Your guide to recently released books and other teaching resources.
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Photos: Stephen Ferrie
By Kenneth Oppel, Illustrated by Sydney Smith
Peter Rylance, famous writer and illustrator of the Kren series, is blocked. In the wake of grief, he can’t draw or write, and though deadlines are looming, some days he can’t even get himself out of bed. Bad news for his publisher; worse for his children. Twelve-year-old Ethan tries to help his dad, particularly in the care of his younger sister, Sarah, but Ethan has problems all his own. Despite what his classmates assume, Ethan doesn’t have his father’s talent. He’s sure when they see his contribution to their graphic novel project, everyone will know.
When Inkling awakens from the pages of Peter Rylance’s sketchbook, everything changes. This curious blob of ink, hungry to devour anything and everything on paper, evolves into a powerful force in the lives of each member of the Rylance family. Inkling emerges as a fascinating and endearing character cleverly constructed to draw us into life and loss in the Rylance home.
Oppel masterfully weaves the wonder of creative energy with a poignant plot and vulnerable characters. Can Inkling help Ethan and inspire his father? Or will Inkling, too, become entrapped and enslaved by fear and insecurities? Full of heart and wonder, Inkling explores the bonds and balance of family and the healing power of creativity.
Caroline Pignat, OCT, is a teacher with the Ottawa Catholic School Board and an author who has twice won a Governor General’s Award for Young People’s Literature for her historical fiction novels.
Inkling, HarperCollins, Toronto, 2018, hardcover, ISBN 978-1-44345-028-7, 272 pages, $17.99, harpercollins.ca
By Caroline Pignat, illustrated by François Thisdale
The fragility of nature, along with its magnificent resilience, is gracefully captured in this delightful collection of poems and illustrations. Using the first letters of words relating to the life cycle of a tree, Pignat blends the seasons with acrostic poems. Readers will enjoy discovering the secrets of the poems and the hidden puzzles throughout the book.
The book begins with spring, as a young seed becomes a spindly sapling that eventually flowers and, finally, transforms into a fruit-bearing tree. Summer promises a glimpse of a nest — described in the poem as “nature’s nursery.” Fall brings us to the bountiful harvest. Illustrations include apples and of course, the fabulously changing colours of autumn leaves. Winter begins with a blanketed tree in a snowy, still landscape. But this is not the end. The cyclical nature of the seed is reinforced by Pignat’s final poem:
Somehow each ending is not the
Scatters new beginnings
The life cycle of the seed seems to instinctively continue on its journey while a single individual is seen in the background, seemingly unaware of the momentous events occurring around him. The scene invites the reader to look more deeply into the critical relationship between humans and the environment.
Andrea Murik, OCT, is a high school teacher with the Grand Erie District School Board.
Poetree, Red Deer Press, Markham, Ont., hardcover, 2018, ISBN 978-0-88995-4922, 32 pages, $19.95, an imprint of Fitzhenry & Whiteside, fitzhenry.ca
By Dennis Abrams
John Rice was Cleopatra. The young man was also Lady Macbeth, Cordelia and Desdemona. In this fictionalized autobiography, Rice muses about his time as a boy player with Shakespeare’s King’s Men. At the time (early 17th century), women were not allowed to act, so boys would play the female roles.
His story is brimming with details of Shakespeare’s London, and readers hear Rice’s thoughts on the audiences of the time and on working in the Globe Theatre. They also learn what it was like when theatres were ordered closed because of plague outbreaks. Excerpts of several of Shakespeare’s plays are dotted throughout, as are several historical people and events, including a short description of Guy Fawkes’s failed attempted to blow up Parliament.
Early chapters allude to a burgeoning romantic relationship Rice has with his roommate Alexander, who Rice describes as his “first and perhaps only real love.”
I Was Cleopatra is rich with well-researched historical facts, though the details are entirely fictional. John Rice really was a boy player for the King’s Men, but aside from dates and his inclusion on principal players lists, little else is known about his life.
While rooted in truth, the reader can revel in the creativity of the author’s imagination, and perhaps be inspired to research and read further about this turbulent era of English history.
Terri Lawrence, OCT, is an anatomy and physiology instructor with the nursing program at St. Clair College in Windsor.
I Was Cleopatra, Groundwood Books, Toronto, 2018, hardcover, ISBN 978-1-77306-022-4, 192 pages, $18.95, an imprint of House of Anansi Press, groundwoodbooks.com
By Larry Swartz
Larry Swartz has long been praised for his genius in practical and inspired ideas for literacy. Take Me To Your Readers is his latest.
The book begins with the premise that to build excited, lifelong readers, we need to offer them great books. It then provides a solid structure for exploring how to do this. Each section shares ideas and strategies for implementing a classroom program to nurture a lifelong love of reading and writing.
Take Me To Your Readers uses several essential areas as it structures classroom literacy experiences. First and foremost, it delves into how to nurture a passion for reading. From there, it explores how to analyze various genres of writing, how to cultivate comprehension and an understanding of thematic content, and finally, it links a variety of fiction and non-fiction to curriculum. Throughout, it shares excellent reading materials, student activities from several classroom teachers, and learning extensions.
One chapter assists teachers in dealing, through literature, with such complex issues as poverty, bullying, respecting gender equity and social awareness. Another helpful chapter is a practical investigation into integrating technology into the curriculum in a meaningful and natural way.
If you struggle to find new ways to motivate students to read and write, then this book is a treasure trove of exciting ideas.
Gail Lennon is a writer and reviewer with more than 35 years of teaching experience at all levels.
