Singing the Dark by Gail Sproule
Illustrated by Sheena Lott. Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2001. 32p. Illus. Gr. Preschool - 4. 1-55041-648-0. Hdbk. $19.95
As the summer edges toward autumn, I am always surprised by how the days seem to shorten. It's no longer softly light when the we walk the dog in the morning, no longer bright at 9:00 p.m. As dusk falls earlier in the day, I want to stay closer to home - turn on the lamp and curl up with a book. Our family routines begin to reflect the subtle change.
Gail Sproule's rich prose combines with Sheena Lott's gorgeous watercolours to tell the story of a little girl whose mother has created a wonderful evening ritual for her...singing the dark. Love is reflected in the mother's willingness to take her bed-bound daughter outside, love is reflected in the words the author has chosen to tell the story, and most of all, love shines through the delicate illustrations. I was captivated by the beauty of both words and pictures. The sunset colours which dominate the first few pages ease into the shaded dusk as the darkness deepens. The text is initially quite spare and careful, but as the mother and daughter revel in their shared experience, language becomes poetic. Very young children will want to hear the story over and over, and early readers will gravitate to this book as well. Adults are appreciative of the artistry of the book - every audience will find something to enjoy.
I think this book could easily become a bedtime favourite for both children and adults, and is a sensual delight. I could smell the hayfields and orchards of my own childhood, hear the cricket music and feel the softness of summer pyjamas.
While this book seems to appeal first to young children and their parents as an excellent choice of reading just before bed, it would also be useful as a read-aloud before nap for children in an early education and care setting. Everyone needs beauty and Singing the Dark brings us lovely words and illustrations to set the stage for a gentle sleep.
The Carved Box by Gillian Chan
Kids Can Press, 2001. 180p. Gr. 5 up. 1-55337-016-3. Pbk. $6.95
Fifteen-year-old Callum Murdoch is sent to Upper Canada when he becomes orphaned in Scotland. In Canada, he goes to live with his mother's youngest brother, Rory Murdoch and his family. Before Callum meets his uncle, he has a strange altercation with a stranger in the local inn. Unable to bear the stranger's physical cruelty to his dog, Callam buys her for the two sovereigns he was sent to the New World to give to his uncle. The dog's previous owner hands Callam a small, carved wooden box and tells him Bess will stay with him as long as he keeps the box on his person and unopened.
Callam knows he is a fool to hand over the small savings but he is powerless to resist the pull of the mysterious dog. Throughout Callam's first months at Murdoch's, Dog as he renames her, helps with the work and entertains the children. One is reminded of the Darlings' Nanna of Peter Pan. When an accident breaks open the box, Callam is unprepared for the outcome.
The Carved Box is a delightful tale of life in Upper Canada and of the sacrifices and industry of early Canadian pioneers. It is also a tale of intrigue as the Dog plot unfolds.
This book would make a great novel study for any junior or intermediate elementary classroom.
The Game by Teresa Toten
Red Deer Press, 2001. 208p. Gr. 8-11. 0-88995-232-9. Pbk. $9.95
There are many young adult novels about dysfunctional families, substance abuse, and psychiatric treatment. Truly, we do not need more unless there is some quality that raises them above average. Fortunately, Teresa Toten does not write about or for the "average." As with her first novel for young adults, The Onlyhouse, The Game treats both its characters and its readers with great respect for their individuality and character.
Dani is in Riverwood psychiatric unit for troubled teenagers because she overdosed with pills and vodka. During the course of the novel, we learn about the problems that drove her to such extreme measures. We also learn about life in the unit and meet other teenagers with enormous burdens.
There is little new about the plot of this book for any reader who is familiar with the wide range of "teen trauma" novels. Nevertheless, Toten succeeds in telling the story of Dani's attempts first to forget and later to accept the events of her own life in a fresh and vivid way. It is not a flawless book; the plot turns are sometimes predictable, and the ending is overly neat. Nevertheless, the story feels true and not hackneyed. The characters have three-dimensional quirks and attitudes, so that they feel substantial and real.
Toten has addressed a topic that, unfortunately for all of us, is almost a cliche of contemporary writing for young adults and has achieved a new and highly engaging story out of overly-familiar materials - a very impressive accomplishment.
The Tropical Rainforest by Gerard Cheshire (0-7787-0308-8)
The Poles by Bernard Stonehouse (0-7787-0309-6)
Crabtree Publishing Company, 2001. 39p. Illus. Gr. 4 up. Hdbk $24.95 ea.
Crabtree Publishing has built a solid reputation among educators for their comprehensive collection of non-fiction books. This new series, Nature Unfolds, will not disappoint teachers or readers. The hardcover books employ a highly visual design using double fold-outs lavishly illustrated in full colour with extensive detail.
