The King's Taster by Kenneth Oppel
Illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher. Harper Collins Publishers, 2009. Unp. Illus. Gr. 2-4. 978-0-00200-700-9. Hdbk. $19.99
In this beautifully crafted picture book Kenneth Oppel weaves a delicious tale about a cook's dog, Max, whose sole job is to taste the King's food before his majesty consumes it. Narrated entirely from the dog's point of view, this story takes the reader all over the world as the cook tries to find a meal fit for a king. However, the King is actually a very spoiled young boy who ruins his appetite with candies and chocolates. No matter what the cook prepares, from crispy French fries to mouth-watering chili tacos, no meal would suffice. Although the cook goes to extreme lengths to find the most scrumptious meals, the King is always disgruntled and obstinate. Fortunately, Max discovers the King's secret before the cook literally loses his head!
The King's Taster is an engaging work of art. The engrossing story is partnered with equally absorbing paintings that are meticulous and creative. The finishing touches that have been incorporated, such as recipes being written all over the cook's uniform, simply add to its majesty. Although this book is well suited for children reading at the grade 2-4 level, it is an excellent read-a-loud for children in Senior Kindergarten and grade 1.
Torrie and the Dragonslayers by K. V. Johansen
Sybertooth Inc., 2009. 157p. Gr. 4-6. 978-0-9810244-0-0. Pbk. $10.99
Another excellent installment of the Torrie adventures. Johansen has a magical gift for creating delightful tales of ancient lore and the fantasy world through her narrator, Torrie, "Oldest of the Old Things". A traditional story of good overcoming evil, Torrie leads Cossy and Prince Rufik on a quest to capture the famous sword of legend, Wormbane, and to allow the Prince to slay the fierce and evil dragon, and bring peace and prosperity to the kingdom of Erythroth, and stop the dragon's planned attack on Cossy's homeland, Mistglom. Along the way, the heroic trio and their trusty steeds meet goblins, wolf guards, and evil sorcery, are chased by Cossy's spell bound sorcerer father, the Duke of Mistglom. Cossy uses her sorcery to release her father from the spell and to give him an opportunity to regain his life and heal the split between them. Along the journey, Torrie learns that the famed sword, Wormbane, has roots in his own past, and tries to solve the message his friend, Wren, has left him via the sword to help save him from the dragon.
Johansen's novels are fast paced, high action and adventure stories which intertwine strong characters of both sexes with ancient lore and a quest which allows good to prevail over evil. Her narrator, Torrie, is a comfortable, furry man, reminiscent of Tolkein's hobbits, but instead of blundering along, is a wise vestige of the fantasy world as the "Oldest of Old Things". Torrie and the Dragonslayers will have high appeal for both male and female readers in this age group, allowing an exciting venue for learning about the fantasy genre and its elements and providing opportunities for creative writing, drama in the classroom, visual art and recreational reading.
Dragon Seer by Janet Mcnaughton
HarperTrophyCanada, 2009. 325p. Gr. 8-10. 978-0-00-200681-1. Hdbk. $19.99
The Dragon Seer takes place on the Orkney Islands over 1000 years ago, at a time when the population of dragons is slowly waning, and the dragon seers are struggling to maintain their lore and knowledge. Madoca, a slave in the household of the chieftain Uunguist, is chosen, much to the shock and surprise of everyone at the Gathering, to be the new apprentice dragon seer. Madoca, however, surprises both her teachers, Eenna and Nechtan, and the dragons themselves with the speed and skill with which she learns the magic of the dragons. Madoca is well on her way to becoming the most powerful dragon seer of all time when the black shadow of a Viking ship arrives on their shore. The Vikings are feared amongst the inhabitants of the Orkneys, and rightly so. The Vikings have decimated the dragon populations wherever they have landed. In a truly unexpected turn, some of the chieftains, including Uunguist, turn against the dragons and side with the Vikings. Madoca is thrown into the political machinations of the chieftains and learns not only the true strength of her power, but also the responsibilities and costs that come with it.
Janet McNaughton has written a poignant coming of age tale. As a protagonist, Madoca will resonate with teenage girls struggling to find their place in the world. McNaughton deals with themes of loss, death, family, growth, responsibility, and leadership - and for good measure she throws in just a touch of romance. Madoca, however, is not the only multilayered character in the story. There are several male personalities that wrestle with their roles as men, leaders and fathers. Nechtan, one of the older seers, struggles with the flaws in his own character as he battles to lead his people. Even the dragons have depth that was not expected when I started reading this story.
This is a wonderful fantasy novel that would work well in an English class as a novel study. I hope that it is one that McNaughton will follow with a sequel. This novel is highly recommended.
