Monday, December 24, 2012

The day of the Night Before Christmas...

It's hard to know what to wish for people at this time of year.  It's a landmine field for political correctness.

However, I do wish everyone peace, peace and more peace for the upcoming new year.
Yup, we all definitely need more peace -- everywhere.

Happy New Year.   Tammy

Thursday, December 20, 2012

“Inspiration is for amateurs. Artists just show up and get to work.”

Chuck Close: Face Book by Chuck Close won the Boston Globe-Horn Book Nonfiction award in 2012.  Aimed at middle grades, the artist introduces himself and his art with a kid-generated questions and answers section and reproductions of his large-scale portraits (mostly of himself done in divided, flippable segments which are great fun to flip back and forth).

I spent quite a bit of time with this book last summer when I was reading books that could tie into the big idea of perspective.  Artistic perspectives would work, so I looked at many resources about different kinds of artists.  I had never heard of Chuck Close and was mightily intrigued with his work and his life.

The kids ask all sorts of questions, such as
  • How did you become such a great artist?
  • Have you ever painted anyone famous?
  • Why are your paintings so big?
  • When you were paralysed, were you afraid you wouldn't be able to paint again?
This gives Chuck Close the opportunity to explain his work, influences and some life defining moments.  The paralysis question relates to a collapsed blood vessel in his spine that left him unable to move from the chest down.  After eight months of intensive physio-therapy he was able to move his arms and hands enough to paint with some technical assistance.

The book focuses primarily on his art work.  He compares his work to that of a composer, “making music with paint colors”.  Many of his portraits are comprised of many ‘abstract’, miniature paintings or colours and shapes that relies “on the viewer’s eye to assemble the face.”  Truly fascinating.

Highly recommended.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Guest blogger - View from the School Library

Janet Hutchinson is a colleague and kindred spirit when it comes to children's literature.  She also works a day and half in the library in the school which her children have or are attending here in Calgary.  Her experiences there provide her (and me by extension) the opportunity to see what teachers and kids do with the books we promote.

The book club idea sounds like a great idea.  Janet's list reminds me of a couple of titles that I've been meaning to read for long time like Queen's Own Fool and Sara Pennypacker latest title which has just arrived in the Doucette.  Good thing the Christmas break is just around the corner...

Once more with feeling….

So the teacher that I worked with last year to pull together a list of books for her grade 6 class arrived in the library earlier this month with another request. Still trying to encourage “spontaneous reading”, Jane is now starting a monthly book club. She is asking the students to read a book, any book, really, as long as it is age suitable and one that they have not read before. Then they will have a discussion (with cookies). She had brought down her list to me to see what on her list was in the library.

I was pleased that the library had many of the books on her list – but of course, I could not help but add my own two cents to her list.

So here are some of my choices:

Countdown by Deborah Wiles. Tammy has recommended this before on her blog, but I think it bears repeating. It’s a time that I remember vaguely (being very young, of course), but the story of family is timeless. And the inclusion of “artifacts” from that time period makes the book visually interesting as well. There is apparently going to be a second book of an intended three sometime in the future. And her other books are also excellent choices for grade 6 girls (Love, Ruby Lavender etc.)

Queen’s Own Fool and Girl in a Cage by Jane Yolen . These are the first two books in the Stuart trilogy. They can be read separately (I read Girl in a cage first), but they both tell of events during the Stuart reign in Scotland. Yolen’s characters are strong young women, in a time when it was very tough to be one – and that is only one of the reasons why I like her books. I think they are historically accurate – not being a historian, I can’t say that with complete authority – but they feel true and are rich in the detail that matters.

Jerry Spinelli  - Stargirl , Loser and other such titles by him. I read Stargirl and even though my elementary and high school years are looong ago, I connected with his story of non-conformity and the challenges it brings, both to those who are “different” and to those who are their friends. This might more correctly be called a teen book – but its innocence makes me wish that more teen books took this style, instead of some of the current trends. Ditto for “Loser”, another of his books.

Scat by Carl Hiaasen – or Hoot or Flush. These are great mysteries, written by an adult mystery author and (successfully, in my view) incorporating an environmental message that is neither preachy nor boring. 

