Thursday, September 27, 2012

Graphic novel update

When I start getting busy with other aspects of my job, I often turn to graphic novels to keep me reading fiction.  Otherwise, I’m mostly reading lots of nonfiction or professional resources.

This week I’m highlighting three graphic novels.

Squish, Super Amoeba by Jennifer L Holm & Matthew Holm (823 H732S FIC)
            I’m a big fan of Babymouse, the heroine of another graphic novel series by this sister/brother team that typically appeals to girls in early elementary grades.  Whereas, Babymouse’s books are pink, Squish is neon green.  You see, Squish is an amoeba with some very human-type problems with protozoan twists.  His best friend seems more like a leech than an amoeba since he’s always mooching lunch money off his best buddy.  Peggy is a super-duper perky, cheerful, optimistic, if slightly dim, paramecium who can be super annoying for our hero, Squish.  The point of conflict revolves around Lynwood, a mean, bullying amoeba who’s looking to make Peggy his next meal.  Enter Squish, an aspiring hero who resolves to ‘do the right thing’.  
            This series will appeal to early readers, especially boys.  It’s fast paced, with a likeable protagonist.  The storyline and characters aren’t too complicated and the ending kind of wraps up a little quick but this is a fun book that will work in grades 2 to 4.

Cardboard by Doug TenNapel (823 T256C FIC)
            I’ve enjoyed his other graphic novels (Ghostopolis, Bad Island) mostly because of the illustration style, which is high-end with full, coloured, glossy pages. The interesting premise for this book is cardboard figures coming to life through magic.  Some of the storylines are a little predictable but the story flows along easily as we get to know the relatively uncomplicated characters, an unemployed widowed father who loves his son, the son, Cam a really good kid if a bit na├»ve, Bill, a cardboard figure who is loyal, sweet natured yet protective who yearns to be a fully ‘fleshed’ out character and Marcus, the rich, over indulged bad-boy of the neighbourhood who we just know is looking for trouble (and going to get it).  Again, the action is fast paced and will hold readers’ attention right to the end.  It finishes with a very tidy happy ending.  This will appeal to middle grade readers.

Chopsticks: a novel by Jessica Anthony & Rodrigo Corral (823 An85C FIC)
            This one is for the high school crowd with a penchant for puzzles, digital media, and ambiguous endings.  This ‘scrapbook’, with faded photos, postcards, IMs, ticket stubs, recital programs, TV clips, YouTube links (to be followed by the reader), newspaper clippings, tells the story of Glory, a piano prodigy with a fragile, complicated psyche. It seems to start with loving parents and an interest in music.  After the death of her mother when Glory is around 8, life is much less happy and certain.  We learn that Glory is a very talented pianist, playing sold-out concerts around the world.  We are also privy to a romance with a neighbour, an artistic boy from Argentina who is not liked by Glory’s father.  But things are not as they seem.  We learn that Glory is slipping into a mental crisis.  She begins playing Chopsticks during her concerts until eventually that is all she plays for hours on end.  She is committed (and has been committed several times) to a ‘rest home’.  When the novel starts we learn that she is missing and at the end, it is left up to the reader to decide what has happened to Glory and what parts of the story are real.   This very interesting visual narrative will take more than one reading.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Garbage to recycling

This past summer I read Trash by Andy Mulligan (823 M9165T FIC), a mystery focussed around three boys who live and work in a large urban garbage dump somewhere in Southeast Asia.  I enjoyed reading this middle grade novel, but found the premise of people living in and from a garbage dump very disconcerting.  This wasn't something I had been unaware of; I just hadn’t come across this issue before in children’s literature.

I would pair the novel Trash with Trash! On ragpicker children and recycling by Gita Wolf, Anumshka Ravishankar and Orijit Sen (331.31 WoT 2011).  This nonfiction book will answer questions that could come up.  And there’s a lot to question about children working in such appalling conditions.

Trash! On ragpicker children and recycling uses a fictional boy in India who runs away from home to a big city, to illustrate what the life as a ragpicker is like.  Velu meets a girl who shows him how to work in a dump and survive living on the streets.  Interspersed within the story are blocks of information about ragpickers and the trash industry, life in India especially for the poor, living conditions and educational opportunities for children, and the recycling industry.  The story is a bit didactic but does work well for its purpose, which is to show a real-life situation and create empathy with working children.  There are points for discussion at the end of the book, as well as suggestions about what would help children ragpickers.

