Walter the Farting Dog: Trouble at the Yard Sale by William Kotzwinkle and Glenn Murray
Dutton Children's Books, 2004. 32p Illus. K-Gr.3. 0-52547-217-7. Hdbk. $24.95
William Kotzwinkle and Canadian Glenn Murray's first book, Walter the Farting Dog, was a huge success, spending 38 weeks on the New York Times Bestsellers List. Readers who loved Walter, an inimitable dog with intestinal difficulties, will be pleased to know that the flatulent pooch is in fine form in the follow-up. And once again Walter's posterior emanations saves the day.
No items are being sold at the family's yard sale and the reader quickly realizes that Walter's smelly farts are deterring customers. A strange clown braves the family's table and ends up buying Walter from the father (which is consistent, given that in the first book the olfactory offended father wants to return poor Walter to the pound). The clown has an evil plot in mind. He harnesses the stench from Walter's farts into balloons and upon entering a bank pops the balloons so that the odor overwhelms customers and employees. The clown then robs the bank. When the triumphant clown returns home after the heist he lights a celebratory cigar. The cigar comes into contact with Walter's intestinal gas which causes an explosion. In the ensuing commotion Walter runs away with money flying behind him. Eventually, Walter is praised for his heroism in leading the police to the clown. Walter is an unlikely hero whose message is that although one may possess what people perceive as negative qualities it should not necessarily impede one's success in life. Walter "saves the day" time and time again. We root for him despite his flatulence.
The colorful cubist-like illustrations will appeal to young readers because of the many details and humourous expressions. In particular, the clown's appearance is ingenious with its hints of maliciousness and deception. Although some readers may object to the book's use of the word "fart" and shy away from talking to children about it, the topic is harmless as well as humourous. The charm of the book makes children laugh and thus encourages them to read. If laughing about the noises (and smells) that emanate from a dog's nether region makes children read then the book will certainly be a valued addition to any collection. As the co-author Glenn Murray has stated:
"We created our own dog with serious gastro-intestinal problems as a kind of joke, and ended up with a very different sort of story than we'd planned, but we were trying to make the most of a bad situation, and that ended up being Walter's message too. He speaks to all of us about the possibility of being able to turn your liabilities into assets. Toot-toot!"
Keeley: Book One: The Girl from Turtle Mountain. (Our Canadian Girl Series) by Deborah Ellis
Penguin Canada, 2004.99p. Illus. Gr. 3-6. 0-14-301484-6. Pbk. $8.99
"What good is understanding everything?" asks a character in The Girl from Turtle Mountain. "If we understood everything, we'd never get out of bed because there would be nothing to look forward to." This sentiment comes from one half of the lesbian couple who run the apiary that supplies honey to the town of Frank, in present-day Alberta. That they are lesbians is never explicitly stated: this is one of those things that you have to figure out when you get out of bed in the morning. Just like you have to figure out how the beautiful woman in the "tight purple corset," the one with all of the gentleman callers, can afford the high life.
The Girl from Turtle Mountain, in addition to being clearly and cleanly written, is full of surprises. Who knew Canadian history could be so much fun? Or that one small Rocky Mountain mining town, circa 1901, could contain such a range of strong female characters, all making their own destiny in Canada's wild west. It is a wonderful world, one in which Keeley's gentle father writes the poetry of the mines and her fondly-remembered mother struggled to paint the beauty of the mountains and plains before her untimely death.
Keeley herself is open-minded and adventurous, a nine-year old force of nature whose first feat upon arriving in Frank is to win a foot-race for boys, and whose second is to demand the ribbon even though she is not a boy ("But there wasn't a race for girls," she explains). Readers of The Girl from Turtle Mountain are more likely to learn to follow their dreams and take responsibility for their actions than to absorb much Canadian history, but what of that?
All historical fiction and most history offers up myths for the present. Lesbian bee-keepers, kindly prostitutes and poet-papas are as worthy of commemoration as are imperialist land-grabs, plutocratic politicians and railway spikes. The Girl from Turtle Mountain is fine historical fiction. I look forward to Keeley: Book Two.
You want girls to be interested in Canadian history? Give them this book. They might even find themselves interested in feminism, too.
Chanda's Secret by Allan Stratton
Firefly Books, 2004. 193p. Gr. 9-12. 1-55037-834-1. Pbk. $11.95
Chanda Kabelo, an extremely introspective and empathetic sixteen-year girl is struggling for independence while coming of age amid the horrific realities of the AIDS crisis in Africa. Her world is exceedingly challenging and complex. She has endured numerous hardships; the death of her father, and abuse by her mother's friend amid past family secrets that threaten to impact the present. With the death of a younger sister, AIDS silently wields its deadly force on Chanda's family. Her mother is emotionally unable to cope with life's cruelties and leaves the funeral planning and the future of the family to Chanda. Her stepfather also abandons the family through his self-medication via alcohol and other available drugs.
