A Song for Ba by Paul Yee
Illustrated by Jan Peng Wang. Groundwood Books, 2004. 32p. Illus. Gr. 1- 4. 0-88899-492-3. Hdbk. $17.95
Wei Lim lives with his father and grandfather in "the Chinatown of a large city by the Pacific Ocean." Wei wants to be an opera singer like his father and grandfather. In Chinese opera men sing both the male and female roles. Wei's Father, Ba, always played the role of a general wearing a resplendent costume and helmet with a brace of four flags. The role of general involved sophisticated acrobatic maneuvers. In China Grandfather had played the female roles of princess and maiden. Despite Wei's interest Ba feels that there is no future in opera because of the changing technologies in the New World. He refuses to teach Wei the movements and songs, telling Wei to focus on doing well in school. When Ba is on tour, Grandfather teaches Wei the songs of the female roles. One day, Grandfather returns to China and Wei stays with the wardrobe master while Ba goes on long and unsuccessful tours. When the opera company "…finally sputtered home in their run-down jalopies and rusty trucks" Wei is shocked at how thin and tired Ba is. The opera company decides to prepare for a grand new opera to rekindle interest and pay for their debts. More singers have returned to China and Ba must play the role of a princess. He finds it very challenging. At the height of Ba's despair Wei teaches his father how to sing the songs. The opera is a success. The story concludes with Wei thinking "He didn't know whether there would still be a Chinese opera when he grew up, but on that night, he, too, was a star."
Jan Peng Wang's beautiful oil paintings complement the text with a sense of nostalgia for the past. The paintings are so textured in places the reader may be tempted to run fingers across the page in the hopes of feeling the paint. Jan Peng Wang has painted the pictures of Wei's simple home life in subdued colors in sharp contrast to the richness of the scenes of the opera.
Paul Yee tells a powerful tale of the hardship of Chinese immigrants and how change affects culture. He also tells a touching story of the evolving relationship between father and son.
This book is highly recommended for both school and public libraries. It is suitable for curriculum units involving art, history, multicultural studies, and family.
Five Stars For Emily by Kathleen Cook Waldron
Orca Book Publishers, 2004. 134p. Gr. 3-6. 1-55143-296-X. Pbk. $7.95
The main character in this book is Emily, a young 10 year old who goes on a vacation with her Aunt Hannah. As the title suggests, Emily is anticipating a "five stars" type of vacation destination, such as Disneyland. Instead Emily ends up traveling north on what she thinks of as "an arctic expedition". Thus her attitude towards the trip is negative from the beginning and it becomes a major struggle to "thaw" out Emily.
Emily's adventure takes place at her aunts' friend's house in northern British Columbia. The house is, however, a work in progress. This becomes apparent to Emily as she discovers there is no electricity, no plumbing, and no shopping malls. To make matters worse there is a lot of work to do such as piling up wood, clearing snow, preparing meals, and washing dishes. Blossom is the young girl who lives in the house with her parents and she and Emily end up spending a lot of time together.
The book includes many situations that will make young readers laugh. When Emily sees a big black dog running to greet them she initially assumes that it is a big black bear. And of course the lack of plumbing means that Emily will have to contend with an outhouse. Just the thought of having to use the outdoor facility terrifies Emily: "Panic grabs hold of me. Outside? Alone? In the dark? I want to go home?" The situations, while humorous, serve to remind adult readers of just how bewildering new situations can be for children.
At first Emily is afraid to try anything new but as the story progresses she learns to trust herself and to accept challenges as they come. The lack of modern conveniences also helps Emily realize that there is so much more to explore in her world.
The story flows smoothly with enough descriptions to challenge a young reader. Emily is a likable character because she is unafraid to express her feelings to the reader. We sympathize with Emily's dilemma and are thrilled to see her grow and come to terms with her situation. Young readers will enjoy being in Emily's "head", sharing her fears, her feelings and her doubts.
