The Naked Lady by Ian Wallace
Roaring Book Press/Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2002. 32p. Illus. Gr. 1-6. 0-7613-1596-9. Hdbk. $23.95
Stone Acre Farm has a new owner and young Tom Sims meets the new neighbour when his mother sends him over with a raspberry pie. Tom is startled however when he comes across a giant naked sculpture of a woman, but quickly meets Pieter, the sculptor, who seems to be quite lonely. Pieter corrects Tom that the statue is not naked but nude and that her name is Evangelina. Together with Tom's father, the three "plant" the sculptures Pieter has made of wood and stone in the fields around the area. And soon Tom and Pieter become friends.
Pieter teaches Tom how to work with pastels and how to see the fine detail in the ordinary. And Tom takes a keen interest in the art and is even asked by Pieter to be a model so that he can be immortalized as a young boy. Through Tom visiting Pieter the young boy learns that Evangelina, the naked lady, was Pieter's wife of forty two years and that it was her grandfather who built Stone Acre Farm years ago. Tom comes to realize something that he did not understand before and that is that "Pieter had lit a fire inside of me; I wanted to be an artist too." And while I am not one to usually give away the ending of a book in this one we learn that young Tom was indeed a young Ian and that this, his nineteenth picture book, was dedicated to his first art teacher Pieter.
The illustrations are detailed and intense and serve to add so much to the accompanying text. Ian Wallace has created a wonderful picture book that will be enjoyed by all. A splendid addition to any collection.
Irish Chain by Barbara Haworth-Attard
Harper Trophy Canada, 2002. 213p. Gr. 5-8. 0-00-639215-6. $15.99
Rose Dunlea is having difficulty at school, she just can't seem to get the words in her book to make sense. Rose is actually dyslexic but in 1917 nothing was known about dyslexia and Rose was considered "slow". She is ashamed that she has been held back twice already at school and her teacher claims that most likely she will be held back again. Rose, who is thirteen, wants to quit school and help her mama at home, but her father insists that she must get an education even though the year is 1917 and it is not customary for girls to complete school. As comfort, Rose turns to her mother's Irish quilt which was made by her grandmother. Through the various pieces of material in the quilt Rose can retell the stories which each one represents as they have been told to her. Her younger siblings enjoy her storytelling, however, Rose is still upset about her situation at school and she prays that she won't have to go to school anymore.
When two ships collide in Halifax harbour the next day causing the greatest human tragedy that Canada has ever seen, Rose feels that she is responsible because she prayed she wouldn't have to go to school. Rose happens to be at school when the explosion occurs and she is instrumental in getting quite a number of the children to safety. In addition, Catherine - a girl who mocked Rose because of her learning difficulties - is now the weaker one and is clinging to Rose for guidance. Also her cousin Patrick, who was always teasing Rose, looks to her for answers. During the devastation and destruction it is Rose who shows courage, determination and leadership.
The Halifax Explosion changed life dramatically for Rose - she lost her mother, father, and older brother and various other members of her extended family, two of her siblings were wounded and her baby brother was missing. It was Rose's determination that reunited the family, especially the baby brother who Rose was sure she had seen at the hospital on the first night after the explosion and then later on a street in Halifax. While others tried to tell her he was dead Rose persisted and even went to Truro where many children has been taken to search for him. It was her storytelling at her sister's bedside at Victoria General Hospital that attracted her brother and eventually reunited them.
Haworth-Attard has told a sensitive story of one of the most tragic events in Canadian history. She portrays a vivid picture of the death and destruction which occurred in Halifax on December 6, 1917 and the loss suffered by many families who lived and worked in the north end of the city. She has also told a great story of a young girl who emerged from being the "underdog", being made fun of by her classmates and put down by her teachers, to one who has the courage to deal with the losses her family encounters and the fortitude to rebuild her life. At the end we find Rose telling stories on a regular basis to the young children at the hospital and as she and her sister search through the ruins of their home, she finds her bag of patches which she had been collecting to make her own quilt. Now she will be able to make her own quilt and tell her own stories.
This book will appeal to readers at the upper elementary and junior high levels and will also be useful as a supplement to Canadian history programs which focus on World War I.
