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

Why picture books?

Our first books are usually all pictures. And like Paleolithic cave paintings, these pictures manage somehow to tell us a story or even make us laugh or cry.

A little later we get picture books with a few words – harbingers of things to come.

As we get older the trickle of words turns into a babbling rivulet along the bottom of the page and then grows into a stream, ever rising on the page – pushing the pictures toward the top. Sometimes the words pool into full grey pages with isolated islands of colourful illustration. Then one day the words win. Apart from the cover, where one poor, lonely picture has to do Trojan work in communicating a book's essence, we are looking at an endless sea of black on white.

This inexorable transition from picture to word can be seen as a natural reflection of human development or even the march of civilization in which primitive images – so literal! so limited! – are replaced by words that can be matched up in a million ways to create shades of meaning that outshine the paintbox pallet.

But many educators are now finding new value in books and materials that unite words and pictures. Musicality, visual artistry, humour, elegance and adventure combine in words and pictures to construct layers of meaning that reward hours of cross-generational looking and reading.

This special edition of the reviews section – dedicated to early literacy and picture books – is designed to renew our acquaintance with illustrated text. Primary teachers know that picture books are a way of drawing students close to share stories and experiences. Soon, they become a springboard for all kinds of imaginative writing and drawing activities. Later, they can introduce new themes into your classroom, encourage an unwilling reader or suggest a new way of looking at an idea. I invite you to explore the possibilities.

Wendy Harris is the Reviews editor for Professionally Speaking.

Get Graphic!

by Mark Thurman and Emily Hearn

Get Graphic! is a practical, step-by-step guide to teaching students how to express themselves. Model stories are read, plot and characters are sketched, a story arc is organized and revisions are made. The difference is that visual rather than verbal imagery is the preferred mode of communication.

Graphic media can be as powerful a means as writing for transmitting ideas. Different character traits can be conveyed through facial expressions; plot can be advanced by changing the position of a character's body; rotating a sketch 20 degrees shows movement; shadows can express sadness or malicious intent; a closeup of one character hovering over another may indicate bullying or control.

These are the kinds of details we look for in assessments of writing. Teaching visual literacy allows for an additional approach to assessment and completes the student's media strands.

Get Graphic: Using Storyboards to Write and Draw Picture Books, Graphic Novels, or Comic Strips, Pembroke Publishers, Markham, 2010, softcover, ISBN 9781551382524, 96 pages, $24.95, tel 905-477-0650 or 1-800-997-9807,

Kara Smith, OCT, creates curriculum for the Faculty of Education at the University of Windsor and for the Lambton Kent DSB.


by by Hervé Bouchard
illustrated by Janice Nadeau

An excellent model text for Thurman and Hearn's storyboards is the junior graphic novel Harvey, the story of a 10-year-old Montréal boy in the 1950s whose father suddenly dies. Harvey's perspective on death and funerals is told almost entirely through graphics. The novel (and foreshadowing) begins with Harvey dragging his heavy boots and mittens through the spring slush. The heavy horizontal woollen arms cover four pages.

The happy movement of children running provides contrast in a vertical background-foreground drawing across a two-page layout. And most poignantly, the discovery of the father's death is shown with dark, shadowed faces, fuzzy grey eyes and heads, close-ups of faces, a single ear, a single leg and bodiless shadows. The suffocating loneliness of a crowd is followed on succeeding pages by a few people, then one person, then nobody, with page after page of white emptiness. Harvey's mother, "a shell of her former self," is drawn as the whole character with a wobbly shadow following behind.

Through visuals the reader experiences the emotional trauma of death. People crowd in to see the coffin and the family. The mother quietly sobs behind a closed door. Spaces are empty and white. Harvey is an emotionally true and devastatingly sad depiction of death. It offers a high-order alternative to word literacy and is an extraordinary example of graphic storytelling at its best.

