Monday, December 2, 2013

A picture is worth…

Information graphics or infographics are graphic visual representations of information, data or knowledgeintended to present complex information quickly and clearly. They can improve cognition by utilizing graphics to enhance the human visual system’s ability to see patterns and trends.  – from Wikipedia 

 Have you ever noticed that once something catches your attention you begin to see it everywhere?  And then you start thinking, how long has this really been around and why didn’t I notice it sooner?

Infographics have been like that for me.

It started with How to Land a Jumbo Jet: a visual exploration oftravel facts, figures and ephemera edited by Nigel Holmes.  I blogged  about it in June, I liked it so much.

Then later in the summer I latched onto these new-fangled looking posters from Pop Chart Lab.  They seemed pretty cool, about some interesting or unusual topics or depicted information in a new way.  I ended up buying some of these posters for the Doucette Library’s collection.  I love the one that shows the ingredients of pies displayed as pie-charts.  I can’t say, however, that I’m really all that fascinated in analyzing the names of rappers but the fact that there is a poster that does just that really excites me.  I know there are people (aka students) out there who will love it.

And so it goes.  Here and there, ‘infographics’ keep popping up in all sorts of places.

Most recently, I’ve brought in a few books from a couple of series where the whole book is done as an infographic about specific topics.  Here are the first two:

The Human World: the world in infographics  and Planet Earth: the world in infographics both written by Jon Richards and Ed Simkins are like other information books that present a lot of interesting facts about people and how we live and the Earth and its natural phenomena

The Human World covers everything from the number of people on the planet, where we live, the haves and have-nots, resource usage including water, creation of waste, communication, travel and transportation. The data is presented in a way that allows us to see a visual representation that allows easier comprehension of bigger ideas by comparing and showing relative size of differences.  For example, in the “Dwindling Resources” section 6 barrels of oil that represent 6 countries and how much oil they use.  No surprise, the US consumes the most oil on a daily basis (19,150,000 barrels per day) and gets the biggest picture of an oil barrel.  Next comes, China (9,189,000 bpd), Japan (4,452,000 bpd), India (3,182,000 bdp), Russia (2,937,000 bpd) and last, Island of Niue (40 – yes, forty!, bpd).  This last one, the barrel is so tiny I didn’t even see it the first time I read it.

In Planet Earth we see how the earth is composed of layers of varying depths and temperatures, moving tectonic plates, earthquakes, mountains, volcanoes, oceans and rivers, the rock cycle, the water cycle, which all create and sustain the environment that exists on earth.  Again, lots of numbers are used to help us understand the relative size and differences. Let’s say land versus water.  71% of the earth is water. 29% is land.  Of that 29% land mass, 31% is desert, 33% is grassland and 36% is forest. A pyramid shows how wet or dry and cold or hot each habitat is in relation to each other.  Deserts are hot and dry whereas tropical forests are hot and wet.  Higher up the pyramid, a coniferous forest (subarctic) will be much cooler and neither overly wet or dry.  (The picture works way better with way fewer words.)

These books include glossaries, indexes and web resources to follow up both the statistics about these subjects as well as the infographics.

Overall, I liked both of these books.  They are factoid books at heart but allow us to develop a deeper understanding through the graphics showing comparisons and relations between similar elements.  Bringing these into the classroom allows for cross-disciplinary potential.  Use for math and science or math and social studies with some graphic art thrown in for good measure. Striving readers who struggles with dense text will find these less daunting to read.

I would recommend these for grades 4 to 7.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Getting their man

We are introduced to Adolf Eichmann, a top Nazi official responsible for the collection and transportation of Jews from around Europe ultimately contributing to millions of people dying horrific deaths.  After Germany concedes defeat at the end of World War II, Eichmann was a wanted man.  He eventually made it to Argentina and established a new life there.   This new life was anything but glamorous.  With very little money, he and his family lived in poor quarters.

In fact, that Eichmann was seemingly poverty stricken fooled the Israelis into thinking this was not the man they sought.  Eventually, with enough surveillance they confirm his identity.

And, so the suspense begins to build.  Will Eichmann escape again? How will Israelis secret service agents capture him? How will they get him to Israel without tipping off the Argentine government? Will they get him to Israel to stand trial? Will Holocaust survivors get justice?

The extreme lengths that the Israelis went to, to capture their man is an amazing and fascinating read.  A lot seems to happen in 219 pages interspersed with lots of photographs throughout.  The book is well researched and each chapter has a comprehensive number of footnotes to support it.

I highly recommend this for grades 9 and up.  Adults with an interest in World War II will be impressed with this one.

