And that brings me to today’s words: cooperation and collaboration.

Here are a few picture books that could be used at the elementary level to illustrate and initiate conversations about students working together, the importance of team work, communication, and being responsible.

The Whale by Ethan Murrow 
I love the black and white illustrations in this one. They work well to convey the wordless story about an adventure to confirm the existence of a mythical whale when two children come together (as in literally crash into each other) and work with each other to make the experience that much more rewarding.

The Red Apple by Feridun Oral 
A group of hungry animals figure out how to work together to get the only food to be found in winter, a red apple hanging high in a tree.

That Neighbor Kid by Daniel Miyares 
True collaboration happens between two children when each brings their abilities into play while trying to construct a tree house together. The illustrations have a strong retro feel with a fairly simple colour palette with mostly black and white drawings and touches of colour appearing as they begin working together.

Ewe and Aye by Candace Ryan
I love this one for the word play and that these two animal friends, Ewe (sheep) and Aye (lemur) with very different skill sets (one likes wings and one likes wheels) eventually building the best-ever flying machine. The illustrations are very cartoony and fit the story perfectly.

Up the Creek by Nicholas Oldland 
With a definite Canadiana vibe, a bear, a moose and a beaver must work together to paddle their canoe through fast running white water rapids safely. The humorous elements are a treat.

Give a Goat by Jan Rock Schrock 
A group of fifth graders are inspired to raise funds to support a charity that looks to give livestock to impoverished families in third world countries. This is a good title for raising issues of being a global citizen, community service and fund raising. The book will be best used in upper elementary.

A Warm Winter by Feridun Oral 
Another selection by the same author of The Red Apple. He’s obviously big into having animals come together, helping one another overcome some challenge especially in winter. In this case, it’s a small mouse trying to keep warm and discovering his load of wood is too heavy for him to carry home. His friends come to his assistance to the benefit of all.

Going Places by Peter Reynolds 
A contest to build a go-cart brings together two unlikely classmates who dare to dream big and go beyond the norm. They build the ultimate go-cart that totally blows the competition away with a very innovative flying-cart.
Three Monks and No Water by Ting-Xing Ye  
An oldie but a goodie.  This lesson-bound story again reinforces the benefits of group responsibility and cooperation. A mountain-top temple is at risk when three monks try to shirk their responsibility of bring up pails of water from the base of the mountain. Only by working together do they advert disaster. This title is best suited for upper elementary.

These are only a handful of titles that embody the qualities of working together to come out ahead for those involved. 

Monday, September 11, 2017

It’s a new school year!

Welcome back, Everyone.

I’ve been pretty quiet over the summer except for participating in the Ten for Ten in August (check this out if you haven’t already) so I’m itching to get back into recommending resources that have come my way over the last couple of months.

But, I’ll do that next week.

This week, as a welcome-wagon kind of gift to the new school year is an invitation to check out a fun exhibit that the Doucette Library has installed commemorating the 20th anniversary of the publication, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling. (Yup. 20 years!)

So, step right up and see the amazing


These three large, brightly coloured boxes  with various sized openings showcasing artifacts from the Doucette Library’s collection and random objects from home that have been given Harry Potter-esque backstories. 

Some examples:

 The Cursed Belt has been written up as a device of revenge that must be used cautiously as both the cursee as well as the curser could end up with an unwanted muffin top. In fact, this is 5lbs of replica fat that can be strapped around the waist and would likely be used in health or science classrooms.


Insta-Cow  is a  plastic, brown and white toy taken from the Doucette’s farm animal kit, becomes a way of conjuring a cow by adding a drop or two of milk for a full cow. Or add chocolate milk for a chocolate cow. Or half and half cream for ½ a cow 

A replica 16th century, French playing card becomes a portkey for time travel.

Tears of Mandrake : Be Careful! Extremely Rare & Toxic are a few glass beads placed in small bottles.

Trump-Eyes skewing everyday reality are actually prism glasses which would be great in a science classroom.