Saffy’s Angel by Hilary McKay. I was first introduced to this book in a mother daughter book club that Tammy facilitated. Since I read it, there have been 4 more books written about this wondrously quirky family. In this book (the first one), we are introduced to the Casson children, all named for paint colours and all with their own endearing charms and quirks.  This is gentle fun writing and I have since read the following titles – and I still like the series.

Summer of the Gypsy Moths by Sara Pennypacker. Many of the students are familiar with Pennypacker’s Clementine books and this book is a natural transition for readers who loved those books, but require a book with a little more meat in it. The premise of the story is not completely believable (at least by adult standards) but I enjoyed the interplay between Stella and Angel and I kept reading mostly to find out when they would be “found out”.

I could go on and on. One of the reasons that I love this process is that it keeps me reading books with a view to the question “Who would like this book?”.  Jane’s book club has led both of us into a whole other realm of reading and a new project for her students – but more on that later.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Deadly politics

With media attention on the Middle East over the last year and half, Zahra’sParadise by Amir and Khalil is a graphic novel that is very timely, giving us an opportunity to learn more.

The story takes place after the 2009 elections in Iran.  The results of the election are being contested by huge protests that fill the streets of major cities.  The people in these rallies risk incurring the ire of the Ahmadinejad regime.  Zahra’s Paradise tells of one fictional family’s trials and tribulations trying to trace Mehdi, a young student lost during the protest and caught up in a tyrannical nightmare world.

Mehdi’s mother and brother tirelessly search for any trace of him at hospitals, prisons and records offices, following leads and asking help of anyone with any government connections.  Their fears and frustrations are palpable.  They are angry and inconsolable.  This is not their Iran.  This is not the Iran they want to live in.  There is no happy reunion for this family or for many others.  There is determination to hold onto the memories of those tortured and killed.  They will not be forgotten.

The black and white illustrations perfectly compliment the text. Slightly cartoon-like, the characters are distinctly drawn, action is easily conveyed, as are the emotional highs and lows.  There is some sexual content (language, nudity) that may not be appropriate for younger teens.

I would highly recommend this title for upper high school.  There are great connections to social studies when looking at current events, the Middle East, issues about democracy and justice and historical thinking.  The last pages provide information about Farsi words, references to people, the historical context for the election and the Arab Spring, information about Neda Agha Soltan and what activists are doing to bring attention to the Iranian government’s human rights violations.  This last section of the book was fascinating.

Pair this one with Persepolis for additional information about life in Iran during the Islam revolution that overthrew of the Shah of Iran.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Scientific thinking

Far From Shore: Chronicles of anOpen Ocean Voyage by Sophie Webb is a detailed and quiet account of four months spent on a research ocean vessel collecting data about various marine animals (from plankton, various species of fish and tuna, dolphins and whales to sea birds).  The data collected will eventually be studied for many reasons but the primary purpose is to see whether populations of dolphins affected by purse-seine fishing have started to recover.

This four month journal certainly give us a good idea what it’s like to be a marine biologist/naturalist involved in such a research project.  Besides enjoying the beautiful water and wildlife, there are immense stretches of tedium, little privacy and down time from work (except when it storms or the ship stops for supplies at various ports).  Detailed descriptions of the ship’s layout and explanations of nautical and scientific terms are also included.

The author’s illustrations (completed while onboard) also give us visuals to show us what she sees as well as what she imagines. For example, the marine life that is below water is displayed to give us a sense of life at great depths, such as a sperm whale chasing squid or what  mixed school of tuna dolphins look like.

Geographic coordinates, scientific equipment, maps, charts and labelling of animal species all contribute to make this a good science book for middle grades.  Not a lot of excitement and drama to capture a student’s attention, but full of good information book about the nature of research on the open ocean.


Thursday, December 6, 2012

Not so straight up

A Meal of the Stars: Poems Up and Down by Dana Jensen is a visual feast in a lean sort-of-way.  Short poems written in one word sentences are meant to be read from the bottom-up or top-down.  It’s not always clear where to start (at the top or at the bottom) but can be quickly figured out when the lines don’t make sense.

The up and down-ness of the poems figure into what is being described: stars that make wishes are above us and so start up and come down; a hand held balloon on a string goes from the hand upwards until the balloon pops.  Verticality is definitely part of the word-picture dynamic.

