Thursday, September 30, 2010

Not everyone’s cup of tea

 The American Library Association has dedicated the week of September 25th to October 2nd as Banned Book Week, stressing the importance of freedom to read and seeking to raise awareness about the detrimental consequences of censorship.

Teachers who bring resources into the classroom that are not directly approved of by whichever education ministry they fall under could be walking a fine line.  This is not to act as a deterrent for bringing books and other resources into the classroom but to raise awareness that they have to know the content of these resources and be prepared to justify their selections.  In other words, they should know ‘why’ they are using or suggesting the books that they do to their students.

Check out their lists of challenged books.  I’m always a little surprised (and I know I shouldn’t be) to see And Tango Makes Three  (823 R395A PIC BK) listed as either first or second in their Frequently  Challenged Books since 2006. It’s a picture book about two male penguins that are given a penguin egg to hatch in the Central Park Zoo in New York City.  It’s based on a true incident.  This book has been challenged due to homosexuality.

Would I use this book in an elementary classroom?  I don’t know. I'd like to think I would and that parents would see that the book isn't about 'gay' penguins.  I do however, recommend new teachers getting to know their students and keeping parents informed of resources that may be contentious.  Parents do have the right to decide what is appropriate reading for their children --  but only their children.  Teachers, librarians and others responsible for children can agree to that much but not to withholding books for all children. 

Censorship is an ugly battle but an important one.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Slow down and smell the kakapo parrot

Ok, here’s me -- a new cart of books to preview before they head off to Doucette Library staff who make books shelf-ready.  It’s a pretty full cart and even though, God knows, I try to read everything that comes into the Doucette Library, it’s just not possible.

This means I have to be very selective about what I look at, what I scan and what I will really read more thoroughly.  And even then, more often than not, I get sucked into a book, initially scanning and then going back and reading the whole thing.

Like Kakapo rescue : saving the world’ strangest parrot by Sy Montgomery (639.97 MoK 2010).  First off, I love this series, Scientists in the field and am very familiar with the format (fabulous photographs and very well written, informative text with a great sense of narrative) so thought I’d just take a quick look and move on.  From the cover and first photos of these beautiful, cute-as-can-be birds with the most endearing characteristics, I slowed down to read the captions.  Then slowed a little more to read the first bit of the first couple of chapters but finally gave up the ‘scanning’ and settled in by page 22 of chapter 4, Secrets of the Nest, finished the book, and then went back to read the bits I missed.


I just love how I’m drawn into the story of a group of researchers/conservationists trying to save this beautiful species which is on the edge of extinction (numbers less than 100).  There are trials and tribulations with every death and a sense of satisfaction and joy with every birth.  I got to know what it takes to do this job and from what I can gather there’s not a whole lot of glory, lots and lots and lots of sweat and sleepless nights but a great sense of fulfillment to be part of this field.

Even though this particular endeavor is to save an endangered bird living in New Zealand, I think it brings home the importance of science, what it takes to be a scientist involved in this kind of work, how scientists think and their methods for research plus gives us an opportunity to draw on our own scientists working with endangered species.  Pair this with a book about peregrine falcons and you have the makings of a unit that could encompass science, environmental issues, social studies and maybe even math, connecting a local concern to a bigger picture on a global scale.

And yes, kakapo parrots do smell good apparently, “sweet and earthy, like honey mixed with peat.”

Now back to my cart of books for just a quick look…

Join Nonfiction Monday Roundup at Wendie's Wanderings to see a list of recent blogs dedicated to highlighting nonfiction resources.

Monday, September 20, 2010

International Day of Peace – September 21, 2010. - Nonfiction Monday.

I know!  Another International Day of… in this case, Peace.  There so many of these International Days of… that I was quite determined when I started blogging not to overuse them.  But I am finding that it is a great way to: 1. raise awareness and, 2. promote a favorite book or two, at the same time.

So, to point #1 – awareness.  This is a day that the United Nations  encourages all nations to observe a “day of global ceasefire and non-violence".  This year’s initiative is being pitched to kids, looking to hear how they are working toward a more peaceful world.
Point #2: One of my all time favorite books that I recommend time and again is What does peace feel like? by Vladimir Radunsky (303.66 RaW 2004 PIC BK).  It’s a highly descriptive way of looking at the concept of peace using metaphors and walking us through the senses at the same time.  To each of the questions: What does peace feel like? What does peace taste like?  …smell like?, etc.,children ranging between the ages of 8 and 10,  provide answers like, peace smells like new furniture or pizza and peace looks like a dog and cat curled sleeping together.

I like that a concept such as ‘peace’ is described in more concrete terms to help children understand what peace is all about.  Tying it to the senses makes for an opportunity to bring in science, too.

Doesn’t it make you wonder what the life of the child is like who connects peace to new furniture? 