Today is Nonfiction Monday.  Pop by Jean Little Library is see reviews for nonfiction children's literature.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Well. Finally…

The United Nations has just this past summer adopted a resolution that officially recognizes November 19th as World Toilet Day for evermore.  

Regardless of the ridiculous sounding name, it’s a serious problem for about 2.5 billion people – the other half of the clean water issue. Since 2001, the World Toilet Organization has worked at tackling taboos, to increase awareness and deliver sustainable sanitation.  

And, this year the United Nations has jumped on board supporting international and civil organizations that strive to ensure safe, clean toilets.

My recommendation for today is Toilet: how it works by David Macaulay.

This is a levelled reader (level 4) from the My Readers series published by Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group.

In about 30 pages you learn what a toilet is used for (dog’s drinking bowl, goldfish disposal), the basics about body waste, the mechanics of how it works, where the waste goes after flushing (sewers, septic tanks, treatment plants) and the final product, clean water returned to the river system.

The writing is clear, succinct and a bit humorous.  The illustrations are classic Macaulay with subdued colours and detailed pictures on every page.  A glossary, index and reading list are included.

A good introduction for the topic.

Check out the following blogs for additional books to tie into World Toilet Day.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Dear Teen Me

What a great idea.

What would you (the adult) tell yourself (the teenager) about life, what’s to come or how to get through the tough times that might be ahead?

In DearTeen Me: authors write letters to their teen selves edited by E. Kristin Anderson and Miranda Kenneally, 70 authors do just that. 

Typically, within a couple of pages we get a sense about the kind of kid the authors were, stuff about family life and school life, events and incidents that are defining moments (some good, some bad) and but mostly encouragement to just keep on truckin’.

Some of the stories are funny, poignant, or distressing.  It’s real life in all its varied forms, telling us that authors are people too ; that all the moments making up life contribute to who we become and look, teen-self, “You will become someone.”

I can’t say I know all the authors who’ve contributed to this volume, but here are some of the names I was drawn to: Ellen Hopkins, Joseph Bruchac, Nikki Loftin, Robin Benway, Isla Bick, Mariko Tamaki, Mitali Perkins, Jodi Meadows, Mari Mancusi, Ken Lowery, Charles Benoit and many, many more.

This is a terrific read.  Pick it up, put it down, and pick it up again and again.  The stories always engaged me.

Recommended for grades 9 and up.  

Monday, November 11, 2013


Lest We Forget.

Today is November 11th
It is Remembrance Day. 
Please take a moment to think of those who have served and are serving in the Armed Forces.

Today’s Recommendation.

Just a quick post about the importance of understanding the real cost of stuff and knowing where your money goes after it leaves your hot little hands.

Follow Your Money by Kevin Sylvester and Michael Hlinka explain what is money, its history and several examples of breaking down the cost of consumer goods that would be of interest to kids.

For example: Breakfast consists of bacon (estimated cost $3), eggs ($3), bread ($2) and a glass of orange juice (.50).  The breakdown includes the amount of money the producer gets with their item is purchased.  But when we the cost of what it takes to produce the item is accounted for we get to see what their actual profit is.  Take the bacon.  A consumer pays $3 for the bacon.  The farmer gets $1.  But factor in the cost of buying and feeding the pig and the cost of running the farm, the farmer only makes about 10 cents.

Other examples that break down the real cost good included items used in school, clothes and shoes, jewellery, gas/fuel, transportation (car vs. bus), food, entertainment and various pieces of technology.  As you can see a real range of items and activities.

I like that they included many aspects that are hidden or that we just don't know about when in comes to producing, distributing and consuming goods.  Who knew that the ink in computer printing cartridges works out to be "more expensive - by weight- than the same amount of gold" . (p.29)  What I didn't see were costs related to transportation or waste.

A few additional online resources are listed to follow up.

The information isn't too dense and very accessible for students in middle school.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

I recently saw this ad:

Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.  

And though I might argue that it's not the 'only' thing, I can certainly appreciate the intent behind the message.

Journey by Aaron Becker is a beautiful, wordless picture book that perfectly captures the importance of imagination and the power of finding your way whether it's in the real world or those of fantasy. 

A girl is looking for someone to play with.  Everyone in her family is too busy and she’s left to brood in her bedroom.  Check out her bedroom walls.  Within one panel we learn that she is a dreamer and dreams of travel in faraway places.  A world map, a travel poster of Egypt, sail boats on her bedspread and a hot-air balloon mobile tell us of her desire to explore/experience the world.  Her sepia-toned reality has little interest to hold her interest.

So what does a bored child do when no one wants to play?