Harvey, Groundwood Books, Toronto, 2010, hard¬cover, ISBN 978-1-55498-075-8, 168 pages, $19.95, tel 416-363-4343,

Kara Smith, OCT, creates curriculum for the Faculty of Education at the University of Windsor and for the Lambton Kent DSB.

Before They Read

by Cathy Puett Miller

This is an easily referenced collection of small and precise strategies to help teachers improve their students' reading readiness. The first step is ensuring that students have the oral skills they need to understand the building blocks of language. In other words, conversation is at the root of learning not only how to read but how to relate to the larger world.

Miller goes on to discuss the importance of "lighting that spark of literacy" by engaging beginning readers daily in read-aloud stories and interactive, shared reading experiences. Finally, she says, teachers must create a rich literacy environment to promote abstract thinking about the letters and sounds within words.

The text includes motivating activities for students as they become more familiar with and confident in the use of sounds plus concrete examples of how to improve the read-aloud experience so that more students can be captivated by the stories. An age-referenced language-acquisition guide demonstrating how young students move developmentally along a literacy continuum is also provided.

Before They Read: Teaching Language and Literacy Development through Conversations, Interactive Read-Alouds and Listening Games, Maupin House Publishing, Gainesville, Florida, 2009, softcover, ISBN 978-1-934338-75-9, 102 pages, $13.95, tel 1-800-524-0634,

Sarah Frost Hunter, OCT, is an elementary instructional resource teacher for primary students in Milton with the Peel DSB.

The Cornerstones to Early Literacy

by Katherine Luongo-Orlando

With the introduction of full-day Junior Kindergarten and the current emphasis on literacy in Ontario schools, this book is a welcome guide for teachers in the Primary division.

The book starts by reaffirming the critical importance of imagination and make-believe in children's first engagement with literacy. The author elaborates by showing the links between play and literacy and offers practical suggestions for primary classroom activities.

After play, oral language is the next logical requirement for pre-reading and reading skills. Children have a natural love of narrative – telling us what happened. Again, the author suggests many strategies for promoting storytelling in the classroom. This leads to language and word-play activities like using rhyme and rhythm. Finally, when it comes time to read books, the author provides a valuable set of criteria for classroom book selection. Filled with rich language experiences, this resource illustrates ways to maximize these cornerstones to learning with a broad range of meaningful activities.

The Cornerstones to Early Literacy, Pembroke Publishers, Markham, 2010, softcover, ISBN 9781551382579, 160 pages, $24.95, tel 905-477-0650 or 1-800-997-9807,

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

Fairy Tales in the Classroom

by Veronika Martenova Charles

Despite the digital age and the barrage of multi¬media, Charles, an award-winning author of folk tales, proves that telling stories is alive and well in classrooms today. Based on her own extensive research involving 700 students in 15 schools, Charles offers teachers a wealth of strategies for using fairy stories as a springboard for children to create and tell their own tales. She particularly stresses whole-classroom story-building that is student driven, open-ended and flexible. In the process she examines many aspects of the fairy-tale genre and its enduring hold on the imaginations of children (and adults too).

Charles looks at the relevance and power of tales, their forms, how and why they captivate children and the many ways they can be integrated into the curriculum. She shows how inventing stories offers a natural transition into more formal writing tasks and into artwork to illustrate the stories. Using pictographic symbols to create an action map, she shows how to prompt students to create their own stories. Charles peels back the layers of narrative to teach children the inner workings and motifs of folk stories.

The book is well organized (complete with reproducibles and an anthology of suggested fairy tales), and its simple-to-follow steps provide a practical and accessible guide to teaching story writing. An independent written component could easily be added to generate individual writing in other narrative styles.

Fairy Tales in the Classroom: Teaching Students to Write Stories with Meaning through Traditional Tales, Fitzhenry & Whiteside, Markham, 2009, softcover, ISBN 978-1-55455-020-3, 256 pages, $34.95, tel 905-477-9700 or 1-800-387-9776,

Bonnie Caminiti OCT, is a Grade 2 teacher at St. Leonard School in Manotick.

