Thursday, January 30, 2014

Move over Knufflebunny and Velveteen Rabbit.

There are a whole slew of new kids in town.

Much Loved : photographs by Mark Nixon is a wonderful book that I'm very pleased to add to the Doucette’s collection.

This is a photo album showcasing 65 beloved ‘stuffies’ ranging in ages from 104 to 5 years. The portraits of bears, bunnies, puppies and one giraffe are accompanied by stories that gives varying accounts of the toys’ arrivals, departures and missing-in-action adventures. 

The real power of the book lies in the love that comes across for each toy no matter how brief the narrative is.  It is so easy to make an emotional connection, either through our own childhoods or through those of other children, with these VBFsF (very best friends forever).  And I do mean forever.  Apparently, there are some very indulging husbands who let their wives bring their childhood stuffies to bed.

The portraits are simple, unadorned with only a grey background that lets us enjoy each of the stuffed creatures in all their ugly-beauty.  And some of them really are not much more than tattered bits of cloth, knitting, bandages and fake fur tenuously being held together with thread and memories, I think.  If you’re going to lose your fur, then having it kissed or rubbed away are probably the better ways to have it go.

The actor who played Mr. Bean, Rowan Atkinson also included the bear used in the Mr. Bean series, Teddy, describing the significance the toy had to the character. 

One of stories that made me chuckle was about a newborn being joyously brought home by proud parents, ensconced in his crib and unbeknownst to the mother, tucked in by dad with a ‘manky Ted’ (a handmade teddy bear the husband got when he was born, now very grubby and badly stained by who knows what and I suspect, maybe a little smelly to boot) “beside my pristine newborn! I banished Ted to a shelf in the bedroom, where he now happily stays.” I love it.  I can see how the whole thing played out.

There’s Patsy and Floppy who are two very bedraggled animals, indeed. But the wear-and-tear they've endured is the testament of being well loved and are all the cuter for it.  These stories bring a tear to the eye easily enough.

One of the stories I found very touching was about Johnny’s bear, Mr. Ted.  Johnny was immediately besotted with the bear and went with him everywhere.  Unfortunately, Johnny died just before his sixth birthday.  His younger siblings were born after his death but played with ‘Johnny’s bear’ while growing up.  He too, bears evidence of being loved well with patchy fur, a couple of tears and replacement eyes.  This story is accompanied by a poem Johnny’s mom wrote about Mr. Ted and his place in this family’s lives.

I can’t say I’m exactly clear on how I will introduce this book to student-teachers or which workshops I will bring this to, but rest assured that I will be trotting this one out every opportunity I can.  The artistry of the photographs combined with these narratives is too powerful to pass up.  Children will want to tell of their own beloved stuffies as well as adults.

Check out Mark Nixon's website to view some of the pages and images from the book.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Award winning day

Tomorrow, Monday, January 27th is when the American Library Association (ALA) announces the Newbery and Caldecott winners for children's literature.

Wanna see the excitement?  Click here to watch the announcement live, 8am ET.

Or maybe you want to see what previous award-winning authors think about the awards and the impact it had on their work.  The following video features Betsy Byars, Tomie dePaola, Chris Raschka, Lois Lenski, Jean Craighead George, Virginia Hamilton, Zilpha Keatley Snyder, Janet Taylor Lisle, and Adele Griffin—all of whom won Newbery, Caldecott, or National Book awards.

Or check out Calling Caldecott winners at Horn Book.  It was very tight race between Journey and Mr. Tiger Goes Wild.  Good fun looking at all the nominees.

So, stay tune and fine out this year's winners.

Update: Go here to see the list of winners for this year.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Infographics - part 2

Prior to the holiday break I looked at a couple of books from a series that used infographics to convey information about specific topics.  That series was The World in Infographics.

In this post I'm looking at another series, SuperScience Infographics published by Lerner Publications Company.

