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

Composers, evaluation and novels

Alex and the Ironic Gentleman

by Adrienne Kress   

Alex and the Ironic Gentleman could be the new page-turner that gets our students reading avidly. Ever on the lookout for the next Harry Potter, publishers around the world have already snapped up this first novel by Canadian author Adrienne Kress.

Alex and the Ironic Gentleman is the story of 10-year-old Alex Morningside, whose Grade 6 teacher, Mr. Underwood, is the heir to a pirate treasure. When Mr. Underwood is kidnapped, Alex sets off on a quest to rescue him. Along the way, she encounters a cast of intriguing characters, including the dashing Captain Magnanimous, Coriander the Conjurer, the Extremely Ginormous Octopus and the infamous Captain Steele.

The book has won accolades everywhere. Eoin Colfer, author of the internationally bestselling Artemis Fowl series, says the book is “quirky, hilarious and genuinely exhilarating.” Publishers Weekly gives it a starred review, calling it an inspiring novel that could hold up to many re-readings.

As noted in many reviews, the book is a joy for parents to read to their children because of its quirky characters. It is charming and funny, with the touch of a moral tale as the heroine learns how to cope in the face of adversity. Most of all, though, Alex and the Ironic Gentleman is a fabulous read.

Oh, and by the way, Kress is a Torontonian and the daughter of two retired TDSB English teachers.

Alex and the Ironic Gentleman, Scholastic Canada, Markham, 2007, ISBN 978-0-545-99668-6, hardcover, 352 pages, $19.99, tel 905-887-7323 or 1-800-268-3860, fax 1-800-387-4944,, (available at $14.99 in March and April only)

Sophie O’Reilly is the former curriculum leader of languages at Stephen Leacock Collegiate Institute. She currently teaches at Birchmount Park Collegiate Institute.

Dangerous Crossings!

by Antonia Banyard


by Tanya Lloyd Kyi

True Stories from the Edge series


Dangerous Crossings! and Rescues! are both wonderful resources for a variety of educators. For drama teachers, the books provide a wealth of role-playing opportunities as they bring to life real characters who have made extraordinary journeys or participated in remarkable rescues. For literacy teachers, the books are packed with enough dramatic action to engage all students.

Each book offers 10 short stories for the intermediate reader. Many of the stories in Dangerous Crossings! involve migrations of refugees fleeing one region or country for another, following conflict or war. The backdrops for their adventures provide fantastic contexts for tableaux or role play. Is there any student who could resist pretending to be Ibn Battutah, the greatest traveller in the medieval Muslim world, who was trapped by thieves? Or how about Thor Heyerdahl, who crossed the Pacific Ocean alone on a raft? Canada is a land of immigrants. As such, many students in our classes will relate to these arduous journeys made by people seeking new homes.

Rescues! demonstrates the extent to which individuals will go to save a life, even the life of someone they don’t know. Climbing accidents, train wrecks, snowstorms and underwater mishaps are all described in this book. These stories of courage and survival could be saved as special treats to be read aloud at the end of the day, as reminders to students that they all have the capacity to do amazing things in their own lives.

Dangerous Crossings! 2007, ISBN 978-1-55451-086-3 / Rescues! 2006, ISBN 978-1-55451-033-7, Annick Press, Toronto, each softcover, 144 pages, $9.95, distributed by Firefly Books, tel 416-499-8412 or 1-800-37-6192, fax 416-499-8313 or 1-800-450-0391,

Kara Smith is a language education professor at the University of Windsor.

Cowboys and Coffin Makers

One Hundred 19th-Century Jobs You Have Feared or Fancied

by Laurie Coulter

Planning a career? How about a lightning-rod man or a chuckwagon cook? Written in loose chronological order, these highly entertaining accounts of 19th-century American jobs are highlighted by an easy-to-read timeline. The book is divided into 20 chapters, each featuring five jobs. This chunking allows the text to be read at a manageable pace, drawing in even the most reluctant readers.

Students will relish reading about the life-threatening situations facing many labourers of the past. The book is written from the point of view of the employee and does not shy away from the social and economic distress that prevailed for so many during this period in history. At the same time, its humourous illustrations keep it light and visually engaging.

Cowboys and Coffin Makers would be an excellent addition to any school library. Because 19th-century Canadians were pursuing similar occupations, this resource could be used to launch a unit on pioneers or early Canadian history.

Cowboys and Coffin Makers, Annick Press, Toronto, 2007, ISBN 978-1-55451-067-2, softcover, 96 pages, $16.95, distributed by Firefly Books, tel 416-499-8412 or 1-800-37-6192, fax 416-499-8313 or 1-800-450-0391,

Laura Barron is a teacher-librarian at Fernforest Public School in Brampton.

Picture Book Math

Teach Curriculum Math with Well-Loved Stories

by Jennifer Dorval
illustrated by Amanda Smith

It is a truism that literacy is not exclusive to reading. It extends well beyond comprehension and fluency skills into every other subject in the curriculum, including math.