Join Nonfiction Monday Roundup at Wrapped in Foil to see a list of recent blogs dedicated to highlighting nonfiction resources.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

What’s she reading now…

 Well, actually, I just finished reading Inspiring the best in students by Jonathan C. Erwin (370.154 ErI 2010) and feel quite excited about it.

It’s the first time I’ve come across the Choice Theory, which provides a way to have students see what motivates them, shows them that they have and make choices all the time and that they are responsible for their behaviour and, finally, helps students learn to change their behaviour.  This will make for better student-teacher relationships in happier classrooms. All pretty lofty, I agree.

The book offers no quick fixes.  This is something established early on in the year when you’re still getting to know the students in your class and followed-up on throughout the year.  And, best of all, it’s something that can be worked into the curriculum, too.

For example, chapter five (A World of Perceptions) discusses how a person’s world view will affect their perceptions of themselves, other people and situations.  To make students aware of some of their perceptions, Erwin describes an exercise where students place pictures and words on a scale (a traffic light is used, with green as positive feeling, red negative and yellow, neutral).  A picture of a delicious looking meal is usually placed near the green light as it evokes a positive feeling.  But the teacher may add information such as “the meal is tainted with salmonella” whereby the perception of the picture may change.  A follow-up discussion allows students to identify what perceptions are, what influences their own perceptions, what control they have over them and ultimately, how perceptions affect behaviour.

This particular chapter had many connections to the curriculum in language arts with writing exercises and literature analysis where students look at point-of-view of literary characters.  Tie-ins with history can also be made when using point-of-view. How does a particular historical or current event look from different perspectives?  How do the media, advertising companies, politicians and governments manipulate the public’s perceptions as a means to their ends? Both music and visual art can be used to further understanding about student’s perceptions, as well.  Lots of suggestions here to work with and inspire.

I thought of a couple of literature tie-ins while reading this chapter.  For instance, Benny and Omar by Eoin Colfer (823 C68B FIC) is told from the perspective of Benny (an Irish boy living in Tunisia).  Omar is a Tunisian boy, orphaned and living in a dump. Telling the story from Omar’s point-of-view would certainly take some considerable understanding of the culture.  Studying Tunisia is part of the Alberta Social Studies curriculum for grade 3.

A new and very hot series of books right now for older kids (grades 9 and up) is the Hunger Games trilogy, a gripping futuristic/sci-fi series. It’s told in the voice of a teenage girl about her experience in the Hunger Games, a televised battle of teens, taken as tribute from twelve districts to fight to the death for the entertainment of the people living in the ‘Capitol’.  Realty TV on steroids, to be sure.  But what a great way to look at perceptions of those living in different districts, of the competitors, of the people with power, and of the ‘innocent’ public, plus the whole media angle.

Erwin’s book is definitely worth a look.

Monday, September 13, 2010

No bones about it

Just having been to the fantastic exhibition, Body Worlds here in Calgary, a recent book to arrive at the Doucette Library, Bones by Steve Jenkins all but leaped off the shelf.  Besides, I love Steve Jenkins’ books and this is no exception.

Well, with a title like Bones what could you expect, except a book about bones?  Human bones, and animal bones, big and small, from all parts of the body are included here. Besides the informative illustrations, there are plenty of interesting facts and tidbits, especially at the back, about bones, bones and more bones. But let’s get back to the illustrations.

Though I particularly loved how the author shows the actual size of some bones, I thought those shown to scale would have even more application in the classroom.  For example, we see skulls for humans and mouse lemurs – both in actual size, side-by-side to illustrate the differences in sizes. A fold-out page then compares the human skull to several animals, again in real-life size, from a tree shrew, a parrot, a dog to a babirusa (wild pig).  But what to do with the big bones of an elephant or even a T Rex?  In the case of the T-Rex we see the leg/foot in relation to that of a human, both scaled to one-fifth their actual sizes.  Comparing elephants and storks? Shrink them to 1/16 their actual size. Very effective.

Just as with the author’s book Actual size, connecting math (scale, measurements) to science (both biology and physics) and health becomes very easy.

All of a sudden I’m seeing a wonderful cross-curricular unit using bones connecting math, science, health, art, history, social studies, and language arts.

