Small Saul by Ashley Spires
Kids Can Press, 2011. 32p. Illus. Gr. Preschool - 2. 978-1-55453-503-3. Hdbk. $18.95
Small Saul dreams of a life at sea. He is too short to join the Navy, so he enrolls in Pirate Collage. Even though he is more interested in picking daisies and singing sea shanties than digging for treasure and waving a sword, he graduates with a certificate proclaiming "You ARRR a pirate". With suitcase (and potted plant) in hand, he joins the crew of the Rusty Squid and promptly offers the captain a breath mint, redecorates the living quarters and gets a tattoo .... of a bunny.
Unimpressed by Saul's efforts, the captain pushes him overboard. Life on the Rusty Squid is not the same without him: "Soon, mould began to build up on the ship's desk. The crew was back to eating bland gruel and rat-nibbled bread. And the cabins once again smelled of feet". Remorseful, the captain realizes "Just like treasure, Small Saul was rare" and turns the ship back to rescue him.
The author and illustrator of Binky the Space Cat Series has created another completely endearing character - the barrel-shaped, bespectacled, goateed and one-of-a-kind Small Saul. The text is drolly understated while the cartoon illustrations are packed with laugh-out loud details: a pirate textbook called "Pillaging 101", Saul giving out band aids and lollipops during battle, the endpaper pattern of skull and crossbones and bunnies. Even the imprint page is funny: "The artwork in this book was rendered in ink, watercolor, water, flour, a cup of sugar, a dash of vanilla and baked at 350."
You will walk the plank if you don't add Small Saul to your collection.
Titanic Book One: Unsinkable by Gordon Korman
Scholastic, 2011. 170p. Gr. 4-7. 978-0-545-12331-0. Pbk. $6.99
This is the first book in a new series from Gordon Korman. The story of the Titanic is well-known, but Unsinkable goes beyond story of the unsinkable ship. This novel is about four young teenagers and the circumstances that brought them onto this floating palace, which frames the story of the Titanic in a very personal way. Each of the four main characters, Alfie, Paddy, Sophie, and Juliana, are from very different backgrounds, but circumstances aboard the ship bring them together. Paddy is a stowaway, running away from gangsters in Belfast, where he unwisely picked the wrong pocket. He is allied with Alfie, who has lied about his age to get a job on Titanic, very early on, as they share their secrets. Juliana is the daughter of an Earl who has problems with gambling and drinking, and they're on their way to America to build their fortune. She meets up with Sophie, the long suffering daughter of an extreme suffragette, who is on her way back to America by force, having been escorted to the Titanic by the police.
Korman manages to tell the story of Titanic smoothly while also introducing other elements of the early twentieth century. There's discussion about the division of Ireland, Jack the Ripper, the oil boom in the American west, suffrage, and much more, mixed into this story about the Titanic. The key parts of what has now become legend about the unsinkable ship are also clearly laid out - the shortage of lifeboats, the warnings about ice, and what would happen if more than 4 of the bulkheads were flooded. The end of this first book in a planned trilogy ends as Captain Smith receives the warning about ice ahead, building anticipation for what the second book in the series, Collision Course will bring. Altogether an enjoyable read that makes this tragic story come alive with personal narratives.
Torn from Troy: Odyssey of a Slave by Patrick Bowman
Ronsdale Press, 2011. 200p. Gr. 6-9. 978-1-55380110-8. Pbk. $11.95.
