Reviews

 

Your guide to recently released books, CDs and other teaching resources. For additional reviews of French-language resources, visit Lu, vu, entendu. With the exception of some classroom sets, items reviewed are available on loan from the Margaret Wilson Library at the College. Contact Olivia Hamilton at 416-961-8800 (toll-free in Ontario 1-888-534-2222), ext 679 or e-mail library@oct.ca.

"Can We Skip Lunch and Keep Writing?"

by Julie D. Ramsay

"Can we skip lunch and keep writing?" are words that all teachers would love to hear from their students, since they suggest student engagement, active inquisitive learning and a love for the task at hand. This is a reality that author Julie Ramsay cultivated in her classroom using cutting-edge technology.

Podcasts, Skype, VoiceThread and other digital gadgetry can seem intimidating to many teachers. But by having the courage to be active learners along with their students, teachers can master the technological tools needed to galvanize student enthusiasm. Ramsay recorded the trials and errors that occurred as she and her students navigated the technology, and she includes here conversations and student-work samples. Plus, at the beginning of each chapter, she links specific writing skills with technology applications and websites. Like all teachers, Ramsay had a classroom with a range of learners. By matching the technology with the student and the writing project, she motivated and empowered all her students. This book shows the delicate balance of keeping one eye on curriculum expectations while letting students take the reins of their own learning.

➔ "Can We Skip Lunch and Keep Writing?" Collaborating in Class and Online, Grades 3–8, Stenhouse Publishers, Portland, Maine, 2011, softcover, ISBN 9781571108470, 136 pages, $23.95, distributed by Pembroke Publishers, tel 905-477-0650 or 1-800-997-9807, pembrokepublishers.com

Caroline Cremer, OCT, teaches Grade 3 at Leslieville Junior PS in Toronto.


Real Revision

by Kate Messner

Encouraging students to revise their work can be a challenge for teachers - especially when asking them to dig deeper to fine-tune their writing. First drafts may require scrutiny and revision or even a fresh start.

Messner shows teachers how to motivate their students to brainstorm, plan, write and revise their way toward a successfully written piece. She shares her experiences as an author and teacher to help educators explore revision strategies. She also includes mentor-author pages where popular children’s authors share their revision strategies and explain how they manage to complete books to their own and their editors’ satisfaction. By taking in these experiences, children may recognize that critical revision is not just for the classroom — it is part of all writing processes — for authors, of course, but also for all written communications.

Real Revision explains what revising actually looks like and how teachers can incorporate it into a busy school schedule. The book is easy to use and a great supplement to guide writing workshops at the junior and intermediate levels. Students get a close-up view of the revision process through the eyes of different authors and will perhaps recognize that reviewing and rewriting will make their work the best it can be.

➔ Real Revision: Authors’ Strategies to Share with Student Writers, Stenhouse Publishers, Portland, Maine, 2011, softcover, ISBN 9781571108562, 280 pages, $27.95, distributed by Pembroke Publishers,
tel 905-477-0650 or 1-800-997-9807,
pembrokepublishers.com

Cheryl Woolnough, OCT, is a Special Education teacher at Eastbourne Drive PS with the Peel DSB.


A Stranger at Home

by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton
illustrated by Liz Amini-Holmes

Following Fatty Legs, a gritty tell-all about an Inuit girl’s determination to retain her identity despite a soul-destroying stay at residential school, A Stranger at Home is the story of Olemaun’s long-awaited return home. Home, however, is no longer what she thought it was. Olemaun doesn’t fit into her traditional clothing, is repulsed by her people’s food and has forgotten her language. She was an outsider for two long years at school, and now she is an outsider in her own community. Her siblings have grown, her parents have aged and her family has moved from Banks Island to Tuktoyaktuk.

As with Fatty Legs, A Stranger at Home will speak to anyone who has experienced displacement or assimilation into a new culture. This fabulous story enhances the Grades 6 to 8 social studies curriculum.

➔ A Stranger at Home: A True Story, Annick Press, Toronto, 2011, softcover, ISBN 9781554513611, 124 pages, $12.95, distributed by Firefly Books, tel 416-499-8412 or 1-800-387-6192, fireflybooks.com

Jennifer Wyatt, OCT, is an elementary teacher on leave from Havergal College Junior School in Toronto.


Luz Sees the Light

written and illustrated by Claudia Dàvila

How would a preteen respond when she can’t get a ride to the mall because of increasing gas prices? What would she eat when food becomes too expensive? For Luz and her friends, it’s a catastrophe. But they soon discover the potential of an abandoned lot that sets them on a path to transform their fossil-fuelled world. Luz builds a garden where residents can grow their own fruits and vegetables, children can play and neighbours can meet.

