Bottled Sunshine by Andrea Spalding
Illustrated by Ruth Ohi. Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2005. Unp. Illus. Gr. 1-6. 1-55-41-703-7. Hdbk. $19.95
Sammy's holidays are about to end and he is sad to say good-bye to his favourite places. Grandma suggests that "it's time to bottle some sunshine to take back with you". Together they search out the sunniest blackberry patch carefully avoiding the bees and the prickles. Working alongside one another they make bottled sunshine - also known as blackberry jam. Once back at home Sammy finds a special spot in his closet for his treasure. During the fall and winter Sammy gets back into school and sports, soon his special bottle is forgotten about. One winter day his family receives a phone call to say that Grandma has died. While Sammy and his Mom are revisiting the fun times Sammy shared with his Grandma he remembers his bottle on the shelf. Ohi's full page and sometimes double page illustrations vividly record Sammy's special holiday time with his Grandma. Each illustration features something purple or mauve in it. Sometimes it is a piece of clothing like Grandma's purple dotted pants or Sammy's purple sweatshirt. It is also the colour of the blackberry jam on both Sammy and his Mom's lips as they enjoy some of the bottled sunshine which has been spread on their toast.This endearing story which is so aptly captured by the watercolour illustrations is a book for parents to share with their children. It provides common ground to discuss love, loss, grief and the lasting comfort of memories.
On Wings of Evil by Cora Taylor
Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 2005. Gr. 4-8. 1-55041-929-3. Hdbk. $19.95
Move over, J. K. Rowling. Here is a great fantasy to recommend to those children caught by the Harry Potter bug. A struggling young queen, a revengeful old queen, a wise dragon, a mythical bird-girl and a spooky evil presence that takes on a bird form: what more could you want?In this sequel to On Wings of a Dragon, Maighdlin (now Queen Galea) finds herself awash in a sea of treachery as the former Queen Mariah, (now a harpy) and her evil master who takes the shape of a bird, mount several inside attacks. Maighdlin and her faithful friend Talun (whom she wishes could be more than a friend) are almost overwhelmed despite the help of a strong inner core of supporters. When Maighdlin calls for help from the dragon Api'Naga, he flies to the rescue with Kourel, the bird-girl. Able to mind-read and mind-speak, they seem to successfully destroy the old queen and her cowardly son, but even their combined power can't destroy the magical tower, the seat of dark evil. A sequel seems probable!
The enduring themes of good v.s. evil, loyalty and the strength of friendships will attract all middle-school readers. Readers will shiver at the hovering, oppressive all-powerful evil and cheer on the wise dragon and bird-girl who radiate goodness and magic.Maighdlin, Api'Naga and Kourel are all strong, compelling characters. Particularly interesting is the relationship between the two magical characters and the whole world in which they operate. Taylor devotes alternate chapters to Maughdlin's typical Medieval world and the world of the dragons until they come together. Api'Naga's thoughts, heard in the minds of the other characters, are in bold. Kourel has worked on her voice so that it is less bird-like and more human. The plot is full of action, surprising revelations, and characters who are not who they seem to be.Fantasies like this one should be first on the list to read for any middle school student.
After by Francis Chalifour
Tundra, 2005. 133p. Gr. 7-11. 0-88776-705-2. Pbk. $9.99 (Reviewed from uncorrected proofs)
Sometimes "after" is a terrible word, and it certainly is resonant of grief and disbelief in this story of a boy, nearly sixteen years old, whose father commits suicide. The book opens with Francis being summoned back to Montreal from a school trip to New York. On his arrival he learns of his father's death, and the rest of the book describes his reactions over the next few months, with a brief afterword from the perspective of five years later. Chalifour does a wonderful job of conveying the confusion and desperation of all three of the surviving family members: Maman, Francis himself, and his young brother Luc who is just starting school. Francis is grief-stricken, guilty, angry and ashamed - he feels a stigma in being the son of a suicide that overwhelms him at times. This is not a cheerful book but it is heartening in its truthful account of how people deal with the worst things that can happen to them. Lucky readers will find it an emotional education. Readers more familiar with the depths of bereavement will recognize how such an enormous loss can turn a person inside-out.
Francis, as narrator, does not spare himself in his account of the emotional paroxysms that upset his whole sense of himself. At the same time, we see his enormous tenderness for his little brother, and the way his own grief is magnified in the sorrow of his family. The few words from five years later help enormously in showing that a sense of proportion can be completely lost for a while without necessarily disappearing forever. This Governor's General nominee is an important acquisition for public libraries, school libraries and all kinds of special libraries in clinics and doctors' offices. Readers probably need to find it for themselves rather than having it thrust down their throats by well-meaning sympathizers, but once they do find it, they will remember it. Chalifour has done an admirable job of articulating the unspeakable.
