Volume 15, no.2 - December 2009

Picture Books

  • What Colour is the Ocean? A Maggie Rose Book by Gary Collins Maggie Rose Parsons

    Illustrated by Scott A. Keating. Flanker Press, St. John's, 2009. 24p. Gr. K-3. 978-1-897317-52-5. Pbk. $9.95

    Rating: G-E

  • What colour is the ocean today? Look Maggie, tell me what you'd say.
    The water looks white; it's because of the ice. The ocean is white today.
    What colour is the ocean today? Look Maggie, tell me what you'd say.
    The water is blue, 'cause the sun's shining through. The ocean is blue today.

    The first thing I thought when I read this delightful rhyming story was how useful it would be. A "colour" book is always requested for Kindergarten. And the nature images of the ocean and the seasons would have all sorts of curriculum links. I imagined poem modeling, students making up their own "What colour is ?" rhymes. Then I read a bit further - the introduction, about the author, the acknowledgments. I was wondering who Maggie Rose was. The answer I found opened up a new layer of interest in this book. Maggie Rose is Gary Collins' 7-year-old granddaughter and Maggie Rose is autistic. This story reveals her special perceptions of the world around her. So another excellent use for this book emerged. It would be an excellent way to introduce discussion about autism to adults and children. I'm certain it would be a treasured addition to the libraries of families who are affected by autism.

    Highly recommended

  • Thematic Links: Autism; Grandfathers; Poetry; Song; Colour; Oceans; Seasons; Weather
  • Lorie Battershill
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Fiction Grades 3-6

  • The Present Tense of Prinny Murphy by Jill Maclean

    Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2009. 160p. Gr. 5-7. 978-1-55455-145-3. Pbk. $11.95

    Rating: E

  • The sixth grade is not going well for Prinny Murphy. Her best friend is distracted by the pretty new girl in school, her alcoholic mother is having difficulty remaining sober, her father is barely paying any attention to her, she's being relentlessly tormented by three cruel bullies, and she's mortified by still barely being able to read. Everything changes when Prinny is introduced to Virginia Euwer Wolff's novel Make Lemonade, a free verse story about an inner-city girl living in poverty. In the character of La Vaughn, Prinny finds a kindred spirit and in Wolff's poetry Prinny discovers the beauty of words and language. Gradually, Prinny begins to tackle her problems with a strength she never knew she had.

    MacLean's novel, a sequel to the award-winning The Nine Lives of Travis Keating, is a heart-wrenching, yet ultimately hopeful, depiction of a young girl struggling in a small Newfoundland community. Prinny's narrative voice is authentic, especially when she is describing her frustrations with her mother and her love of the barrens. However, most importantly of all, MacLean realistically shows the fear, humiliation, and desperation caused by bullying and the strength it takes to fight back. This book would be useful for discussions about poetry, alcoholism, or bullying.

    Very highly recommended for public and school libraries.

  • Thematic Links: Bullies; Poetry; Alcoholic Parents
  • Roseanne Gauthier
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Fiction Grades 7 - 12

  • Eyes of a King by Catherine Banner

    Doubleday Canada, 2008. 435p. Gr. 9-12. 978-0-385-66233-8. Pbk. $14.95

    Rating: E

  • Leo and his younger brother Stirling live with their grandmother in a country embroiled in strife and warfare. Malonia fell into the hands of King Lucius when he slaughtered King Cassius, the Queen and sent the five-year-old prince into exile - and not just exile out of Malonia but to a country in another world, a country that most Malonians consider fantasy - England. The story begins when Leo discovers a magical book, one that seems to write itself, telling the story of the exiled prince. Leo is loath to share his find with his brother and grandmother as he is fearful that his find will land him in considerable trouble. Both Leo and Stirling are students at a brutal military school, that is, until Stirling is struck by a dreaded infectious illness called silent fever. In spite of the best efforts of Leo, his grandmother, the local priest Father Dunstan, and Maria, and a young mother living upstairs, Stirling succumbs to his illness. The emotional turmoil in which Leo and his grandmother are left is echoed by the political turmoil in which Malonia falls.Will they be saved by the return of the exiled prince?

    This novel is remarkable. The story is a complex web of fantasy mixed with an emotional intricacy not always seen in YA literature. This is even more remarkable when you consider that the author was fourteen when she began to write Eyes of a King and managed to convey a depth of anguish in Leo that one would not expect a fourteen-year-old to comprehend. This is the first of three novels in the series, The Last of the Descendants Trilogy. The second novel, published in 2009, is called Voices in the Dark. The third title is not yet published. This book is highly recommended.