The Hippie House by Katherine Holubitsky
Orca Book Publishers, 2004. 233p. Gr. 8-12. 1-55143-316-8. Hdbk. $19.95
reviewed from an advance reading copy
In this stunning murder/mystery Katherine Holubitsky brings alive rural life in small town Ontario circa 1970. Into this ordinary, nurturing, loving community, evil comes creeping, in the face of a rapist and murderer. This is a story about how a community, uneasy and tense, becomes suspicious and anxious, overcome with fear. If you're a 14-year-old girl, on the cusp of adulthood, just beyond your safe childhood, an observant, witty girl, you obsess about the murders, sure that you can figure out why a perfectly normal girl would be murdered. You'd be wrong. When the horrifying truth is finally revealed through good police work, Emma's absolute trust in the world is shattered. The banality of evil, how appearances can deceive and how stereotypes can impede communication are major themes in The Hippie House.
Two teenage girls, Katie and Fiona, are murdered in a peaceful farming community. As the police struggle to put together a case, 14-year-old Emma and her 15-year-old cousin Megan and their friend, Hetty, worry about their safety and gossip about the murdered girls. Suspicion falls on various suspects because of their behaviour. Could the murderer be Mr. Gillespie, who admits to having an affair with Katie? Perhaps it's Emma's simple cousin, Carl, who is so manipulated by others? And then there's Maury, an American draft dodger, avoiding Vietnam, who organizes a drop-in centre for the teens. There are many drifters attracted to the Hippie House, where Emma's brother, Eric and his band practise, where pot is smoked and no one is really sure who's a friend and who isn't. Could Eric's friend, Malcolm, who develops schizophrenia, be so disoriented that he was the murderer? In the best tradition of P. D. James, many people could be guilty and the most innocuous person actually is the criminal.
This is a quietly creepy book that slowly but inexorably leads the reader onward. There is a sinister, uneasy atmosphere that sneaks up on the reader. Holubitsky uses straightforward, almost abrupt foreshadowing that electrifies. You can feel the hair on your arms rise up as you are compelled, along with Emma, to imagine the worst, and to read on. The story is told in first person, from Emma's point of view, as she looks back on her first two years of high school. Dialogue and Emma's comments about other characters reveal their strengths and foibles. Emma also reports others' stories and conversations, all of which lead to a strong picture of the town's anxiety.
The reader feels dropped into the world of the early 1970's where the clothing details, the mother who decides to work, the draft dodger, the ice cream parlour, and the hippies are as real as if you were right there. There is no telling, only masterful showing.
At the same time Holubitsky has perfectly captured that time in a teenager's life when childhood is no longer possible and adulthood looms closer than you might like. Emma is such a strong character and so typical of a rural girl of this time. She loves the land; she loves to sew; she has a few close friends; although she sees their failings, she loves her parents; her brother is her hero; she thinks she will never have a boyfriend. She is the quintessential observer, reflecting on her life and that of everyone else, too. In this excellent book there are no stereotypes. There are sympathetically drawn adults, seen through Emma's razor-sharp mind in such a way as to reveal more about her own character. Even the local thugs eventually make something of themselves. Emma's description of her family life highlights her brother's growing up and her parents' patience. Emma reveals details about other people that she clearly does not understand but which the astute older reader will be able to assemble into an image of a real person.
The Hippie House transcends the mystery genre although it will attract students interested in mystery and horror. This outstanding coming of age story should be in every high school library.
Champlain by Christopher Moore
Tundra Books, 2004. 56p. Illus. Gr. 4-8. 0-88776-657-9. Hdbk. $24.99
Christopher Moore once again brings to life for young readers one of Canada's best known historical figures, Samuel de Champlain. Through his narrative style text, Moore tells the story of Champlain from his birth in Brouage, France (the exact date of his birth is unknown), through his early years fighting in the wars for France, his early explorations with Spanish sailors in the Caribbean Islands and his many voyages to Canada where he helped establish the first permanent settlement in the New World. Champlain was an excellent cartographer and supplied many of the early maps of North America. In addition he made alliances with the native peoples and laid the foundations for the great fur-trading industry on which much of the early settlement and exploration of Canada was based. Moore's text is interspersed with side-bars describing various people, events, and locations. The book includes a section on historical sites and monuments, a guide to additional readings about Champlain and an index.