She picks up a red crayon and draws a door (escape-hatch) on her bedroom wall.  She enters a verdant forest filled with soft green trees gently lit with exotic lanterns and fairy lights.

Her red crayon is truly magical as it allows her to draw a boat in which she drifts down a gentle stream until she reaches a castle-city. She is welcomed by everyone she sees drifting through canals until she cascades over the end of one of these canals.

But, not to worry - her red crayon and imagination come to the rescue again.  She draws a hot-air balloon that allows her to sail high above the clouds.  She witnesses the chase and capture of a beautiful purple bird that is kept caged on a steampunk-looking airship.  She releases the bird, which incurs the ire of the inhabitants and is then kept prisoner until the bird, in turn, rescues her. 

Yet again, the red crayon enables her to escape her prison on a magic flying carpet that glides over a desert landscape eventually arriving in an oasis.  There the purple bird shows the girl a palm tree with a purple door.  She and the bird enter and arrive back home.  And, lo the bird is welcomed by a boy with a purple crayon. The adventure ends where it began except the girl now has someone to share in future journeys of the imagination.

Highly recommended for elementary grades.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Nonfiction Monday and …

Today’s Nonfiction Monday event is being hosted here.  Please stop by the other blogs listed below that feature reviews about nonfiction children’s literature.

 Bloggers, please  leave a message in the comments.  I'll add each posting as the day progresses. Thank you for participating in today's event.

Nature + Numbers = 1 Fascinating Book

 It would be easy to see Lifetime: the amazing numbers in animals lives by Lola M. Schafer as another science/nature/animal book.

But it’s even better to think of it as a science/math book that uses facts about particular characteristics (behaviours or features) of animals and how many times something will occur for that animal within an average lifespan.

Here are a few of my favourites:

*Mountain caribou will grow a new set of antlers 10 times over the course of its life.

*A male seahorse will be responsible for producing 1,000 baby seahorses over its lifetime.

*And, over the lifetime of a giant swallowtail butterfly, it will sip the nectar of about 900 flowers.

Each animal is featured on a 2-page spread that also shows the 10 sets of antlers, 1,000 baby seahorses and 900 flowers.  (I didn't count these last ones and I'm OK with trusting the illustrator on these points.)

The mathematical aspect of the book is marked in a few ways.  The book starts with the number one.  “In one lifetime this spider will spin 1 papery egg sac.”  It moves onto the 10 sets of antlers grown by caribou.  Next, we learn that alpacas grow 10 different fleeces over their lifetimes.  And, on it goes with each animal featured with a progressively larger number of occurrences, characteristics or behaviours over its lifetime.

Background information about each animal and the basic equation the author used to work out her statistics is provided here.  This is where I learned that mountain caribou travel as far south as Washington, Idaho and Montana from British Columbia, Canada.  I did not know that, and thought they stuck to northern latitudes.  Also, on average, a caribou lives 8 to 12 years and is 2 years old when it grows its first set of antlers.  Thus, 12 years for lifespan – 2 years for maturity = 10 years for antler production.  10 years for antler shedding x 1 set per year = 10 sets altogether.

The statistics for the seahorse are more involved but tell you that over the average lifespan of a seahorse in the wild, 1 ½ years, they birth a lot of babies every few months to average the 1,000 baby seahorses mentioned above.

The author includes an easy to understand explanation of what an average is and how she came up with her numbers for each animal.

The author’s fascination with numbers is apparent and applying them to the lives of the animals she wanted to learn more about is explained well. She takes us through the thrill of discovering that an American lobster will sheds its exoskeleton on average 80 times with most of this shedding occurring in the first year of its life.  She presents a couple of ‘word problems’ for kids to work through themselves to figure out how many times an armadillo will roll into a ball and how many scorplings will a Florida bark scorpion produce over their lifespan.

A terrific book with lots of interesting facts gathered and presented in a cross-disciplinary way that will work in elementary classrooms.

So, here's today's line for Nonfiction Monday:

Three Cybil nominations are featured here todayWhen the Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop by Laban Carrick Hill, Flying Solo: How Ruth Elder Soared into America’s Heart by Julie Cummins , and Electrical Wizard: How Nikola Tesla Lit Up the World by Elizabeth Rusch.

Jean Little Library
A historical book entitled, The Port Chicago 50 by Steve Sheinkin is a tough story to read about but well worth reading for middle grades.

Stacking Books
Revisit fairy tales with fresh eyes with Grumbles from the Forest poems by Jane Yolen and Rebecca Kai Dotlich.

Perogies & Gyoza
Check out another book from the Scientists in the Field series, Dolphins of Shark Bay by Pamela Turner. 

