Who's That Man? by Marny Duncan-Cary
Illustrated by Megan Mansbridge. Your Nickel's Worth Publishing, 2009. Unp. Illus. Gr. Preschool - 1. 978-1-894431-38-5. Hdbk. and CD $24.95
Inspired by the events of 911 and based on the author's father, Who's That Man? is a reminder that war separates families. In a truly gentle way Duncan-Cary opens the reader up to a new dimension of war - the return home. Who's That Man? begins with a young boy sharing his insecurities about his father, whom he has never met. The boy wonders if his father looks like him if he will love him. He runs home with hope and excitement in his heart to find a teary eyed stranger before him. In a parallel response to the first part of the book, the father wonders out loud, "Who's that boy? Is he my son? Does he look like me and will he love me?"
The stirring artwork coupled with the black and white photographs present a perfect package. With a copy of the CD also included, Who's That Man? can be enjoyed again and again, reminding us of the love of family and another sad consequence of war. Who's That Man? is appropriate for children reading at the Grade 1-2 level. It can be used as a great starting point to gently introduce the topic of war to children as well as showcase the love between a father and child. This touching story is a real treasure.
Neil Flambé and the Marco Polo Murders (The Neil Flambé Capers) by Kevin Sylvester
Illustrated by Kevin Sylvester. Key Porter Books, 2010. 300p. Gr. 5-9. 978-1-55470-266-4. Pbk. $12.95
Fourteen-year-old Neil Flambé has been gifted with an extraordinary sense of smell, which has helped him become one of the world's most brilliant chefs and enabled him to solve several culinary crimes. When someone begins to murder the best chefs in Vancouver one-by-one, leaving behind only the odor of chai tea and some strange notes about Marco Polo, Neil must help Police Inspector Nakamura crack the case before Neil himself becomes the main suspect.
From the beginning, Sylvester's novel grabs the reader with its story about the death of Marco Polo in 1324. It continues to build interest with the recent mysterious murder of a librarian in Venice, and then plunges into the cooking-centred world of Neil Flambé. Sylvester's characters are marvellous: Neil is cocky without being completely obnoxious; his cousin, Larry, is likeable, despite his extremely lackadaisical attitude; and guru chef Angel is wise without being too trite. Both the writing and line-drawings are clever and full-of-life, and the many culinary details of the book add an authentic flavour to the reading experience. Hopefully Neil and his fabulous nose will return again soon in another gourmet mystery.
Very highly recommended for public and school libraries.
Broken Memory: A Novel of Rwanda by Élisabeth Combres
Translated by Shelley Tanaka. Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press, 2009 (first published in French in 2007). 139p. Gr. 8 up. 978-0-88899-892-7. Hdbk. $18.95
This short, poignant, and delicately composed book achieves the extremely difficult feat of creating an approachable story about the Rwandan massacres of 1994, when Hutu Rwandans slaughtered nearly a million of their Tutsi compatriots. Emma, who is less than five years old, hears, though she does not see, the murder of her mother at this time. Her mother hides her, and her last words to her daughter are, "You must not die, Emma!" This instruction is what keeps Emma going, on a long and lonely refugee trek with many strangers, and what eventually drives her to the door of Mukecuru, a Hutu woman who takes in the little girl despite the risks to herself, and thus saves her life. The book tells of Emma's post-trauma nightmares, which haunt but also enhance her understanding of some of the other survivors she meets in the vicinity of her new home. With an economy of language that evokes but does not dwell on Emma's despair and grief, Combres describes not just broken memories but also a broken society. Emma's steps towards a form of recovery are mirrored by the active efforts of those around her, from Mukecuru all the way up to the official systems of justice, to find ways to address the huge pain of this country. Ten years after the terrible slaughter, she begins to find ways to restore her sense of her mother.
