Pippin, The Christmas Pig by Jean Little
Illustrated by Werner Zimmerman. North Winds Press/Scholastic, 2003. Unp. Illus. Gr. K-3. 0-7791-1420-5. Hdbk. $19.99
Another gem from Jean Little, with illustrations by Werner Zimmerman.
Pippin, a young pig, is surprised to find out about Christmas on December 24. She listens to all the animals in the barn boast about how their relatives had been at the first Christmas and the special things they had done for the "child". When she insists that pigs must have been there, too, the other animals scoff at the idea and exclaim, "The very idea! The child was a king. That holy stable was no place for pigs." Pippin leaves the barn, hurt and confused and walks out in to a snowstorm. There she encounters a poor young woman and child and leads them back to the safety of the barn. The other animals learn that instead of boasting about what their ancestors had done, they needed to give of themselves. Pippin's actions remind them "what Christmas is".
A lovely read-aloud for the Christmas season, with the underlying moral that all of us are valuable, even when we think we are too small or not good enough. The watercolor artwork is lovely and a fitting match to the story. I especially enjoyed the many facial expressions that Zimmerman gives Pippin, even on the endpapers.
A good addition to the library or to give as a personal gift this holiday season.
Mud City by Deborah Ellis
Groundwood Books, 2003. 164p. Gr. 5 up. 0-88899-542-3. Pbk. $7.95
Mud City is the third book in the award winning Breadwinner Trilogy. In this poignant and heart gripping installment the audience is reintroduced to Shauzia, Parvana's friend (the main character in The Breadwinner and Parvana's Journey.)
Shauzia is a realistic strong character. She is a self-obsessed 14 year old who is eager to assert her independence, impatiently demanding change and childlike in her frustrations with perceived obstacles as she slowly emerges into altruistic young woman.
Shauzia had left her family and their plans for her arranged marriage to realize her dreams of a better life in France. On her journey, she befriends a dog, Jasper, and ends up in "Mud City", an oppressively hot, flea ridden, lice infested unsanitary refugee camp outside of Pakistan. At the camp, Shauzia 'works' at the Widows Compound, a section devoted to widows and children. Her frustrations with a lack of privacy, no wages, and her crumbling hopes entice Shauzia to rebel and leave the camp for Peshawar. There she hopes to earn money and be one step closer to Parvana and their reunion in France.
While in Peshawar, Shauzia has several odd jobs, and in desperation has to resort to picking through garbage to locate items to sell. As her situation deteriorates she resorts to begging. An encounter with another corrupt adult lands Shauzia in jail after a false accusation. A western English speaking man rescues her after he bribed the authorities to set her free. He invites her to come home with him, and live with his wife and two children. This is a relatively short visit as Shauzia, overcome with quilt at comforts around her, invites the poor and starving from the streets into the family home while they are away. While the family is willing to help Shauzia they are limited in their generosity and they decide she must return to the refugee camp.
At camp, Shauzia breaks her leg in a food riot and has to be inactive for six weeks. She uses this time to reflect upon her life and the plans she had made. She decides abruptly to follow Mrs. Weera back to Afghanistan and leaves her dog Jasper to a young girl who now needs him more than she does.
Ellis creates a compelling and heart wrenching depiction of life in the refugee camps. The experiences of women and children at the hands of oppressive and corrupt people are so tragically exposed. She also draws attention to the implicit western policy of aid and our willingness to help as long as it doesn't greatly impact us. While the topic is quite serious Ellis does not horrify the audience, rather she demands a contemplation of our opinions and actions and our commitment to our global neighbours. She ends in the power of hope.
The book also contains a glossary and background information on Afghanistan. And, demonstrating her commitment, Ellis has donated the royalties from this book to Street Kids International, an organization working with street kids around the world.
