Volume 8, no.5 - June 2003

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Picture Books

  • Good Morning, Sam by Marie-Louise Gay

    Groundwood Books/Douglas & McIntyre, 2003. 25p. Illus. Gr. Pre K- 2. 0-88899-528-8. Hdbk. $14.95

    Rating: E

  • Marie-Louise Gay has given her legion of fans another book about the charming Stella, and her equally irresistible brother, Sam. The simple text presents a brother-sister dialogue early one morning, as Stella tries to help Sam get dressed for the day. She accepts his need for independence, but helps when needed -- for example, when Sam is sure that his pajama top won't come off because his "...head grew bigger in the night"! Upended in a bureau drawer to look for underpants, searching for a disappearing sock, or seeking suggestions about where the missing shoes might be, Sam demonstrates his need for a helping hand (or voice). But, the tables are turned when, going out the door, Sam is able to remind Stella about something she has forgotten to add to her apparel.

    Marie-Louise Gay is an award-winning illustrator whose spirited, colourful work has graced books written in both French and English. In 1984, Gay won the Canada Council Illustrator Price for a French-Canadian book (Drôle d'école) and the Canada Council Illustrator Prize for an English-Canadian book (Lizzy's Lion). She has also won the Amelia Howard-Gibbon Medal twice, and the Mr. Christie's Book Award for The Fabulous Song (1996). In the late seventies, she attended the Academy of Art College in San Franciso. The bright colours associated with this Pacific city continue to be evident in Gay's work, eye-catching and cheerful. Good Morning, Sam features watercolours and ink paintings which reflect Gay's cartoon-like approach.

    I enjoy Gay's books very much - Stella and Sam are interesting, lively characters to whom children can relate. As with all of the book's Gay has written and illustrated, Good Morning, Sam is an excellent selection for storytime in any environment designed for young children - preschool, early school years, library programs or after-school settings. Beginning readers could read to younger children or independently, and adults will enjoy the inherent humour of the book. Good Morning, Sam offers children an opportunity to think about self-help routines - sometimes we need help and support, sometimes we can provide that to others. While the back cover proclaims this as "a small Stella and Sam story", readers will see that Sam plays a key role - the power shifts from Stella knowing everything - Sam can help, too.

  • Thematic Links:Sibling Relationships; Independence; Routines
  • Kathryn McNaughton
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Fiction Grades 3-6

  • All the Way to Mexico by Norma Charles

    Illustrated by Monika Melnychuk. Raincoast Books, 2003. 158p. Gr. 5-7. 1-55192-598-2. Pbk. $10.95

    Rating: E

  • Jacob Armstrong, a twelve-year-old boy, along with his older rebellious sister, Minerva, has become part of a blended family. Their mother has just married a man named Fred Finkle. Fred has two sons of his own, Barney and Sam. Together the family of six has crammed into an old pale blue Mercury Montego station wagon and are on their way to Mexico for a honeymoon.

    The three Finkles and the three Armstrongs are in for an interesting road trip from Vancouver to Mexico. Jacob is obsessed with soccer and keeps his soccer ball with him at all times. He treasures the soccer ball because it was a gift given to him by his father before he was killed in a car accident. Minerva would rather be any place than with her family and is plugged into her CD player most of the time as a way of blocking them out. Barney tells non-stop jokes about cows, dreams of being a comedian and tends to annoy Jacob a lot. Sam plays with his action figures and also annoys Jacob. Jacob's mother and ne father act like "honeymooners" and this is an embarrassment to Jacob as well.

    As the trip progresses, Jacob wonders how he will ever cope during this trip. He dreams of being a famous soccer player some day and hopes to meet up with some children in Mexico to play a soccer game. Unfortunately Jacob's plans do not materialize, however, the family does have an interesting trip. The children learn to appreciate each other and deal with difficulties as they arise.