Obviously there is a danger of mawkishness in such an account, but Combres successfully avoids such perils, and tells an effective and highly moving story of terror and recovery. She brings alive a world that is very far removed from that of most Canadian teenagers, yet simultaneously makes it possible for many readers to identify with Emma even though her experiences may seem very alien to most. And, of course, there are some Canadian teens for whom such a story may be all too immediately recognizable; it would be good to think that they could find some alleviation of their own sorrow in this gracefully composed story of survival and hope.
by Marthe Jocelyn
Illustrated by Tom Slaughter. Tundra Books, 2009. 24p. Gr. Preschool - 2. 987-0-88776-970-2. Hdbk. $17.99
Picture books have a tough job to do. They have to capture the attention of the very young and accomplish storytelling goals with just a few pages, words and pictures. On occasion I find a picture book that meets these goals and then hits a home run by providing excellent curriculum connections too. Which Way? is that kind of book.
In just over 100 words Which Way? introduces all the basic concepts of transportation, navigation and maps. Brightly coloured illustrations in full-page primary colours pose basic questions like "How do we know which way to go?" More questions follow, with illustrations providing answers. Street signs and stop lights are illustrated while the text provides the information with sentences containing keywords in bolded text. For example, one double-page spread is illustrated with three realistic street signs. "It could be SLIPPERY WHEN WET. There will likely be a BUMP or two along the way. We might see a DEER CROSSING."
One of my favourite two-page spreads introduces key concepts of navigation. A big red, white and blue compass rose is drawn on a bright yellow background above the question "How do we know which way to go?" The next page, a solid black background with a yellow star and a blue and green globe, introduces keywords. "We can use a compass or chart the stars."
As a teaching tool this book is a standout but it also holds its own as a charming and well-illustrated storybook. Highly recommended.
Learn to Speak Music: A Guide to Creating, Performing and Promoting Your Songs by John Crossingham
Illustrated by Jeff Kulak. Owlkids Books Inc., 2009. 96p. Illus. Gr. 5-9. 978-1-897349-65-6. Pbk. $19.95
John Crossingham is a member of Broken Social Scene and thus speaks from experience in this guide about popular music for pre-teens and teens. The book is divided into six main chapters: Making Music, Forming a Band, Write On!, Playing Live, Keep a Record and Spread the Word. Crossingham discusses how to choose an instrument and the qualities that various instruments add to a piece of music. He talks about not only forming a band, but getting along with other band members and working together toward a common goal. He gives tips on writing both lyrics and music for songs and talks about how to organize shows and just what is needed both on stage and off. Recording both in a studio or in a less formal environment is discussed, and lastly Crossingham talks about other ways to become known: a website or video, the design of an album cover or other promotional materials such as t-shirts.
A great deal of practical information is packed into this small book and Crossingham seems to want to inspire potential young musicians, saying "If I can do it?. Exactly, so can you." (page 7) The book is filled with illustrations by Jeff Kulak which help to break down all the information into more easily managed 'bites' and as well there are sidebars with special tips from musicians such as Feist, Buck 65 and Emily Haines.
This isn't a book of detailed music theory nor does it incorporate all genres of music which might interest budding musicians, but it certainly provides a quick but comprehensive look at the music industry and enthusiastic advice about how to get started. Crossingham has done it himself and has been generous in putting his expertise and experience into this 'how-to' for future stars.
Can you dance? by Brian Morcombe
Music with BRIAN Inc., 2009. CD 45 min. Gr. Preschool - 3. $9.99
Young children will enjoy the opportunity to sing, dance and laugh along with Brian Morcombe in this new CD. Sixteen songs are included. Some are Brian's original songs while others are traditional tunes with either the well-known lyrics or new lyrics supplied by Brian. Children may recognize the Itsy Bitsy Spider or Old MacDonald Had a Farm and it won't take them long to learn other songs which may be new to them.