Sally's Bookshelf
Another dolphin book is featured here, Eight Dolphins of Katrina: A True Tale of Survival by Janet Wyman Coleman

Army Special Forces: Elite Operations by Patricia Newman is today's featured book.

Prose and Kahn
For the Good of Mankind: the Shameful History of Human Medical Experimentation by Vicki Oransky Wittenstein is being recommended for high school or advanced readers in middle school for this intense sounding look at doctors and scientists using humans as test subjects.

True Tales & a Cherry On Top
The Tree Lady: the True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever by H. Joseph Hopking looks like an fascinating biography. 

Gathering Books 
 Check out a 1800s classic, The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper's Feast by William Plomer, illustrated by Alan Aldridge with nature notes by Richard Fitter.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Inventive minds

I have two picture books to recommend that feature the inventive mind.

First is Awesome Dawson by Chris Gall.  This is a humourous look at what happens when the inventive spirit gets out of hand.

Dawson loves to build things from left over and broken bits of stuff that he finds around his house and neighbourhood.  The message: everything can be reused.  Unfortunately, his huge collection of found objects means he can’t always find things when he wants and his busy building schedule prevents him from doing his chores.  But this inventor decides that a chore-doing robot is just the ticket to take care of both of these problems.  “Stupendous!” as Dawson would say.  With cat food for brains, the robot starts to get out of control, sucking up everything in its path and growing bigger and bigger.  But resourceful Dawson figures out a solution for this problem, too.  It all ends happily.

Our next inventor is a grownup who just doesn't know the meaning of giving up.  Papa’sMechanical Fish by Candace Fleming is loosely based on a real inventor, Lodner Phillips.  Papa lives to work in his workshop inventing all sorts of things from collapsible coat hangers and edible socks to steam-powered roller skates.  But stymied by a lack of a ‘fantastic idea’ for his next invention, he takes the family fishing.  While fishing, he has his ‘eureka’ moment when his daughter, Virena, wonders aloud what it would be like to be a fish.  Over the next several weeks, Papa builds several prototypes of a mechanical fish (submarine) that get progressively bigger and better.  The message in this one is all about never giving up and learning from your mistakes.  Papa eventually gets it right and the whole family is able to go for a ride and experience life under water.  You just never know where inspiration will come from.
There is an interesting afterword that outlines the attempts of Lodner Phillips to build a submarine in the mid.  Apparently, not much has been written about Phillips, but the author does include the few sources for her story.

Both stories include elements of humour that are reinforced with the illustrations.

I recommend both of these for early elementary grades when looking for curriculum ties about science, building things, creative thinking and repurposing stuff to make new stuff.

Monday, October 28, 2013

A champion read

Muhammad Ali: the King of the Ring ,written by Lewis Helfand and illustrated by Lalit Kumar Sharma, is a graphic novel biography about, you guessed it, Muhammad Ali.

I was fairly surprised that I stuck with this one.  I’m not into sports in a big way, let alone boxing.  Just don’t see the appeal.  But I did grow up when Ali was looking to make his comeback during the 70s’ and his name was everywhere.

This comic book is a succinctly well-told narrative that covers Ali’s life as a young boy from a tight-knit family living in race-segregated Kentucky in the 40s’ and 50s’, to the present day. 

Learning to box was a fluke chance, but he immediately took to it and stuck with it, though apparently without much skill initially.  Ali’s tremendous drive to succeed takes us through his early fights, the 1960s Olympics in Rome, each comeback match he had in the 70s and his retirement in the 80s,

Interlaced with Ali’s personal history, the reader is given glimpses into the political climate and social fabric of American life. 

First, there’s Ali’s discovery and growing interest in the controversial group, Nation of Islam. While advocating racial pride for Black Americans, it also promoted hatred for all whites. Ali does become a follower, drawn to the peaceful aspects of Islam and its emphasis on Black pride, eventually taking a new name. Cassius Clay becomes Muhammad Ali.

The Vietnam War also had personal ramifications for Ali when he refused to be drafted into the army.  He was a pacifist who wanted no part of it.  This resulted in legal actions that prevented him from boxing for three years when he was at his peak.

The illustrations are a great way for us to follow his boxing career.  A lot of action is conveyed in the fight scenes with it often spilling over several panels.  The dialogue and description helps build the tension for each fight.  Will he win or lose this time?  Will his arrogance play against him?  Reading about the course of his career is fascinating.

Ali is conveyed as a determined, principled man who knew what he wanted and worked hard to get it. He is depicted as a humanitarian, generously helping others less fortunate, a family-man who looked after his parents and children and a dedicated boxer.  He respected his opponents despite his trash talk.

