Volume 10, no.5 - June 2005

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Picture Books

  • Brave Jack and the Unicorn by Janet McNaughton

    Illustrated by Susan Tooke. Tundra, 2005. 32p. Illus. Gr. 1-6. 0-88776-677-3. Hdbk. $22.99

    Rating: E

  • Newfoundland-based writer Janet McNaughton and Halifax-based illustrator Susan Tooke have combined their award-winning talents to present a traditional tale with wonderful Newfoundland flavour.

    "Too kindhearted to pull weeds from the potatoes", Jack, the youngest of three sons, leaves his widowed mother to find his brothers, who have gone to seek their fortunes. As he has always done, Jack performs many kind deeds along the way. When he attempts to free his brothers and a beautiful princess from the grips of an evil magician, the creatures he has helped assist him in meeting three challenges required to win the princess's hand in marriage. The last challenge, to find a unicorn, can only be completed by someone who is kind of heart. When Jack is successful, he and the princess thwart the magician's attempts to catch the unicorn. Jack frees his brothers and all live happily ever after.

    McNaughton's exceptional storytelling skills shine through in all her work and are perfectly suited to folktales. This story reads aloud beautifully, effectively blending dialogue and description. The Jack of folktales is transformed into a Newfoundland hero, full of kindness and strength of character. Tooke's lavish acrylics are the perfect accompaniment. Taking scenes from Newfoundland outports (the sources are listed), she allows the already vibrant characters to resonate and take on a sense of place that fills my (Newfoundland) heart with pride. The settings and characters are at the same time current and timeless. Jack is any boy I grew up with, and he's also a fabled hero. And of course Signal Hill could be a Medieval castle!

    This tale is a strong choice to introduce a discussion of how folktales are adapted, the strong oral storytelling traditions of rural Canada, and the elements of folktales. It would also be useful in upper elementary grades to discuss character development and setting. Beautiful!

  • Thematic Links: Folktales; Newfoundland and Labrador; Place as Character; Kindness.

  • Denise Parrott
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Fiction Grades 3-6

  • From Another World by Ana Maria Machado

    Groundwood Books/ Douglas & McIntyre, 2005 . 136p. Gr. 3-6. 0-88899-641-1. Pbk. $9.95 (Reviewed from advance reading copy)

    Rating: E

  • This riveting story is told by Mariano, a young boy living in Cachoerinha do Rio das Pedras, Brazil. Mariano and his friends are visited by the ghost of a slave girl from the 1880's, when his mother and her friend open a bed and breakfast in what used to be the slave quarters on a coffee plantation. Mariano promises the ghost, Rosario, that he will write down what he and his friends have experienced to document her life story. Although he feels like he is not suited to this task, never have enjoyed reading or writing, he is compelled to keep his promise. His writing starts off hesitantly and unsure, but become more confidant as his account progresses. The style of the story, written in first person, is captivating.

    Rosario's story is heart-breakingly poignant. As the daughter of a slave on a coffee plantation in the 1880's, she witnesses the abolition of slavery in Brazil. While she herself was technically not a slave because of the Free Womb Law, under which the children of slaves were born free, she and her brother are still treated as slaves in all meaningful ways. In order to prevent the slave owners from killing the infants, parents "bought" their children's lives by promising them into slavery. The anti-slavery laws were slowly implemented and eventually old slaves also became free (and forced off the plantations) when they turned sixty, but now nable to work many starved to death. Recognizing the horrors of this slow end to slavery, Princess Isabel, the daughter of the emperor of Brazil, abolishes slavery completely in the Emperor's absence.

    The plantation owner in this story was so enraged that slavery had been suddenly abolished, he literally was one of the last to hear of it, that in a fit of rage he burned down the senzala (slave quarters) with all his slaves inside. Rosario's brother, who had snuck away from the plantation, was the only one to escape. Rosario's ghost haunts the senzala after she dies, wanting to know what has happened to her brother. As Mariano and his friends learn the story of Rosario's life and that of her brother, they realize that they are connected and that Rosario's history is part of their history as well.

    This book is a must read. It could be used in the class room as a base for discussions of ghost stories, history of Brazil, and slavery. It would also be a good novel to use as a tool for teaching writing techniques, it contains foreshadowing, imagery, interwoven plot lines and more.

    There is a brief political history of Brazil at the end of the book and a glossary of the Portuguese words.

    Originally published in 2002, as Do outra mundo, this English translation is scheduled to be published April 2005.

  • Thematic Links: Slavery, Ghost stories, History of Brazil

  • Shannon Roome
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Fiction Grades 7 - 12

  • The Convicts by Iain Lawrence

    Delacorte Press, 2005. 198p. Gr. 8-12. 0-385-73087-X. Hdbk. $22.95

    Rating: E/G

  • Red Sea is a must read. Written by an author of exceptional talent, the images this book evokes are compelling and lasting. Every step, every action and every emotion the heroine, Libby, goes through or feels is vividly portrayed and makes the reader feel as though they are in her position.

