Volume 15, no.5 - June 2010

Picture Books

  • So, you be Keon and I'll be Mahovlich by Oksanna Crawley

    AuthorHouse, 2009. 21p. Illus. Gr. 2-4. 978-1-4490-0243-5. Pbk. $13.99

    Rating: E

  • For everyone who has ever dreamed of being truly great at something, young or young at heart, this book will stir that part of you. Niall dreamed of playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Like so many children, he practiced hard, yet he was afraid that he would never be good enough to make the local team. Then one night a mysterious stranger joins him on the ice of a community rink. This stranger, wearing Maple Leaf jersey number 5, appears several times coaching Niall and encouraging him to be a team player. Eventually Niall makes the team and is instrumental in leading them to victory. But who is this stranger? No one ever saw him but Niall.

    So you be Keon and I'll be Mahovlich is a wonderful story about working hard and giving it your all. Inspirational and youthful, it pays homage to a young Maple Leaf player, Bill Barilko, who wore jersey number 5. Barilko died in a plane crash in 1951, just four months after he scored the sudden-death overtime goal to win the Stanley Cup for the Maple Leafs. He was a national hero that many have not forgotten and this book helps us to remember someone who has inspired many. The beautiful illustrations, photographs and historical fact sheet only add to a wonderful story about a boy who dreamed of being a great hockey player.

    This book is well suited for children reading at the grade 2-4 level and will be of special interest to budding hockey enthusiasts. Teachers and parents may also use it to discuss teamwork, sports, and heroes.

  • Thematic Links: Ice Hockey; Bill Barilko; Sports; Determination; Inspiration
  • Rachelle Gooden
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Fiction Grades 3-6

  • After the Fire by Becky Citra

    Orca Book Publishers, 2010. 186p. Gr. 5-8. 978-1-55469-246-0. Pbk. $9.95.

    Rating: E

  • From the opening pages of After the Fire readers are intimately absorbed into eleven-year-old Melissa's world, and through the child's understandably jaded and resentful perspective they are introduced to Melissa's mother, Sharlene. Living in a constant state of apprehension, Melissa battles against her desire to believe her mother's promise of a better life as she awaits what she believes will be Sharlene's inevitable failure. Masterfully woven into the story are details of Sharlene's neglect that culminated in the fire that occurred two years earlier when Melissa and her younger brother Cody were left unattended. It is clear that Melissa has valid reasons not to trust her mother, in spite of all indications that Sharlene is now working hard to fulfill her promises. Despite her reservations, when Sharlene takes Melissa and Cody to a remote cabin in British Columbia for August, Melissa finds she enjoys spending time with her family in the rustic setting. Although Melissa had no friends at home, at the cabin she becomes close friends with a local girl named Alice. Alice's passion for writing fantasy stories hides the pain and helplessness she feels as her family falls apart following the death of her younger brother. Alice's failed efforts to hide her family's problems allow Melissa to realize that her own situation has indeed changed. Melissa comes to trust her mother again and realizes that Sharlene has put together the pieces of their family.

    In this unique and delicately written story of rebuilding, the parent-child relationship is explored in its complexity and the reader, like Melissa, is left feeling that families can heal and trust can be regained.

  • Thematic Links: Family Relationships
  • Beth Wilcox
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Fiction Grades 7 - 12

  • The Second Trial by Rosemary Boll

    Second Story Press, 2010. 240p. Gr. 7-12. 978-1-897187-72-2. Pbk. $11.95

    Rating: E

  • This novel tells the story of a "normal' family from Edmonton and its demise at the hands of an abusive father. It begins with the trial of the father for his third assault charge against his wife. He had so injured her this time that his son had to call an ambulance.

    This is a reasonably affluent family and the father's abuse has gone unreported on enough occasions that the court has no choice but to release him after a brief prison sentence. The mother so fears for her life and that of her son and daughter that she allows a government-endorsed organization to move her and the children to another city in another province and give them new identities.

    For her 13 year old son, this is a very, very difficult pill to swallow. His mother asked him to sit through the assault trial and then when he has to move and assume a new identity, he resolves to go along until Christmas and then go live with his father. But when the house they are forced to leave - the sale of which will finance their new lives - mysteriously explodes after the father secretly cancels the insurance, the son is profoundly confused. The dénouement of this family's secret drama is both compelling and utterly believable.

    Author Rosemary Boll is a lawyer and her background in family law shows in this well-informed and uncompromising novel. This kind of story is often not presented in such ordinary surroundings and I admire the author's choice of everyday realism. Too often YA novels examine issues like family violence and situations of personal danger against a fantastical backdrop which serves to remove the reader too far from the realities that must be faced every day and cannot be ignored. I commend the author for her integrity and I recommend this novel.