Anit-Noxious Nose Plugs is written up as an advertisement: “Circa. 1960s – Ad – Does your senior dragon often fart without warning? Are you caught unawares by the “Silent-But-Deadly” ones? Is it deflating your affection for your aging beast? Help is here. One pair of the Anti-Noxious Nose Plugs will rekindle your close relationship with your sulfurous emitting boo-boo dragon. Time to cuddle up!”

These are just a few of the 83 items that populate these giant knick-knack boxes. But not all of the artifacts have write ups. A number of them invite students to create their own Harry Potter-esque descriptions. Postcards are supplied and welcomed.

Besides being a fun display to welcome students, showcase some of the Doucette’s resources and celebrate the Harry Potter 20th anniversary, this also becomes a way to demonstrate to student-teachers ways of using space within classrooms. This type of display could be replicated in a school classroom, artifacts derived from home or school and children encouraged to use their imaginations to create their own magical devices.

If this does appeal to you, you should visit Pop Goes the Page – Muggle Studies 101  to see the artifacts and backstories curated for this Harry Potter Museum. It was reading an article about this exhibit that inspired me to try for something similar but on a smaller scale. Being on the smaller side makes for a perfect tie-in to how we like to inspire our student-teachers with possibilities for their own classrooms.

This corner of the library has been a “paint corner” where students were invited to paint on the glass window with acrylic paints. This was a total hit!

Also, we set the area up as a relaxing tropical ‘beach’ with comfy beach chairs, fake palm tree and sun, beach towels, sunglasses and the piece-de-resistance, crashing wave sounds (sound machine). This was to encourage students to take a few minutes to kick back at a very busy and stressful time of year.

We’ve got a few more ideas to try out in this corner of the library over this next academic school year.

Stay tuned!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Top Ten for Ten – Indigenous children’s literature

I love this event. #pb10for10 is such a great way to see what teachers, librarians and others who use children’s literature are reading and teaching with. I always collect a large number of titles from these lists and sometimes, new ideas about using the books, too. 

The premise is to list your 10 best picture books. These can be the 10 picture books you love most in the world. Or the 10 best picture books connected to a specific topic. Or it might be the top 10 authors of picture books. Or any other top 10 theme you might want to create.

I encourage everyone to visit and browse through these lists.

Last year I created four Pinterest boards that support a course in the education undergraduate program focusing on First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples. One of the assignments has students evaluating children’s literature. The Pinterest boards lists books for different grade levels for both fiction and nonfiction.

And, so here’s my list for this year’s Top Ten on the Tenth Event.

A Coyote Columbus Story by Thomas King, illustrated by William Kent Monkman
This is not your typical Christopher Columbus story. It presents a native perspective about the arrival of Chris with Trickster Coyote responsible for the whole terrible mess. She only wants to have some people to play baseball and instead creates a group of greedy, ill-mannered thieves. Very interesting illustrations. The book can be used with younger grades but I think older students will have a rich opportunity for deconstructing it.

I am Not a Number by Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer, illustrated by Gillian Newland 
This picture book is based on the author’s grandmother’s experiences in a residential school where she endured many horrific hardships. Recommended for upper elementary grades.

Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu
This book demonstrates a wonderful sense of community of support as a little girl from the Muscogee Nation looks to create a dress to wear for a jingle dance. Family and friends all contribute jingles from their own dresses to help Jenna. Recommended for early elementary grades.

Mwakwa Talks to the Loon by Dale Auger 
Mwakwa is a skilled hunter who provides many essential supplies for his village. But he becomes conceited after receiving much praise from the other villagers and loses his ability to talk to the animals he has always hunted. This traditional story speaks to the importance of being humble about one’s abilities and respectful of the sacrifices others make for the greater good. Recommended for elementary grades

Orca Chief by Roy Henry Vickers 
I am a big fan of this illustrator’s work. In this traditional story, we learn about respecting nature. When a group of men are careless about how they treat the ocean the chief of the orca whales teaches them how to sustainably harvest food from the ocean. It's about being respectful and thankful for what the earth provides us. Stunning illustrations with Northwest Coast aboriginal motifs.  Recommended for elementary grades.

