Volume 15, no.6 - October 2010

Picture Books

  • The Cat's Pajamas by Wallace Edwards

    Kids Can Press, 2010. 32p. Illus. Gr. K-4. 978-1-55453-308-4. Hdbk. $19.95

    Rating: E

  • Idioms are expressions that are peculiar to a particular language and therefore cannot be translated literally - a fact that can be as much a source of frustration as it can be one of fun. Edwards chooses to bring both pleasure and understanding to 26 idioms from the English language in this new book, which is a follow-up to his first idiom collection, Monkey Business. Each idiom included here is used in a sentence as it would normally be used. And each tableau presents the idiom in a literal visual translation that incorporates not only a strong sense of humour but also a window of understanding of the meaning hidden behind the expression.

    Edwards' paintings are rendered in watercolour, coloured pencil and gouache. These illustrations are a visual feast, vivid in colour, rich and nuanced in detail. Hidden in every painting is a cat - some of which are easy to find while others present a particularly strong challenge to all. In addition, there are other rewarding details, lines and shapes and even objects that are more than what they seem to be. Is that a snake curled around an ice cream cone and covered in chocolate? Are those really rain drops or are they ...fish? And what exactly is that hidden within the rhinoceros' wrinkles? At the front of the book is the word "idiom" and its meaning, while at the back is an index of the idioms used in this collection along with their respective interpretations. This is a fabulous book for readers of all ages!

  • Thematic Links: Language Usage - English - Idioms; Humour
  • Ken Kilback
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Fiction Grades 3-6

  • A Different Game (Orca Young Readers) by Sylvia Olsen

    Orca Book Publishers, 2010. 127p. Gr. 3-6. 978-1-55469-169-2. Pbk. $7.95

    Rating: E

  • Four young, talented Native boys play a formidable game of soccer and aspire to represent their new school, Riverside Middle School, on the grade 7 soccer team. But growing up on a reservation and playing soccer at the Long Inlet Tribal School has not prepared the boys for life at a large urban school, nor the gruelling competition to attain a place on the team. To top it off, the superstar of the foursome begins playing unusually average, which leads the boys to fear that their friend will not be chosen for the team. The boys must learn to cope with life at a new school and with the news that their friend is fighting for his own life, instead of a place on the school soccer team.

    This is a novel of courage and achievement is told from the point of view of four native youths who must learn to cope with life off the reserve and their friend's illness. The warmth and nurturing of their culture, their village, and their families bring them comfort, and help them to find their way in an unfamiliar environment, while inspiring them to be the best they can be and to find a way to awaken their friend's courage to fight for his own life and to find a place on the soccer team which fits his current physical limitations. Many life lessons are taught with meaningful thematic messages, values and spirit.

    This novel is highly recommended for primary/junior male readers both for recreational reading and for literature circles or discussion groups. Also excellent to assist young readers in understanding and appreciating the unique living environment of First Nations families.

  • Thematic Links: Soccer; First Nations; Illness
  • Sharon Armstrong
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Fiction Grades 7 - 12

  • Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel

    HarperCollins, 2010.Gr. 7 up. 978-1-55468-812-8. Hdbk. $19.99

    Rating: E

  • The ever reliable Ken Oppel does not fail with this excellent new YA offering.

    Half Brother is set in Victoria in the 1970s. It is a coming-of-age story for Ben Tomlin, the thirteen-year-old son of two behavioural scientists, who study language acquisition and behaviour in chimpanzees who are being raised as humans.

    Ben's father is hired by the University of Victoria to conduct research into whether or not chimpanzees can learn ASL (human sign language). He uproots the family, travels across Canada, and they subsequently move into a house especially designed to accommodate his research. Into their new home comes a baby chimp they name Zan, and everything that happens afterward is unanticipated and complicated.

    Ben's adolescence and growing up is adroitly handled in a parallel story line involving his relationships with his classmates at his new private school "Windermere" and particularly the beautiful Jennifer on whom he has an enormous crush. Oppel weaves the two story lines together almost seamlessly, and in doing so creates an unusual work of high appeal. If there are any shortcomings at all in this book, they lie in Oppel's attempt to integrate some of the language idiom of the decade, and which doesn't feel quite right at times.

    This is a wonderful piece of fiction, which should attract both male and female readers, young adult and adult alike. It addresses issues that resonate with all ages, while maintaining an adventurous plot line. Definitely a winner!

