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

Must-read resources and strong stories

The Beginning Teacher’s Handbook for Elementary School

by Lori Friesen

When an author says that her book is a direct consequence of her own needs as a beginning teacher, her credibility spikes and she has me reading on. This carefully organized book presents practical ideas for establishing an engaging learning environment. A CD supplements strategies and provides easy-to-print classroom resources.

The book takes the reader through a school year, giving a selection of appropriate activities to inspire all learning styles. Games such as Jeopardy, samples of newsletters, timetable possibilities and creative parent connections are suggested. Classroom management, student motivation, assessment, differentiated instruction and how to handle job stress are also touched on.

Throughout, teaching and learning are celebrated. Friesen reminds the beginning teacher to be “gentle with yourself” and to abandon the fiction that everything can be achieved in the first year. This is a must-read for all teacher candidates and beginning educators and an inspiration for veteran teachers.

The Beginning Teacher’s Handbook for Elementary School, Detselig Enterprises, Calgary, 2008, softcover, ISBN 978-1-55059-352-5, 201 pages, $28.95, tel 403-283-0900,,

Dorothea Bryant, OCT, is a retired educator who supervises teacher candidates for the University of Windsor’s faculty of education.

More Than 100 Brain-Friendly Tools and Strategies for Literacy Instruction

by Kathy Perez

Putting current brain research into practice, Perez, a professor of education in California, offers teachers a wide range of strategies for their literacy toolbox. She translates brain research into realistic and powerful practices to enhance teachers’ skills and ignite a love of learning in students. Applying these brain-friendly methods to classroom learning, she makes literacy come alive.

This book is all about strategies. The background and theory provide the foundation for techniques and reproducibles that are explicit and relevant. Strategies are designed to actively engage diverse learners and can be used across all ages, stages and curriculum. The book, which includes an excellent reference bibliography, is highly informative; its section on differentiated instruction is targeted and specific.

Perez presents many dynamic activities, but she emphasizes that it is the relationship between teacher and student that makes the real difference.

For teachers who want to strengthen that relationship, this is a wonderful resource for professional development and practical classroom use.

More Than 100 Brain-Friendly Tools and Strategies for Literacy Instruction, Corwin Press, Thousand Oaks, CA, 2008, softcover, ISBN 978-1-4129-2692-8, 136 pages, US$28.95, tel 1-800-233-9936,,

Nadira Baksh, OCT, is currently pursuing library and Special Education AQs and participating on various literacy-related committees and the Understanding the Early Years project, while on leave from her Junior/Intermediate classroom duties.

Who We Are

by Rudyard Griffiths

Canadians have traditionally embraced the metaphor of the mosaic over the melting pot to describe our collective identity. In this extended essay, Griffiths argues that the pendulum has swung too far, that the Canadian mosaic has turned into a group of self-interested regional, religious, ethnic and language groups.

He makes a persuasive case for the return of a strong central government with a core idea of what it means to be Canadian and opens a variety of topics for debate, particularly for secondary school social science classrooms. Should all Canadian citizens, not just immigrants, have to write a citizenship exam? Should voting in elections be mandatory? Should dual citizenship be abolished? The author answers yes to all of these questions and provides compelling arguments.

A founder of the Dominion Institute, a group dedicated to creating engaged citizens through an appreciation of Canadian history, Griffiths argues that the number of ethnic enclaves in Canada has increased and that these groups identify most with their country of origin and fail to develop a common national purpose. He is not against immigration but is adamant about the need for a sense of common purpose and a unified national identity.

Is Canada a model of what nations of the future will be like: multicultural, tolerant, inclusive, non-patriotic and global in outlook? Or is it in danger of losing its core identity to a collection of warring interests? This is the central debate of Who We Are – a thought-provoking and well-written book that history and civics teachers will be glad to know about and use.