The songs are happy and often funny and have strong rhythms which children will enjoy. Several instruments are used and in a couple of cases, the song is a vehicle by which children are able to appreciate the sounds made by various instruments, such as a guitar, clarinet, saxophone and harmonica. With the exception of Goodnight the tunes are all lively and fairly fast-paced. While this is excellent for persuading children to sing along and perhaps dance or do actions to the songs, it might have been worthwhile to include a few more slow numbers or perhaps songs with differing styles such as jazz or country. One song contains a few lines of rap and this is an interesting variation. The CD would improve with more of this. The addition of extra voices to provide harmony in the songs would also add a new dimension to the CD.
As mentioned above, a couple of the songs teach children about musical instruments. Others include counting, colours and animals. A few of the songs tell a story such as Waltzing Matilda and Brian's own The Woods which is a humorous account of his venturing into the woods and the 'ferocious' animals encountered there. La Bamba is sung in Spanish but all of the other songs are in English. There are no French songs included on the CD.
Unfortunately, no lyrics are included with the CD but the songs are simple and straight-forward for the most part so once children hear them a few times they can easily learn the words and sing along. Brian has a website at musicwithbrian.com which provides information about concert dates, reviews of Brian's work, colouring pages which can be downloaded and copied, videos, song lyrics and also a section entitled 'teacher's resources' which provides sample lesson plans for anyone wishing to use his music in the classroom.
This CD is intended to engage young children in a musical experience and there is little doubt that they would enjoy both listening to it and interacting with it. "Can you dance?" Absolutely! Just listen to Brian's CD and give it a try!
Fairy Tales in the Classroom by Veronika Martenova Charles
Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2009. 261p. 978-1-55455-020-3. Pbk. $34.95
A wonderful resource for any teacher, this textbook would be a particular asset to those working in the primary/ elementary classrooms. Veronika Martenova Charles, is also the author of traditional tales such as Stretch, Swallow and Stare (1999) and The Crane Girl (1992). Similar to her own authorial choices in her picture books, she demonstrates how traditional folk tales are relevant for a classroom, and reflect today's concerns just as well as they did for past generations. Sharing the significance of traditional tales in the lives of children, she bases her ideas upon the work of scholars like Bruno Bettleheim, Andre' Favat and Gianni Rodari. In particular she draws upon the pioneering work of Vladimir Propp who devised a list of 31 actions or the "stories bones", motifs like trickery, magic agents, and unfounded claims from a character, which are found in most fairy tales. Charles has amended and created her own list, and accompanied it with a symbol system. This prototype teaching tool draws from Propp's sequence of actions to guide the children in story creation, and provides scaffolding for their stories. In particular, this approach is great for English language learners because of the pictures and symbols which can aid them in retelling and creating their own stories. What makes this book really unique is her descriptions of classroom procedures, outlining, for example, how to create an action symbol map. The samples of the children's created stories are another important resource in the book. The color plates of the children's drawings are good representations of the method in practice and showing how visual expression is a part of children's meaning making worlds. A teacher materials' chapter provides needed resources to implement the retelling of fairy tales, and key questions for children to create their own fairy tales.
This book is an excellent resource which shares a great way to teach fairy tales and inspire story building in children. The approach and methodology is refreshing and would be of interest to all children in the classroom. It successfully draws upon the many ways that we use language such as orally, though visual representation and in writing to inform our world.
Voyages autour du monde series: by Linda Pickwell Australie (978-1-4431-0119-6); France (978-1-4431-0121-9) by Elaine Jackson États-Unis (978-1-4431-0118-9); Inde (978-0-545-98102-6) Éditions Scholastic, 2009. 32p. Illus. Gr. 3 up. Pbk. $9.99 ea.
These books give a general overview (location and fast facts, physical features, climate, fauna and flora, the most important cities of the country featured and are illustrated with clear photos. The translations of the informative texts are clear, easily read and the pages are "clean" with just a few boxes.
There is a glossary, an index and a page of activities to further their integration into the curriculum.
Finally doing projects on countries in French has just gotten a bit easier. This series is a step in the right direction and I am hoping that other titles will soon appear.