Bowman's Torn from Troy does for Homer's Odyssey what Karleen Bradford's There Will Be Wolves (1992) does for the history of the People's Crusade: it brings to life the legendary event from the perspective of a commoner caught up in a monumental, history-shaping moment. To see what is so often presented in terms of politics and ideologies reflected in the human responses of Bradford's Ursula or Bowman's Alexias brings a powerful human component to the narrative, allowing the young reader to begin to appreciate the lives of the people in ancient times.We meet Alexias as the Greeks finally succeed in sacking Troy. Although Alexias never really understands how the Greeks managed to breach the wall, the reader is given a clue in "something huge and wooden [ that] looked like part of a giant wooden bull. Or a horse" (36-7). Subtle allusions to the legends of the Trojan war and Homer's Odyssey (like "Crazy Cassie" , who prophesizes "the city of Priam, aflame and dying" , while nobody heeds her) are sprinkled throughout the text, but readers unfamiliar with the story might read Torn from Troy and never make the connection, so skillfully does Bowman weave his own narrative through Homer's plotline. To facilitate a deeper understanding, the publisher has helpfully (and truthfully) noted on the back cover that the novel is "a gritty, realistic retelling of the classic Greek legend of the Odyssey." Readers who want to learn more will know exactly where to go; the Odyssey is available in a myriad of forms. But none will tell us of Alexias, son of a healer, who travels towards Ithaca with Lopex, more formally known as Odysseus - and we early on become invested in Alexias's fate.Young readers will love Alexias's spirit, and his sharp wit and quick tongue, which get him into trouble often, but help him also to survive the challenges he encounters: the sack of Troy itself; slavery on a Greek bireme; the competition for food and water, even amongst the Trojan slaves. Seconded as a healer to the enemy soldiers, he experiences first-hand the major events in Odysseus's tale: the raid on the Cicones; the storm at sea; the Lotus-eaters; and the besting of the Cyclops, which culminates in the boasting of Lopex's real name. This revelation foreshadows trouble (and the next novel), as Alexias tells us: "Odysseus [ ] wiliest of the Greeks. For someone that clever, giving the Cyclops his name had been foolish. To curse someone, you had to know their name" (196). As expected, the Cyclops calls on Poseidon to wreak vengeance on Odysseus. The book ends with this curse lying heavily over the reader, but presents at the same time a stability in Alexias's relation with the people around him. While we eagerly await the next book in the trilogy, Torn from Troy does not leave us dissatisfied; it is complete in itself.
L is for Land of Living Skies: A Saskatchewan Alphabet
by Linda Aksomitis
Illustrated by Lorna Bennett. Sleeping Bear Press, 2010. Unp. Illus. Gr. 2-4. 978-1-58536-490-9. Hdbk. $19.95
More than an advanced alphabet book, L is for Land of Living Skies: A Saskatchewan Alphabet, is akin to walking through a pictorial travel guide. Overflowing with information and fun facts, this visual spectacle will compel you to visit Saskatchewan again and again. Like all alphabet books each letter in the alphabet is represented by something. In this case, each letter represents something Saskatchewan is known for, often something that is not as widely known by the rest of the world. The unique choice of letter representation such as V for Volunteers and N for Northern Lakes Naming Project, show off the depth of research Aksomitis has done as well as the pride of this land. Did you know that Saskatchewan is ranked number one in Canada for volunteerism or that Saskatchewan has more than 100,000 lakes? The illustrator's attention to detail and beautifully done facial expressions simply add to the enjoyment of this book.
Rich in content, L is for Land of Living Skies: A Saskatchewan Alphabet is suitable for children from grade 2 to 4. It is also an excellent teaching tool that can be used to help students learn more about the history and geography of Saskatchewan while highlighting its uniqueness. Elaborate teacher guides for this book are also available on http://www.gale.cengage.com.
Feasting and Fasting: Canada's Heritage Celebrationsby Dorothy Dunacn
Dundurn Press, 2010. 351p. Illus. Gr. 8 up. 978-1-55488-757-6. Hbk. $26.99
This book is a delight to read - an historical account of Canada's early days told through the lens of celebrations, ceremonies, and the foods prepared for them. The chapters are arranged as a cycle through the year, beginning with New Year's Day, and ending with Christmas. This is a story of the immigrants who came to Canada, and the traditions and ceremonies they brought with them, whether Christian, Jewish, Scottish, or Irish, and how they adapted them to their new home. It's also the story of how these holidays and occasions became a part of the Canadian story. More than just examining the traditions that came to Canada, Duncan also explores the pagan roots of many of these ceremonies, and explains how they changed over time to become the occasions we're familiar with now. The book also includes illustrations, a Bibliography, Index and Endnotes.