An interesting point is that this book is an Indian publication (Tara Books) and is directed toward an Indian audience.  So when reading the discussion points at the end of the book the statement “All of you must have seen such children – ragpicking, working in restaurants, in garages or as servants in houses” it really jumps out.  Unless you’ve visited a country where child labour is more prevalent, you are less likely to be witness to this.  

This would be useful as a supplemental resource for grade 3 social studies (Alberta) curriculum.  Reading level is appropriate for middle grades.

Today's Nonfiction Monday event is hosted by A Teaching Life.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

On the small side

So, who’s been to the Art Institute of Chicago?  Lucky you if you've been to see the Thorne Miniature Rooms.

I had never heard of these exquisitely, detailed miniature rooms (built to the scale of 1 inch to 1 foot) displaying the interiors of European and American homes from the 1200s to 1930s, until I read  The Sixty-Eight Rooms by Marianne Malone (823 M297S FIC). I liked it, but I didn’t think it was it something to really rave about.  The two kids in the book, Jack and Ruthie, find a magic key that enables them to shrink to the perfect size to walk through the Thorne Miniature Rooms in the Art Institute.  A couple of the rooms allow Jack and Ruthie to time travel to France just prior to the French Revolution and to 17th century Massachusetts.  There are a few other minor storylines about Jack’s and Ruthie’s families that pads out the story and makes the kids more real.

I thought the premise of the book really interesting but felt that the time travel aspect wasn’t developed enough. I had hoped for more adventure.  Just my personal taste and I certainly wouldn’t tell you not to pick this up.

 But, then in comes Miniature Rooms: the Thorne Rooms at the Art Institiute of Chicago (747 Mi 2004) a catalogue of the model rooms.  Lots to keep a person (namely, me) studying each room for quite sometime. This took the novel The Sixty-Eight Rooms to a whole new level for me.  Actually, seeing the rooms that Ruthie and Jack walked through was engrossing.

And then I went to the website for the Art Institute. If visiting the website give yourself a bit of time as it also is a time sink. It’s easy to get drawn in looking at all the beautiful fabrics, furnishings, and household decorations in each room. It boggles the mind to think to the of craftsmanship required to design and produce these fantastic rooms.  If you can’t get to the Art Institute of Chicago, the website is well worth a visit.

Pairing the novel with either the Art Institute’s website or with the book, Miniature Rooms will enhance this middle grade novel.  Seeing the detail of the rooms as described in the novel will make it more engaging.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Picking out Patterns

Just a quick recommendation today for A-B-A-B-A- a Book of Pattern Play by Brian Cleary (516.15 ClA 2010 PIC BK).

A short book appropriate for primary grades that looks at what makes a pattern. It presents various situations with repeating letters, colours, or objects moving into number patterns.  Numbers are introduced with 1, 2, 3 and moves into skip counting by 2s and 3s.

The patterns are simple to follow with the help of the text. I found the rhyming text unnecessary but kids may think it fun.

Illustrations are brightly colourful with cartoony cats demonstrating with the patterns.

A great title to bring in for primary mathematics.

Stop by Wrapped in Foil for today's Nonfiction Monday event to find more great nonfiction children's literature.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Guest Blogger - View from a 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 post reflects on what gets kids to sign out and read books looking at the top 5 books to circulate at the school library.

Right back at it

And whoosh!! Summer has slipped right by me and the smells of new markers and freshly sharpened pencils are in the air.  Time off from the school library and lazy days spent reading on the balcony and by the side of the lake at the family cottage has given me plenty of time to evaluate the previous year and decide what (if anything) I will do differently this year.

Running a school library when you are only there one and a half days a week requires some creativity. I have several great volunteers who embrace books and reading as much as I do, so they soldier on when I am not there.  And the crossover in learning about great new books from my time at the Doucette Library and from Tammy (who read more than I did this summer, I think) helps immensely. But one of the things I have been reviewing has been the student reading patterns and what books they like. The school is built around a strong focus on academics and reading, so many students are reading far above the level that is typical for their age. They embrace complex plots and strong story lines and sometimes it feels like new books that I bring in are new only to me – they are a “been there, done that” moment for many students.

