Lily and the Mixed-Up Letters by Deborah Hodge
Tundra Books, 2007. 32p. Illus. Gr. 1-3. 978-0-88776-757-9. Hdbk. $18.95. (Reviewed from galleys)
Lily used to love school, but that all changes when she starts Grade 2. Now she dreads weekdays and uses a myriad of excuses to stay home. The source of her anxiety is reading class. She can’t make any sense out of the words on the page because “the letters dance and blur in front of her eyes.” Lily’s apprehension and embarrassment are vividly described: “her face grows hot and her hands get shaky. Her stomach turns upside down. She feels everyone watching her.” When Lily returns home after a particularly stressful day, she finally confides in her mother, who offers support and also reveals that she couldn’t read until she was ten years old. Extra help is arranged, and Lily’s friend Grace becomes her reading buddy at school. Lily tries lots of learning strategies, such as repeating new words and making them into a song, tracing big letters in the air, and closing her eyes and painting the words “on the easel in her mind.” After much practice and perseverance, Lily triumphantly reads an entire page aloud at the Parent’s Day Assembly.
France Brassard’s watercolor paintings are so realistic they almost appear to be photographs. Children will immediately relate to the emotions eloquently conveyed in words and pictures. While Lily struggles with reading, her artistic talents are applauded. Her self-esteem is given a much needed boost when she becomes Grace’s painting mentor. This reassuring book is a perfect springboard for discussion.
Beware, Pirates! (Canadian Flyer Adventures Series, #1) by Frieda Wishinsky
Illustrated by Dean Griffiths. Maple Tree Press, 2007. 80p. Gr. 2-5. 978-1-897066-80-5. Pbk. $6.95
Governor General’s Award nominee Wishinsky has penned this new time travel series that will undoubtedly have a strong appeal to fans of The Magic Tree House. Neighbours, Emily Bing and Matt Martinez, find an old wooden Canadian Flyer sled in Emily’s Great-Aunt’s attic. Attached to it is a note that tells of the sled’s ability to fly away ‘to wonderful adventures’. After touching a ship’s rope in the attic’s dresser and rubbing the sled’s maple leaf ‘three times fast’, they are transported back to Nunavut in 1577 where they encounter the temperamental explorer/privateer Captain Frobisher and the men that work on board his ship - many no more than ‘common pirates’. Although the pirate link is somewhat weak, the story is highly entertaining, very educational but not too challenging. Of particular interest to adults is the Canadian content - which is excellent. The fact sheets at the end of the book are an additional and welcome support to curriculum links and further reading.
A terrific new series addition for all collections.
The Warrior's Daughter by Holly Bennett
Orca Book Publishers, 2007. 222p. Gr. 8-10. 978-1-55143-607-4. Pbk. $9.95 (Reviewed from an Advance Reading Copy)
Rating: E - G
Holly Bennett bases her story on the ancient Irish myth of Cuchulainn, the Hound of Ulster and remains true to the main elements of that saga while inventing a new character, Luaine, his daughter. She is careful in notes both at the beginning and at the end of this book to explain what she took from the original stories (which date back to the time of Christ) and what she added or altered.
The scrupulousness with which Bennett delineates what is old framework and what is new picture sets the bar very high for her own part of the story. The saga of Cuchulainn is packed with exciting characters and actions. We first meet Luaine at the age of seven and she recounts many of these events from a child's perspective. The potential for the story to fall away after the death of her larger-than-life parents represents a significant trap for the author, but she manages to create in Luaine a daughter worthy of such a father and mother. Although she is left alone and exposed on her parents' death, Luaine is no damsel-in-distress. She sets about making her own destiny in ways that are both striking and plausible, no small feat given the context.
