Languages of learning

Your guide to recently released books, CDs and other teaching resources. For additional reviews of French-language resources, click here. 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, ext. 679 (toll-free in Ontario 1-888-534-2222) or e-mail


The Kids' Book of Black Canadian History

by Rosemary Sadlier
Reviewed by Chris Vert

The Kids' Book of Black Canadian History is an enlightening and well presented overview of a facet of Canadian history much ignored in children's non-fiction.

Students will find it useful for their research projects and an engaging book to have during reading periods.

Using attractive two-page spreads, the book presents themes such as black loyalists in the Maritimes, life in Canada west and fighting in two world wars. The text is interspersed with sidebars offering facts, trivia, profiles of significant figures in black Canadian history and information on relevant issues, such as spirituals and heritage festivals. Maps, posters and excerpts from newspapers and diaries accompany the colour illustrations.

Towards the end of the book there is a timeline of events. The appealing presentation is suited for both skimming and cover-to-cover reading, and the writing is accessible to young readers.

We learn about the different waves of black immigration to Canada - from passengers on the underground railroad to Caribbean immigrants and African refugees. Nor does Sadlier ignore incidents in our history that are as ludicrous as they are insensitive, such as the federal government stopping black immigration from 1911 to 1912, giving as a reason that blacks were "unsuitable to the climate and requirements of Canada."

Teachers should be aware that sources and dates are not provided for statistics in the sidebars. The population of Canada, for example, is given as 28,500,000, a number surpassed back in 1996 according to Statistics Canada's web site. The year of the data would have indicated to students that they should look for more up-to-date figures.

Although there are several children's books about individuals or events in black history, such as Harriet Tubman: Conductor on the Underground Railroad, only Sadlier's offers young readers a synopsis of black history in Canada. It deserves a place on the bookshelf of every classroom and library.

The Kids' Book of Black Canadian History, Kids Can Press, Toronto, 2003, ISBN 1-55074-892-0, hardcover, 56 pages, $19.95, tel 800-265-0884, fax 416-960-5437,

Chris Vert teaches Grades 5 and 6 at Toronto Island Public/Natural Science School.

Straight Talk for Principals

by Raymond E. Lemley
Reviewed by David Ennis

With barely 200 pages to its credit Straight Talk for Principals boasts 45 chapters and two appendices. This means that busy people can spot an interesting chapter and read its three-pages worth in a couple of minutes.

Topics such as Teach, Model and Expect Loyalty, Understand the Non-rational, and Avoid Fighting Useless Battles not only bring invisible issues to the surface but provide down-home solutions that are readily achievable. A tidy checklist of things to think about or do summarizes each chapter's pearls of wisdom.

Raymond Lemley draws on 40 years of experience as a high school teacher and principal, college English instructor, curriculum specialist, professor and executive for two educational associations. He doesn't mince words and there is an edge to his writing that suggests a low tolerance for fools.

I would caution less experienced administrators that they may march boldly into considerable difficulty unless they keep in mind that this writer's vast experience (acquired in an American context) has been simplified to a fault. Leadership is rarely as tidy as Lemley implies.

Having said that, this book should be on a nearby shelf because each brief, passionate and wise chapter is written in a we-can-do-this style. This is a heartening read for new and experienced administrators alike because it encourages them to step back and regain their focus. An experienced educator's passion for the job and his perspectives on vision, leadership, culture, organizational change and the vagaries of human behaviour are good medicine any time.

This book does not claim to be a panacea but its insights can motivate educators to have vision, courage and the tenacity to do the right things for students.

Straight Talk for Principals, Scarecrow Press, Lanham (Maryland), 2003, ISBN 0-8108-4615-2, softcover, 192 pages, US$34.95, tel 800-338-4550, fax 717-794-3803,

David Ennis is principal at John Dearness Public School in London.

After Early Intervention, Then What?
Teaching Struggling Readers in Grades 3 and Beyond

Editors, Rachel L. McCormack and Jeanne R. Paratore
Reviewed by Victoria Houston

This book offers a variety of creative strategies for changing the way unsuccessful students understand reading, writing and themselves, as literate people. Methods are offered to improve the literacy of struggling students and to involve students in the planning process to ensure that they play an active part in developing their own literacy identity.

While the book presents an overall approach to advancing the reading and writing abilities of students who are experiencing difficulties, specific strategies are also given. Each chapter provides case studies featuring a diverse group of students and noting that not all strategies work for all students.

There are guidelines on constructing curriculum for differentiated instruction. One chapter stresses the importance of establishing instructional strategies across all learning settings, including strategies to identify children in need of extra help, to plan and implement intervention and to monitor progress. The importance of finding appropriate reading materials is stressed throughout the book. Suggestions are also given on how to set up and implement successful book clubs and after-school reading clubs.

Curriculum, instruction, staff development, organization, leadership, environment and parents' roles are all discussed. Key points are listed for each topic to illustrate that they are integral to the development of literacy in a struggling reader.

This is an informative book and an excellent resource.

