Volume 14, no.2 - December 2008

Picture Books

  • Big and Small Room for All by Jo Ellen Bogart

    Illustrated by Gillian Newland. Tundra Book. 2009. 32p. Grade: K- 3. 978-88776-891-0.Hdbk. $20.99 (Reviewed from uncorrected proof)

    Rating: E

  • With very few words and evocative artwork, author Jo Ellen Bogart and illustrator Gillian Newland marry their skills to create a lovely book with a strong underlying theme.

    Far from being just another concept book on big and small, the idea is extended to make the point in a subtle and affecting way that small organisms share a connection with the larger universe, just as a young girl is connected to a mountain and a baby to a kitten.

    Paired phrases such as 'Big and small/ Big and small/ Room for all/Big and small,' are carefully placed on double spreads that gradually draw the reader's eye and awareness from the expanse of the universe, down to the smallest flea. And in the end asks, 'What is smaller than a flea?/A world of things too small to see./Big Sky, Big Sky/What is bigger than the sky?' And provides the satisfying answer 'The never-ever-ending sky.'

    This book explores our connectedness in a way that children will be able to grasp intuitively, even if they are unable to articulate it. It also offers illustrations that bear careful scrutiny and endless discussion as a young girl stands under a tree beneath a looming mountain, or the small Earth is seen against a backdrop of the fiery sun.

    Lots to enjoy visually, and carefully controlled language conveying a big idea add up to a book that works on several levels and can be enjoyed over and over again by children and adults, in school and at home, alone or in company.

  • Thematic Links:Concepts; Size; Universe
  • Lois Peterson
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Fiction Grades 3-6

  • Libertad by Alma Fullerton

    Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2008. 224p. Gr. 5-8. 978-1-55455-106-4. Pbk. $12.95

    Rating: E

  • Libertad and his brother Julio live in extreme poverty in Guatemala City, Guatemala. They do not attend school, but instead spend their days searching the local garbage dump for raw materials such as cardboard to sell for money. They live with their mom; their father has recently moved to the US to look for work. The novel opens with a particularly touching episode, when Libertad pays for his brother to attend school for the very first time. Julio is beside himself with joy, and cannot wait to attend school. However, when their mother dies in a tragic accident at the dump, the boys decide to cross the Rio Grande, and head to the US to be reunited with their father. A chance finding of a ten quetzal note prompts the boys to set off on their journey, and pays for their first bus fare. It is a tough overland journey for the boys and their dog Guerrero. They are helped along the way by various kind people, such as the musicians who offer the boys a safe, warm place to stay, and the kindly farmer couple who offer to adopt the boys. When they get to Mexico City, Julio and Libertad end up with some street children in a gang, and Libertad turns to solvent abuse / glue sniffing to 'forget'. His commitment to beating his addiction as the novel progresses is admirable.

    This novel in verse is a heart-wrenching, emotional look at two brothers and their dog, and their quest to reach their father. Their naivety is evident, and the poverty, even seen through the eyes of the young boys is immense and overwhelming. Despite the plight of the main characters, however, this is a story of hope; the author's afterword tells of children just like Julio and Libertad and their dangerous travels, and those who are working to help children in this situation.

    All Junior and Middle School libraries should have novels like this as part of their collections. Fans of Deborah Ellis will enjoy this novel, and even students who are wary of novels in verse will find this read enthralling.

  • Thematic Links:Poverty; Migration
  • Claire Hazzard
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Fiction Grades 7 - 12

  • The Landing by John Ibbitson

    Kids Can Press, 2008. 160p. Gr. 8 up. 978-1-55454-234-6. Hdbk. $17.95

    Rating: E

  • This novel focuses on the life of Ben Mercer, a 15-year-old boy during the summer of 1934. The violin becomes a refuge for Ben and the story begins with his parents taking him to hear an orchestra. Ben is irreverently changed because of listening to the music. This love of music consumes Ben but unfortunately all of Ben's extended family do not share this enthusiasm. Ben and his family live with his Uncle Henry, an embittered old man. Ben is forced to practice his violin in the tool shed because Uncle Henry does not approve of his music. Ben preserves and meets a local fiddler who shares his knowledge and love of music and the violin. He invites Ben to share his love of playing to perform with him periodically at the local dances.