Along with the historical narrative of the roots of these events, both in the "old country" and how they were adapted to Canada, there are also recipes, some illustrations, and bits of trivia throughout. Food and the ceremony associated with serving it at holidays is an interesting way to look at the multicultural nature of Canada, even at its inception. Duncan notes at the beginning of the book that First Nations traditions have been recounted in many other volumes, and deserve their own analysis: this book focuses on immigrants to Canada and their traditions, from Confederation to around 1950. The history is well-researched and cited, and interesting to read in sequence, or pick and choose, looking only at specific holidays. If you've ever wondered why we celebrate Mother's Day, why pancakes are eaten on Shrove Tuesday, or what a traditional Thanksgiving feast would have included in each province in the early twentieth century, you should read this book. Suitable for youth, but potentially more interesting to adults, this book offers a unique lens on Canadian history.
Earth Keepers by Sylvie Van Brabant (Producer)
Rapide Blanc & National Film Board of Canada, 2009. DVD. 82 min. 31 sec. Gr. 10-12. $69.95 PPR
With the issue of our environment becoming front and centre, there must come a time when action should supersede all ubiquitous forms of apathy; when the plan for our environmental sustainability must be fundamentally analyzed and systematically redesigned. Mikael Rioux of Earth Keepers presents himself as a man of action. Deemed by some to be a radical or an anarchist, he begins the documentary by protesting a local dilemma before launching into a global crusade. Rioux will speak on the urgency of the environmental situation and the courage required to dramatically modify our standard way of life.
What Rioux will seek out is individuals who have already demonstrated the necessary courage to live and act responsibly. John Todd, a very prominent ecological designer will demonstrate great ingenuity through some of the personal inventions that surround his residence. His designs mimic the fluidity and efficiency of nature itself. His inventions are synergetic in that they splice together the ever advancing forms of technology with natural elements. Rioux will also travel to India where high populations and a low standard of living complicate the nation's infrastructure. Though such a reality exists, Ashok Khosla will speak of new standards in construction, where the most energy efficient materials are utilized and furthermore used most sparingly. Moving onto Europe, Rioux will meet with Karl-Henrik Robèrt, an expert on sustainability. Robèrt will speak on the importance of education and a more visionary approach; since fundamentally the vast investments required in redesigning infrastructure may not seem financially practical in the short-term, the long term benefits should certainly come to erase such inhibitions once people understand the impact. The last individual Rioux interviews is Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai. She demonstrates her willingness to shed blood for the conservation of a local forest, thus exemplifying the courageous Eco-activist that Rioux admires.
Throughout the documentary the message reiterated is that if we wish to integrate our mode of living into the environment we exist upon, it is necessary to adapt. Rioux juxtapositions his message of urgency by insisting on maintaining the past traditions that exist and upholding the future inheritance we must provide. The past tradition is valiantly held up by Christian de Laet, a mentor to Rioux and a very inspirational figure. Christian is an Eco-pioneer, greatly advanced in age yet still extremely concerned with the state of the environment. The future inheritance is reflected by Rioux's young family, and sustainability for future generations should concern us all. Earth Keepers is an excellent documentary that expresses perhaps the most critical message on the environment, that real change requires monumental effort and fortified resolve.