After Early Intervention, Then What?, International Reading Association, Newark (Delaware), 2003, ISBN 0-87207-009-3, softcover, 252 pages, US$26.95, tel 302-731-1600, fax 302-731-1057,

Victoria Houston is a secondary school technological education teacher in Windsor.

Women Confronting Retirement
A Nontraditional Guide

Editors, Nan Bauer-Maglin and Alice Radosh
Reviewed by Ruth Dempsey

"We have barely even considered the possibilities in age for new kinds of loving intimacy, purposeful work and activity, learning and knowing, community and care …For to see age as continued human development involves a revolutionary paradigm shift." Betty Friedan, Fountain of Age

In Women Confronting Retirement, 38 well educated women take up Friedan's challenge as they consider the possibilities of aging in a series of individual essays. The book is divided into three sections: thinking about retirement, stages of retirement and never retiring.

The contributors range in age from 33 to 86 years and come from a variety of racial, ethnic, religious and regional backgrounds. Their occupations cover the spectrum from university professor to labour organizer, elementary teacher to financial consultant, fashion editor to physician, and many others besides.

Representing the first large wave of females continuously in the workforce, these women were part of the pioneering movement that changed women's lives. All have individual stories which, taken together, create a lively discussion, a challenging debate and a probing meditation on retirement.

"My anxieties on the eve of retirement have less to do with what I will be giving up than with what lies ahead," writes librarian Esther Ratner.

Physician Doris Goldberg uses the image of tight clothes to explain her response to retirement: "It felt freeing - like taking off a suit of clothing that constrained, chafed, and no longer fit right."

The authors call for a new definition of retirement and for public policies that reflect today's new paradigm of aging. Those who appear happiest in retirement have adopted the dictate, "Follow your own muse."

What I appreciate most about this collection is the honesty and intimacy. It offers courageous conversations and valuable life lessons.

Women Confronting Retirement, Rutgers University Press, Piscataway (New Jersey), 2003, ISBN 0-8135-3126-8, softcover, 368 pages, US$22.00, tel 800-446-9323, fax 888-471-9014,

A retired educator, Ruth Dempsey is a consultant specializing in the area of human development and aging.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

by Mark Haddon
Reviewed by Elda Fredette

According to the Geneva Centre for Autism, "the latest statistics show that one in 200 Canadian children are diagnosed with autism - a 600 per cent increase in the last 10 years." What was once viewed as rare is now recognized as the most common neurological disorder affecting children.

These children are students in our schools but few of us understand what they're thinking when they lash out aggressively or obsessively follow the same routines day in and day out. Many do not have a single friend.

In The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon shows us the world through an autistic teenager's eyes. Christopher John Francis "knows all the countries of the world and their capitals and every prime number up to 7,057." He relates well to animals but has no understanding of human emotions. Although gifted with a superbly logical brain, Christopher is autistic. Everyday interactions and admonishments have little meaning for him. Routine, order and predictability shelter him from the messy wider world.

Christopher's world starts to unravel when he finds his neighbour's dog impaled with a garden fork. In his quest to solve this mystery he believes himself to be Sherlock Holmes. We see things from his viewpoint and feel emotionally wrenched by his insistence that the world must be logical. The author takes us on a journey that is at once funny and heartbreaking.

In his debut novel Mark Haddon has given us a mystery story and a unique narrator in Christopher. This fascinating characterization of autism is fun to read and can offer valuable insight into the minds of our autistic students.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Random House of Canada, Mississauga (Ontario), 2003, ISBN 0-385-65979-2, hardcover, 240 pages, $29.95, tel 905-624-0672,
fax 905-624-6217,

Elda Fredette is a special education resource teacher at St. James School in Oakville.

Kids Can Learn with Franklin
Printing Practice / Measurement / Math Stories: Addition / Math Stories: Subtraction / Vocabulary Puzzles

by Paulette Bourgeois
Reviewed by Laurel Van Dommelen

This new series of workbooks features the delightful storybook character, Franklin the turtle. The material is well presented and educators will find the links to the Ontario curriculum on each activities page useful for guiding their students' progress and their own expectations.

The workbooks are most effectively used with adult supervision since the language is often beyond the reading ability of children in Kindergarten or Grade 1.

Inserts are included in these books, such as cut-out rulers to assist children with relative sizes of non-standard-unit measuring, and cut-and-paste scenes to help children visualize word problems in mathematics.

Each book also contains a set of four collector cards featuring characters from the Franklin storybooks. The tactile activities are a great way to shift the focus away from pencils, paper and writing for children who may need a change of pace.

A guide on the inside cover of each workbook explains what aspect of development the book supports and suggests areas of continued learning that can be pursued as everyday activities.

On the last page is a Certificate of Achievement that can be photocopied, filled in and presented to each child who has completed the activities.

Franklin Series - K-1: Printing, Measurement; Grade 1: Subtraction, Addition, Vocabulary; Kids Can Press, Toronto, 2003, softcover, each 32 pages, $4.95, tel 800-265-0884, fax 416-960-5437,

Laurel Van Dommelen, a member of the College, is a children's librarian with the London borough of Enfield, England.

