Suki's Kimono by Chieri Uegaki
Illustrated by Stéphane Jorisch. Kids Can Press Ltd., 2003. 30p. Illus. Gr. K-3. 1-55337-084-8. Hdbk. $17.95
The first day of school is full of excitement, fresh starts, and the opportunity to reinvent ourselves. That may mean defying others' ideas of what we should wear or how we should behave. In Suki's Kimono, Chieri Uegaki introduces us to a feisty little girl who wears her favourite kimono to school, despite the dire warnings of her sisters. Mari points out that "people will think you're weird" and Yumi who predicts that "everyone will laugh and no one will play with you". But Suki isn't impressed with admonitions to conform - she just wants to wear her favourite thing, a blue kimono which is a gift from her obâchan (grandmother). It reminds Suki of the wonderful day she spent with her grandmother at a street festival, eating delicious snacks, and dancing. Much to the disapproval of her sisters, Suki wears her kimono, red geta (Japanese wooden clogs), and carries a paper parasol.
Stéphane Jorisch's delicate watercolour illustrations enhance the text, and show us the expressions of Suki's classmates as she dances down the street to school. But Suki is oblivious to the reactions, which range from smothered laughter to obvious smirks. On the playground, her friend Penny asks why she's dressed "funny". In the classroom, boys snicker and tease.
When the usual first day introductions begin, Suki takes the opportunity to talk about her grandmother's visit, and the wonderful festival they attended. Suki dances, demonstrating what she observed. As she takes her seat, Suki is met by total silence and everyone's rapt attention. Her teacher, the colourfully-dressed Mrs. Paggio, claps in appreciation, and soon all the children do, too.
At the end of the day, Suki's sisters express their annoyance at the lack of attention their new clothes attracted. Suki just smiles.
This charming book highlights the importance of being ourselves, reflecting what makes us distinctive. It also gives children the message that being true to what we value is worthwhile. Suki's Kimono would be an excellent addition to a collection in the classroom, library or at home. It addresses an experience that many children have, and shows a strong protagonist dealing with non-conformity successfully.
Uegaki was a finalist in the 2000 Writer's Union of Canada Writing for Children Competition and Jorisch is an award-winning illustrator. Let's hope this team has many more opportunities to work together!
Leaving the Log House by Ainslie Manson
Orca Book Publishers, 2003. 128p. Gr. 3-6. 1-55143-258-7. Pbk. $8.95
"Leaving the Log House fills a void in children's literature around issues of disability."
- Linda McLaren, Physiotherapist - Amputation, G. F. Strong Rehab Centre, Vancouver.
At the age of three, Teresa lost a leg in an all-terrain vehicle accident. Now as a young adolescent she travels to Vancouver to acquire and learn how to use her first prosthetic leg. While learning how to adapt to a prosthetic leg, Theresa must confront many other issues as well. Teresa is away from home, the lob cabin, and away from her parents and siblings Tom, Janette and John. While staying with her Auntie Bee and Uncle Edward, Teresa wonders why her mother could not leave the other children in order to be with her at this difficult time. Teresa wonders why her teenage brother Tom, who was so close to her, is now distant. Tom spends the first weekend in Vancouver with her. He and Teresa, play intricate games with two dolls Tape and Curly. When he leaves to work on a farm outside of Vancouver Tom does not respond to Teresa's letters. Despite the busy schedule and social circle at the Rehab Centre, Teresa is determined to reach out to Tom. When she does, the results are surprising. Eventually Teresa discovers that she does have courage, and that she is capable of independence, both physical and mental.
Ainslie's portrayal of Teresa is written with sympathy and realism. Although Teresa must devote time and energy to the realities of being an amputee, the world is not put on hold. She must deal with her own doubts as well as with all the joys and disappointments that are inherent in relationships with family and friends. Ainslie did extensive research on the topic of amputee rehabilitation and embeds this information into the story without distraction from the story line. She successfully carries the theme of the log house and the importance of Tape and Curtly throughout the story.