Preteens will love the fearless and resourceful heroine of this graphic novel and find inspiration in her push toward a greener future.

As a teacher, I have found it difficult to find resources about community activism, where young people can see themselves reflected on the printed page. This is the first in a series tackling environmental sustainability issues. So let your imagination for a better future run wild — with Luz as your guide.

➔ Luz Sees the Light, Kids Can Press, Toronto, 2011, softcover, ISBN 9781554537662, 96 pages, $8.95, tel 416-479-7000, kidscanpress.com

Erin Stephens, OCT, is a high school teacher with the Toronto DSB.


Walter

by Barbara Wersba
illustrated by Donna Diamond

This is a touching story about a friendship between a literate rat, Walter, and an elderly author, Amanda Pomeroy. A rat with a hearty appetite for classic books, Walter routinely sneaks into the author’s library to read the works of great authors, like Sir Walter Scott, E.B. White and Ernest Hemingway.

Fuelled by anger and betrayal — Why did Amanda choose to write about mice instead of rats? — Walter writes a letter to the author. Their correspondence blossoms into mutual understanding and respect.

Children in Grades 3 to 6 will delight in the story. Teachers can use it to make connections between the different themes embedded in its pages — a love of reading and writing, author-audience relationship, friendship and loneliness, or understanding and acceptance.

➔ Walter: The Story of a Rat, Fitzhenry and Whiteside, Markham, 2011, softcover, ISBN 9781554551798, 61 pages, $9.95, tel 905-477-9700 or 1-800-387-9776, fitzhenry.ca

Anjana Thom, OCT, teaches Grades 4/5 at Sir Wilfrid Laurier PS in Brampton.


Educational Leadership for the Twenty-First Century

by Peter Zsebik

After more than 100 years of public education, Peter Zsebik believes it is time to examine whether it is still relevant to contemporary challenges. He advocates for transforming education, but not abandonning the past. Rather, we must deconstruct our dominant ideas about education — by looking at the purposes of 21st-century education and analyzing what we teach and why and how we teach it. The solutions to persistent social, cultural and technological pressures on the education system are within reach, he says, and offers his book as a blueprint for change.

One root of his discussion is the school environment. He proposes that we create schools where students can “realize their ability to create positive, transformative contributions that have the potential to affect the global environment.”

➔ Educational Leadership for the Twenty-First Century, iUniverse, Bloomington, Indiana, 2010, softcover, ISBN 9781450259262, 224 pages, US$18.95, tel 1-800-288-4677,
iuniverse.com

Nadira Baksh, OCT, is a parents council member at Dunrankin Drive PS in Malton, while on parental leave from the classroom.


Challenging the Myths of Autism

by Jonathan Alderson

This book analyzes the many myths surrounding autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The author discusses the origins of the myths and offers alternative interpretations. He concludes each chapter with coping strategies for parents and teachers.

I feel that Alderson is a bit disingenuous in labelling each topic he examines a myth. Although he correctly shows that not all children with ASD are, for example, unaffectionate or that not all autistic children have an intellectual disability, he does acknowledge that many are that way. The point is that ASD is a spectrum disorder — not everyone exhibits all of the characteristics.

The book does have much to recommend it. It’s Canadian and reader friendly. Plus, Alderson does clarify numerous misconceptions about the nature of ASD.

➔ Challenging the Myths of Autism: Unlock New Possibilities and Hope, Harper Collins, Toronto, 2011, softcover, ISBN 9781554688708, 288 pages, $22.99, tel 416-321-2241 or 1-800-387-0117, harpercollins.ca

Elizabeth Starr, OCT, a professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Windsor, specializes in children with autism disorders and their education.


Class Warfare

by Steven Brill

Education reform in the US is complicated. Fifty states, 4,000 school districts and 130,000 K to 12 public and private schools mean that large-scale change is almost impossible. But according to many, massive reform is needed.

Politicians like New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and US President Barack Obama, along with philanthropists such as Bill Gates, are championing a host of programs designed to put America’s schools at the front of the global pack.

For Brill, much of the blame for America’s education woes rests with bloated school-district bureaucracies, misguided faculties of education, politicians, and ultimately teachers’ unions. At the same time he concludes that stellar teaching makes the difference.

➔ Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America’s Schools, Simon and Schuster, Toronto, 2011, paperback, ISBN 9781451612011, 496 pages, $20.00, tel 647-427-8882 or 1-800-387-0446, simonandschuster.ca

Michael Bellrose, OCT, is the principal of C.R. Judd PS in Capreol.