What has amazed me is the growing popularity of graphic novels. When I first started in the library, there were no graphic novels, but thanks to an outside influence (cough, Tammy, cough), I have brought a number in each year. When I reviewed the books that have been taken out the most last year, I was a little surprised to see that two graphic novels (actually, one novel and one series) were among the top five books that had circulated. The graphic novels series that was most widely circulated was the “Babymouse” series – and the top single novel was Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon Hale.

Babymouse  by Jennifer Holm and Matt Holm are the adventures of one small mighty mouse. Each book takes her through an adventure that has shades of early grade school trials in them. I admit the graphics and colour (try bubblegum pink) are hard on my aging eyes – but early elementary students love them. I have them in the junior non-fiction shelf and they are always in circulation. They are a rewarding read – not only for the storylines, but for the sense of completion that kids have when they have read not just the one book, but the entire series (and then they start re-reading – sigh). For students, the books are a step closer to reading “real” books – and the simple vocabulary and storylines are engaging. What I can’t differentiate from my review of circulation stats is the gender of the readers who have taken them out – I suspect girls, so am on a lookout for a series that is as engaging for the early reader, but will have broader appeal across genders. Any  thoughts?

Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon Hale is a more complex graphic novel – and ours has been circulated so many times that I will be ordering a replacement copy. Shannon Hale is (for me) a brilliant author – I have mentioned Goose Girl as being one of the books that I recommend to older readers, so I fell all over this when it came into the Doucette and promptly ordered a copy for the school. A great re-telling of Rapunzel (sort of), only she is a much more active (as opposed to passive) character, who uses her hair and her wits to overcome the evil Mother Gothel. I think the book has broad appeal to both boys and girls, but my instincts tell me it was mostly the girls who took it out. And I love that when someone comes back and says “Do you have anything else by her?” I can introduce them to her novels. Sometimes it takes a little persuasion to get them to opt for something more serious looking. In the end, I usually tell them that it might be too hard for them (a challenge to their capabilities often works) or I ask them to give it a try, because I need a student review.

So, that was two of the top 5 books that circulated. The other  three? Do Not Open this Book by Michaela Muntean, Hockey Now by Mike Leonetti (not too difficult to tell who took that book out) and Guinness Book of World Records 2008. Don’t ask me why 2008, when we have 2011 on the shelf – sometimes there is no reason to why kids like certain books.

As long as they are reading, does it really matter?

Monday, September 10, 2012

How does your city grow?

When was the last time you drove down a road or through a part of town that you hadn't visited for awhile?  All of a sudden you notice something new.  “When did that pop up?” you wonder.  Cities like Calgary are like that.  Things, buildings, stores, houses are forever popping up, seemingly overnight.

Popville by Anouck Boisrobert and Louis Rigaud (307.76 BoP 2010 PIC BK), is a 3- dimensional exploration of how a landscape grows from a single building down a single road in the countryside.  Then come two roads and a few more buildings and a few less trees.  Each flip of the page shows increasing growth, more roads and buildings, growing outward into a rural area.  The last page is a fully developed urban landscape showing a network of roads and railroad tracks for cars and trains, various buildings (skyscrapers, industrial, residential, and a church), green spaces, and even a series of telephone poles with string ‘wires’.  The implication, of course, is that there are more people as well.

The really delightful part is the pop up aspect of the book.  The original building is in the centre of the book on the spine crease. The clever die cast design allows for everything else to grow up around it, ‘popping’ up through cut squares beside it, also along the spine of the book.  Mostly, we look down on to this changing landscape giving us a different, aerial perspective.  When we look closely, at eyelevel we see the fronts of the buildings but these are without much detail. The illustrations are fairly stylized with primary colours.

At the back of the book are questions that asks the reader to consider what is involved when a city grows, such as more people requiring more services and infrastructure.

An interesting book that will work well with elementary grades and up into the middle grades.