Who We Are: A Citizen’s Manifesto, Douglas and McIntyre, Vancouver, 2009, hardcover, ISBN 978-1-55365-124-6, 224 pages, $29.95, distributed by Harper Collins, tel 416-321-2241,,

Michael Reist, OCT, is head of the English department at Robert F. Hall Catholic Secondary School in Caledon East.

Family Enriched Mathematics

by Andrew Morrison

Parent and school partnerships are critical for student success. The number of times parents have asked me to explain concepts and strategies so they can better support their child’s learning points to a real need for improved home-school communication. Family Enriched Mathematics is a solid step in that direction.

Teachers don’t need to be math experts to effectively implement Morrison’s user-friendly ideas geared towards Primary, Junior and Intermediate students. Using a month-by-month format, he presents diverse ways that families can explore mathematics in everyday life. Events, publications, hands-on activities and word problems will engage even the most math-anxious parents.

For example, a Grade 4–6 newsletter includes a recipe for pita treats, connecting measurement concepts to ordinary life. The mathematical underpinnings of nursing, piloting and business can be explored with older students. The suggested activities can be implemented in the classroom, at home or in after-school programs. Ideas for a mathematics lending library, family math night and parent workshops are also included.

This book is a worthy read for teachers who want to support their students’ learning while strengthening home-school connections. The opportunities for teacher leadership and community partnerships are set out so clearly they are almost foolproof.

Family Enriched Mathematics: Parents Help Students Learn Mathematics, Data Based Directions, Barrie, 2008, softcover, ISBN 978-1-894369-12-1, 98 pages, $64.95 (with in-school photocopying rights), 1-800-765-6966,

Jennifer Wyatt, OCT, is a Grade 4 teacher at Havergal College.

The Win-Win Classroom

by Jane Bluestein

As I read through this book, I found myself nodding my head in agreement. At the same time, I wanted to hide my face behind the cover as I realized that I was guilty of some of the pedagogical practices that don’t necessarily create win-win results in our classrooms. I was particularly struck by the author’s contention that the behaviour of students almost invariably reflects directly on teacher behaviour. In other words, all of us are responsible for examining and changing our own class-management practices.

Through a series of questionnaires and work sheets, readers are invited to think critically about the extent to which they play a role in creating difficult student behaviour. This is followed by a wealth of suggestions to prevent discipline problems, build student accountability and put an end to power struggles. In the process, teachers learn how to create a positive, caring and emotionally safe learning climate.

I highly recommend this book to all educators. New teachers will benefit from the solid foundation it provides in understanding and managing classroom behaviour. Experienced teachers will welcome the rich debate concerning teaching practices and approaches to discipline in the classroom. Administrators will find it beneficial for use in professional learning communities or during staff meetings, as an entry point for discussions about classroom management and discipline.

The Win-Win Classroom: A Fresh and Positive Look at Classroom Management, Corwin Press, Thousand Oaks, CA, 2008, softcover, ISBN 978-1-4129-5900-1, 306 pages, US$40.95, tel 1-800-233-9936,

Ken MacKinnon, OCT, is the vice-principal at Tom Longboat Junior PS in Toronto.

Living Away from Blessings

by Carina Henriksson

How do students experience their own failure at school? That is the question Swedish educator Carina Henriksson explores with former students who failed to meet basic academic standards. She relies on the direct experiences of these students to scrutinize underachievement – focusing on various themes that extend beyond grades and dropping out.

Most students view their failure as having little to do with cognitive ability. They describe classrooms where joy, trust, confidence, belief and patience were not part of their reality. Instead, they encountered chaos in classrooms led by mistrustful, impatient teachers. As a result they felt worthless, disappointed, bored, marginalized and filled with shame.

Henriksson’s book provides an opportunity to analyze what students learn in classrooms beyond mandated curriculum. I found myself cheering for students as they struggled to compose their lives, and I began to appreciate the complexity of single students attempting to successfully navigate their way.

