Alphabeasts by Wallace Edwards
Kids Can Press, 2002. unp. Illus. Gr. Preschool - 4. 1-55337-386-3. Hdbk. $19.95
Winner of the 2002 Governor General's Award for Children's Literature, Illustration, this beautiful book is so well done and full of surprises that it's irrelevant how many splendid books in its genre have preceded it. The full-page watercolour and coloured pencil illustrations present a house full of animals, some exotic such as the Mandrill and Quetzal, some common ones, including the Lion, Giraffe and Hippo. Each appears in luxurious positioning, from the alligator slumped in a brocade chair, "awake from a dream" to a Xenosaur on a white stool, next to a tipped inkwell "composing a letter".
"I spy" fans will spend hours poring over lavish illustrations with hidden oddities, such as a cat looking in a mirror and seeing the reflection of a tiger. As an added temptation, a key which appears on the copyright page can also be found in some of the pictures (...or maybe all of them...I'll have to keep looking). Even the house, portrayed with slight variations at the start and end (a great spot-the-difference exercise), has elements of the animals who live inside, such as a foundation with an elephant's paw and a zebra-striped roof.
The book is a wonderful starting point to discuss artistic juxtaposition, characteristics of animals (such as camouflage), exotic wildlife or just about any excuse you can think of to present a stunning work that will win kids over. Surprisingly, this is Wallace's first picture book. He demonstrates a good knowledge of how to present art to kids in a vibrant, fun manner.
Parvana's Journey by Deborah Ellis
Groundwood Books (Douglas & McIntyre), 2002. 199p. Gr. 5 up. 0-88899-519-9. Pbk. $7.95
The situation in Afghanistan has made life unbearably difficult for citizens in a variety of ways that we can barely imagine. These harsh realities somehow seem even worse when viewed through the eyes of a child.
In this sequel to The Breadwinner, Parvana, a 13-year-old girl who often must masquerade as a boy, has lost touch with her mother and siblings and her father has died. Parvana therefore finds herself forced to be self-sufficient. To complicate matters, she discovers a baby and later on befriends two other children. This little group of young refugees is challenged to meet their basic needs of food, water and shelter as they wander through war-torn Afghanistan searching for help or, even better, family.
Ellis's writing is sympathetic and understanding but she does not wear rose-coloured glasses. The hardships are described clearly and honestly in straight-forward prose. The book is often sad and might be hard for some children to deal with. This is a haunting story which would be best for mature children.
Parvana and her friends naturally question the nature of war and what causes it. They wonder why it is necessary and why so anonymous. In the end, Parvana represents the strength and courage that we all trust we could call on in times of struggle and she symbolizes the hope we must have in children if the world is to become a better place. No doubt most readers will eagerly anticipate yet another book in the series to find out what happens to Parvana, her family and friends.
Royalties from the sale of Parvana's Journey go to Women for Women, an organization to help women in Afghanistan.
True Confessions of a Heartless Girl by Martha Brooks
Groundwood (Douglas & McIntyre), 2002. 210p. Gr. 8 up. 0-88899-476-1. Pbk. $12.95
Late one evening, in the middle of a July storm, Noreen arrives in Pembina Lake. She'd run away from home, moved in with a young man she'd met while hitchhiking, stolen his money and truck and run away from him, and now here she is in Pembina Lake. She's also, she discovers, pregnant. Linda, the café owner, takes her in. Noreen almost kills Linda's dog, almost burns down Dell's cottage - destroying his only photographs of his dead brother in the process - and puts a very large hole in the wall of Linda's café. But what the reader comes to realize is that Noreen isn't really heartless. She's not even truly careless. What she is, is thoughtless. Noreen acts without thinking and the results bring grief and trouble to her and to those around her. Supported by Linda, Dell, Dolores, and Mary, Noreen begins to grow up. While the story doesn't have a happy ending - Noreen has a miscarriage - it does end on a hopeful note as Noreen begins to make thoughtful decisions.
What an excellent novel! Brooks has been awarded the 2002 Governor General's Award for Children's Literature, Text for this novel and it certainly demonstrates her literary gifts. True Confessions of a Heartless Girl is sad, tender, poignant, hopeful -and powerful. There is love here, and compassion and, in the end, it is these qualities that make redemption possible.
True Confessions of a Heartless Girl could be a wonderful class novel for grades 9 or 10 Advanced English classes and perhaps even for a grade 11 College level course. It would also work well as a selection for independent reading.