Out of Slavery The Journey to Amazing Grace
by Linda Granfield
Illustrated by Janet Wilson. Tundra Books, 1997, 2009. 32p. Illus. Gr. 4-7. 978-0-88776-915-3. Hdbk. $17.99
Out of Slavery, previously published as Amazing Grace: The Story of the Hymn, is the life story of John Newton (1725-1807) and his dramatic transformation from slave trader to staunch abolitionist. Beginning with his ten years as a seaman (during which he was briefly enslaved himself) the story describes Newton's involvement in the slave trade and the event which leads to his eventual denunciation of it
After harrowing experiences on the high seas and a journey which nearly costs him his life, Newton promises to change the course of his life should God grant him salvation. True to his word, and convinced that God has heard and answered his prayer, Newton stops trading slaves. Over time he gives up his life at sea altogether, and becomes a minister and writer of hymns, including the words to the loved and well known Amazing Grace. The debate over the authorship of the music to the hymn is addressed as well.
The book is full of beautiful paintings by Janet Wilson, who also illustrated Granfield's book In Flanders Fields: The story of the poem by John McCrae. Included in the illustrations is a map showing the slave trade routes, as well as the full words to the hymn Amazing Grace.
Renaissance World Series: by Lynne Elliott. Exploration in the Renaissance (9780778745938); The Renaissance in Europe (9780778745914); by Lisa Mullins Science in the Renaissance (9780778745945); by Una D'Elia Painting in the Renaissance (9780778745921).
Crabtree Publishing, 2009. 32p. Gr. 5-8. Hdbk. $20.76 ea.
This is a new series from Crabtree Publishing which focuses on aspects of the Renaissance period. Each volume focuses on a particular aspect of Renaissance life, and is well-laid out. The text is clear, and there are colour pictures on each page. Also included on each double page spread is a sidebar with interesting facts about a person or place. At the back of each volume is a list of further sources to consult, a glossary, and an index. Each volume also has a comprehensive time line, which will be of use to the student researcher.
Exploration in the Renaissance focuses on the achievements of the great explorers of the period, and their voyages. Elliott describes life on a ship, the dangers one faced when embarking on a great expedition, and how one would actually go about organising such an expedition. She also focuses on famous voyages, including those to the New World during this period. In The Renaissance in Europe, Elliott takes a look at everyday life during the Renaissance period, focussing on areas such as family life, life in cities, warfare, trade, banking and religion. Science in the Renaissance focuses on what life was like for a scientist during this period, and takes a look at different branches of science including astronomy, math, as well as those who were inventors. Interestingly, Mullins also takes a look at how scientific ideas were beginning to transform the life of ordinary people during this period. In Painting in the Renaissance, Una D'Elia takes a look at the art of the period, focussing on portraits, religious art, new techniques and the riches of the Italian Art World. D'Elia's volume will be of particular interest to young art historians.
This is a well-researched, comprehensive series, and the design makes the books attractive to students. In provinces where the Renaissance period is part of the curriculum, these are an essential purchase; elsewhere, they are recommended as an additional purchase.
Fun with Composers Teacher's Guide Volume 2 by Deborah Lyn Ziolkoski
Fun with Composers, 2009. 144p. Music CD and DVD. 978-0-9780360-4-1. $99.95
Deborah Lyn Ziolkoski is a Canadian elementary music specialist from British Columbia whose enthusiasm and energy shine through in books which aim to make classical music approachable for young children. In this volume, she deals specifically with the music of Mussorgsky (Ballet of the unhatched chicks), Saint-Saens (Kangaroo), Rossini (William Tell Overture "Finale"),Bizet (March of the Toreadors), Beethoven (Symphony No. 9 "Ode to Joy", Turkish March, Symphony No. 5), Tchaikovsky (Russian Dance "Trepak") and Grieg (In the Hall of the Mountain King).
This teacher's guide is well worth reading right from the first page since in the foreword each selection of music is listed along with the themes or values teachers might wish to incorporate in specific lessons. This list also contains musical concepts illustrated in each particular composition. Ziolkoski talks about the importance of movement for children, the types of rhythm instruments which could be used and many other imaginative ideas for using the techniques from this book in the classroom and as the basis for a musical production for family and friends.
For each musical selection, there are sample lesson plans in this guide which cover not only the aims and objectives attached to that particular music but also what materials are required and step-by-step instructions for presenting the music to students. Ziolkoski provides a music map, i.e. a visual representation of what happens in the music, the score (only the tune, i.e. ‘soprano' notes), the props needed, and the potential themes and musical concepts which can be discussed.
