Thursday, December 22, 2011

Holiday Break.

I would like to thank everyone who has stopped by Apples with Many Seeds and to invite you to do so again in the New Year.  I’m taking a break until early January.

I wish everyone enjoyment of all the activities that happen at this time of year whether is it indulging in family traditions or creating new ones, celebrating a religious holiday, or just hanging out and maybe reading a good book or two.

Here’s to 2012.  Happy New Year.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas fare

Christmas is just around the corner…(six more sleeps)… and I love Christmas.  I must admit I’m lucky that my family situation permits me to give the mall madness a miss, allowing me to enjoy the best bits (in my opinion) of baking goodies, visiting with friends and family, cooking winter fare, decorating the house inside and out (lights, Christmas balls, action!), more baking and more cooking and of course eating!!!

So, to help pass a little Christmas cheer along (Canadian style) I’m recommending A Porcupine in a Pine Tree: a Canadian 12 days of Christmas by Helaine Becker, illustrated by Werner Zimmermann (819.1 BeP 2010 PIC BK).

The title pretty much says it all– this is a remix of the Twelve Days of Christmas done with all things Canadian.  From caribou and beaver tails, to Stanley Cups and hockey players, to Mounties and loons, to sled dogs and squirrels -- Oh my!

The illustrations are particularly apt.  They capture the riotous nature of all these creatures cavorting to the tune of the 12 days of Christmas as the hockey players chase the Stanley Cups, the Mounties munch on doughnuts while the sled dogs playfully eye these same doughnuts, and the squirrels merrily curl away with their acorn ‘rocks’ and tiny brooms.   Everyone is having a blast.  And the bemused porcupine is adorable.

And, the author has managed to keep the tune of the carol without compromising its natural rhythm.  This impressed me a fair bit as this could have been a situation where the premise of Canadian symbols takes over and the singer is left having to make the words bend to the music.

This is a really fun book that is a Christmas treat to delight almost everyone

Thursday, December 15, 2011

How you look at it

Palazzo Inverso by D.B. Johnson (823 J6311P PIC BK is, without a doubt, a fun book. 
Based on Escher-like illustrations, a young apprentice to a master builder is accused of tinkering with the building plans of a grand palazzo.  The building is topsy-turvy causing all sorts of chaos for the carpenters, bricklayers, and painters, not to mention the mistress of the house.  Staircases run in opposing directions and ceiling and floors are mixed-up.  Are things upside down or downside up?
The text runs along the borders of each two-page spread.  Once you’ve reached the end of the book the text runs up the side border, directing you to turn the book over and continue the story, reading towards the front of the book.  It’s a continuous loop. Occasionally, the narrative feels a little contrived to work with the illustrations.
The optical illusions make this is a terrific book for looking at the concept of perspective.  When turned over the, pictures show a different point-of-view of the same scene.  It’s cleverly done and draws the reader’s attention in different directions all at once.
Pair this book with A Imagine a place  by Rob Gonsalves (823 G588I3 PIC BK) or one of his other books in this series, or Reflections by Ann Jonas (823 J692R3 PIC BK) for further play with perception and visual trickery.
I would recommend Palazzo Inverso for grades 2-6.
If you’re looking for more images created by Escher, look for M.C. Escher published by Taschen (769.924 EsM 2006).  Included are works for different periods of Escher’s life.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Joining the bandwagon

Swirl by swirl: spirals in nature by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Beth Krommes  (811 SiSp 2011 PIC BK) is getting a fair amount of attention from bloggers in the world of children’s literature.  It’s well deserved, too.  Both the author and illustrator are award winners for prior books (Dark Emperor and other poems and The house in the night, respectively).
This is a beautifully composed poem and a sumptuously illustrated book that invites the reader to look closely at the natural world.
Spirals are multipurpose forms that occur over and over again in nature, from animals that curl tightly while they hibernate, to expanding swirls of fern fronds or the shells of a nautilus, to the strong, protective spirals of rams’ horns, snail shells or a rolled up hedgehog, to powerfully moving currents of water and air.  The author’s fascination with spirals is further elucidated at the back of the book (she sees them  as both practical and beautiful) as is its classroom application.
Swirl by swirl is a lovely poetry book but it can be used in a lesson about patterns and shapes.
  Bring  in

Growing patterns: Fibonacci numbers in nature by Sarah Campbell (512.72 CAG 2010 PIC BK) or

A star in my orange: looking for nature’s shapes by Dana Meachen Rau (516.1 RAS 2002 PIC BK) for complementary pairings in math or science.  If you have access to the Doucette Library collection, look for the ammonite specimen (564.53 AM 2006 A/V) or the pine cone kit (512.72 Fi 2011 A/V) for real life examples of natural spirals.
I would recommend this book for all ages because it’s so beautiful but it will work very well with primary grade students.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Colourful metaphor

Reading the title and looking at the cover of The Sound of Colors: a journey of the imagination by Jimmy  Liao (823 J5635S PIC BK), my first thought was “looks like this might be an interesting one to recommend for the science unit, ‘The Senses’, with connections to art.” Great.
Well, maybe.