Take Me To Your Readers: How to use the best children’s books to lead students to read, read, read, Pembroke Publishers, Markham, Ont., 2017, softcover, ISBN 978-1-55138-326-2, 128 pages, $24.95, pembrokepublishers.com
By Maisha T. Winn
In October 2015, a teacher at a high school in South Carolina asked a student to put her cellphone away. When the student didn’t comply, the teacher and the school administrator called the school resource officer — an armed guard — to remove her from the classroom. The video, captured and shared by a student, showed the ensuing assault that took place as classmates looked on.
Adults in a position of trust placed each of the students in that class in a situation where they were subject to the threat of violence in their formal learning space. This particular classroom interaction is the catalyst for Justice on Both Sides.
This incident has resonance for teachers in Ontario schools. Research across the province shows young people of colour face serious struggles and unequal care in schools.
Author and educator Maisha T. Winn identifies the critical absence of community building and argues powerfully in favour of restorative justice. She demonstrates how teachers and supervisory officers can integrate such a model into a range of educational settings. She urgently calls on teachers to develop positive relations with students to show them they are important and valued. This book serves as a compass for educators committed to justice and transformation. It compels us to resolve the inequities in school while we seek to support all students.
Nadira Baksh, OCT, teaches history at the Adult Education Centre with the Peel District School Board.
Justice on Both Sides: Transforming Education Through Restorative Education, Harvard Education Press, Cambridge Mass., 2018, softcover, ISBN 978-1-68253- 182-2, 216 pages, US$30, harvardeducationpress.org
By Alex Gino
Alex Gino’s latest junior novel tackles some serious themes while maintaining the lighthearted narrative mindset of its 12-year-old protagonist. Gino describes the book as “consciously written for white people as a catalyst to talk about modern racism.” Gino manages to navigate the reader through delicate aspects of Deaf and Black culture, helping both readers and Jilly herself to become more aware.
The novel has serious themes and can be hard-hitting at times, but it can also be quite funny. Readers will find themselves laughing at Jilly’s youthful impression of the world (and the author captures it so well), only to fight back the waterworks a page or two later when devastating realities hit.
The story dives deeply into an examination of what it means to live with our friends’ and family’s differences, even as we share interests and bloodlines. Gino crafts a fully realized character in Jilly, whose thoughts and reactions come across as so real and true to a 21st-century 12-year-old. Children will see themselves reflected in Jilly (or her friends) and adults will appreciate the loving relationships that surround her.
Use it as a read-aloud to prompt discussions around the important topics it explores, keep it in your classroom library, or recommend it to social justice-minded young readers looking for a modern narrative. It is destined to become a middle-grade classic.
Joe Restoule General, OCT, is a learning resource teacher at Jamieson Elementary School in Ohsweken, Ont.
You Don’t Know Everything, Jilly P!, Scholastic Press, Toronto, 2018, hardcover, ISBN 978-0-545-95626-0, 256 pages, $22.99, scholastic.ca
By David Booth and Richard Coles
Educators looking for scholarly articles describing best practices in teaching would be advised to look to books other than this. That’s because the authors regard good teaching as something offered by people who aren’t necessarily at the cutting edge of pedagogy but who are always caring and mindful, and open to modifying their teaching to accommodate students and how they learn.
Fundamentally, the authors say, good teaching and exemplary classroom practices are linked to teachers who believe in the value of their work as professionals and community builders.
The authors have divided their ambitious work into four chapters: developing a teaching identity, knowing your students, developing sound teaching strategies and understanding how effective schools work. While they address research-based techniques, the emphasis is always on enhancing personal growth as professionals.
In a world where mental health challenges and anxiety are very real for both students and their teachers, it’s difficult to overstate the importance of supporting educators in their work. While the authors haven’t spent much time on significant challenges like the impacts of social media, the effects of poverty or classroom management, the book will appeal to new teachers and those of us in need of renewal.
Michael Bellrose, OCT, retired in June 2019 as principal of A. B. Ellis Public School with the Rainbow District School Board in Espanola.
What is a “Good” Teacher, Pembroke Publishers, Markham, Ont., 2017, softcover, ISBN 978-1-55138-327-9, 160 pages, $24.95, pembrokepublishers.com
By Amanda Yuill
To teach students well, teachers need to connect with them, both emotionally and intellectually. When teachers do that, they activate students’ ability to learn. At any age, and no matter what unique traits students may have, the key to teaching is always that human connection, which enables a deeper engagement with learning.
Initial meetings with students are key to making a good first impression and offer a critical opportunity to put children at ease. By carefully orchestrating your relationship with students in those early encounters, you can create a better learning environment that will help to encourage listening and learning. Reaching & Teaching Them All suggests various ways for getting and maintaining student attention and interest, including telling stories, playing games, embracing body language, and using humour and sarcasm.
The book outlines specific ways to deal with challenges, whether it’s bullying in the school environment, conflicts with friends or teachers, or trouble at home. The author offers several checklists for dealing with students who have mental health challenges, ADHD, autism, or who are non-verbal.
This practical book introduces profoundly relevant ideas for today’s classrooms and offers strategies for meeting individual students’ needs.
Majella Atkinson, OCT, is a Grade 8 teacher at St. Pius X Catholic School in Toronto.
Reaching & Teaching Them All: Making quick and lasting connections with every student in your classroom, Pembroke Publishers, Markham, Ont., 2018, softcover, ISBN 978-1-55138-330-9, 120 pages, $24.95, pembrokepublishers.com