Out on the Prairie: A Canadian Counting Book by Cora Taylor
Illustrated by Pat Stephens. North Winds Press/Scholastic, 2002. Unp. Illus. Gr. Preschool-2. 0-439-98840-3. Hdbk. $19.99
How fortunate for readers that one of Canada's most established children's fiction authors has turned her pen to picture books as well. Cora Taylor's adaptation of Over in the Meadow has all the warmth of the original verse, and Pat Stevens, who has illustrated several non-fiction books, interprets Taylor's verse with beautiful acrylic full-colour, double page illustrations.
Each verse begins, "Out on the prairie" and presents a series of mother animals commanding offspring to carry out various activities. As in the original rhyme, the animals number from one to ten. From the mother and baby antelope leaping in the warm spring sun to the mother coyote nuzzling with her ten babies as she softly admonishes them to go to sleep, the depiction of mother and baby animals is gentle, while the little ones show spunkiness that children will identify with. Meadowlark babies sing "Tweet-a-bow", tadpoles wiggle, baby deer mice squeak and squirm " 'neath a tangle of twine". The individuality of each baby and enjoyment of activities with the mothers is so nicely portrayed by Stevens, making this a good choice either to share with a child or to read aloud. The illustrations also give many details about the animals and their habitats.
As an added bonus for the little researchers, Taylor includes a small description of the Canadian Prairie and of each of the animals presented in the book. For the teacher who wants to add a little zest to the topic, musical notation is included.
Rachel - Book Two: The Maybe House (Our Canadian Girl Series) by Lynne Kositsky
Penguin Books, 2002. 83p. Illus. Gr. 3-6. 0-14331-208-1. Pbk. $7.99
In the first book about Rachel, A Mighty Big Imagining, ten-year-old Rachel arrives in northern Nova Scotia with her mother, where they reunite with Rachel's stepfather, Titan, after escaping a life of slavery in South Carolina. Their joy at gaining freedom in a safe new home is lost when they arrive, for the land they are given is barren and they don't have enough to eat. The Maybe House picks up where this first story about Rachel left off. Rachel's family, including her baby brother Jem, has spent months living in a terrible pit house. They have no room to move and the roof leaks. Rachel imagines the beautiful new house they should be living in and can't understand why the family can't move. Then, thanks to her stepfather's remarkable hard work and stamina, Rachel's 'maybe house' becomes a reality. The family settles into their new home and Rachel's other dream, to learn to read and write, even begins to come true.
But, while Rachel's family and their other black neighbours are beginning to settle into their new lives as free citizens, the atmosphere in Shelbourne, Nova Scotia becomes increasingly intolerant and violent. De-listed white soldiers, unable to find work, begin to look with resentment upon their black neighbours. The tension mounts in Shelbourne, until one night the angry words turn into violent actions and result in Rachel's new home being destroyed.
The Maybe House tells the story of freedom and oppression, and shows today's readers that intolerance and discrimination are something that Canadians have had to deal with for over 200 years. Rachel discovers that even in Nova Scotia, where she is free, there are people who "don't like her kind". The reader shares in Rachel's hurt and anger and frustration while at the same time cheering for Rachel when she makes peace with the boy who is going to teach her how to read. The Maybe House can be read by itself, or combined with the first book about Rachel, and will undoubtedly lead readers to think about issues like racism and tolerance. I highly recommend this book to any school or public library.
Tribes by Arthur Slade
Harper Trophy Canada, 2002. 134p. Gr. 7 up. 0-00-639170-2. Pbk. $15.99.
Arthur Slade demonstrated his talent for crafting tales of suspense and the supernatural with the Governor Generals Award-winning novel Dust and the popular Northern Frights series. Now, with his latest novel, Slade has shifted gears to produce a story about high school students during the week before graduation that showcases his flair for honest psychological portrayal and wryly humorous observation.
Tribes is told from the point of view of Percival Montmount, Jr., an aspiring anthropologist who has taken on the task of documenting the habits of his high school classmates and the "tribes" in which they congregate. Percy himself does not belong to any tribe except the Observers, a group whose only other member is his friend Elissa. Percy's role as impartial scientific observer is one he takes very seriously, we learn, because he is carrying on the work of his father, a well-respected member of the anthropological community who used to regale his young son with tales of dangerous exploits in exotic locales. Unfortunately, Percival Montmount, Sr. has been dead for three years, the victim of black Azazel sickness contracted from a tsetse fly in the Congo.
Or so Percy, Jr. tells us. As the story unravels, we discover that our narrator is not as reliable and detached as he would like to be. His scientific collaboration with fellow observer Elissa, for example, includes an element of romantic feeling that Percy tries to disregard. Further, both Percy and Elissa are struggling to move on after the suicide of their friend Willard. It is hardly surprising, then, that we gradually pick up clues that Percy's famous father is dead only to his unhappy son. As Elissa, Percy's mother and school officials attempt to get through to Percy, Slade is able to make readers simultaneously share the narrator's observations and grasp the concerns of those around him.