This book has a lot more going on than an interesting way to explore the senses or colours.   (Think Black book of colors by Menena Cottin (535.6 COB 2008 PIC BK)).   
After I finished reading it, I kept thinking it reminded me of another book and realized it was Stormy Night by Michele Lemieux (823 L543S PIC BK).  In Stormy Night a little girl lies in her bed at night asking all the big (and small and silly and profound) questions about life. 
Then I read The Sound of Colors again and it started to evoke some of the same feelings I had when I read The Lost Thing by Shaun Tan (823 T155L PIC BK) about a boy finding a very peculiar object that few others can even see, especially adults, and trying to find the proper place to take it. Along the way he questions how things get lost and why it is that older people can’t see all these ‘lost’ objects.

But don’t get me wrong -- The Sound of Colors is unique.  A girl/young woman, who has recently lost her sight, takes us along with her as she travels on the subway.  Instead of her blindness limiting her, it allows her imagination to soar.  Subway stations are filled with color and interesting people, monsters or storybook characters. The subway stops in surreal landscapes -- under the sea with dolphins and fishes, high in the sky into clouds, a forest filled with fallen golden leaves and so on.   Sometimes she describes the sensations she experiences (very poetically, too) and asks questions that I think pertain more to life’s journey than it does to her trip.
            Trains rumble and clank and rush past me.
            Which is the right one?  It’s easy to get lost underground.
            I wonder where I am and where I’m going,
            and if I’m getting closer to what I’m searching for.
            A little boy asks me how to get home.
            “I’m looking, too,” I tell him.
The illustrations are brightly coloured and playfully draw the reader in, as we accompany the protagonist on her unnamed quest.

Who would I recommend this for?  I think using this book with older students (grades 7 and up) would be great for discussion about metaphor and similes.  I don’t think this will be first book I'll recommend for elementary students doing units about the senses.  But I’m left wondering what the kids at Nellie McClung Elementary School would make of this book.  In case you missed my blogs written this pass summer, this was a school working with the theme of ‘journey’ for all grades, kindergarten to grade 6.  Teaching to this theme, I’m confident the teachers from Nellie would make the most of it, allowing their students to access the journey this girl has undertaken.

Monday, December 5, 2011

On the QT, very hush-hush.

If you know anything about Harriet Tubman, then you probably know that she was an escaped slave who became a conductor on the Underground Railroad, bringing many slaves to safety at great risk to herself. She was strong and she was brave.

But less well-known is that she acted as a spy for the North during the American Civil War. Many of her activities are unknown, or unconfirmed, with only a few sources documenting Harriet Tubman’s spy work. Apparently, there is little surviving documentation, from either the North or the South, about intelligence work as much of it was destroyed to protect agents from reprisals.  (This insight could make for an interesting discussion about doing research under such conditions.)

Harriet Tubman, Secret Agent: how daring slaves and free Blacks spied for the Union during the Civil War by Thomas B. Allen (973.71 AlH 2009) gives us a full picture of this time period: what it meant to be a slave; the risks to both self and those who assisted if a slave decided to escape ; the Abolitionist movement; the Underground Railroad; the Fugitive Slave Act; Southerners fear of a black uprising;  key figures such as John Brown and Frederick Douglass, amongst many others, as well as the role spies played in the Civil War.

Harriet Tubman was only one of many whites, blacks, freemen and slaves in the service of the government of the North.  Confederate General Robert E. Lee recognized  that slaves were the source of the most significant leaks of information. It’s not difficult to imagine what the consequences were for a slave if caught passing information.

The book includes a 'cast of characters' that helps young readers track significant players. It has fantastic illustrations (woodcuts, photographs) from the 1800s plus contemporary pictures, as well, maps, a timeline, appendices for footnotes, sources and bibliography and an index. Throughout the book are encrypted secret messages which can be decoded using the cipher (p.172) Elizabeth Van Lew devised when smuggling messages to the Union army.

The book itself feels like an old text that could have come directly from this era, with its small size, Caslon Antique font and illustrations.

This is an intriguing read about a lesser known element of the American Civil War that I would recommend for grades 6 and up.

Today's Nonfiction Monday event is being held at Gathering Books.  Stop by to find a list of children's literature focused on nonfiction.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Grade 3 – readers in the making

My big adventure this week will be meeting with a couple of classes of grade 3 students at Nellie McClung Elementary School. I’ve been asked to come in a talk about how to pick a good book. Can’t say I’ve got all the details worked out but I know I’ve got a box of books ready to go. Stay tuned.