    Set against the Great Depression, Ben and his family are like the rest of the nation, struggling to etch out a living. They live in the Muskoka District of Ontario. Ben is either working on his uncle's farm or doing odd jobs for the summer visitors that grace the Cook's Landing area. There is little time for Ben to engage in his passion of playing the violin, however he lands a new job repairing an old cottage on a nearby island and his world seems to be changing for the better.

    The owner Ruth Chapman, a wealthy woman from New York transforms Ben's world from one of drudgery to a universe of culture and music potential. She showcases Ben's talent with the violin to her friends at an evening party and Ben is suddenly intersted in his new future away from the landing.

    Unfortunately her interest in Ben seems short lived and the promise of a new life seems to have been a fleeting pipe dream. Mrs. Chapman does not invite Ben to future musical functions creating a severe state of confusion and resignation in Ben.More discontent than ever, Ben swims to her cottage under the cover of darkness. From the lake, he longingly dreams of attending the party and performing at the function. While Mrs. Chapman's reserve manner is new to Ben, she seems to have realized her appropriate place in his life. She leaves him with some sheet music and an introductory letter to a professor at Toronto's Royal Conservatory of Music. Ben once again hopes for a future away from the landing.

    Just as the future looks promising tragedy strikes Ben's family and his Uncle Henry is killed. For his ending, Ibbitson borrows a real event. In October 1934, the steamship, Waome, was struck by a sudden storm on Lake Muskoka, and sank in less than a minute, with three fatalities.

    The characters in this novel are realistically portrayed. The daily trials they endured during this trying time in history are revealed with both compassion and sensitivity. The disparity between the poor and the wealthy are displayed without rancour. This book would be well received by adolescents as they would relate to Ben's need to plan his future around his passion, his feelings of not being understood by his family and the desire for something new and exciting.

  • Thematic Links:Music; Family Relationships; Candian Tragedies
  • Anne Hatcher
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Non-Fiction K - Grade 6

  • Hurricane! by Celia Godkin

    Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2008. 36p. Gr. 1-6. 978-1-55455-080-7. Hdbk. $19.95

    Rating: E

  • "The manatee stuck her head out of the water. It was a warm, sunny day, but she was uneasy. Something told her a storm was brewing far out in the open ocean. She drew her little one to her and began to swim along the shoreline, looking for a sheltered place to ride out the storm."

    Award winning author Celia Godkin has done it again! In this information storybook, Godkin tells the story of the anticipation, preparation and restoration of a Florida seaside town devastated by a hurricane.

    As the animal and human residents prepare for the onslaught of the rising storm, Godkin provides sidebar insets with detailed pictures, some with factual information. "No one knows for sure how animals sense an approaching storm, but we know that they do."

    The detailed description of the phases of the hurricane allows the readers to almost feel and hear the storm itself. Once again, sidebar insets show bird's eye and side views of a hurricane and we can sense the calm as the eye passes through and then anticipate the final attack on anything that survived the first onslaught.

    Gradually, the animals and humans return to survey the damage to their homes. In spite of the devastation left in the wake of the storm, mother nature miraculously begins the process of renewal.

    "Everywhere life renewed itself. People cleared up the mess and built new homes. Both human and wildlife communities can be devastated by hurricanes, but given time they can recover."

    Godkin provides a beautifully presented non-fiction section at the end of the story, highlighting the mangrove tree and its extraordinary contribution to protection of shorelines and detailing the variety of wildlife in the mangrove swamp. A world distribution map shows the mangrove habitats as well as the locations of major tropical storms. An author's note offers information about plant and animal habitats affected by storms over the years and the effect of global warming on the frequency and intensity of tropical storms on human and natural habitats in future.

    The illustrations in this book are beautifully presented and provide encouragement for further discussion on every page! A fabulous addition to any library!

  • Thematic Links:Weather; Nature; Global Warming
  • Anita Mullaly
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Non-Fiction Grades 7-12

  • Passchendaele: Canada's Triumph and Tragedy on the Fields of Flanders: An Illustrated History by Norman Leach

    Foreward by Paul Gross. Coteau Books, 2008. 47p. Illus. Gr. 6 up. 978-0-55050-399-9. Hdbk. $19.95

    Rating: E

  • "The Canadians had been called to the front because they had distinguished themselves in some of the bloodiest battles fought to date. Storm troops, the Germans called the Canadians. Like a storm that could not be stopped, the Canadians assaulted the enemy lines with uncommon skill, tenacity and ferocity." (p. 4)

    It is this uncommon skill, tenacity and ferocity which Norman Leach describes in this history of the Battle of Passchendaele, one of the bloodiest battles of World War I. In this 47 page, picture book style book, Leach brings us detailed descriptions of the Battle and the role of Canada's soldiers, along with numerous captioned historical photographs, artifacts, symbols and quotations from actual soldiers who participated in the Battle. Leach is well versed in his topic having developed an interest in history at an early age which he developed into a lifelong career. He was the historical advisor to Paul Gross in the production of the film Passchendaele which was just recently released and Gross actually wrote the foreward to this book.