The poems themselves are slices of whimsy (could a long-necked giraffe make a meal of the stars?) and everyday life (a dad climbing a ladder to paint a missed spot on a house peak) that reflects a child’s perspective.

The illustrations are a treat, too. Rendered in watercolour and ink, their cartoony feel adds to the playfulness of the text. 

Recommended for elementary grades.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Personalizing history

Biographies, autobiographies and memoirs can be an entry point for engaging younger readers with history.  Personal stories may hold more appeal because it ‘really happened’ to someone. Academic retellings may be too dry.

I often like biographies/memoirs because they give me more insight into a historical event, with the extra drama of a real person having lived through it (Just Behave Pablo Picasso by Jonah Winter or His Name was Raoul Wallenberg by Louise Borden).  Sometimes, I find it’s just the voice of the person that I find interesting, like in Pam Munoz Ryan’s The Dreamer about poet Pablo Neruda.

So, in looking at three picture books that I recently came across I wondered what kids would make of them.

First up is Keep Your Eye On the Kid: the Early Years of Buster Keaton by Catherine  Brighton.  I like old movies and I like what little I've seen of Buster Keaton.  Reading about his childhood and how he got into the movies was interesting.  The picture book format meant that it was fairly cursory and moved along quickly.  I think the strongest part of the book is the illustrations which are done in panels usually two or three per page, giving the narrative added interest. I particularly liked the pages showing Buster sitting through his first movie, how enthralled he became with them and how the on-screen speeding train freaked out most of the audience, but only intrigued Buster even more.  The restrained feel of the illustrations highlights Buster’s straight man persona as well.

But I do wonder what kids would make of this one.   Will kids in early elementary grades be drawn to this story?  I wouldn't think that Buster Keaton would be well known to kids today or that his movies would even be very accessible.  Though I really like this book I think it would have to be ‘hand sold’ or integrated into a unit to make much of an impression.  His movies were made during the depression era, so perhaps this book will find a place there.

 Second, is Surviving the Hindenburg by Larry Verstraete, another picture book that I enjoyed very much and felt that kids would connect to easily (or at least more readily than the above book).  This is a big, dramatic story that captures the imagination in the way that many tragedies do.  The mode of transportation is unusual and speaks to the early days of aviation.  Not all the employees were adults, so reading about how children worked at the time is interesting, too. That the Hindenburg crashed in flames when landing in New York City, but there were so few deaths is incredible and totally attention-worthy.   The cover illustration capturing the moment when the aircraft hit the ground, engulfed in flames, is eye-catching and I think will spark curiosity in kids.  This was told in third person so didn't have the immediacy that a first person narrative would have added to the drama.  This could be added to a science unit about flight, social studies for it’s historical connections and child labour content.

And, the third book that I came across was I Will Come Back For You: a Family in Hiding During World War II by Marisabina Russo.  This is based on a true story of a German-Jewish family that immigrates to Italy to escape persecution. After Italy declares its support to Nazi Germany, the persecution follows them, splitting up the family.  But support from Italian resistors enable the father and then the mother to go into hiding when they are about to be deported to concentration camps. The story is told from the perspective of a child, now a grandmother, who is telling her granddaughter this family history.  A charm bracelet that she never takes off is filled with charms that represent the different aspects of the story – donkeys, a bicycle, barn, boat, piano, spinning wheel and pig.

Again, this book might struggle with finding an audience.  The picture book format and cursory nature of the story might be lacking for older students who will likely know more or want to know more about the Holocaust and World War II.  And, younger children may miss or be confused by elements of the story without more background knowledge.  The story was fictionalized for simplicity, as mentioned in the author’s afterword which gives dates and additional information about this time period.  I liked this book, too and would have it on hand as an additional resource for students in grades 5 and up.

I enjoy reading about the lives of people who live in interesting times or books that add an interesting element to the writing.  But not all kids will necessarily make those connections without some prompting and introduction so the stories become more relatable.  And, there’s nothing wrong with having to introduce a book to get a kid to read it - just as long as there is that opportunity to do so.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Winter interlude.