Picturing Canada

by Gail Edwards and Judith Saltman

Picturing Canada takes a critical look at illustrated children's books within the framework of print culture, the Canadian publishing industry, the book trade and our changing concepts of childhood. An interdisciplinary history, it examines the transforming geographical, historical and cultural aspects of Canadian identity that offer a history of childhood itself in Canada. The nine chapters, prefaced by a detailed chronology of children's print history in this country, explore significant dates and events and the challenges encountered over the years by those involved in picture book publication.

The authors examine the role picture books play in the creation of communities of readers and citizens. They explore how native and immigrant populations are reflected in the Canadian literary landscape and what constitutes a realistic and authentic national cultural identity in the face of Canadian diversity. Also considered are the huge structural upheavals that publishers contend with as they compete for the diminishing attention of readers who are distracted by the razzle-dazzle of electronic media.

Picturing Canada: A History of Canadian Children's Illustrated Books and Publishing, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 2010, softcover, ISBN 9780802085405, 384 pages, $39.95, tel 416-978-2239,

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

Canadian Railroad Trilogy

by Gordon Lightfoot
illustrated by Ian Wallace

Stunning, breathtaking, captivating and historically significant are only a few words to describe this outstanding combination of a songsmith's lyrics and an artist's vision of a remarkable accomplishment in Canadian history. Folksinger, songwriter and guitarist Gordon Lightfoot was commissioned in 1967 to create a song about the building of Canada's railway, a crucial moment in a young nation's development. The song became a icon of our fledgling nationhood.

Lightfoot's masterful words open up a wealth of imaginative possibilities for an artist. Wallace begins on grey pastel paper, capturing the dreams of a prime minister, entrepreneurs, capitalists, engineers, workers and citizens. With sweeping landscapes and haunting portrayals of those who built the railway, Wallace offers an arresting view of our country's past.

The book could be used with all ages of readers – in history classes and in discussions about the impact of humans on the environment or issues around displacing people from their homes.

Writing students could learn much from the song lyrics, which constitute a consummate piece of concise storytelling. The pictures could provide a springboard for students to create their own artistic vision of song lyrics. The possibilities for teaching are endless.

Canadian Railroad Trilogy, Groundwood Books, Toronto, 2010, hardcover, ISBN 978-0-88899-953-5, 56 pages, $24.95, tel 416-363-4343,

Sarah Frost Hunter, OCT, is an elementary instructional resource teacher for primary students in Milton with the Peel DSB.

One Hen

by Katie Smith Milway
illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes

One Hen is an inspiring story about a boy, Kojo, who uses a small bit of money to ameliorate his family's poverty. The book illustrates how this kind of microfinancing works.

Not-for-profit organizations like Opportunity International provide $200 loans to villagers in Columbia, Malawi, Mozambique and, in this story, Ghana. The loans are used to fund small businesses: to buy a sewing machine to make and sell clothing, to purchase fruit for a fruit stand or, as in One Hen, to buy a chicken whose eggs can be sold. The text is supported by rich and detailed illustrations of African life. Images of a sun god or hens dressed up as women at the market or gazelles skipping across the page are layered within the story.

This storybook describes how third-world loans help families in need. But I think it teaches much more. This year, the Ontario Ministry of Education will begin to embed financial literacy into each subject. This book opens the discussion about money and how money is invested and multiplies. Kojo, for example, puts half his earnings from selling eggs back into his business. He pays off his loan, he buys a second hen, and the additional eggs continue to augment his earnings.

Several short videos on the Opportunity International web site at tell the stories of people like Kojo and can teach students more about micro¬financing across the globe. Children can get involved through small microlending projects of their own, a wonderful first step to learning about investment and how small returns can help raise up whole communities.

One Hen: How One Small Loan Made a Big Difference, Kids Can Press, Toronto, 2008, hardcover, ISBN-978-1-55453-028-1, 32 pages, $19.95, tel 416-479-7000,

Kara Smith, OCT, creates curriculum for the Faculty of Education at the University of Windsor and for the Lambton Kent DSB.


written and illustrated by Lesley Fairfield

With terse captions and simple black-and-white line drawings, Tyranny captures the story of Anna, who is being consumed by an eating disorder. Throughout the book we feel Anna's psychological, emotional and physical torment, the agonizing push and pull of competing thoughts depicted through her alter ego, Tyranny.

