The Sights Before Christmas by Beni Malone & Marian Frances White
Illustrated by Darka Erdelji. Tuckamore Books, 2005. 32p. Illus. Gr. Preschool - 5. 1-894294-94-7. Pbk. $12.95
On the night before Christmas, a little clown named Barnaby is too excited to sleep and plots to stay awake to see the sights. But Barnaby “falls into a dream” of mummers who perform the play “Sir George and the Turkish Knight”, and an elf called Evergreen who grants Barnaby’s wish by leaving him a Christmas tree. Barnaby is every kid at Christmas time “so very excited”. The characters in his dreams are as fantastical as those in the dreams of any 10-year-old boy; they just happen to also introduce the wonderful Newfoundland tradition of the Mummers Play.
Beni Malone, graduate of Ringling Circus Barnum and Bailey Clown College, founded Wonderbolt Circus Productions in St. John’s many years ago. It is fun for kids to know this, since it gives an added dimension to Barnaby to know he also appears in stage productions. White is a poet and filmmaker, and, not surprisingly, the text of this story is incredibly vivid and dramatic, including lots of sound effects, movement and a spectacular but simply presented Mummer’s play. The rhythmic language, combined with rich illustrations by Erdelji (who has a “Master of Arts in Puppet Scenography”) make this book a perfect mix of story, drama, magic, folklore and the spirit of childhood.
This book is so much: a night-before-Christmas-story with universal appeal; a portrayal of traditions I grew up with in rural Newfoundland (like burning your letter to Santa so he could read the ashes); an introduction to a style of theatre that is almost as old as time; and a funny story that reads aloud with a vivacity that is true to the oral traditions of Newfoundland.
Mr. Chickee’s Funny Money by Christopher Paul Curtis
Wendy Lamb Books/ Random House of Canada, 2005. 121p. Gr. 3-6. 0-385-32772-2. Hdbk. $22.95
Can a quadrillion dollar bill actually exist? Nine year old Steven Carter soon realizes that this is another case to be solved by none other than the Flint Future Detectives. Mr. Othello Chickee, Steven’s blind neighbour, gave him an unusual piece of currency before leaving for Philadelphia. Steven needs to find out if this bill is legitimate cash or just plain old “funny money”. With his trusting friends Russell Woods and Zoopy, a large drooling dog, this hilarious trio work together to unravel the mystery. After visiting the U.S. Treasury Department and eavesdropping on Agent Fondoo’s conversation, Steven realizes that the money is indeed real. And so begins a whirlwind of hilarious adventures as Agent Fondoo’s Secret Agents try to chase down Steven and his team to reclaim the missing money that accidentally made its way into circulation.
After reading the first chapter of Mr. Chickee’s Funny Money, I was hooked and couldn’t wait to see how this detective caper would be solved. Students will find this book both engaging and entertaining. Mr. Chickee’s Funny Money has all the elements of a great book. The characters are interesting and easy to like, the plot is fast paced and will appeal to middle grade students and the comic episodes provide the reader with plenty of opportunities to laugh out loud. The interactions between Steven and his dad (who is always trying to teach him something), Great-great-great Grampa Carter’s talking dictionary, Steven’s spying inventions such as the Snoopeeze 2000 and Steven and Russell riding Zoopy as they try to out run secret agents are some examples of what one will encounter when reading this book.
Mr. Chickee’s Funny Money makes for a great read-a-loud. This would be a great book to introduce to reluctant readers as there is enough action to motivate and entertain. I believe both boys and girls will enjoy the unraveling of events in this book. This book needs to be part of all school libraries. I am definitely looking forward to more adventures from The Flint Future Detectives.
The Righteous Smuggler by Debbie Spring
Second Story Press, 2005. 160p. Illus. Gr. 5-9. 1-896764-97-5. Pbk $8.95
This is the latest title in Second Story Press’s award-winning Holocaust Remembrance Series, which includes Clara’s War, The Secret of Gabi’s Dresser, the Night Spies and The Underground Reporters, all by Kathy Kacer, and Hana’s Suitcase by Karen Levine. The series was designed to teach young readers the inescapable values of compassion courage and loyalty to one’s principles, especially in the face of unimaginable evil.
The Righteous Smuggler is the story of a young Dutch Christian appalled by the viscous anti-Semitism of the Nazi invaders of Holland in World War II; it details his efforts to help, first personal friends, and later, anonymous Jews sent to him by the Dutch Resistance. Although fiction, this story is informed by the grueling facts of the German occupation of Holland and the galling nature of the Nazi attitude to Holland in general and Jews in particular.