    For Africa to move forward, Caplan contends that the citizens of rich countries must be aware of the false premises on which their own leaders deal with Africa. He insists that only by reversing the policies that have done such grievous harm to Africa over the past decades can the continent's new leaders and activists have the chance of making serious progress.

    This book will be a welcome addition to social studies programs dealing with World War I at the junior and senior high school level especially if it is coupled with the movie. A comprehensive teacher's guide to accompany the book is available for downloading at http://www.coteaubooks.com/education/PDFFiles /passchendaelestudy.pdf A website to accompany the movie is available at http://www.passchendaelethemovie.com/. There is also a site called Passchendaele in the Classroom which incorporates the boo and the movie sponsored by the Dominion Institue at http://www.dominion.ca/passchendaele/

  • Thematic Links:World War I; The Battle of Passchendaele
  • Victoria Pennell
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Audio Visual Materials

  • Sing, Sing, Sing by Brian Morcombe

    Music With Brian, 2008. CD. Gr. Preschool- 1. $9.99

    Rating: E

  • Sing, Sing, Sing is the first CD produced by Guelph-based Musician, Brian Morcombe. Morcombe's voice is rich with expression and enthusiasm without becoming sticky sweet and is backed chiefly by acoustic guitar and a broad range of other instruments including horns, Irish whistle, bongos, electric bass and steel drums. The bulk of the 18 tracks on the album were written by Morcombe himself and demonstrate a natural song-writing ability that hasn't really been seen on the children's music scene since Laurie Berkner. Of the self-penned titles, Zoo Time Boogie, Funny Monkeys, Like a Bird and the title track Sing, Sing, Sing are amongst the strongest tracks and are all an absolute joy to listen to. Jamaica Farewell, Five Little Monkeys, Oh Susanna and Hokey Pokey are amongst the re-arranged traditional tunes that round out the collection.

    This debut CD will be enjoyed by children and adults alike and comes highly recommended for both home and school use. It can be purchased from Morcombe's website at: www.musicwithbrian.com

  • Thematic Links: Music; Nursery Rhymes
  • Michelle Gowans
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French Materials

  • L'Arbre de Joie (Collection: Ma petite vache a mal aux pattes) by Alain M. Bergeron

    Soulieres Éditeur, 2008. 39p. Illus. CD of text included. Gr. Preschool - 3. 978-2-89607-078-7. Pbk. $12.95

    Rating: E

  • Patricia takes good care of her younger brother Simon, buying him chocolate when she has a little money. Both are good, honest children who try to help others and who return a wallet they find in the shopping mall. Simon really wants a spaceship for Christmas but Patricia realizes that their single Mom barely has enough to make ends meet, let alone buy expensive toys.

    In the mall, the children see an odd Christmas tree. It doesn't have many decorations - just some little unlit lights and several small cards. When they look more closely, they see that each card has the name and age of a child on it as well as a suggested Christmas gift. When someone takes the card in order to buy that child a present, the light is lit. As Christmas gets closer, more and more lights on the tree are sparkling.

    What a surprise when Santa arrives at the door just at Christmas with not only the spaceship for Simon but a CD player for Patricia as well! When these gifts are added to the wonderful food basket that has arrived, the children and their mother are able to enjoy a truly festive Christmas.

    Young children will relate to the themes of asking Santa for gifts and to the excitement which mounts as the holiday draws near. As well, they may have seen a similar 'gift tree' in a local mall or store. Hopefully the story of Simon and Patricia will encourage the parents and children who read the book to find the name of a child who might not receive anything at Christmas and add them to their Christmas list. This book is a gentle reminder that the true spirit of the holiday season is in giving to those less fortunate.

  • Thematic Links:Christmas; Donations of Gifts/Food to Needy Families
  • Ann Ketcheson
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