Volume 10, no.2 - December 2004

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Picture Books

  • Mr. Maxwell's Mouse by Devin Asch

    Kids Can Press, 2004. 32p. Illus. Gr. K-8. 1-55337-486-X. Hdbk. $17.95

    Rating: E

  • Catastrophe In The Making!

    From the second I first glanced at this book I knew it was going to be delightful read. At $17.95 this large picture book is also modestly priced.

    On the cover, a waiter is presenting a platter of food to a cat in a tweed suit. The text font is very formal and elegant; the colours predominantly black, grey, olive and pewter; handsomely understated and, incidentally, illustrated by Asch's son, Devin.

    In the opening illustrations the protagonist, Mr. Maxwell, is strolling down a cobblestone street quite likely in London, umbrella overhead. He has just received a promotion and being the most regular regular patron of the Paw and Claw restaurant, he goes there to celebrate. Although he normally orders baked mouse, today he opts for something different: raw mouse. With a symphony of cat musicians playing in the background, Mr. Maxwell prepares to enjoy his meal.

    What he encounters is a mouse prepared to lay down his life for catkind, as he must, but reluctant nonetheless. Instead of engaging in paw-to-paw combat, however, the mouse attempts to delay the inevitable by appealing to Maxwell's sense of propriety: He encourages Maxwell to season his meal and to say a prayer for the mouse. When Maxwell refuses, the mouse then requests that he be allowed to pray for himself. After engaging in a number of these tactics, the mouse finally asks Maxwell to kindly use a blindfold before slicing into him with a fork and knife. When Maxwell complies, the mouse seizes the opportunity to place Maxwell's own tail on the platter and to escape.

    The unusual illustrations, unique storyline, strong characterization and rich vocabulary make this an exceptional choice for a wide variety of readers. Preschool children will enjoy having the story read to them, while the dialogue and language will continue to interest many middle school readers.

  • Thematic Links: Cats; Catastrophe; Comedy; Conundrums; Etiquette; Fine Dining
  • Lori Lavallee
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Fiction Grades 3-6

  • Heck Superhero (Northern Lights Young Novels) by Marine Leavitt

    Red Deer Press, 2004. 144p. Gr. 4-7. 0-88995-300-7. Hdbk. $22.95

    Rating: E

  • Heck is a thirteen-year old boy whose mother, suffering from clinical depression, has lost her job, been evicted from their apartment with all their belongings still inside, and has disappeared from his radar. Heck's reaction to this all too familiar scenario is to protect his mother by pretending everything is all right. He attempts to be a superhero; righting wrongs by doing Good Deeds but this time he is not able to cope with his situation or his inflamed tooth.

    The reader is propelled non-stop through Heck's life for ninety-six hours as he confronts his inability to find his mother so he can shelter her - from the world and herself. His only outlet is his ability to draw, and in time of stress, his drawing of superheroes. Metaphors from the comic book format intensify the frenzy that Heck is experiencing as he refuses to get help in case his mother's mental state becomes known. He reaches out for help, and then repels it, from his best friend Spence and his art teacher, Mr. Bandras. It is not until he reluctantly attempts to help another young man, Marion, that he and his turbulent pace slows to a stand still.

    Not only a quick read but also one that almost demands to be read in one sitting. Heck is a likeable character, believable and heroic (even if it is not in a superhero way).

  • Thematic Links: Parent and Child; Comic Books; Heroes; Art; Friendship; Identity
  • Gail de Vos
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Fiction Grades 7 - 12

  • Bucking The Sarge by Christopher Paul Curtis

    Wendy Lamb Books/Random House, Inc., 2004. 259p. Gr. 6-9. 0-385-32307-7. Hdbk. $23.95

