Volume 16, no.3 - February 2011

Picture Books

  • A Newfoundland Alphabet by Dawn Baker

    Flanker Press, 2010. 28p. Illus. Gr. Preschool - 1. 978-1-897317-90-7. Pbk. $9.95.

    Rating: G

  • This alphabet book makes use of words and phrases and places that are associated with Newfoundland and Labrador. From bakeapples to Jam Jams, from lobsters to urchins, and from Eastport Beach to Outport, the region's culture, language, and geography are wonderfully explored here. Readers will anticipate the taste of saltless sea biscuits known as hard tack; and of the fried dough cake known as toutons - and perhaps hope for a topping of sweet molasses or syrup for this latter one. Readers will also yearn for a first-hand look at whales and to visit the actual location of the lighthouse and area depicted in the "Vista from the cape" scene.

    For her beautiful illustrations, Baker uses regular pencils, coloured pencils, charcoal pencils, and chalk pastels on textured drawing paper; and a deep sense of love for Newfoundland and Labrador is clearly seen in each of them. In a note at the beginning of the book, she encourages kids to discover the beauty around them and use their own art supplies to capture what they see. What is missing perhaps from the book is a glossary or note section that explains certain words or places that may be unfamiliar to readers outside the region.

  • Thematic Links: Alphabet/ABC Books; Canada - Newfoundland and Labrador; Newfoundland and Labrador -Culture, Language, Geography
  • Ken Kilback
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Fiction Grades 3-6

  • The Black Box: A Cassandra Virus Novel by K. V. Johansen

    Sybertooth, 2011. 212p. Gr. 4-7. 978-0-9864974-0-7. Pbk. $13.00

    Rating: E

  • There is something about K. V. Johansen's writing that grips me and pulls me in. The Cassandra Virus novels are written for a younger readership than her Warlocks of Talverdin Series, and focused more on plot than character, but they captivate in a similar way? after reading what I though was merely an interesting but not profound novel, I found myself thinking of the story and characters for days afterwards. This revelation requires a far more in-depth analysis; suffice it at this juncture to say that The Black Box is surprising in more than just plot. And the plot is good.

    Best friends Jordan and Helen, the "two Igors," as they call themselves, are the precocious children of scientists: Helen's mom is head of a university Computer Science department, and Jordan's parents are archeologists, while his sister works in AI for the government. The Cassandra of the title is a sentient AI that Jordan has developed, an AI that has become the children's friend, but creates a sufficient sense of the uncanny to keep at least this adult reader wondering where Cassandra's continually developing mental abilities will lead the plot. When the two discover a strange black "stone" in their uncle's archeological dig (yes, he shares in the family obsession), strange things begin to happen around town. Significantly, electronic signals fail: as the cover says: "phones don't' work. There's no radio, no TV. No internet." For the child reader today, the disconnectedness - the horror - of this situation will resonate. To make matters worse, strangers posing as bird watchers are snooping around. With the help of two teenagers from the local historical reenactment society, Jordan and Helen (and Cassandra when she is online) help solve the mystery of the black box, the mysterious object that cannot be fully understood without destroying it.

    Johansen has again constructed a cleverly woven tale, with no loose ends or inconsistencies. Her characters are interesting and true to life; Jordan and Helen are just reaching that age when "the whole boy-girl thing" (11) begins to surface, but their focus remains on friendship and science, something many middle-school readers will identify with fully.

  • Thematic Links: Artificial Intelligence; Bay of Fundy; Hurricanes; Archeological History of the Maritimes; Space Probes
  • Karyn Huenemann
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Fiction Grades 7 - 12

  • True Colours by Lucy Lemay Cellucci

    Napoleon Publishing, 2010. 160P. Gr. 5 up. 978-1-926607-13-9. Pbk. $9.95

    Rating: E

  • Zoe is your basic high school misfit who's just not maturing along the same time frame as her peers. Upset with the defection of her best friend, Shenisa, to the cheerleading squad, she turns instead to the animal rights activities that she's so passionate about.

    But problems arise when she finds herself in the middle of a conspiracy involving the unexplained disappearance of several animals from a shelter where she is a regular volunteer. Without Shenisa's help, Zoe then turns to Alex Fisher, her questionable and troubled Social Studies partner, for some help in solving the mystery.

    Zoe and Alex subsequently break into a cosmetics plant that has been using animals to test their products. Nothing goes the way it should, and nothing is as it had seemed originally to Zoe.

    However, what makes this book so appealing is not the reasonably strong plot but the very fresh new voice of the author. With strong witty characterizations, this is an utterly believable teen adventure that is often truly laugh out loud funny as Zoe deals with all the usual teenage conniptions and the bizarre predicaments she finds herself in. Complimenting the whole story line in the best irritating sibling in fiction to be encountered in a long while. Zoe's younger brother Dylan (Dillie-Billie) creates some of the best hi-jinks ever to annoy his sister and the reader gets to enjoy every diabolical moment.

