Monday, April 16, 2012

Holiday Break.

Yup, it's that time again.  I'm away until the end of the month.

While recharging my batteries, I plan to read a bunch of kids books as well as adult mysteries while enjoying warmer climes. 

Hopefully, I'll have a few recommendations to pass along for your summer reading lists.

Be back soon.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

April is Poetry Month

Just a quick note today to send some of you over to GottaBook which is celebrating its third annual event,  30 Poets/30 Days.  Each day in April a different poet will post a previously unpublished children’s poem.  The line up looks great and includes poets Alma Flor Ada, Bruce Coville, Ellen Hopkins, Bob Raczka, Michael J. Rosen and Allan Wolf to name only a few.  

This is an opportune time to learn more about children’s poetry and the poets themselves.  Or, forget learning and just enjoy. 

Monday, April 9, 2012

Would someone please tell me the connection between a yeti and a secretary?

People by Blexbolex (305. BlP 2011 PIC BK) is a book that will make you smile, chuckle, toy with your expectations and will make your brain hurt.  OY!

It starts off innocuously enough – a two-page spread with an image of a man one side and a woman on the other.  The illustrations are simple and very 1950/60s retro in style rendered in flat colours, with only some of the people having features.  The text is one or two words on the top of each page.

 The next spread is ‘couple’ and ‘bachelor’.  Okay, a little odd for selection choice but you can see connections between the pictures of a ‘couple’ (young man and woman holding hands, perhaps looking at the bachelor on the next page) and the ‘bachelor’ (a lone gentleman, holding a rose, sitting and perhaps looking at the ‘couple’).  Is there a story here?

The next couple of spreads are pretty logical in their connections – mother to baby, father (carrying child) to family (group of four, mother, father, boy and girl).  Easy, right?  Next spread: ‘corpse’ and ‘retiree’.  Huh?  The corpse comes first.   Again, is there a story connecting the two pictures?  Or, maybe not…

And on this goes. It’s interesting to see which ‘people’ he has decided to include: everyday (a listener, a builder, plumber, cop, robber), unexpected (executioner, fishmonger, Bedouin, castaway, nudist), and even pseudo real (ghost, scarecrow, Santa, alien, mermaid). Some of the strangeness comes from an ordinary label with an unexpected visual – ‘bodyguard’ is a samurai, or the ‘outlaw’ looks like Zorro.

There is lots of play here.  For example there are two spreads with the word hunter.  The first one has a ‘hunter’ that you might find in a northern forest, a plump man in camo, holding a gun and walking with a dog, juxtaposed with a ‘soldier,’ a trim man in camo running while holding a much longer gun.  A little further along in the book we see another ‘hunter,’ this time a slim, scantily clad aboriginal hunter holding a blow pipe and looking as if to aim his dart at the vampire on the next page.

One pair of images that had colleagues talking was ‘speaker’ versus ‘snakecharmer’.  What were the connections?  I could see visual similarities between the stand up mic (long winding cord and mic head) and the coiled snake.  Janet could conceptualize the ‘charming’ that both of these people do, and Lynn pointed out the comb-over and ‘Hilter-esque’ moustache  of the speaker.  Talk about layers.

As you page through this book, the images take you aback and make you think.  You begin to think about how we label things and the differences between what makes a ‘traveller’ versus an ‘immigrant’ or a ‘vagabond’ versus a ‘Bedouin’ or a ‘homeless person’ versus a ‘camper’. To think about how there can be similarities between seemingly disparate groups of people.

This is not the best book for young children.  Yes, they will get some of the images but I think the older you are the more you will appreciate this intriguing book.  Do I see a use for it in the classroom?  You bet!  What an interesting discussion starter for, let’s say, visual literacy, social issues, labels, art.

Really enjoyed this one.  It drew me in and got me thinking.  But, really – if someone out there could tell what the connection is between a secretary and yeti, I would be forever in your debt.  Drop me a line – please.

 Check out Ana's Nonfiction Blog for a great roundup of nonfiction children's literature.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Titanic week - part 2

Today’s post looks at three novels I’ve recently read related to the Titanic.
Deadly Voyage: RMS Titanic, Jamie Laidlaw, Crossing the Atlantic, 1912 by Hugh Brewster

