Volume 16, no.2 - December 2010

Picture Books

  • A Porcupine in a Pine Tree: A Canadian Twelve Days of Christmas by Helanie Becker

    North Winds Press, 2010. unp. Illus. Gr.K-3. 978-0-545-98663-2. Hdbk. $16.99

    Rating: G-E

  • A Porcupine in a Pine Tree is a wonderful Canuck-flavored take on a Christmas classic. With entertaining tongue-in-cheek humour, and comical illustrations by Werner Zimmermann, the Canadian spirit truly comes alive.

    Beginning with the porcupine, Becker works her way through the song choosing the perfect representations of our culture. The illustration featuring three beavers, two caribou, and the porcupine staring in clueless amazement at the four calling moose is priceless! Of course, no book about Canadian culture would be complete without a hockey reference, in this case in the form of five Stanley Cups and ten Leafs a-leaping for them, as well as a game of curling, this time played by squirrels! The lyrics are rounded out with loons, Mounties munching doughnuts, sled dogs, and bear cubs - all with perfect rhythm. And really, any book depicting puffins piping is a winner in my mind!

    Porcupine is a wonderful new book that deserves to become an enduring Canadian Christmas classic.

  • Thematic Links: Canada; Christmas; Songs and Lyrics; Canadian Culture
  • Nicole Rowlinson
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Fiction Grades 3-6

  • Neil Flambé and the Aztec Abduction (The Neil Flambé Capers). by Kevin Sylvester

    Key Porter, 2010. 302p. Gr. 5-9. 978-1-55470-329-6. $12.95

    Rating: E

  • Artemis Fowl meets Gordon Ramsey. Who's own opinion - "Good fun" - adorns the cover of the first book, Neil Flambé and the Marco Polo Murders (2010). But I have to say, I like Neil Flambé a lot more than I like Artemis Fowl; but then, I have trained as a chef, not a criminal mastermind, and I understand Neil's culinary obsessiveness. Nonetheless, what makes Neil Flambé more than just a spoilt, self-important boy-chef is Sylvester's ability to reveal Neil's humanity, even possibly humility, in times when such a response is most appropriate. Neil's presentation as a fourteen-year-old boy who understands both his own greatness and the fallibility of his youth, coupled with the wisdom of his gentle-giant mentor Angel Jícama, the casual intelligence of his side-kick cousin Larry, and a plot that has sufficient twists and turns to engage the young reader, presents a recipe for success. Sylvester's clever use of tangential referents peppers both the narration and the characters' comments; I particularly like the comment about the "dim-witted duo" having "returned from the trip down the eerie canal" (172), a reference distinctly pointed at the young Canadian reader. In keeping with the abundance of Canadiana embedded in its pages, Neil Flambé and the Aztec Abduction resembles Goethe's "inhabited garden," revealing the common humanity in characters from all nations and ethnicities. Sean Nakamura is indicative of the characters Sylvester gives us: a detective from Vancouver, with an Irish first name and a Japanese last name. Similarly, Neil's girl friend has recently moved from Spain, and his mentor is an indigeno from southern Mexico. The ethics of multiculturalism extend to Neil's experience of Mexico, and provide a learning experience for both character and reader: through his culinary respect for the poverty-stricken Margarita, who cooks exquisite home-style food for workers at a garbage dump, Neil learns that not only the rich deserve - or appreciate - fine cooking. Neil has no epiphany: he remains committed to his drive for fame and fortune, but his understanding of his relationship to his clientele and his world has altered subtly.

    Of the plot, I will say little, except that it is a carefully constructed narrative recipe, containing a number of unexpected ingredients that keep the reader hungry for more. All in all, Neil Flambé and the Aztec Abduction is a fitting sequel to the excellent first volume in the series. Sylvester admitted during his visit to the Vancouver International Writers' (and Readers') Festival in October that he was hard at work on Neil #3. I, for one, cannot wait for the third course of this gripping narrative meal.

