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

Discourses, explorations and good reading

Educators’ Discourses on Student Diversity in Canada

Edited by Diane Gérin-Lajoie

This book tackles the need for schools to become more inclusive for students who are not part of their schools’ mainstream population. In so doing, it does an excellent job of tracing the history of the debate about diversity in education in Canada. Each essay tackles a different aspect of this discourse. Themes included are teacher demographics in Canada, how student demographics have changed over time, how racially diverse populations have been supported (or not) in Canadian classrooms, how teachers and principals attempt to balance standardization, and the celebration of difference.

Gérin-Lajoie sums up the current dialogue on diversity as one that is based on a multicultural education framework, which essentially seeks to assimilate students into the dominant culture. She advances alternatives to that approach, primarily by considering schools as “sites of possibility.” To do so, she suggests that students must first learn about racism in our culture so they can deconstruct what prejudice looks like. Then, teachers must act as agents of change in promoting social justice within their classrooms. Finally, principals must pay careful attention to fostering student inclusion and change within their school communities.

I would strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in equity in education. It reminds us about our duty to care for the welfare of our students. Schools truly have the ability to become “sites of possibility” and it is up to us as educators to make that happen.

Educators’ Discourses on Student Diversity in Canada: Context, Policy and Practice, Canadian Scholars Press, Toronto, 2008, softcover, ISBN 9781551303468, 200 pages, $34.95, tel 1-866-870-2774,

Ken MacKinnon is a vice-principal at Tom Longboat PS in the Toronto DSB.

Exploring Curriculum

by Lynn Fels and George Belliveau

Have you ever considered creating a play to teach multiplication tables to Grade 4 students? How about using role-play to teach Grade 10 students about fish farming? Exploring Curriculum shows you how to do both (and lots more) and, in the process, stimulate the imaginations of your students.

Performative inquiry is an umbrella term that encompasses learning and research possibilities through a variety of drama strategies. The teacher outlines a scenario and the students role play together to come up with a solution. Through their collaborative efforts, new situations, challenges, ideas and roles emerge.

The book offers a step-by-step approach to what, at first glance, might seem a daunting undertaking. It outlines several scenarios from real life situations and goes on to propose curricular objectives, possible roles and tasks, necessary materials, and ideas for scripting. Recommendations for student reflection and group discussion, as well as ways to extend a scenario to other subject areas, are explained in detail. Also included are assessment and evaluation strategies, useful handouts and a drama play kit that offers a variety of multidisciplinary activities to trigger student engagement and creativity.

Exploring Curriculum: Performative Inquiry, Role Drama, and Learning, Pacific Educational Press, Vancouver, 2007, softcover, ISBN 978-1-895766-84-4, 286 pages, $39.95, tel 1-877-864-8477,

Caroline Cremer is a Grade 1 teacher at Leslieville PS in Toronto.

Basic Tools for Beginning Writers

by Betty Schultze

Developing students’ basic writing skills is a major concern for primary teachers. Teaching beginning writers is extraordinarily challenging and the bombardment of professional resources can make it even more so. This is a coherent, teacher-friendly book that chronicles the first steps in a beginning writer’s journey – from how to hold a pencil, to sounding out letters, to producing coherent text.

When you incorporate these steps into routines and play and teach children about the relevance of what they are doing, they will come to appreciate why the acquisition of writing skills is so important. The lessons are logical, the ideas are easy to incorporate, and many opportunities for reinforcing them in everyday classroom life are suggested. Student samples and black-line masters are provided. This resource is a great starting point for new Primary-level teachers or for those who have recently moved to a Primary grade.

Basic Tools for Beginning Writers: How to Teach All the Skills Beginning Writers Need, Pembroke Publishers, Markham, 2008, softcover, ISBN 9781551382210, 136 pages, $24.95, tel 905-477-0650 or 1-800-997-9807,

Michelle Foltarz is a literacy improvement project teacher in the Hamilton-Wentworth DSB.