Leaving the Log House is recommended for both school and public libraries. As a story about the ups and downs of growing up and achieving independence Leaving the Log House is an agreeable read. Adolescent readers will easily relate to Teresa. The novel with its attention to amputee rehabilitation would enhance many aspects of Health and Life Skills study units.
Ordinary Miracles (Northern Lights Young Novels) by Diana Aspin
Red Deer Press, 2003. 167p. Gr. 9-10. 0-88995-277-9. Pbk. $12.95
Ordinary Miracles is a web of short stories told through the eyes of each of its main characters: 11 teenage friends living in Sky Falls, northern Ontario. We learn of the struggles and joys of each character not only from their own perspective but from their friends' perspectives as well. This type of storytelling gives depth to the characters that are splendidly human - some ordinary, some quirky. There is Angel, first mentioned as the strange nine-year-old sister of Krista, who has a set of homemade wings she wears for every occasion. As her story unfolds, we learn that with her "Obi-Wan Kenobi eyes" she is the family healer who inspires her parents to really communicate with each other. In the second chapter, we meet Clive Pinner. A young boy in love with poetry and another boy Toby, he struggles fiercely with his own identity. Near the end of the book, we learn through his friends of his happiness and transformation after finally coming out of the closet and dating Toby. Shoulders, a strong and loving adopted son of pure Mohawk ancestry, is introduced as the kid with the brightest future in Sky Falls. In his chapter, "Moose", Shoulders has just received a football scholarship and is about to tell the love of his life, Clive's sister, Amy Pinner, that he loves her. Driving down the dark country highway at full speed to meet his friends, he has never felt so excited about his future: "the world will never seem so perfect, so in line with my dreams." Shoulders collides with a moose in the middle of the road and dies instantly. As the focus shifts from one character's story to the next, there is an expanding sense of characters that we have already met and a deepening of their relationships.
Aspin's collection of short stories is a dynamic read because her storytelling technique brings the characters close to our hearts. Through the multiple perspectives, we can see how much people's lives are interwoven in community. It celebrates simple beauties found in relationships, diversity and being true to one's self. Touching on so many issues relevant to youth such as friendship, death, sexuality, and family, it would make a great book report and reflection paper.
Creative, deep, light, sad, joyous, intriguing and playful, Ordinary Miracles is a book where the ordinary is made beautiful.
The Dinosaur Atlas: A Complete Look at the Worlds of the Dinosaurs by Don Lessem
Key Porter, 2003. 64p. Illus. Gr 3-6. 1-55263-540-6. Hdbk. $26.95
The Dinosaur Atlas is competently written by "Dino" Don Lessem, "renowned dinosaur expert" and author of numerous dinosaur books. The Dinosaur Atlas "illustrates the distribution and evolution of dinosaurs" in the three prehistoric periods: Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous. Within these three periods the geographical distribution of various amazing dinosaurs is discussed along with a description of the changes in the landforms and climate. Detailed information is provided about the world and the dinosaurs which roamed the earth during each period. As the land and climate changed so did the dinosaurs over time. An introductory section is devoted to life on earth before the dinosaurs and the concluding section discusses reasons for their disappearance and the latest theories on the subject.
Various dinosaurs, approximately 50, including the Lessemsaurus which is named after the author, are highlighted in tables throughout the book. Each dinosaur name and pronunciation is provided along with its meaning. Other information noted is their size, diet, where it is found, and its habits and enemies. In each table a silhouette of a boy and girl enables us to compare the size of the dinosaur being discussed. A sidebar is provided on most pages with information, for example, "What makes a dinosaur, a dinosaur?" Other features provided are a table of contents and an up-to-date bibliography titled "Learning More" which contains additional sources on dinosaurs - books, videos, web sites, dig sites and museums (worldwide). A glossary provides information on hard to understand words. Also included are an alphabetical index for easy access, numerous "full-colour" maps which point out the geographical locations of the dinosaurs and awesome illustrations and "dinosaur art" by John Bindon.