  • Thematic Links: Thematic Links: Mexican Cooking; Culinary Arts; Aztec History; Mexico City
  • Karyn Huenemann
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Fiction Grades 7 - 12

  • No Safe Place by Deborah Ellis

    Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press, 2010. 205p. Gr. 7-12. 978-0-88899-973-3. Hdbk. $18.95

    Rating: E

  • With No Safe Place Deborah Ellis continues her use of dramatic international situations to inform young readers of the challenges faced by youth born in less fortunate conditions. This novel shows how the European Union, in opening its borders to provide financial opportunities, has also become a conduit for economic refugees attempting to reach the west.

    The novel follows three teens in their travels, and reveals their backstories through flashback chapters. Abdul left post-war Baghdad after his father and brothers were killed in war, his mother and sister were killed by Muslim extremists, and his best friend Kalil is beaten to death in a homophobic attack. Rosalia is a Roma girl whose parents are dead, and her uncle sends her with a man who he hopes will protect her from further sexual violations by providing her with work in a factory and the opportunity for education. The man is soon revealed as a sex trafficker, who imprisons her in an apartment in Berlin in preparation for a life of prostitution. Cheslav's mother abandons him to a Baby Home for Russian orphans, and from there he is moved by government officials to an army cadet training academy. There he discovers a talent and love for the trumpet, and must escape to avoid the inevitable army tour of duty.

    All of these teens are desperate enough to risk everything they have left - their life savings, and their physical safety - to travel across Europe to Calais, and then to take an open motorboat across the English Channel with a smuggler, in the hope of a better life. The trip is a horror show: the smuggler attempts to kill his own nephew, and the teens must knock him overboard and leave him to die. They then meet a luxury cruise boat, but when the men aboard discover heroin on the little motorboat, the teens hijack the cruiser. A terrible storm comes up, and they are only able to land safely through the courage of a little girl who is skipping school to spend time in her "happy place", a small cave in the cliffs at Cornwall. With her mother's help, the teens are given warm clothes, some good meals, restored faith in humanity, and hope for the future.

    Ellis's characters are realistic, her situations are based on today's newspaper headlines, and her plot is gripping. This novel will be very successful for students who are willing to look at the wider social problems of our world, or for classroom instruction on international issues and the challenges faced by youth in different cultures and countries.

  • Thematic Links: Immigrants' Stories; European Union; Roma; War in Iraq; Russia
  • Patricia Jermey
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Non-Fiction Preschool - Grade 6

  • The Sea Wolves; Living Wild in the Great Bear Rainforest by Ian McAllister and Nicholas Read

    Photographs by Ian McAllister. Orca Book Publishers, 2010. 121p. Illus. Gr. 3 up. 978-1-55469-206-4. Pbk. $18.95

    Rating: E

  • Our literature is steeped in myths, legends and even cartoons that depict the "big bad wolf" as a ferocious villain to be feared and hated. Though wolves are carnivorous and efficient hunters, researchers have shown that they are highly intelligent and very social animals, playing an important role in the preservation of our wilderness areas. Our kinship to wolves is directly demonstrated in the fact that our domestic dog, through selective breeding, is a direct descendent of the wolf.

    This informative text, filled with spectacular photographs, discusses a unique population of wolves living in the Great Bear Rainforest, situated along the west coast of British Columbia, from Vancouver Island to the Alaska Panhandle. These coastal wolves are distinctly smaller with coarse, reddish tinged fur, and are excellent swimmers, having adapted to their coastal environment of land and waterways. Highly respected by the First Nations people in the Rainforest, these wolves have been able to live in harmony with the scattered populations in this vast area. This book is a fascinating story of their lifecycle and habitat.

    Their story begins in a warm, dry den, hidden under the massive roots of an old cedar tree, perhaps hundreds of years old, as many generations will use the same site. As the young wolf cubs are introduced to spring in the rainforest, the authors also discuss the important characteristics of the old-growth forest and the diverse coastal environment and unique ecosystem. As the seasons progress, the wolf's habits are discussed in detail, as well as the changing face of the rainforest. Interestingly, these sea wolves have developed a fondness for salmon and are often referred to as "fishing wolves'. Their important social characteristics are also highlighted, as the wolves live in family packs, caring for their young pups for a long period of time.

