Aunt Olga's Christmas Postcards by Kevin Major
Illustrated by Bruce Roberts. Groundwood/House of Anansi, 2005. unp. Illus. Gr. 1-5. 0-88899-593-8. Hdbk. $18.95
The award-winning Christmas story The House of the Wooden Santas was one of the most unique Christmas stories I had encountered - until now. Major has taken yet another nostalgic element of Christmas, the postcard, and turned it into a touching tale featuring whimsical postcards from Major's own collection, interspersed with watercolours by GG winner Bruce Roberts.
Each Christmas, Aunt Olga, a "nonagenarian" who "writes poetry and does tai chi and reads travel magazines", tells her niece tales about her collection of Christmas postcards. This year, for the first time, Anna is allowed to look at each card as her wonderfully humorous aunt tells about it. Through these stories, Aunt Olga relays the story of her own life: her love of skating as a child, her job writing verses for Christmas postcards, the death of her brother in World War I. Many of the postcards are accompanied by Aunt Olga's poems, and when Anna laments on her inability to write, Aunt Olga gives her the postcards as inspiration. Anna, in her youth, is unaware that this may be the last time she and Aunt Olga share this ritual, but she ends her visit with determination to write a poem for her aunt.
Aunt Olga's discussion of how to write poems that rhyme and those that don't would make a nice introduction to writing poetry. The reproduced postcards, which will send grandparents searching through family texts for the special one they poked away, add a pleasant element of discussion to the family tree project. The brief history of postcards will encourage children both to send them and to think of nostalgic items to collect. And the beautiful story will be a Christmas classic. From the "postcards" that give the copyright information and dedication to those on the end papers, this book is a treasure.
Thematic Links: Christmas - History; Postcards - History; Collecting; Writing; Poetry; Aging
Beetle Bedlam by Vlasta Van Kampen
Key Porter Kids, 1996, 2005. Illus. Gr. 2-4. 1-55263-687-9. Pbk. $11.95
The front cover of Beetle Bedlam is striking, with large and colourful depictions of beetles, pulling a reader into the book. The story follows the trial of a pine beetle by his peers, various types of beetles who can provide evidence about the charge laid against him - destroying trees. As the trial proceeds, the reader is introduced to individual beetles representing several species. The judge makes the pine beetle promise that he and his family will stop destroying trees and search out those already dead or dying, as his species normally would. Vlasta van Kampen, award winning author and illustrator, gives each beetle a unique personality, which adds verve to what might otherwise be a rather bland plot.
Van Kampen has carefully researched the scientific content of this book. Illustrations are detailed, accurate and attention-grabbing. The glossary provides more information about each species of beetle included in the book, and the afterword is written by Dr. J.M. Campbell, a scientist with the Centre for Land and Biological Resources Research, Agriculture Canada. The author has created an amalgam of fact and fiction that will be engaging for children. Those who are interested in entomology can use the information in Beetle Bedlam as a starting point for their explorations.
As a reviewer of children's literature for Resource Links, I am privileged to read a number of outstanding books written for children. It is clear that Canada's young children, and the adults who are in their lives, have access to a range of talented authors and illustrators. Canadian books for children entertain, inform, educate and touch our hearts. They can also provoke us to think more deeply about the events around us, and ponder how we can best deal with controversial issues that affect young learners. For me, Beetle Bedlam raised the many economic, social and political issues surrounding the pine beetle epidemic currently being experienced in my home province. Beetle Bedlam may not have had the same impact on me had I first read it when it was initially published in 1996. Then, I was living on the Prairies, where the impact of the weather and grain prices on local economies was a key element of everyday life. Now, I live in the Interior of British Columbia, where the forest industry plays a significant role in many communities. The lives and livelihoods of large numbers of individuals are affected by what happens to our trees. Thus, there are children in numerous classrooms throughout BC whose lives have been changed by the impact of this small insect. Joyce Bainbridge, author and scholar of children's literature, has said that "For young readers, national literatures play a crucial role in developing a sense of identity, a sense of belonging, of knowing who they are". (Bainbridge and Thistleton-Martin, 2001) Further to these important effects, books that focus on events in children's everyday experiences also provide opportunities for critical thinking and expressing their views on events that affect them personally. Teachers may choose Beetle Bedlam as a beginning point for more in-depth discussions about the mountain pine beetle, especially in communities where it is creating serious environmental and economic problems.