Becoming Ruby by Kathy Stinson
Penguin Canada, 2003. 194p. Gr. 8-11. 0-14-301289-4. Pbk. $16.00 (Reviewed from uncorrected proofs)
The blurb on the back of my pre-publication copy of Becoming Ruby does no justice to this book. It describes the heroine as 14 when she is actually 15 and then 16 in the story; it describes it as a timeless coming-of-age story and then says it is "utterly contemporary" when all the internal evidence locates it in the 1960s; and it gives the impression that the story describes just one more banal teenaged identity crisis when the book itself is considerably more subtle than that.
Kathy Stinson does fall into some traps of the cookie-cutter teen novel, however. The present-tense narration is now little more than a YA cliche and adds nothing to the freshness of the presentation of this story. There are also points in the story when a more explicit dating of the events would be helpful. The song titles articulate a setting of a generation ago, but readers without the frame of reference thus suggested may be baffled by other elements of that time: for example, the routine assumption that children under 12 may never visit their mother in a hospital.
Nevertheless, the kinds of battles fought by Nan, who decides to become known by her first name, Ruby, are certainly recognizable to today's young people. Ruby's mother is negative about everything her daughter does or wants. At first Ruby thinks she is being picked on, but she gradually registers that everyone in the family is being made unhappy by her mother's critical compulsions. To Stinson's credit, not every element of the mother's story is clarified or resolved by the end of the story. The automatic family defence of simply not speaking is beginning to dissolve but there is no magic solution on the last page (though there is a happy ending). The sympathetic grandmother dies but Ruby finds ways to come to terms with her grief and to help her little sister. The mother doesn't change completely but does acknowledge that she is not always right. Ruby and her brother begin to develop a detente.
Junior high librarians may be perturbed by the language of the book in one or two places, and some readers may be offended by Stinson's frank descriptions of the messiness (even occasional sordidness) of ordinary adolescence. Nevertheless, this is a story with a great deal to offer to young (probably female) readers. Stinson's observations and insights on family tensions, on youthful sexual desire, and on good-enough solutions are generally subtle and complex.
Why Am I Rare? by Michele Gilders
Red Deer Press, 2002. 32p. Illus. Gr. 2up. 0-88995-274-4. Hdbk. $19.95
This is an excellent informative book about endangered and rare species of animals and plants around the world for both young and experienced readers!
The beautiful photographs depict the creatures and animals in their natural habitat and compliment the written text very well. The information is well organized and creatively displayed on the pages. Animals and creatures who live in habitats all over the world are represented and discussed in this book. Some of the animals/creatures introduced in this book are: tigers, gorilla, pandas, parrots, alligators/crocodiles, elephants, whales and dolphins, lemurs, rhinoceroses, and tamarins. The author guides the readers to participate in becoming actively involved in the preservation of these animals and creatures by including information of how they can help and web sites that they can visit to obtain more information.
A Young Dancer's Apprenticeship - On Tour With the Moscow City Ballet by Olympia Dowd
Raincoast Books, 2002. 127p. Illus. Gr. 7-12. 1-55192-558-3. Hdbk. $29.95
Imagine being only 14 years old and being chosen from an ordinary ballet workshop to dance with the Moscow City Ballet on its tour of Asia and North Europe! A Young Dancer's Apprenticeship is an inspiring true story which follows Canadian Olympia Dowd during her amazing experience which began in June, 1998.
The book is narrated in the first person and begins with Dowd's home life and early dance training in British Columbia. We see her commitment and hard work and smile at such mishaps as the pants of her costume coming undone on stage!
From there, Dowd moves to Russia and we share her reactions to life in Moscow and the tough grind of hours of rehearsals, 6 days per week. We learn also of her personal difficulties, such as struggling to control her weight. The book allows us many glimpses "behind the scenes" and into Dowd's true emotions as her adventure continues.
Much of the book follows the ballet company on their tour of Asia and, later, the United Kingdom. We see details of many well-known ballets such as Swan Lake, Carmen, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker and Giselle, described from a dancer's point of view.
The text is an ongoing, exciting adventure, beautifully illustrated by dozens of large colour photographs taken both on stage during performances and during rehearsals. As well, there are a few press clippings from the tour. There is enough detail to keep a dancer/reader happy, yet the book is not too technical for any average reader.
More than a description of the workings of the ballet, A Young Dancer's Apprenticeship is the wonderful story of a young woman who rises to meet a huge challenge. We share her learning experience which is sometimes a grind, sometimes exhilarating. The highs, the lows, the emotional roller coaster, are real-life feelings to which we can all relate.