I looked at three titles:
Life science through infographics by Nadia Higgins
 Weather and climate through infographics by Rebecca Rowell and
Forces and motion through infographics by Rebecca Rowell.

These are more specific in their scope than The World in Infographics.  With that in mind, each set of double pages focuses on a single aspect of a topic. For example in the book about weather and climate, there are pages that focus on the sun, the seasons, temperature, atmosphere, precipitation, wind, ocean currents and more.  Forces and motion covers topics such as speed, different types of forces, motion (of course), gravity, simple machines and buoyancy.  Life science includes evolution and fossil evidence, habitats, DNA, cells, life cycles, and extinction.

All the books provide interesting information.  The graphics are clear and well done, but on occasion, I thought that some of these seemed to be more like illustrations than an infographic representation.  SuperScience Infographics also includes a glossary, an index and a list of resources (both online and print) for further reading.

Both series are like factoid books in the end, due to the vastness of the topics that they cover.  They make good introductory resources for their intended audiences (grades 4-7 and striving readers).  Overall, I like the first series The World in Infographics more, but I would use and will recommend both series. 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Guest blogger - And she's back

Janet Hutchinson is a colleague and (I know I've said it before) a kindred spirit when it comes to books.  It's always a pleasure to swap notes and insights about what we're reading. Somehow, with Janet around, I'm never short on things to read and my to-be-read-pile never gets small. Also, she works part-time at a local school.  I'm hoping Janet will keep us apprised of what's making the rounds (reading-wise) with the kids there in an upcoming post.

Christmas is….books. And more books

I always look upon Christmas as a time to pause, reflect and read. (And eat chocolate. But that is fodder for another type of blog.) Everyone in my house receives at least one book under the tree – and usually more. Santa can’t restrain him/herself in a bookstore, apparently.  And, of course, I always bring home an armful of books from the Doucette Library, secure in the knowledge that I will get lots of reading done - you know, between entertaining, sleeping and Christmas “stuff”.

The Christmas “stuff” did get in the way of all of the reading I wanted to get done – but I did get some books read. Tammy suggested I do a mini-review of some of them. So here goes:


Words with wings by Nikki Grimes.  Gabriella is a day-dreamer. She daydreams almost all the time – and when her parents separate and she and her mom move to a new part of town, it seems to be the only place where she can go to find some peace. Her day dreaming frustrates both her mother and her teacher - but her teacher finds a solution that helps Gabriella, not only in her school work, but in her dreaming as well. Written in verse, this is a quick and easy read. Grade 4 -6

Rose under fire by Elizabeth Wein – Wein is an incredibly powerful storyteller. Her book Code Name Verity has to be one of the best books that I have read in a long time so I was worried that her second book would be disappointing. Not to worry – she came through in spades, at least for me. This is another book about women in the Second World War – this time written about an American ATA pilot captured by the Germans and sent to the Ravensbruck concentration camp. She meets a group of women – all determined to survive – and the bonds of friendship, the instincts we all have for survival and the hope that lay in all of them form the basis of the story.  It is another intense story – but one I couldn't put down (unlike Verity, where I had to walk away periodically to catch my breath). Recommended for high school and up.

The second life of Abigail Walker by Frances O’Rourke Dowell. I am always looking for good middle school novels and I was hoping that this would be a one. Abigail is one of those girls on the fringe of the circle of the “cool” kids – but when she decides to walk away from the mean girls, she opens up possibilities for friendship that are far more interesting and supportive. She meets Anders and his dad, who is a veteran of the war in Iraq and somewhat fragile as a result, and through her friendship with them, she discovers some of who she is, rather than who others think she should be.  I found some of the elements in the story to not quite fit – there is a fox that winds its way through the story – and that introduces an element of the mystic to the story that does not quite fit (for me). Abigail also has a very unsupportive father and a mother who seems  completely oblivious to her daughter’s predicaments with the other girls – although that may ring true for some girls of that age (the possibility of your parents being unsupportive and/or oblivious) they seem a little too black and white, even for fiction.  Overall, an OK read – but I would not likely go out of my way to recommend it. Grades 5 – 7.