The Tropical Rainforest, and The Poles begin with a pictorial Table of Contents showing the page layout of the 2 major sections in each book: Swamplands/Rainforest and The Antarctic/The Arctic. Turn the page, and you will be met with a brief introduction and quick regional overview followed by the first of 2 fold-outs that extend the book horizontally, or vertically, for a 4-panel panoramic view of the region (e.g.. The Tropical Rainforest: The Upper Canopy, The Lower Canopy, Understory, Forest Floor). The fold-outs are pure illustration, no text. They show the landscape features and the multitude of flora and fauna which inhabit it in functional, accurately painted drawings. For species identification, a numbered key to the fold-outs can be found following the descriptive pages for each.
The following 8 pages focus on the 4 panels, one at a time. Accurate detail on species is given in easy-to-read chunks arranged around a reduced version of the fold-out, centrally placed, with the featured frame (e.g.. The Upper Canopy) in sharp print and the other 3 (e.g.. The Lower Canopy, Understory, Forest Floor) in faded aspect. The animals are shown in natural poses or activities which are different from their appearance on the fold-out page. Close-ups are used to highlight particularly intriguing details: e.g. a lamprey's teeth, seal's nostrils, baby hoatzin's wing claws. Fascinating facts will delight the curious: e.g. a narwhal's spiralled tusk is actually 2 teeth that grow toward and twist around each other; the tropical rainforest does not go through seasons so trees can produce flowers, seeds and fruit at the same time.
The last page is a Glossary of terms that were shown in bold typeface throughout the book (although there is no instruction to that effect). An Index occupies the inside of the back cover. There is no bibliography or further readings list.
These books will be an excellent research tool for anyone wishing to closely examine the rainforest or polar environments. They are also wonderful for browsing and discovering little known but fascinating facts. The fold-out illustrations appear in some form at each turn of the page, thus eliminating the need to flip back and forth to spot a specific animal in context. The vertical fold-out design is especially effective for depicting the rainforest from the top of the canopy to the forest floor.
Two minor points: experience as a Teacher-Librarian taught me that books with 'moveable parts' have a reduced wearability level in a library setting. I would suggest reinforcing the fold-outs prior to use. Also, it may be well to point out to the youngest readers that the density of species in the functional drawings may give the illusion of 'wall-to-wall' animals, whereas the reality is that vast spaces (especially in the polar regions) mean few animals would actually be seen.
As Near to Heaven by Sea: A History of Newfoundland and Labrador by Kevin Major
Penguin Books of Canada, 2001. 492p. Illus. Gr. 7 up. 0-670-88290-9. Hdbk. $36.00
As Near to Heaven by Sea: A History of Newfoundland and Labrador by Kevin Major is the fourth release in Penguin Canada's provincial history series. This series has been commissioned by Penguin and is being written not by the historians of our country but by some of our literary greats, thus giving a somewhat different perspective to the history of our nation.
In As Near to Heaven by Sea: A History of Newfoundland and Labrador, Major presents a very comprehensive history of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador from six hundred million years ago up to the entry into the 21st century. He has included all the major historical events such as the Maritime Archaic Indians, the Vikings, Cabot's discovery, the patterns of settlement, the variety of governance, religious and educational developments, the entry into Confederation, and the growth and development as a Canadian province. He has, however, included much more. In his telling of the "story" of Newfoundland and Labrador, Major gives insight into specific times with descriptive stories about individuals (e.g. Sarah Kirke, Donald Alexander Smith, Ann Harvey, John James Audubon) and events (e.g. the building of Government House; the sinking of the Caribou in 1942) which are not the general approach for historians. In many cases Major relates events in the context of his own experience, growing up in Newfoundland at a time when it was making the transition from being a British colony to becoming Canada's youngest province. His own opinions and his ready wit show through in many of the anecdotes (which he includes in parenthesis) as he relates various aspects of the history.
While historian's have some difficulty with the fact that these histories do not contain footnotes and detailed bibliographies, Major does acknowledge the research of the many historians and others on whom he relied for much of the factual information in the book. The lack of footnotes certainly gives for an easier read and the publisher's attempt to provide more of a "people's" approach to history allows for more acceptance of this apparent lack of historical format. As Near to Heaven by Sea: A History of Newfoundland and Labrador has a selected bibliography, an index - the previous three releases do not have an index - and a section entitled "Newfoundland and Labrador History ... on the Web, in Video and Fiction and Live!" which gives reference to additional sources of information.
Overall, I found Major's history of Newfoundland and Labrador to be a very interesting and enjoyable read. Even though I had previously studied the province's history in an academic manner and have probed into various records and writings over the years, I still found new information. I feel this work (along with the others in the series) has a major role to play in the study of Canadian social studies, this one particularly in the new Grade 8 history curriculum presently being developed for Newfoundland and Labrador schools. It will be enjoyed by many who are interested in learning more about the history of the province, those who enjoy Major's writing, and I'm sure will be on the Christmas gift list of many current and former Newfoundlanders this year.
Major's book was published in late August and is already on several major best-seller lists in Canada.