I know it’s going to be a long winter when I start immersing myself in travel books and it’s not even officially, winter yet.

A Walk in London by Salvatore Rubbino is a travel book that gives us a child’s eye-view while exploring London’s city centre, visiting many well-known landmarks such as Buckingham Palace, Big Ben bell and clock tower, Trafalgar Square, Convent Garden, St. Paul’s Cathedral, plus many more sights.

Each slightly oversized 2-page spread is filled with details of each location with additional quirky, sometimes random, bits of information scattered across them.  For instance did you know that St. Paul’s Cathedral’s dome weighs about 64,000 tons? Or, that every year in Britain, 300 million fish and chips dinners are eaten? Or, that Buckingham Palace has 775 rooms? Or, that double-decker buses have been in use since the 1930s?  These factoids help us learn more about London. But for our young narrator it’s all about talking with the pelicans at St. James Park, sitting on the lions in Trafalgar Square, and enjoying the street entertainers in Convent Garden. A ferry ride down the Thames gets a 4-page pull out that gives us a panoramic view of the shore line the further orientates us with the sights to be found between the Tower of London and the Palace of Westminster, such as the Globe Theatre and the London Eye.  If you check the front and end pages you will be able to name the bridges you seen in the fold out.  Good for mapping skills and geographic thinking.

The illustrations are done in mixed-media with a fairly muted palette that conveys a very retro-style.  It reminds me of old travel posters from the 1950s and 60s.

This is a fun exploration of a wonderful city. This is exactly how the book comes across: when in London, there is a lot to see, do and enjoy.  Our narrator and her mother have a very busy, full day as they travel around the heart of London and I'm glad I was able to join them.  Any respite from winter is welcomed.

Recommended for grades 1-4.

Monday, November 26, 2012

“Fabric of urban life torn apart…”

Recently, we received a really interesting book.  (Yes, another one.)  It had been recommended a couple of years ago by a student-teacher and I've had my eye on it ever since.  It’s one of those books that get my brain synapses popping but, nevertheless, will not be an easy ‘sell’.  It has no direct ties to the Alberta curriculum but I still feel has tremendous potential in the classroom.

The book -- The Ruins of Detroit by Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre.  It’s an oversized, coffee table-type book that's filled with fascinating photographs of inner city Detroit.   The introduction provides enough context to help us understand what we are seeing as we browse through the volume.  Page after page shows derelict office buildings, factories, houses, schools, theatres that have literally gutted the once thriving city.  These abandoned buildings once showcased the promise of early 20th century America when the boom in car manufacturing resulted in people's mass migration into the city to get their bit of the pie.  Good wages from union jobs meant disposable income to buy houses and cars.  But as the social and political circumstances changed and the way the city was developed changed, life moved out to the suburbs, slowly but inexorably resulting in fewer people in the inner core.

Looking through the pages of the book there are questions and emotions to be reckoned with.

How could these buildings have just been left?  Books still line the shelves of libraries and police files litter the floor of a police station.  Schools are still filled with desks, lab equipment and student projects.  Why were things not packed up? 

Besides the big question "why, why, why?" punctuating my brain while looking at these images, I’m thinking just how sad it is.  Some of the architecture of the buildings was beautiful and  it is a shame to see their grandeur utterly forsaken.  I guess it’s a little reassuring to think that nature will reclaim urban areas as the prairie slowly takes over and deer, foxes and flocks of pheasant return. 

The photographs themselves are gripping, falling into that category of ‘terrible beauty’.  The composition, clarity and overall layout of the book effortlessly show us just how temporary, disposal and wasteful our societies are today.  (Do an image search in Google to see some of the photographs from the book.)

So, who would I recommend this book to?  Certainly, students in high school could use this in a social studies classroom.  Looking at issues of economics (boom/bust cycles with which Calgary is all too familiar), urban planning, sustainability, architecture, and historical/contemporary views of civilization can be supported by this book.  I, also think that younger students in junior high will be fascinated by these photos.  I do wonder what kids would make of these images.

Pair this with the DVD Life After People and the book The World Without Us by Alan Weisman to look at the consequences of human impulses and what happens to our material culture when we are not around.