Fairfield knows of what she speaks – she has struggled with an eating disorder most of her life. During her treatment she asked the question, "How did I get here?" and kept a visual journal. The book is an exploration of the answers.

Fairfield looks at all the unrealistic expectations created by media, friends, fashion, relationships and ultimately the self. The graphic novel format is effective in examining the cycle of an eating disorder because it avoids the trap of being dogmatic or preachy. Further, this form takes a serious topic and makes it non-threatening and approachable.

Some people may take offence at the occasional nude cartoon figures dotted throughout the book.The edgy starkness of the graphics make this book very appealing to adolescents.

Youth, their parents, health-care professionals, teachers and anyone else who cares about this devastating disease must read this book, which was a finalist for the Governor General's Literary Awards.

Tyranny, Tundra Books, Toronto, 2009, softcover, ISBN 978-0-88776-903-0, 120 pages, $12.99, tel 416-598-4786 or 1-800-788-1074,

Cindy Matthews, OCT, , is a vice-principal at the care, treatment, custody and corrections sites of the Rosemount Family of Schools with the Waterloo Region DSB.


by Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas

This groundbreaking mix of Haida art and Japanese manga instantly appealed to the teenage male demographic of my class, but the story resonated with the girls as well. It is the tale of Red, a tribal leader in a small village in British Columbia who witnesses his sister being kidnapped by a rival tribe. When Red discovers that his sister is alive, he is compelled to rescue her and seek revenge on her captors. The book explores the themes of rage and retribution and how we can sometimes become blinded by both.

As a reader unfamiliar with manga and graphic novels in general, I found the format difficult to follow and lost some of the story details. For my students, however, the comic-strip layout and easy-to-read captions were immediately accessible, making this an entertaining read for all ages and reading abilities. Overall, this fusion of two different writing and artistic styles creates a captivating and dynamic saga of native life that is destined to become a classroom classic. Because I had been searching for an engaging Native resource to read with my class, I was very eager to read this book. I was not disappointed.

Red: A Haida Manga, D & M Publishers, Toronto, 2009, hardcover, ISBN 978-1-55365-353-0, 120 pages, $28.95, tel 416-537-2501,

Andrea Murik, OCT, is a secondary Special Education teacher with the Grand Erie DSB.


by Cary Fagan
illustrated by Nicolas Debon

Thing-Thing isn’t quite a bunny, and he definitely isn’t a dog or a bear either. Thing-Thing is a stuffed animal who wants nothing more than to find a good home with a kid who will play with him, get him sticky with jam and take him to bed. Instead, Thing-Thing finds himself purchased by a father desperate to appease his spoiled son Archibald, who has rejected all of his birthday gifts and demanded something better. But Archibald declares Thing-Thing the worst present of them all and throws him out the window. "Oh dear," muses Thing-Thing as he hurtles toward the ground. "This is bad, this is very bad."

What follows is a series of whimsical vignettes, snatches of life that are captured as Thing-Thing falls from the sixth-floor window. As he passes one floor he glimpses a young couple engaged in a marriage proposal; the young man assumes that he’s hallucinating with happiness on seeing the fuzzy figure go by. On another floor an old woman is reminded of her favourite stuffed animal as Thing-Thing falls past. Finally, just as a red-faced Archibald makes an appearance, Thing-Thing falls with a soft plop into a baby carriage. He feels little hands bring him close, and as Archibald’s father pulls his son away, Thing-Thing finds himself with a happy home after all.

The lesson Thing-Thing holds for children, besides a gentle warning not to walk Archibald’s ungrateful path, is a reminder to look closely at the magic and warmth hiding in everyday life. Thing-Thing features characters of all ages and stations of life and has applications in a number of curriculum areas. Its novel narrative structure, which relies on a series of stories within a story, could initiate any number of imaginative approaches to writing.