The book takes us to present day summing up the many aspects of Muhammad Ali’s greatness.

I would recommend this for grades 8 and up.  

Today's Nonfiction Monday event is being hosted at Booktalking.  Check up this round up of nonfiction children's literature from a variety of blogs.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Web resources

Today’s posting is a round up of interesting websites that I've come across over the last while, that I think might be of use in the classroom or perhaps to develop our  understanding about a particular topic.

First up, is a reminder about Historica Canada, a government website that features several web pages about all things Canada.  Topics covered include multiculturalism, immigration, history, citizenship, and Aboriginal stories.  Listen to audio recordings of interviews with war veterans or read about what it’s like to arrive in a new country or watch short videos that give us glimpses into important moments in Canadian history. Good resource for primary resources.  Does include some teaching support materials.  Remembrance Day is coming up and there may be some great tie-ins with this resource.

A couple of YouTube channels that I stumbled upon give brief (two or three minutes) video about science and science/history/social history.  Check out MinuteEarth and MinutePhysics.  The clips I watched explained the subject matter for non-experts, were on topic, and entertaining. Not necessarily what you’re going to use in an elementary classroom but maybe in high school or to build your own knowledge.

Next up is an interesting infographic that shows Canada’s population by latitude.  Go to Proofreader to see this poster.  I like this because it displays information in a different way and combines graphing with geographic thinking.  Might be useful in grade 5 social studies when looking at Canada.

How Stuff Worksa wholly owned subsidiary of Discovery Communications, is the award-winning source of credible, unbiased, and easy-to-understand explanations of how the world actually works.” (from website)  I've spent most of my time on the science page which I found to provide relevant information about an amazing array of subjects.

This next recommendation will be of interest mostly to Calgarians.  It’s an infographic from the City of Calgary that outlines the June 2013 flood, response and recovery.

In prepping for a workshop that the Doucette offers students, I came across this website, The Question Mark by Jamie MacKenzie.  It offers many articles on many aspects of teaching.  The issue I found particularly interesting was about the importance and development of good/essential questions.

And one last one…

It might seem  a little self serving to include this last one but I think if you're a teacher who has ever had to explain why reading fiction is important especially fantasy and science fiction then this speech by Neil Gaiman brings home the point brilliantly. The self serving element I refer to is that he extols the importance of libraries and librarians, as well.

I’d love to hear of some of your recommendations.  There is a lot of ‘stuff’ out there and it’s great when we can share some gems.  Thanks.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Playing with our perceptions

I love being ‘knowingly’ tricked.  It can take me by surprise or make me sit up and take notice or just be entertaining.

Optical illusions can be like that.

13 Art Illusions That Children Should Know by Silke Vry takes us on an historical journey that explores and explains how the use of light, shadow and colour by artists can trick us into thinking that we are seeing something that is not really ‘real’ or ‘true’.

Besides learning about specific pieces of art by specific artists, we learn about techniques developed over time such as ‘perspective’.   A glossary at the back of the book explains terms such as anamorphosis, quodlibet, plasticity, and surrealism, to help us understand how artists have used rules about light and colour to deceive us.

A timeline along the tops of most pages keeps us on track chronologically. Also, included are non-artistic events such as the construction of the Parthenon or Taj Mahal, the Gutunberg press, World War II, the first photographs and so on, to give a broader historical context in which to place the art work.

The selected structures, paintings and illustrations have been well chosen to demonstrate the various techniques.  Cataract III by Bridget Riley is impossible to look at without seeing rolling waves, a perfect example of Op Art.  Surrealist Rene Magritte plays with our eyes and minds with Carte Blanche and Personal Values.  And, tromp l’oeil is well represented with a realistic ‘unswept floor’ done in mosaic from the second century A.D. and Quodlibet by Samuel van Hoogstraten, showing us a still life of various, seemingly random objects also rendered so realistically that we want to reach out and touch the medallion or pick up the scissors.

This is one of several books in a series that focuses on specifics that introduces middle grade students to art history and seminal, important and significant works of art.

Today is Nonfiction Monday over at Abby the Librarians blog.  You will find a list of nonfiction children's literature.  Enjoy.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Favourite illustrators illustrating poetry IS poetry

Okay, two recommendations for today. 

First up is Pug and Other Animal Poems by Valerie Worth, illustrated by Steve Jenkins.