Based on the author’s grandmother’s experiences facing adversity and racism, this picture book shares a unique perspective about resiliency. Recommended for elementary grades.

Secret of the Dance by Andrea Spalding 
A boy sneaks out one night to watch a potlach, a ceremony forbidden by the Canadian government. Those involved risk arrest, confiscation of artifacts and even their children by participating. Recommended for elementary grades.

Thunder Boy by Sherman Alexie 
This one is all about identity, individuality and wanting to be recognized for one’s own abilities. Little Thunder is named after his father which he finds frustrating. He wants a name for himself that acknowledges who he is. Yet, at the same time, he worries about hurting his dad’s feelings. Recommended for primary grades.

What’s the Most Beautiful Thing You Know About Horses?By Richard Van Camp, illustrated by George Littlechild 
When you live in a small village where horses are not all that prevalent, how would you describe one? One cold day when there is nothing better to do, a young boy asks different family and friends what they think about horses. The illustrations are a really strong element in this picture book. Recommended for primary grades.

Wild Berries by Julie Flett 
What could be better than being outdoors picking wild blueberries with your grandmother? For this boy, exploring the forest and observing wildlife, it’s an enjoyable and educational experience. Swampy Cree words are included identifying the various things that the pair see.  Recommended for primary grades.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Summertime Reading - Novels

Here is the last of my summertime reading lists.  There really are just too many titles to recommend. I've tried to give a few of my favourites that will appeal to various age groups.

Happy reading, Everyone!

Early Readers

Lulu's Mysterious Mission by Judith Viorst
What's worse than being stuck at some relatives for the holidays? Being left behind while your folks go on vacation without you AND having a babysitter with some pretty weird/mysterious/awesome skills. Humorous.

Hamster Princess (series) by Ursula Vernon
A kick-ass princess who has the wit and will to out-do a curse-spewing (not the swearing/profanity kind. The other kind.) fairy. Great adventures, lots of illustrations and humour.

Clementine (series) by Sara Pennypacker
Any of the books featuring Clementine and her family are wonderful dealing with regular trials and tribulations of everyday life. Warm and cozy reading awaits when you get to know these characters.

Frank Einstein (series) by Jon Scieszka
Over-the-top antics for a technological genius, Frank, outwitting his arch nemisis T. Edison.
Super goofy. 

Middle Grade Readers

Ghost by Jason Reynolds
I highly recommend this story of a boy overcoming his background, trying new things and taking responsibility for his decisions. Terrific character development and very likable young people.

The Inquisitor's Tale: Or, the Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz
This historical adventure had an interesting delivery with different narrators sharing their parts of the story to comprise an interesting narrative. Lots of action.

In the Steps of Crazy Horse by Joseph Marshall
An inter-generational story of a road trip that explores the history of a grandfather and grandson who are Lakota. Highly recommended. 

Countdown by Deborah Wiles
It's 1962 and the  Cuban Missile Crisis has everyone on edge awaiting the outcome of tense negotiations. These tensions are reflected in the everyday interactions of Franny's relationships with her family and friends. Again, the delivery of the story, interspersed with photos, news articles, songs from the 60s, and other pop culture pieces really adds to the story. 

Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage
The quirky cast of characters, the slow summertime pacing of hot days and kids running around 'solving' a mystery is perfectly done in this book. 

Rhyme Schemer by K.A. Holt

A narrative-in-verse story of a troublemaker and bully who has the tables turned on him, as he becomes a target himself. He deals with his situation through his love of poetry and support of a teacher.

YA/Secondary Readers

The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein
This will be of interest to fans of Code Name Verity. Readers are given more of Julia's story growing up in a fairly privileged household. She's still working out who she is against the backdrop of a mystery. Very well written.