    Rating: E

  • Luther T. Farrell, 15 years old, wants to be America's best-loved and best-paid philosopher. In the meantime, however, he has a hard life, working non-stop for the Sarge. The Sarge is his mother, a hard-bitten businesswoman who got herself "off the sucker path" by running slum housing and cut-rate halfway houses, not to mention her Friendly Neighbor Loans, a loan-shark operation. Luther runs one of her group homes and treats the residents decently in spite of the Sarge's orders. But, as his best friend Sparky points out, Luther's life also has some perks. For one thing, he has an illegal drivers' license. And about $90,000. in his college fund, which will give him a way out of Flint, Michigan. To Sparky, these perks offer more than mere philosophical comfort. Luther's two loves are his school science fair project and his arch-rival Shayla Patrick, who brings out his inner juvenile. This year's project, he hopes, will land him a "three-peat" - a third consecutive gold medal. When his science fair project leads to unintended trouble, Luther fashions an escape plan that will exact a certain justice on the Sarge and her seamy business operations. Readers will cheer for this lovable, wry, and funny hero who bucks not just the Sarge, but the whole crooked system she represents.

    Christopher Paul Curtis' first novel The Watsons Go to Birmingham -1963 (1996) was a Newbery and Coretta Scott King Honor Book, and his next, Bud, Not Buddy (1999) won both of those prestigious awards. Bucking the Sarge is in a league with these two excellent novels, showcasing his warm, goofy humour but also biting hard at the cruel circumstances of Luther's life. The novel is in effect a tragicomic morality play, as Evil urges Good to smarten up and break the dirty rules that an unjust world presents. The Sarge is a parasitic, evil opportunist who exploits Flint's poor and down-on-their-luck people. But she also delivers a scathing speech justifying her change from idealistic teacher to slumlord and loan shark; she urges Luther to abandon his idealism and get "off the sucker path." Luther, while appreciating the promise of his large university fund, remains determined to hold his philosophy and moral outlook intact.

    The characters of Luther, the Sarge, and Sparky are richly drawn and engaging. Luther's dogged determination to create a science fair project that will justly capture his three-peat award blinds him to some of the repercussions of his work. The resulting turmoil makes him use all the street-smarts he can muster to exact his own brand of justice. Curtis' narrative thrust is sure and compelling. As in his previous novels, Curtis achieves a fine balance between the tragic and comic, making his latest offering one that will appeal to older readers. Like Brian Doyle, Curtis creates awful situations for his young protagonists, finds humour in the heartbreak, and gives them the inner resources to prevail over adversity. He is a remarkably entertaining and gripping novelist, one that Canada is proud to claim.

  • Thematic Links:Family; Adolescence; Poverty; Friendship
  • Jill Kedersha McClay
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Non-Fiction Preschool - Grade 6

  • Rain Tonight: A Story of Hurricane Hazel by Steve Pitt

    Illustrated by Heather Collins. Tundra Books, 2004. 45p. Illus. Gr. 4-6. 0-88776-641-2. Pbk. $16.99

    Rating:G

  • During a season when we have heard so much about devastating hurricanes, this book is very timely. October 15, 2004 was the 50th anniversary of the devastating hurricane which swept from North Carolina up into Canada in 1954. Toronto was one of the hardest hit places with a recorded death toll of 81. It was on that night that the author, Steve Pitt, was born and throughout his growing up when he told people his birth date he was always inundated with stories of the "hurricane". The one he relates in this book is one of those stories.

    Eight-year-old Penny Doucette and her family lived near the Humber River and as the river raged out of control she, her parents and an elderly neighbour found themselves clinging to the roof of their home as they watched other houses and various belongings float past them. Pitt tells the story of their struggle against the water and the heroic rescue by Herb Jones, a local contractor who happened to own a motor boat, and Jim Crawford, a rookie police officer.

    The book is written as an informational story with graphite illustrations by Heather Collins, and is presented on off-white recycled paper giving it the look of a book which might have been printed back in 1954. While this makes the book more authentic looking, I'm not sure if it will appeal to the highly visual children of today. Pitt also includes coloured sidebars which give additional information about hurricanes. The book also includes an epilogue, well-captioned historical photos of the actual hurricane and an index.