Picture Books: A Wealth of Text and Images

Do you remember your very first books? Those picture books you used to look at before you knew how to read, filled with curly, mysterious little symbols called “words”? The books were filled with images that helped you understand the story and enter its magical world. You sat in a grown-up’s lap and looked at the pictures, while the grown-up pronounced the mysterious signs.

Traditionally, picture books are part of early childhood and the first few years of school. Then they are replaced by books with more text and fewer illustrations. The lines of black scribbles gradually take up more room, blotting out the drawings and colours. But is that really necessary? Why make children give up the richly illustrated world of picture books?

We live in an increasingly complicated digital universe that we have to decode at many levels. This is an ability that our children, most of whom are already used to functioning in two languages, can develop and exploit.

Why not invite your students to explore multi-mode reading? This may be a technique to use with reluctant readers, to appeal to students who are trying to learn French as a second (or even third) language, to encourage youngsters to tell their own stories in colours, shapes and words.

Here are some examples of resources that combine text and pictures and will be valuable additions to your classroom collection.

1001 Children’s Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up


by Julia Eccleshare

Are you constantly looking for gems to add to your classroom library? Are you worried that you never managed to read the basics in children’s literature? If so, then this collection is for you. This is a real reference text for educators and library technicians, as well as for parents and older children. More than 1,001 children’s books of all kinds and origins are assembled here in an indescribably magical world of laughter and reminiscence. It’s a trip down memory lane for any adult who leafs through it!

The collection includes the great classics, from A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh to Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit, Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat and Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, but also more recent works such as Twilight and the Harry Potter series. You will recognize some European titles, including Little Brown Bear, Little Nicholas (Le petit Nicolas), T’choupi, Nobody’s boy (Sans famille) and Tintin. Picture books from a number of countries, among them Sweden, Finland, the Czech Republic and Japan, are included in this international collection, although there are only two from Canada, one of which is Lucy Maud Montgomery’s well-known Anne of Green Gables.

Detailed entries present overviews of each book, including title, author, illustrator, nationality, edition, themes, descriptions, comments, books by the same author and other similar stories. The colour illustrations are eye-catching and truly represent the books they accompany. They tell a story all on their own. The reader closes the collection, eager to get some of the books described.

Numerous possibilities for ethics-related activities and projects on children’s literature worldwide arise from the range of cultures represented. This collection is sure to spark a love of reading in young people.

1001 Children’s Books You Must Read before You Grow Up, Universe, New York, 2009, hardcover, ISBN 9780789318763, 960 pages, $45.00, available through online bookstores

Marie-Christine Payette, OCT, teaches drama and French as a Second Language at école secondaire de La Tuque in the Central Québec School Board.


Harvey

by Hervé Bouchard

illustrated by Janice Nadeau

Reading Harvey was an overwhelming experience. Although my opinion of the novel is qualified, one thing is certain: No one can be indifferent to it!

Harvey is a graphic novel that is very easy to read and very thought-provoking. It discusses serious life events using simple language and beautiful illustrations.

The author and illustrator have both chosen a sober tone to deal with topics that affect us all. The little boy’s colourless world is dominated by the immense nothingness of death, which he cannot understand. The person who has died is the one who protects him, the one he considers invincible: his father.

But this book, winner of a dozen awards, including two Governor General’s Literary Awards — for the text and the illustrations — is not merely the story of one family’s tragedy. It is also about how we manage to comfort and cocoon ourselves.

I was not familiar with the character from the 1950s film, The Invisible Man, who inspired Hervé Bouchard’s creation of Scott Carré, the hero of Harvey. When I read the book, I read with wonderment the story of the tiny atom, once a man, who continued to exist because a little boy was fond of gazing at the black dot he had become.

I would recommend Harvey for older students, who are more drawn to abstraction.
Harvey, Groundwood Books, Toronto, 2010, hardcover, ISBN 9781554980758, 168 pages, $19.95, tel 416-363-4343, www.groundwoodbooks.com


Véra Nochtéva, OCT, teaches French at White Oaks SS in Oakville.


Le chasseur de loups-marins

by Claire Vigneau

illustrated by Bruce Roberts

It is important for us as educators to expose students to works discussing issues that are unfamiliar or misunderstood. It is also important to show students extraordinary literature. This illustrated picture book for adolescents, which has won a number of awards, is one such book. The author and illustrator have intriguingly combined text and pictures, and the title sounds a sensitive note for Canadians: the seal hunt, a complex issue that receives negative media coverage in Canada. Teachers can use this book as a catalyst for a discussion of the ethics at the heart of the issue.