In preparing for this outing, I’ve been getting caught up with a few shorter novels/early reader-type chapter books. I’ve discovered that not all of these kinds of books are created equal. Some are just boring or have a message that hits you over the head. Ouch!

The following titles are the ones I enjoyed the most. It wasn't until I compile this list that I noticed the emphasis on humour in this selection.

Iggy and me by Jenny Valentine
I love this author’s young adult books and was curious about this one. Sweet family-life story focused on two sisters. Well-written.

Justin Case: school, drool, and other daily disasters by Rachel Vail
I can totally relate to Justin, a worry-wart of profound proportions. This was me in elementary school.  Well, ok -- maybe I didn't have a 'bjillion' worries like Justin but it would have seemed like it.  I'm sure that me and Justin aren't the only ones.

Sideways stories from Wayside school by Louis Sachar (823 Sa138S 2003 FIC)
This is not a new book -- but some how I’ve managed to miss the Wayside school stories. I can’t say I thought it uproariously hilarious but I did enjoy the silly, dark humour. I can see why kids love these books.

The Talented Clementine by Sara Pennypacker (823 P3837T FIC)
Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. I love Clementine and her quirky character. She even takes herself to the principal when she thinks she might be in trouble. I particularly like the ending where Clementine is appreciated for her true talents.

The Trouble with chickens by Doreen Cronin (823 C881T FIC)
I’m curious what kids will make of this one. The humour is sly and witty and has the feel of Sam Spade as played by Humphrey Bogart. J.J. Tully, a retired search and rescue dog turned detective, tells this story of missing (kidnapped?) chicks.

I’ve also revisited a few older favorites:
The Dragon’s boy by Jane Yolen (823 Y78D1 FIC)
A version of the King Arthur story. 13-year-old Artos meets up with an old ‘dragon’ who teaches him the value of friendship, honesty and courage. The twist at the end is interesting.

Rats on the roof by James Marshall (823 M356R FIC)
Totally ridiculous stories! Animal characters who, intentionally and unintentionally outsmart each other. Goofiness galore.

The Time Travel Trio series by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith (823 Sci27K FIC)
Again, with the humour!!! Nerdy, goofy boys always ending up where they don’t want to be, having near-misses while experiencing high adventure. The illustrations are just as enjoyable as the narrative. Great boy books.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Cause and effect

The Chiru of High Tibet: a true story by Jacqueline Briggs Martin (599.646 MaC 2010 PIC BK) provides an intriguing story about the reclusive and now threatened (very nearly endangered) tiny antelope-like chiru that reside in the Tibetan mountains.

In addition to learning about the animal and its habitat, we are taken along on a true life adventure as wildlife biologist/conservationist, George Schaller studies and strives to protect the chiru. But protecting the chiru is no easy task. He thinks that if he can determine where the calving grounds are, he will be able to petition the Chinese government to protect the area from hunters and, protect the shrinking chiru population. But the shear ruggedness and extreme weather make this a difficult task. Four other men, Conrad Anker, Rick Ridgeway, Galen Rowell and Jimmy Chan, take up Schaller’s mission and after incredible hardship, pulling all their supplies in heavily laden, two-wheeled carts through rough terrain do discover this secret location. (Check out this video clip to see what the carts looked like and some of the conditions the four men had to endure.)

So why are the chiru almost endangered? Namely, for shahtoosh, shawls made from the warmest and finest wool in the world that can only be collected from a dead chiru. They can't be sheared like sheep because without their coats the extreme cold would kill them, and they do not survive in captivity. Apparently, the highly prized shawls (sold for thousands of dollars) are the equivalent of three to five dead chiru (p. 18). This is another example of consumers in the West are driving illegal activities that are determental to animal populations.

The illustrations are beautifully rendered with an emphasis on cool colours that are evocative of the high altitude of Tibet’s plateaus. There are two pages of photographs that give us a glimpse of the landscape and what a chiru looks like, and a short bibliography at the back of the book.

This will be a great book to bring into elementary classrooms to illustrate effects of globalization, the impact humans can have on animal populations, consumerism, and illegal trafficking of animal parts, in addition to learning about a unique animal in an exotic place.

Today is Nonfiction Monday.  Pop by A Curious Thing to see other blogs reviewing nonfiction children's literature.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Gifted, aptitude, skilled, special ability, knack, flair, expertise

Today is November 24th and if you pop by Anita Silvey’s website, Children’s Book-A-Day Almanac, you will be in for a treat.