The Initiation by Virginia Francis Schwartz
Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 2003. 268p. Gr. 6-9. 1-55005-053-2. Hdbk. $22.95
Virginia Francis Schwartz is the author of (among others) If I Just Had Two Wings, which won the Silver Birch Award for Historical Fiction. The Initiation is just as excellent, if not more so. The setting for the story is the West Coast of North America, during the fifteenth century. The Kwakiutl tribe is a Pacific coast aboriginal tribe whose whole society and cultural fabric are based on harvesting the salmon, especially during their great treks upriver in spawning season. In the centre of the story are twins - Nana and Nanolatch - the son and daughter of the chief of the Kwakiutl. Soon into the story you realize that the twins have been marked for greatness. This fate would not be revealed until their initiation into adulthood, which would take place in about two year's time. The story begins with the fishing territories of the Kwakiutl being invaded by a neighbouring tribe - the Salish. Worse than this, the Salish had not returned the sacred salmon bones to the ocean where they belong. This was considered both sacrilege and taboo by the Kwakiutl. "The Way", or the spiritual and cultural foundation of the Kwakiutl had been violated or broken. Revenge must follow in order to appease the spirits. War was declared on the Salish. This resulted in the slaughter of the unsuspecting Salish and death of 'first uncle', an important relative in the life of Nanolatch, the chief's son. On their return, the Kwakiutl warriors brought back a slave 'Noh', whose mother was a shaman. She was a seemingly speechless girl but she would ultimately act as a spiritual guide for the twins in their rite of passage or initiation into adulthood.
Schwartz is able to weave both the cultural and spiritual influences of the Kwakiutl and the lives of the twins into a compelling, mythical tale. We learn how important "the Way" is to this tribe. The environment is revered and respected. Above all else, the abundance of nature and its ability to provide for the tribe must never be abused or taken for granted. The massacre of the Salish did not appease the spirits. The existence of the Kwakiutl as a tribe became jeopardized as salmon catches dwindled. The twins searched for their path into adulthood. Nanolatch would lead the tribe after his father. Nana was to marry into a neighbouring tribe but this fate both terrified and appalled her. She was certain that her fate called her to a greater destiny - one that would affect the very existence of her tribe and one that was intimately connected with the salmon - the lifeblood of the Kwakiutl. Noh, the Salish slave girl helped the twins find their path through their initiation. "The Way" could be restored only after great sacrifice. Only by restoring "The Way" and the tribe's intimate connection with the spirits would the Kwakiutl survive.
This book would be an excellent read aloud and novel study in the Grade Six Social Studies Program. The illustrations reflect the Kwakiutl's deference to both the elders of the tribe, their spiritual connections and the environment. It would also be very useful in examining the cultural traditions of rites of passage in an intermediate setting.
Canadian Dinosaurs (A WOW Canada! Book) by Elin Kelsey
Maple Tree Press, 2003. 96p. Illus. Gr. 4-7. 1-894379-55-1. Hdbk. $22.95
How can you study a species that has been dead for millions of years? Nobody has ever seen a dinosaur yet many people worldwide continue to be fascinated with them. Did you know that a unique combination of factors has made Canada one of the best places in the world to study dinosaurs? "A great place to live, a great place to die, and a great place to be found" is what makes our country a world leader in the discovery of dinosaurs. Award-winning author and scientist, Elin Kelsey takes us through a journey of immense proportions in this fascinating book about dinosaur discovery in Canada.
The format of Canadian Dinosaurs presents chapters in a two page spread that utilizes an interconnecting mixture of photographs, artwork and information. For example the chapter entitled Theropods: The Canada-China Connection contains: one drawing of a Velociraptor fighting with a Protoceratops; one "Working Togethei" segment discussing how Canada and China have discovered new species of dinosaurs; one "Dino Profile" of the Velociraptor; a two paragraph discussion on why it is hard to find smaller carnivores in Canada; and two photographs, one of a Velociraptor skeleton, the other of Canadian and Chinese palcontologists in the Gobi Desert. While this may seem to be an overload of information Grade Two students eagerly flip through the pages to see their favorite dinosaurs while Grade Six students were enthralled with the fact that "real people are dinosaur scientists".
Carefully researched and painstakingly written this book contains some of the most recent discoveries and theories about dinosaurs. It was subjected to a scientific review board of research scientists before it was published. It alerts the reader to some of the most controversial challenges to old theories and assumptions about dinosaurs. The list of dinosaurs finds and institutions along with the dinosaur timeline makes this a must have resource for any school library.