Today's Nonfiction Monday Event is over at The Miss Rumphius Effect.  Check out other children lit blogs and what they're recommending.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Reflecting on nature

Step Gently Out by Helen Frost and Rick Lieder  is a quiet meditation about observing the small wonders to be found in nature.  By quietly watching an array of insects such as crickets, moths, praying mantis, bees and others on a blade of grass or flower, the reader is drawn into a beautiful world of creatures captured in a single moment that gives us the opportunity to observe them. 

This book does not embrace the drama of Bug Shots: the Good, the Bad and the Bugly by Alexander Siy.  Gotta love this opening paragraph:

"Bugs bite.  Some drink blood.  Bugs rob.  They steal food from gardens and fields.  Bugs kill -- mostly each other, but also plants, animals, even people sometimes.  Bugs destroy.
They eat houses, clothes, and furniture.  Bugs bug."

Glorious, photographic close-ups of the insects display their beauty, complimenting the accompanying, elegant poem.  There is an easing of the  day into night then into early morning.  The photo of a dew laden spider web lit with the rising sun is stunning.

All the insects are identified with a bit of information about their characteristics and habits at the back of the book.

I don’t have a lot to say about this book except that you won’t be disappointed when you spend some quiet moments with it.  Then go outside to see what you can see and savor.

For us snowbound people, you’ll have to wait until next spring to watch for insects, but you might want to consider what happens to insects during the winter with Bugs & Bugsicles: Insects In the Winter by Amy Hansen. Connecting to nature in winter is different but not impossible. 


Monday, November 19, 2012

Who thinks of these things?

A Zeal of Zebras: an alphabet of collective nouns by Woop Studios  is one of those books that makes me wonder.

Who decided that the collective noun for gnus is ‘implausibility’?

(Please, sir, may I have that in a sentence? Each year, from Tanzania to Kenya an implausibility of gnus (wildebeests) traverse wide rivers to reduce the risk of being caught by predators such as lions.) 

This is an alphabet book that presents a double page spread for each letter of the alphabet represented by a collective noun for a group of animals with additional information about the group behaviour of the animals.  (See above paragraph about migrating gnus.)

Some of the words provoke beautiful imagery– an aurora of polar bears, a galaxy of starfish, or a kaleidoscope of butterflies.

Some of the nouns are playful – an embarrassment of pandas, a pandemonium of parrots or an ostentation of peacocks, which, by the way, are recommended as a terrific guard pets.  Move over Fido!

Some of the language conveys a sense of danger – a quiver of cobras, a shiver of sharks or venom of spiders.

Obviously, I haven’t covered all 26 letters but you get the idea.  There is lots of creative, descriptive language to work into language arts and art classes.

Speaking of art – the illustrations are fantastic, too.  Woop Studios is composed of “four friends united by a love of graphic design, words and images.”  And, it shows. The oversized book presents bold, poster-like pages with stylized illustrations of the each animal group. Fonts, colours and uneven inking also contribute to a feeling of posters from yesteryear.

Beautiful, playful and provocative, this will work well with students in upper elementary grades (5/6) to high school. 

Today's Nonfiction Monday event is being held at Perogies and Gyoza.  Check out the list of recommended nonfiction children's titles from around the blogosphere.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Picture Book Month

November is the month to officially celebrate the awesomeness of picture books.  When you go to the website for Picture BookMonth you will find postings from authors and illustrators from the world of children’s literature, writing about why they think picture books are important.  This continues until the end of the month.

To illustrate how important picture books can be, I’d like to tell you about a couple of students (student-teachers) I've had at the reference desk this past week.

Both students are involved with Calgary Reads, a program that matches university students with struggling readers in elementary schools.  Each student-teacher asked me for recommendations for picture books for kids in grades 2 and 5.  They had been asked to bring in a picture book to read aloud to their assigned student as a way to get to know them.  At this point, this is all they know – nothing else. Not why the kids struggle with reading, not their gender or interests.  Nada.  So, its wide open as to what they bring in.

And this is where the challenge is – this first book may be what sets the tone for this experience for both the elementary student and the student-teacher.  Finding a good read aloud isn't the problem.  Finding one that will appeal to either a boy or girl with unknown interests and diverse life experiences is a bit more challenging.