Mathematics Worksheets Don’t Grow Dendrites

by Marcia L. Tate

If you are looking for creative ways to spice up your math program, this is the book for you. We all know it is important to incorporate a variety of strategies to help individual students achieve success. And that means using hands-on, brain-compatible activities to stimulate the multiple intelligences of our students. Tate’s pedagogical research in brain compatibility highlights the importance of using authentic, interactive experiences to encourage children to retain concepts and to take ownership of their learning. In this book, she shows you how that can be accomplished.

Each chapter describes instructional strategies and activities for specific grades, although many of the suggestions can be modified for other grades. The lessons are designed and ready to use. To help integrate brain-compatible lessons into day-to-day planning and to track the success of various techniques in the classroom, a black-line master-lesson-plan template is included.

Various assessment strategies – rubrics, checklists, anecdotals and more – are offered for each activity. As you explore the activities presented in this book, you will no doubt find the brain-compatible strengths of all your students, which can guide your future instruction, not only in math but in all subject areas.

Mathematics Worksheets Don’t Grow Dendrites: 20 Numeracy Strategies That Engage the Brain, Pre K–8, Corwin Press, Thousand Oaks, CA, 2009, softcover, ISBN 9781412953337, 200 pages, US$33.95, tel 1-800-233-9936 or 1-805-499-9734,

Cheryl Woolnough is an elementary teacher at Castlemore PS with the Peel DSB.

Science on the Loose

by Helaine Becker
illustrated by Claudia Dávila

The title says it all. This wonderful book, written for elementary-aged children, lays out dozens of fun, easy, step-by-step experiments that do not need specialized scientific equipment or a lab. Funny facts about smells, genes, chromosomes, dimples, belly-button lint and communication between species – to name a few of the topics covered – disguise the more serious educational intention of this cleverly written book, which makes science fun, interesting and accessible.

Each experiment has a section titled What’s Going On?, which provides a clear explanation of the scientific phenomenon revealed. Graphic elements such as bright colours, bubbles, lines and a variety of fonts are sure to catch students’ interest and keep them reading to find out more. The topics covered – fool your brain for science; food for thought; and sticky, slimy, strong – are designed to engage and satisfy the insatiable curiosity of a young mind and fuel scientific imagination and discovery.

For elementary teachers who are looking for kid-friendly, easy-to-follow science experiments, this book may well be the answer. Some of the science concepts covered are well-aligned with the Ontario science curriculum units in the upper Primary and Junior divisions, topics such as animals, friction, gravity, the human body, the senses, light, plants, space, states of matter and temperature. For all those curious students in your class who incessantly ask weird questions, this wacky book offers a real information punch.

Science on the Loose: Amazing Activities and Science Facts You’ll Never Believe, Maple Tree Press, Toronto, 2008, softcover, ISBN 978-1-897349-19-9, 64 pages, $12.95, distributed by Raincoast Books, tel 1-800-663-5714,,

Anjana Thom is an elementary instructional resource teacher with the Peel DSB.


by Malcolm Gladwell

In Outliers, popular writer Malcolm Gladwell (The Tipping Point, Blink) sets out to determine how people become successful. He calls these successful people outliers, defined as men and women who do things out of the ordinary. They range from individuals – Bill Gates, Mozart, Chris Langan (who, according to Gladwell, might be the smartest man in the world) – to diverse groups like the Beatles, professional hockey players, robber barons, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, top trial lawyers and overachieving Asian students.

We tend to believe that success can be explained by a combination of a person’s talent, ambition, intelligence and perseverance. Gladwell shows how one’s circumstances – including family, class and cultural background – also play significant roles. Many of the stories are about people who devoted the magic 10,000 hours to develop a particular skill, which, based on research cited by Gladwell, is the time investment required to become expert in a field.

Many of Gladwell’s arguments lead him to the realm of education, which is why the book will interest teachers of all sensibilities. Neo-liberals and conservatives will cheerfully second the claim that the mathematical achievements of Asian students are based on a longer school year and greater parental expectations. Teachers who emphasize social justice and equity will applaud the need to compensate for the disadvantages of social class. In the story of a high-achieving inner city school, all will welcome the conclusion that perseverance and hard work count for as much as intelligence and can compensate for the disadvantages of birth.

