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.

Monday, August 19, 2013

“If you look with new eyes you see new things”

Observation is a key skill in the practice and process of science.  Ask Lee Berger.

In The Skull in the Rock: how a scientist, a boy, and Google Earth opened a new window on human origins by Marc Aronson, we learn about Dr. Berger, a palaeontologist who with the help of his son and an assistant found the fossilized remains of an early hominin, Australopithecus sediba (dates to 1.97 to 1.98 million years ago), adding another significant piece to the puzzle of human evolution.

There is an emphasis in the book about the importance of observation, seeing what’s there and not there, and looking with new eyes at areas that already have been scrutinized. In southern Africa, the Cradle of Humankind decades of work have resulted in what scientists currently believe about the evolution of humans.  It was generally felt that there wasn't much left to look for ground level and research would predominantly continue in science labs.

Dr. Berger, however, using GPS coordinates and Google Earth found a fresh perspective about this very terrain he’d been working in for the last 17 years.  New features emerged that had previously gone unnoticed.  “He and generations of previous scientists had been blind – seeing only what they expected to see.” (p.33)

The book is a fascinating read.  We learn how Lee Berger came to be interested in this field and some of his experiences.  The book is divided into short chapters with lots of photographs.  There is a brief list of resources for further reading and a glossary/index, as well.

The part that I found most interesting was the approach that was being advocated by Dr. Berger.  There is a highly collaborative aspect to his work, an appreciation for how science builds upon the work of those who have come before, and that the next stage of work with these remains is with the scientific community as a whole.  His work and his interpretations are only the start of fully understanding the implications. Lee Berger and Marc Aronson to encourage young readers to continue to follow this story as it unfolds are hosting a website, where current research will be updated.

(**Note: the above link does not appear to be working at this time.  The this link takes you to a cached copy of teaching notes for this book. )

There is also an interactive e-book edition of this book as well that may be worthwhile.  Check out this book review by Horn Book

Recommended for middle grades and higher.

Check out today's Nonfiction Monday Event that celebrates information children's books.  Perogies & Gyoza is hosting today.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Awakening, the next ‘big idea’ OR, Muddling of the mind

Some of you may remember that every summer, at the end of August, before school starts, I present a book talk to a group of elementary teachers around a ‘big idea’ that they've selected to teach to K-6 throughout the year.  The principal calls it ‘a book talk on steroids’.  I think that’s good, right?

This year’s big idea is AWAKENING.

It’s big alright.

Every second kids book can somehow be linked (at least in my head) to this idea of awakening.

Here are a few of the ideas that I immediately came up with:
beginnings, epiphany, perceptions, fresh starts, awareness, new life (nature: spring/seasons, birth, hatching, blooming, budding, etc.) start of the day, new ideas, insight, understanding, enlightenment, openings/openness, revolution (political, Arab Spring).

Here are a few activities, actions, or thought processes I associated with awakening:
creating/creativity, innovating, activism, inventing, blooming, spontaneity, capturing imagination, opportunities, gaining perspective, tapping into the subconscious, critical thinking.

Here are a few of the opposites that I considered important to think about, too:
sleeping, decline/decay, shutting down/out, death(?, underworld stories), ignorance, worry/fear, narrowing.

Those are my thoughts.

When I received the planning notes from the teachers last June I found many of my ideas matched with theirs, which was a relief.  As well, I noticed that this year there was a lot more synchronicity between the grades compared to previous years.  The way I'm interpreting these notes is coming up with a focus on the internal processes of self awareness, mindfulness, living in the moment, awareness of others (as in community and society, local and global), empathy,
how the brain works, and well being. All of this somehow connects to developing meaning and purpose in one’s life.

Each grade also presents some specific ideas that more closely connect with the Alberta curriculum, current events, and Calgary, too.

So back to translating all of the above to books teachers can use in the classroom.  Well, there’s a lot that could potentially work.  Here are a few titles that I think will be solid additions in the classroom:

8th Grade Superzero by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich – Great choice for upper elementary that covers many of the aspects about awakening.

A Bus Called Heaven by Bob Graham K-3, a terrific story that will connect personal action with community.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly. – For grades 5-8. An historical novel that explores the nature of gender, family and awareness of the natural world.

Have Fun Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke. – For grades 3-5.  Nothing like travel to ‘awaken’ one to how other people live and discover things about oneself at the same time.  An African girl comes to Canada to visit her grandmother for the first time.

Home of the Brave by Katherine ApplegateGrades 5-7.  Told in narrative verse, we too experience culture shock as a young Sudanese refuge figures out the complexities of living in a large American city.

I Know Here by Laurel Croza – For K-3 level about really knowing your home and community especially the physical landscape. (Canadian)

Love That Dog by Sharon Creech – For grades 3-6.  Another story told in verse that shows Jack’s deepening appreciation for poetry and how poetry gives him a voice and a way to handle life’s problems.

My Map Book by Sara Fanelli – K-2.  I'm pretty sure I've recommended this one before to the teachers at Nellie McClung.  I use it a lot in many of my workshops.  Works with the geographical thinking component of social studies as well as identity, family and what’s important in this particular child’s life.

Zen and the Art of Faking It by Jordan Sonnenblick – Another good choice for upper elementary that especially touches on identity, empathy and activism with a Buddhist kick.

Monday, August 12, 2013

August 10 for 10: Picture Book Event

Check out the jog created by Cathy at Reflect and Refine Learning Building a Learning Community and Mandy at Enjoy and Embrace Learning that celebrates the top 10, can't-live-without picture books of teachers, librarians and other children's literature aficionados from around the blogosphere.

This is a great place to find out titles both new and classic that capture the hearts and imaginations of both adults and children.  I always come away with a large list of titles to track down for the Doucette Library.  With over 80 participants I can't imagine you won't find a recommendation or two.


PS. To view events from the last couple of years click here.

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