My bias is to suggest something humorous.  I figure if you can make a kid laugh, the door has at least been cracked opened.  Once rapport has been established between the student-teacher and the reader, there’s an opportunity for future sessions to be more directed to the kids’ interests.

So what were some of my recommendations?

No, That’s Wrong by Zhaohua Ji 
When has being wrong been so funny?  Meet a befuddled rabbit who doesn't know a pair of underpants from a hat.  But then neither do a variety of other animals until donkey tries to set the record straight.  Illustrations are great at conveying the humour and confusion.  Hilarious.

ChewyLouis by Howie Schneider
A lovable but highly destructive pup is the centre of one family’s consternation and extreme displeasure as he chews up the whole house – yes! Everything!  Again the illustrations heighten the hilarity.

BabyBrains by Simon James 
This one is totally over-the-top for its’ take on overly ambitious parents and their overachieving children.  Right from birth Baby Brains is able to read newspapers, fix cars, go to school and becomes a world renowned surgeon.  But, deep down, he’s really just a baby who wants the love and comfort of his parents. 

While cruising the shelves looking for funny books, I usually pull a few other books that I think might have strong enough stories that transcend the many unknowns about the young reader.

Here were a few titles that were checked out:

Blackout by John Rocco 
A city wide blackout reduces one family’s various activities that typically keep them apart, to just being with each other.  Finding emergency candles and a flashlight, enjoying the star-studded night sky and joining a low-key street party create a strong sense family and community.

This book uses similes and using mixed-media illustrations to tell us what the narrator’s friends and teachers are like.  His best friend Jack is smart.  He knows lots about geography, is as sharp as a pencil, curious as a magnifying glass and precise as a microscope.  The objects shown in his ‘portrait’ (a globe, a pencil, a magnifying glass and microscope) become the pieces that construct Jack’s face in a simple collage.  This book is playful and clever.

I have to confess I didn't actually recommend this one but only because it wasn't ready to be checked out.  Otherwise, I’d have been all over it.

This story is based on a true and harrowing experience of a dog trapped on an ice flow in the Baltic Sea during a brutally cold winter.  He survived adrift for two days until he was rescued by a research vessel and eventually adopted as a crew member.  Great story with a strong sense of drama made all that much better because it’s based on a true incident.

So, these are just some of my recommendations that I think would make a good first impression.   Opening up the world to young children is important and one, easy accessible way is through picture books.  I’m hoping to get some feedback about how these choices went over with the elementary students.

First impressions are important.  Recommendations for putting your best foot forward?

Monday, November 12, 2012

Can you ever have too much squid?

I recently mentioned that I had been very busy doing lots of workshops for student-teachers about using resources in classrooms.  This year, a few instructors and I came up with a new spin on how to introduce the diverse range of resources available to them from the Doucette Library, but within a meaningful context.  I've found that book-talking or waving wonderful kits at students, though fun, isn't very effective.  They don’t remember what they've seen or they make lists of stuff that they’ll never look at again.

But, pulling bunches of stuff (aka “packages” of juvenile fiction and nonfiction, kits, posters, teaching resources) together centred around an idea like sound, nutrition or the question, ‘What is art?’ and then letting students play and explore the resources seems to produce a more thoughtful experience.  Questions about the resources and follow-up discussion get them thinking about how these resources can be used in their teaching, what the resources add to the unit,  and if are they worthwhile.  Plus, the hands-on approach for the students is way more engaging.

One of the ‘packages’ I pulled together that kind of surprised me but totally sucked me in, was centred on marine life, specifically the giant squid.  Since Alberta is a prairie province, studying the ocean is not part of the curriculum.  But this fascinating, creepy, slightly repulsive, creature is too good to pass up, if the opportunity should arise.  You never know where the interests of your students will go, right?

During the last few months I've come across pieces in the news and other odd bits of information about these captivating creatures.  I've always been taken with the image of the giant squid’s eye from Steve Jenkins, ActualSize which shows the ‘actual size’ of the eye.  It. Is. Big. : about 25 cm. (10 in.) in diameter. Showing this illustration in a workshop always gets a response from students.

Another book by Lola Schaeferth, Just One Bite: 11 Animals and Their Bites at Life Size, includes a four page spread that shows the jaws of a sperm whale clamping down on a giant squid, its favourite food. Awesome!

