Your guide to recently released books and other teaching resources.
For additional reviews of French-language resources, visit pourparlerprofession.oeeo.ca. With the exception of some classroom sets, items reviewed are available on loan from the Margaret Wilson Library at the College. Contact us at 416-961-8800 (toll-free in Ontario 1-888-534-2222), ext 679 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Mariangela Di Fiore
Translated by Rosie Hedger
Illustrated by Hilde Hodnefjeld
Elephant Man is a unique picture book with a solid foundation in historical fact. Based on the life of Joseph Merrick, it tells the inspirational story of a man shunned by Victorian English society because of his extreme physical deformities. Rejected by his family and so disfigured that he is unemployable, Merrick ultimately ends up on a theatrical tour where he is displayed as a freak animal, promoted as half man, half elephant. Along the way, he meets some kind people who recognize the depth of his humanity. This story follows Merrick’s quest for self-discovery, friendship, acceptance and, ultimately, happiness.
Teachers will love that Elephant Man is filled with teachable moments. Couched within an engaging story, it is a non-threatening way to broach sensitive subjects like bullying, disabilities and prejudice. While officially recommended for students in Grades 3 to 6, the themes covered are ageless and can be appreciated across all grades.
The illustrations, blended with archival photographs, are truly special. As an added bonus, there is an afterword with further history, pictures and context. This unassuming book is a study in great themes — courage, compassion and kindness, to name a few.
Joanne Salley is an education writer and director at Teachers on Call, a personalized home tutoring service.
Elephant Man, Annick Press, Toronto, 2015, hardcover, ISBN 978-1-55451-778-7, 52 pages, $19.95, distributed by Firefly Books, annickpress.com
By Lori Jamison Rog
In every classroom, teachers are confronted by a wide range of reading abilities. Students who are doing well are easy to plan for, but for students who are struggling, it is difficult to know how to help. This book might just have some answers. With clear strategies and skills you can teach your students to become more proficient readers. Enduring ideas such as how to encourage reluctant readers to read more or how to teach them to emulate what good readers do, lay the foundation for explicit instruction and guided practice. Perhaps more importantly, the author shows teachers how to build the confidence their students desperately need to start to feel some mastery in their reading.
My favourite part of the book is a chart that outlines potential points of struggle your students might experience, and then offers a few simple suggestions to support them. The chart is a great reference for teachers who after looking at their assessment data aren’t sure where to go next. Each chapter is filled with strategies that will help support readers individually, in small group situations and through whole class mini-lessons. Struggling Readers should be on every teacher’s shelf.
Kerry Zinkiewich, OCT, is an innovations consultant with the Kawartha Pine Ridge DSB in Peterborough.
Struggling Readers, Pembroke Publishers, Markham, 2014, ISBN 978-1-55138-292-0, 160 pages, $24.95, pembrokepublishers.com
By Lindsay Mattick, Illustrated by Sophie Blackall
Lovingly written by the great-granddaughter of Harry Colebourn, a veterinarian who rescued a bear cub in 1914, this charming picture book is the story behind Winnie the Pooh. Just as in A.A. Milne’s original, the story starts with a parent telling a child a bedtime story. The little boy here is Cole, Mattick’s son’s name, and Colebourn’s great-great-grandson. But unlike the Milne story, Cole hears two true stories about the real bear, Winnie.
The first true story happens when Colebourn was en route to join the cavalry as a veterinarian during World War I. While riding the train across Canada to join his regiment in Québec where he was to train as a soldier, he stops over in White River, Ont., where he meets a man selling a bear cub, pays $20 and takes it with him. He names the cub Winnie after his hometown of Winnipeg, so he would never feel too far from home. Winnie becomes the mascot of Colebourn’s regiment and is sent to the war in Europe with her owner. But when Colebourn is told they are being shipped from England to fight in France, he knows he can’t take his bear with him. And so Winnie the bear is taken to the London Zoo.
The second true story is about Winnie, A.A Milne and his son Christopher Robin Milne. Christopher Robin saw Winnie at the zoo, befriended her and decided to name his beloved stuffed teddy bear after Winnie.