I was impressed both by the care with which Bennett pays tribute to the compelling mythology of Ireland and also by the zest of the writing that carries the new story along at a matching pace. On the whole, she manages a form of language that pays tribute to the age of the narrative while not being too grating to the contemporary ear, though I did occasionally balk at a sentence too ornately shaped. She triumphs in the matter of those daunting Irish names, which might deter some readers at first glance. A character/pronunciation guide at the back of the book allows readers to keep up with the dramatis personae, and it is a testimonial to the energy of the writing that I found I could consult this list without feeling too sidetracked; I was always keen to return to the story.
I have suggested that readers in Grades 8-10 might enjoy this book but I think readers of any age who enjoy stories based in mythology might find this story intriguing.
Island of Hope and Sorrow: The Story of Grosse Žle (Canadian Immigration Series) by Anne Renaud
Lobster Press, 2007. 24p. Illus. Gr. 4-8. 978-1-897073-54-4. Hdbk. $18.95 (Reviewed from galleys)
“Welcome to Grosse Žle. Its history tells of hope and hardship for thousands of people in search of a new homeland, of caring island workers who welcomed them to their shores, and of timber ships and deadly diseases. Sadly, for some, Grosse Žle marked the end of a journey. But for most newcomers, this tiny island was the stepping stone to a new beginning.” (p. 3) 2007 marks the 70th anniversary of the closing of the quarantine station at Grosse Žle and the 160th anniversary of the “Summer of Sorrow” when many of the Irish immigrants who fled their homeland due to the potato famine did not make it beyond the shores of Grosse Žle. Due to an outbreak of typhus Grosse Žle recorded a total of 8,691 sick passengers of which 3,238 had died on the island while thousands more had died before reaching its shores. More than 5,000 men, women and children were buried on the island by the time the island closed for the season in early November.
In this book, Anne Renaud, brings us the history of Grosse Žle and, in turn, a brief history of immigration in Canada from the late 1700s to 1937. Beginning with the British who came to Canada to pursue the timber trade and the beginning of serious immigration from Europe creating a need for a quarantine station, Renaud traces the establishment and operation of Grosse Žle as it screened immigrants for admission into the country up to the time of its closure in 1937. She follows this with the activity on the island as a research centre for Canadian scientists during World War II and later as a quarantine and research centre for the Canadian Dept. of Agriculture. In 1974 Grosse Žle was recommended for designation as an historic site and in 1988 it opened its doors to the public.
Renard presents the story of Grosse Žle in a beautiful book quite accessible to a young audience yet with appeal to the older set as well. Supplementing the text are watercolour illustrations, maps, historical documents and photographs, detailed captions, and time lines. “History Notes” on most pages provide an ongoing glossary and explanation of terms used in the text. There is no Table of Contents or Index, but because of the organization of the book and it’s bold chapter headings this is not a problem.
Having read this book, I now wish that I had visited Gross Žle on my last drive along the St. Lawrence River. It will now be on my priority list for the next time I am in that area. This book will be of interest to students of Canadian history as well as descendants of the many immigrants who came through Grosse Žle during its years of operation. I would highly recommend it as an addition to all school and public libraries.
Healing Our World: Inside Doctors without Borders by David Morley
Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2007. 121p. Gr. 4-10. 978-1-55041-565-0. Hdbk. $22.95
“Their mission is simple - to bring life saving care to the world’s neediest people.” David Morley kept journals while he traveled throughout the world during his time as the Canadian Executive Director of Doctors Without Borders which he has now turned into a book. He begins his story describing what Medecins Sans Frontiers, known in English as Doctors Without Borders, does and how it began in Biafra. The Doctors Without Borders charter specifies that it “offers assistance to populations in distress, to victims of natural or man-made disasters and to victims of armed conflict, without discrimination and irrespective of race, religion, creed or political affiliations.” It is a united nations help centre without all the politics that come with it. David describes the guiding principles of independence, impartiality, neutrality, proximity and voluntarism that all members commit to when they sign on. He has chapters on volunteers in the field, on the fight against AIDS in Zambia, the civil war in the Congo, and covering the earthquake in El Salvador, as well as stories on various disasters throughout the world and in unrelated war zones. There is a detailed index to help students using this book. It is easy to read and students will find it interesting. The publication is aimed at the juvenile student, but I feel that it would be good for the reluctant reader in high school. There are black and white photos throughout, and a world map identifying the countries with missions.