While I wonder about the voices we did not hear – those of parents, caregivers, administrators and teachers not working in special schools – this does not prevent me from wholeheartedly recommending the book. These compelling student voices need to be heard.

Living Away from Blessings: School Failure as Lived Experience, The Althouse Press, London, 2008, softcover, ISBN 978-0-920354-67-4, 157 pages, $29.95, tel 519-661-2096,,

Sandra Jack-Malik is a second-year PhD candidate in elementary education curriculum studies at the University of Alberta.

We Dare You!

by Vicki Cobb and Kathy Darling

The cover grabs your attention right away with a colourful illustration of children making a big bold experimental mess. We Dare You! is a compendium of more than 200intriguing experiments that promote the idea that anyone can be a scientist.

In the introduction, the authors dare the reader to attempt any experiment, no matter how outlandish or crazy it may appear. In their view, the odds of learning something are always on the experimenter’s side, even if the net outcome is simply fun.

Each experiment starts with a bet – bet you can taste hot peppers with your wrist – and is followed by the set-up, the experiment itself and the science principles involved. The indexes group experiments thematically and suggest further resources. I highly recommend this book to parents or teachers who want to engage children in science. I wanted to try some of these experiments just for the fun of it.

We Dare You!: Hundreds of Science Bets, Challenges, and Experiments You Can Do at Home, Skyhorse Publishing, New York, 2008, softcover, ISBN 978-1-60239-225-0, 336 pages, US$19.95, tel 212-643-6816,

Rosemarie Chapman is a recently retired teacher with the Hamilton-Wentworth Board of Education.


written and directed by James Flaherty, OCT

Mouse is a short film depicting the dangers of gang recruitment among young people. Aimed at educators, parents and concerned citizens, it is a powerful portrayal of gang tactics and how they infiltrate our schools, homes and society.

The film is about a 10-year-old boy, Mouse, who turns to a gang for protection after he becomes the target of bullies at his elementary school. The gang leader befriends him and gives him his nickname. The gang, its members and their mythical code of honour offer protection, money and more. All is well until his criminal activity catches up with him and forces him to choose between the gang and his own mother.

This is a valuable resource for classroom use. Discussions about thug life and gang involvement could introduce many curiculum disciplines and themes: materialism, poverty, bullying and legal studies. Perhaps more importantly, teachers could initiate conversations with their students about problems that relate directly to their everyday lives. The film is well written and produced and a must-see for anyone who cares about a safe, inclusive and healthy learning environment.

Mouse, co-produced by the Dufferin-Peel Catholic DSB and Peel Regional Police, Mississauga, 2009, DVD, 23 minutes, $20, tel 1-800-387-9501,,

Chadwick Low, OCT, is an English/ESL Teacher at St. Marguerite d’Youville SS in Brampton.

Silent in an Evil Time

by Jack Batten

Silent in an Evil Time is an excellent read for upper elementary and secondary students, particularly around the time of Remembrance Day. But with its powerful portrayal of persistence, resourcefulness, kindness and loyalty, it is a valuable resource for a character development program at any time.

The first chapter bristles with intrigue and danger as German soldiers make a surprise inspection of a Belgian hospital where English soldiers are hidden. The rest of the book follows the life of Edith Cavell, skilfully weaving social commentary, cultural interest and historical reference into short chapters that are well illustrated and smoothly written.

When the First World War began, Cavell was the matron of a nursing school near Brussels. From October 1914 until her arrest in August 1915, she was a link in the underground that facilitated the escape of soldiers caught behind enemy lines. The lives of several of these soldiers are tracked, showing the consequences of her compassion and courage. Her subsequent execution by the Germans, instead of acting as a deterrent, created outrage and spurred people on to greater efforts against the enemy.

Many high-quality photographs illustrate the text. Cavell’s courageous story will capture the imagination of students at the same time as it demonstrates the human potential for extraordinary self-sacrifice and fortitude.