There will be a recommendation for a different picture book or novel (a classic or perhaps a classic-in-the-making) every day. Today’s pick, Savvy by Ingrid Law (823 L411S FIC) ties into Celebrate Your Unique Talent Day perfectly. Soon-to-be thirteen-year-old Mib is about to find out what her special power will be. Each member of her family has a power, from moving mountains to creating hurricanes. Talk about unique talents! This book will interest kids in grades 5 to 8.

The website selects a different children’s book for each day of the year, providing a summary, a passage from the book and other events that occur on that particular day (birthdays of authors and illustrators, pop culture, quirky celebratory days (did you know yesterday was Eat a Cranberry Day?) and books that tie into them. There are books old and new, novels and picture books, for all ages. You can search the website by author, illustrator, age group, genre, subject and the date the book was featured.

Anita Silvey is the person in the know about children’s books. She has spent a good deal of her career involved with children’s literature as editor of the Horn Book review journal, a publisher with Houghton Mifflin, and now as an author for children and about children’s books. Anita really does have a gift when it comes to kids’ books.

Take advantage of this fantastic resource.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Got numbers?

I totally underestimated City Numbers by Joanne Schwatz, pictures by Matt Beam (513.5 ScS 2011 PIC BK). Going in, I thought this was just another counting book with pictures from a cityscape. That’s okay, I just didn’t have high expectations. Then I kind of went “grrr…” when I found out that Library and Archives of Canada gave it a subject heading ‘Toronto (Ont.) Pictorial works’ because all the pictures were taken in Toronto. Strike two! (Maybe you have to be from Canada (and not Toronto) to understand my “grrr…”. Anyhow…)

I really, really liked this book.

Yes, it is a counting book starting with zero (or 000 to be more precise) going up to twenty. But there are some unexpected inclusions as well. We get fractions, decimals, percents, and ordinals of numbers, too. The last number in the book, 062336212021, was included because it “so much more fun” than 21.

The photographs are the prize here. There is a random feel in the selection of pictures chosen to illustrate each number. Many of them are not ‘pretty’ pictures but rather depict the wear and tear of everyday life in a big city. Paint peels from signs, metal rusts, and other numbers are slightly obscured because they are faded or snow-covered. The numbers come from packaging, advertisements, signs, addresses, sidewalk/ground markings, and many other locales that we city dwellers are most often oblivious to. This selection of pictures - these seemingly no-nothing photos - take on a whole different meaning when compiled together. Context is everything here.

This is not the book you’re going to bring to a kindergarten class to teach counting. There are math connections but for older kids.  Consider using this book at higher grade levels. Its real impact will be as an art book. This is the kind of book that will act as inspiration and model for students to look more closely at their surroundings and create for themselves, a book like City Numbers.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Chocolate ice cream + Peanut butter = Rapture

This is my favorite ‘solution’ to a really hot day (or even a mildly warm one). Maybe not calorie-wise but…

This Plus That: life’s little equations by Amy Krouse Rosenthal (823 R724T PIC BK) just begs the reader to start making up their own equations for life..

This isn’t really a story as such but captures the mostly small moments in life using mathematical equations. Two little girls start the book with “1+ 1 = us.” A little further along we learn that “laughter + keeping secrets + sharing = best friend.”

There are slices of life from school, from home, with friends and family, in different seasons and even bigger, more philosophical moments like,
                   color = art
       soul + words = literature
                   sound = music
                  movement = dance
“good days + bad days = real life.”

The illustrations are very clean looking with not a lot of background but lots of white space. Most pages focus directly on the children with a few props.

This book will be a great classroom book, useful for both math and language arts. It’s very playful and will inspire students to add, multiple, divide, and subtract their own ‘equational’ moments.

Suggested for grades K-3.

Mathematickles! by Betsy Franco (811 FrM 2003 PIC BK) is similiar, combining mathematical symbols with word play to create gem-like poems about seasonal activities.

Monday, November 14, 2011

If you choose to accept this mission…

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Playing by the Book for a roundup of recommendations of nonfiction children's literature. 

Energy, sincerity, clarity of vision, creativity.”
"Mission statement for Safari as a Way of Life

To explore the unknown and the familiar, distant and near, and to record in detail with the eyes of a child, any beauty, (of flesh or otherwise) horror, irony, traces of utopia or Hell. Select your team with care, but when in doubt, take on some new crew and give them a chance. But avoid at all costs fluctuations of sincerity with your best people.” – Dan Eldon (from: Dan Eldon: Life as a Safari, by Jennifer New, p.181)
Whether you’re a young person finding your way, or someone further along in life, figuring out what its ‘all’ about, finding life’s purpose is a never-ending quest. For Dan Eldon his philosophy for living was based on the idea of safari, a Swahili word, encompassing the broader aspects of departure, expedition, and journey. Travel was a way for Dan to experience life to the fullest in interesting and sometimes perilous experiences with friends and newly met people. “Spirtual seekers are often reminded to live in the moment. That’s what travel did for Dan: It grounded him in the Now.” (p.112).