What makes the book more outstanding, however, are the wonderful illustrations which are found on almost every page. The historical paintings by Francis Black are an excellent accompaniment to Moore's narration. Black is a noted historical illustrator whose detailed paintings have been displayed at the Canadian Museum of Civilization and the Saint Croix International Historic Site. Reproductions of archival maps and artifacts from the National Archives of Canada and the Museum of Civilization are also included. All of these help to bring the era to life and create a portrait of what life was like for these early explorers and settlers.
This book should be part of every school and public library collection.
Wild Science by Victoria Miles
Raincoast Books, 2004. 168p. Illus. Gr. 5-8. 1-55192-618-0. Pbk. $24.95
This beautifully designed and organized book will both teach and fascinate its intended middle school audience. Intended to highlight the work of wildlife scientists and the animals they spend years studying, Wild Science focuses on ten animals, from birds to whales. Each of the ten chapters is divided into four sections: From the Field, The Scientist, The Science and Animal Notes. The ten animals are: the blue whale, the Vancouver Island marmot, the polar bear, the sea otter, the manatee, the bat, the gannet, the leatherback turtle, the grizzly bear and the timber wolf.
The From the Files sections are riveting stories of how wildlife scientists work in the field. They situate the scientist in a particular place (in North America and Costa Rica) while they deal with the day to day work of monitoring the animal they are studying. For example, research scientist Molly Lutcavage searches for egg-laying leatherback turtles to tag and to take blood samples from, on the rainy, windy Costa Rican beaches in the middle of the night. In the freezing Arctic, Ian Stirling observes the behaviour of polar bears as they "still hunt" for seals and challenge each other for mates. The Scientist section of each chapter describes how each scientist was drawn to the field and ended up studying a particular animal. The importance of their early childhood experiences, their dynamic teachers, and the often serendipitous occurrences that directed their life course are fascinating and inspiring. The scientists are quoted and offer delightful insight that emphasizes their pure love of science and animals. The Science section details both new technology and human emotions. For example, the reader learns how alarmed nets were developed to deter whales from getting caught in fishing gear; how bears are fitted with GPS collars and how DNA analysis is used to understand bear genetics; how patience, compassion and persistence are as necessary to good science as curiosity and a good education. The Animal Notes section describes the animals' scientific data, their size, physical description, food, reproduction, life span, current status, habitat and world range.
Wild Science is printed on glossy, recycled paper. The informative, crisp photographs extend the text, showing the scientist at work or posing with a baby animal or a tranquilized animal. Excellent photos of the animals in their wild habitat and well-drawn illustrations clarify the animals' physical appearance. Each chapter is similarly designed, with the same fonts used. The gutters are large, with the text broken up by interesting quotes, superimposed maps and animal outlines and photographs. A close up of a grizzly bear's head graces the cover. There is a decent index, a list of resources (internet sites and cited books), and a glossary of difficult vocabulary. The book is introduced by Martin Kratt, who is unidentified.
It is unfortunate indeed that there are so many inexcusable copy editing errors (at least ten) that will both confuse and mislead readers. These range from spelling and grammar errors (wether, females bare their young) to a simple conversion mistake (minus 25 degrees Celsius = 77 degrees Fahrenheit) to two places where sentences are begun but not finished. The text also assumes that the reader will know where Quebec, Montana and Monterey Bay are.
In spite of these errors, young readers will be delighted with the actual day to day work of the wildlife scientists. It will surely inspire young people to aim for such careers. It is admirable that half of the scientists are women. Six are Americans; four are Canadians. They work from the Arctic to Florida to Costa Rica, and all are clearly passionate about their work. The book is full of wonderful information about the ten chosen animals, and would prove useful in inquiry work about them, but the strength of the book is that it will attract young readers to the possibility of working at a job that connects science and animals.
