The Painted Circus by Wallace Edwards
Kids Can Press, 2007. 32p. Illus. Gr.2 & up. 978-1-55337-720-7. Hdbk. $19.95
Rating: G - E
A circus of illusions, tricks and hidden mysteries, this colourful and intricate picture book will both amuse and fascinate the reader. Can you identify the pirates in the parrots? How many cubes is the rhinoceros holding? The longer you stare, the number appears to change. Flying fish and their acrobatics is another challenge. Can you make one leap through the hoop while the other one leaps past? P. S. the solutions are included on the final page!
This book of optical illusions challenges the students' perception and imagination, and will delight readers of all ages. Each page is unique in design, puzzle and special effects. The illustrations are complete with a border which gives the effect that each illusion takes place in a circus tent. The characters in the background of the illustrations are also amusing and intriguing. The short, written challenge on each page is cleverly written, however the vocabulary will prove difficult for beginning readers, and would best be appreciated as a read-aloud.
For older students, the artwork will prove fascinating and interesting to analyse. Each complex painting is done in watercolour, coloured pencil and gouache. There are also pen and ink line drawings around the borders. It is a recommended book for everyone, and will be a popular addition to a school library collection.
Thematic Links: Illusion; Tricks; Circus; Art; Drawing
Chocolate River Rescue by Jennifer McGrath Kent
Nimbus Publishing, 2007. 112p. Gr. 4 up. 978-1-55109-600-1. Hdbk. $16.95
This story is based upon true-to-life events of how three boys ages nine through twelve find themselves to be in quite a predicament when they venture off looking for something to do! There are several points along the Petitcodiac River where people stop and watch the fast-flowing water. It is noted to have the highest tides in the world. The river is very unpredictable. When the tide is out, the river is nothing more than a trickle of dark free-flowing water but when the tide comes in the water becomes torrents of charging waves. It is at one of these points, the exhilarating adventure of survival and heroism begins.
Two young brothers, Craig and Shawn, and their best friend Tony head down to the Petitcodiac River to watch the tide roll in. There are many large chunks of ice flowing in the river. Something at the edge of the river attracts the boy's attention. The boys decide to explore the possibility that the object could very well be money. They discover that the glittery object is in fact a trading card but what they don't initially realize is the fact that the card is not at the edge of the river but that ice has formed along the edge and has made a rather unstable platform extending from the river bank. Before they realize what has happened the ice platform has broken away from the river bank and the boys become trapped on an ice floe. The boys begin drifting along the banks of the Petitcodiac River or what the locales call "The Chocolate River" with little hope of being rescued; at least not until twelve-year old Petra and her uncle's dog Hobart arrive! Just when the boys believe they are being saved from the freezing murky water and the deteriorating ice raft, the journey to safety takes an unexpected turn for the worst.
This story is full of adventure. Once you start to read it is difficult to put down! A wonderful addition to any school library!
Thematic Links: Adventure Stories; Peticodiac River
Mundy Pond by Roger Maunder
Tuckamore Books, 2007. 242p. Gr. 7-12. 978-1-897174-09-8. Pbk. $ 17.95
Mundy Pond is the debut novel of critically acclaimed filmmaker, Roger Maunder. Maunder's original plan was to make this tale as a film, but various delays in production prodded him to write the story as a novel instead. Maunder's filmmaking vision comes through in his imagery, and one gets a sense about how the upcoming film version will play out. For the readers, and particularly for those who enjoy comparisons between screen and print, the film version of Mundy Pond promises to add wonderful dimensions to their responses.
Mundy Pond centers on eleven-year old Gordie McAllister and his tough-as-nails best friend, Jimmy Birmingham. McAllister is beginning to regard his parents and others in new, and sometimes unattractive, lights, while Jimmy despairs the savagery of his abusive home. These two characters are all the more intriguing because of their many flaws. Interesting twists in the plot include the unpredictable resolution to one of the major conflicts. My one criticism is that the marriage difficulties of Gordie's parents are too quickly and neatly resolved. Then again, it was a different age, and divorce was less common than it is today.
Maunder delivers this compelling story of friendship, family and justice with his obviously keen insight about the hearts of youth verging on the edges of two worlds: childhood and adolescence. The bittersweet duality of that age, with its loss and hope, is richly portrayed within the setting of a working class neighbourhood in the St. John's, Newfoundland of the 1970s. Mundy Pond is universal in its appeal, and will draw in readers from different backgrounds and generations, piquing the interest of modern teenage boys as easily as *ahem* their middle-aged mothers.
Although the content includes some difficult and mature subject matter and the book is sprinkled with a healthy dose of salty language, I would argue these are necessary components that contribute to the novel's realism. I would recommend this to my family as well as to my students, and particularly to those who are reluctant readers.