Thing Thing, Tundra Books, Toronto, 2008, hardcover, ISBN 978-0-88776-839-2, 32 pages, $20.99, tel 416-598-4786 or 1-800-788-1074,

Wendy Harris is the Reviews editor for Professionally Speaking.

Small Saul

written and illustrated by Ashley Spires

The title character in Small Saul is not your ordinary everyday pirate. He is scrawny, gentle, bespectacled and much more interested in interior decorating and the culinary arts than he is in pillaging and looting. Saul cannot even get his pirate tattoo right: Where others opt for anchors or a skull and crossbones, he chooses an image of a bunny rabbit. During his maiden voyage, after graduating from pirate school, Saul quickly becomes a target for his fellow buccaneers on the ship.

The other pirates soon throw Saul overboard. But once they return to their slovenly pirate ways, they realize that Saul had been an integral part of their crew. They miss his baking, his cleaning talents and even his singing. Saul is eventually rescued and welcomed back by the pirates. In the process, he teaches them a valuable lesson in forgiveness and tolerance. As he puts it, “They were pirates, after all. Throwing people overboard is just something they do.”

The puns and jokes embedded in the cartoon-style drawings are almost as amusing as the text itself. Sharing and discussing Small Saul would be a delightful way to teach children about accepting others, about showing respect for those who look different and about how we can all benefit from others’ unique talents and interests. It would be a good launch for exploring character education and good citizenship or embarking on a school-wide anti-bullying campaign.

Small Saul, Kids Can Press, Toronto, 2011, hardcover, ISBN 978-1-55453-503-3, 32 pages, $18.95, tel 416-479-7000,

Mary Shaughnessy, OCT, is an adjunct instructor in the Faculty of Education at Queen’s University.


by Maxine Trottier

illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault

Migrant may look like a primary picture book, but its themes are of universal interest. It tells the story of Anna, the daughter of Mexican migrant workers who come to Canada each spring to harvest fruits and vegetables. Anna compares her family to a flock of geese flying north for the summer. She compares her family to jackrabbits who burrow in holes at the edges of fields because her family lives in abandoned farmhouses with rooms “filled with the ghosts of last year’s workers.” She compares her family to bees. The problem is she is too young to be a worker bee, so when no one is watching she picks small tomatoes to feel as if she too is part of the family. At night she imagines herself and her sisters as kittens and her brothers as puppies as they sleep.

Anna longs to stay in one place to watch the passing seasons – like a tree with deep roots. She would still be there when the leaves fall from the trees and blow away. She would look up to the sky and see the geese flying south, but she would stay where she is. She would sleep through many nights until the honking of the geese would wake her up in the spring.

This book is beautifully written and illustrated. The themes of longing for stability, of loneliness and belonging, will resonate with many students who have come from other lands. I highly recommend this book.

Migrant, Groundwood Books, Toronto, 2011, hardcover, ISBN 978-0-88899-975-7, 40 pages, $18.95, tel 416-363-4343,

Elda Fredette, OCT, is a retired Special Education teacher with the Halton Catholic DSB.

Visions in Poetry

Great book illustration amplifies, crystallizes and sometimes alters the meaning of a text. Can we think of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland without Sir John Tennial’s protean illustrations popping into our minds? Even contemporary film versions don’t stray far from his 145-year-old images. Similarly, Don Quixote can never escape Gustave Doré’s iconic depictions from 1887.

Now fast-forward to the 21st century when Kids Can Press of Toronto asks Canadian illustrators to re-imagine seven classic works of poetry. The result: a series of beautiful books under the KCP Poetry imprint that enliven and refresh time-honoured poems for contemporary readers.