  • Thematic Links: Thematic Links: Spousal Abuse; Divorce; Child Custody; Conduct of Life
  • Lesley Little
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Non-Fiction Preschool - Grade 6

  • The Salmon Bears: Giants of the Great Bear Rainforest by Ian Mcallister & Nicholas Read

    Photographs by Ian McAllister. Orca Book Publishers, 2010. 89p. Illus. Gr. 3-7. 978-1-55469-205-7. Pbk. $18.95

    Rating: E

  • One of the world's most spectacular wilderness areas, the Great Bear Rainforest, extends along the British Columbia coast from the northern end of Vancouver Island to the tip of the Alaska Panhandle, bordered by the Coast Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. Due to the effects of the ocean, it is a temperate rainforest, supporting an amazing ecosystem. Of special importance, this rainforest is an old-growth forest, an ideal habitat for bears. It provides them with sturdy trees for their dens, bushes, shrubs and foliage for protection, and berries and plants for food. In the fall the many streams are filled with spawning salmon, and it is their life cycle which is so vital to the survival of the bears, as well as many other species, both animal and plant. This detailed, informative text explores the lives of the salmon bears through the four seasons, describing the delicate balance between the bears and their natural environment, and stressing the importance of protecting this vital area.

    The Great Bear Rainforest supports three types of bears; the grizzly bear, the American black bear and the spirit bear, which is a rare breed of black bear that has white fur. Life begins when the cubs are born in December or January, and so this text takes the reader through the seasons as the bears become aware and dependent on their rich environment. Spectacular, appealing photographs appear on almost every page, enhancing the fact-filled dialogue. The bears look almost friendly and very photogenic! Each chapter heading includes the appealing artwork of First Nations artist, Martin Campbell, who has observed the grizzly bears while living close by. On each page of text there is a colour-highlighted block of related information titled: "Just The Bear Facts". These boxes answer questions about bears, for example, "How fast can bears run?", "How big is a rainforest bear?", etc., and also include interesting facts about hibernation, the rainforest ecosystem, and the salmon. Written in an appealing lyrical style, this excellent book is appropriate for both early intermediate readers and older research students. Information abounds regarding the bears' habits, daily activities and their relation to this important wilderness area. The topics in this book should also promote interesting classroom discussion. For further information, some websites are included as well as a list of suggested reading. There is a comprehensive index that includes the photographs. This text should prove to be a popular addition to a school library resource centre collection.

  • Thematic Links: Bears; Salmon; Rainforests; Ecosystems
  • Carolyn Cutt
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Non-Fiction Grades 7-12

  • i.d.: stuff that happens to define us by Kate Scowen

    Illustrated by Peter Mitchell. Annick Press, 2010. 160p. Gr. 9 up. 978-1-55451-225-6. Hdbk. $24.95.

    Rating: E

  • Aptly, this book opens with the line ''Everybody has a story??'' With the aim of investigating issues that affect adolescents, Scowen asked friends and colleagues to share stories about issues that were of concern during their own youth, and how dealing with those issues affected and shaped their lives.

    Each story shares a first person account of a pivotal moment one might deal with in life. Each story included in the book is told using a handwritten font, which brings immediacy and a sense of the importance of the individual to the reader. The twelve stories featured in the book focus on themes such as reconciliation, suicide, sexuality, friendship and body image. These are not happy stories, but discovering what other people felt as they tackled a particular issue is incredibly interesting, and is of much use to the teen reader. At the end of each story is a question and answer page, which helps the reader start to make sense of the issue discussed.

    At the end of the book is an excellent resources section; Scowen has compiled lists of organizations and websites that will be of use to teens, as well as providing a comprehensive list of fiction and non-fiction books suitable for readers. Librarians looking to broaden their collection in this area would do well to consult this list to develop their collection.

    Peter Mitchell's illustrations bring much to the book. They are non-traditional illustrations; they are scattered, chaotic and truly enhance the stories that Scowen has collected. The language used throughout the book is similarly blunt and forthright, and the issues discussed are tackled in a no-nonsense way.

    This book can be used in several ways. It will be read by teens who may be looking for information about a certain topic, or for advice on how to deal with a situation. It may also be read by teens and their parents, or used a starting point for discussion in a classroom setting. It is an essential purchase for any library that serve high school students.