This is part of the I Am Canada series, directed at boys from grades 5 to 9, and written in a diary-like format that provides a fictional perspective about real-life events.  Jamie Laidlaw (fictional protagonist) is sailing with his parents as a first-class passengers to Canada on the Titanic.  It reads very much like an adventure boy book conveying all the expected excitement about sailing on the world’s largest ocean liner.  Through Jamie we meet some of the real people who were on Titanic’s maiden voyage and get to visit various parts of the ship as Jamie explores it with newly made friends.  The collision with the iceberg and subsequent sinking of the ship are detailed, as well as the rescue by the Carpathia and what happens afterwards.  Jamie and his mother survive.  His father does not.  The author, Hugh Brewster, has done substantial research for a number of books about the Titanic.  This is evident in the number of details about the ship and passengers that he includes in the narrative, though I didn’t find it too cumbersome or overwhelming.  He also includes a historical note, glossary and photographs.
A good adventure story and fairly quick read.
No Moon by Irene N. Watts (823 W347N FIC)
This is for the same age group as Deadly Voyage but will likely appeal to girls more than boys.  I enjoyed this novel more as a historical novel taking place in the early 1900s than a book about the sinking of the Titanic.  Louisa Gardener is a fully developed character whom we get to know and understand.  We see where she comes from, her family circumstances, the time period she lives in and other secondary characters that provide context and opportunity for Louisa to grow.  At fourteen she is taken on as a nursemaid in an affluent household where she starts to feel a bit of independence but still must deal with a particularly overbearing Nanny.  When Nanny is unable to accompany the family on the Titanic, Louisa is asked to go along instead.  She overcomes her fear of the ocean (due to a family tragedy that she experienced when she was only five-years-old) and agrees.  It’s a pleasure to see Louisa become more confident as well as enjoy herself on the grand ocean liner.  The nightmarish qualities of the night the ship sinks is vividly conveyed as a mix of chaos, anxiety, the responsibility of looking after two small children, second-guessing choices, and finally enduring the long hours waiting to be rescued
I highly recommend this one.
The Watch that Ends the Night : voices from the Titanic by Allan Wolf (823 W8312W FIC)
Okay, I have to fess up – I just didn’t connect with this one.  I really wanted to – I loved the cover and the title, it was told in narrative verse, it was for older readers and look like it was going to give me something different.   Overall, I just found it heavy going especially at the beginning.  It got better after about the half way mark which is way longer than I usually stick with a book I’m not enjoying.
 It’s told in 25 different voices of various real passengers of all classes (including amongst others, the Captain, the very wealthy John Astor, immigrants and a con man to name a few), a ship's rat and the iceberg itself. There seemed to be too many people to keep track of and not much to distinguish the voices from each other.  Maybe this was because I didn’t connect emotionally to any of them despite the individual storylines.  The tone of each verse is very introspective. So, although I was inside their heads they just didn’t engage my heart, which was disappointing.  The verses from the perspective of the iceberg are the ones that really bothered me as I just couldn’t buy into the idea that this inanimate object would have its ‘eye’ on the Titanic.  I found this voice particularly ponderous, affected and slightly ominous.  It was interesting to see the iceberg passages get smaller towards the end of the novel, shrinking as the iceberg melts.  The author’s notes are really interesting. He has a paragraph about each of the passengers he included, based on his extensive research, details about the ship (trivia lovers will rejoice – number of couples on honeymoons, number of black passengers, time required to build ship, sink ship and watch movie, etc.), and extensive bibliography/resource list.
This one has received fairly good reviews so decide for yourselves whether this one is for you or your students. Suggested for grades 8 and up.

There are lots of books about the Titanic, old and new.  So I'm sure you'll find something that will suit you.
Drop me a line with your recommendations.

Monday, April 2, 2012

April 14th, 2012 – Looming out of the fog

With the 100th year anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic looming, this week’s postings will look at a few titles that have recently been published about the colossal ship.  As today is Monday, and Nonfiction Monday to boot, that’s where I’ll start.

Titanic: disaster at sea by Philip Wilkinson (910.9163 WiT 2012) is oversized and packed with photos and illustrations pertaining to the Titanic. It covers everything from the building the ship, stocking it with supplies, her crew, the luxuries afforded to first-class passengers, accommodations for second and third class passengers, various aspects of the ‘event’ (from clashing with the iceberg to sinking) and includes a precise timeline of what happened and who was doing what, the rescue and the aftermath.  There are also sections dedicated to the ‘popular culture’ aspect of the disaster, from premonitions prior to the Titanic’s sailing, to movies, memorials, and the eventual discovery of her final resting place.

Loads of information is organized into side bars, timelines, inset pictures, one fold-out set of pages, and newspaper clippings.  The table of contents, index and glossary will also be useful for report writing.

Titanic Sinks! by Barry Denenberg (910.9163 DeT 2011) I found a little more engaging because of the interesting ‘twist’ the author threw into this book.  All the facts are wrapped up in a fictional Modern Times magazine special edition, written by a staff reporter.  Again, this oversized book covers the Titanic, from beginning to end, with lots more narrative and way fewer side bars.  Many of the photographs I had not seen before (but I’m not a Titanic aficionado) and the author notes that he used only photographs that were of the Titanic and not of her sister ship the Olympia to preserve authenticity. There were not many photographs of the Titanic because of her newness.

One of the best bits of this book are the excerpts from the journal of S.F. Vanni, fictional chief correspondent sailing on the Titanic’s maiden voyage.  He records who he sees and speaks with and the activities that occupy the time of different passengers, as well as providing a very immediate and taut description of what took place on the decks of the ship as her passengers evacuated and she broke apart and sank. (The journal survived because the journalist wrapped it in a tarp, strapped it to his chest, dove off the ship, floated on debris until he was rescued by one of the lifeboats but died just before the arrival of the rescue ship Carpathia.)

An hour-by-hour timeline of April 14th and 15th is included, in addition to statements collected from survivors. There is an ‘exclusive’ interview with the captain of the Carpathia that gives his side of the rescue and a closing note from the Modern Times publisher that tells us about the fallout from this event.  Barry Denenberg provides the reader with insight as to why he decided to tell the story in this way, a mix of fact and fiction.  He includes source notes and a two page bibliography.

Out of the two books, I preferred the second because of the drama and immediacy created by the fictional journalist.  (I didn’t know he was fictional until the end of the book.)  The narrative held my attention and drew me in a way that the more informational book did not. 

Both books are written for the middle grade crowd (grades 5-9).

 Today's Nonfiction Monday event is at Rasco from Rif.  Stop by for an interesting roundup of blogs writing about children's literature.

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