Breathe, Stretch, Write: Learning to Write with Everything You've Got by Sheree Fitch
Pembroke publishers, 2011. 110p. 978-1-55138-256-2. Pbk. $24.95
Sheree Fitch sums up her objective in her preface: "This is a book of common sense [ ] about retrieving the forgotten givens [ ]: your brain needs oxygen and exercise to work well and grow strong, and authentic writing is rooted in the body" (6). And so it is. Breathe, Stretch, Write is an excellent description of both the ideologies underlying Fitch's practices and the exercises that facilitate teachers in implementing them. It is practical yoga for the mind and body of both aspiring and "reticent" writers, who can be "liberated by understanding through their bodies and senses" (10).
Interestingly, this philosophy is exactly what Fitch calls it: "forgotten," but not unique. It was one of the tenets in the intellectual pedagogy of Amos Bronson Alcott (father of Louisa May Alcott) as long ago as the 1860s in New England: children-in his case boys exclusively-need to exercise their bodies in order to be fully able to exercise their minds. Alcott was derided for (among other innovative ideas, such as veganism) the inclusion of calisthenics in his curriculum; Fitch has presented a modern, salient argument for an increased recognition of the connection between physical and mental awareness.
The structure of the text is highly accessible: it can be used as a workshop text, reading though each chapter as an exercise to learn; or it can be used as a reference, dipping in to separate exercises that appear to be useful at the moment. For each exercise, there is a description of the three steps: Breathe, Stretch (with a stick-figure drawing to help), Write. The last is, of course, the most important. Each includes a short personal narrative that grounds the practice in the author's own teaching experience, and connects the first two activities with the mental space of narrative production. "Stand on your Own Two Feet" (22), for example, stresses an "understanding" of important elements in the writer's and others' lives; "Opening a Window" (49) asks the reader to imagine looking out of a window into the wider world; "Fish Twist" (65) suggests taking an existing narrative and "twisting" the elements to form a new narrative. There are "Standing Exercises," "Sitting Exercises," "Reclining Exercises," "Moving Exercises," and "Group Moves." All of these can be incorporated into personal or classroom activities; this book is not only for the teacher assisting students to write, but for any budding author who wants to engage the full capabilities of the mind-body connection.
Un trou dans le coeur (Graffiti Series) RAIMBAULT, Alain
Soulières Éditeur, 2011. 152p. Gr. 8-9. 978-2-89607-132-6. Pbk. $11.95
Born to an unknown father and abandoned by his mother, Henri Dupont was reared in a foster home until he was five years-old when he was reclaimed by his biological mother. Thus began his descent into sheer hell. At 16, Henri resolves to find his foster home mother, Anna, and to write down his own story.
Un trou dans le coeur is the story he wrote. A story written in the first person, it unfolds on two levels, so to speak. More like a series of snapshots of mixed-up remembrances of events and feelings written down as a youngster, it springs out to outline a scattered landscape of his broken childhood. Interlaced with these recollections, we find, in italics, his own grown-up comments.
His totally dysfunctional family is peopled by his younger sister Mèlanie, who also had been abandoned, an older brother whom he never gets to know, a merciless, cold, unfeeling, cruel and violent mother - "that lady" , as he calls her - who beats him, as well as by a host of step-fathers whose homes they keep repeatedly moving in and out of, as a result of his mother's fleeting love affairs. Lacking any meaningful and loving relationships, any father figure or role models, Henri's broken heart yearns to return to his former foster home family. Two bright beacons shine on this sea of despair: the time Henri spends at school where he performs well and his meeting with Arielle. School becomes his haven of peace where he takes up sports, singing and reading - his one refuge from the misery of his life and the monster his mother has come to represent. Arielle, on the other hand, is the one who teaches him how he could mend the gap in his heart through writing.
Most striking is the stunning resilience capacity of the young as shown by Henry which makes it possible for him to overcome this bad start in life and bounce back to a well-adapted life, which reminds one of Boris Cyrulnik's book - Les vilains petits canards - not to mention the catharsis potential of writing.
An annex gives a few details about the author, born in France and now a teacher in Nova Scotia. He has written nearly two dozen books, mostly for young readers. He was awarded the Grand-Prè Prize in 2006 for the whole of his work.