The Big Book of Canada: Exploring the Provinces and Territories by Christopher Moore
Illustrated by Bill Slavin. Introduction by Janet Lunn. Tundra Books, 2002. 256p. Illus. Gr. 5 up. 0-88776-457-6.Hdbk. $39.99
Given the "Seal of Approval" by the Canadian Geographic Society, award-winning author Christopher Moore has once again created an outstanding book about our country, Canada. The Big Book of Canada: Exploring the Provinces and Territories is, as Janet Lunn describes in her introduction "not intended to be a comprehensive geography or history of the country. Instead it is a kind of gazetter of Canada's provinces and territories. Christopher Moore is well known for his knack of ferreting out fascinating and little-known facts and stories to highlight his historical works, and here he has put these facts and stories front and centre to create a compendium of informative and entertaining chapters about Canada's ten provinces and three territories". For example did you know that the woman who inspired the musical The King and I once lived in Nova Scotia; when Newfoundlanders say "fish" they mean cod; that in 1908 in an attempt to protect the traditional way of life Prince Edward Island banned automobiles; that Montreal is one of the key places in the world where French-language software is being developed; that in Churchill, Manitoba you can take a bus tour to see polar bears; that Alberta has government rat catchers who work along its borders with British Columbia and Saskatchewan to ensure that certain species of rats do not enter the province; that Robert Service was a bank clerk, not a gold miner, who was sent to Dawson City by the bank in 1904 after the rush was over; that in many Nunavut communities a career as an artist is almost as common as one in teaching, hunting or nursing.
So much for the trivia! In its 256 pages this book provides a wealth of information about Canada's provinces and territories. Organized by province/territory the book moves through the country in an east to west direction and then west to east through the territories. It features a chapter for each area with information about landscapes (the natural features of each region); moments (key historical dates ); peoples (the native population and population growth over time); on the map (key cities and towns); work (natural resources and key industries of the area); famous and infamous (key colourful figures from the past and present); law and order (a brief political history); the region at-a-glance (a summary of key information including date founded, population, capital city, etc.); a recipe for some food speciality of the region and a final page which includes information which is unique to the province or territory. The book includes 150 modern and archival photographs and 120 original illustrations by Bill Slavin which compliment the text and add great visual appeal for the readers. Sidebars (styled after the Canadian flag) provides snippets of information throughout. A bibliography arranged by region and a comprehensive index is included.
As with Moore's previous book The Story of Canada (which won the Mr. Christie Book Award), this one is very well-done. Presented in a style which will appeal to the younger reader, it will also be welcomed by older readers and even adults. The reading level is easy yet not condescending. The information is accurate and well-researched. The format of the book encourages browsing, yet because of its organization and its index it will be a great research source. This book can be used in Canadian social studies programs at the elementary, junior high and high school levels. It will be welcomed by teachers and students alike. It is highly recommended as a purchase for school and public libraries or as an addition to family collections about Canada.
Reel Adventures: The Savvy Teen's Guide to Great Movies by John Lekich
Annick Press, 2002. 173p. Gr. 10 up. 1-55037-735-3. Pbk. $11.95
In Reel Adventures: The Savvy Teen's Guide to Great Movies, Lekich combines his expertise as a movie critic with his love of movies and a sense of humour to provide a movie guide that is certain to appeal to teens. Lekich reviews 250 movies, which he divides into five groups: Getting There; The Great Escape; Think About It; Fright Night; and Just For Laughs. Lekich comments on an incredible variety of titles, including classics, blockbusters, and just about everything in between - everything from The Adventures of Robin Hood (the 1938 version with Errol Flynn) to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. For each movie he provides title, year, director, principal actors, plot synopsis and opinion, a memorable moment or line, and the message of the movie. For some films, he also suggests related titles.
This is a wonderful movie guide. In fact, it could serve as the equivalent to a reader's advisory resource for video store clerks. Reel Adventures is certain to appeal to movie fans from grade 9 to adult. I suspect the publisher's suggested age of 17+ has more to do with movie ratings (which Lekich doesn't note) than with the appeal of this book.
Reel Adventures is most likely to be used by students outside of class, for browsing or to satisfy personal interest. It could be a useful supplementary resource for media literacy or production classes. English teachers who want to suggest ways for students to extend thematic studies might also find this a useful resource.
The Literacy Principal: Leading, Supporting and Assessing Reading and Writing Initiatives by David Booth & Jennifer Rowsell
Pembroke Publishers, 2002. 128p. 1-55138-146-X. Pbk. $18.95
The improvement of literacy in any school depends on two types of expertise: expertise in the content of literacy and expertise in leading the change process (Michael Fullan, 2002). In this comprehensive and timely resource book for principals, educators, David Booth and Jennifer Rowsell, delineate clearly and weave together these two expertises, demonstrating how they are both necessary and critical ingredients in fostering successful literacy change and growth throughout any school. They present meaningfully the major elements that comprise the content of a comprehensive balanced literacy program: cueing systems, stages of reading, literacy across the curriculum, assessment of literacy, as well, the major fundamentals in leading the change process: principal leadership, principal as instructional leader, a strong professional community, time for change, in-school and district professional development, support for teachers, program focus, and support of parents and their community. As Fullan states in the Foreword, "literacy education, like any innovation, requires change leadership." Leadership is the driving force behind change. Thus, successful literacy-based school change depends on the effective merging of the theory and practice from both fields of study: literacy teaching and learning, and school change.