These potentially complicated retellings are elegantly written, and in language that can be easily followed and enjoyed by everyone. The stunning illustrations tell the story with sophisticated simplicity and style. My primary students and I really enjoyed reading it.
Margaret Buckworth, OCT, is a visual arts, drama and dance teacher at Red Maple Public School in Richmond Hill, Ont.
Finding Winnie, HarperCollins Canada Ltd., Toronto, 2015, hardcover, ISBN 978-1-4434291-84, 48 pages, $19.99, harpercollins.ca
By Nicholas Gannon
As soon as I looked over The Doldrums, I knew this was a book I had to read with my Grade 5 son. It has it all: adventure, tongue-in-cheek humour, beautiful, expressive writing and gorgeous illustrations.
This is the story of Archer B. Helmsley, a lonely boy living in a grand house filled with artifacts from his explorer grandparents’ many expeditions, including an array of stuffed animals who have become his only friends. Archer is determined to have great adventures in life, despite the fact that his mother confines him to home and school, afraid he has inherited his grandparents’ “tendencies.” When two new children move into the neighbourhood, the three become fast friends. Archer and the two others — Oliver Glub, a shy, nervous boy, who most definitely does not want adventures (he only wants “far-death experiences”) and Adélaïde L. Belmont, a former ballerina from Paris who lost her leg in a freak truck accident — soon become inseparable.
When Archer discovers his grandparents have gone missing while on an expedition in Antarctica (on an iceberg no less), he decides to go find them and conscripts his new best friends to help. Plans are made, lists are drawn up, secret practice campouts occur and bags are packed, all while avoiding detection by Archer’s overbearing mother and one particularly suspicious and nosy teacher.
Over the next few weeks, my son and I read a couple of chapters each night, though he usually wanted more, and to be honest, so did I. The Doldrums is a funny, clever, quirky, well-paced, action-packed book. Gannon doesn’t shy away from difficult topics either, such as bullying, indifferent parents and abandonment. Like the books of Roald Dahl and Trenton Lee Stewart, The Doldrums, appropriate for Grades 4 to 7, is populated by brave, intelligent children overcoming difficulties to experience grand adventures together. As an added bonus, the book has a fantastic website, nicholasgan-non.com, filled with stunning illustrations, plot discussion and videos.
Terri Lawrence-Tayler, OCT, is an anatomy and physiology instructor with the nursing program at St. Clair College in Windsor.
The Doldrums, Greenwillow Books (an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers), New York, 2015, hardcover, ISBN 978-0-06-232094-0, 340 pages, US$17.99, harpercollins.ca
By Caroline Pignat
The Gospel Truth tells its truths through the voices of six very different characters living on a tobacco plantation in the American South of the 1850s. Written in dramatic free verse, each voice offers the reader progressively deeper insights into the daily struggles of slaves living during that period. We also hear the voice of the slave master whose perspective provides a fascinating counterpoint to those of his slaves. Ideas of freedom, ownership, courage and loss are deftly woven into the novel, augmenting empathy and engagement with the characters’ intense yearning for freedom.
The importance of literacy and education is a focal theme running through the novel. Intuitively knowing the power of literacy, slaves would steal the dictionary at night and teach themselves to read. Meanwhile, slave owners, keenly aware of the ascendancy that such knowledge could unlock, tried to keep it from them. Pignat taps into the emotional underbelly of the slaves’ lives, portraying their feelings of loss, shame and desperation with sensitivity and eloquence. The vital role that Canada played in helping fugitive slaves escape to freedom is also highlighted through the inclusion of Dr. Bergman, a fictional character based on Dr. Alexander Milton Ross, a Canadian abolitionist who was a key figure in the Underground Railroad.
Each voice is raw and powerful and the story is easy to follow, making this award-winning novel an excellent candidate for reading aloud. Perhaps even more effectively, it could easily be transformed into a vehicle for reader’s theatre, giving students an opportunity to delve into the heart of a character. Ideally suited to junior/intermediate classrooms, it could be read as a stand-alone or as part of a unit during Black History Month. The book offers a unique perspective and gives voice to a people muted in the past but never again to be silenced.