Some illustrators hew close to the historical setting of the text. Isabelle Arsenault’s images for

My Letter to the World by Emily Dickinson evoke a realm where the clap-clap of horses’ hooves and the tapping of high boots play counterpoint to her quiet reflections. Ryan Price’s appealingly dark illustrations for Edger Allan Poe’s

The Raven mirror the feverish sphere of the narrator – but give him a TV to see the world outside his claustrophobic room. King Arthur’s Camelot, in Geneviève Côté’s

The Lady of Shalott by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, becomes a bustling 1920s metropolis where knights roar by in convertibles. Illustrator Joe Morse turns

Casey at the Bat – Ernest L. Thayer’s 1885 tragedy of hope and hubris on the baseball diamond – from whiskers and pinstripes to ghetto baggy jerseys and backwards ball caps. In Alfred’s Noyes’s

The Highwayman illustrator Murray Kimber imagines a 1930s film noir take on the melodrama, swapping a horse for a high-powered Harley and redcoats for G-men Tommy guns. Stéphane Jorisch illustrates two books, creating new worlds and meaning out of two delightfully nonsensical texts. He turns Edward Lear’s

The Owl and the Pussycat into a frowned-upon inter-species romance. In his hands

Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll, the 2004 Governor General’s Award for Children’s Illustration winner, becomes a tale of reluctant filial duty set in a media-saturated Orwellian world.

The poems in this series are wonderful to read aloud and a great entry point for discussing subjects as varied as the nature of fame, parental and community expectations, loneliness and loss, the cost of love and the pain of death.

Visions in Poetry: Casey at the Bat, 2006, ISBN 978-1-55337-827-3; The Highwayman, 2009, ISBN 978-1-55337-425-1; Jabberwocky, 2008, ISBN 978-1-55337-079-6; The Lady of Shalott, 2005, ISBN 978-1-55337-874-7; My Letter to the World, 2008, ISBN 978-1-55337-103-5; The Owl and the Pussycat, 2007, ISBN 978-1-55337-828-0; The Raven, 2006, ISBN 978-1-55337-473-2; Kids Can Press, Toronto, hardcover, each 48 pages, each $18.95, tel 416-479-7000,

Wendy Harris, OCT, is the Reviews editor for Professionally Speaking.

Viola Desmond Won’t Be Budged

by Jody Nyasha Warner

illustrated by Richard Rudnicki

Viola Desmond Won’t Be Budged is Canadian content at its best. Written with an oral fluency, this true story explores black history in Nova Scotia, one of the oldest and most well-established black communities in Canada. Like its counterparts south of the border, it struggled against racial discrimination and segregation. While waiting for her car to be repaired, Viola, a self-employed black woman in the Halifax of the 1940s, chooses to pass the time at a local movie theatre. After inadvertently sitting in the whites-only section, she is instructed to move to the balcony with the other black people. Determined to stand up for herself and not be pushed around, Viola soon finds herself in jail.

Like Rosa Parks, who ten years later refused to give up her seat on a bus, Viola Desmond’s act of refusal awakened people to the unacceptable nature of racism and began the process of bringing racial equality to Canada. Included is a brief African-Canadian history outlining the immigration and migration of black peoples in Canada.

Curriculum connections can be made across all grades. The book is a provocative platform from which to discuss issues of racism and segregation for students in Grades 1 to 12. Viola’s voice is an icon of Canadian heroism and deserves to be part of the annual Black History Month in February.

Viola Desmond Won’t Be Budged, Groundwood Books, Toronto, 2010, hardcover, ISBN 978-0-88899-779-1, 32 pages, $18.95, tel 416-363-4343,

Laura Barron, OCT, is a teacher-librarian at Fernforest PS in Brampton.

Perfect Snow

written and illustrated by Barbara Reid

The essence of a perfect snow day is captured and recreated in this award-winning new book by Barbara Reid. Children will relate their own schoolyard experiences to the engaging tale of two boys, each striving to create perfect snow works of art. Scott’s mission to build the “world’s greatest snowman” mirrors Jim’s desire to create a “totally massive, indestructible snow fortress of doom.” When greedy students smash their creations, Jim and Scott team up to build and protect “the world’s greatest totally massive snowman fort!”