This is a collection of poems about fairly commonplace animals including various pets, insects, birds plus others that elicit some of their characteristics with beautiful language.  Though the poems are evocative they are not overly profuse making them very manageable for elementary students.  One poem I particularly liked was about a wood thrush, comparing his cry to the calls of blue jays and cardinals which fills “the air with Silver and water, A brilliant language Of leaves and rain Too rare for The human ear.”

Steve Jenkins illustrates the book with his characteristic paper collages that adds depth and dimension.  The fox is warm and lively, the bull solid and textured like harden lava rock as described in the accompanying poem, and the firefly luminous.  I love Steve Jenkins work (as many of you may remember from previous blogs) since he excels at capturing interesting and appealing aspects of animals.

These illustrated poems are in a word, delightful.

My second recommendation is Cat Talk by Patricia MacLachlan and Emily MacLachlan Charest, illustrated by Barry Moser.

My admiration for Barry Moser goes back a long way.  Not in person but by proxy through his art work.  He’s illustrated a lot of the big names in children’s literature such as Jane Yolen, Cynthia Rylant, Virginia Hamilton, Nancy Willard, Barbara Nichol, to name a few.  Besides some of his own retellings of fairy tales, he’s illustrated many classics such as the Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling, The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain.  Few illustrators do watercolour portraits of animals and people like Barry Moser.

This is a picture book of poems about cats, told from the cat’s perspective.  Princess Sheba Darling is oh, so beautiful, knows it and is not what you’d call humble about it either. Lily is happy as a barn cat around the various animals but is a little embarrassed about her new best friend – a mouse. Romeo is a gentle lover and there can never be too much love in the world, right?  And, then there’s Simon, always playful, sometimes to his own detriment.

Barry Moser captures their personalities perfectly.  Princess Sheba is elegantly draped with her long white, fluffy tail.  Lily is totally enjoying her down time with her new friend. Romeo is all loving softness, rubbing up against a willing hand.  And Simon is poised to strike at a pair of passing slippered feet.

Again, for the elementary crowd, this one will appeal to cat lovers especially.

There can be no doubt that these illustrators are true animal lovers.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Challenging the status quo

Who says women can’t be doctors?:the story of Elizabeth Blackwell by Tanya Lee Stone is a terrific picture book about the first women to become a doctor in the United States in 1849.

It has a pretty typical biography format chronologically outlining Elizabeth’s life. Her childhood and her nature as a child are given several pages.  Despite being a “tiny wisp of a girl” she was supposedly a fairly resolute child who didn't back down from a challenge or a fight.

This quality would stand her in good stead when it came time for her to get into medical school and attending the school once she was accepted.  Neither of these was easy.  Twenty-eight schools refused her admittance.  The school that did accept her, Geneva Medical School in upstate New York, had done so more as a joke.  But her determination to stick it out resulted in her graduating with the highest grades.

That’s where the book ends but the author’s note at the end of the book fills us in on the rest of Elizabeth’s life as a struggling woman doctor.

Elizabeth’s story is an interesting one, showing us the tough road that women had to take to overcome prejudices from both men and women, to pursue their ambitions.  Elizabeth Blackwell is accredited with paving the way for women to become doctors.

Marjorie Priceman’s illustrations have a very airy, fluid feel to them that keeps the story moving, with bright colours and lots of white space.

I would recommend this for primary grades.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Buoyant! Lighthearted! Upbeat!

All good words to describe this breezy book, What Floats in a Moat? by Lynne Berry.

This is will a terrific addition to the elementary science classroom for studying buoyancy, floating and sinking, constructing things and experimentation.

We have Archie the Goat and Skinny the Hen arriving at a castle surrounded by a moat.  Archie, who has a leaning towards a scientific nature, is not inclined to take the drawbridge option, unlike Skinny. “This is no time for a drawbridge.  This is a time for science!” Archie declares.

So, we get a series of trials of different floating contraptions made up primarily of a barrel with various amounts of buttermilk inside.  The S.S. Buttermilk, filled with buttermilk promptly sinks when cast off into the moat.  The S.S. Empty promptly tips over because it is too unstable without any buttermilk inside.  The S.S. Ballast is just right – it floats and sinks!

By the book’s end, Skinny is no longer a skinny hen due to drinking vast quantities of buttermilk and the Queen who lives in the castle isn't too impressed when she finds out that Archie doesn't have her buttermilk.  The life of a scientist is not an easy one.

The illustrations convey the comic sensibility of the story. An author’s note fills the reader in on a famous Greek scientist (of the human persuasion not the goat kind) Archimedes and his principles about water displacement.

This will be a fun and practical addition as a classroom resource.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The truth of the matter

As I was gathering resources around the ‘big idea’ of awakening earlier this past summer, I thought about how travel often ‘awakens’ us to cultural awareness and self discovery and thought I had found a great resource.