Then a recommendation from another blog prompted me to order Giant Squid: Searching for a Sea Monsterby Mary Cerullo and Clyde Roper (594.58 CeG 2012).  I gobbled this book up.  It briefly covers historical references to this fairly unknown creature that tantalize us into wanting to know more.  Scientific knowledge about the giant squid is still relatively new since they live in the deepest regions of the oceans and most information has been derived from dead specimens.  Scientists have been pulling together slivers of evidence for decades as if trying to solve an intriguing cold case.  There are lots of photographs interspersed between blocks of information.

But wait! There’s more! HereThere Be Monsters: the Legendary Kraken and the Giant Squid by H.P. Newquist (594.58 NeH 2010) was already in the Doucette Library’s collection.  This book is a lot denser in text formatting and information primarily about the colossal squid (14m or 45 ft long) and the giant squid (estimated to grow up to 13m or 43 ft long).  Many of the illustrations are the same as in Giant Squid.  I found this one a more thorough but slower read.  

I recommend both books but think the first book will appeal to younger kids and struggling readers more.

To fill out the package for the workshop, I included,
 Down Down Down by Steve Jenkins,
The Deep by Claire Nouvian,
a specimen of an octopus encased in a plastic block for comparison, and
a replica of a toothfrom a sperm whale.

There were many more books that I could have supplemented this topic with.

And, I did order a replica of a giant squid beak for next time, so there’ll be one more resource to “oooo” and “ahhh” over. 

I love doing these kinds of workshops.  They present options for our student teachers and resources that they are often unaware of.  The accessibility of the internet has made unit/lesson planning an interesting endeavor that can be too easily padded out with multiple websites of varying quality.  Don’t get me wrong.  I, too, am out there looking for information on the net (see Ocean Portal from the Smithsonian about the giant squid, if you’re really keen) but I'm still in the camp that kids need real ‘stuff’ and books to touch and handle.  I'm here to remind our upcoming-teachers-to-be about that very thing.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Guest blogger - View from the school library

Janet Hutchinson is a colleague and kindred spirit when it comes to children's literature.  She also works a day and half in the library in the school which her children have or are attending here in Calgary.  Her experiences there provide her (and me by extension) the opportunity to see what teachers and kids do with the books we promote.

Today's posting highlights three fictional pieces that take us back to Europe during World War II.  All three are new to me though Janet had already sold me on Code Name Verity which I've since ordered for the Doucette Library.  What are your thoughts?  Any recommendations that you'd recommend for Remembrance Day?

Lest we forget….a different take

So maybe it is just me – but do you know how occasionally you read a book – and then the next book you pick up is somewhat related? And then you find a third book that ties into the second? And so on? Well, that happened to me this fall. It started with a book I read for my book club, - a mystery, set in Sweden and moving back and forth between present day Sweden and Sweden during the Second World War. Then I picked up the next book on my pile – and it linked to the first.  So this fall, I have read four different books about events in the Second World War that I was less knowledgeable about. Three of the books are intended for children or young adults, making them perfect fodder for both my jobs.

The first book is Shadow on the Mountain by Margi Preus. This is historical fiction, written about Nazi-occupied Norway during the early years of the war. I did not know that Norway had been occupied and so this book piqued my interest. The story’s main character is a teenage boy, Kjell, drafted into the Resistance movement in Norway – initially, by delivering letters, but eventually moving on to spy on the Nazis.  The story details his increasing involvement, but also offers the stories of three other characters – his sister, a local bully and his former best friend. Ultimately, Kjell commits an error, which uncovers his role as a spy and he is forced to flee Norway for Sweden on skis. The book has been well-researched and includes maps, quotes, a pronunciation guide and a brief history and timeline of the occupation. Based on a true story, the authenticity rings through and it will be an excellent read for Grade 6 and up.