    This is an excellent story to read aloud in class. Students will easily identify with the issues of blended families and sibling rivalry. They will also recognize the importance of dreaming for the future and having plans. The story is humourous and keeps the reader wondering what will happen next to the children. The colourful over illustration done by Monika Melnychuk depicts many important aspects of the story such as firecrackers, a robot figure, the pale blue station wagon, a tent, headphones, a cow and of course, Jacob.

    This book would be an excellent addition to a youth library collection.

  • Thematic Links:Blended Families; Soccer; Humour
  • Elaine Rosepad
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Fiction Grades 7 - 12

  • Tapestry of Hope: Holocaust Writings for Young People by Lillian Boraks-Nemetz & Irene N. Watts (compilers)

    Tundra Books, 2003. 237p. Gr. 7-12. 0-88776-638-2. Hdbk. $24.99

    Rating: E

  • What is more heart breaking than the position of Jewish children in Europe during World War II? Confused and abandoned, often given into the hands of strangers or torn viciously from their parents' arms, these children, whether real or fictional, are living testaments to the human determination to survive. Editors Boraks-Nemetz and Watts have compiled a haunting collection of life stories in the form of plays, poetry and prose that will create a lightening rod of understanding for today's teenagers for whom World War II is ancient history.

    Tapestry of Hope has an evocative cover of an older child holding a bouquet of flowers. The background is blurred out and the reader can't distinguish any facial features of the child, who represents every child. The book is divided up into nine sections: Hiding, Loss and Exile, Selection, Ghetto, In Flames, The Camps, Resistance, Identity - Family Secrets, The Holocaust and After. The entries can be read one at a time, one section at a time, or in one horrifying, mesmerizing sitting. Kathy Lowinger, a Tundra editor, provides a thoughtful introduction in which she reminds the reader that no matter how dreadful the persecution of the Jews, there is hope for humanity if we light "matches" of hope that chase the night away. A simple but clear Timeline of the events leading up to the war and WWII itself (1933-45) is placed after the entries. An extensive list of Further Reading concludes the book.

    Some of the entries are excerpts from novels (The Secret of Gabi's Dresser, My Canary Yellow Star, A Time to Choose, Lisa) while others are excerpts from non-fiction (Tell No One Who You Are, Hana's Suitcase). These are chosen for their dramatic, heart-stopping moments when young children or teenagers dredge up their deepest bravery and face the madness of the Nazis. Most compelling, of course, are the true stories of Holocaust survivors, the pain of loss still a dark ache in their writing voice today. Readers will be touched by these victims' perfectly ordinary lives - how they were carefree and loved by their families until war separated them.. Particularly gripping are the stories of Robert Krell and Marion Kaufmann, who barely remember their parents when they are re-united after the war. Many of these Holocaust children were taken in by complete strangers who, at risk to their own lives, saved Jewish children who would otherwise have perished. Some children moved from orphanage to orphanage and it is important to remember that a vast network of determined, courageous people worked to save the lives of thousands of Jewish children. Often we see the loss that war creates directly through the eyes of the children as they stare hungrily at toy trains in shop windows and then fifty years later, safe in Canada, buy a similar toy train to play with grandchildren. They achingly re-read their mother's final letter. Or a careless Polish neighbour looks on the burning of the Warsaw Ghetto and remarks, "Look, the Yids are frying" as a girl whose parents are in the ghetto stands beside him but can say nothing because she is impersonating a gentile. The poetry chosen is not easy to read, nor is it superficial or trite. Symbolism (for example, in "The Ghost Town of Kasimierz" or "Shhh") may prove difficult for younger readers, but the spookiness and terror in the poetry are accessible by all. The most chilling sections are the survivor statements, short, true, accounts of individuals who escaped death but not the suffering of the loss of their childhood.

    Highly recommended.