Leap into Literacy: Teaching the Tough Stuff So It Sticks! by Kathleen Gould Lundy
Pembroke Publishers, 2007. 128p. 978-1-55138-212-8. Pbk. $24.95
As teachers we are often looking for support books, those accessible resources that accommodate a quick glance or brief read to provide the structural frameworks for our lessons. Leap into Literacy is an educator-friendly, researched, hands-on book with a target audience of pre-service and new teachers although experienced teachers will also find this a valuable resource for their personal libraries. Lundy takes a student-centred, balanced literacy approach for teaching the Language Arts in the elementary school classroom. Laying a foundation of how to build a community of learners, Lundy leads the reader progressively to successful strategies and teaching techniques in the Language Arts. Drama, poetry, and art are integral components of this text. Her recommended reading list includes names such as Lucy Calkins, David Booth, Lev Vygotsky and Frank Smith.
One of the benefits of having a teacher educator like Kathleen Lundy write a book for teachers is that she does not assume too much. Theory and practice are nicely balanced and oftentimes adjacent to one another as sidebar summaries or quotes to support the reading of the text. I greatly appreciated reading Dorothy Heathcote’s comment: “As an excellent teacher, I must not be afraid to move out of my centre, and meet the children where they are,” as a margin quote to “Twenty-five Tips for Classroom Management.” The comments of educational theorists such as Elliot Eisner or authors such as Katherine Patterson are prudently laced throughout. The book is well organized with clear headings and subheadings and supported with an index and recommended reading list. There are black-line masters reproducible for classroom use for many of the suggested activities.
This book will make a valuable contribution to any teachers of the Language Arts who want to refresh, renew or rethink their approach to teaching literacy.
Gift of Diabetes
National Film Board of Canada, 2005. DVD. 52 min. Gr. 7 up. $49.95
This DVD follows diabetic Brian Whitford on his journey of self-discovery as he comes to terms with and begins to manage his condition. To do this, he goes on a medicine wheel journey to ask elders for advice and we follow him on this journey as he comes to realize that the “gift of diabetes saved my life.” This DVD is quite moving and would be inspirational for anyone of First Nations origin who is at risk of or living with diabetes. There are some minor glitches with the DVD that show a lack of editing, (i.e., no end credits) but this in no way mars the effectiveness of the story.
Ne lisez pas ce livre (Graffiti Series) by Jocelyn Boisvert
Soulières éditeur, 2006. 125p. Illus. Gr. 6-9. 978-2-89607-045-9. Pbk. $10.95
Ne lisez pas ce livre is a book that calls out to be read. As any young reader frustrated by parental restrictions and teacherly recommendations knows, the best things are often forbidden and, with a title like this, whether out of rebellion or the honest desire to find out why not, even the most reluctant reader will be tempted to pick it up. The title is tantalizing.
The book, which follows the life of a book and considers the delicious addiction of immersive reading, is as sneaky inside as out, addressing the reader, resisting at first, and then finally consenting to tell its story. This book, rare thing, is its own subject, narrator, and protagonist, and it addresses the reader as one would a potential friend. It's a story about the love of reading, about books, about reading for its own sake, about the joy of reading and it explores the power of the written word to inspire and enchant. The reader is included in the story by the novel's powerful and commanding voice.
What makes this book stand out is the way in which it plays with the conventions of the book, drawing the reader's attention to the ways in which a story functions. It is captivating because it is unexpected, as Boisvert experiments with typefaces, font size, images and layout so that the words spiral hypnotically across one page and another is splattered with bright red images of blood. When Ne lisez pas ce livre releases the reader, it leaves him or her with the sense of the book as a living entity, looking eagerly for the next opportunity to spend time with an enchanting paper friend.