Monday, March 20, 2017

Harbingers of spring

Spring is just around the corner here in Calgary. Despite the little snow flurry we had this morning the temperatures are rising and the snow is melting. And the University of Calgary awaits the arrival of a mating pair of peregrine falcons any day now.  According to the webpage dedicated to tracking the falcons, they had already arrived by this time last year.  The falcons have been using a high ledge on a campus building since the mid 1990s to nest and raise their young. Check out their website for more information.

I always feel like the arrival of peregrine falcons is a triumph somehow. As recently as 1995 they were still considered endangered in Canada and now, are ‘watched’ for further decline even as their numbers increase. The pair that resides here on campus always seem successful at raising their chicks and I love to hear them calling to each other as I walk across campus.

This means that I buy many books and artifacts for the Doucette Library’s collection that focus on these exceptionally beautiful, resilient birds. Here are a few recent purchases:

The title of this book, Maggie, the One-Eyed Peregrine Falcon: a true story of rescue and rehabilitation by Christie Gove-Berg pretty much tells the whole story. It’s an interesting story about the lengths that a rescue team go to save Maggie, ensure her wellbeing and eventually, give her a job to teach children about falcons. The many photographs and clearly written short paragraphs make this a terrific classroom resource for early elementary grades.

In Skydiver: saving the fastest bird in the world by Celia Godkin relates how the peregrine falcon became endangered through the use of DDT. A clutch of eggs are taken from a pair of falcons in the wild by scientists who raise them to either stay in captivity to breed or be released back into the wild. We learn about the dangers, resiliency and efforts to save this breed of falcon.  Good for grades 1-4.

Queen of the Sky by Jackie Morris is another recent book but is best suited for higher grades. This is a story of a rescued bird by a woman who nurses ‘Hiss’ back to health eventually releasing her back to wild. The artwork is brilliantly done with woodcuts, watercolour drawings and photographs. The art paired with the narrative of the struggle to nurse the falcon and the growing bond between the bird and her rescuer makes for an interesting story. This is a wonderful book to share with grades 9 and up.

Another very informative book is Falcons in the City: the story of a peregrine family by Chris Earley. This particular family of falcons decided to roost and nest on the balcony of a high-rise building in Chicago. There are some amazing photographs taken from the balcony of the chicks hatching, growing and flying. Close-ups of the birds as they fly and glide by the balcony are captivating. Students in elementary grades will learn all about falcon behavior, habitats, food and challenges to survive in an urban environment.

The last book I’ll recommend is the Peregrine’s Journey: a story of migration by Madeleine Dunphy. Here we learn what it takes for a female falcon to make an 8,000 mile journey from Alaska to Argentina. Again, this book is appropriate for elementary grades.

Pair these books with the Doucette Library’s peregrine falcon puppet, replica skull, replica egg and talon to have a variety of interesting resources to complement this component of your spring unit.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Handful of books

I’ve had a soft spot for this book, Hands by Boris Cyrulnik, photographs by Tiziana and Gianni Baldizzone for a really long time. I often try to find reasons to bring it into my various workshops. It’s a beautiful coffee table book with loads of photographs showing close-ups of activities that hands do every day. Listen to the how the chapters have been organized: Hands of Pleasure, Hands of Beauty, Hands at Work, Hands of the Heart, Hands of Ritual, and finally By Hand… There are many beautiful images here that I think have lots of classroom potential.

Beautiful Hands by Kathryn Otoshi and Bret Baumgarten is a recent picture book that does the same thing; it asks what things will your hands do today? Will they plant seeds? Or maybe plant ideas? Or touch hearts? Will they lift spirits? Or stretch imaginations? Will they reach for love? Or peace, truth, dreams? 
The illustrations are unique using brightly coloured handprints to create images of birds, flowers and butterflies.

Using these two books together in a classroom would provide opportunities to explore the concepts the books embody as well as the actions that these hands engage in. At the youngest grades in social studies in Alberta where the focus is on identity, family, school and community, self, uniqueness and belonging, these books will start conversations. They could also be mentor texts that model work that students can engage in. Having students photograph the activities that they, their friends and family members do every day allows them to develop an understanding about what people do.  Hands, also speak to an individual’s identity and uniqueness.

I love the idea of how we use the word "hand" and the images that come to mind: hands up, hands off, hands on, hand out, hand-me-downs, a hand up, hands on, handful, handy, helping hands, heavy handed, show of hands, ‘talk to the hand’, shaking hands with the devil. What others come to your mind? There is both play and power with these words and the images they create. Hands create but they also destroy. Hands can be loving but also hurtful. Exploring binary opposites is a great way to introduce a kind of tension in a unit that will engage students.

Other books that would tie-in beautifully with these book titles would be:

These Hands by Margaret H. Mason is a history lesson embedded in a warm story about an African American grandfather telling his grandson all the things he could (tie shoe laces, play the piano) and could not do (not touch the dough at the Wonder Bread factory). It’s a gentle story about the civil rights African Americans had to organize and fight for.

Nadia’s Hands by Karen English is about a little girl worried about what her classmates with think of her and maybe tease her about having mehndi designs on her hands in preparation for an aunt’s traditional Pakistani wedding. This story speaks to culture and identity, about being one's self and belonging.

Sister Anne’s Hands by Marybeth Lorbiecki is a favourite of mine. Again its set during the civil rights movement in the United States and shows how a beloved teacher (an African American nun) makes a teachable moment out of a cruel, thoughtless act by one of her students to show how small acts of hate can lead to the big acts of societal discrimination.

Hands & Hearts by Donna Jo Napoli is about a mother and daughter who have a fun-filled day at the beach. They enjoy playing in the waves and sand, building castles and swimming.  They also happen to use their hands to speak with each other. There are 15 words introduced in American Sign Language.

Hands by Lois Ehlert is brilliantly designed with a hand glove shaped book. It speaks to all the activities that the busy hands in this household get up to: Dad is busy making a bird house and Mom is busy sewing. The narrator is given his or her own work space and is taught some the skills that Mom and Dad use in their activities. This book connects with the maker mind set that is now being promoted in schools here in Calgary.

These are only a few that would work well at the elementary level. 

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