    Beautifully presented, each chapter is filled with many full-page illustrations of these intriguing wolves and their varying environment. The photography is vivid, colourful and spectacular. Each chapter heading includes the artwork of First Nations artist, Martin Campbell, illustrating the respect held for the wolf. Accompanying the lyrically written text are colour-highlighted side bars containing specific bits of information. These are appropriately called "Wolf Bites", and give facts and answer questions, such as: How big is a wolf family territory? How fast can a wolf run?, etc. Discussion is also included on various other species found in the area, and the importance of the preservation of this pristine rainforest environment is also emphasized.

    These topics of preserving the wolf and salmon population, as well as the Great Bear Rainforest itself, should lead to interesting classroom discussion. The text is clearly written and appropriate for intermediate readers, older research students and interested readers of all ages. A website is included for more information, and also titles for further reading. A table of contents and an index are included. This book is highly recommended for both school and classroom libraries as well as for personal information.

  • Thematic Links: Wolves; Pacific Northwest Coast; Old-growth Forests; Rainforests; Ecosystems
  • Carolyn Cutt
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Non-Fiction Grades 7-12

  • The World of the Polar Bear 3rd Ed. by Norbert Rosing

    Firefly Books, 2010. 215p. Illus. Gr. 7-12. 978-1-55407-631-4. Pbk. $29.95

    Rating: E

  • Norbert Rosing has been taking pictures of polar bears for 25 years and judging from the fantastic photographs in this edition of The World of the Polar Bear he has certainly perfected his art. Not only does Rosing take photographs of this gigantic mammal of the north but he has been researching the species for almost as long as he has been photographing them and he returns to the Arctic about 3 times a year to do his work. This edition has been fully updated and contains new photographs.

    The book traces a year in the life of the polar bear. It begins in the spring when the female polar bears emerge from their dens with their new cubs and begin to make their journey across the land to the icy waters of the Canadian north. Rosing follows the bears through the seasons as they mate, hunt, rear their cubs and journey over the land and the ice. On this journey there are also encounters with other Arctic animals such as seals, arctic foxes, walruses and muskoxen which are portrayed through the camera lens. While the polar bear is the main focus of the book we are also given an insight into the Arctic landscape as we learn more about this fascinating creature. Included also are a short chapter on the vanishing ice, an afterword - which focusses on the threats of climate change on the polar bear - and polar bear facts and figures as well as an index.

    This book gives a wonderful visual exploration of the world of the polar bear. The text which does accompany the photographs is quite accessible and provides some very interesting information. While the reading level of the text is directed more toward adolescent and adult readers, younger readers will certainly appreciate the photographs. This book could be used in a study of endangered wildlife or a geographical study of Canada's Arctic.

  • Thematic Links: Polar Bears; Endangered Wildlife; The Arctic
  • Victoria Pennell
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Professional Resources

  • Picturing Canada: A History of Canadian Children's Illustrated Books and Publishing by Gail Edwards & Judith Saltman

    University of Toronto Press, 2010. 381p. Illus. 978-0-8020-8540-5. Pbk. $39.95

    Rating: E

  • "This book is arranged Chronologically and thematically. We examine the historical context and development and contemporary state of Canadian illustrated books for children, and the simultaneous development of indigenous Canadian publishing for children. We analyse the role children's illustrated books within the broader histories of print culture in Canada and the history of childhood in Canada. We also consider the material culture of the illustrated book by exploring both aesthetic and commercial trends in the creation and dissemination of Canadian illustrated books for children and consider their role in the reader's awareness of the book as a physical and aesthetic object." (p. 16)

    This quote accurately describes the content of this academic work by Gail Edwards, Chair of the Department of History at Douglas College, BC, and Judith Saltman, Associate Professor in the School of Library, Archival and Information Studies and chair of the Master of Arts in Children's Literature Program at the University of British Columbia. The research for this work has taken place over the past 8-10 years and has involved extensive work by both of these highly-qualified ladies. They interviewed one hundred and thirty -six people who have some connection with Canadian children's literature - authors, illustrators, editors, designers, publishers, critics, book reviewers, scholars, librarians, teachers, literacy specialists and children's literature specialists from Canada, Australia, Germany, Japan, Spain, Sweden and the United States. (p. 14) - and examined almost six hundred award-winning Canadian children's illustrated books published in Canada. They also consulted a wide variety of existing academic woks on Canadian children's books as is evidenced by the extensive Notes and Bibliography sections included in the book.