The book does not really tell a story. Part poetry, part prose, it presents the author’s memories of the decline of this seasonal northern industry. It both covers the economic repercussions and looks back nostalgically at its disappearance. “But the chilly air, the white and blue, and the red which joined them, all combined to make me feel one with nature.”

Lastly, the book looks at the modern perception of the seal hunt and how young people see it. “My daughter doesn’t feel the same way. She thinks the seals should be protected.” Each recollection provides a fascinating perspective on this Canadian tradition about which so little is known. As a whole the book prompts us to reflect on the positive and negative aspects of the seal hunt and to ask questions about the perceptions of seal hunters and their descendants.

It is not easy, however, to decide who is meant to read this book. It is richly illustrated with short passages of text. The pictures encourage critical thought and interpretation, so students, depending on their ages, may need supervision to ensure a thorough understanding of nuances. On the other hand, with no story to analyze, the book is ideal for group work, with each team assigned a story and picture to explain to the class, and well suited to the integration of multiple subjects.

In short, given the sensitivity and beauty of the text and illustrations, this book will make a wonderful contribution to a diversified school-library collection.

Le chasseur de loups-marins, Éditions Les 400 coups, Montréal, 2011, hardcover, ISBN 9782895404545, 32 pp, $19.95, distributed by Diffusion Dimedia, tel 514-336-3941, www.dimedia.com


Mélany Bouchard, OCT, teaches French at école secondaire catholique Franco-Cité in Ottawa.


Léo et les presqu’îles

by Gilles Vigneault

illustrated by Stéphane Jorisch

This CD book invites students in Grades 4 and 5 to discover the pleasure of reading, receive an introduction to poetry and song, and immerse themselves in their cultural heritage. It presents a fable by Gilles Vigneault, who tells the story of a boy, the son of a fisherman lost at sea, who sets off in search of adventure. Along the way he discovers “the ties that bind” in life, such as family relationships, natural rhythms, animal-human interactions, the steps involved in building a boat. The book, with its subtle and delicate watercolour illustrations, is memorable.

One of the many titles in the À l’école de la montagne secrète collection, this CD picture book presents songs, nursery rhymes and stories by Gilles Vigneault, interpreted by well-known singers and actors, including Fred Pellerin, Diane Dufresne, Claude Gauthier, Clémence Desrochers, Robert Charlebois and Édith Butler.

Designed primarily for the French program in Québec, this resource aims to develop proficiency in the knowledge and strategies that are, in fact, the objective of Ontario’s elementary school French curriculum document. It also encourages multidisciplinary activities in the plastic arts, drama, geography, French, music and history.

An educational kit (textbook, CD-ROM, teacher’s guide with activities, reproducible sheets and evaluation rubrics) is also available.

Léo et les presqu’îles gives teachers and parents an original, richly illustrated, exciting opportunity to develop their students’ language proficiency.

Léo et les presqu’îles (book and CD or DVD), La montagne secrète, Montréal, 2010, ISBN 9782923163680, 56 pp, $22.95, distributed by Diffusion Dimedia, tel 514-336-3941, www.dimedia.com / Educational kit: Groupe Modulo, Montréal, 2011, ISBN 9782896507634, $114.95, tel 1-888-738-9818, www.groupemodulo.com

Pierre Drouin, OCT, is a retired math teacher and part-time professor in the teacher education program at the University of Ottawa.

La mer

by Miriamme Dubuc

This is a very simple story, some 40 pages long, about a hungry cat and a fish who doesn’t want to be eaten. We travel with the goldfish through tumultuous adventures and tricks, which lead him to the ultimate freedom: the ocean.

This story owes its simplicity to a unique characteristic: It has no text. A pictures-only children’s book that encourages spontaneous oral expression and the emergence of a boundless supply of words, it is made for explicit reading instruction. Teachers can work on anticipation, prior knowledge activation, visualization, inference and appreciation with their students. They will be able to make connections between students’ real lives and the story, and work with them to decide which events are real and which are fictional.

From a writing perspective, too, teachers can use this book to have their students work, collectively or individually, on a story, dialogue or song to accompany the images.

La mer is also a beautifully illustrated story. It offers potential for art activities such as converting the story into a comic or re-imagining the pictures using other animals, with options for colour choice (the illustrator selected only three) and drawing style.

A resource like this shows us that a book can be universal. It could be perfect for our students in Ontario’s Actualisation linguistique en français (ALF) program or Support Program for Newcomers (PANA), because there is no written text to stand in the way of comprehension or interpretation. Illustrated literature is a tool that can certainly encourage the development of creativity and reasoning in our learners, big and small.