Reading about Dan for the first time and seeing some of the graphics that he created and used in his journals was totally engrossing. He was a young man who was immensely creative and didn’t hold back in experiencing life. His collages are mixed-media and remind me of some of Picasso’s works, fragmented images that are rearranged and combined with other elements to express feelings and his understanding of the world. Sometimes dark, sometimes playful.

Growing up in Kenya and traveling as a teen through some of the poorest areas of Africa with his sister and a friend was an eye-opener for him that sparked a desire to make a difference. His personality was such that people would join in his endeavors wanting to participate and contribute. One enterprise, raising money for refugees from Mozambique, resulted in two wells being built with the $17,000 they raised. They gave the money to an aid organization only after Dan and his group visited the refugee camps to see for themselves where the need was greatest.

His creativity led him into photo-journalism and he eventually ended up in Somalia in the early 1990s, photographing the breakdown in government and the ensuing civil war. He was caught with four other journalists in a deadly rampage by locals in Mogadishu after an American bombing killed and injured over 200 people. Dan was killed in 1993. He was 22 years old.

Dan’s family continues with his philosophy, using his life and creativity to inspire other people from around the world to embrace life and experience the opportunity to make a difference. Check out these websites:
Dan Eldon: artist, activist, adventurer
Creative Visions Foundation

So, how would I use this book in a classroom?

First, as an interesting read for high school kids. The graphics are compelling as is Dan’s story.

Secondly, I can see connections with the social studies curriculum in grade 8. I’ve recently been helping a group of Calgary grade 8 teachers building an interdisciplinary unit around the idea of worldviews. From personal stories like that of Dan Eldon, students may see how personal views work with or against a society’s. Dan did not seem to be limited by overarching societal views but instead was driven by his own desire to make a difference. Questioning what already exists and figuring out how to make a difference is often what young people do.

And thirdly, with the above in mind, this book could be tied into current events. Somalia is still in the news. Devastating famine and unstable government are still rampant. Closer to home is the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement. What a great example of people questioning and challenging the status quo.

Lots to think about but mostly to enjoy.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

November 11th – Remembrance Day

For the last couple of weeks I’ve focused on several non-fiction books about World War II.

For today’s post I decided to look at fictional titles instead that see what was going on the home front. Staying behind also had its trials and tribulations in addition to the never-ending missing and worrying about loved ones involved more directly in the conflict overseas.

Picture books
Across the blue Pacific by Louise Borden (823 B6438A2 PIC BK)
Molly and Sam write letters to a young navel officer (a neighbour’s son) who they idolize while he’s away fighting in the Second World War. They are devastated when his submarine is reported missing. Suggested for grades 3 to 6.

Flags by Maxine Trottier (823 T756F PIC BK)
Being of Japanese descent in Canada or the US during the Second World War was a horrendous time. Mr. Hiroshi is a kind man who created a beautiful garden that fascinates the little girl next door. She promises to look after it and the koi fish in his pond when he is taken away to live out the war in a concentration camp. Suggested for grades 3-6.

Pennies in a jar by Dori Chaconas (823 C344P PIC BK)
With his father off fighting in the war, a small boy overcomes his fear of horses to have his picture taken sitting on one as a tribute to father’s words of advice “If something is important enough, you just have to do it…Even if you’re scared.” Depicts what life was like during the war years with an afterword explaining why horses were used instead of trucks and what the shortage of goods meant for people living at home. Suggested for grades 1-5.

The Green glass sea by Ellen Klages (823 K661G FIC)
I really enjoyed this story about Dewey Kerrigan, the child of a scientist involved with a secret project for the American government. She’s a bit of inventor herself which makes her an oddity with the kids she goes to school with. Another look at life during this time in the U.S. and more specifically of a community involved in the development of the atomic bomb. Suggested for grades 5-8.

A Kind of courage by Colleen Heffernan (823 H3585K FIC)
This is a story of World War I and I included it here because it reflected a different aspect of war on the home front. What if you don’t want to fight in the war because it’s against everything you believe in? A conscientious objector does not have an easy time of it working on the farm of a family who has a son fighting in the war. Suggested for grades 8 and up.

The Sky is falling by Kit Pearson (823 P317S FIC)
British children were sent to Canada during World War II as a way to protect them from German bombs. Norah and Gavin are transported to another world experiencing the turmoil of living away from home, starting in a new school, making friends with kids who tease, and adapting to living with a new family. First in a trilogy. Suggested for grades 4-7.