The ocean at the end of the lane by Neil Gaiman – Definitely NOT a book for any one in grade school or junior high, it is classic Neil Gaiman (if there is such a thing). He captures nostalgia for childhood, along with some of the cynicism of adulthood. It is about a middle-aged man, who returns to his childhood home for a funeral, and in doing so, remembers the time when he met Lettie – a nearby neighbour who had a significant impact on him during a particularly stressful time in his childhood. Even writing that down, it sounds kind of mundane – and it isn't, I promise.  The story has an element of mystery and some common sense – and unlike many other books, the feeling I got when I read it seems to be staying with me.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.  OK – a slight confession. This one I read before Christmas. But I liked it so much, I gave it to my daughter for Christmas – so it kind of counts.  Everyone is raving about Eleanor & Park, Rowell’s other book – and I read that one as well (but way back in September, so I can hardly count it as a Christmas read). Fangirl is about the internet phenomenon (can it still be a phenomenon this late in the game?) of fan fiction – stories written by a fan of particular book or TV characters. My daughter was big into this for awhile – and still may be for all I know, which is why I thought she would enjoy this book. The story is about Cath and Wren, twin sisters who were both into fan fiction at one time, both as readers and writers of one particular story.  Now at college, Wren is into other experiences and Cath is left on her own. With a sullen room-mate, an English professor who thinks fan-fiction is terrible, and a father who is struggling with life, Cath is not sure that she can do college and live her own life.  I really liked this book – Rowell is well-versed in the experience of being a teenager and the insecurities and feelings of being not in control. Her writing is measured and I really like her characters and how she develops them.  A definite high school read.

That’s all of the Doucette books that I read – of course, Tammy came into work yesterday and raved about several that she read over the holidays. And then a new order of books arrived. So I have added more to the pile. While I am glad that Christmas only comes once a year, I wish that the time between Christmas and New Years appeared more often than annually. I might get that pile down to a reasonable size.

Monday, January 6, 2014

And we're off...

Happy New Year, Everyone!

I'm back and settling nicely into a different office space which is a partial explanation about why I was thin on postings before the holiday break.

But time off means reading a few books that have been on my list for a while.

The one book I read and adored is Open Mic: Riffs On Life Between Cultures in Ten Voices edited by Mitali Perkins.

Typically, I'm not drawn to collections of short stories or essays but I'm glad I snagged this one.

These 10 authors (some I know, others I was introduced to here) include David Yoo, Gene Luen Yang, Cherry Cheva, Debbie Rigaud, Mitali Perkins, Varian Johnson, Olugemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, G. Neri, Francisco X. Stork and Naomi Shihab Nye. Together they give us insights into the life of people living in socio-culturally complex situations.  Editor Mitali Perkins feels that using humour can ease the tensions that often occur when people talk about race issues.

 Humour has the power to break down barriers and draw us together across borders. Once you've shared a laugh with someone, it’s almost impossible to see them as ‘other’. (p.x)

A few of these entries are funny like David Yoo’s Becoming Henry Lee. It reminded me of Jordan Sonnenblick’s Zen and the Art of Faking It. In both of these stories we have Asian protagonists who take on stereotypical traits to become better accepted by non-Asian peers.  Both boys eventually learn that being themselves is the better way to go; it just might take a bit to out who they really are.

A few of the entries are really poignant.  I particularly loved Brotherly Love by Francisco X. Stork.  It’s about love and acceptance within family.  Or Voila by Debbie Riguad where cultural ‘clashes’ are more like ‘bumps’.

A few of the stories are just slices of life where cultural issues may just be another thing to deal with.  Take Mitali Perkins own story about learning about boys, dating and traditional Indian parents.

All the stories are a pleasure to read.

I would recommend Open Mic for grades 10 and up.

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