The purpose of The Literacy Principal is to provide support to school principals as they journey with their teachers in and through literacy-based school change. The support Booth and Rowsell offer principals is provided through "rooted" practical ways to create school communities where literacy is the "bedrock of the curriculum". In such communities, the authors maintain that the principals need to lead from within, they need to establish new reasons and new ways to examine literacy programs empowered to make decisions. As well, all staff members need to be part of the school team, forming a literate community, and become researchers - reflecting and assessing their teaching and learning experiences, and making decisions about their school's literacy initiatives.
In the writing of this valuable resource book, Booth and Rowsell interweave the theoretical with the practical and explore a different aspect of the knowledge and skills necessary to become a more effective literacy principal in each chapter. Their first chapter describes the five main categories of change factors required for implementing the process to create a literacy-based school. The second chapter outlines the essential literacy principles and practices underlying a well-balanced literacy program, followed by a chapter which focusses on the necessary strategies for the successful implementation of literacy initiatives. Chapter Four explores the need for strong assessment and evaluation program to monitor literacy and provides various models and tools for such assessment.
Throughout each chapter there are additional features that ground its contents in reality. To set the chapter's tone and focus, a thoughtful, reflective quote by a school or university administrator is cited. In addition, to highlight a specific principle or factor, a "snapshot of a literacy principal" is shared. At the end, a valuable list of thought provoking questions for professional reflection and a bibliography of current professional readings related to the chapter's contents are provided. Closure is effectively brought about by a voice of a present or former principal sharing her or his experiences with literacy-based school change.
The Literacy Principal, written in a personal narrative writing style, is a comprehensive and informative resource for new and experienced principals sharing with them what they need to know and do to create a literacy-based school.
Early Canadiana Online
Early Canadiana Online, a division of the National Library of Canada, is a comprehensive site showcasing early Canadian publications and historical documents including colonial, federal, and provincial government publications. According to its web site: "Early Canadiana Online (ECO) is a digital library providing access to over 1,145,000 pages of Canada's printed heritage. It features works published from the time of the first European settlers up to the early 20th Century".
The site consists of several collections, each with a particular scope and focus. The Canadian Women's History collection, for instance, contains documents written by or about women describing Early Canada and the experiences faced by women there. These records cover a range of topics from everyday life to the struggle for a more prominent place in society. Although many collections are accessible to the public, some are restricted to members and can only be accessed by subscription. However, membership is free to educational institutions.
As a database, this one is valuable for its accessibility to materials that are too valuable to maintain at school libraries. The interface is clean, familiar and easy to use. Searching can be done by full text, author, subject or publisher and by Boolean search techniques. The search results include a bibliographical citation (author, subject, etc.) and hyperlinks to each page of the document, which can be viewed and printed. The retrieved document can be converted to a PDF file for printing and individual pages can be bookmarked. Navigation is easy and familiar with arrows to point you back or forward in the search results. Images can be rotated and zoomed in on for better viewing. One caveat: because the images are in OCR format and not a text file, the search results may not be comprehensive (not all characters may have been correctly read by the OCR programme).
This rich, diverse site is a valuable especially at the senior high school level. It is an excellent resource for the Canadian History course, for example. For accessibility to primary source material and easy search capabilities this site rates: excellent.
In the Shadow of Hollywood, Parts 1, 2 and 3
National Film Board of Canada, 2002. VHS. Gr. 7 up. Part One - 51 min. 143C 910- 037; Part Two - 47 min. 143C 910-038; Part Three - 46 min. 143C 9100 039. $39.95
In this three-video series the director Sylvia Goulx explores various aspects of Hollywood. Organized by different producers, the videos each explore a different era and theme related to Hollywood.
Part One is a travelogue conducted by an elderly gentleman who enthralls this young female companion with stories of the way Hollywood was when it first began. Part Two explores the issue that Hollywood does not have a sense of history and time. The narrator argues that European arts possess this sense of time and pace whereas Hollywood is a "place without memory". Productions can be made to look as if they were anywhere and any time. Part Three explores the world of media and more specifically how media creates reality. The narrator states that small children can tell within minutes of a production's beginning who are "the good guys" and who are "the bad guys". She states that cinema creates issues that are black and white with no grey areas.
Although there is some interesting material in this set of video tapes dealing with Hollywood there are also several problematic areas. First, the tapes are all in French with English subtitles. Although the French is excellent, only French First Language and French Immersion classes in media would find these tapes useful. Next, the narrator mode for all three tapes gets a little tiresome. Finally, the videography is not outstanding in any of the set. The photography shows areas of Hollywood particularly appropriate for Part One, but, the clarity is flawed and, thus, the pictures take on a somewhat blurry consistency.
The topic of Hollywood itself may be of some interest to a media class but I cannot imagine a teacher's using all three parts. This would involve almost three hours of viewing one narrow aspect of a media course.
For all of the above reasons, I would not recommend purchase of this set for either a central audio-visual department nor for a school library.