The second book I read is My Family For the War by Anne C. Voorhoeve. This book begins in Germany during the initial period of Nazi persecution of Jews, but before the war officially started. Franziska is a young girl with Jewish roots, but a practicing Protestant. Nevertheless, she is sent to England on a “kinder transport” - a system that smuggled close to 10,000 Jewish children out of Germany to safety. When Franziska leaves, it is with the idea that her family will join her in England. But travel of Jewish people is prohibited before her family can join her and Franziska is placed with a Jewish family in England for the duration of the war. I found myself quite entranced with this book. As a parent, I could (barely) imagine sending my children away to safety – but from a child’s perspective, this must have been a very confusing and upsetting time, with conflicting loyalties to family, religion and countries.  The author does an excellent job of portraying that confusion and sense of loss – and reading the story of Frances as she grows and matures during wartime England kept me interested right to the end.

 Finally, the third book I read is Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Weins. This was, quite simply, a fabulous read. I don’t want to get into too much detail, as it might ruin the story. But take two young women – one with a talent for languages and the other with an interest in, and ability to, fly planes. Put them into the Second World War and what evolves is a story of friendship, of fears and fears faced, of intelligence, true courage, faith and hope. It is not an easy read, and for that reason, I would only recommend it for older students – Grade 10 and up, as the plot is complex and the narrative is third person diary (sort of). But I want this book (I borrowed it from the library) and have put it on my Christmas list. The book gave me goose bumps and made me ask myself “Would I have the courage to do what they did?”

War and war time is a subject of great interest for many of the students at my school, helped no doubt, by the fact that the school resides on one of the army bases “decommissioned” during the 1980s and 1990s. I also have a strong interest in these wars, helped along by a daughter who is studying military history in university and stories told by my father, a navigator in the Second World War. But these three books gave me different lenses on the Second World War, ones that I won’t forget when November 11 rolls around.

Monday, November 5, 2012


My instruction load the last couple of weeks has prevented me from keeping up with my regular blog postings. Sorry about that.  But, the student teachers are out in schools doing their practicum so, life in the library  is a little calmer  -- for the moment.

You know a book is going to be good when the cataloguer in the office hands it to you and says, “This is good.”  And, I would have to agree.

Tomorrow’s Alphabet by George Shannon (411 ShT 1996 PIC BK) may be an ‘oldie’ but it’s one that I’ll be promoting in my future workshops.  I think I picked up this title from one of the blogs participating in this year’s Top 10 on the 10th event so it's a favourite of another children literature aficionado, too. 

Here’ s why we like it.

This is an alphabet book with an interesting premise. 

“A is for seed-- tomorrow’s APPLE”  or  
“B is for eggs—tomorrow’s BIRDS” and
“C is for milk—tomorrow’s CHEESE.”

You can easily see the pattern.  The objects focussed on are pretty typical, nothing too out there.  I particularly liked “U is for stranger—tomorrow’s US.” And, problematic X and Z are “X is for bones—tomorrow’s X-RAY” and “Z is for countdown—tomorrow’s ZERO” with a rocket blasting off into space.

The illustrations are fine but pretty basic.

But it is the premise that really sold this book for me.  I love the potential for getting students to predict both ways, getting them to guess what ‘A’ word comes from seed or what do you need to have before you get your ‘B’ word, birds.  This can easily be extended into a class exercise coming up with your tomorrow alphabet.  Because this has been around for a while already some of you will know it and perhaps used it in your classrooms.  Please drop me a comment  telling us about your experiences

Mine would have to be: “B is for time—tomorrow’s BLOG.”

Today's Nonfiction Monday event is being held at Booktalking#kidlit.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Stellar poetry

Out of This World : Poems and Facts About Space by Amy E. Sklansky (811 SkO 2012 PIC BK) is a good book to connect science and language arts for early elementary grades.

The combination of poems written in various styles, interesting facts and darkly coloured illustrations provides an appealing opportunity to learn more about astral bodies and phenomena.

One of my favourite poems for its imagery is After Blastoff.

The Earth
their window

and then
drops away,
like a


How far from home
they’ve traveled today.

Facts that struck me as particularly interesting include:

*Each space suit costs more than 10 million dollars.
*Footprints left from any of the twelve astronauts to have walked on the moon remain unchanged for billions of years.
*Uranus spins on its side.

Who knew?

Check out today's Nonfiction Monday event at Capstone Connect .  Looks like an interesting round up of nonfiction children's literature.

Template Design | Elque 2007