Percy's anthropologist act can be a bit much: on occasion, his comments become annoying and the humour becomes stale. Most of the time, though, Percy's observations are sharp, and likely to make any student (or former student) both smile and wince. Who does not know the Jock Tribe, the Lipstick/Hairspray Tribe, or the Logo Tribe? On the whole, this novel casts a fresh look at adolescents' relationships with their peers and their families, making for entertaining and thought-provoking reading.
Breaking Free: The Story of William Kurelek by May Ebbitt Cutler
Tundra Books, 2002. 32p. Illus. Gr. 5 up. 0-88776-617-X. Hdbk. $21.95
Few Canadian school library collections are without at least one of William Kurelek's books of paintings; they have been in print since the early 1970s. In a similar format, this presentation of the artist's life is written by the founder of Tundra Books, the publisher who first persuaded Kurelek to create children's books. Written in a straightforward, accessible style that compliments the honesty of the art, it is an inspirational account of the lifetime struggles of a man who had a single-minded determination to be an artist. He succeeded against powerful odds; poverty, low self-esteem partly due to his lack of skill with the English language, and a father whose expectations Bill never felt he could meet. At one point in his life, his drawing became a form of therapy, a way of coming to terms with his past.
The book is liberally illustrated with colour, and black and white samples taken from Kurelek's published work and from private collections. The range of paintings covers the various stages of the artist's life and experiences, including his prairie home, his job in a logging camp, his family life and religious beliefs, and his concern for immigrants like his own family who worked hard to make a new life in an unfamiliar environment. His best known works, perhaps, show the limitless prairie horizon that reflected his personal outlook: "He painted the Prairies stretching on forever to meet even greater skies." Kurelek died at the age of 50, in 1977.
This is an excellent resource to introduce children to Canadian art and artists. It would compliment social studies units on the various aspects of Canadian history that Kurelek chose as topics in his own books of paintings.
Canad and the Nobel Prize: Biographies, Portraits and Fascinating Facts by Harry Black
Pembroke Publishers, 2002. 120p. Illus. Gr. 6-12. 1-55138-150-8. Pbk. $18.95
Author Harry Black has filled a niche in Canadian biography. In this title her has put together a reference that provides information on the Nobel Prize and its connections to Canada. In the introduction, the author explains his objective in writing the book and the three categories he used for the profiles that were included. Category One consists of Canadians; Category Two consists of "Sort-of" Canadians, people who were born in Canada but did most of their work elsewhere, (Saul Bellow); and Non-Canadians who did some of their significant work in Canada (Ernest Hemingway). This is followed by a description of the Nobel Prize and a biography of Alfred Nobel which includes an excerpt from his will.
The main part of the text consists of biographical profiles of twenty-two individuals and one organization that have received the Nobel Prize. Each profile consists of a black and white drawing by the author followed by a one to five page write-up on the recipient.
This title is a user-friendly resource of Canadian biography that would have its place in the libraries of schools having upper elementary, middle school or secondary grades.
The Reading Teacher's Handbook by Jo Phenix
Pembroke Publishers, 2002. 80p. Reproducible pages. 1-55138-145-1. Pbk. $18.95
Jo Phenix is a widely-known and well-respected professional who devotes her time to supporting teachers' language arts practice. Her latest work, The Reading Teacher's Handbook, is designed to help beginning teachers, or those who are looking for ways to improve their teaching skills.
The book is well-organized, and divided into seven chapters. Beginning with an overview of the reading process, the author goes on to discuss the importance of paying attention to the reading environment, shares tips on choosing appropriate reading material, and highlights various ways of reading a specific selection. The last three chapters are devoted to developing comprehension skills, language skills, and encouraging the reluctant reader. Two sections of reproducible materials are also included - one for students and one for teachers. The latter section also incorporates materials which teachers might share with parents.
Phenix emphasizes two key points: the importance of being knowledgeable about a variety of ways to help children learn to read, and the necessity of using real books. "Instead of choosing a methodology and sticking with it, we must develop a repertoire of techniques to teach children how to access the meanings in print, reflect on these meanings and respond appropriately" (p. 4). Examples of using drama, visual arts, conversation and writing to support literacy development are used throughout the handbook. Teachers will appreciate the effort Phenix has made to provide suggestions which can be used with diverse groups of children whose needs vary.
The Reading Teacher's Handbook is exactly what it purports to be - a resource which can be used to "dip into" for new ideas, an affirmation of good practice, and a guide to ways of helping children be successful readers and writers. It is not a compendium of research, although Phenix has drawn on research results to support the strategies she suggests. It doesn't champion a specific approach to the teaching of reading, but rather shows teachers how all aspects of literacy are related.
