Monday, February 23, 2015

Pink Shirt Day

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015 is Pink Shirt Day.

This is a day to commemorate anti-bullying efforts in schools and was the initiative of two students from Nova Scotia in 2013. After seeing a grade 9 boy bullied for wearing a pink shirt, they went to a local store, bought a bunch of pink tank tops and handed them out to the boys in school the next day.

Great example of student activism, wouldn't you say?

Bullying happens.  It happens a lot according to

Fact: Bullying happens to someone in Canada every 7 minutes on the playground.
“75% of people say they have been affected by bullying.” 
–from PrevNet

We hear lots in the media about it and of some of the dire consequences that stem from bullying.  Remember Amanda Todd and Rehtaeh Parsons as two very recent stories.

Check out ToThis Day by Shane Koyczan, a book of illustrations set to his poem that speaks to the pain that comes from bullying and the heroic effort needed to overcome the fallout. Great list of resources about bullying and anti-bullying at the end.

Mr. Koyczan recorded a reading of his poem on YouTube with animated visuals from dozens of illustrators and is well worth watching.

Don’t forget: this Wednesday, show some pink.

Monday, February 16, 2015

An apology

Dear Former Student Who-is-Now-Teaching and stopped by the Doucette recently,

I’d like to offer you an apology for not having read the novel-in-verse, Crossover by Kwame Alexander sooner.

I just finished reading this year's Newbery winner two days after you came to the Doucette looking for poetry that would engage junior high boys and satisfy the conservative leanings of your school administration and community of parents.

Your idea for using hip-hop sounded very intriguing but I could understand your reluctance to bring it into the classroom because you were worried what the parents of your students would think.  I know you felt a little stymied by this, and had hoped that we at the Doucette Library would be able to come up with something else that might work instead.

I, too, felt a little hindered by this though I’m glad you liked my suggestions of two books of concrete poetry by John Grandits, BlueLipstick and Technically, It’s Not My Fault. I love these books and hope that they’ll work for you.

But I really, really wished I had read Crossover just a little sooner. Take a look at the very first page of this story.

Even I, who am totally disinterested in basketball, can feel the movement, passion and intensity this character brings to his game.  The formatting is brilliant as it captures the moves of the player when he’s in the zone. 

So, Dear Former-Student, I think this book would have fit-the-bill for you.  I think the story would engage your grade 9 boys and satisfy the powers-that-be at the same time. 

There wouldn't be anything too objectionable in the storyline which is about twin brothers who are slowly coming into their own identities causing rifts between them.  Basketball, a passion for the whole family because the dad had been a former basketball star, always drew the boys together. But once one of the brothers starts dating and basketball becomes less of a priority, friction develops.  There is a lot of growth on the part of both boys and this family as a whole
Not all the poems are written as dynamically as the one above but a few are interspersed throughout the book and each carries that strong urban, contemporary vibe without becoming too edgy.

Again, in closing, please accept my apologies for not having read this book just a wee bit sooner.


Monday, February 9, 2015

Perfect Fit

A Bird on Water Street by Elizabeth O. Dulemba is a perfect novel to accompany the grade 6 science unit about trees in Alberta or any unit about trees for the middle grades, for that matter.

Here’s the opening paragraph:

Living in Coppertown was like living on the moon.  The whole area was raw ground, bare and bumpy from erosion ditches cuttin’ through every which way.  As far as the horizon, it looked like a wrinkled, brown paper bag. There weren't no bushes, nor grass neither – no green things weaving through to settle our homes in to the land and make ‘em look like they belonged.  So why did Miss Post bother teaching us about trees when we didn't have any?

Coppertown,Tennessee (circa. 1980s) is based on a real place and was very much a moonscape as described above while the copper mine was operating. The pollution produced from smelting and the resulting acid rain left the landscape bare of any vegetation and void of birds, insects, and animals.  Nylon stockings left to dry outside would be eaten by the rain.  Rain would sting as it hit bare skin.  Lack of vegetation meant that the soil would badly erode whenever it rained, too.  The author includes a few pictures of the town and area to give us a very good sense about the landscape.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

I got very excited as I read this book.  Because…

When I do a workshop about lesson planning for the student-teachers in the education program here at the University, I include an interactive component that requires the students to think about the Alberta Education objective for this particular unit:

Describe characteristics of trees and the interaction of trees with other living things in the local environment.

Not the most electrifying objective out there.  So the challenge is for students to come up with a more interesting question (really, an essential question if the time allowed) that could lead into an inquiry project and excite the imaginations of grade 6 students.

Students come up with all sorts of ideas but one that comes up pretty consistently is “What would the world be like without any trees?”

Hence, my excitement about   A Bird on Water Street.

Throughout the novel, Jack, the protagonist questions why things are the way they are.  He’s interested in nature, curious about plants, insects and birds he’s never seen.  With encouragement from his teacher, he reads about how plants grow and starts a garden. He’s fortunate that the mine is on strike so that the air isn't as toxic as usual and his tender seedlings have a chance to grow.  He doesn't want to be a miner like his father and struggles with the internal conflict he feels to go against family tradition.  There are several plot lines but the one with Jack exploring the natural world as best he can makes this book a perfect fit for a unit about trees.

This book provides an opportunity to introduce a language arts component into a science unit without any effort at all.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Early Reader Round up

Who doesn't like a laugh or two? And what better way is there to encourage new readers than with fun, action and much silliness?   The following three suggestions will pique interest and engage beginner readers resulting in the occasional snort, snicker and guffaw.  

The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale
So-- not your typical princess in pink scenario.   This princess has a secret identity with lots of daring-do.  She’s able to handle a troublesome, blue-horned monster and quell the curiosity of a most –annoying Duchess at the same time without breaking a sweat or putting a run in her black stockings.  This action-packed romp includes lots of brightly colour illustrations contributing to the farcical nature of the story.

Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny by John Himmelman
No one can kick higher, hit harder or throw farther than Isabel, the best bunjitsu artist in her whole school.  But what’s even more important than her martial arts ability is her wisdom.  She would never use her powers to hurt another creature – unless she had to.  “Bunjitsu is not about kicking, hitting and throwing,” she said.  “It is about finding ways NOT to kick, hit, and throw.” So, what could have been a pretty preachy book is one with humour and gentle insights in to life’s challenges and adventures.  I thought her one clever bunjitsu bunny when she outsmarted a boat of greedy pirates in a very non-violent way.

These are part of a slightly older series of early readers but I think the likable characters, silliness and illustrations will engage readers with no problem.  Minnie and Moo are cows living in the country that end up in mischievous situations that always come out right.  Like the night Moo wishes for thumbs and to go dancing.  Well, wish one would be near impossible to grant so Minnie orchestrates wish number two.  After a little gussying-up, the two cows  crash the party of the farmer, mix in, shake things up, and gain two admirers.  Things are going well until Moo starts to eat a hamburger and Minnie suspects that it’s been made from two friends who are missing.  The HORROR!  But don’t worry, Moo isn't a cannibal and all ends well.

All recommended for Kindergarten to grade 2 or 3.

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