Thematic Links: Friendship; Cancer; Adolescence; Child Abuse; Spousal Abuse; Alcohol Abuse; Marital Separation; Justice
Stones, Bones and Stitches: Storytelling through Inuit Art by Shelley Falconer & Shawna White
Tundra Books, 2007. 46p. Illus. Gr.4 & up. 978-0-88776-854-5. Hdbk $24.99
Stories of the Inuit, their struggles, beliefs, joys and sorrows are depicted through their fascinating artwork. Stone carvings, block prints, hand-stitched embroidery and wall hangings, as well as intricate whalebone carvings document a people surviving the most severe conditions in the world. Authors Falconer and White, both curators of the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Kleinburg, Ontario, present a comprehensive introduction to Inuit Art through representative works that are part of the gallery's permanent collection.
Six well-known artists' stories are told through an in-depth examination of their works. For example, Oviloo Tunnillie, growing up near Kinngait (Cape Dorset), began carving soapstone at age 17, and is now a highly noted Inuit woman sculptor. One of her most powerful, emotional pieces, called Woman Quarrying Stone, depicts a woman carver burdened with the stone she is digging for her artwork. The dangerous process of quarrying stone is discussed in detail as are other related notes pertaining to the artist's subject matter, including quotes from the artist herself.
Included in the text are artists: Joe Talirunili, carver and storyteller; Jessie Oonark, noted for her many drawings and wall hangings; Lukta Qiasuk, skilled carver and master printmaker; David Ruben Piqtoukun, sculptor focussing on lost Inuit traditions; and probably the best known, Kenojuak Ashevak, for her stunning designs and stone-cut prints.
Beautifully presented, this volume contains full-page colour photographs of the original artwork, various small photos depicting the artist at work, life in various Arctic areas, and several postage stamps produced to commemorate the artists' achievements. As well as a biography of each artist, there are many short paragraphs providing information on the Inuit people in general, their community life, housing, transportation and the tools they used. The rich Inuit culture is shown through the artists' work, quotes, short mythological stories and notes on place names and language. An informative map is included as a beginning two-page spread. There is also a table of contents, an introduction and a selected bibliography.
This text is highly recommended for an elementary school library collection. Though the reading level is quite sophisticated, grade 4/5 readers, under teacher/parent guidance, should appreciate much of the information, especially the large prints of the artwork, thus learning the Inuit's story through art.
Thematic Links:Inuit Art; Inuit Life and Culture; Canadian Arctic
Valour at Vimy Ridge: Canadian Heroes of World War I by Tom Douglas
Amazing Stories Series, 2007. 143p. Illus. Gr. 6-10. 978-1-55439-241-4. Pbk. $9.95
An autobiography of growing up in 1970s Communist Russia
All ten chapters were excellent reads. Having taught World War I to ESL classes for years, I still found much to catch my attention and new information that at times amazed me. The chapters are easy to read, but have a depth of war history. Trench warfare is described in detail that students can understand and bring home the reality of what it must have been like to be seventeen and under fire. The description of the Canadian preparation for the attack on Vimy Ridge was astounding. The battle each of 4 Divisions undertook are described in detail. The creeping barrage is highlighted as a Canadian invention which was somewhat responsible for the Canadian success. Chapter 10 details the valour of individual soldiers, so that we do not forget their sacrifice. The memorial at Vimy Ridge is also described. It is quit amazing.
Valour at Vimy is highly recommended.
Thematic Links:Vimy Ridge; Battle of France, 1917; World War I
HIP Readers' Theater Plays: Sixteen Short Plays Suitable for grades 4 to 10 by Paul Kropp & Lori Jamison
High Interest Publishing/HIP Books, 2007. 110p. 978-1-89703940-3. Pbk. 19.95(Includes rights to reproduce plays for school use)
This is an excellent resource for teachers or librarians wanting to use readers' theatre with middle years students in their schools and libraries. A brief introduction to readers' theatre, with tips and strategies for using this technique with students, is included at the beginning of the book. This introductory section also emphasizes that readers' theatre can be a highly effective way of improving reading fluency and comprehension. As a result, this is an effective reminder that readers' theatre should be a part of classroom and library activities.
The remainder of the book is 16 short readers' theatre plays that are written with the interests and experiences of middle years students in mind. All the scripts are adapted from high interest/low vocabulary novels and have reading levels between grades 2.5 and 3.5, which means they will be suitable for a wide range of students in a class. The scripts are arranged by interest and topic with a wide range of themes, from bullying to a scary Halloween story to an avalanche that threatens a group of students on a winter camping trip.
This book is highly recommended for school library or professional collections. Teachers new to the concept of readers' theatre, as well as anyone more familiar with this teaching strategy, will find much in this book to appreciate and use with students.