Imagine then a fifteen-year-old boy taken from this home on an island around Tierra del Fuego in 1830 and transplanted to London.  What did this boy awaken to?  What did he learn about the people of London?  What did he learn about himself?

 In Jemmy Button by Jennifer Uman and Valerio Vidali, a brief account of the true story of Orundellico (his real name), we can get a general impression of what a culture shock this young man experienced in these circumstances.

And a general impression is the best we get with this picture book.  The experience is described in fairly benign terms, “one day a boat came with visitors”, “they invited the boy to visit their land”, and “one of the visitors opened his hand to reveal a button made from the ocean’s most magnificent pearl.  They gave it to the boy’s family.”

I had a feeling that this was likely glossing over some of the facts.  How likely was it that Captain Robert FitzRoy ‘invited’ Orundellico to visit London?

The book describes the long ocean voyage and what Jemmy would have seen in this vast, bustling city.  It tells of his experiences, which sound like a whirlwind of social events (even to meeting King William IV and Queen Adelaide) and a little of his homesickness.  He eventually returns to his homeland where is resumes his traditional ways, shedding his European clothing and supposedly with “great effort, he learned his native language.”(from last page)

I was left with a lot of unanswered questions after reading this picture book.  A quick Google search fills in a few of the details which are more of what I expected: Jemmy was one of four hostages taken back to London with the idea to educate and Christianize them to Victorian civilities, so that they could be sent back back to their homeland to educate their own people. Very little about this historical episode really fits with the gentle, dreamy story depicted in the picture book.

I know this is a story for children and that this isn't the place to hash out the details of Britain’s imperialistic intentions.  I know the focus of the story is on the ‘wonder’ of being in a totally foreign environment and that by the end Jemmy knows where his home is.  (In reality, it is thought that Jemmy might have chosen to stay in London if given the chance and was initially unhappy at being returned to South America.)

On that level, the story works. Its unlikely children will have the same questions I do and will enjoy the story of Jemmy.  It’s likely they’ll see Jemmy as having a grand adventure.

But I'm left wondering, what’s the point of that when this is based on a true story?

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Sally's Bookshelf for a blog-wide review of nonfiction children's literature.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Making the most of unexpected opportunities

Primates: the fearless science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birute Galdikas by Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks looks at three women who, because of serendipitous circumstances became world famous primatologists.

All three introduced themselves to Louis Leakey, and although none were trained scientists, each impressed Leakey and with his support found funds to send them  into the field, Jane Goodall to Africa to study chimpanzees, Dian Fossey, also to Africa to study mountain gorillas and Birute Galdikas to Indonesia to study orangutans.

Told as a graphic novel, all three stories succinctly cover their initial meetings with Leakey, early experiences in the field, with brief insights into their personalities.  The stories also overlap as the women did occasionally meet.  Their passion for the work in well depicted as well as some of their struggles.

Great production value with glossy pages and coloured illustrations.  Each woman is given a distinct voice and it’s easy to follow the shifts between them.

Highly recommended for grades 7/8 and up.

Check out Nonfiction Monday, a blogging event that celebrates nonfiction children's literature.  This week's event is hosted by Booktalking.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Tripping on life

The academic school year is just underway and Line 135 by Germano Zullo is a great reminder about possibilities.

A little girl is on a train journey to visit her grandmother who lives in the country.  As she passes through the city landscape and countryside, she’s excited to think that one day she will be big enough to travel the whole world.

Is doesn't matter that both her mother and grandmother try to tone down her dream by telling her that that’s impossible, that she’s too small, and  that knowing yourself is hard enough.

But our intrepid future traveler will not be denied.  She holds firmly to her belief that once she’s big enough she will go everywhere, here, there, this way, that way and see the entire world.  She’ll prove to her mother and grandmother that it is possible and that they've only forgotten this.

It’s one of those stories that works for many ages because it captures very childlike thoughts but with a sophisticated overlying meaning about not forgetting what is possible.

The line found in the title of the book is the train line of course, the line that passes through varying landscapes, journeys and ultimately, lives.  To heighten this awareness of lines, all the illustrations are composed of highly detailed, thin, black line drawings.  The only colour is the brightly hued train.

Another book that I've written about  that came to mind when I read Line 135 is Stormy Night by Michele Lemieux.  Both share the same kind of line drawings and kind of touches on the questioning and questing that goes on in the minds of young people. 