For those in other parts of the country who are unfamiliar with the impact of this insect, you may wish to go to http://www.for.gov.bc.ca/hfp/mountain_pine_beetle/ for more information. No matter where you live, Beetle Bedlam will be a worthwhile addition to library, classroom or home book collections.
Thematic Links: Beetles; Forest Industry; Resources
Red Sea by Diane Tullson
Orca Book Publishers, 2005. 176p. Gr. 7-12. 1-55143-331-1. Pbk. $9.95
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 and faceless. I can taste it, Djibouti dust. It's like particles of people and animals and African desert as old as anything is on earth, mixed with crumbling plaster and car exhaust.
Libby is fourteen and the reluctant third wheel on a sailing trip through the Red Sea. Libby's mother and stepfather, Duncan, are living their dream. They insist that Libby, who has been making increasingly rebellious choices about friends, school and relationships, journey with them. Libby does her best to be nasty and a difficult passage ensues.
The story really starts when Libby returns late to the boat on a day when the family had wanted to leave with other boats going to Masamirit. Travelling together would offer some protection against local pirates. By the time Libby returns, the other travelers have had to leave and Duncan, Libby and her mom set out by themselves.
All goes well until Libby and her mom are taking the night watch, while Duncan rests. Libby gets angry with her mother and goes to bed, awakening to her mother's panic stricken shouts when modern day pirates do attack. Libby is told to stay below by Duncan but manages to get high enough on the companionway to see everything - her mother being shot and collapsing to the deck and Duncan being brutally killed and rolling off the boat. We live through each scene within Libby's thoughts, spilling on top of each other, with real emotion and an interconnectedness that make us think that the author has lived through a situation like this. It seems incredibly real.
Libby is left with a fouled boat, ruined sails, an unconscious mother and all her equipment stolen. To see her reaction to each challenge, the conversations she has with herself, her mother and an imaginary audience is to watch the maturing of a girl to a woman. The depths of strength and courage rising up when needed are astounding. I don't know if I could have gone under the boat hundred of times to cut through the fishing net strangling the propeller. Yet somehow, this novel gives us the assurance that we, too, could survive horrendous experiences and survive, because we would do what needed to be done.
This is a book that needs to be in every library for readers grade seven and up. I could see it being used as a powerful novel study with older readers for its descriptive abilities and the underlying themes of survival, consequences of actions, and choices.
Thematic Links:Survival; Family Relationships
Cartooning for Kids by Marge Lightfoot
Maple Tree Press, 2005. 64p. Illus. Gr. 2-7. 1-897066-38-4. Hdbk. $17.95
In Cartooning for Kids Marge Lightfoot has created a wonderful incentive for children to begin and to continue cartooning. The book is written in a developmental method starting with an overall look at cartooning in the 'Getting the Whole Picture' chapter and 'Getting Started'. Marge describes the workings of the cartoonist and then suggests ideas on how to get started. Drawing people and animals are described in detail with many useful illustrations. As a follow-up Marge reiterates her suggestions in a 'Step-by step Replay'. Special touches and cartoon clues are incorporated into the text. The following chapter deals with the more sophisticated concept of adding texture: lines, patterns, and color. After the section on practicing with characters, 'Setting the Scene' describes techniques on how to incorporate the characters into a story. The chapter on 'Telling your Joke' describes visual gags, speech balloons, lettering, and changing angles. The final chapter 'Other Cartoon Projects' offers suggestions for using cartooning techniques on greeting cards, flip books, posters, rocks, pieces of wood, tee-shirts, and windows.