    This book is highly recommended.

  • Thematic Links: Fantasy
  • Diane Gallagher-Hayashi
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Non-Fiction Preschool - Grade 6

  • Captain Bob Bartlett and the Karluk Adventure by Ron Young

    Illustrated by Mel D'Souza. James Lane Publishing, 2009. Unp. Illus. Gr. 3-6. 978-1-895109-57-3. Pbk. $12.95.

    Rating: G

  • In 1913, Captain Robert Abram Bartlett (Master Mariner of the North) left British Columbia on a scientific expedition that was heading to the Arctic. He was captaining a ship called The Karluk. Bartlett was an experienced explorer and captain; he had been to the north many times, including the famous mission to the North Pole in 1909 with Admiral Peary. Unfortunately, on this 1913 expedition, the ship became stuck in ice, and those on board were forced to evacuate, and build a camp on the ice. Eventually the ship sank, and the survivors fled across the ice to find land. Bartlett and one other team member travelled ahead to Siberia to find a ship to rescue those still stranded. Eventually, some eight months after the Karluk sank, twenty survivors were finally rescued; eleven had died.

    The book opens with a grandfather sharing stories of great mariners with his grandson, and soon focuses on Bartlett's story. Told in rhyming couplets, this lyrical tale will enthral readers, and works particularly well as a read-aloud. In the text, words that may be unfamiliar to readers are highlighted in red; a definition of these highlighted words in given at the bottom of each page.

    At the end of the book, Ron Young has included photographs from the Bartlett family collection to illustrate the story. These archival pictures add much to the book, and will provoke great discussion among students. The book is an interesting look at a less well-known Canadian explorer; it would make a good addition to elementary school libraries, and is a must-read for students who are studying or who are interested in polar exploration. In particular, it is interesting how Young has emphasised how Bartlett consulted and worked with Inuit to better understand his environment. Readers looking for more information on Bartlett would do well to read Eric Walters' novel 'The Pole', which focuses on his 1909 expedition with Peary.

  • Thematic Links: Adventure; Exploration; The Arctic
  • Claire Hazzard
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Non-Fiction Grades 7-12

  • Children of War: Voices of Iraqi Refugees by Deborah Ellis

    Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press, 2009. 128p. Illus. Gr. 7-12. 978-0-88899-907-8. Hdbk. $16.95

    Rating: G

  • "People watch war in the movies and they think they know what it's like. They don't know. If they knew they wouldn't allow it to happen. Only very sick, bad people would want to make war" (p. 21)
    "We came to Jordan on May 5, 2005, after the killing of my father. He was a goldsmith.
    My whole life has been war. Really, from the moment I was born. My mother was giving birth to me when a missile hit the hospital. This was during the war with Iran. (p. 43)
    "We live in Amman with my grandmother, two aunts, two uncles and five children, plus my brother and me. The rain comes in when it's raining outside, But at least we are alive.
    My father and mother are dead, and so are two of my uncles." (P. 58)

    In this book Deborah Ellis portrays the most tragic victims of the Iraq War - the children. Using an interview format which she has used in two previous books, Ellis brings us the stories of a number of children who have been affected by the war in Iraq in their own words. Many of the children are stuck in remote camps without access to schools, health care, electricity or even food and clean water or they have fled to countries such as Jordan or Syria where they face uncertain futures. Very few of the refugees have been allowed into the countries of the Coalition of the Willing and their NATO allies. The children whom Ellis portrays in this book are mostly refugees who fled Iraq and were living in Jordan in 2007.

    Each child's story is preceded by some background information which helps gives some context to the individual children's stories. A picture is included with most stories. The stories, in many cases, portray what life was like in Iraq before the war began as well as how the children and their families were affected by the war and how they are coping at the time of the interviews. Children range in age from 8 to 19 and some tell their stories as individuals while others tell them as siblings.

    The stories contained in this book are heart-wrenching. We hear of young children being separated from their parents and other family members through death and imprisonment, most of the time in a very violent manner. We hear of children who can no longer go to school, who have very little food and clothing and no hope for the future. Once again, Ellis brings us into the turmoil of a war-torn country and the repercussions it is causing on the civilians, especially the children - the innocent victims.

    This book would be a good addition to contemporary social studies programs at the junior high and high school levels. I would recommend it highly.