    While True Colours is essentially a book which will to appeal to teen girls, with its snappy dialogue, teen boys could be dragged along for the ride and enjoy themselves. With its positive but realistic portrayal of today's teenagers, smart talk and a very believable story line, True Colours is crying out for a screenplay. Think "Easy A"!

    Highly recommended.

  • Thematic Links: Animal Rights
  • Anne Letain
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Non-Fiction Preschool - Grade 6

  • Lila and Ecco's Do-it-Yourself Comics Club by Willow Dawson

    Kids Can Press, 2010. 112p. Illus. Gr. 3-9. 978-1-55453-439-5. Pbk. $7.95

    Rating: E

  • A totally awesome approach to "how to" write a comic book. The differences between a graphic novel, comic book and cartoon are explained and numerous devices and techniques used by illustrators and artists are covered. The book is crammed with information, but I think that the audience will read it because of the format. The table of contents reads like a typical nonfiction list e.g. "Getting started" and "Script Formatting", but the information is presented in a story format as Lila, his friend, Ecco, and little sister attend a comic book convention and then make their own book. The author presents all the information in direct conversation "balloons" and demonstrates many design features throughout the book. Black and white pen and ink cartoons by the author are scattered throughout. The books also contains a table of contents, an introduction, a glossary and suggestions for further reading.

    The author teaches workshops on the topic in addition to writing and illustrating graphic novels, so she walks the walk and the enthusiasm for the medium shows on each page.

    I cannot believe the price, this book gives exceptional value. Every school should have at least one copy in their library and any student interested in comics will want one of their own.

  • Thematic Links: Thematic Links: Art; Book Making; Graphic Novel Writing
  • Mavis Holder
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Non-Fiction Grades 7-12

  • Strutting It! The Grit Behind the Glamour by Jeanne Becker

    Tundra Books, 2011. 75p. Illus. Gr. 8-12. 978-1-77049-224-0. Pbk. $19.99 (Reviewed from advance reading copy)

    Rating: G

  • Jeanne Becker is a household name for anyone who knows anything about fashion - or modeling. In this book, Becker gives advice to those considering pursuing a career in fashion modelling. Through chapters such as 'Getting Discovered', 'Developing your Personal Style', 'Reality of the Road' and 'A Model Education', amongst others, Becker shares some of the wisdom and knowledge that she has acquired over her many decades in fashion. Becker doesn't hold back on her opinions of ways people get into the industry - for example, while being a judge of Canada's Next Top Model, she critiques the premise of those shows and the false promises they make to the girls who compete in them. She does not sugar coat what it means to be working in the modelling industry, talking about run down apartments shared by groups of models, the relentless pace and competition of the life of a working model and the need for fitness and control of one's body.

    This book is a great reality check for any young girl who wants to model. There is no greater authority than Becker - she has had access to situations that very few others can boast of. Becker has a style of writing that is informative yet caring - you really feel that she is looking out for the newest crop of models, hoping to have them avoid the pitfalls and perils that may come with a career in modelling. The reader learns about so many aspects of the industry - what the difference is between catalogue and editorial modelling, who takes care of underage girls when they travel, what an agent and a booker are and why you need them. Throughout the book, Becker has placed statistics on models - Naomi Campbell, Yasmin Warsame, Lauren Hutton and other such known names - inspiration for those interested in modelling but perhaps also reality - none of these models came upon their career easily and have had to continue to work hard to be highly regarded in the industry. This book is well written, informative and gives just enough hope to those planning to break into the industry.

    This book would be good for anyone considering pursuing modelling and for their parents.

  • Thematic Links: Careers; Modelling
  • Alison Edwards
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Professional Resources

  • Keepin' It Real: Integrating new Literacies with Effective Classroom Practice by Lisa Donohue

    Pembroke Publishers Ltd. 2010. 96p. 978-1-55138-260-9. Pbk. $24.95

    Rating: G

  • Want to know the difference between a glog and a blog? Don't know whether to choose a wiki or a voice thread? Donohue has put the digital world into one easy and accessible resource for teachers. In Keepin' It Real she examines what she identifies as the "new" literacies and how to integrate them into the curriculum. It offers plenty of classroom-tested examples and suggested activities in the form of Digital Task Cards for students to delve into. Donohue argues that the "old" literacies of reading and writing were never more important than now as students tackle these 21st century literacies: 1) media literacies - helping students to analyse messages through voice threads, podcasts, online book clubs etc.; 2) digital literacies - incorporating blogs, wikis, chatrooms, Twitter etc., 3) social literacies - examining netiquette, cyberbullying, social identities etc.; 4) critical literacies perspective, bias, image, author intent etc.

