Sunday, November 11, 2018

100 Years Ago Today

Today is November 11th, 2018 one hundred years-to-the-day that World War I ended with the signing of the armistice.

The Vimy Oaks: a Journey to Peace by Linda Granfield tells the true story of a young Canadian soldier, Leslie Miller, who fought in France during World War I.  Based on his field journals, Granfield extracts snippets of text that describe his observations and experiences as he goes about doing his job as a member of the Signals Corps.  Many of the excerpts are descriptions of the landscape noting the beautiful woods and large trees or the terrible devastation wrecked on the countryside by the constant bombardment from both sides.  On April 9, 1917 the battle for Vimy Ridge began and while fighting in this area, Leslie Miller collected a number of acorns that had been blasted from oak trees, mailing them home to Canada.

After returning to Ontario, he started life again as a farmer. Miller planted the acorns he had sent home during the war. This becomes significant in 2004 when Monty McDonald, a family friend to the Millers, traveled to France and Belgium to see the battlefields of both wars. He noticed, while visiting the National Vimy Memorial, that the landscape, though green and forested again, was missing oak trees. He wondered if the trees that grew in Canada from the acorns collected by Leslie Miller could be used to re-establish the oaks at Vimy Ridge.
The Vimy Oaks Repatriation Project was launched with the intention of having oak trees once again growing at Vimy Ridge in time for the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, November 11th, 2018. The book describes the process by which the Canadian oaks are being propagated and then taken to France or planted across Canada.
The book has been illustrated by Brian Deines but also contains numerous photos of people, places and things from that time period. I especially love the photo of Leslie Miller’s field journal that shows a couple of sketches he did of the trees he admired and his beautiful cursive penmanship. It provides lots of context that will help readers understand what was happening and some of the significance of those events. The connection between the past and the present is perfectly encapsulated here. 
Also included are a glossary and index.
I recommend this book for the middle grades when doing units about trees, Remembrance Day, Canadian history, World War I but also looking at topics of peace. The planting of these oak trees is such a wonderful symbol of healing, peace and remembrance.
“They will call upon us to remember the past – and a Canadian soldier who once held hope and rebirth in the palm of his hand.” (p.33)

Monday, November 5, 2018

Divergent thinking

Recently, I offered a workshop about children’s literature with a focus on divergent thinking. We looked at how children’s literature can encourage readers to be divergent thinkers as well as model divergent thinking. This can be embodied by the characters in the book or the book itself might be designed in some creative way or tell a story with some element of originality.

I did base some of my workshop on the book by Marianne Saccardi, Creativity and Children’s Literature: new ways to encourage divergent thinking (2014).  Click HERE to read my blog reviewing this book from a couple of years ago.  This was the first time I had run this workshop.

I did modify the workshop a little by introducing some of the thinking behind the new Alberta Education curriculum that is currently being rolled out over the next couple of years.  There is a set of 8 competencies that will span the K-12 curriculum in which I saw components of divergent thinking. These included critical thinking, problem solving, managing information, creativity and innovation, communication, collaboration, cultural and global citizenship and personal growth and well-being. If you’re keen to read more about the new curriculum or the competencies please take a look at The Guiding Framework for the Design and Development of Kindergarten to Grade 12 Provincial Curriculum (Programs of Study) by Alberta Education, 2017.

One of my main objectives in this workshop is getting books into the hands of students. A significant amount of time is given to ‘playing’ with the books (book spine poetry exercise) and then reading books with an eye to evaluating books for embodying some attribute of divergent thinking. I collect their evaluations and will be posting their recommendations on the Doucette Library’s Pinterest page. I’ll create a board specific to this workshop so that students can revisit some of the titles that were featured.

Here are a few student-teacher recommendations:

The Water Walker by Joanne Robertson : divergent thinking attributes include problem solving and taking risks

I’m Coming to Get You by Tony Ross : divergent thinking attributes include being imaginative and a metaphor (“for the destructive nature of people”)

Why Am I Here? by Constance Orbeck-Nilsson : divergent thinking attributes include promoting wondering, problem solving and being philosophical (“starts to create empathy and thinking about things through the perspective of someone else. Subtly brings up the topic of immigration. Love!”)

Who Says Women Can’t be Doctors? By Tanya Lee Stone : divergent thinking attributes include taking risks and promotes original thinking (“Very inspirational story…Good non-fiction information presented in an interesting way that is appropriate for various age groups.”)

There by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick : divergent thinking attributes includes being philosophical, ambiguous and promoting problem finding (“Bigger philosophical question about life/meaning of life.  Can be universally applied to anyone with an imaginative twist.”)

Monday, October 29, 2018

The Creep Factor

Halloween is nigh upon us and in keeping with the season, today’s post lists creepy stories. Nothing like getting scared for fun and nothing better than closing a book to get away from all that creepiness. Not like in real life.  Sleep well, Everyone.


The Girl in Red by Roberto Innocenti

Half-minute horrors by Susan Rich (super-short, short stories)

Wolves in the Walls by Neil Gaimon (Picture Books)

Middle Grades

Clay by David Almond

Coraline by Neil Gaimon

The Crowfield Curse by Pat Walsh

Lost Boy by Greg Ruth (graphic novel)

The Nest by Kenneth Oppel

Skeleton man by Joseph Bruchac

Senior high

Jackaby by William Ritter

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson (graphic novel)

Tales of Terror by Edgar Allan Poe (short stories)

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll (graphic novel/short stories)

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.

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