Tallgrass by Sandra Dallas (823 D161T 2007 FIC)
This was such a good ‘read’. I listened to this as an audio book and thought it was brilliant. A farm family is forced to look for hired help with Japanese Americans interred in a nearby camp. It’s controversial within the community and when a young girl is murdered suspicions fall on the camp residents. The relationship between the family and their helpers grows stronger and thirteen year-old Rennie learns much about discrimination, loyalty and sacrifice. Suggested for grades 10 and up.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Facts and fiction of war

Dieppe: Canada’s darkest day of World War II by Hugh Brewster (940.5421 BrD 2009) certainly provides the information to back up the title. What a disaster.

Brewster starts with the context of WWII and the Canada’s involvement. He provides lots of details on the planning and training that went into the Dieppe Raid, as well as the chaotic rehearsals and the final results. He leads readers to several of the beachheads and describes what the soldiers experienced as they attempted to carry out their orders to take the French coastal town of Dieppe.

The surprise element of the raid was quickly lost and Allied soldiers, mostly Canadian, were subjected to a barrage of gunfire that killed almost a? thousand on the beach, wounded close to 600 more and left another 1,900 soldiers to surrender and spend the next two-and-a-half years as prisoners of war. The value of the raid has been and still is debated, as none of the objectives were achieved and the causalities were astronomical. It is recognized that the lessons learned from Dieppe likely helped with the more successful 1944 invasion of Normandy. But was the sacrifice too great? And, who was responsible?

The best parts of this book are the numerous photographs of the men in training and in battle, portraits of both key people and ordinary soldiers, very clear maps, newspaper clippings, posters, sketches of the POW camps and personal items of some of the soldiers. These items help to enhance the feel of the time period and bring home the personal lives of the soldiers.

Big numbers often leave us removed from the personal sacrifice involved in historical events. So, I would recommend that you consider pairing this book with Prisoner of Dieppe: World War II, Alistair Morrison, Occupied France, 1942 also by Hugh Brewster (part of the I am Canada series). It captures the sense of excitement and worry at joining up to fight, the fatigue, boredom and camaraderie of training, and the fear, worry and stamina required in battle. Alistair Morrison is a fictionalized character that represents the many Canadian foot soldiers that joined in the fight against Nazi Germany. The book is written as a recollection of times past, from an old man to his grandson. It fills in the gaps left by the nonfiction book, by allowing us to get inside the head of a young man about to participate in a major moment in the Second World War. It also manages to include all the significant factual elements of the raid without being too dry and documentary. The second half of the book, detailing Alistair’s time as a POW is very evocative as this is given less emphasis in Dieppe: Canada’s darkest day of World War II. The starvation, tedium, abuse and attempts of escape by the prisoners are illuminating. There is a twist in the story, a secret Alistair has carried with him since the end of the war that relates to his time as a POW and his best mate.

Overall, the two books work well together. I recommend both books for grades 5 and up.

I would also recommend these excellent web resources to support teaching about the Battle of Dieppe.
CBC Digital Archives: The Contentious Legacy of Dieppe

Canada at War: The Dieppe Raid, August 1942

BBC History: Dieppe Raid

Today is Nonfiction Monday.  Check out Charlotte's Library to find out about other nonfiction children's literature from arond the blogosphere. Happy browsing.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Intrepid women

I’m continuing with my World War II theme at least until November 11th, Remembrance Day.

Women Heroes of World War II: 26 stories of espionage, sabotage, resistance, and rescue by Kathryn J. Atwood (940.5485 AtW 2011) is a fantastic resource which looks at the role some women played in resisting Nazi occupation in their home countries.

The book, organized by country, looks at two to five women from each who contributed to the war effort, often at the expense of their lives. Each section is introduced with a brief look at how the country became involved in the war and what resistance or collaboration there was with the Nazis. In addition to European countries the United States is also included.

With just a few pages, we are given an image of each woman and what motivated her to join in fighting the Nazis. These women were journalists, spies, couriers, radio-operators, ran safe-houses, protected Jews and servicemen, printed information about Nazi activities and front-line nurses. The brevity of each entry makes the book very manageable for students in grades 6/7 and higher, or for a teacher to read aloud. Also, because of the shortness of the entries, it’s primarily an introduction and will likely get students engaged enough to do additional research. Some of the women such as Sophie Scholl, Irene Gut, Irena Sendler, Marlene Dietrich and others, have had books written about them and these are listed at the end of each entry. Websites with additional information about the women are also included, so it is possible for students to find out more.

A word of caution – the book does not shy away from some of the brutality of the events but doesn’t over emphasize it, either. Younger students who are unfamiliar with some of the atrocities perpetuated by the Nazis may be troubled. But these were troubling times.