    This book caught me from the first three sentences. Tullson's descriptive abilities are astounding: The road from the city is paved but dusty, and my sandals atomize small clouds that sift over my pant legs, my shirt, my chin and nose and eyebrows, then every strand of my hair until I'm dun-colored Iain Lawrence is a compelling writer. In this Victorian story of dangerous and violent adventures, he turns his talents to recounting the horrendous tale of convict boys imprisoned in unbearable conditions on a boat moored in the Thames. He pulls no punches: the captors are viciously cruel to the boys and the boys are sometimes even more cruel to each other. Conditions aboard the prison hulk are so desperate that it seems as if the lucky boys are the ones who are transported to Australia. A historical afterword makes it clear that his account is based on the records.

    This book is definitely not for the fainthearted, but readers with a stomach for relentless adventure will undoubtedly enjoy it. Lawrence makes skilled use of his historical horrors to keep readers hooked. He does not shy away from outright nastiness and parts of the book are quite bloodthirsty - but it is all very well done.

    Some have argued recently that we need more books that offer the elements that are said to appeal to boys: constant action, ongoing adventure, blood and thunder, courage and cruelty. This book certainly fulfils those specifications. It is well written and chilling - not every reader's cup of tea but those who like their books to be full of rip-snorting adventure will be delighted with it.

  • Thematic Links:Prison Conditions; Victorian Social History; Ships

  • Margaret Mackey
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Non-Fiction Preschool - Grade 6

  • Sun and Storms: Canadian Summer Weather (Canada Close Up Series) by Nicole Mortillaro

    Scholastic Canada, 2005. 60p. Illus. Gr. 3-6. 0-439-95745-1. Pbk. $5.99

    Rating:E

  • As Canadians, we love to talk about weather. Usually, our favourite topic of discussion revolves around winter weather - how cold is it; how much snow did we get; will it ever warm up? Summer weather can be just as fascinating, however, and Sun and Storms: Canadian Summer Weather will give kids all the information they need to talk about Canada's summer weather.

    Written as an early chapter book, Sun and Storms is broken up into 7 informative chapters. Covering basic weather information such as sun and clouds and then moving into severe summer weather (tornadoes, thunder and lightning, hurricanes), this book is an ideal introduction to summer weather for all children. Including such recent events as the Pine Lake (AB) tornado and the freak summer storm in Edmonton last summer, Nicole Mortillaro presents information in a clear, easy to read style that will appeal to both weather watchers and those new to the world of weather.

    Sun and Storms is illustrated with a combination of photographs and diagrams that enhance the text and provide further information. A table of contents and glossary add to the value of the book and make it easy to find information. A final chapter on Wild Weather Facts is sure to entertain and fascinate with facts like: the CN Tower in Toronto gets hit by lightning about 75 times each year.

    Sun and Storms: Canadian Summer Weather is highly recommended for school and public libraries.

  • Thematic Links:Weather; Meteorology; Summer; Canada

  • Joanne de Groot
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Non-Fiction Grades 7-12

  • Media Madness: An Insider's Guide to Media by Dominic Ali

    Illustrated by Michael Cho. Kids Can Press, 2005. 64p. Illus. Gr. 7-12. 1-55337-175-5. Hdbk. $16.95

    Rating: G

  • Media Madness is a wonderfully colourful graphic book that bills itself as an "Insider's Guide to Media". The billing is hardly an exaggeration. The book has introductory chapters on television, radio, the music business, magazines, comic books and newspapers. It also gives its readers a mental checklist to go through when interacting with various media, including why the message is being sent, its target audience and the values and lifestyles shown. This is important information for contemporary students. English courses in primary and secondary schools have been increasing the amount of time they spend studying different media. This book addresses educator's needs for a thoughtful, yet student appropriate resource, on media literacy.

    Media Madness does have its drawbacks. The political correctness that runs throughout the text and graphics sounds forced at times, and the tone of the book tries a little too hard to be sardonic and cool. But these quibbles are minor, however, given the need in various grades for a thoughtful yet entertaining approach to media literacy.

    Media Madness is a great resource, especially for basic level students in later elementary or early secondary school grades. Kudos to the authors of Media Madness for their engaging book.

  • Thematic Links:Media Awareness

  • Maria Forte
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Professional Resources

  • Talking Writing and Thinking about Books by Jo Phenix

    Pembroke Publishers, 2005. 123p. 1-55138-183-4. Pbk. $24.95

    Rating: G

  • Phenix's book is a wonderful resource guide that recognizes that children engage in all kinds of text in the classroom, including print text and multi-media. This resource guide recognizes that in a balanced literacy classroom, children engage in individual, small group activities, guided reading or reading with a whole class. All activities provided in this guide are adaptable to any situation. The author points out that the activities provided in the guide are meant to enhance comprehension and encourage children to think about their reading and viewing of texts. The activities challenge students to go beyond strictly informational reading and to use their critical thinking skills to interpret the classroom texts.