La mer,Les éditions de la Pastèque, Montréal, 2011, hardcover, ISBN 9782923841045, 92 pp, $21.95, distributed by Socadis, tel 1-800-361-2847, www.socadis.com


Chantal Leclerc, OCT, is the principal of école élémentaire publique Francojeunesse in Ottawa.


Les échecs

by Sylvie Roberge

illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard

Chess is a fascinating intellectual sport. This picture book caught my attention because I think it is important to integrate chess into our classrooms. It is a game of strategy that develops many skills, such as logic, concentration and memory.

I was very surprised to find that this book is not merely informative but includes a wonderful, beautifully illustrated story. Le jeu de Sissa (Sissa’s Game) tells the story of a young man who goes to see a rajah who is bored to death. Sissa invites him to play a game he has invented called chaturanga. The rajah is fascinated by this war game whose objective is to destroy the opponent’s army and capture the king.

After reading the story, we learn the basic rules of chess, the moves of the pieces and a few tactics.

I really enjoyed exploring the suggested Internet links, which provide more information about this game. I also learned that the origins of the game of chess are not altogether clear and that chaturanga may well be its precursor. One site even encourages children to design their own game.

Les échecs,Dominique et Compagnie, Montréal, 2010, hardcover, ISBN 9782895128496, 34 pp, $18.95, distributed by Messageries ADP, tel 1-866-874-1237, www.messageries-adp.com


Lysiane Couture-Lemieux, OCT, is a Grade 3/4 teacher at école catholique St-François-Xavier in the Conseil scolaire catholique de district des Grandes Rivières.


Le catalogue des gaspilleurs

by Élise Gravel

Here’s a humorous approach to raising young people’s awareness of over-consumption and waste. It’s a catalogue of 24 inventions, each one more far-fetched than the last, and it’s bound to appeal to people who have no idea what to do with their money!

Are you familiar with the Tristylo? It’s a three-pronged pen (bearing a hilarious resemblance to a tiny devil’s pitchfork) that makes it easier to draw lines and help you “do your homework in the blink of an eye!” How about spray-can spaghetti? Press the button and out comes preheated pasta, tasteless and 100 per cent chemical! Are you looking for genius breath? Choose from Einstein, Madonna, Elvis or Cleopatra breath, now available in spray. “Why bother learning anything when you can just have Einstein breath?” asks the caption.

With its zany illustrations and catchy slogans, this little book will make students in Grades 3 to 5 laugh, while encouraging them to analyze the advertising that is all around us and reflect on consumer frenzy.

At the end of the book, readers are encouraged to come up with their own “stupid product” and create advertising for it. Some key tips: Show a celebrity using the gizmo; come up with a slogan; offer a bonus. This is a fun activity to start off a lesson in plastic arts, French or ethics and is ideally suited to teamwork.

The wild and colourful illustrations and silly little captions are sure to appeal to and inspire the most reluctant young readers. Don’t miss this opportunity to introduce them to the nose tuque, snail toothpaste and single-calorie Thingamajig’s cereals. You won’t regret it!

Le catalogue des gaspilleurs, Éditions Les 400 coups, Montréal, 2011, comic, ISBN 9782895404996, 32 pages, $16.95, distributed by Diffusion Dimedia, tel 514-336-3941, www.dimedia.com


Rochelle Pomerance compiles this column.


Spork

by Kyo Maclear

illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault

Nowadays, many children live in blended families. Sometimes they feel alone, as though they did not fully belong to their family. This book may help.

Spork’s mum is a spoon and his dad is a fork, and as a bit of both he doesn’t feel that he belongs in this world. Surrounded by cutlery that is in regular use at the table, he is bored. He tries to disguise himself as a spoon, then as a fork, but the other residents of the cutlery drawer reject him. He spends his days admiring the utensils having fun playing in the food and taking a luxurious bath after each meal. It makes him sad.

Up to this point in the story, the illustrations arouse curiosity; the dreary pages have just a touch of colour. It’s enjoyable examining the texture of the drawings and the funny expressions of the forks and spoons. But we are blinded by red when a “messy thing” appears in the house one day, a thing who can’t use either fork or spoon and makes a huge mess at mealtimes! The utensils are in a panic, and that is when Spork finds his place at the table.

Both teachers and parents could use this picture book to start a discussion on diversity, rejection, segregation and acceptance. Spork will teach children that, even if they feel different from others, even if they feel they don’t fit in anywhere, they will end up finding their place in the world.

Spork, Kids Can Press, Toronto, 2010, hardcover, ISBN 9781553377368, 32 pages, $16.95, tel 416-479-7000, www.kidscanpress.com

Lyanne Marion, OCT, teaches Grade 5/6 French Immersion at St. Francis Catholic School in Sudbury.