Silent in an Evil Time: The Brave War of Edith Cavell, Tundra Books, Toronto, 2008, softcover, ISBN 978-0-88776-737-1, 144 pages, $18.99, tel 416-598-4786,,

Bonnie Beldan-Thomson is recently retired from teaching in the Durham DSB.


The Bite of the Mango

by Mariatu Kamara with Susan McClelland

During the civil war in Sierra Leone, child soldiers attacked 12-year-old Mariatu Kamara. Enraged rebels cut off her hands and left her for dead. The Bite of the Mango is her moving account of how she survived the attack and emerged from it a stronger, more hopeful person.

Currently a college student in Toronto, Kamara tours the country as a spokesperson for UNICEF. As a living example of how armed conflicts shatter the innocence of children, she writes about the struggles of the victims as well as those forced to be soldiers. As a survivor, she gives personal testimony about the suffering of young people in areas of conflict around the world.

The Bite of the Mango weaves Kamara’s childhood experiences in war-torn Africa with her new life of peace and freedom in Canada. As she says, she may not have hands but she does have a voice – and it is a powerful one that deserves our attention. Because of the graphic violence of Kamara’s story, this compelling book is suitable for older students.

The Bite of the Mango, Annick Press, Toronto, 2008, softcover, ISBN 978-1-55451-158-7, 216 pages, $12.95, distributed by Firefly Books, tel 416-499-8412 or 1-800-387-6192,

Mary Shaughnessy, OCT, is a part-time adjunct instructor in the faculty of education at Queen’s University.

The Incredibly Ordinary Danny Chandelier

by Laura Trunkey

This is a cleverly written story about a boy who feels overwhelmed by his blandness. He is not particularly smart or athletic or good-looking. In other words he is entirely forgettable.

That’s why his parents ship him to Lily Brook Academy where “being not so good will finally be good enough.” When Danny arrives, he finds himself in a dismal prison camp where he is forced to work under horrible conditions. After two children are seemingly swallowed up by the nearby forest, Danny decides to recruit his friends and go after them. In the end, he learns that he has hidden strengths and talents that were masked by his apparent ordinariness.

Trunkey weaves a humorous coming-of-age tale that will appeal to both girls and boys.  She touches on important subjects like greed, loyalty, friendship, family and self-esteem. Young readers will enjoy her clever wit and the fantasy-like setting she creates. The book was nominated for book of the year by the Canadian Library Association.

The Incredibly Ordinary Danny Chandelier, Annick Press, Toronto, 2008, softcover, ISBN 978-1-55451-138-9, 216 pages, $9.95, distributed by Firefly Books, tel 416-499-8412 or 1-800-387-6192,

Jenna Narine, OCT, is a K–8 literacy improvement teacher with the Hamilton-Wentworth DSB.

CTON’s Super A-maze-ing Year of Crazy Comics!

by Clayton Hanmer

This colourful comic book will infuse a sense of silly playfulness and fantasy into your Junior classroom. So much so that your students will barely notice they are learning. Inhabiting a weird world of made-up animals, crazy inventions and dizzying mazes, the games and puzzles are inspired by familiar characters and activities from the pages of Owl magazine.

The book offers a wealth of practical tips on things like tree planting and building the best pillow fort. Literacy-based activities are also featured – how to write captions, dialogue and labels, how to use punctuation and how to create visual character sketches. Step-by-step instructions for creating and drawing comics using a storyboard format are also given. This book is a treasure trove for both reluctant and good readers and can be used as a springboard for delving into a variety of imaginative and zany seasonal activities throughout the year.

Cton’s Super A-maze-ing Year of Crazy Comics!: Puzzles, Mazes, Blobs and More, Owlkids Books, Toronto, 2009, softcover, ISBN 978-2-89579-209-3, 56 pages, $19.95, distributed by Raincoast Books, tel 1-800-663-5714,,

Connie D’Souza, OCT, teaches at St. Bonaventure and Pauline Vanier Catholic Schools in Brampton.

For past reviews, visit the archives.

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