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.

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