    The book consists of nine chapters. Chapter 1 is an introduction which sets the tone of the book explaining the intent and parameters of the research and defining what is meant by a "picture book" . Chapters 2-8 explore the history of picture books along with related historical detail which had an influence on publishing for children at the time. The final chapter deals with Canadian Cultural Identity and how it is reflected in the literature. One can very easily see how Canadian publishing for children was almost non-existent from the beginnings until the post-war period and that it was really during the 1970s that Canadian children's publishing started to "come into it's own" as a viable genre. Edwards and Saltman not only look at the books but also the authors, the critics, publishing, reviewing, the development of children's libraries, the development of children's librarians' associations, and children's book awards and the impact they have had on the genre over the years. There are black & white illustrations from a variety of children's books throughout the text as well as a centre spread of 20 colour illustrations The book also includes A Chronology of Children's Print History in Canada, a list of Illustrations, Notes, Bibliography and Index.

    This book is designed mainly for the Children's Literature specialist and would make an excellent text for college and university students studying the genre. It will also be of use to librarians who have an interest in the history of picture books and their authors. I would highly recommend it as a professional resource.

  • Thematic Links: Canadian Picture Books; Canadian Children's Literature
  • Victoria Pennell
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Audio-Visual Materials

  • Le printemps de Mélie/ Molly in springtime by Pierre-Luc Granjon

    National Film Board of Canada, 2009. DVD. 26min. 59 sec. Gr. K-6. 153C 9910 039. $69.95

    Rating: E

  • Mélie is queen of the Flower Festival this spring and she chooses Leon as her king. This, however, doesn't please Boniface and he sets out not only to displace Leon as the festival king but to displace the real king and rule everyone and everything. To this end, he steals a magic apple and poisons the town's water, creating an epidemic. Fortunately, Mélie has both imagination and courage so she and her friends are able to find the antidote and save the townspeople.

    This DVD has all of the ingredients of a traditional fairy tale: a king, a princess who is both smart and brave, a dastardly villain and an honest and likable young man who wins the princess in the end. Added to the mix are a magic apple, evil spells and poison honey. True love, as always, wins out and everyone lives happily ever after.

    The film was made using 3-D puppets and the setting is a mediaeval castle and village. The colours, dialogue, costumes and background music all add to the fairy tale aura and make this an interesting and engaging DVD. Users can choose either the English or the French language version since both are on the same disc, making it applicable for any primary or junior classroom.

  • Thematic Links:Fairy Tales; Medieval Times
  • Ann Ketcheson
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French Resources

  • Héros du destin by Marie-Andrée Clermont (ed.)

    Vents d'Ouest, 2010. 220p. Gr. 5-9. 978-2-89537-182-3. Pbk. $11.95

    Rating: E

  • What does it take to be a hero? Many young adults think of heroes as those people they see in films or on television, but this collection of short stories shows everyday people who become heroes when they surmount difficulties that are anything but ordinary.

    Marie-Andrée Clermont has included thirteen stories by thirteen different Quebecois writers in this collection. The stories range widely in time, in place, and in content. Some young people are heroes when they defeat illness and injury; others may stop a robbery, a murder or a suicide. The heroes may be a Patriote of 1837, a Jewess during World War II or slaves trying to escape to Canada via the underground railway. In all of these very different circumstances, readers meet ordinary young people who were capable of extraordinary things - showing courage, determination and quick thinking.

    Each story is approximately 20 pages in length and there is a brief note by the author which accompanies the text and explains from where the hero originated. Some are completely imaginary while others are real or based on real events. Young adults might choose to read the book as a whole, but each story also stands very well on its' own and could form the basis of students' creative writing or research into a particular historical period. The possibilities seem endless!

  • Thematic Links: Heroes in Everyday Life
  • Ann Ketcheson
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