The Road to There: Mapmakers and Their Stories by Val Ross
Tundra Books, 2003. 146p. Illus. Gr. 6 up. 0-88776-621-8. Hdbk. $29.99
In this fabulous, informative book about the history of mapmaking, Val Ross spans the 12th to the 21st centuries. She highlights the lives of King Roger II of Sicily and his friend Al-Idrisi, a Muslim scholar from North Africa; Cheng Ho of 14th century China; Prince Henry the Navigator; Gerard Mercator; the Cassini family of 17th century France; Captain James Cook; Alexander von Humboldt, a 19th century German naturalist; Lewis and Clark; John Murray, a Canadian who mapped the sea floor in 1872-74; Pundit Nain Singh, who, disguised as a Buddhist pilgrim, mapped the forbidden Tibet and Nepal; Phyllis Pearsall who mapped the city of London in the mid 1930's; and the many people who contributed to mapping earth from the atmosphere.
Each chapter begins with an exciting present tense bold-typed description of a predicament the mapmakers found themselves in. The text is broken up with photos of maps, locations and people that clarify and extend the text. Beautifully bordered and shaded boxes add additional information pertinent to the chapter. In the chapter on von Humboldt, who climbed and mapped Mount Chimborazo in South America, for example, is a box on measuring altitude. The chapter on Lewis and Clark contains a boxed section explaining how native people used mental maps. The final chapter on "Mapping from Above" sets out in a box the work of astronomer Margaret Geller, who mapped the positions of 10,000 galaxies.
Most fascinating, of course, are the maps themselves, which reveal Mercator's secret: "maps are never purely scientific. Mapmakers select what seems important and leave other things out. Maps always reflect their maker's beliefs." From the oldest map still in existence, a Babylonian clay tablet showing Babylon as the centre of the earth, to the NASA aerial photograph of city lights across the globe, mapmaking is clearly about how maps' authority creates power and control over territory. Maps reflect the reality that we want them to reflect and that, of course, is why they are so compelling.
Ross' text is thorough, yet clear and easy to follow, giving enough information but not overwhelming the reader with too much detail. The writing is compelling; the reader is drawn quickly into the drama around maps and the political history that advances ideas and knowledge or did not. It is amazing to be reminded of the years it took to produce credible maps, not to mention the travelling, the personal danger and the political machinations these early mapmakers endured. Although this is a non-fiction book, it reads like a gripping novel: you just have to turn the page.
The Road to There is also a beautifully designed book (by Terri Nimmo) with the cover a glowing photograph of a map of Africa from the Catalan Atlas. Each page is numbered and bordered by a flowing scripted line at the bottom of the page. The chapter's title is below this line on the left hand page and the chapter's subtitle is below it on the right hand page. Further Readings details material the reader may want to consult, tied to each chapter. A good index, table of contents and photo credits add depth to the text and illustrations.
Anybody interested in history, geography or maps will glory in this book. Teachers could integrate it into geography or social studies lessons. But it is very accessible to the reader who just picks it up because it is a beautiful book and then can't put it down because of its amazing stories.
A World of Music by Charlotte Diamond
Hug Bug Music, Inc., 2003. 106p. 0-968199-5-X. Coilbound $25.00
A World of Music provides written music and lyrics from selections of several of Charlotte Diamond's award-winning recordings and videos.
Each song contains the notes for melody on keyboard instruments as well as chords for stringed instruments. Many of the songs are provided in more than one language. English, Spanish, French lyrics as well as sign language sketches are presented. All the songs include suggestions for presentation ideas and followup activities. Lists of related songs about the theme of the song are also provided. A bibliography provides related language materials and companion books.
Charlotte Diamond advises use of the PRIZE method of song teaching with children. (i) P - Use props and puppets and drama so that the song appeals not only to ears but also to eyes; (ii) R - Use rhythm. Get the kids moving. Ms. Diamond claims this movement makes the lyrics of a song or chant easier to learn and remember; (iii) I- Imagination - stimulate creativity, add a sense of wonder and discovery not only with the song but in introductory and followup activities; (iv) Z - Zipper songs - write new songs by adding variations to those learned; (v) E - Echo - The easiest way to teach a song is to sing a line and have children sing it back until the song is familiar to them.