Through this entire trauma Chanda thinks of AIDS/HIV, a forbidden topic in her house and community. She feels governed by tradition, ignorance, shame and stigma. However, as she deals with the subsequent death of her stepfather and mother, while coping with an AIDS afflicted friend, she feels ruled by her quest for continued acceptance by her community. Chanda emerges strengthened by loyalty, friendship and family ties. She is no longer consumed with keeping secrets but is fortified by the healing power of truth.
Stratton brings the despair, overwhelming poverty and the impact of AIDS/HIV to life while at the same time depicting the strength of human character when faced with adversity. The audience can see and feel the power of this terrible disease on the physical body and are moved to look beyond mere statistics. They are also inspired to be enlivened by the triumph of the human spirit. Courage, honesty and commitment to oneself are qualities that are fostered in this fantastic text.
As Long As There Are Whales by Evelyne Daigle
Illustrated by Daniel Grenier. Translated by Genevieve Wright. Tundra Books, 2004. 47p. Illus. Gr.4-7. 0-88776-692-7. Hdbk. $22.99
At the first signs of spring a variety of whales begin to appear in the gulf of the St. Lawrence River. Beginning as fresh water from the Great Lakes, the powerful St. Lawrence narrows into a river, eventually widens into an estuary, then a gulf where it meets the Atlantic Ocean. The motion, caused by these strong river currents meeting the ocean tides, stirs up valuable nutrients from the ocean floor, developing an abundant feeding ground in the gulf, filled with a rich diversity of sea life. For this reason, more than 10 different migrating whale species have been identified in this area.
Author and biologist, Evelyne Daigle, presents a wealth of information relating to these whale species, especially feeding habits, size, weight and interestingly, sound. Whales actually use echolocation to locate schools of fish! Other behaviours are also discussed in detail - hunting, mating and stranding. Environmental issues, in relation to survival of many species, are included. Another spark of interest is a section on the ancestor of whales and dolphins.
Illustrations by artist Daniel Grenier are dramatic, colourful and informative. Each double-page spread contains not only captivating art-work, but also small boxes emphasizing facts, diagrams, specific enlargements, and a useful map of the gulf. The format is very reader friendly and visually appealing. Information is well organized with a table of contents, an index, a list of resources including films and websites, and a fun quiz - Identifying the Whales of the St. Lawrence.
Written in narrative form, the text is rich in facts yet entertaining, enticing the reader along. Originally composed in French, it has been very adeptly translated by Genevieve Wright. A highly recommended resource for elementary school libraries, this text should prove very useful for research projects. The book will also appeal to any reader searching for some fascinating information.
D-Day: The Greatest Invasion: A People's History by Dan Van Der Vat
Raincoast Books, 2004. 176p. Illus. Gr. 9 - adult. 1-55192-586-9. Hdbk. $60.00
D-Day: The Greatest Invasion presents an inclusive history of the June 6, 1944 invasion of the beaches of Normandy, France. Readers are given both the strategic perspective - that of the commanders planning the invasion - and the perspective of the ordinary soldiers who experienced the invasion. The entire invasion is presented, including the efforts of Canadian, British, American, French, and German forces on land, in the air, and by sea. Illustrations include maps, photographs (both historic and modern), and copies of the works of war artists. Besides the usual index, there is a second index by nationality so a reader can easily follow the invasion from various points of view.
The author has written a comprehensive history of D-Day for interested adults. That is, while some knowledge of World War Two is assumed, readers are not expected to be military historians. The vocabulary is fairly sophisticated (imminent, laconic, imponderable, etc.) but a high school student who is a competent reader should certainly be able to handle it. If you're looking for a one volume general history of D-Day, this is the book you want.
As a curriculum resource, D-Day: The Greatest Invasion will be useful for senior high Canadian History courses.
For the Love of Reading: Books to Build Lifelong Readers by David Bouchard with Sally Bender, Anne Letain and Lucie Poulin-Mackey
Orca Book Publishers, 2004. 200p. 1-55143-281-1. Pbk. $24.95
This book contains a list of about 500 titles, selected and annotated by the four authors. It is organized by age group (from babies to over-15s, with extra lists of seasonal books and adult resources), with each author submitting a list of favourites for each section. In each case one list is of French titles, annotated in English, chosen by Lucie Poulin-Mackey. The lists are international in scope, but Canadian titles are marked with a maple leaf. There are two indexes, for author and title.