There are tons of science books about forensics (Bone detective (363.25092 HOB 2005))
or fossils (Dinosaurs!: battle of the bones (567.9 SiD 2009) or Bones rock!: everything you need to know to become a paleontologist (560 LaB 2004))
or technology (Traditional Inuit way kit (970.0049712 TR A/V))
or art (Georgia’s bones (759.13 BrG 2005 PIC BK); Stones, bones and stitches: storytelling through Inuit art (709.7 FaS 2007))
or math (Your 206 bones, 32 teeth and other body math (612 OsY 2006))
or social studies (Day of the dead (394.264 HOD 1994))
or history (Smiler’s bones (823 L56S FIC))
or language arts (loads of pictures books with skeletons in them; Skeleton man (823 B83S FIC) a short, creepy novel)

For science, here are a few hands-on kits found in the Doucette Library that are just too cool not to include:
Human x-ray print set (611 Hu 1991 A/V)
Broken bones x-rays (617.15 Br 2007 A/V)
Animal x-rays (571.3 An 2004 A/V)
What’s inside animals (uncatalogued)
Coyote skull replica (599.7725 Co 2008 A/V)
Beaver skull replica (599.37 Am 2008 A/V)
Bat skeleton (599.4 Ba 2009 A/V)

If those without access to the Doucette Library would like more information about the kits, drop me a line and I’ll be more than willing to let you know what they are and where we get them.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Journal entry #6 - Legacy wrap-up.

So, I met with the teachers from Nellie McClung last week, feeling a little trepidatious.  With all the reading and selecting of books I’d done over the past two months, was I going to be able to offer anything concrete?  My own ideas about legacy made me see how personal an idea like legacy can be.  Also, that in using the word legacy, humans construct what it is that is being left for future generations.  For example take the legacy of 9/11 – What is the legacy of 9/11? When do we decide what it is – 1 year after the event, 5, 10 or more?  Does it change over time?  Legacy is something we make up to denote that something is being left behind, something important.

I presented the teachers with a rough draft of an Inspiration mind map as well as an outline organized into broad concepts, not organized by grade.  I did this to accommodate the overlap between the grades on particular points that the teachers had given me in June from their brainstorming sessions.  Some examples are interconnectedness, nature/natural world, inspiration, intention, and mindfulness.  I made a distinction between the natural world and humans.  Under the heading Human World, I further distinguished between the individual, the family and then the community.  Community started with Calgary went to Alberta, then to Canada and finally to the world.  There were many subtopics under these headings as well.  This allowed me to organize the resources into some kind of logical frame.  Well, it was logical to me, at any rate.

In terms of resources – let’s just say I had heaps and heaps of books (probably close to 300) from every section of the library.  I had both new and older materials but tried to focus mostly on the newer ones.  There were so many great resources to share.  I don’t know how many times I told them “You have to read this” or “You really must take a look at this one.”  I know, I know. Pushy, pushy…but at least I’m enthusiastic.

I do intend to publish the mind map after somehow meshing the questions and outline I generated plus attaching a bibliography of some the books I selected.  I’ll add it to the Doucette Library homepage under our Books for Big Ideas .  It’s the ‘when’ I’m less certain about.  Sooner rather than later would be good, I know.  This all depends on what else comes up this fall once the academic school year starts.  I’ll post something here when I get it up, to let those of you who are interested know.

I had a few comments as the session went on.  The one that sticks with me and I think is really pertinent, is that most of the topics I focused on were fairly dark (ie., Holocaust, poverty, residential schools, child labour, nuclear bomb, BP oil spill, Cold War, 9/11, etc.).  Not sure what to say to that except these are events that are current or big and powerful in nature, so they stick in my mind and offer lots of potential for discussion and investigation.  Not to say that there are no ‘big’ positive events.  I just didn’t think of them or didn’t have books to support them.

Overall, the teachers seemed to have enjoyed the presentation and it got them thinking about what they might want to focus on or bring into their classes around this incredible idea of legacy.  It’s a start.

Thanks to the teachers at Nellie McClung Elementary School for including me in this year’s big idea.  I hope I get a little feedback to hear how it turned out (hint, hint…).

Monday, September 6, 2010

International Literacy Day – September 8th, 2010.

This is such an important issue and one that is dear and distressing (depending on your take) to the hearts of those involved with libraries, books, and education.

Not being able to read, as is the case for 759 million adults world wide (from Unesco website) enables the cycle of extreme poverty to continue globally.  Improved literacy empowers those who need it most, increasing educational opportunities and improved living standards both here in Canada and aboard.

Recently, one of the instructors from the Education faculty from the University of Calgary has become involved with an educational initiative that takes her to Tanzania.  She showed me some of the pictures that she took of a school she visited: small, concrete slab building, pieces of worn grass mats for the children to sit on, math ‘manipulatives’ consisting of a handful of rusted bottle caps brought by the children and books, well, as you can see from the picture below, included at least one newish looking book. The pristine condition attests that the children don’t handle this book very often. The other materials all look ancient.  It’s heartbreaking to see how little there is available (though I know there are even worse situations out there).

 Here are a few of my recommendations that speaks to the importance of literacy, reading, and education:

Afghan dreams by Tony O’Brien (958.1 OBA 2008) – Time and again, children in Afghan express hopes and dreams about the future.  Time and again the desire to teach is expressed. (Gr.6 and up).