A World of Music presents an excellent collection of songs with appeal to pre-school and primary grade children. The PRIZE method offers early years teachers ideas for enhancing other songs with new teaching techniques. This collection would be an invaluable aid to early years teachers. Its coilbound format, large print and useful illustrations for sign language provide a ready-made classroom teaching aid. Topics discussed by the various songs are valuable themes for early years teaching. The addition of a bibliography provides extensions for the songs which would save teacher preparation time.
Atanarjuat:The Fast Runner
Directed by Zacharias Kunuk. Inuktitut with English subtitles. National Film Board of Canada, 2000. VHS 161 min. Gr. 10 -12. C0401 023. $39.95
This film is truly unlike any other. Atanarjuat: the Fast Runner is an epic story of good versus evil. This is a common and timeless tale but what makes this film different is that it was filmed in Inuktitut and directed by Inuit filmmakers.
The story begins in the eastern Arctic in ancient times when a shaman causes a rift between two hunting families in a small nomadic Inuit community. Rivalry and ridicule replace the spirit of partnership between two hunters. Time passes and their sons reinstate the rivalry. Brothers of one family, Atanarjuat and Amaqjuaq confront the Oki, the evil son, of the other family. The balance of power shifts when Atanarjuat wins the hand of Atuat, the promised wife-to-be of Oki. This has tragic results when Oki seeks revenge. Atanarjuat flees across the sea ice. Atanarjuat faces both natural and supernatural enemies in his journey. Eventually he returns to find a way to bring back peace and harmony to his community.
The cinematography is stunning. The landscape is, at times, bleak and in other scenes, beautiful in its simplicity. The props and costumes are historically accurate. The intensive research done prior to the film has resulted in a legitimate depiction of the ancient Inuit way of life. This film has won nineteen awards, both national and international, including the Camera D'or at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival.
The film is appealing at many levels. As a historical mystery it is an excellent film to be viewed for recreational purposes. As an academic study of the Inuit people it is both accurate and interesting. Atanarjuat: the Fast Runner is an example of the timeless universal story of good versus evil. The film in itself is an excellent illustration of superior cinematography. The film is recommended for both public and high school libraries. Due to some of the content it is strongly recommended that the film be previewed.
Zak, le fant™me by Alain Bergeron
Illustrated by Martin Goneau. Soulières éditeur, 2003. 110p. Illus. Gr. 5-6 EFI, Grade 8-9 LFI. 2-922225-83-6. Pbk. $9.95
Zak, le fant™me is the 25th novel from Alain Bergeron and is a part of the Collection Chat de Gouttière. Is this another Halloween story about ghosts and the like? No! After close examination the text reveals a touching story about a grade six boy who was tragically killed walking home from school one day.
Zak, short for Zachary, thirty years earlier, had stayed after school one day to review for his math final. He wasn't paying attention while walking home as his head was full of math strategies that his teacher had just gone over with him. Unfortunately, he met his untimely demise and hence never had the opportunity to write his arithmetic final. Because of this he found his ghost trapped inside his grade six classroom until he could find the opportunity to finally write this exam.
Zak is finally discovered by Patricia during a Halloween party. She keenly notices that there appears to be an extra pupil in the classroom who turns put to be Zak the ghost. He befriends Patricia as she seemed trustworthy and reveals himself to her after leaving several spooky yet harmless signs in the classroom. He gains her trust finally by saving Patricia from the bullying tactics of the not so friendly classmate, Thomas Masse. Patricia proves to be a true friend to Zak and goes to great lengths to track down a thirty year old copy of the math textbook. During her quest she discovers a string of interesting details and coincidences about her chance encounter with her friendly ghost. Her successful mission concludes in a happy ending to this tale of friendship, family death and challenges that meet sixth graders. Bergeron blends these complex issues skillfully into this story making it not only entertaining but thought provoking for readers of this pre-adolescent stage of life.
The black and white sketches are scattered throughout the novel. They are simple but expressive. The first chapter is actually presented in comic format which works well to reel in the reader and take away that sometimes daunting task of breaking into the first few lines of a sixteen chapter book. At the end of the novel you will also find a math test complete with answers that Zak had to pass in order to free himself from the classroom and reunite with his mother and father in the spiritual life.