Monday, November 26, 2018

Snow Day Wish

It’s beginning to snow again here in Calgary and it was the perfect time to pick up Before Morning by Joyce Sidman this morning.  Who doesn’t love a snow day?

Besides being a story written as an invocation, it is a story that reminds us of the beauty of a gentle snowfall.  It’s all too easy to grouse about the shoveling, driving conditions and overall inconveniences that snow can bring. And if it’s a snow day and you have kids you likely have additional issues that come with school closures.

The illustrations tell the story of a family with a mother who needs to go to work. She’s a pilot and after making her way to the airport, the snow prevents her flight from taking off. The snow could also prevent her from returning home to her daughter and husband but she hitches a ride on a snow plow and makes her way through the city. Her unplanned day off allows for the family to spend it together, enjoying the snow, tobogganing.

The illustrator, Beth Krommes, conveys a cozy, warm feeling of a family tucked up in their home as beautiful, crystalline flakes gently drift down.  The illustrations of the home are filled with details about living with winter like bulky masses of outdoor clothes, skates, skis, toboggan and lots and lots of mitts. The muted colour palette captures the subdued light, the cloud-blanketed sky and pillowy snowbanks covering the streets. I can’t say enough about how well the illustrator has captured the outside light. This is winter as I know it. You will too, if you live in a place where it snows.  

The text is the invocation that I mentioned earlier. Though not told in a child’s voice, it is the little girl’s wishes for her mother to stay home that is hoped for.  Here are some of her wishes:

Let the air turn to feathers, the earth turn to sugar, and all that is heavy turn light. Let quick things be swaddled, let urgent plans founder, let pathways be hidden from sight. Please –just this once- change the world before morning: make it slow and delightful…and white.”

This book is simple and beautiful.

I highly recommend this for the primary grades for a read aloud and higher grades for poetry units.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

100 Years Ago Today

Today is November 11th, 2018 one hundred years-to-the-day that World War I ended with the signing of the armistice.

The Vimy Oaks: a Journey to Peace by Linda Granfield tells the true story of a young Canadian soldier, Leslie Miller, who fought in France during World War I.  Based on his field journals, Granfield extracts snippets of text that describe his observations and experiences as he goes about doing his job as a member of the Signals Corps.  Many of the excerpts are descriptions of the landscape noting the beautiful woods and large trees or the terrible devastation wrecked on the countryside by the constant bombardment from both sides.  On April 9, 1917 the battle for Vimy Ridge began and while fighting in this area, Leslie Miller collected a number of acorns that had been blasted from oak trees, mailing them home to Canada.

After returning to Ontario, he started life again as a farmer. Miller planted the acorns he had sent home during the war. This becomes significant in 2004 when Monty McDonald, a family friend to the Millers, traveled to France and Belgium to see the battlefields of both wars. He noticed, while visiting the National Vimy Memorial, that the landscape, though green and forested again, was missing oak trees. He wondered if the trees that grew in Canada from the acorns collected by Leslie Miller could be used to re-establish the oaks at Vimy Ridge.
The Vimy Oaks Repatriation Project was launched with the intention of having oak trees once again growing at Vimy Ridge in time for the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, November 11th, 2018. The book describes the process by which the Canadian oaks are being propagated and then taken to France or planted across Canada.
The book has been illustrated by Brian Deines but also contains numerous photos of people, places and things from that time period. I especially love the photo of Leslie Miller’s field journal that shows a couple of sketches he did of the trees he admired and his beautiful cursive penmanship. It provides lots of context that will help readers understand what was happening and some of the significance of those events. The connection between the past and the present is perfectly encapsulated here. 
Also included are a glossary and index.
I recommend this book for the middle grades when doing units about trees, Remembrance Day, Canadian history, World War I but also looking at topics of peace. The planting of these oak trees is such a wonderful symbol of healing, peace and remembrance.
“They will call upon us to remember the past – and a Canadian soldier who once held hope and rebirth in the palm of his hand.” (p.33)

Monday, November 5, 2018

Divergent thinking

Recently, I offered a workshop about children’s literature with a focus on divergent thinking. We looked at how children’s literature can encourage readers to be divergent thinkers as well as model divergent thinking. This can be embodied by the characters in the book or the book itself might be designed in some creative way or tell a story with some element of originality.

I did base some of my workshop on the book by Marianne Saccardi, Creativity and Children’s Literature: new ways to encourage divergent thinking (2014).  Click HERE to read my blog reviewing this book from a couple of years ago.  This was the first time I had run this workshop.

I did modify the workshop a little by introducing some of the thinking behind the new Alberta Education curriculum that is currently being rolled out over the next couple of years.  There is a set of 8 competencies that will span the K-12 curriculum in which I saw components of divergent thinking. These included critical thinking, problem solving, managing information, creativity and innovation, communication, collaboration, cultural and global citizenship and personal growth and well-being. If you’re keen to read more about the new curriculum or the competencies please take a look at The Guiding Framework for the Design and Development of Kindergarten to Grade 12 Provincial Curriculum (Programs of Study) by Alberta Education, 2017.

One of my main objectives in this workshop is getting books into the hands of students. A significant amount of time is given to ‘playing’ with the books (book spine poetry exercise) and then reading books with an eye to evaluating books for embodying some attribute of divergent thinking. I collect their evaluations and will be posting their recommendations on the Doucette Library’s Pinterest page. I’ll create a board specific to this workshop so that students can revisit some of the titles that were featured.

Here are a few student-teacher recommendations:

The Water Walker by Joanne Robertson : divergent thinking attributes include problem solving and taking risks

I’m Coming to Get You by Tony Ross : divergent thinking attributes include being imaginative and a metaphor (“for the destructive nature of people”)

Why Am I Here? by Constance Orbeck-Nilsson : divergent thinking attributes include promoting wondering, problem solving and being philosophical (“starts to create empathy and thinking about things through the perspective of someone else. Subtly brings up the topic of immigration. Love!”)

Who Says Women Can’t be Doctors? By Tanya Lee Stone : divergent thinking attributes include taking risks and promotes original thinking (“Very inspirational story…Good non-fiction information presented in an interesting way that is appropriate for various age groups.”)

There by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick : divergent thinking attributes includes being philosophical, ambiguous and promoting problem finding (“Bigger philosophical question about life/meaning of life.  Can be universally applied to anyone with an imaginative twist.”)

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