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
A survival-in-the-wilderness story populated by yes, beauty pageant contestants, shirtless pirates and some evil-doers. Turns out to be good fun working with stereotypes and against stereotypes as the girls figure out how to cope without all the necessities of life. Commercial breaks are interspersed and provide lots of social commentary. Great fun.

Scythe by Neal Shusterman
Fantasy/sci-fi world where death has been conquered and no one dies unless one of those selected to be a scythe pays you a visit and kills you. Two reluctant, apprentice scythes learn what it takes to kill but all the responsibilities that go with unlimited power. Gripping story and very violent.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Summertime Reading – Picture Books

A more accurate description for today’s blog could have been, Summertime Themed Picture Books.

I can’t really get my head around giving a list of picture books for keeping up reading skills over the summer. Somehow it’s just not the same as working out a list of fiction and nonfiction or graphic novels for older kids in the higher grades.

Thus, today’s posting lists some great titles that will perhaps engage interest because they’re about summer and summertime fun, activities and communing with nature.

 Among a Thousand Fireflies by Helen Frost 
I love the cover of this book. It’s so evocative of summer sitting out in the evening cooling off after a hot day. This free-verse poem will make for a great read-aloud while providing an opportunity to learn about fireflies and why they glow. The photos are stunning.

The Specific Ocean by Kyo Maclear and Katty Maurey
Going away for a vacation is usually considered a treat but for one little girl she’s not convinced. By day three, however the magic of the ocean shore and time spent exploring and playing wins her over. I love that everything feels slowed down; there are no phones, TVs, computers or other bits of technology.

Swimming, Swimming by Gary Clement
This is the quintessential summer activity for me – going to the swimming pool on a hot day, hanging out with friends, and the smell of chlorine lingering for hours. In this nearly wordless picture book, summer is all about swimming for this group of young people.

Ice Cream Summer by Peter Sis 
Another essential ingredient of summer is ice cream and for the young boy in this story it really is THE most important thing as he describes in the letters he writes to his grandfather. His fascination with ice cream motivates him to learn everything about it.

Wild Berries by Julie Flett
Summer time, for me is about being outside in the garden or even better, outside the city and into the mountains. In this story, a boy and his grandmother go berry picking which becomes an opportunity to see creatures big and small going about their everyday business. There's nothing like a fresh picked wild berry exploding with flavour in your mouth.

The Raft by Jim LaMarche
Many summertime stories often have unhappy protagonists who have been 'shipped' off to some relative's place for the duration, which is the case for Nicky. But as is wont to happen in these stories, Nicky is won over to his Grandmother's way of life living at her cabin located next to a gently flowing river. The illustrations fit perfectly with the story, creating a sense of pause in this busy world and allowing time for appreciating nature.

Going to camp is also part of summer for some kids and the two boys in this picture book have a blast going to a day camp. There's lots of humour here as the narration often tells one thing and the illustrations another. The boys are staying with a set of grandparents who spoil them and also have to cope with typical rambunctious young child behaviour. 

This story is based on a family tradition that grew into an annual community event. In the 1950s, a family of Chinese immigrants living in Chicago discovered soybeans growing in a farmer's field. Happy with this discovery, Auntie Yang cooks up a pot of beans for her family. The next year, she invites other Chinese families in the area to join them. And, so the event grew larger for over 40 years.

Pictures From Our Vacation by Lynn Rae Perkins
This one is pretty realistic if you ask me. It's about the way we create memories and how we remember things. This family is returning to a family farm which is no longer lived in which involves a road trip. It's long and sometimes boring. The farm seems run down but Dad sees "happy memories everywhere he looked." However, after endless rainy days, sudden storms, navigating the changes to the local area new good memories are made when relatives congregate for a memorial service.  

Come On, Rain! by Karen Hesse and Jon Muth
Do you remember days that seemed sooo stinking hot that eggs might fry on the sidewalk? Well, in this story it's just such a day. I especially love the illustrations that capture the heat of the city, the heaviness of impending rain and the lift that comes to people, both in movement and spirit, when the oppressiveness is released.

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