Overall, these are fascinating stories, with enough tension to engage students. I loved that each woman’s story included a picture of her. It made it that much more real.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Historical thinking at its best

I seem to be on a kick of reading books about World War II and the Holocaust at the moment. I love reading about history but I don’t typically read a lot about the Holocaust specifically. Too disturbing and I’m a wuss.

The Year of goodbyes by Debbie Levy (811 LeY 2010) turned out to be an interesting read. It’s based on the author’s mother’s (Jutta) experiences as a child growing up in Hamburg, Germany as Hitler comes to power and begins persecuting Jews. It’s a combination of fiction and nonfiction as the author captures what her mother was thinking and feeling in 1938, the last year she and her family lived in Germany.

This book is written in narrative verse. Each chapter is centered on a page taken from her mother’s posiealbum (similar to an autograph book with poems) with the thoughtful inscriptions from her friends the basis for describing what life was like for Jutta before immigrating to the United States. There are the usual concerns of a twelve-year-old girl (family, friends, school). We are given glimpses into the confusing world that the Nazis had created where neighbours and friends disappeared, plus the many restrictions about going to school, where to shop or work, in addition to having many political rights taken away. The narrative captures the perplexity, fear and resentment that Jutta experiences. There is tenseness and terseness that is palpable as the family copes with everyday trials and as they attempt to leave Hamburg.

An extensive afterward outlines the events chronologically and what happened to Jutta and her family once they arrive in the United States. Additional research by the author tracked down what happened to many of Jutta’s friends, many of them not surviving the war.

I found this book very engaging and that I cared very much about young Jutta. The author may have used a fictional voice to tell her mother’s story but it rang true as if this was Jutta herself. I felt the ‘facts’ had been fairly represented. Compare this to a book I reviewed a couple of weeks ago (Brave deeds: how one family saved many from the Nazis by Ann Alma) where the author also uses a fictional voice to narrate at true story.

I recommend A Year of goodbyes for middle grades (5-8) and think it’s appropriate for students who might not be ready for more graphic Holocaust literature.

Today's Nonfiction Monday event is being hosted at the Jean Little Library site.  Stop by and see what other blogs are recommending for nonfiction children's literature.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Mish-mash in brief…

I’ve been playing catch-up with the ‘new’ book cart, filled with newly catalogued books, waiting to move into processing and then onto shelves in the Doucette Library. Lots of picture books to read through. I know, I know --it’s a tough life but someone has to do it.

Here are few picture book highlights:

CookieBot!: a Harry and Horsie adventure by Katie Van Camp and Lincoln Agnew (823 V276C PIC BK)
What does a young boy do when he can’t reach the cookie jar? Build a robot that can do the reaching for him, of course. But what happens when the CookieBot runs amok down 5th Avenue in New York City? Why, Horsie comes to the rescue and everyone lives happily ever after. Sort of reminds me of Calvin and Hobbes. Love the retro-inspired illustrations with a muted, limited colour palette. Grades K-2.

Except if by Jim Averbeck (823 Av35E PIC BK)
A circular story that plays with our expectations (and those of the illustrated characters). When is a baby bird not a baby bird? When it turns out the ‘hatchling’ emerging from the egg is actually a snake who will slither along the ground unless, of course, it turns out to be a baby lizard who will use legs to walk. And on it goes. Very playful. Grades K-2.

Octopus soup by Mercer Mayer (823 M452O2 PIC BK)
Wordless slap-stick fun as a young octopus leaves home coping with one misadventure after another and trying to stay out of the cooking pot. Colourful panels fill each page with silly action. Grades K-2.

The outback by Annaliese Porter and Browyn Bancroft (811 PorO PIC BK)
The author was eleven years-old when she wrote this poem about the Austrialian desert and how this  vast landscape, seemingly devoid of life, is in reality filled with life and colour. The illustrations are stylized and reminscient of Austrialian Aborginal art, creating a strong feel for the landscape. Grades 3-7.

Ten birds by Cybele Young (513.211 YoT 2011 PIC BK)
More than just a counting book, it also speaks to ingenuity and what it means to be ‘labeled’. All the birds labeled as ‘Remarkable’, ‘Brilliant’, ‘Quite Advance’, etc. devise some kind of mechanism that allows them to cross a river. But it’s the bird called ‘Needs Improvement’ who simply walks across the bridge that was there the whole time. Clever. Terrific illustrations.

Tigress by Helen Cowcher (823 C8387T PIC BK)
Not a recent publication but new to the Doucette Library, this book addresses the compromises that must be made between human needs and those of a mother tiger and her cubs, in India. Beautiful, bold illustrations with warm colours. Grades 1-4.