  • Thematic Links: Animal Protection; Chimpanzees
  • Anne Letain
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Non-Fiction Preschool - Grade 6

  • Biggest Bugs Life-Size by George Beccaloni

    Firefly Books, 2010. 86p. Illus. Gr. 3 up. 978-1-55407-699-4. Hdbk $19.95

    Rating: E

  • This large attractive hard-cover book will entice budding naturalists and world record enthusiasts. This book is adorned with vivid colour photographs, numerous life-size images, quick facts boxes along with world map distributions of 21 record-breaking insects. Examples include the world's longest insect (Chan's Megastick), the world's heaviest bug (Giant Water Bug) the world's heaviest cockroach (Rhinoceros Cockroach) and the moth with the greatest wingspan (White Witch Moth).

    Beccaloni is the orthoptera curator in the Entomology department of the National History Museum in London, England. The introduction explains what types of measurements are used for various species (length, weight, and wingspan) and the rationale behind them. He cleverly includes all measurements and sizes in both the metric and English system which makes this book truly universal and international. Most scientific terms are well explained in brackets or within the sentence, and popular terminology is also highlighted. This book is full of interesting and scientific facts about these bugs and precise terms to help expand readers' vocabulary e.g. "laying tube or ovipositor" (p.5). A glossary would definitely have been a useful reference tool to further expand readers' scientific vocabulary.

    Biggest Bugs is divided into orders and types of insects such as Centipedes (order Chilopoda), Millipedes (order Diplopeda) and Scoprions (order Scorpiones). Other tools include a section of Further Information, References, and an Index. Visually this book is eye-catching with an attractive design structure of large headings with bug silhouettes, fact boxes and stunning photography.

    This book will make an attractive and information packed addition to your insect section and definitely attract the "Guinness World Records" audience of the bug world. Avid insect enthusiasts and budding entomologists of all ages will find this book to be fascinating and informative. This book would be useful for scientific research of various insects in elementary school and middle years.

  • Thematic Links: Insects; Bugs; World Records; Measurement; Geography World Distributions
  • Vivianne Fogarty
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Non-Fiction Grades 7-12

  • Kick the Fossil Fuel Habit: 10 Clean Technologies to Save Our World by Tom Rand

    Eco Ten Publishing, Inc., 2010. 238p. Illus. Gr. 11 up. 978-0-9812952-0-6. Hdbk. $34.95

    Rating: G-E

  • Tom Rand is a Canadian venture capitalist and scientist committed to changing our pattern of energy consumption, helping us to leave fossil fuels in the past while we embrace new, cleaner technologies that are less damaging to the environment. In this attractive volume, Rand makes the case that a world-wide energy grid of green technologies should replace our demand for oil and coal, slowing down the dangerous changes to world climate.

    The topics addressed are solar, wind and geothermal energies; biofuels; hydropower; and ocean and tidal power. Rand also includes information on smart architecture and building, public transportation, efficiency and conservation, and the world wide power grid. In ten essays, one at the end of each chapter, he argues convincingly for the implementation of clean technologies using startling facts and dramatic statements about our present climate to create a sense of urgency that seems to require immediate action. For example, he states that if the methane stored in Arctic permafrost were to be released, the amount of carbon in the atmosphere would triple: "It's already happening - lakes in Russia are bubbling with the stuff." Although Rand has endnotes for each chapter which add a huge amount of documentation that will assist the meticulous researcher, many breezy, chatty facts are unsubstantiated.

    This book's strength is in its photographs, diagrams and charts. The photos are simply stunning, highlighting the world's beauty and demonstrating the enormity of many energy projects. The excellent coloured diagrams explain difficult science and technology at a glance, while charts clarify comparisons, for example, between the costs of wind versus coal energy. Rand is careful to draw his examples from all over the world, although measurements are first given in Imperial, followed by Metric, spelling is American, and his comparisons often draw on American icons such as the Empire State Building. It is odd, too, that Manitoba's extensive expertise in hydropower is not mentioned.

    Kick the Fossil Fuel Habit is full of compelling images and facts highlighted by a sense of drama that will inform and push the older reader to act.

  • Thematic Links: Climate Change; Fossil Fuels; Solar, Wind and Geothermal Energy; Biofuels; Architecture; Public Transportation
  • Joan Marshall
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Professional Resources

  • Get Graphic! Using Storyboards to Write and Draw Picture Books, Graphic Novels, or Comic Strips by Mark Thurman and Emily Heam

    Pembroke Publishers, 2010. 94p. 978-1-55138-252-4. Pbk. $24.95

    Rating: G

  • With the recent explosion of popularity in graphic novels and manga, many young people today are trying to write their own. An Internet search on the term "fan fiction" brings up over sixteen million hits. A quick look at some of these hits, however, makes it clear that many of these young people are lacking the skills to create a graphic novel. Get Graphic! is an attempt to teach young people these skills. Thurman and Hearn cover such topics as plot development, storyboarding, book mock-ups, and methods of illustration. Useful tools included are a glossary, an index and storyboard templates.