The Dinosaur Atlas is a wonderful book which takes a geographical approach to the study of dinosaurs. This book would be a useful resource in any school library. A welcome addition to the study of dinosaurs for all ages with refreshing information.
Alexander Mackenzie: From Canada by Land by Ainslie Manson
Douglas & McIntyre, 2003. Illus. 118p. Gr. 6 up. 0-88899-483-4. Pbk. $9.95
Is Canada a nation in search of heroes? Ainslie Manson provides a biography of explorer and fur trader Alexander Mackenzie that avoids the pitfalls of "great man" hagiography and faceless collective history. This short book presents a strong narrative, skillful compression, and an abundance of intriguing detail about the fur trade in the Canadian west during the late 1700s and early 1800s. Unfortunately, the book fails to do justice to the history of the native peoples whose lands Mackenzie passed through and opened up for commercial exploitation.
True to the man, Manson does not depict Mackenzie as an adventurer uninterested in the petty concerns of commerce. Involved in the fur trade from his youth, Mackenzie intended his two voyages of exploration to open up new territories for European traders. His first, failed attempt to reach the Pacific Ocean overland, undertaken in 1789, took Mackenzie into the Canadian artic and convinced him of the need to hone his skills as a geographer and cartographer. Following his re-education he launched a successful second attempt, leaving his famous epigraph on a rock on the Pacific coast: "Alexander Mackenzie, from Canada by land, the twenty-second of July, one thousand seven hundred and ninety-three."
Throughout, Manson emphasizes Mackenzie's education, and especially his willingness to learn from native peoples, as key to his success. Nonetheless, the role of Canada's first peoples in the fur trade is not accurately presented here. Manson is careful to identify tribes by name - which will appeal to students in search of material on specific tribes - but she does not recognize the natives as people with their own agenda, for whom the fur trade is a story of exploitation, disease, and the sad consequences of uncontrolled trade in alcohol. Native people in this book exhibit the Tonto Syndrome: those who helped Mackenzie are praised for their peaceable intentions and knowledge, while those whose experiences with white men left them wary or hostile, such as the Bella Bella, are described as "disagreeable and rude." This is perplexing in a book that takes pains to differentiate the many tribes, linguistic groups and cultures that Mackenzie encountered. Worse, it is out of step with current trends in popular and academic history, in which Canada's aboriginal peoples are recognized as independent agents who pursued ends in which European fur traders were often peripheral.
The book is well laid-out, its text interspersed with illustrations and boxed accounts of particular aspects of the fur trade. Some of the illustrations are too dark, with details lost in the murk. A better map would have been helpful as well. The sole map is reproduced from Mackenzie's journal, on which the names of rivers and lakes are printed in archaic fonts and are too small to read. One or two simple, clearly drawn and labeled maps would have been a very welcome addition. The glossary and index are helpful and could serve as the basis for bibliographic and research instruction.
Overall, the book is well written and carefully structured. It will appeal to its intended audience. The reduction of native peoples to supporting actors whose importance lay only in whether they helped or hindered Mackenzie is a major flaw in an otherwise balanced take on the history of the Canadian fur trade. As the focus of the book is on Mackenzie, this flaw is, perhaps, forgivable.
Learning to Learn: Student Activities for Developing Work, Study, and Exam-Writing Skills by Mike Coles, Chas White and Pip Brown
Pembroke Publishers, 2003. 104p. 1-55138-153-2. Pbk. $24.95
Learning to Learn presents teachers and parents with practical strategies for helping students learn better and succeed in school. The authors provide activities and information about new and effective skills to help students work and study better. The activities are also meant to assist students in developing better work and study habits.
The authors have organized the book around seven major themes or topics, all of which are essential to student success: time management, note taking, library and research skills, reading strategies, learning techniques, essay writing, and preparing for and writing tests/exams. Each of the seven chapters (or units, as they are called in the book), includes practical teaching suggestions (e.g. how to introduce or present each activity and additional related activities) and student activity pages which can be photocopied for classroom use.