Won Ton: a cat tale told in Haiku by Lee Wardlaw (811 WarW 2011 PIC BK)
Using a Japanese poetic form, based on haiku, senryu focuses on “the foibles of human nature—or in this case, cat nature” Won Ton is a shelter cat lucky enough to be adopted by a boy and his family. Settling in has its trials and tribulations but all works out in the end. Grades 2-6.

And, here are a few novels I’ve enjoyed this month:

Foiled by Jane Yolen (823 Y78F7 FIC)
The first in a series of graphic novels that introduces us to Aliera, a 10th grader who is somewhat marginalized at school but a star fencer outside of school. When a good looking new guy shows up at school all the girls including Aliera,develop a major crush on him. It’s while waiting for him to show up for a date that Aliera discovers that she has special powers connected to her ‘weapon’ (a fencing foil), that she can see all sorts of mythical creatures including fairies and trolls. She is the ‘Defender’ of the world. Can’t wait for part two. Grades 6-10.

Goliath by Scott Westerfeld
This is the final installment in this steampunk trilogy that continues to follow Alek and Dylan in an alternate reality on Earth during World War I. Lots of action and plot lines to keep you guessing. Grades 7 and up.

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick
Similar in style to his Newbery winner, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, we are drawn into two storylines, alternating between a written narrative for Ben’s story (in the 1970s) and wordless, full page illustrations for Rose’s (in 1923). Both are interesting stories that keep you wondering how they’ll resolve and eventually connect. Beautifully produced (but really hefty) book. Grades 4-8.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Nonfiction Monday is here today!

Welcome to Nonfiction Monday! I’m your host for today’s event. Please add your blog using the attached Mr. Linky's Magical Widget at the bottom of today’s post or add a comment with your blog info and I’ll add it to today’s page.

Unlikely Friendships: 47 remarkable stories from the animal kingdom by Jennifer S. Holland is (I can’t help myself) a lovely little book about the unusual bonding that sometimes happens between different animal species. The stories are sweet and charming with appealing pictures of animal pairs interacting. (Though my one quibble is that some of the pictures are not very sharp.) Maybe it’s just me getting all emotional reading about how cats and birds, dogs and cheetahs, deer and dogs, cows and leopards, bears and cats (and so on) have seemingly provided some emotional comfort for each other.

Some of the stories have recently been told in picture books, Tarra and Bella by Carol Buckley, Two Bobbies by Kirby Larson, Owen and Mzee by Isabella Hatkoff and With Love from Koko by Faith McNulty. There could be others, as well.

There are lots of ‘aaaahhhh’ moments here but I don’t think the author intended to solely charm us with heartwarming stories. She often recognizes that scientists would not always agree that animals do indeed bond or that animals have emotional lives, and that scientists might say that humans are projecting their own emotions onto these animals. She is able, on occasion, to offer alternative reasons why some animals are able to overcome instinct to form interspecies attachments. This is especially remarkable between prey and predator species.

One example I found particularly interesting was the ‘bond’ between a rat-snake and a hamster. It goes like this… said snake had fasted for a couple of weeks, not eating any of the food being offered. To stimulate the snake’s appetite, a live hamster was placed in its container. But after ‘tasting’ the meal (flicking the air with its tongue) the snake did not partake of the ‘meal’. Instead it seemed content to let the hamster get comfortable between its coils, snuggling down for a nap together. It’s possible that the snake was approaching hibernation reducing its desire for food. She does not indicate how long the relationship lasted.

But how much do scientists know about the internal lives of animals (other than us)? This question lead me back to a book I ran across a couple of years ago called 10 Questions Science Can’t Answer (Yet) by Michael Hanlon (500 HaT 2007). I revisited the chapter, Is Fido a Zombie? to see what Hanlon, (a science writer for British newspapers) had to say. This chapter focused more on animal intelligence and how sentient they may be. He looks at experiments conducted to test this and some of the conclusions that are being drawn. He extends his analysis into the realm of ‘morality’ as it’s becoming clearer that many animals do exhibit many thought processes and feelings that we humans can recognize as being similar to our own, leaving us with an ethical dilemma. Interesting reading.

Unlikely friendships will appeal to children of various ages. If you’re into using analogies or metaphors, this could work for examples for tolerance and acceptance between ‘odd’ or seemingly ‘incompatible’ pairs.

Nonfiction Monday:
Besides the sites listed with Mr. Linky's Widgets here are other blogs to check out.  Thanks Everyone for participating in today's event.

At Boys Rule Boys, Iron Guy Carl is reviewing The War to End All Wars by Russell Fredman.

Janet at All About the Books with Janet Squires is reviewing All Star!: Honus Wagner and the most famous baseball card ever by Jane Yolen.

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