This book is best presented as a teacher read aloud. The inviting pictures and action-packed adventure will grab your students’ attention from page one. The familiar setting and common schoolyard problems will provide students with a chance to practice comprehension skills by discussing a variety of text-to-text and text-to-self connections. The combination of Plasticine art and graphics give students many opportunities to use their inferring skills by closely examining the illustrations and text. This book may also be used as a springboard to the introduction of Plasticine art. A short video on Reid’s technique is available at A trailer demonstrating the rich pictures and text this story has to offer is available at

Perfect Snow won the Amelia Frances Howard-Gibbon Illustrator’s Award 2010 and is included in the Toronto Public Library First and Best List 2009 and Quill and Quire’s 15 Books That Mattered 2009. It is a Canadian Children’s Book Centre Best Books for Kids and Teens, starred selection.

Perfect Snow, North Winds Press (Scholastic Canada), Markham, 2009, hardcover, ISBN 978-0-545-98577-2, 32 pages, $19.99, tel 905-887-7323 or 1-800-268-3860,

Bonnie Caminiti, OCT, is a Grade 2 teacher at St. Leonard School in Manotick.

Roslyn Rutabaga and the Biggest Hole on Earth!

written and illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay

Roslyn Rutabaga brings back childhood memories of setting out to do the biggest or best of something, regardless of the odds. And as we know well, as children we could do anything if we imagined it was possible. In this book the main character, a young rabbit named Roslyn, wakes up one day with an idea that is exactly one of these ideas – she will dig the biggest hole on earth, maybe even to the other side of the world.

Roslyn plans the initial location of her dig very carefully, taking into consideration her father’s prize carrot patch, a pile of rocks and a very large tree. Unfortunately, while digging she encounters many characters who are anything but pleased about her plan and eventually discourage her from continuing. Thankfully, her father, a wonderfully kind soul, brings Roslyn lunch and helps to revive her dream of meeting penguins and other characters on the other side of the world.

This book could be a wonderful lead-in to any discussion about what lies under the surface of the earth in a unit about rocks and minerals or soils. Encouraging children to plan out their ideas before beginning could be another use for this book, as Roslyn encounters many barriers before and during her dig. Using Roslyn Rutabaga as a story prompt is also a wonderful way to build on the natural imagination of children in a language program.

Marie-Louise Gay continues to add to her wonderful collection of well-written and popular children’s books. Her other books include the Stella books and Good Morning Sam. This latest addition is an engagingly written story full of vivid childhood imagination and gorgeous illustrations. It reflects the true spirit of the enthusiasm of dreams.

Roslyn Rutabaga and the Biggest Hole on Earth!, Groundwood Books, Toronto, 2010, hardcover, ISBN 978-0-88899-994-8, 32 pages, $18.95, tel 416-363-4343,

Janet Cottreau, OCT, is an occasional elementary teacher with the Ottawa-Carlton DSB.

Shin-chi’s Canoe

by Nicola I. Campbell

illustrated by Kim LaFave

The emotional scars of what so many First Nations people experienced in residential schools run deep. Nicola Campbell brings memories of her Aboriginal grandparents to life in the compelling story of Shin-chi’s Canoe. In this beautifully illustrated picture book, Campbell tells the story of a young Salish girl, Shi-shi-etko, and her little brother, Shin-chi, as they are sent away to a residential school to live – a school where they will not be permitted to speak to one another and where the sights, sounds and smells of their village can only be carried in memory.

The book offers teachers in Grades 4 through 8 a rich source of material for teaching comprehension strategies like questioning, inferring and synthesizing. In reading and discussing this very poignant book, all students will gain a better understanding of the impact of residential schools on First Nations peoples across Canada.

Shin-chi’s Canoe, Groundwood Books, Toronto, 2008, hardcover, ISBN 978-0-88899-857-6, 40 pages, $18.95, tel 416-363-4343,

Michael Bellrose, OCT, is the principal of C.R. Judd PS in Capreol.