  • Thematic Links:World War II; Holocaust; Jewish history
  • Joan Marshall
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Non-Fiction Preschool - Grade 6

  • Why Animals Show Off by Peter Cook & Laura Suzuki

    Illustrated by Ron Broda. Scholastic Canada Ltd., 2003. 28p. Illus. Gr. 1-3. 0-439-98861-6. Pbk. $7.99

    Rating: E

  • Many animals blend in, subtle and subdued in their surroundings. Yet others are brightly coloured, can rapidly change shape and size and often make strange noises when disturbed. Science authors Peter Cook and Laura Suzuki call these animals the "showoffs". Why such a pronounced difference? There are many answers which are simply revealed. Colourful patterned fish, birds and insects show off in various ways for various reasons. Mammals often show off by their behaviour, for example by showing strength. And how about people, do we show off?

    The limited text is very informative yet simply written. Illustrator Ron Broda uses paper sculpture and watercolour to create a dynamic three-dimensional effect. Large vivid images on each page enhance the information provided, and the brightly coloured illustrations are very appealing.

    This book would be a valuable resource for animal studies in Gr. 1-3 especially, focusing on subjects such as camouflage, adaptation, poisonous animals and survival. The striking illustrations could also be an excellent reference for art projects.

  • Thematic Links:Science- Animals; Art
  • Carolyn Cutt
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Non-Fiction Grades 7-12

  • William Lyon Mackenzie King: Dreams and Shadows (The Quest Library) by Lian Goodall

    XYZ Publishing, 2003. 182p. Illus. Gr. 9 up. 1-894852-02-8. Pbk. $15.95

    Rating: G

  • Goodall's biography of King joins the eighteen biographical titles already published under The Quest Library imprint of XYZ Publishing. This latest addition follows a pattern which is giving the series wide appeal for easy-to-read information together with high interest. With a smooth flowing, narrative prose, Goodall uses journal-type entries to relate the life of one of Canada's most famous prime ministers.

    With his family background and childhood years summarized in the prologue and first chapter, Goodall relates the story of Mackenzie King's life in more detail at age seventeen when he enters the University of Toronto. The novel-like style absorbs the reader into the life of a remarkable, if somewhat eccentric, person. King's political life spanned the two World Wars, history which still interests many young people today. The image of power politician becomes more rounded as the reader discovers the more ordinary man - his life shaped by a close family and affected by the grief of the early loss of his mother, father, sister and best friend. In the context of the whole person, his involvement with spiritual mediums and séances seems part of his brilliance rather than a bizarre oddity.

    For young adult audiences this book will be very useful for historical research projects. The index will guide the student to the needed passages. However, the student may then find themselves absorbed into the highly readable prose and fascinating story. Adult readers will enjoy this book for the same reasons.

    With its strong narrative, non-fiction style this series is telling the facts of Canada's history in a most absorbing and appealing manner - like a story.

  • Thematic Links:William L. Mackenzie King; Prime Ministers; World War II; Politics and Government
  • Linda Irvine
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Professional Resources

  • Portfolios Matter: What, Where, When, Why and How to Use Them by Shirley-Dale Easley and Kay Mitchell

    Pembroke Publishers Limited, 2003. 96p. 1-55138-151-6. Pbk. $18.95

    Rating: G

  • The combined effort of two veteran educators, Shirley-Dale Easley and Kay Mitchell, produced Portfolios Matter. This is a comprehensive resource that examines the practical aspects of using portfolios and student led conferences as part of a balanced assessment approach. In six chapters, organized using a question and answer format and concrete examples, the authors lead teachers through a logical progression of information that, when followed, should provide a roadmap to successful implementation of this authentic form of assessment.

    In chapter one the reader is led to examine several very convincing examples that illustrate the need for concrete evidence to support report card marks if educators are to clearly represent what students know and are able to do. This is followed with suggestions about how to lay the groundwork for portfolio assessment. The important and often problematic issue of teaching students how to self-evaluate their work is addressed well. Chapter three discusses the common practice of keeping work files and suggests how this practice can be augmented to reach portfolio status through student participation in selection and self reflection. The student examples in this chapter clearly illustrate the depth of reflection that is possible when students are expected and shown how to participate in documenting their own learning. The final chapter provides a wealth of information on student-led conferences as a method of sharing portfolios. The practical management tips included throughout this recourse will enable teachers to avoid the many pitfalls that they would undoubtedly experience if trying to implement portfolios without guidance.