The initial shock of invasion and the increasing abuses directed towards the Jewish population of Holland are seen through the eyes of Hendrik and his father, who shows through his actions at the beginning of the book the importance of anyone in trouble and the responsibility each of us owes to helping others. There are also incidents that illustrate the necessity of avoiding detection through apparent complicity: Hendrik finds his friend on the cattle train headed for Westerbork concentration camp and he pushes chunks of bread through the narrow “window” while pretending to curse and throw stones at the train so the Nazi guards will not suspect his true intentions.
What I like about this book is its consistent focus on the need for compassion amidst the arbitrary cruelty of the Nazi invasion and the unspeakable fear it unleashed among all Dutch citizens; how it forced some to ask for help and others to do what they could, most often without hesitation, despite the potential horrors that awaited them. The term “Righteous Gentile” grew out of this experience, and is used to describe those who helped save Jews during the Holocaust.
Photographs at the end of the book add to its power and the courage of its protagonists.
Harry Houdini: A Magical Life by Elizabeth Macleod
Kids Can Press, 2005, 32p. Illus. Gr. 4-6. 1-55337-769-9.Hdbk. $16.95
“The easiest way to attract a crowd is to let it be known that at a given time and a given place some one is going to attempt something that in the event of failure will mean sudden death.” Harry Houdini
Harry Houdini: A Magical Life offers an extensive biography of Harry Houdini and manages to capture the human side of this master of escape. The book begins with Houdini’s poor childhood and follows his life detailing his personal life and career. An important aspect of this book is that it broadens its scope to include more than the main theme of magic; Harry Houdini: A Magical Life speaks to Houdini’s family life and happy marriage.
Complimenting the wonderful text of the Harry Houdini: A Magical Life are reprints of numerous historical photographs, publicity posters and newspaper articles, as well as eye-catching captions and quotations that make this book both easy to read and captivating. In addition there is a well laid out index and a resource list of museums dedicated to Houdini and magic. The book also has a timeline outlining personal and professional highlights.
It is interesting to note that in addition to being an accomplished magician, Houdini also combined his talents with the Scientific American magazine to help uncover fake mediums and what he called “flimflammers.”
While Harry Houdini: A Magical Life is a wonderful biography of the great magician it also leaves the reader with a valuable lesson that hidden behind the magic was a lot of hard work and practice, it definitely illustrates that these elements as well as Houdini’s strong belief in himself were key to his success.
Magnificent Women in Music (The Women’s Hall of Fame Series) by Heather Ball
Second Story Press, 2005. 96p. Illus. Gr. 5-12. 1-897187-02-5. Pbk. $10.95
Magnificent Women in Music is a collection of 10 biographical explorations of women in music who had to overcome obstacles to achieve their dreams. Clara Schumann was a 19th century woman who demonstrated that women could have a family and a career. Marian Anderson broke down cultural barriers and confronted racism as she struggled to become an opera singer. Buffy Sainte-Marie highlighted aboriginal issues through her folk songs, her writing, and her art.
Organized chronologically (1819- Present day), each section focuses on a life-lesson that promotes positive character education. The author, Heather Ball, hopes that these selections will serve as an inspiration to young women. It is also important to note that there is a good deal of Canadian content in this work. Five of the ten women highlighted are contemporary Canadian musicians. The sections are easy to read. Any vocabulary that is potentially difficult is explained in context using brackets or explanatory text. There are also attractive photographs and fact boxes that make the sections visually engaging and informative.
This book would be highly recommended for use in school libraries, as there are clear curriculum connections for the Grade 9 English and the Grade 10 History courses. It is also an excellent book to recommend to anyone who is interested in music or musicians. There is a lot to learn about contemporary women in music in this resource.
What’s Next for this Beginning Writer? Mini-Lessons that take Writing from Scribbles to Script by Janine Reid, Betty Schultze and Ulla Petersen.