Teachers will appreciate the many pages which can be reproduced for classroom use and the varied activities suggested, all of which are clearly explained and appropriate for primary students. Trolls, bananas, chicks, Russian police - they are all here! And other reproducible pages include musical terms, and members of the various orchestral ‘families'. Everything needed for arts and crafts is also explained, right down to a recipe for green play clay. Last, but certainly not least, Ziolkoski explains how her method meets standards for national and provincial arts curricula and she provides a rubric by which students can be assessed.
The CD includes two versions of each composition. The first is a vocal version which can be used in the classroom during the teaching of that particular unit and the second is strictly instrumental and could be used in performance. The added value of the CD is, of course, that it is not only useful in the classroom but also at home or in the car - perhaps for students who miss time in class, who desire extra practice, or who simply enjoy the music and want to hear it more frequently. The DVD shows Ziolkoski and students actually using the methodology discussed in the teacher's guide.
Musicians love to make music and see enjoyment and appreciation in their listeners. Ziolkoski is looking at a new generation of potential musicians and teaching them that classical music is neither ‘boring' nor ‘difficult' but rather something in which one can actively participate. The enthusiasm and excitement engendered either at home or in the music classroom with this Fun with Composers approach ensures that yet another generation will come to be both entertained and enriched by the wonderful world of classical music.
National, Provincial & Territorial Symbols of Canada Kit by Mary Cubello
Mythic Productions/ McIntyre Media, 2008. Includes Provincial & Territorial Symbols DVD (MC1012). 85 min. and Symbols of Canada DVD (MC1011) 25 min. Teacher's guide with reproducible pages. Posters . Gr. 1-8. PPR $199.00 PPR
This excellent kit of materials from McIntyre Media will meet curriculum requirements from grades 1 to 5 for all provinces and territories (and grade 8 for P.E.I.). The DVDs are informative and will appeal to a wide elementary audience. The kit includes a teacher's guide plus a variety of supporting materials, as indicated in the contents above. The posters are clear and colourful. The proclamation and declaration are copies of the originals, with the formal, antiquated language used on such documents.
The excellent teacher's guide contains background information to support the DVDs and includes art ideas, matching games, note organizers, legends, word searches and other games and many other ideas to enhance learning.
The Symbols of Canada DVD (25 minutes) explores the history and current significance of the following Canadian symbols: the maple leaf, Canadian flag, national colours, parliament buildings, maple tree, currency, beaver, Coat of Arms, parliamentary Mace, national sports - hockey and lacrosse, Canadian horses, R.C.M.P., and national anthem. With three appealing young narrators, the historical and cultural background for each symbol is presented in an informative and engaging manner. For example, in describing the significance of the Parliament Buildings, numerous symbols are highlighted including: the Centennial Flame symbolizing "unity from sea to sea"; First Nations symbols such as the Thunderbird, the Orca, an Inuk hunter, and the Totem Pole. Particular emphasis is placed on the frequency of many of these symbols in everyday life.
Provincial & Territorial Symbols (DVD) presents a five minute segment for each province and territory. Each segment is partially narrated by school age children or young adults interspersed with an adult narrator. Topics covered include brief historical and geographical facts, natural resources, First Nations, famous residents, and current high interest information about the province or territory. Also included is the history and description of the symbols for the Coat of Arms and Provincial Flag, plus the provincial bird, flower, and tree. As with the previous DVD, the information is delivered in a bright, engaging manner and is supported with excellent photography.
Savais-tu? # 41 Les Mantes religieuses (978-2-89435-412-4); # 42 Les Dragons de Komodo (978-2-89435-413-1) by Alain M & Michel Quintin Bergeron
Illustrated by Sampar. Éditions Michel Quintin, 2009. 63p. Illus. Gr. K-3. Pbk. $8.95 ea.
Did you know that sometimes the praying mantis eats young mice, young birds, lizards and other small animals? Did you know that the Komodo dragon has a huge appetite and can eat 80% of its own weight in just one meal? These are just a few of the hundreds of amazing facts children will learn in these small books.
The Savais-tu? Series is well-known to both teachers and librarians as a wonderful set which will both amuse and educate young students. The facts are just bizarre enough to make them memorable, a nice change from the typical animal or insect book which may present rather dry material. Much of the humour of these two books comes from the illustrations by Sampar which cause giggles even before one reads the pertinent text. The other aspect of the humour comes from the comic book approach which has the animal or insect saying something funny which corresponds to the facts but goes to the extreme. For example, on the pages which mention that the Komodo dragon can eat 80% of its own weight at one sitting, the waiter/animal who is carrying a tray with a huge boar on top in the cartoon says: "And to drink?" The Komodo dragon, obviously ready for his large meal, replies: "Diet soda, please"
Children will enjoy the wonderful illustrations, the off-the-wall humour and the amazing facts about creatures which are not well-known to most people. Add these volumes to your school or classroom's Savais-tu? collection!