    The guide is well laid out and each chapter focuses on a particular mode of response, such as talking and reading aloud, drama, visual arts, writing and research. The activities cover five categories: character, setting, plot, and personal response, language and words. This guide offers a useful graph outlining the chapters and the type of activities that fall into each mode, with an indication if the activity is an individual, partner, or group activity. At a quick glance teachers can pick and choose which activity is most resourceful for their class. The author has also included a useful section on how to use the activities, groupings, and organizing of the activities. The resource sheets are clear and clean, and the activity instructions are concise. Resource sheets are quick to identify, with the header identifying the chapter, the type of writing and whether it is individual, partner or group work.

    I particularly liked the visual arts component, as it does not focus so much on the mechanics of art, but instead draws more on a child's aesthetic appreciation and their own experiences.

    This resource guide is much needed by the novice teacher, and also potentially useful for the teacher with an established classroom.

  • Thematic Links:Talking; Read Aloud; Drama; Visual Arts; Writing and Research

  • Anne Burke
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Audio Visual Resources

  • The Weight of the World

    Writer/Director: Glynis Whiting. National Film Board of Canada, 2003. VHS. 51 min. Gr. 7-12. $49.95

    Rating: E

  • Writers of The Weight of the World explore a trendy topic of serious concern to Western Civilization: obesity and its related problems. Far from being a reiteration of the proliferation of literature and film about this topic, author Glynis Whiting uses clever animation coupled with statistics to discuss such concerns as: Obesity as a by-product of Western culture; Obesity and its link with the poor; Societies that are car-dominated and obesity links; Fast food; supersized portions; eating out as a social activity; Urban sprawl; labour-saving technology and how obesity is related; Developing nations and resulting obesity; and Obesity not as an individual but as a political and societal problem.

    The Weight of the World is an excellent vehicle for discussing cultural; family; political and national issues connected with obesity. It would make an outstanding addition to political science, society challenge and change and health classes at secondary and college/university facilities. The accompanying website http://www.cbc.ca/montreal/weightoftheworld is full of interesting facts and followup suggestions. Both video and website use animation as a clever format for getting their message to public attention.

  • Thematic Links: Health; Obesity; Eating Disorders; Nutrition

  • Gail Lennon
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French Resources

  • Monsieur Bardin sous les étoiles by Pierre Filion

    Soulières éditeur, 2004. 52p. Illus. Gr. 3-5 EFI, GRADE 6-7 LFI. 2-89607-005-2. Pbk. $7.95

    Rating: E

  • This soft covered book contains 52 pages of text and includes several small black and white illustrations.

    At the back of the book, the reader can find information about the author, the illustrator, other books in the Monsieur Bardin series and a list of 56 titles that make up the collection "Ma petite vache a mal aux pattes". A website address is included at the back for students to send in their dreams directly to Monsieur Bardin.

    REVIEW:

    In this short novel, we are once again off on an adventure with the wild and wacky Monsieur Bardin, teacher extraordinaire. Throughout the 7 chapters, we are reminded of the importance of having dreams and then pursuing them. Monsieur Bardin believes strongly that amazing things can happen to those who have the courage to go beyond what they can see and feel.

    Just prior to Saint Valentine's Day, Monsieur takes his class to a cabin belonging to Jeremy's grandfather. In order to teach his students the wonders of dreaming, he must take them away from their familiar surroundings and open their eyes to new possibilities. The first activity involves lying in the snow with one's eyes closed and allowing the dreams to come and go without any thought. Throughout their stay at the chalet, the students are introduced to a variety of games and activities to stimulate their imagination and sense of wonder. Toward the end of the book, a young student asks Monsieur Bardin to describe his most beautiful dream. His reply is: "The night after my very first day of school, I dreamed that I would spend every day of my life at school, surrounded by beautiful books." Anything is possible when one knows how to dream.

    I chose to read this book aloud to my grade 6/7 EFI class and then asked them to critique the story, as if they were the reviewers. Here is what one boy wrote: "This book was fun to read. I really liked the activities that we did after each chapter (i.e. turning off the lights and having them dream to some soft music in the background, then sending off their dreams to the email address found at monsieurbardin.com ).

    At the back of the book, the reader can find information about the author, the illustrator, other books in the Monsieur Bardin series and a list of 56 titles that make up the collection "Ma petite vache a mal aux pattes". A website address is included at the back for students to send in their dreams directly to Monsieur Bardin.

    I would rate this book a ten out of ten because it was easy to understand, yet there was also some hard vocabulary that we had to look up for the activities."

  • Thematic Links:Dreams; Creative Writing; Saint Valentine's Day; Letter writing/Email writing

  • Janice Ling
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