One other book that twigged was the Lost Thing by Shaun Tan which touches on how we can lose our ability to see and take pleasures in our lives as we grow older.  (Click here to see past blog.)  Line 135 is less melancholy focused on a world filled with possibilities.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Journey of a traditional artist

Okay, another blog about another Tara Books publication.

Waterlife by Rambharos Jha.

But this one is so beautiful I just had to let you know about it. 

It’s another handmade book with gorgeous textured paper and coloured printed illustrations (you can smell the ink) that are so lush and vibrant they shimmy on the page.  A piece of art you can hold in your hands.  (Has anyone noticed that Tara has started numbering their handmade books?)

The author/illustrator, Rambharos Jha is an artist born in the Mithila region in India.  Growing up, he was influenced by the women who traditionally painted the walls, floors and courtyards of their homes during festivals, participating in a government supported program that gave them opportunities to earn a living from their artistic endeavours.

Rambharos Jha learned to draw by watching.  He came to appreciate the accessibility of the dyes and colours derived from nature, local markets and household detritus (such as lamp soot) that coloured his paints.

Starting with Hindu mythology, his art work reflected these traditional stories while he learned how to detail in a traditional style and motifs.  Gradually, he began to follow his “own creative impulse, and to register the impact, like all artists do, of my surroundings, the place and time I found myself in…I was now beginning to journey into my imagination. I was also working with new colours, having begun to use acrylic paint.  During this experimental phase, I started doing pictures of water…”

In this book, his illustrations reflect the meshing traditional motifs (fish, turtles, crabs, snakes) and traditional line patterning with his interest in the natural world centred around water.
"It is an enormous challenge, even technically speaking: how for instance, is he to show movement using the conventions of an art form that is essentially static?  Rambharos does it masterfully: he adapts the Mithila tradition of signifying water through fine lines but extends it into a complex whorl of eddies and currents.  He solves the problem of naturalism by side-stepping it elegantly, giving his fish, tortoises and crabs and home and habitat in water – while keeping essentially with their traditional symbolic representation.  Sometimes he invents creatures like the lobster who never appear in Mithila art.  At other times he plays with his swans and lotuses as they appear within a conventional Mithila composition." --from publisher, Gita Wolf
This is the journey of many artists. Creativity is about  blending tradition with the artist's own yearnings to create something fresh and of their own.

Highly recommended.  This book is an art piece and could be used with all age groups for that reason alone.  

Today is Nonfiction Monday, a blogging event that celebrates nonfiction children's literature.  Please stop by Wendie's Wanderings for see a raft of reviews.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Enduring Ark

As many of you will know, I'm a big fan of Tara Books, a publisher out of India.  They produce many  beautiful, handmade books that celebrate the traditional storytelling traditions and varied art forms from around the country.  I've tagged several blogs ‘TaraBooks’ if you’d like to see other examples of their publications.

Today’s offering is a retelling of the Biblical story, Noah’s ark, illustrated in the Bengal Patua style of scroll painting.

The Enduring Ark by Joydeb Chitrakar & Gita Wolf is the traditional story of Noah, as instructed by God, building an ark that will hold two of each animal to withstand a deluge that will wipe the Earth clean from corruption.

The ‘scroll’ style book is more accordion-like that can either be flipped page-by-page or opened up and displayed as a panoramic view as the story literally unfolds.  Once you've worked your way through the story you flip the last page over and work through the last part of the story. The illustrations are richly coloured folk art with highly stylized elements.

I can’t say that this is an essential purchase for every collection but the format of the book is unusual and for me, very appealing, which I think may be of interest to children.  Looking at this book because of its art form may be of interest to all ages.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

When less is more

Unless you’re a Retriever.  Then less is seldom good and lots of ball/stick/squeeky-toy throwing is never enough.

Here’s a quick recommendation for the primary grades:  Ball by Mary Sullivan

The inside cover pretty well covers it – “One word says it all: BALL!”

This IS a one word book that conveys the deep seated love and obsession a pet dog has for his red ball.

It is how he connects to the people in his world.  It’s what he plays with by himself to keep himself amused.  It consumes his dreams and his nightmares.

Each page typically has a couple of panels depicting our ball-crazy pooch engaging with his ball, trying to get his people to play ball (baby , cat and mom doing yoga not so much success – young person, game on!) and waiting by the door in anticipation of young person returning home to throw ball (oh, joy!) yet again.

The illustrations aren't all that elaborate.  They convey the dog’s emotions, playfulness and actions very well which is the whole intent of the book.  The colour scheme is pretty low key with muted yellows, greens and oranges expect for the red ball, the red hair of his young person and his dream sequences which are more vivid.  There is no way that you will not know how large this red ball figures in the life of this dog.

Highly recommended.

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