The four-list format works well overall - the selectors have somewhat different tastes and the lists do feel different (though there does seem to be a shared weakness for especially prizing books that require the reader to have a box of tissues on hand, a phrase that is repeated over and over). For example, David Bouchard and Lucie Poulin-Mackey both describe Robert Munsch's Love You Forever/Je t'aimerai toujours as a book that mothers and kids will both love, but Anne Letain says, "Do try to accept that Love Your Forever is not really a kids' book despite its best-seller status" (191), and claims it is impossible to enjoy reading it to seven-year-olds. This clash of views makes the book lively, as does the unmitigated enthusiasm of all four authors for books, reading and children. And I very much like the mix of Canadian and world titles.
There are weaknesses in this volume, however. The bibliographic information for all the recommended books is exceedingly scant: title and author only. It is not always clear with the picture books if the author is always the illustrator. The French titles also suffer with variable citation; sometimes a French author is given in addition to the author of the original English version, sometimes a translator is named, sometimes we are offered only the name of an author who is known for English-language work - are we to assume in these cases that this author also did the translation? It would also be useful at a minimum to have the original date of publication; I accept that other information may become out of date or misleading as new editions are published.
The reviews are enthusiastic but sometimes veer over into gushy, and I did get rather tired of incessant references to the reviewers' own children. It is very easy to overdo such references and this book falls into that trap from time to time.
The proof-reading lacks rigour; at one point, for example, Lucie Poulin-Mackey's name is mis-spelled in a major heading (I may be sensitive on the spelling of "Mackey" but still...).
Overall, the value of this book probably outweighs the drawbacks, but a little more attention to detail would have made it a much stronger resource. It may be that its most useful role lies in speaking to parents, but public and school librarians should certainly take a look at it.
Science, Tobacco and You! (La science, le tabac et vous!) by Health Canada
Health Canada, 2003 (guide). 20p. 0-662-33629-1 (Eng); 0-662-88484-1 (French). 2002 (CD) 0-662-66601-1. Gr. 4-8. Free
Fact: there are 45,000 deaths attributable to tobacco each year in Canada. Given such a statistic, there is an obvious need to stop smoking before it starts. This kit, Science, Tobacco and You! is an excellent resource which explains the facts of smoking to young people and attempts to influence them toward a tobacco-free lifestyle.
The kit consists of a CD-ROM, a teacher's guide and a set of 'quest cards'. The CD-ROM was originally produced by Florida State University and this Canadian version come from Health Canada. It is self-explanatory in English or French and can be networked for use in a lab. One section consists of a virtual body lab which describes how various body systems are affected by tobacco as well as the effects of second-hand smoke. The second section consists of a community research lab and includes information about public attitudes to smoking, several environmental issues, and addiction. On the CD, there are lots of interactive activities, places to do assignments and graphing, and a direct link to the Health Canada home page.
The teacher's guide is concise and useful. It outlines what is on the CD-ROM and provides three sample lessons (not necessarily sequential) which all make use of the CD. As well, there are suggestions for 'quick picks', i.e. short, fun activities which could be good warm-ups in a classroom or interesting 'add-ons' for particular students. Lastly, the guide has an index of useful websites and seven pages of black line masters (CD scavenger hunt, crossword puzzle, etc.)
The third part of the kit is a package of nine 'quest cards'. These are interesting assignments geared to a variety of learning and presentation styles. For instance, students can prepare a speech, write a newspaper article, create a TV quiz show or produce a poster. All are chances to use dramatic or other integrated arts skills to get across the scientific and health information which they have learned.
I highly recommend this kit. It relates to most curricula - health, science, language arts, math (graphing),computer literacy (CD-ROM) and, as mentioned above, drama and visual arts. It is an excellent resource for use in a classroom, in a computer lab, with a partner or individually. The flexibility of the kit, the excellence of the information, and the easy availability from Health Canada makes Science, Tobacco and You! a real winner.
Allons à la cabane à sucre: D'oŁ vient le sirop d'érable? by Megan Faulkner
Illustrated by Wally Randall. éditions Scholastic, 2004. 29p. Illus. Gr. 2-6. 0-7791-1412-4. Pbk. $ 6.99
Going to a Maple Sugar Shack is an event that young Quebeckers look forward to every spring. They can go and taste the different maple products that are produced from the sap of the Sugaring Maple trees. Faulkner and Randall take us on this same visit in their picture book.
The book follows a group of young students on their visit to a Maple Sugar Shack (Cabane à Sucre). They learn about the sap running, how the sap is extracted and the process for making maple syrup and other maple products.
The story is written from the point of view of the students in language that is easily understood by a Primary student. The many colour photos which accompany the reading are great. The reader feels as though they are doing the tour with these students. The only difference is that the students in the book have the opportunity at the end to taste the final products╔╔..yummmm!
At the end of the book, one finds a short historical account of maple syrup production along with some examples of how people use it. This book is a must have for the Primary/Elementary school library. Learning about cultural activities is an essential part of second language learning and this book makes a great contribution to that cultural aspect.