Outliers: The Story of Success, Little, Brown Book Group, Boston, MA, 2008, hardcover, ISBN 9780316017923, 320 pages, US$27.99, tel 1-800-759-0190,,

Fred DuVal is a program officer with the Ontario College of Teachers and a former secondary school teacher.

Royal Murder

by Elizabeth MacLeod

What would you do to attain and keep a throne? Would you kill your brother, exile your sister or impale your subjects on stakes? The relationship between royalty and murder has a long and illustrious past and, presumably, an ongoing future. Royal Murder recounts in detail the historically significant lives of ten monarchs, including Cleopatra, and features a section on contemporary political assassins.

MacLeod manages to arrange historical information in easy and understandable chunks without minimizing the complexity or significance of the content. Gruesome accounts of treachery, murder, unsolved mysteries and ongoing investigations will leave many readers thirsting for more.

As an educational resource, the book provides excellent examples of narrative and non-fiction style, well represented by timelines, sidebars, future readings and an extensive index. The historical content is directly applicable to the Grade 7 history unit on conflict and change, and many chapters could add spice to the Grade 4 medieval times curriculum.

Royal Murder, nominated for the Ontario Library Association’s 2009 Red Maple Non-Fiction Award, is a stunning blend of historical fact and storytelling. I highly recommend it.

Royal Murder: The Deadly Intrigue of Ten Sovereigns, Annick Press, Toronto, 2008, softcover, ISBN 9781554511273, 128 pages, $14.95, distributed by Firefly Books, tel 416-499-8412 or 1-800-387-6192,

Laura Barron is a teacher-librarian at Fernforest PS in the Peel DSB.

Who Discovered America?

by Valerie Wyatt

Who Discovered America? dispels the standard truism that Christopher Columbus discovered the Americas and provides alternative perspectives on this age-old historical debate. Using the evidence that Viking communities were established on this continent before Columbus arrived, the book clearly demonstrates that he was not even the first European to discover America. But it goes further, offering insight into other discovery hypotheses, outlining evidence and theories regarding Chinese and Welsh seafarers, Irish monks, Scottish knights and Aboriginal mammoth hunters.

The book has an interdisciplinary focus that incorporates geographical and cultural studies. It looks at the carbon dating of rocks, South American caves, fossils, soil materials, coastal routes from Asia to North America and the Bering land bridges. Findings support various historical theories that debunk the Columbus myth. The material is presented in a clear manner with a timeline, glossary, maps, cartoons, graphs and photos.

Critical connections to the elementary social studies curriculum include links to heritage, community, early settlers and civilizations, regions, technology, cultural practices, Aboriginal societies and issues in conflict and change. The book teaches young readers how to evaluate evidence from wide-ranging historical sources and frames the debate as a “what if” question to activate problem-solving strategies and analytical thinking. So who really did discover America? This text allows readers to make up their own minds.

Who Discovered America?, Kids Can Press, Toronto, 2008, softcover, ISBN 978-1-55453-129-5, 40 pages, $8.95,
tel 416-925-5437 or 1-800-265-0884,

Chadwick Low is an English/ESL teacher at St. Marguerite d’Youville SS in the Dufferin-Peel Catholic DSB.

Claire and the Bakery Thief

by Janice Poon

At a pivotal point in this graphic novel aimed at reluctant readers, Claire demonstrates the restorative power of her mom’s Pizza Power Patties.

Natural, hand-made food is championed as Claire helps her parents thwart the evil schemes of an artificial-flavouring salesman. Along the way, she meets challenges that include parental job loss, moving to a new town, starting a new business (the Grain of Truth Bakery), making new friends and the growing alienation of her parents. Claire, her new best friend Jet, and her dog Bongo, find themselves in the midst of a kidnapping scenario. The illustrations, also by Poon, are appropriately and engagingly action packed.

This book might hit the mark for students aged seven to 10 who are reluctant to tackle longer books with more dense text and complex plots. For the hands-on learner in all of us, there are recipes at the back of the book to try out. The story’s ending leaves the door open for a sequel, and sure enough, Claire and the Water Wish was published in early 2009.