    When the range of information presented is examined, it is obvious that the suggestions in this resource are based on a thorough knowledge of what teachers need to know to successfully implement portfolios in the classroom. Teachers will be especially appreciative of the student examples, useful checklists, quick tips and "from the files" examples because they successfully bring portfolio implementation to life. I would recommend this as a valuable resource for any teacher considering a move to portfolio assessment.

  • Thematic Links:Assessment; Portfolios
  • Marg Ryall
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Internet Resources

  • Canadian Children's Illustrated Books in English by Judith Saltman, Kathryn Shoemaker, and Gail Edwards

    http://www.slais.ubc.ca/saltman/ccib/home.html

    Rating: G

  • The Canadian Children's Illustrated Books in English Internet site is intended to communicate the results of a three-year research project by a team working at the University of British Columbia.

    The central page in this site is "The Project", which is one of four links from the home page. A team of researchers is surveying both historical and contemporary works in order to examine - you guessed it - Canadian Children's Illustrated Books in English - from the point of view of many scholarly disciplines, including children's literature, art history, publishing studies, the history of the book, and socio-cultural history. "The Project" page is a base from which you can explore the team's description and methodology of their research, as well as how they plan to disseminate their results.

    This site is interesting for scholars, and will no doubt become even more interesting as planned interviews with creators of Canadian illustrated books take place and are added to the site. A great feature for librarians and teachers right now is the "Resources" page, which is divided into several categories, including annotated bibliographies, relevant journals of criticism and review, and a selected reading list on international illustrated books.

    Overall this site is visually attractive and easy to navigate. Each page has plenty of white space around the text, with easy-to-read black text and red hypertext. The colour and black and white graphics on each page are well placed to break up the large amounts of text. Because the designers present only small parts of each illustration, which are then linked to the full illustration and title, each page loads much more quickly than if larger graphics were used. This also means less of an interruption for those who are reading the text on the pages.

    I found only one problem with this site. Recent studies have shown that Internet users are more likely to scan web pages for information rather than reading them as they would a traditional printed text. Bulleted lists, highlighted keywords, concise writing, and short paragraphs all help the user gain meaning quickly from the page. This site is very wordy and it can be difficult to scan for meaning from most of the pages - a fault of many scholarly web sites. Aside from this, however, the clean design and interesting nature of the subject make this site worth your valuable browsing time.

  • Thematic Links: Canadian Children's Literature; Canadian Authors; Canadian Illustrators; Canadian Picture Books
  • Grace Sheppard
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French Resources

  • O Canada! Notre hymne national

    Les éditions Scholastic, 2003. 30p. Illus. Gr. All levels. 0-439-97446-1. Pbk. $7.99

    Rating: E

  • This small paperback can be used by almost any student at any level. Young students could simply use it as a picture book and an aid to learning the words of our national anthem in French. Older students could study the design and graphics and how they fit with our national image. The words of O Canada are spread throughout the book in bold print and one can't help but hear the music while turning the pages!

    The beautiful colour photos, although they don't necessarily correspond with the words printed beside them, cover almost every aspect of Canadian life. We are treated to both urban and rural scenes, the faces of many Canadians (especially children) and panoramas from the north, south, east and west of this great country.

    The photos are unashamedly nationalistic and symbolic without seeming trite. Canadians (and those of other nationalities discovering Canada) are treated to images which include our flag, the RCMP, hockey, maple syrup, Parliament Hill, a Canada goose and.......of course.......a beaver! To this reader, paging through this book was like seeing a glorious slide show on Canada Day with the anthem playing in the background - all in one small volume.

    The very last pages include the music to our anthem as well as the story of the origins of the music, the French lyrics and the lyrics in English. Interesting facts that many of us don't know!

    The title sums up the book: O Canada!

  • Thematic Links:Canada, National Anthem
  • Ann Ketcheson
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