    This book will be of interest to readers who have an interest in natural disasters and will certainly be of use when studying weather at the elementary level. It is also an interesting story for those who just want to read some interesting non-fiction.

  • Thematic Links:Weather; Hurricanes; Hurricane Hazel; Toronto, Ontario
  • Victoria Pennell
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Non-Fiction Grades 7-12

  • Three Wishes: Palestinian and Israeli Children Speak by Deborah Ellis

    Groundwood Books, 2004. 110p. Illus. Gr. 6 up. 0-88899-554-7. Hdbk. $18.95

    Rating: E

  • My three wishes? I have just one. I want the war to end, so I can keep living in Israel and raise my children here. (Talia, 16)
    I wish the fighting would end, so that we can just make music and have fun and not hate each other, Maybe we could even make music with the Israelis one day. (Yanal, 14)
    I have only one wish. I would like to go to heaven. Maybe in heaven there is happiness, after we die. Maybe then. (Maryam, 11)
    My three wishes? I have only one wish. To get well soon so I can go back to fighting the Israelis. (Hakim, 12)
    To be Jewish in Israel means growing up faster than kids in other countries. We have to face reality sooner, and be prepared to deal with it. ...It's not a choice we make. It's our reality. The war has made me more involved in the world. (Asif, 15)

    As I watched the chaos at the burial of Yasser Arafat earlier today, I can understand to some extent, the plight of the young Palestinian and Israeli children who are telling their stories in this book. As Ellis states in her introduction "...the children who live here spend their lives in a place of constant war. Sometimes this means living with explosions, gunfire and the sound of helicopter guns ships overhead. Sometimes it means having friends blown up when they get on a bus. The war is impossible to escape. It has divided families, turned neighbours into enemies and made innocent people fear each other." (p. 8)

    In this book, Deborah Ellis brings us the voices of children on both sides of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict which give us glimpses into the ordinary and extraordinary lives they live. The book includes interview with twenty children ranging in age from 8 to 18. Each child's story is preceded with some background information which helps to explain the living conditions, the government, the conflict, the educations system, the curfews, etc. The book also includes a picture of each child as well as other black-and-white pictures taken by the author, a map, a glossary and suggestions for further reading. The author does not take sides in the conflict but lets the children present their own stories - their frustrations and their hopes and dreams.

    This book would be an excellent resource for students studying World History and the current conflict in the Middle East. It brings to life the reality of how people - especially children - are living in countries disrupted by war and constant conflict and makes it easier for young people to understand some of the political and religious conflict which is going on in that area of the world.

    I highly recommend this book for school and public libraries.

  • Thematic Links:Palestine; Israel; War; Middle East
  • Victoria Pennell
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Professional Resources

  • Discipline Without Tears: How to Reduce Conflict and Establish Cooperation in the Classroom by Rudolf Dreikurs, Pearl Cassel & Eva Dreikurs Ferguson

    John Wiley & Sons Canada, Ltd., 2004. 148p. 0-470-83508-7. Pbk. $18.99

    Rating: E

  • Discipline Without Tears is a revised edition based on the work and studies of renowned educator Rudolf Dreikurs. The classic has been revised to meet the needs of elementary school teachers in today's society and to reflect current trends in education. One of the main objectives of the book is to help elementary school teachers manage classrooms of children effectively by understanding the nature of how and why children behave as they do. Dreikurs considered that there are four goals of children's behaviour: (1) to get attention; (2) to get power; (3) to get revenge and (4) to purposefully display inadequacy. In turn these are considered mistaken goals because children make mistaken assumptions. Among detailed explanations of these mistake goals that lead to misbehaviours the book challenges teachers to analyze their own teaching style and to become more effective at discipline in the classroom. In turn this will create more effective learning time and a more pleasant environment for children and teachers. Many of the anecdotal illustrations provide good examples of interactions between student and teacher.