I found the chapter on reluctant readers especially interesting, because Phenix gets right to the heart of the matter. She readily admits that the time children spend reading in school isn't adequate to help them become fluent readers, and that the most important goal is to encourage children to become individuals who will choose reading as an activity. She addresses two issues - lack of interest, and lack of success. Her suggestions for helping children become more confident readers are varied, feasible for both classroom and home settings, and respectful of the resources children and their families.
A good addition to any classroom teacher's resource shelf.
Ultrabug Cliposcope: Interactive Media Literacy for 9-12 year olds
National Film Board of Canada's kids site Ultrabug Cliposcope introduces students to a fun and easy way to use animation software and make your own movies "in just a few clicks". Using Flash animation (Flash 5 plug-in is needed for viewing) the site introduces us to Ultrabug, an interstellar cockroach superhero with, of course, ultrapowers. An elite solider of Planet Gub-Artlu (get it?) Ultrabug has a mission to protect cockroaches on Earth. Various icons provide background information before you create your own animations. He has an alter-ego, a girlfriend Jenny, and an archenemy, Bertha the Spider. Once familiar with the background information you can create your own clips of Ultrabug's adventures.
Navigating this site involves using pop-up menus and hyperlinked icons. Kids who are computer savvy won't have any trouble navigating their way around this information landscape. A "click to begin" button takes you on a guided tour of the site and you can view clips already created before making your own. Clips you make yourself can be saved, edited, and e-mailed and if you're really keen you can submit your clips to the Cliposcope screening. Registration is easy and involves no "real" identification of students beyond a username and password you make up yourself.
While geared to a much younger audience (ages 9-12) than high school students the site is a great way to get students involved in animation software. Everything is run by the cursor and pop-up menus, so students don't do any actual programming. But it is a quick and easy way to create animations and users do have a certain amount of creative control over the process. They can choose how much time to spend on it and choose how the animations move and interact. It is like a scaled-down version of Adobe Premiere and involves no programming such as that needed for Logo software like MicroWorlds. The Guided tour takes you through everything you need to know. It goes pretty fast but can be accessed anytime for review.
The only concern here would be that students would find the Ultrabug scenario somewhat tiresome even irksome after a few visits. However, the site does provide an introduction to animation software without too much investment of time or money. For accessibility and a good introduction into computer animation production the site rates: Good
Is the Crown at War with Us?
National Film Board of Canada, 2002. VHS. 96min. 31 sec. Gr. 10 - 12. C9102 117. $39.95
Imagine a fine calm day on the water, hauling lobster traps. Something that your people have done for centuries. When out of nowhere arrives Department of Fisheries and Oceans vessels ramming and chasing you down. Helicopters are overhead, friends are in the water, traps are cut while others are confiscated, rocks are thrown and people are arrested. Sounds like a scene from a motion picture. Unfortunately, for the Mi'kmaq people of Esgenoopetitj (Burnt Church) Nova Scotia, this was a daily occurrence in the summer of 2000. In a conflict that made national headlines, the Mi'kmaq people were prevented from lobster fishing by a trio of aggressors: The Coast Guard, The Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and The Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Despite developing their own Fishery Management Plan, the Canadian government continued to take a hard line using force to intimidate the Mi'kmaq people knowing that in 1993 The Supreme Court of Canada stated that the Mi'kmaq could continue to fish during their ancestral season.
Documentary film maker Alanis Obomsawin presents a compelling examination of the events which occurred in the summer of 2000. Using beautiful Miramichi Bay as the backdrop, Obomsawin delivers an insightful view on the complex relationship between Canada and her First Nations People. With the use of footage illustrating tiny vessels being rammed, chased down, and in one instance being bolted over, the viewer can easily observe the dangers the Mi'kmaq people of Esgenoopetitj faced as they continued to fish their ancestral waters. Is the Crown at War with Us? is a very captivating, eloquent, and powerful argument outlining the position of the Mi'kmaq people and the injustice they faced. Although some may see the documentary as a one sided show case of the events, nonetheless, it informs the viewer of the gravity of the situation.
For the most part, this video can be incorporated into the social studies curriculum, especially in the area of first nation rights. Some background information may have to be discussed prior to watching this film.
Lili Tire-bouchon et ses cochons de neige by Phoebe Gilman
Scholastic, 2002. 36p. Illus. Gr. Pre-School - 3. 0-7791-1423-X . Hdbk. $15.99
It has snowed overnight, so Lili and her friends are anxious to get outside and play. But Lili's Mom insists she wear a hat and it's nowhere to be found. Finally, Lili comes up with a makeshift Martian hat and everyone is off to make snow angels, to make snow sculptures, and to sled down the hills. But as the afternoon goes on, Lili loses her scarf, then her mittens, and finally her hat as well. They likely won't be found until the snow melts in the spring!
Children will enjoy the winter antics of Lili and her friends, colourfully illustrated by Gilman. The story is told in rhyme with a "refrain" every time Lili loses something more. With all the snowy fun, bright colours and references to Martians, this book is sure to please.