Kids Can Learn with Franklin
Alphabet Mazes / Numbers / First Phonics

by Paulette Bourgeois
Reviewed by Andrea Murik

These fun-filled, easy-to-use workbooks help motivate young children to learn the alphabet, numbers and first phonics. Kids will love seeing their favourite characters from the Franklin storybooks as they trace letters and work through puzzles and mazes.

Geared toward children in Pre-K and K, the books will give young students a head start in mastering basic academic skills.

First Phonics gives children opportunities to explore letter sounds, rhyming patterns and word families. This workbook encourages children to develop simple word-recognition skills as well as early reading strategies.

Alphabet Mazes is designed for the child who is beginning to distinguish between some letters of the alphabet and can identify some upper and lower case letters by name. Most of the learning in this workbook comes in the form of letter mazes that require the student to draw with a crayon or pencil.

In Numbers, children can match numbers to pictures and use a number line to count from one to ten. Number and word recognition are encouraged throughout the book.

The books in this series are reproducible and provide valuable learning tools for young children, both at school and at home.

Franklin Series - Kindergarten: First Phonics; Pre-K: Alphabet Mazes; Pre-K and K: Numbers; Kids Can Press, Toronto, 2003, softcover, each 32 pages, $4.95, tel 800-265-0884,
fax 416-960-5437,

Andrea Murik is on maternity leave from the Simcoe County District School Board where she is a special education resource teacher.

Rock with the Dinosaurs

by Lois Linder
Reviewed by Majella Atkinson

Rock with the Dinosaurs is a cross-curricular classroom musical and study unit about dinosaurs. The unit contains a music CD with both rehearsal and performance accompaniment tracks; a reproducible script and lyrics to help children learn their parts; 25+ learning activities; reproducible patterns for activities; reproducible dinosaur pictures and numerous other handouts.

Ideally, the musical is a culminating unit in a study about dinosaurs and it is designed for any level from third through sixth grade.

There are 30 short speaking parts. But activities within the unit incorporate most areas of study and can be adapted to any class size or setting. Music, research skills, creative art, dance, public speaking/performance and technology are just some of the skills that students will use.

Co-operation is a large aspect of the activities, encouraging students to work together and learn from one another. Learning is brought to life and made fun!

Rock with the Dinosaurs, Warner Bros. Publications, Miami, 2002, ISBN 0-7579-9264-1, softcover, 63 pages, US$19.95 (includes CD), tel 800-327-7643, fax 305-621-4869,

Majella Atkinson teaches Grade 8 at St. Pius X School in Toronto.

Don't Laugh at Me

by Peter Yarrow Productions and Educators for Social Responsibility
Reviewed by Stephanie Swenson

In Don't Laugh at Me, Peter Yarrow, of the acclaimed musical group Peter, Paul and Mary, contributes to a structured program designed to eliminate ridicule and bullying from your classroom through a foundation of risk-taking, fun, group work and communication.

Yarrow concentrates on celebrating diversity by focusing on the social and emotional development of students and building a caring and accepting classroom community.

This program is based on the Don't Laugh at Me song. The kit includes a comprehensive teachers' guide packed with useful and ready-to-use lessons, a VHS tape of the music video, Don't Laugh at Me along with Yarrow's explanation of the program for students and teachers, and a CD including some Peter, Paul and Mary children's favourites.

Unfortunately, while Yarrow's effusive and sentimental presentation may appeal to primary students, junior students may find it childish. If you can leave the cheesy and sometimes condescending lyrics behind, you will find the Teacher's Guide can be used independently. It is practical, detailed and user-friendly, including many ready-to-implement, thought-provoking activities and ideas to inspire students to think about their role in society and how to be caring, compassionate, functional members of their classroom, school and community.

Don't Laugh at Me, Operation Respect: DLAM, New York, 2001, package includes CD, VHS video and teacher's guide, most materials are offered at no cost or for a small donation, 212-904-5243, www.don'

Stephanie Swenson is a special education resource teacher with the York Region District School Board.

Dolphin Worlds

by Bobbie Kalman
Reviewed by Majella Atkinson

The five Dolphin books: A Dolphin's Body, Dolphins, Dolphins Around the World, Fun with Dolphins and Life in a Dolphin Pod are part of a wider series titled Science Alive! Nature Unfolds, which also covers weather, materials, the human body, earth and the solar system, air and water.

The Dolphin Books provide descriptions of physical characteristics, behaviour and habitats. Photographs and accompanying captions accentuate the facts being taught.

Intended for Grades 4 to 5, the books are presented in an easy-read fashion and are suitable for research projects and story-time sessions. Parents would also enjoy reading the books to their younger children. School libraries will definitely benefit from having this selection on their shelves as it complements the science curriculum so well.

Dolphin Worlds Series, Crabtree Publishing, St. Catharines (Ontario), 2002, each 38 pages, hardcover $20.76, softcover $8.06; tel 800-387-7650, fax 800-355-7166,

Majella Atkinson teaches Grade 8 at St. Pius X School in Toronto.