    While Thurman and Hearn have done an excellent job in the presentation of the various skills, there are parts of this book that are problematic. The main problem lies in the audience. For whom is this book written? Some pages are most definitely aimed at the elementary school student while others are clearly for the teacher. Would it be better to place this book in the school library or on the teacher's shelf? I do not have an answer. The book does, however, come with permission to photocopy excerpts under Access Copyright. In spite of the problem of audience, parts of this book are truly excellent and could help a teacher design an interesting and useful unit of work for his or her class.

    This book is recommended.

  • Thematic Links: English Language Arts; Visual Arts; Writing; Graphic Novels
  • Diane Gallagher-Hayashi
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Audio-Visual Materials

  • Canada's Links to the World: Canada and Its Trading Partners McIntyre Media and Mythic Productions, 2010. DVD. 33 min. Gr: 5-6. $175.00PP

    Rating: E

  • It is hard to tell, after so many years out of school, to what level educational films have risen, but my 11-year-old daughter affirms my opinion that Canada's Links to the World is an admirable example of its kind. The topic is unquestionably one of import in our rapidly expanding global economy, and children as young as grade 4 might gain significant knowledge from watching this presentation. On balance, though, the density and level of information provided suggests that the program is more appropriate for grades 5 and 6, or even grades 7 or 8 for classes with a lower level of language comprehension.

    The program is broken down into 4 manageable sections, after each of which the instructor might wish to stop and discuss with the students, or conduct some sort of classroom assignment, continuing on once the section's information has been absorbed. The information in each section is quite dense, presenting a number of useful economic terms with thorough but easily comprehended definitions and examples; the entire DVD would certainly be too much for most viewers to take in at once, if all of the terms and concepts were new. The three extra segments, profiling the political, cultural, and economic situations of Canada's three largest trading partners - USA, China, and Mexico - are definitely a positive addition, although I think that a class project in which students profile Canada's trading partners more completely (there are, after all, over 100), might be more beneficial overall.

    The one criticism I have is that the quiz at the end does not have a second version in which the answers are not revealed as you go? it would be advantageous, I think, for instructors to be able to use the DVD quiz, to be graded later in class. Nonetheless, Canada's Links to the World truly does begin to establish students' understanding of our position in the global economy, as well as the importance of continuing to build that understanding.

  • Thematic Links:International Trade; Canadian Economics; Canada's Trade Partners
  • Karyn Huenemann
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French Resources

  • Un couteau sur la neige by Maryse Pelletier

    Soulières Éditeur, 2010. 164p. Gr. 6-9. 978-2-89607-113-5. Pbk. $10.95

    Rating: E

  • A young boy is rushed into emergency after a knife attack in the park. Will he live? Who is responsible for this crime? What events have led up to this horrifying situation? These are some of the questions posed by Pelletier in this gripping story for adolescents. Readers meet Hachim, the victim of the attack, Jean-Phil, a bully and leader of a gang, and others who become involved: Francis, Joubert, Didi, and Pierre-Michel.

    The story opens with a stretcher being rushed into emergency surgery and never loses the suspense and momentum of this first page. Pelletier creates a mystery/crime story where many scenes take place at the police station as the main suspects are interrogated. Readers are kept in suspense right to the final pages when the truth of the knife attack in the park is finally revealed. This novel is a page-turner which readers will not want to put down.

    However, Pelletier goes beyond the crime genre and it is here that the book is truly captivating. She raises questions regarding bullying and how it affects both bully and victim. She shows readers how parents and home life have a major influence on the actions of young adults. Some of the boys in the story are part of immigrant families which helps us understand both them and their actions as well as the feelings and emotions which drive their parents.

    This is both an excellent read and an interesting, sympathetic and thoughtful look at problems in current youth culture and some of the motives which drive behaviour. Pelletier does not chastise or judge, but rather tries to help readers understand the complex urban world of her characters. The book raises many questions and could be the basis for lively and thought-provoking discussions within a classroom or book club.

  • Thematic Links: Bullying; Immigrants; Mystery/Crime
  • Ann Ketcheson
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