Strange New Species: Astonishing Discoveries of Life on Earth by Elin Kelsey
Maple Tree Press, 2005. 96p. Illus. Gr. 5 up. 1-897066-32-5. Pbk. $19.95
If you get bitten by a mosquito in the London Underground, your bite could be from a new species of mosquito. Who knew that dental plaque is made up of more than 500 species of bacteria that work together to weave tiny microbial mats that puzzle scientists to this day? New species are being discovered at a remarkable rate, with 1800 new species discovered in 2004. And it's not just in the deep ocean trenches or the depths of the rain forest. Two new species of salamander were discovered in a popular swimming hole, Barton Springs Pool, in the heart of Austin, Texas in the early 1990's and in 2001. Strange New Species, is filled with amazing information and anecdotes detailing the recent discovery of new species, 1800 in 2004 alone. With recent advances in genetic analysis, new species are being recognized at an astonishing rate. Elin Kelsey takes her readers to the far corners of the planet, from the rain forest to the deep-sea trenches, with a photograph of a human-sized gulping fish that is mostly mouth. A tiny, mouse-sized monkey animal is introduced in the Forward by a researcher from Brazil, a new species discovered in 1996. Kelsey also talks about animals perceived to be more ordinary, such as the discovery of a new species of whale by the Japanese in 2003 and the possibility of a new species of orca whale off the coast of Vancouver Island. For the reader, this gives the feeling that life around us still holds mysteries and wonders waiting to be discovered.
Excellent photographs enhance the book. Sidebars give small bites of information to embellish the main text. Kelsey also provides numerous "researcher profiles" often depicting the scientists as ordinary people with a deep interest in the natural world since childhood. Avid young readers with a strong interest in nature may see themselves in these scientists. The range of topics and areas covered is broad: rainforests, deep sea and other extreme environments, fossils, clones and other genetically engineered species, new species in familiar environments, and species to be discovered in the future. Strange New Species, will be enjoyed by anyone with an interest in the fascinating natural world still unfolding around us. It is highly recommended.
Our Stories, Our Songs: African Children Talk About AIDS by Deborah Ellis
Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 2005. 104p. Illus. Gr. 5-9. 1-55041-913-7. Hdbk. $22.95
In this heart rending book Deborah Ellis documents the lives of some of Africa's AIDS orphans by having these wonderful children tell their own tragic life stories.The book is divided into three parts that highlight the way AIDS orphans live from day to day, the caring for AIDS patients and the positive steps being taken by the children themselves to fight AIDS. The book's final section details facts about the illness itself, facts about AIDS in the world (but not in Canada, interestingly enough), definitions of AIDS terms and a map of Africa showing the countries (Malawi and Zambia) and towns of the children who share their stories. A Resources section and a good index conclude the book.Ellis is careful to use the direct, compelling words of the orphans themselves so the reader is immediately drawn into the book. For 12-year-old Victor, for example, whose father has died, there isn't enough money to go to school, although he clearly misses math, which "always works" and "always comes out the way it should". He and his best friend, Luke, discuss how they can become good people: "How will I learn to be a good man? Luke and I will have to teach each other". The children matter-of-factly discuss their hunger, their rejection by relatives and their deep desire to go to school and become educated. Almost all have goals: to be a driver, a nurse, an accountant, a secretary. Many live with grandmothers. Most cannot or do not name AIDS as the disease that killed their parents as the shame would be both overwhelming and dangerous. On the other hand, most know how to care for a dying AIDS patient and some are involved in school anti-AIDS clubs, Edusport's Kicking AIDS Out, the Anglican Voices Choir or the Trendsetters Newspaper. Zimachitika, a Malawi radio play that treats AIDS openly, reaches seven million people weekly.This book's tone brilliantly meets the understanding of children and teens by not offering gruesome, sordid details but by treating AIDS as any other disease that can be prevented and controlled. There is no room here for discrimination based on religious or moral pretension.Carefully broken up with photos, fact boxes, quotes and the author's comments.