Claire and the Bakery Thief, Kids Can Press, Toronto, 2008, softcover, ISBN 978-1-55453-245-2, 104 pages, $8.95,
tel 416-925-5437 or 1-800-265-0884,

Steve Kennedy is a math teacher at Sir Winston Churchill SS in Hamilton.


Child of Dandelions

by Shenaaz Nanji

Child of Dandelions tells the story of Sabine, a 15-year-old girl living in Uganda during the tumultuous Idi Amin regime. In 1972 Amin declared that all Ugandan Indians (the affluent merchant class) were to be weeded out like dandelions. He gave them 90 days to leave the country. When soldiers raid Sabine’s family home, her parents are forced to flee, leaving Sabine to escape with her younger, Down’s syndrome brother. As Sabine navigates the
exodus from her native country, she undergoes a journey of self-discovery reminiscent of Anne Frank’s personal trauma.

The novel examines Uganda’s social hierarchy and the racial and religious discrimination of the time. But perhaps more importantly, it takes a close-up view of what it feels like to be a child awakening to the terror of a brutal dictatorship and being forced into a maturity well beyond her years. The refugee experience is particularly poignant as seen through the eyes of an adolescent and remains resonant today as thousands of people around the globe continue to be uprooted by conflict.

The author draws on her experience of growing up in a fusion of cultures in East Africa. She now lives in Calgary where she works as an advocate for child literacy.

Child of Dandelions, Second Story Press, Toronto, 2008, softcover, ISBN 9781897187500, 216 pages, $9.95, tel 416-537-7850,,

Rosemarie Chapman is a supply teacher with the Hamilton-Wentworth DSB.


by Caroline Pignat

This engaging and thought-provoking novel presents three contrasting perspectives. The bully, the victim and the bystander all share their interpretation of the events and provocations in the life of Will Reid (Egghead), an introverted, ant-loving outcast in the already challenging social-caste system of Grade 9. Katie, Egghead’s only friend from elementary school, finds it increasingly difficult to stand by him in high school and struggles with her guilt.

Egghead is tormented and ostracized by a group of high school bullies who turn out to be dealing with personal issues of their own. Like many victims of bullies, he has succumbed to his fate as a loser and sees no end to the torture until one tragic occurrence turns all of their lives around. The events of this novel are as poignant as they are deplorable, and students will likely see themselves or someone they know in each of the captivating characters.

The novel is a quick and easy read and the format lends itself nicely to a character study as well as illustrating different features of text. The use of poetry and short, perspective-driven chapters make this an enjoyable and highly teachable resource.

The book has been nominated for the 2009 Red Maple Award and the Willow Award.

Egghead, Red Deer Press, Calgary, 2007, softcover, ISBN 978-0-88995-399-4, 128 pages, $11.95, tel 1-800-387-9776, ext 225,,

Andrea Murik is a Special Education resource teacher at Angus Morrison Elementary School with the Simcoe County DSB.

The Little Word Catcher

by Danielle Simard
illustrated by Geneviève Côté

Danielle Simard uses her own experiences with her mother’s forgetfulness and her conversations with young people to present Alzheimer’s disease to young readers. Written from the point of view of Elise, the novel expresses the frustration of a little girl with her grandmother’s misplacement of words and other personal items. She and her family are often successful in finding lost objects like Grandma’s keys, but they need to guess at words to complete Grandma’s sentences.

The story focuses on Elise’s exasperation at not knowing how to help Grandma find her lost words. As suggested by the title, she imagines catching them with a big net and bringing them all back home. The story is enhanced by beautiful full-page illustrations.

This is an excellent book for Primary and Junior classrooms. It might also work well as a resource for a response journal for Intermediate students. The subject matter is handled with a sensitivity and depth that will likely promote further discussion among children and their teachers or parents.

The Little Word Catcher, Second Story Press, Toronto, 2008, hardcover, ISBN 978-1-897187-44-9, 32 pages, $14.95, tel 416-537-7850,,

Dorothea Bryant is a retired teacher and a language arts professor at the University of Windsor.

For past reviews, visit the archives.

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