Learning to Learn is an invaluable resource for teachers, parents and students. Information is presented in an organized, easy-to-read (and understand) format, and provides practical solutions to some of the most common problems students encounter with studying, learning, and writing exams.
Highly recommended for schools and libraries.
Reaching Out: The Importance of Early Treatment by the Schizophrenia Society of Canada
Schizophrenia Society of Canada (www.schizophrenia.ca), 2003. Kit (includes video (VHS, 23 minutes, colour), resource binder (79 pages), booklet (45 pages), materials available in both English and French). Gr. 7-12. Free to educators
Reaching Out: The Importance of Early Treatment is a kit (video, resource binder, and booklet) designed for teachers to use with students from grades 7 through 12. The video combines a drama about a teen concerned about a friend with the stories of five real people with schizophrenia. The drama focuses on how teens can support someone who is displaying what might be symptoms of a mental illness, such as schizophrenia, and emphasizes the need to speak to a responsible adult and get accurate information. The stories of the five individuals living with schizophrenia emphasize that, with treatment and support, it is possible to lead a productive life while dealing with this serious chronic illness. The resource binder contains everything a teacher might need to teach the Reaching Out program: background information, resources, lesson plans (two periods recommended, can be done in one), and masters for overheads and handouts. Teachers don't need any prior knowledge about schizophrenia (or mental illness in general) to teach this program.
I must admit, my first reaction was to wonder how useful a resource about schizophrenia designed for teens might be. Then I began reading and discovered that schizophrenia affects 1 out of every 100 people and the first symptoms often appear between 15 and 25 years of age. I teach in a high school with 1600 students so this means, statistically, I can expect 16 students to develop schizophrenia and it's quite likely their symptoms will first appear while they're in high school. Once I realized this, the kit seemed relevant indeed. Reaching Out is well-designed, informative without being overwhelming, and from an authoritative source. And the price is certainly right!
The resource binder includes suggested curriculum connections including in a wide variety of subject areas from the obvious - Psychology - to the less obvious - English, as part of a thematic study of stereotyping, alienation, etc. Given the wealth of suggestions and the creativity of teachers, it should be possible present Reaching Out to students.
Chercher, analyser, evaluer by Carol Koechlin & Sani Zwaan
Adapted for French by Louise Dore & Sandra Rosenberg. Cheneliere McGraw-Hill, 2002. 180p. Illus. Includes reproducible pages. Professional Resource. 2-89461-688-0. Pbk. $14.95
Most teachers and teacher-librarians desire to help their students become life-long learners, able to take responsibility for their own learning, to think critically and to effectively gather and process information in an age when we seem to be bombarded with it from all sides.
Koechlin and Zwaan take teachers through the various steps of the research process so that they in turn can assist children with the skills of planning and producing projects and assignments. There are suggestions for helping students clarify exactly what information they need as well as for where and how to conduct their research. Graphic organizers give students a framework to help process the information gathered. These pages can all be photocopied as class handouts which is truly a time-saver for classroom teachers or teacher-librarians.
The manual also presents tools for such skills as test preparation, goal setting, time management and electronic searching. Techniques for interviewing and conducting surveys are included, as are tips for many methods of effectively presenting the finished research. Gathering information from literary texts and from media is part of the overall scope of the book as well.
This is a manual with a broad-based spectrum of ideas and activities geared to help students work well individually or in groups. The suggestions for gathering and analysing information are practical and the worksheets are clear and concise, yet interesting for young researchers as well. Most materials could be adapted for a variety of curriculum concepts and grade/ability levels.
All educators want students to work more efficiently and work 'smarter'. This book provides many of the tools to teach them how to accomplish this and aids students in their pursuit of strategies which will eventually mean they can monitor, evaluate and regulate their own thinking.
The professional section of your school library should include a copy of this well-priced, comprehensive, multi-faceted and Canadian research manual.