Our Stories, Our Songs is a good example of excellent design that makes an information book easy to dip into, difficult to put down and impossible to forget.These sad, compelling stories will inform Canada's children and touch their hearts. This emotional appeal will certainly energize their thoughts and actions and may be the beginning of a change in the way the Western world views both Africa and AIDS. Ellis creates here for children the same urgency and hope that Canadian adults have seen in Stephen Lewis' recent Massey Lectures. Royalties from the book will be donated to Unicef. Our Stories, Our Songs should be in every school and public library and in every home in Canada.
Quests and Kingdoms: A Grown-Up's Guide to Children's Fantasy Literature by K.V. Johansen
Sybertooth Inc., 2005. 459p. 0-688024-4-3. Pbk. $37.50
Rating: G - E
In Thursday's Child, the late Canadian author, educator Sheila Egoff (1981) defines fantasy as a literature of paradox. "It is the discovery of the real within the unreal, the credible within the incredible, the believable within the unbelievable.... (It) wrestles with the great complexities of existence - life, death, time, space, good and evil - and a child's (adolescent's) struggle to find (his/her) place within these awesome concepts" (p.80). It illuminates life - revealing and reflecting on known, as well as, new insights into the world of reality. Fantasy touches children's and adolescents' deepest feelings, speaks to their best and most hopeful part of themselves and helps them to learn "how to be human", so Lloyd Alexander (1983) maintains, author of the popular Prydrian series. Equally important, it helps to develop their imagination - it motivates them to imagine, to conceive alternative ways of life, to entertain new ideas, to create strange new worlds, to dream dreams, all vital thinking skills to develop "the reasoning mind".
In her book, Quests and Kingdoms: A Grown-Up's Guide to Children's Fantasy Literature, K. V. Johansen depicts well Egoff's definition of fantasy by exploring its meaning through appropriate, and often well known, books of fantasy from the 1600s to today. As well, the inherent extrinsic and intrinsic values of fantasy important in children's and adolescents' lives are expressed in a clear and meaningful manner. She truly brings to the forefront the importance of fantasy in their lives and the vital need by parents, librarians and teachers to bring such stories and these readers together.Johansen takes the reader on a three century+ historical survey "tour ? of the fantasy for children (and adolescents), calling attention to the highlights?." Her intent is to acquaint the reader with the? "fantasy genre and its history" (p.8). However, before beginning the tour, she gives a brief, informative introduction to fantasy: a definition, its importance, as well as, the purpose and organization of the book. The tour commences with the Old Tales (Part 1) of the 17th. - 18th. C. - the fairy tales, legends and myths written by such authors as Madame d'Aulnoy, Charles Perrault, Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm, revealing the roots that fantasy is particularly dependent, i.e., the motifs, plots, characters, settings and themes. Her tour includes a view of fantasy during The Victorians (Part 1 and 2) citing such authors as Hans Christian Anderson and Lewis Carroll; books written Before the War by E. Nesbit, Rudyard Kipling, etc. and The Wars and Between, 1914-1950 by A. A. Milne, Beatrix Potter and others; an in depth tour of J. R. R. Tolkien's work; and books of The Fifties by C. S. Lewis, L. M. Boston, A. Philippa Pearce and others. The tour returns to the Old Tales (Part 2) focusing on the retelling of the traditional tales written by such renowned writers as the late Rosemary Sutcliff.
Johansen maintains that "Among the most enduringly popular traditional stories of the past few centuries have been those of King Arthur and Robin Hood" (p. 183), so her tour provides a detailed look at some of the recent writings of the Eternal Heroes - King Arthur and Robin Hood by such writers as Howard Pyle and Robin McKinley. The fantasy journey continues through The Sixties, The Seventies (Part 1 and 2), The Eighties, The Nineties (Part 1 and 2) and ends with a visit Into the Twenty-First Century, citing recent fantasies written by J. K. Rowling, Kenneth Oppel and others. Ninety-five authors, along with 500 of their works, are cited throughout this tour, the majority being British. Including more Canadian, American and Australian authors would enrich this journey, giving it a more international perspective. As well, more authors' works for 7-10 year olds would be welcomed. In her concluding chapter, Johansen restates concisely the importance of fantasy in the lives of our children and adolescents and its historical evolution.Each era (chapter) is introduced with an historical overview of the political and sociological culture of the time. It shows how the culture influenced children and adolescents and the impact it had on writing and publishing. The introduction is followed by the citing of a number of authors: each given a brief biographical sketch with a synopses and analysis of particular fantasies written by him/her.