In Picture Book Math, stories by popular children’s authors like Paulette Bourgeois, Robert Munsch, Mercer Mayer and Marc Brown are used to draw students in and extend their understanding of math concepts. Some of the skills covered include number sense, time, measurement and data management.

Jennifer Dorval clearly outlines the math objectives of the many engaging, hands-on activities and the materials required to undertake them. Manipulatives are used as thinking tools in each lesson. She also suggests pre-reading and follow-up activities and extensions for learning. Many of the activities require students to count and record the number of items on a page while the story is read to them. Other activities are more kinesthetic, like building a playhouse from Plasticine and toothpicks in response to a Robert Munsch story or going on a nature walk as an extension of Our Friend Sam by Mercer Mayer.

The majority of activities are paper and pencil, so many of the worksheets are too print heavy for very young students. Despite that drawback, I would recommend the book as a starting point for any teacher interested in integrating literacy into the primary math program.

Picture Book Math, S&S Learning Materials, Napanee, 2007, ISBN 978-155035807-0, softcover, 80 pages, $13.99, tel 1-800-463-6367, fax 1-800-290-3631,

Sarah Frost Hunter is an early literacy teacher working with K–3 teachers and students in the Peel DSB.

Weight Training Safely

The F.I.T.S. (Free of Injury and Target Specific) Way

by Bruce Comstock, BSc, DC

At last, a weight-training book that not only shows you how to train, but how to avoid injuries or manage those you already have. Bruce Comstock is a highly regarded chiropractor and a long-time bodybuilder who has years of experience working with injuries in sports clinics and in his own chiropractic practice in Toronto.

He starts with a clear description of the philosophy behind the exercises followed by a section on how to use the book. Each subsequent chapter begins by connecting the content of that chapter to the larger concepts, thereby reinforcing the underlying principles.

Step-by-step pictures, graphs and explanations are particularly helpful throughout. Each exercise is demonstrated by a picture accompanied by explanations of how to do it, its benefits, risks and variations. Unlike most weight training manuals, which advise you to avoid doing certain exercises when you are injured, this one suggests replacement exercises to train around an injury.

As a teacher and coach, I am very aware of the dangers of weight training. This book plainly shows what to do and what not to do, and can be easily understood by weight trainers at all levels. I highly recommend it for teachers, coaches and trainers alike.

Weight Training Safely, Warwick Publishing, Toronto, 2007, ISBN 1-894622-340, softcover, 300 pages, $22.95, tel 416-596-1555, fax 416-596-1520,,

Giulio Giordani is the head of boys’ physical education at Stephen Leacock Collegiate Institute.

How Soccer Works

by Keltie Thomas

It is always a challenging task to portray a sport in two dimensions. How Soccer Works, full of colourful international photos and illustrations, does a superb job of bringing a world-renowned game to life for primary readers.

The book makes liberal use of funny snippets about the world’s most famous players, such as Italy’s Giuseppe Meazza, whose shorts fell down during the 1938 World Cup, leaving his opponents laughing so hard that he scored the winning goal; or Brazil’s Ronaldinho, who practised early foot moves by trying to keep the ball away from his dog, Bombom. It also illustrates some very cool soccer manoeuvres like how to bend it like Beckham: how to trap, dribble, push pass, back heel, head the ball, or do the elastico and scissors.

As an educator, what I like most about the book is that it features some of soccer’s most celebrated women players. Canadian midfielder Kara Lang, American Michelle Akers, and player extraordinaire Mia Hamm are front and centre with the moves that made them famous. How Soccer Works is a must in any balanced literacy classroom.

How Soccer Works, Maple Tree Press, Toronto, 2007, ISBN 978-1-897349-01-4, softcover, 64 pages, $12.95, tel 416-304-0702, fax 416-304-0525,,

Kara Smith is a language education professor at the University of Windsor.

Leap into Literacy

Teaching the Tough Stuff So It Sticks

by Kathleen Gould Lundy

Leap into Literacy is a comprehensive compilation of strategies for developing literacy in both elementary and secondary students. Lundy presents a student-centred approach designed to engage students in active experimental learning with meaningful material. She explains how teachers can accommodate students’ needs, backgrounds and learning styles as well as their diverse tastes in literature.

The strategies outlined in the book show how to take into account multiple viewpoints, how to manage and interpret information, and how to make educated judgments. These skills, Lundy believes, connect learning with responsible citizenship. At the same time, Lundy acknowledges the current realities of today’s classrooms. She is fully aware of time limitations and restrictive curriculums, and addresses such strictures with time-saving suggestions, such as involving students in the assessment process as a continuation of instruction.

Lundy describes an abundance of interesting activities, including co-operative games, jazz chants, improvisation, and the use of poetry, novels and magazines. Ready-to-use reproducible checklists are provided, as are fill-ins for student reflection and self-assessment. The many sections with boldface bulleted points are easy to read and implement. There is also an extensive list of recommended reading.