The text of Cartooning for Kids is complemented by numerous colourful illustrations and sidebars of tips identified consistently with a green circle. The book has an attractive layout that makes for easy reading and comprehension. The book would be appealing to even the most reluctant artist. Cartooning for Kids is available in both paperback and hardcover. It is highly recommended for both school and public libraries. The book would be a useful resource for art class and for individual recreation. Drawing books are always a popular library circulation item. Perhaps it would be wise to have more than one copy available in the library!
Thematic Links:Cartooning; Drawing; Crafts; Humour
Easy for You to Say : Q & A's for Teens Living with Chronic Illness or Disability by Miriam Kaufman
Key Porter Books, 2005. 285p. Illus. Gr. 6-12. 1-55263-686-0. Pbk. $22.95
"Knowledge is empowering!"
Barriers aren't something that this book contains. Rather, the text serves to open the door to a greater understanding of childhood illnesses and disabilities.
The author is a doctor and mother with the attributes of social worker and guidance counsellor. She is an advocate as well as a listener, dedicated to providing teens living with complex disabilities, the information that they genuinely require.
The question and answer format is very accessible, allowing readers to "jump in" at any point in the book. Asked by the kids of varying ages, in their own words, no question is considered"too embarrassing". Rather it is the author's view that, in all probability, their concerns are universal.
In her responses, the author is direct and practical. Her suggestions, therefore, have the potential to significantly improve the quality of a teen's life. While distinctions are made between medical and social supports, as well as short-term and long-term care requirements, discussions remain general enough to be applicable to a variety of situations and conditions.
Throughout the book, the author emphasizes the need for balance, between the teen's needs and parental boundaries. Consequently, this publication would be a great asset for school libraries and guidance counselling offices, at both the Middle and Senior levels.
Thematic Links:Chronic Diseases in Adolescence - Miscellanea; Teenagers with Disabilities - Conduct of Life; Physically Handicapped Ð Drug use
Informal Assessment Strategies: Asking Questions, Observing Students, and Planning Lessons that Promote Successful Interaction with Text by Beth Charlton
Pembroke Publishers, 2005. 101p. 1-55138-181-8. Pbk. $24.95
This book shows teachers how to find opportunities daily to assess and to learn how to listen, question, and observe students and focus on their strengths and abilities particularly in literacy and reading comprehension. It examines how formative assessment provides a teacher with opportunities to find out how the student approaches, interacts with and uses text. It focuses on creating questions and listening to answers that allow teachers to examine a student's ability to process text effectively. The author observes in her introduction "well thought out questions are an integral component of formative classroom assessment and... they are the keystones that enable a teaching-learning match." Informal classroom assessment is an ongoing series of opportunities for a teacher to create and use well thought-out questions to gather information about a student's learning. These observations of student interactions, participation and completion of assignments are accumulated daily and reflect the authenticity of classroom activities. Examining them gives teachers information about the effectiveness of their planning, teaching and the student's learning.
In this book chapters deal with successful lessons, informal assessment, formative reading assessment, observing and recording how student processes text, assessing comprehension, daily opportunities for assessment, independent reading as a time for assessment, and using assessment results to make instructional choices. It includes lots of examples of instructional approaches, reflections on teaching experiences, suggested strategies and sample activities and forms.
Recommended for all teachers.
Thematic Links:Educational Evaluation; Educational Tests and Measurements
The World Stopped Watching by Directed by Peter Raymont.
White Pine Pictures & National Film Board of Canada, 2003. VHS. 81 min. 10 sec. Gr. 7-12. $49.95
In the 1980s, Nicaragua was often in the news because of the U.S.- backed Contra War against Nicaragua's revolutionary Sandinista government. Now, Nicaragua is no longer in the media spotlight and it struggles along as one of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere.
The World Stopped Watching is the sequel the award-winning video The World is Watching, an investigation by film maker Peter Raymont into the effects that the media had on the Contra War. In 2002, Raymont and Harold Crooks return to Nicaragua accompanied by Newsweek photographer Bill Gentile and Boston Globe columnist Randolph Ryan to discover what had become of the people that were featured in their reports on the Contra War. They encounter families living on the edge of a garbage dump, a survivor of a Contra attack, meet with former Sandinista commander Julio Ochoa and interview former President Daniel Ortega. They discover what happened to these people and their lives after the war ended and the media left.