    Although the book is quite simple in layout and presentation, it does offer detailed reading with understandable explanations. This is an excellent resource for those teachers just beginning in the profession. In addition it is a great read for those who need to make a change in the everyday life of classroom management.

  • Thematic Links:Elementary Education; Classroom Management; Discipline
  • Elaine Rospad
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Audio Visual Resources

  • A Refugee Camp in the City: On Assignment by David Morely (Executive Director, Medecins Sans Frontieres Canada)

    Medecins Sans Frontieres Canada, 2003. 60 min. Video (VHS) & 60p. Teacher's Guide. English & French versions. Gr. 10-12. English Teacher's Guide 0-9733309-1-0; English Video 0-9733309-0-2; French Teacher's Guide 0-9733309-3-7; French Video 0-9733309-2-9. $40.00

    Rating: E

  • A Refugee Camp in the City: On Assignment is a kit designed by Medecins Sans Frontieres Canada for Canadian classrooms. It has been tested with teachers and students as well as organizations who work with refugees. In a clear concise way the harsh realities of life as a refugee or displaced person are presented in all their complexity. The kit (video and teacher's guide) is available in both official languages.

    The video is broken into four segments of under 15 minutes each, making it ideal for classroom use in a unit on refugees. The framework of the video consists of two students who learn about life in a refugee camp and use their research for a school assignment. The video is a combination of techniques: interviews with recent refugees from several countries, interviews with MSF volunteers, documentary footage, and still photographs. Students are presented with a great deal of good information, but in an interesting and youth-oriented way.

    As good as the video is, the real highlight of the kit is the teacher's guide - imaginative, detailed and ready to photocopy! Everything an educator might need is included - suggested teaching strategies, assignments, worksheets, a bibliography of Web resources, tests and rubrics. The guide is 60 pages full of lessons which are thematically linked to the video. Topics include Seeking Refuge, Finding Refuge, Life inside the camp, Refugees in Canada. The content and the teaching strategies are excellent and sure to engage students in this timely topic.

    This kit has curricular connections in almost any area - current events, world issues and politics seem the most obvious. However sections could be applied to English, history, geography, law and media studies. Students of the arts, dramatic or visual, could also use the information to be creative based on the issue of refugees.

    This is a unique resource which promotes the work of MSF, has educational value for everyone and will open many eyes to the current and ongoing global refugee crisis. It is available in both English and French.

  • Thematic Links: Refugees; Current Events; World Issues; Politics
  • Ann Ketcheson
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French Resources

  • Le secret de Sinbad by Ludmila Zeman

    French text: Suzanne Levesque. Tundra Books, 2003. 26p. Illus. Gr. K-4. 0-88776-623-4. Hdbk. $19.99

    Rating: E

  • Sinbad the sailor and his crew visit distant lands and see so many treasures that they overload their ship. Later a serpent devours the ship during a storm but Sinbad is able to escape. He eventually washes up on an island and there encounters a ferocious beast. When Sinbad is finally rescued by another ship, he ends up in a new land and has even more adventures, including elephant hunting. When he inadvertently captures a baby elephant he feels sorry and decides to let the animal go. In gratitude, the mother elephant saves Sinbad and helps him rescue the beautiful Fatima. Finally Sinbad goes home on a ship laden with gold and accompanied by Fatima. He has endured many hardships, but has gained wisdom, wealth and love in return.

    This adventure is an ancient tale adapted in an authentic way from the One Thousand and One Nights. Thus, Canadian students may find it a rather unusual story written in a somewhat classical vocabulary. The book includes a map showing Sinbad's travels from Arabia to China and back.

    The book is lavishly illustrated. Its' browns, golds and blues are reminiscent of Persian carpets and give this picture book a rich, textured, oriental spirit. As in most classic stories, we can relate to the greatest of human emotions such as greed, empathy, fear and love.

  • Thematic Links:Classic Tales; Adventure Stories; Arabian Nights
  • Ann Ketcheson
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