Even Hockey Players Read: Boys, Literacy and Learning by David Booth
Pembroke, 2002. 135p. 1-55138-147-8. Pbk. $18.95
Other specifications: 135pp. Includes book lists of recommended books for boys, professional reading and an index.
An attractive format and an engaging text greet the reader with Booth's latest instalment on books and reading. While concentrating on getting boys to read, this volume is extremely relevant to the wider world of literacies available to all young readers today.
Booth asserts, "rather than write [ing] about appreciation of literature, I am choosing to focus on literacy as the goal of developing readers and writers. The term literature refers to one particular and significant art form that I hope, in some form, will be available to the boys in our schools." (25)
He does this in five sections. Booth first explores how a limited designation of literacy has affected boys by comparing their literacy lives with that of girls, looking at male role models for reading, and the ability and access to choice of reading material. Here he also considers the impact of modern technology on literacy practices. The second section looks at helping boys become print powerful and providing workable techniques to aid reluctant and at risk readers. Writing is the focus of the third section where discussions of personal experience stories, drama, poetry and spelling are examined in light of young male students. Next Booth looks at evaluative and assessment measures in regards to male literacy and in the final section, the wider community beyond the school is a consideration in developing and encouraging literacy in boys.
All of the sections are filled with relevant anecdotes from educators, authors such as Jon Scieska and excerpts from children's and young adult novels and professional readings as well as excerpts from Booth's own journal regarding the reading development of his son. Each sector is filled with workable ideas for educators. "Bringing Boys into Literacy" is placed at the conclusion of the five sections incorporating more thought provoking discussion points for engaging with literacy projects. The book also includes book lists of recommended books for boys, professional reading and an index.
Easy to digest, with countless appetizers for developing an appreciation of the different types of literacies and reading patterns in our schools today, Booth's text is complete with reliable and workable recipes to initiate immediately in our classrooms and homes.
Sing out Fire Safety (video) by Mary Lambert
Aquila Films and Video Production/Mary Lambert Productions, 2002. VHS 60 min. Gr. K-6. MLPVHS-8113. $23.00
Putting a serious educational message into an entertaining format is never easy, but in the video Sing Out Fire Safety Mary Lambert does a wonderful job and makes it look easy!
The video is based on Lambert's fire safety performance for schools launched in 1999 and is an educational tool for schools, parents, and fire departments. There are 9 songs which are lively, bouncy and catchy, with refrains that are easy to learn. All songs are up-beat yet each has its own quality which keeps the music from being too much the same and therefore monotonous. To enliven the show even more, Lambert uses colourful costumes, plenty of props, and interesting characters including a caveman, a firebug and a dalmatian driving a fire engine. In addition, we meet some real life firefighters. Audience volunteers of all ages are invited to participate on stage and the songs are all interactive, encouraging the rest of the audience to join in with both words and actions.
Interspersed with the lively and up-beat music are informative messages about fire prevention. We learn how firefighters are dressed and why, how to plan a fire drill and escape route for the family at home, and the importance of smoke detectors. Lambert ends the show with a song which asks "children, teach your parents".
Both children and adults who experience this video will benefit from the fire prevention and fire safety skills which are presented and will therefore not only be safer themselves but will also be able to help others should a fire occur. And all this information comes embedded in a fast-paced and fun music video!
Elliot a peur la nuit by Andrea Beck
Les éditions Scholastic, 2002. 29p. Illus. Gr. 1-2 EFI, Gr. 6 LFI. 0-7791-1618-6. Pbk. $7.99
This picture book is aimed at young readers, as the main characters are n fact, stuffed animals. Elliot, the moose, is afraid to go to bed at night because he hears strange sounds and doesn't know why. He seeks advice from his wise friend "Castorus" who explains the logical reasons or all the different things that go bump in the night. As bedtime arrives, Elliot bravely heads off to his room, trying to focus n getting to sleep without being afraid. Soon after, his friends start rriving in his room as they too, hear a strange noise in the night. Elliot's small bed is crammed full of trembling stuffed animals as they hear the sound getting louder and louder-POOOUCHE, POOOOUCHE, POOOOOUCHE-What could it be? Do read this delightful little book to find out!
What makes this story so much fun to read is most definitely the bright and colourful illustrations of these stuffed animals. The pictures of Elliot when he is afraid capture our hearts and our imagination.