  • Thematic Links: Adolescents; Teenagers; Identity
  • Claire Hazzard
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Professional Resources

  • Ready to Learn: Using Play to Build Literacy Skills in Young Learners by Anne Burke

    Pembroke Publishers, 2010. 128p. 978-1-55138-249-4. Pbk.$24.95

    Rating: E

  • In her new book Ready to Learn, Anne Burke enters the ongoing debate about the value of play as opposed to skills training in preschool and primary classrooms. She describes play-based activities to increase and enrich student learning and engagement in literacy-rich environments. In the introductory chapter, "Using Play to Build Literacy Foundations," Burke explores the educational research on the value of play. "Children learn in many ways, active participation in play, planned activities, their own observations, and discussions with adults among them." (p. 10) Burke's two goals in this book are: to help teachers understand the pedagogical importance of play for learning skills, and to show the value of play for learners who are challenged and for those who need to be challenged.

    In the current crowded curriculum, play is at times considered a waste of precious learning time by both parents and teachers. However, Ready to Learn shows that play is vital for students in the early years of school. Play teaches children how to communicate with others by promoting social engagement, symbolic expression and motor activity. The second chapter, "Learning to Communicate through Play," describes how to reinforce communication skills through various kinds of play involving: oral language, sounds and letters, phonics, meaningful talk, and storytelling. The third chapter discusses ways to use play to develop print understanding as a preparation for reading and writing. Strategies include environmental print, dramatic play, learning and writing centres, name games and book making. In later chapters, Burke discusses how play can help English language learners as well as promote learning in science, mathematics and social science curriculum areas.

    Anne Burke provides a rich selection of play-related activities for students. Each chapter is organized with specific suggestions and practical learning strategies. One particularly useful feature of this book is the series of handouts to support parents in various curriculum areas. Often parents need some concrete suggestions to help their children learn through play in the home environment i.e. "Ideas for Promoting Early Literacy with Your Children." (p. 49) The author also provides a comprehensive list of children's books and an annotated bibliography at the end of this resource. This book provides a wonderful resource for both new and experienced teachers who want to include more play-based activities in their early years classrooms. One of the key learnings of this resource is summed up in the words of Leo Buscaglia, "The human need to play is a powerful one. When we ignore it, we feel there is something missing in our lives." (p. 24)

  • Thematic Links: Thematic Links: Play-Based Activities; Literacy Development; Oral Language; Reading; Writing; Classroom Environment
  • Myra Junyk
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Audio-Visual Materials

  • Pioneer Life in Canada McIntyre Media. 2009. DVD. 22min. Gr. 4-6. $149.00 (Includes web-based teachers guide)

    Rating: G-E

  • This film brings the 21st century into the Pioneer era by transporting a modern-day student to a Pioneer school setting and an audience with a Pioneer teacher. During her school visit, the young woman learns about the immigration experience of Europeans to various parts of modern-day Canada, how each geographical region was settled and each area's distinct life and customs.

    A useful complement to the Pioneer Unit for students in the junior grades. An on-line teacher's guide provides excellent back ground material, vocabulary building exercises, before and after viewing activities and projects, critical thinking skills development, response, research skills and today's trends, hands on real-life extensions and a quiz.

    While the actors and their lines are fairly stilted and wooden, younger students will understand the simplistic information and be able to make connections to their own world while learning about the social history of Canada. Highly recommended for curriculum support.

  • Thematic Links:Canadian Social Studies; Pioneers; Immigration
  • Sharon Armstrong
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French Resources

  • Personne ne voit Claire by Jocelyn Boisvert Soulieres editeur, 2010. 62p. Gr. 7-12. 978-2-89607-115-9. Pbk. $6.95

    Rating: E

  • Claire Côté feels that she is just someone on the fringes of life. Her parents lead their own busy lives and seem to barely remember that she exists. Claire wonders if anyone would notice if she simply wasn't around. And that is exactly what happens: one day Claire realizes that she has become invisible.

    There is an interesting double entendre in the title of the book, suggesting that people don't see Claire and also don't see clearly. This continues throughout the novel when Claire literally disappears, having already 'disappeared' in so many ways in her life. No one can see her because, presumably, no one really cares. Thus Claire is safe to move to a completely new town and start a new, albeit invisible, life. What a shock when suddenly, someone is actually able to see her! And this too is a mystery, since at first the only person who can see her is a blind student in her class.

    There are many interesting themes in this book. Are we essentially invisible to most of the world, seen only by those who really care for us? Do we make people feel unimportant or 'invisible' because we don't let them know our feelings for them? There is an eerie atmosphere in this book and it truly is a haunting story. But these qualities are based not on ghosts or other supernatural oddities but rather on the relationships formed with family and friends. This short fantasy novella is full of interesting ideas and is a gem which should find itself on classroom and library shelves wherever possible.

  • Thematic Links: Family; Relationships; Self-esteem
  • Ann Ketcheson
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