Writing Every Day: Reading, Writing, and Conferencing Using Student-Led Language Experiences by Kellie Buis
Pembroke Publishers, 2004. 151p. 1-55138-169-9. Pbk. $21.95
Kellie Buis is an experienced teacher and writer who cares passionately about learners. This new book focuses on the use of the "daily letter", as the author recounts: "…[which has] its origin in the morning message, a primary literacy-learning event that arose out of the 'language experience' movement of the 1960s and 1970s…"(p.6). Buis points out the social impact of this experience, as well as the academic meaning: "…an inclusive, whole-class sharing of the immediate news, concerns, interests, and experiences of the class itself. It is used to consciously attempt to focus the students' attention to particular aspects of the reading and writing of text." (p. 7). Her focus on the ways in which the daily letter experience can help children understand each other, and thus create bonds within the classroom helps reinforce the power of this genre.
The book is illustrated with anecdotes taken from classroom practice, some poignant, some humorous. The author has gleaned many examples from her own teaching experiences to share with others. This is a strong vehicle for helping the reader understand what an important role the daily letter could have in developing literacy-related skills.
Routines and strategies are clearly explained so that anyone who wants to use this approach can feel confident introducing it in their own setting. A set of black line masters provides organizational structure and necessary tools. The book is divided into eight chapters which explain the daily letter, the importance of the daily language experience, a focus on collaborative learning and creating a story-sharing community. Chapters on planning and managing the daily letter experience are included, as well as a look at strategies, independent writing, and assessment and evaluation.
Writing Every Day is a Canadian contribution to the growing collection of teacher resources which support literacy learning. The author's knowledge, experience and passion for learning are reflected throughout the book. Teachers of all grade levels will find this a useful reference as they think about ways of creating community through reading, writing and conversation.
Olive Dickason's First Nations
Produced by Dawn and Steven J. Deme. Villagers Media Productions Inc. in association with VisionTV/Magic Lantern, 2002. VHS. 48min. Gr. 7 up. HV$29.95, PPR $79.00.
The video opens with Olive Dickason discussing how she first got started in the area of aboriginal studies. Her anecdote outlines how perturbed some academics were when she wanted to research aboriginal history. After all, there was no such thing as aboriginal history. Dickason proved them wrong and the video's bio-documentary flavour gives a professional cast to the discussion of Dickason's life and the importance of her scholarship. Twenty years ago the traditional study of "official" Canadian history normally began with the arrival of Europeans. Dickason's insights helped dispel this way of approaching Canadian history by describing how aboriginals lived before encountering Europeans and how the relationship between the two groups developed and changed over time.
Olive Dickason's fame as a Canadian historian is now well established in academic circles. Her first book, The Myth of the Savage (1984) examined the changing relationship between the Europeans and Amerindians from the "discovery" of the Americas to the settlement eras. The video also presents her most noted book, Canada's First Nations: A History of the Founding Peoples from Earliest Times (1992) which is has since become a standard university text.
Dickason is one of Canada's best known "multi-disciplinary" historians. Her work includes insights from other disciplines such as art history, anthropology and sociology to prove that history did not begin with the arrival of European explorers. The video engages the viewer with historical re-enactments from places such as, Batoche National Park, Batoche, Saskatchewan; Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump; Fort MacLeod, Alberta; Huronia Museum & Huronia Quendat Village, Midland, Ontario and Old Fort William, Thunder Bay, Ontario.
The video includes comments by historians and First Nations experts. One commentator aptly summarized Olive Dickason's contributions by saying that she is "a woman who changed the way the world looks at Canadian Aboriginal history. In fact, it could be said, she helped to discover Canada's Aboriginal history and we are all richer for her contributions.