Song Writing: A Classroom Approach by Fred Maybee
Pacific Edge Publishing,2001. 40p plus song scores; CD of songs. 1-895110-90-4. Pbk. $29.95
Song Writing: A Classroom Approach is an excellent resource for teachers or for anyone who may be a budding songwriter. Fred Maybee, an elementary music teacher, provides a practical step-by-step guide, including a monthly September-June planner which teachers will find most useful! Maybee has evidently used this song writing unit frequently, for the book contains 26 song scores with words, guitar chords and tempo indications, all of which have been written by students on topics as far-reaching as "Stinky Sneakers" and "Mad Cow Disease". These songs are also available in audio version: a CD of over one hour in length accompanies the book.
The book begins with reasons for song writing and where to find ideas for lyrics. Planning and preparation for the unit include such practical hints as resources which are necessary, training for the teacher and how to promote the idea with administrators. Maybee discusses music (structure, melody, harmony, rhythm, timbre) as well as lyrics (rhyming, poetic devices, imagery). There are obvious ties to language arts, but the lyrics can also relate to any curriculum area students are studying (e.g. "At the Aquarium Zoo", a song about whales, and "Thank You Martin", about Doctor Martin Luther King). Students can therefore summarize what they've learned into lyrics or simply express their feelings on a subject. Science and technology come into play as students actively participate in setting up and carrying out the recording process.
This is a concise, practical and somewhat technical manual about song writing from someone who has "been there, done that". Maybee also discusses how to prepare for a recording session and the equipment and materials necessary to turn a classroom into a recording studio. Also included are suggestions re packaging the final product as a CD or cassette, along with notes about accounting and copyright. A glossary with song writing and recording terms as well as suggestions for using the song scores complete the book.
Seasoned music teachers or teachers with little or no experience will all be able to follow this process and produce music of which they can be proud!
Blast o' Brass (HAM-CD4144); Where the Winds Blow (HAM-CD4111); String Things (HAM-CD4141); Some Drum (HAM-CD4109)
HearAgainMusic, 2001. Gr. K-8. Set $70.00 /Each CD $18.95
Parents or teachers who wish to introduce young children to the orchestra and intrigue them with music should take a serious look at this CD series produced by HearAgainMusic from British Columbia.
This excellent series is a great investment, providing a plethora of information, activities and music. Each CD box actually contains 2 CDs, one instrumental and the other vocal. The 24 songs provide a wonderful introduction for children to the various families of orchestral instruments and the sounds they make. The musical styles include traditional, contemporary and classical and often highlight specific instruments in both amusing and educational ways. Tubas make great elephants! The vocals add interest and allow children to sing along. Many are sung by children and the lyrics, supplied with the CD, are easy to learn.
Author, producer and parent Monika Tusnady has strong backgrounds in both music and education which are readily apparent. She makes practical easy-to-implement use of current educational research and learning theory. Each pair of CDs is accompanied by an amazing, creative 28-page booklet. A wide variety of activities, integrating many of the multiple intelligences, is provided. Every child will find some aspect of these to enjoy since the activities combine music with movement (i.e. dancing, actions), instruments (i.e. making a kazoo or a hand drum), science (i.e. making a rainmaker, dancing raisins), art (i.e. leaf art, a three-cornered hat), math (counting), language (things that are green or begin with a certain letter) and literature in the form of suggested related reading. Although music is the principal focus, children are encouraged to participate in ways that are sure to engage them.
Any adult could make great use of this innovative, simply marvellous series of well-chosen music and prepared activities to share a love and knowledge of music with children through fun and play.
Coquine et Pouding by K.V. Johansen
Illustrated by Bernice Lum. Les editions Scholastic, 2001. Illus. Gr. K-2. 0-439-98608-7. Pbk. $7.99
Coquine, Mabelle's tan-coloured dog with big floppy ears and black curly tail, is inquisitive and very friendly. The kitten she discovers hiding in some bushes is just as friendly and very playful. Coquine brings the kitten home to Mabelle after playing tag all morning in the bushes. Unfortunately, though Mabelle thinks the kitten is very cute, she decides to find her owner, particularly after the two play chase all through the house and break a vase! When the kitten's owner arrives to pick her up, Mabelle can't find her anywhere; Coquine has hidden her in the attic! Finally found, the kitten leaves with her owner, and Coquine is very sad and begins to pout. She has no one to play with, no one to curl up with, no one to chase. She refuses to eat and lays on her mat all day. Mabelle realizes things are serious, so she takes her car keys, saying she'll be back soon. Sure enough, she soon returns, with a purring bundle.
Christened Pouding, the kitten jumps down from Mabelle's arms and chases Coquine around the house. "Outside!" cries Mabelle. The three go out for a walk and encounter a toad - who follows them home...
The sequel to Coquine et Mabelle, this is a charming story about friendship and pets. Children will laugh at the two friends' antics and be delighted at their reunion. The text is quite dense and is probably at too high a level for the age range of the children it is aimed at, but this book can be enjoyed as a read-aloud or a big buddy reading book.