Pembroke Publishers, 2005. 123 p. 1-55138-187-7. Pbk. $23.95
This book builds on the experience of the authors with over 700 teachers in The Early Literacy Project in Vancouver. It provides teachers of Kindergarten and Grade 1 with the tools to build student writing skills through a supportive Writing Workshop. There is extensive discussion of the developmental stages of young writers and many recommendations for gently moving them towards greater competency. In the Introduction, ten key questions are discussed. They provide the foundation of the twenty-two chapters of this book. The key questions include issues of: basic beliefs, timing of writing lessons, scribing, reading/writing connection, student motivation, and spelling. In answering these key questions, the authors provide ideas for writing instruction in the Kindergarten/Grade 1 classroom. Writing instruction should begin the day students enter the Kindergarten classroom. Scribing for children is discouraged so that students do the hard work involved in learning. A student’s reading level should have no effect on the instruction of writing since the two develop in tandem. The structure outlined for writing instruction is the Writing Workshop format. It is based on the Vygotsky model of working in the Learning Zone. In the Writing Workshop, teachers are encouraged to move students through the four steps of learning: I’ll show you (teacher modeling), You help me (mini-lessons), I’ll help you (conferences), and Now you do it yourself (independent writing). Along with assessment tools for gauging writing competence, there is also a useful writing continuum to guide teachers in their instruction.
The authors provide a rich tapestry of writing lessons and experiences for students in the various chapters of this book. Each chapter is organized with actual student work and a lesson outline which generated that work. There are lessons on many topics including: pictures and story telling, writing around the room, using labels, kidwriting, using detail in writing, using titles, building sentences, using direct speech, expressing feelings, introducing story grammar, writing poems, writing non-fiction and other genres. This book provides a useful foundation for both new and experienced teachers who want to add new depth to their writing programs in the Kindergarten/Grade One classroom. Although there is a great deal of discussion about student’s individual needs, there could have been more discussion about students with special needs. However, all in all, this book does provide “pebbles in the moonlight as you find your way with writing instruction.” (p. 6)
Read Way Grades 1 & 2. (Wordville Series)
Courseware Solutions Inc. 2005. CD-ROM. Gr. 1-2. Home Ed $49.95, School Ed. $89.95. 5-CD Lab Pack $189.95, Network Licence $699.00
Hardware Requirements: Windows: Win 95 or higher, CD-ROM Drive., MacIntosh: System 8.0 or higher, CD-ROM drive. More details can be found at www.wordville.com
Read Way is an interactive collection of language related learning activities. It is part of the Wordville Series of CD-ROMs, which also includes Word Way and Write Way for other grade levels.
There are 5 main topics and 3 levels for each topic: Reading-Same Sounds, Sounds, and Phonics; Writing-ABC Order, Plurals, and Spelling; Vocabulary-Endings, Compounds, and Word Use; Grammar-Adjectives, Nouns and Verbs and Negatives; Punctuation-End Punctuation, Capitals, and Commas.
There are many noisy sound effects in this programme therefore headphones would be a necessity in a classroom or lab situation so that the children would not be distracted by neighbouring computer screens and activities. The graphics are very colourful, while this would be interesting to most students, those who experience colour-blindness will be at a disadvantage. In the Capitals section of the Punctuation topic, the white words against the yellow background made it difficult for young eyes to see. The programme employs both audio and written directions, which is a benefit to students with either audio or visual impairments. The activities are routed automatically so that students cannot skip through the levels, they must work through each to reach the next level. This ensures that the students complete a skill before moving on, a welcome feature for any busy classroom teacher. The activities do not introduce any concepts, and many activities assume that the students have good vocabulary recognition. This programme merely reviews or reinforces the Language Arts skills featured.
The web site for Wordville - www.wordville.com - is worth a visit. There are curriculum related documents from Ontario’s Department of Education as well as PDF downloads for assessment.
This CD-ROM was tested in a grade 2 classroom. Only the Nouns and Verb section of the Grammar topic and the Word Use section in the Vocabulary topic were found to be too difficult for mid-level and lowest level students. All the students enjoyed working independently and required little or no assistance in figuring out what to do. The top students experienced no difficulties in any area. This programme would benefit any home or school situation, however it is not a self-teaching tool, it is to be used along with parent or teacher instruction or direction.
Lunik et Mira: Un conte de NoĎl by Robin Muller
Translated by Hélène Pilotto. éditions Scholastic, 2005. 30p. Illus. Gr. 3-6. 0-439-97467-4. Pbk. $8.99.
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.
Lunik is a gentle dog whose owner is an old woman who runs a toyshop. Lunik is so-named for a crescent-shaped mark around one eye. Every year at Christmastime, the old woman places a giant Christmas tree in the window and decorates it with toys from the shop. Lunik has a particular favourite among the toys, a little porcelain kitten with a white star on her face, Mira. When a snooty rich woman purchases Mira one Christmas as a present for a little boy, Lunik is despondent. He follows the woman home to determine the fate of his little friend. Through the special kind of magic that can only be found in a Christmas story, Lunik and Mira are reunited in the end.
The story is well-written and the illustrations are sharp and detailed.