Today is Nonfiction Monday and hosted at Books Together.  Lots of great children's literature to discover today.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The End of Perspective

I spent a good part of July and August reading tons of books with the 'big idea' of perspective tucked into the back of my mind.  I presented the lengthy book talk to a group of elementary school teachers last week.

I've been involved with this school for the last several years, book talking resources focused around whatever big idea they select to teach for the whole academic school year across all the grades.  This is a great exercise for me but I must admit I'm glad to wrap up at the end of August, too.  I can now read more openly not in such a prescribed way.

But to wrap up this exploration, I thought I'd mention a few of the books that seemed to be of particular interest.

I started with the perspective that was closest to self.  How do I perceive myself?  How do others perceive me?   Single perspectives versus multiple views. Perspective that is biased or distorted versus perspectives that promote empathy or are non-judgmental.  There were so many good books to choose from.

 Wonder by R.J. Palacio and  Who is Melvin Bubble? by Nick Bruel  seemed to strike a cord with a couple of teachers. Both use multiple perspectives to explore who each of the main characters are.  Looking at distortions or bias is certainly relevant in each of these books.

My exploration of perspective broadened out a bit to look at community (in the biggest sense, Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and world) over time and place.  Two history books based on the lives of Canadians that attracted interested were The Duchess Ranch of Old John Ware by James Davidge and Fatty Legs by Christy Jordan-FentonThese two books would work well to show how attitudes change from historical to contemporary times. A third book, Mrs. Harkness and the Panda by Alicia Potter also looks at how things change over time. This particular book shows how our contemporary views about animal conservation have changed since the 1930s.

The next broader layer started to look at organizational perspectives (eg. corporate, media, technology, religion, government, etc.) and specific perspectives of particular disciplines such as art, mathematics, science, literature, history, psychology, philosophy, the natural world, etc.  This allowed me to combine perspective with the question about what is true/truth and how do we know when something is true or real.  Lots of layering of complex thoughts and more great books to recommend.  Here are a few examples:

Art Against the Odds by Susan Goldman Rubin and Just Behave, Pablo Picasso by Jonah Winter are different ways at looking at the question of who decides what is art.  The picture book about Picasso is particularly accessible for the primary grades, whereas Art Against the Odds will work better for older students.  Whether an artist is presenting something entirely new or in unexpected places (prisons, psychiatric institutions, African villages, inner city classrooms, etc.) public perceptions can make it difficult.

Looking at the way the media portrays, well anything and everything could certainly be a rich way to explore the idea of perspective.  The Great Moon Hoax by Stephen Krensky and Bat Boy Lives!: the Weekly world news guide to politics, culture, celebrities, alien abductions, and the mutant freaks that shape our world by David Perel are interesting ways to look at how news can be distorted to the point of being totally ridiculous.  

Related to this are two books in the series Captured History: Migrant Mother and Breaker Boys.  Each of these books looks at the power of photography, especially in the early 1900s.Photo journalism was something fairly new then and was a way for the American public to learn about dire social conditions for migrant farm workers during the Depression (Migrant Mother) and child labour in the early days of industrialization (Breaker Boys).  The motivations of the photographers and the techniques they employed to capture their images are discussed, as well as the context in which the photos became famous.  Both are excellent resources.

Along the same lines is The Big Push by Erika Wittekind that is a little book that accessibly lays out how we are constantly exposed to media messages,  whether in terms of advertising  pressuring us to buy stuff or informing us about current issues (supposedly news).  Because it's brand new there are many contemporary examples for kids to related to. 

The last one I'll mention is There is a Flower at the Tip of My Nose Smelling Me by Alice Walker that I actually read this aloud as an opener to my presentation.  It gave me a beautiful way to open the book talk about perspective in a 'backwards' way.  As the title suggests it is the flower that the narrator  holds that is actually doing the sniffing.  Or the ocean, sky, and sunrise that experiences the narrator rather than the other way around. Or a dance, story or walked dog connecting back to the narrator who becomes the object or the activity.  It's an interesting way to show an interconnection with nature and the artistic/creative sides to our world.  Poetic and beautifully illustrated, this book is a grand opener and presents perspective in a different light.

Any finally words about perspective?

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