Thematic Links:Readers' Theatre; Plays; Drama
Canada's First People and Canada's First People Junior
Canada's First People and Canada's First People Junior are hosted by Northern Blue Publishing, a digital publishing company whose mission is to: "help schools make the best of digital learning opportunities." The mandate of these two websites is to help students learn about Canadian history using web-based resources. The publishers envision a school community where, "Teachers are becoming facilitators, guides, and co-investigators; students are more and more producers, apprentices, and co-explorers." These are indeed high aspirations! Unfortunately, full access to both of these sites is only available to paying subscribers. The pricing is outlined on the site.
Canada's First People is aimed at Social Studies and Native Studies courses from advanced middle school to college. FP Junior is aimed at students in grade 5-9 and those students experiencing reading difficulties. Both sites provide a good variety of resources including: an online textbook, maps, charts, stories, images, video clips, web links, and a glossary. The online textbook is just that -a textbook. The creators of the site claim that having the textbook online will generate student interest because of the technological aspect of its presentation. A big selling point seems to be the interactive nature of the textbook. It is true that students can point and click through various sections in the text. It is also true that it can be updated constantly. However, in the end, this is still a textbook!
Perhaps the most innovative aspect of these two websites is their use of Web 2.0 technology and Wiki Platforms. Web 2.0 technology allows students and teachers to engage in interesting new applications such as weblogs, wikis, videos and podcasts etc. For those who are still technologically challenged, the "wiki" is a password access version of the software that runs Wikipedia. In other words, various contributors to the site can actually contribute and change entries. The ability to change an entry is limited to paying adult users! These applications can indeed inspire new and innovative kinds of learning in our students.
Other innovative aspects of the site include: CanaText eLibrary, Canata Glossary, Timelines, Biographies, Image Gallery, Stories, Web Links, Student Activities and Class Projects. Many of these aspects would be appealing to the visual learners in our classes. The "Biographies" section includes subtopics such as: Today in History, Today's Birthdays, Top 1000 Events, and Top 1000 Canuks. There are also links to "hot" websites such as YouTube and TeacherTube. The creators of these websites make a very valid point that they are providing a useful tool for students who need to learn how to become more discriminating consumers of information on the Internet. Students can find a lot of information on the Internet, but they often lack the skills to determine which information is useful, balanced and bias-free. The skills of critical literacy need to be taught explicitly in each and every classroom where research is demanded!
Although these sites have several very innovative and exciting characteristics, using them can be frustrating at times. While moving from one part of the site to another, the user is often greeting by "Log in needed." As well, there are several portions of the site that are listed as "Under Construction." Users are cautioned that they are governed by strict rules of copyright regarding the pages of this site. Using the images and text requires a paid licence. And finally, the "Student Activities" section relies heavily on questions which demand writing skills. Where are the media literacy activities? Where are the activities to promote differentiated instruction?
Overall, this site has a great deal of potential for educational use. We cannot ignore technology in our classrooms. It is all around us!
Thematic Links: Canadian History; Aboriginal Culture/History/Life; Technology; Critical Literacy; Internet
La Grosse-ėle: terre de chagrin et d'espoir by Anne Renard
Les éditions Homard, 2007 24p. Illus. Gr. 4-6. 978-2-922435-14-6. Hdbk. $18.95
Grosse-ėle, a small island in the Saint Lawrence River just east of Quebec City, has a challenging story to tell as it served as both the optimistic beginning of a life in the New World for many immigrants and the terrible end of a hard journey for those who perished on the island.
Renaud has written an excellent book dealing with early Canadian history. Grosse-ėle was a quarantine station from 1832 until 1937 and the intent was to prevent immigrants who arrived here from spreading diseases such as typhus and cholera to the mainland. The book is full to the brim with photos, illustrations, documents, maps, sidebars and time-lines. This format is equally good for the student who wishes to research the history of the island in depth and for the student who simply wishes to browse through the book. Renaud uses simple language and presents the story of Grosse-ėle in a factual way, but readers cannot ignore the human tragedies which are part of the island's history and so the book becomes an emotional read as well. Renaud portrays life on the island during both the 1800s and the 1900s, so readers learn a great deal about daily life at the time as well as the details of Grosse-ėle as a quarantine station.
In 1974 Grosse-ėle was named a national historic site and in 1988 it was opened to the public by Parks Canada. I have visited the site and it is well worth the time and effort to spend a day there soaking up a piece of Canadian history which may not be well-known to many of us. Until readers can see Grosse-ėle for themselves, Renaud's book is a wonderful way to visit the island and to understand its place in the settling of Canada. Most Canadians have come from families who immigrated to this country so this book will interest them as well as anyone who is a history buff. This book should be available to every elementary student across the country!
Thematic Links: Immigration; Grosse-ėle; Canadian History