Mathville Middle School - Gr. 6-8 (Mathville Series)
Courseware Solutions Inc., 2004. CD-ROM. Gr. 6-8. Home Ed. $49.95; School Ed. $89.95; 5-CD Lab Pack $189.00; Network Licence $699.00
Hardware Requirements: Windows: Win 95 or higher, 1024x768 display recommended, CD-ROM Drive; Macintosh: System 8.0 or higher, 1024x768 display recommended, CD-ROM Drive
Mathville offers a tremendous buffet of 'real life' math activities for students in grade 6 -8. Players must maintain a minimal level of Food, Clothing and Housing. Money is earned by answering mathematical questions from a variety of approximately 15 different occupations (Ex, Chef or Warehouse). Money is then spent on the three main items of Food, Clothing and Housing. Every time a player exits through the virtual doors, the levels of all three areas drop.
This educational game is a challenge. It is quite fun, but does lack a visual element that would more fully engross the player. There is no animation, which one might expect for something targeted at an increasingly scrutinizing audience of middle school students. However, once playing the game, the lack of 'animation' is a blessing in disguise because the questions need to be read very well in order to achieve the correct answer. "Bells and whistles" in this software might be distracting to the player.
The screen is easily navigated. Across the top of the screen the following menus are available: QUIT, Credits, Skills List, Help, View Session Records, Print Session Records. The only weakness is that the developers used a white font on a light blue background so the View Session Records and Print Session Records menus are hard to see.
Players 'move' through the game by clicking their mouse on the desired destination. There are four locations players must go to: Workplace (to earn money by answering math questions), Groceries (for food), Hardware (for housing items - mainly pipes here), and Clothing. At each destination a relevant math question is asked. Typically players are first asked to estimate, and then asked to be more exact. As mentioned earlier, as the player leaves the location (they can only play ONCE per visit) they lose Groceries, Hardware and Clothing 'points.' Once any one of the category points goes below 1.00, the game is over.
In addition to the Mathville game, the school edition comes with the useful teacher's "e-kit." The "e-kit" provides a list of curriculum covered by the software. Users can click on any part of the list and generate worksheets for printing (answers are also generated). The "e-kit" will be a handy tool for supporting this software. The "e-curriculum" list is divided into Number sense, Geometry, Measurement, Data and Probability, as well as Algebra. Each worksheet can be 'regenerated' to create a new worksheet.
It will take a few practices for students to become familiar with the program and teachers should be aware that although the help feature explains what the students need to do for the correct answer, the best help will come from them. This program would make an enjoyable math centre in a classroom setting.
La bataille des mots by Gilles Tibo
Soulières éditeur, 2004. 48p. Illus. Gr. 3-5 EFI, Gr. 6 LFI. 2-922225-97-6. Pbk. $7.95
La bataille des mots centres around two main characters, le Guerrier (The Warrior ) and le Pou ( The Flea ). This is a classic tale of one boy who sees himself as big, strong and very mean who then challenges the "nerdy" child, nicknamed the "Flea". Le Guerrier has no friends and takes pleasure in bringing misery to those around him. He is the narrator of this short novel and the instigator of all the nasty tricks that befall le Pou. In the first part of the story, young Pou is often on the floor, crying from the latest surprise meted out by the bully in his life. It is part way through this tale that Pou receives a threatening letter from le Guerrier. Instead of being afraid of the note, he sends it back to le Guerrier complete with spelling, punctuation and grammar corrections! Le Pou embarrasses his foe by asking him to spell the declaration of war in front of his friends. Naturally he can't and the schoolmates begin to laugh at the big, tough kid who can't read or write very well . Nothing is worse for a bully than being ridiculed in front of one's peers.
At the end of this delightful short novel, le Pou comes up with an ingenious way of getting his arch enemy on his side of the "war". The two boys together become inseparable and unbeatable. They come to realise that together, they are so much stronger and more capable of achieving success than when they were on opposite sides.
The illustrations in this book are wonderful. The characters are expressive and at times, so very human. This book evokes a positive message that will appeal to students and teachers alike.