In addition, important facts and insights about the fantasies are included, e.g., The Hobbit (Tolkien) "is one of the most significant fantasy works of all time" (p.118). A short, informative summary of the chapter brings closure to each era. Quests and Kingdoms: A Grown-Up's Guide to Children's Fantasy Literature, written in an informative, engaging and practical style, would be a valuable reference resource to librarians, education professionals and graduate students in the field of children's and adolescent literature.
Fighting Antisemitism Together (FAST) Choose Your Voice: Antisemitism in Canada - Victim Bystander Perpetrator Hero - A Teacher's Guide for Grades 6, 7, 8.
Canadian Jewish Congress, 2005. English only, includes DVD video clips for each of 4 lessons, two pages of other resources listed, Ontario Curriculum Learning Expectations for 6 - 8, 2 page glossary. Gr. 6-10. 1-895754-48-8. Free
Each lesson contributes to a better understanding of the ways in which we construct stereotypes and the ways in which prejudice and misunderstanding have contributed to our past and present in Canada"Lesson 1: teaches the concepts of stereotyping; Lesson 2: Canada's past involvement with racism and antisemitism – there are victims, bystanders and perpetrators; Lesson 3: Recent antisemitic and racist incidents - hate crimes; Lesson 4: Identification of strategies to respond to prejudice and hate filled incidentsThis is a well thought out package for teachers to use in the classroom. Antisemitic and racist activity is here now and we must respond by instructing our students how to cope with and rebuff such behaviours.
Le gardien masqué by Mike Leonetti
Texte francais: Louise Binette. Illustrated by Shayne Letain. éditions Scholastic, 2004. 29p. Illus. Gr. K-3. 0-439-96274-9. Hdbk. $21.95
This is a translation of Moon and Star. It is written in the style of a legend; a story that happened a long time ago.
Marc and his hockey coach disagree on his desire to change his goal-tending technique. Enter Marc's grandfather who used to be a goalie and so has some tips for Marc to practise. From there, it is a short step to grandfather''s reminiscence about Jacques Plante, the Canadiens, and the National Hockey League in 1959.Much of the rest of the book is the story of how Plante changed the sport of hockey. He was the first to wear a face mask and also introduced the concept of a goalie leaving his net to play the puck to his teammates. The final page of the book is, in fact, an interesting biography of Jacques Plante.Essentially this is the story of Plante's influence on hockey, with a very thin story line around it. However, the great goalie's career teaches Marc and his friends some valuable lessons. Marc learns that rather than just following the trends sometimes you have to go with your instincts about what is right. In the end, he has the courage to stand up for his ideas, get the coach on his side and, after practising to gain the necessary skills, actually has a shut-out and is the star of the game.The style of Leonetti's writing is simple and descriptive and his knowledge of and love for the game are evident. Shayne Letain's illustrations change to black and white when the story flashes back to 1959 and the famous game when Plante was injured and would only return to the ice wearing a mask.The book is somewhat predictable - try hard, practise often and you'll eventually be a winner. On the other hand, it is a story told with enthusiasm, excitement and passion for hockey and so would appeal to young athletes. It is often difficult to find a book that boys in this age group will enjoy reading independently. This one might just score!
Les aventures d'Abdi by Madonna
Texte francais: Helene Pilotto. Illustrated by Olga Dugina & Andrej Dugin.. éditions Scholastic, 2004. 29p. Illus. Gr. K-3. 0-439-96283-8. Hdbk. $19.95
When Abdi delivers a very special necklace to the palace, it mysteriously turns into a snake (with some help from bandits who steal the real jewellery!) The king immediately throws Abdi and the snake into the palace dungeon. Eventually Eli, Abdi's mentor and the maker of the necklace, arrives. He persuades the queen to put the serpent around her neck and - presto! - it is once more a beautiful piece, decorated with diamonds and rubies.This book is a combination of fairy tale and fable and contains many elements of each genre. Villains, innocent victims, dungeons, snakes and magic are typical of many fairy tales. And, as in many fables, there seem to be morals given by Eli, the "wise old man". He insists that ‘everything happens for the best' and that much can be accomplished if you believe in the power of positive thinking.The illustrations of Olga Dugina and Andrej Dugin are lavish and reminiscent of the Arabian Nights setting of the book. Soft blues, oranges, beiges and tans give a sense of a hot and dusty part of the world. Details in full-page illustrations are extraordinary and lush and are in keeping with the characters and setting of the story. On pages of text there are rich patterns which remind the readers of an oriental tapestry.This would be an excellent addition to your collection of folk tales, fairy tales and fables for young readers.