Amadi’s snowman by Katia Novet Saint-Lot (823 Sa237A PIC BK) – for a Nigerian boy keen on becoming a trader, reading doesn’t seem to be important until a book shows him a world outside his own. (Gr.K-3)

Armando and the blue tarp school by Edith Hope Fine (823 F949A PIC BK) – A terrible dilemma for Armando and his family; help the family survive by working as a garbage picker or attend a school that consists of a blue tarp spread on the ground, a very dedicated teacher and a few notebooks. (Gr.1-5)

Biblioburro: a true story for Colombia by Jeanette Winter (020.92 WiB 2010 PIC BK) – One man, two burros and boxes of books are the link with learning and the outside world for small, remote communities in rural Colombia. (Gr.K-2)

Jeremiah learns to read by Jo Ellen Bogart (823 B6334H PIC BK) – It’s never too late to learn to read as Jeremiah and his wife discover, though both are knowledge about many things. (Gr.K-3)

Listen to the wind : the story of Dr. Greg and Three cups of tea by Greg Mortenson (371.822 MOL 2009 PIC BK) – A picture book version that explains how Greg Mortenson built a school and a movement to build many schools in Pakistan, in gratitude for a small village saving his life when he was lost and sick. (Gr. 1-3)

Nokum is my teacher by David Bouchard (823 B66N PIC BK) – A young, First Nations boy learns the value of school and reading from his grandmother as she encourages him to learn about the world, though seemingly far removed from his everyday life on a reservation, while respecting his own culture. (Gr.2-6)

Join Nonfiction Monday Roundup at The Miss Rumphius Effect to see a list of recent blogs dedicated to highlighting nonfiction resources.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Summertime Reading Pile – Last update for 2010

No surprise that I’ve read lots of books.  No surprise that the pile isn’t really any smaller.  Somehow or other, as books come off, others are piled on and those that use to be at the top are slowly filtering towards the bottom. Here are some titles that I found particularly enjoyable.

Absolutely positively not gay by David LaRochelle – grades 9 and up. A humorous and relate-able story about denial and acceptance. Emphasis on humorous.

As easy as falling off the face of the Earth by Lynne Rae Perkins – grades 6-10. Somewhat improbable number of calamities for one family but I loved it nevertheless because of the charming characters.

Bird by Zetta Elliott – grades 2-5. The power of family and art coming together for a young boy as he struggles to understand what’s happening to his older brother as he battles drug addiction.

*Chalk by Bill Thomson – grades K-3. A really wonderful wordless book that features come-to-life, chalk-drawn dinosaurs and clever thinking children who figure how to keep them in check.

*Countdown by Deborah Wiles – grades 5-9.  Loved this one for the way the background information was added into the story, placed during the Cuban Missile Crisis, including pictures (check out the one for living in a bomb shelter, nice to know Mom can continue cooking while Dad looks on, enjoying his pipe), songs, news clippings and broadcasts, and commentary about civil rights, Cold War, and other social issues. First in trilogy. Can't wait for more.

*Drums, girls and dangerous pie by Jordan Sonnenblick – grades 5-8.  Somehow this story of a family dealing with leukemia in the youngest son never gets maudlin or morbid.  Down right funny at times with lots of touching moments.

*Half-minute horrors edited by Susan Rich – grades 5 and up.  Great range of authors contribute to this compilation of really,really, short stories with all sorts of twisted, ghoulish, suspenseful, spine-tingling punches.

The Hallelujah flight by Phil Blidner – grades K-3. Great slice-of-life story of 1932 flight across the continent by two African-American pilots who relied on the kindness of strangers to keep their flying-bucket-of-bolts in the air.

House of many ways by Dianna Wynne Jones – grades 6-9.  DWJ dishing up what she serves best – original, fun fantasy.  Come and get it!

Biblioburro: a true story from Columbia by Jeanette Winter – grades K-2. What one man, who loves to read, does with his collection (growing collection) of books to benefit people living in remote areas of Columbia.

*Cycle of rice, cycle of life: a story of sustainable farming by Jan Reynolds – grades 4-7. Very informative on how Balinese culture embeds good agricultural practices and which are now being recognized for its sustainability.

If stones could speak by Marc Aronson – grades 5-8. A new interpretation and further archaeological investigation gives us an enriched perspective of this intriguing structure. Fantastic photos.

Nuturing walls : animal art by Meena women by Gita Wolf – all ages.  Celebrates the women of Meena in Rajasthan, India and their creative powers as they paint wall murals to mark festivals and the changing seasons.   Lots of illustrations.

The tree of life: the incredible biodiversity of life on Earth by Rochelle Strauss – grades 3-6.  Interesting information book that represents all life as leaves on trees breaking down scientific classifications. Great visual representations.

*Tsunami by Joydeb Chitrakar – all ages.  See my blog about this one. Loved it, in case you're wondering.

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