Andrea Murik, OCT, is an alternative secondary school teacher with the Grand Erie District School Board.
The Gospel Truth, Red Deer Press (an imprint of Fitzhenry & Whiteside), Markham, 2014, softcover, ISBN 978-0889-954-939, 328 pages, $12.95, fitzhenry.ca
By Brian Selznick
The Marvels propels the reader quickly (and deeply) into the mysterious visual history of the Marvel family. Their story unfolds through a series of cinematic illustrations, which play like storyboards for a movie we create in our minds. Before you know it, you’re 400 pages in, without having read a single paragraph of text. Hundreds of years of the Marvel family’s lives play out on a stage constructed by your own imagination. The illustrations build toward a climactic moment so stunning that not even the most reluctant reader could resist diving into the prose that follows.
Selznick has crafted a masterful genre unto its own. His unique brand of storytelling cleverly juxtaposes his illustrations with a marvellous mystery in prose, which fills the back half of the 650-plus pages. In his previous novels, The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck, Selznick frequently jumps between pictures and prose. The Marvels differs slightly, in that it front-loads the reader’s interest and commitment by presenting most of the gorgeous pencil drawings at the beginning. The illustrated entry point prompts the mind to establish the connections between what follows in novel form with what we discovered at the outset through visual storytelling. Fortunately, the back half of the novel keeps us as fully entertained by words as the front half did with pictures.
The story at the centre of The Marvels involves the majesty of live theatre and the storied history of British stagecraft, just as Hugo explored the allure of the early days of film and Wonderstruck captured the transporting power of museums. Selznick is a master at kindling the nostalgic love we have for centuries-old art forms. His inventive style feels like an exciting new reading experience, yet familiar in its timeless, artful storytelling. He manages this by grounding his stories in a small cast of characters who come to discover more about each other and themselves through the magic of make-believe.
The mystery of The Marvels will captivate readers 10 and older from cover to cover. The book itself is crafted in a beautiful classic style, complete with gold embossed page edges and an ornate cover design. Buy it the moment you see it; the book is every bit as beautiful as its cover.
Joe Restoule General, OCT, is a learning resource teacher with Six Nations Schools in Ohsweken.
The Marvels, Scholastic Canada, Toronto, 2015, hardcover, ISBN 978-0-545-44868-0, 672 pages, $36.99, scholastic.ca
By Steven L. Layne
If you have any lingering doubt about the importance of reading aloud, this book provides research-based evidence on the positive effects of reading aloud on student engagement, thinking and reading achievement. Teachers are encouraged to develop a read-aloud plan for the year, selecting from a variety of genres, especially non-fiction. Because students are listening rather than reading, they are able to access books a year or two above their grade level, and by “listening up,” as the author explains, they are exposed to a wider range of literary complexity.
Layne stresses the importance of seating arrangements, of launching new texts with thought and foresight, of regularly scheduled (and not-to-be-cancelled) reading sessions, and of allowing ample time for debriefing at the conclusion of each reading.
Being familiar with the book in advance is also essential. This helps to ensure that teachers implement the book’s strategies effectively and plan for creating connections to reading skills such as visualization, inferencing, main idea, sequencing, determining the meaning of new vocabulary from context and the author’s overall intent.
Of particular interest is the author’s advice on dealing with problems that can arise, such as students who would rather disrupt than listen or who want to draw while you read.
In Defense of Read-Aloud is a persuasive text, not only because of the merits of its arguments, but also the style in which it is written. Teachers will be engaged, amused, enlightened, empowered and rendered more pedagogically effective. The book has only one drawback. Like many professional texts, it is written for an American audience, so some, but not all, of the recommended texts would be more relevant to American children.
Jan Hendry, OCT, is a retired elementary teacher in Sudbury.
In Defense of Read-Aloud: Sustaining Best Practice, Stenhouse Publishers, Portland ME, 2015, softcover, ISBN 978-1-62531-040-8, 179 pages, US$23, distributed by Pembroke Publishers, pembrokepublishers.com