    In this timely resource, each chapter introduces several 2.0 tools, defines what they are used for, and gives website addresses for further investigation. The chapter on cyberbullying I found to be the most useful.

    While I applaud Donohue for taking on the complicated and challenging topic of digital technology, which has entered into our classrooms, I'm leery about how long the information will remain current. (Web 3.0?) Many of the suggested digital tools require students to have an email address and, for younger students, this can be problematic. Teachers will get a good introduction into the digital world from this resource, but implementation of the suggested activities will require a good deal of time spent with the technology.

    Keepin' It Real includes a comprehensive index.

  • Thematic Links: Reading; Writing; Digital Technology; Media; Social Media; Critical Thinking; Language Arts Instruction
  • Louise Sidley
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Audio-Visual Materials

  • Discovering Canada: Our Early Explorers

    McIntyre Media and Mythic Productions, 2010. DVD. 26 min. With 16-page teachers guide as PDF. Gr. 4-7. $149.95PPR

    Rating: E

  • This film is an excellent resource on Canada's early explorers. The film is structured around student inquiry, as a girl and a boy go to the library to research exploration. The librarian acts as a storyteller, giving the students and viewers an introduction to many of Canada's notable explorers, including the First Nations peoples, Ericsson, Cabot, Cartier, Frobisher, Champlain, Kelsey, Vancouver, Fraser, and Thompson. The story of each explorer is presented through character re-enactments and the simple but effective use of maps and graphics.

    The producers show a great degree of sensitivity to the role of First Nations peoples as Canada's early inhabitants and original explorers. The film begins and ends with a recognition of the important role First Nations peoples played in the founding of Canada and the producers are careful to specify that the exploration discussed was new only to the Europeans at the time of contact.

    Discovering Canada presents materials with a degree of humour and simplicity that is both endearing and educational. The student characters, their female teacher and male librarian are shown in ill-fitting wigs and basic period costumes as they deliver brief monologues from the perspective of each explorer. Although the child actors appear to be around the age of a grade 5 or 6 student, and the filmmakers seem to be playfully and self-consciously poking fun at the genre of the educational documentary in a way that may appeal to older viewers.

    The DVD contains a 10-question video quiz and a brief PDF Teacher's Guide. The guide (also available on the McIntyre website) lists curriculum connections and provides three extension activities. The DVD is divided into chapters that are clearly labeled with the name of the explorer described. This film, with or without the accompanying activities, can be nicely incorporated into a grade 4-7 classroom to help students understand the accomplishments of Canada's early explorers.

  • Thematic Links:Canada - History; Canada - Explorers
  • Beth Wilcox
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French Resources

  • Daphné, enfin libre by Sandra Dussault

    Vents d'Ouest, 2010. 252p. Gr. 7 up. 978-2-89537-186-1. Pbk. $12.95

    Rating: E

  • In hospital because of a skateboarding accident on his seventeenth birthday, Alex is introduced to Daphné by a social worker. Daphné is a defiant and angry young woman and Alex wonders just what sort of miracles he is supposed to accomplish. Gradually he learns her history of being moved among a variety of foster families when her own mother is unable to care for her and in the end Alex is able to break through Daphné's tough shell and see the real person underneath the resistant and unyielding defences she has constructed.

    This is an excellent novel which encompasses more than the romance which is at its core. Daphné has suffered violence and abuse and readers understand her reluctance to form any close friendships. In the past, links to other people have been suddenly and irretrievably broken and so Daphné has chosen to maintain her distance and stay well within her tough exterior. When Alex realizes he is falling in love with her, their relationship goes through all of the stages we would expect. He is attracted to her but cannot seem to read her reactions and thus is terrified of pushing her away rather than bringing her closer to him. He has doubts about his emotions and how to express them. He understands the importance of respecting Daphné both emotionally and physically but it becomes difficult to stand back and wait until she is ready for a relationship. Readers sense that their love, like Daphné herself, is extremely fragile and the slightest wrong move will shatter it completely.

    The novel is written from Alex's point of view which gives it an unusual flavour since most romantic novels tend to be written from the female viewpoint. Readers see the side of Alex which is athletic and 'one of the guys' within his skateboarding group but we also appreciate the Alex who has to recover from his major accident, the Alex who is willing to play with and baby sit his young twin sisters, and the Alex who appreciates and seeks to understand Daphné, even as he finds himself falling in love with her.

    I would recommend this book for both male and female readers since it has so much to offer about relationships and also about the very difficult themes of abuse and young people caught up in the social welfare system. Without being preachy , Dussault touches on these issues while also presenting a book full of humour, friendship and love.

  • Thematic Links: Thematic Links: Skateboarding; Romance and Relationships; Abuse; Foster Familiese
  • Ann Ketcheson
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