  • Thematic Links: Iraq - War; Refugees; Children and War
  • Victoria Pennell
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Professional Resources

  • 12 Sides to Your Story by Graham Foster

    Pembroke Publishers, 2009. 31p. 978-1-55138-238-8. Pbk. $12.95

    Rating: G

  • 12 Sides to Your Story gives students some powerful tools to improve their narrative writing. This 32-page flipchart book has a reader-friendly format which helps student writers to set personal goals for improving their writing. "12 Steps to Your Story features classroom-tested strategies that add value to story writing. A useful reference for improved story writing, it will challenge students to note use of the twelve strategies in published stories, and help them write effective stories under test conditions." (p. 1)

    The author bases his book on six basic expectations. "Typically, rubrics for story writing specify expectations for content, organization, sentence structure, vocabulary, voice and conventions." (p. 5) He then outlines 12 strategies for student writers to use to achieve these goals. The book is organized into seven chapters based on the six basic expectations: Using Story Writing Strategies, Organization, Content, Sentence Structure, Vocabulary and Voice, Conventions, and Revising and Sharing. The first chapter, "Using Story Writing Strategies" introduces writers to the fundamental question of the book, "Do you want to improve your story writing?" Writers are invited to use the reproducible masters provided at the back of the book - "Strategy Checklist" and "My Personal Writing Goals" - to focus on particular story writing goals and strategies. There is a useful chart provided at the end of this chapter to direct students to useful sections in this flipbook.

    Each chapter addresses one or more of the 12 strategies. "Organization" is divided into three "sides" or writing strategies - writing variable, beginnings and endings. The "Writing Variables for Stories" section explains RAFTS writing variables (role, audience, format, topic and strong purpose). "Story Beginnings that Command Attention" and "Endings that Point to Theme" discuss ways to improve story writing by using effective beginnings and endings. Each section contains highlighted text boxes (green- examples of writing, purple - Action Plan activities, blue - story writing tips) which provide additional information. At the end of the book, the author lists a series of expectations to be met by students using this flipbook.

    This book would be useful to both elementary and secondary students and their teachers who wish to work on their narrative writing skills. The examples and activities in this book are useful and interesting, but at times, it is unclear whether the audience for this flipbook is teachers or students. The flipbook format is compact and appealing for young writers. There are many suggestions for writing lessons which will be useful for new teachers, but could also give experienced teachers some new ideas.

  • Thematic Links: Writing; Language Arts; Journal Writing; Sentence Structure; Writing Conventions
  • Myra Junyk
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French Resources

  • Allez hop! Les Sens Series: Je vois (978-0-545-98100-2); J'entends (978-0-545-98799-8); Je sens (978-0-545-98101-9); Je gôute (978-0-545-98102-6); Je touche (978-0-545-98103-3)

    Photographs by Michael Wicks. French text by Ann Lamontagne. Éditions Scholastic, 2009. 24p. Illus. Gr. 1-4. Pbk. $7.99ea.

    Rating: E

  • Allez hop! Les sens is an excellent series for introducing and exploring the five senses. Each book provides simple explanations of how the senses work as well as activities and experiments to explore the concepts further. Animal senses are briefly mentioned. There is a table of contents, glossary and index. Engaging full colour action photographs of children involved in using their senses in the environment and in experiments are included. An explanatory note to parents and teachers at the back each book offers additional suggestions for developing the concepts.

    • Concepts covered include the following:
    • Je vois: how an image is formed in the eye; how our pupils adjust to light; how we see shapes, colours, depth; how glasses help people see, how blind people use their other senses
    • J'entends: how our ears hear sound waves; different types of sounds; how to transmit sounds; how some musical instruments make sounds; sign language for the deaf
    • Je sens: how our sense of smell helps us; smells we like or dislike; our smell memory; indoor and outdoor smells
    • Je gôute: tastes we like or dislike; how our tongue works; sweet, tart, bitter or salty tastes; encouragement to try new foods
    • Je touche: how we can tell something is soft, hard, hot, cold, rough or smooth; how our skin, hands or feet are sensitive to touch

    Teachers can use these book as a reference for developing simple classroom experiments with primary students. Older students could use the books as a reference for independent projects. The books could be used as a readaloud for Grade 1-2 (francophone) or Grade 2-3 (French immersion) with some vocabulary development by the teacher.

  • Thematic Links: The Five Senses
  • Lori Austin
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