Lundy’s practices are supported by relevant research and informed by her advocacy of meaningful learning and her respect for learners. Leap into Literacy is a valuable resource manual that will engage students in both the learning activities and reflection necessary to develop solid literacy skills.

Leap Into Literacy, Pembroke Publishers, Markham, 2007, ISBN 978-1-55138-212-8, softcover, 128 pages, $24.95, tel 905-477-0650 or 1-800-997-9807, fax 905-477-3691 or 1-800-339-5568,

Belinda M. Mooney teaches ESL to Grades 9–12 at Lincoln M. Alexander Secondary School.

Le zoo des sons

Two fun games to master the sounds of the language

published in French
by Andrée Gaudreau

How about visiting the Sound Zoo with your reading-challenged, hearing-impaired or dyslexic students? Children who need to review their voiced or voiceless consonants will also benefit from these games, designed for four- to seven-year-olds. Thanks to their simple rules, the games easily lend themselves to group activities for two to four players.

A board game played with four pawns, a die and approximately 100 cards, the sound zoo covers basic vocabulary. A child selects a card, asks “What is this?” and associates the sound of a word with a letter. For instance, when playing the “first sounds” game, the child selects a card picturing a telephone, says, “Telephone begins with a t as in tiger,” and points to a tiger on the board. The child can then roll the die and move the pawn. The consonant game works the same way and enables students to discriminate between pairs of consonants that sound alike.

When I used the Sound Zoo towards the end of the school year with my weakest readers, they didn’t want to stop! The game took at least 20 minutes and, since we didn’t always have time to finish, we tried playing with two dice. This speeded things up and my Grade 1 students had to perform calculations with both dice. The Sound Zoo was a success that I shared with the other Grade 1 teacher. We decided to use it early on in the school year as a way to reinforce the phonological skills of special-needs students. In addition, the more advanced children learned how to build up their vocabulary. I consider this to be a real treasure for any kindergarten or Grade 1 class.

Le zoo des sons, Chenelière Éducation, Montréal, 2007, ISBN 978-2-7650-1698-4, $39.95, tel 514-273-8055 or 1-800-565-5531, fax 514-276-0324 or 1­800-814-0324,,

Ramona Dempsey teaches Grade 1 French Immersion at École Louis-Honoré Fréchette in Thornhill, York Region DSB.

Where’s the Glitch?

How to Use Running Records with Older Readers, Grades 5–8

by Mary Shea

Mary Shea says that many students struggle to learn from the written word because of glitches in their reading process that block learning and prevent success. In Where’s the Glitch? she suggests ways of identifying and counteracting those blockages to get students back on the track of reading.

Using a modified running record, Shea explains how a teacher can not only determine a student’s reading level but can also pinpoint exactly where the child is experiencing glitches. Once that is established, the teacher and student can work together to set a remediation course that will help the student become an active participant, capable of monitoring his or her own reading.

Shea is mindful of the reading research that precedes her and locates her thinking, such as the work of Pinnell (2001), Fountas and Pinnell ( 2001) and Rasinski (2005). Her text is well laid out, easy to use and makes excellent use of sub-headings and bold type. The suggestions for repairing glitches are specific and extensive, and each one is supported by current research.

This is a wonderful resource for beginning the remedial process of repairing students’ reading glitches in middle school, before they encounter the difficulties that will inevitably arise when they move on to higher grades.

Where’s the Glitch? Heinemann, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, 2006, ISBN 978-0-325-00849-3, softcover, 168 pages, $27.30 Cdn (CD included), distributed in Canada by Pearson Education, 416-386-3438,

Sandra Jack-Malik is a PhD candidate in elementary education at the University of Alberta in Edmonton.


by Poppo Brands

Poppo! is a fast-paced word game that teaches emerging readers to assemble and re-arrange letters into three- and four-letter words. It’s fun for kids and it entertains parents and teachers as well.

Poppo! is simple and can be played in a number of ways. Flash cards have colourful pictures printed on one side and a word on the other. The fun starts when a student activates the colourful and durable poppers, clear plastic bubbles that each hold a single eight-sided die with a combination of letters and symbols on it. When you press down on the popper, the die jumps.

To start the game, the student selects a flash card and tries to spell the word on the card by popping the right combination of letters. Each round takes no more than a minute, which keeps the game exciting and motivating. It can be played by one person or a team of players, and is suitable for children four and up.

The game reinforces a number of fundamental reading concepts: letter matching and word recognition, picture and word association, vocabulary, phonics and spelling patterns.

Poppo! (game), Poppo Brands, Prides Crossing, Massachusetts, $24.99 US, fax 206-337-2592,,

Doreen Ferns is a retired teacher who taught all grades from kindergarten to Grade 8. She presently volunteers in primary grades and tutors in York Region.

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