This video is a dramatic view into the lives of Nicaraguans and what happens to real people as a result of civil war. It is also an eye-opening look into the effect that the media can have on world events and what can happen when the there is interference with the running of another country.
Thematic Links: Nicaragua; Sandinista / Contra War; Aftermath of War; Media Studies
Canadian Atlas Online (http://canadiangeographic.ca/atlas/)
Royal Canadian Geographic Society. Gr. 6-12
Wow! This website is a wonderful meld of technology, curriculum and Canadian geography. It is presented by the Royal Canadian Geographical Society whose mission is "to make Canada better known to Canadians and to the world." The society has magazine, television programs and other educational outreach programs. The partners on this website include TD Financial Group, The Department of Canadian Heritage, and Microsoft Canada.
The website marries cartography, graphics and animation to allow students and teachers to explore a Canadian "state-of-the-art interactive atlas." The website is very user friendly with headers and sidebars to allow easy navigation. The sidebars have headings such as: explore the maps, explore by themes, Learning Centre, Games and quizzes, CG kids atlas, How to use this site, Purchase the atlas, Useful links. There are 16 themes in four categories: The Land, The Regions, The People and The Issues.
In the Learning Centre, teachers can access complete lesson plans with additional materials at Middle (Grade 6-8) and Secondary (9-12) levels. The lessons are created by teacher-members of The Canadian Council for Geographic Education. These lessons are organized by themes such as: Arctic and Taiga, Atlantic Region, Boreal Shield, Central Plains and Weather. When I clicked on "Secondary," I got a page full of results. I chose "Cod Calamity" and found a comprehensive lesson plan with: Lesson Overview, Grade Level, Time Required, Curriculum Connection, Link to Canadian National Geography Standards. Then the lesson was outlined with activities, extensions and assessment tools. The lesson was very comprehensive and useful for the busy educator looking for an interactive tool!
The other appealing features of the site include games and quizzes, CG kids atlas, using the site and useful links. All of the features were written in easy to understand vocabulary. The presentation was easy to understand with bolded important points and logical subtitles. In the "How to Use This Site" section, there was a very useful series of Frequently Asked Questions such as, "Just how detailed are your maps?"
The only real cautions about this site involve computer capability and the sales pitch in the "Purchase this atlas" portion of the website. Computers with very little memory or graphic capability will have difficulty with this interactive site. As well, the Royal Canadian Geographical Society is trying to sell its atlas on this site in the purchase portion of this site.
Thematic Links:Canadian Geography; Provinces; Environment; Regions of Canada; Canadian Shield; Weather
Citrouille en vadrouille by Kevin Lewis
French translation by Cecile Gagnon. Illustrated by S. D. Schindler. éditions Scholastic, 2004. 31p. Illus. Gr. Pre-School - 3. 0-439-96214-5. Pbk. $8.99
The colourful cover depicting the runaway pumpkin says it all! The Brodeur siblings find a huge orange pumpkin but it escapes from them, rolls downhill, damages fences and a chicken coop, and frightens all the animals! Finally it stops in a newly ploughed field and eventually it becomes an amazing jack o' lantern whose pulp provides soup, bread and pie for supper.
Children will enjoy the rhymes and the singsong quality of this book. Each time the pumpkin gets away, the 'chorus' is repeated: "la bruyante, la bousculante, la trepidante, la geante citrouille en vadrouille!" Children will undoubtedly chant along as they get to know the text. The rhyme and alliteration just beg to be repeated!
Schindler's illustrations add a great deal to the humour of the book and are appropriate autumn colours of rich oranges, browns, golds and blues. Many of the characters are dressed in Halloween costumes, brought to life by Schindler's art.
This is a very funny and enjoyable story which will be a hit with children as the excitement of Halloween approaches. They could even make their own paper pumpkins and try racing them - just to see if one runs away!