Better Together

by Sheryl and Simon Shapiro

illustrated by Dusan Petricic

Mix anything together and you’ll get something entirely new, fascinating, exciting! That is the concept behind the thirteen fun and creative poems in this vividly illustrated book. Using simple rhyming words and engaging adjectives, children will learn how to create a squooshy homemade glue using flour and water or how to make delicious fudge by mixing sugar, milk and butter. Need some green paint? How about mixing blue and yellow paint together? Or try combining vinegar and oil to make a healthy salad dressing.

Young students will be easily engaged by the colourful and vibrant drawings. The pictures unfold in a sequence similar to that of a storyboard to show the stages of the emerging new product from beginning to end. Words such as “squoosh,” “squish,” “moosh” and “mingle” are creatively splattered throughout the poems to describe how to do the mixing, replacing more generic words like “blend” or “mix.”

Teachers can use this book to supplement many curriculum areas. It is particularly great for adding a poetic flair to procedural writing in science. Other possibilities for cross-curricular connections are language, art, music, health and team-dynamic concepts.

Better Together, Annick Press, Toronto, 2011, softcover, ISBN 978-1-55451-278-2, 32 pages, $8.95, distributed by Firefly Books, tel 416-499-8412 or 1-800-387-6192,

Cheryl Woolnough, OCT, is a Special Education elementary teacher at Eastbourne Drive PS with the Peel DSB in Brampton.

What Are You Doing?

by Elisa Amado

illustrated by Manuel Monroy

The morning before his first day at school, Chipeto wanders about his neighbourhood asking people who are reading what they are doing. Like children everywhere he needs to know “Why, why, why?” Chipeto is intrigued by people’s responses about why they read. The story has a wonderful way of maintaining a child’s innocence and curiosity, and its repeating phrases and patterning make it perfect for the enjoyment of young children.

In an early elementary classroom the story could be a great prompt for discussion about why people read and how reading is used in our day-to-day lives. Teachers in the early grades could use it as a model for students to write their own books about how people use reading in their lives. The gorgeous illustrations by one of Mexico’s most celebrated illustrators could be a great launch for art teachers in junior and intermediate grades to explore textures, patterns, colour and cultural context.

What Are You Doing?, Groundwood Books, Toronto, 2011, hardcover, ISBN 978-1-55498-070-3, 32 pages, $16.95, tel 416-363-4343,

Janet Cottreau, OCT, is an occasional teacher for the Ottawa-Carlton DSB.

Tulip and Lupin Forever

by Mireille Levert

illustrated by Nicolas Debon

Coping with the loss of a loved one is always a profoundly challenging experience. For children, however, it can be particularly confusing and difficult. The struggle to comprehend the death of a pet or family member and to heal from the loss is eased along by books such as Tulip and Lupin Forever. Gently and simply, Levert explores the dimensions and stages of grief as she tells the story of Tulip, a watering fairy who loses her best friend, a dog bee named Lupin.

After Lupin dies, Tulip is overcome with grief, often forgetting to eat or put on her shoes. Eventually, she sets off on a journey, encountering sea creatures and a friendly giant turtle. When she is finally ready to return to her fields of flowers, she finds a baby dog bee waiting for her. Though Tulip will never forget Lupin or her love for him, she finds joy by letting this new dog bee into her heart. Through the story, children are able to trace a path to healing, and though Levert doesn’t hide the difficulty or length of the process, they are able to glimpse love and joy on the other side.

Tulip and Lupin Forever, Groundwood Books, Toronto, 2009, hardcover, ISBN 978-0-88899-914-6, 40 pages, $18.95, tel 416-363-4343,

Wendy Harris, OCT, is the Reviews editor for Professionally Speaking.

A Flock of Shoes

by Sarah Tsiang

illustrated by Qin Leng

Where do a child’s beloved sandals go in the wintertime? Where does her favourite pair of boots go during the summer months? What happens to outgrown or out-of-season footwear? The whimsical poetic language and evocative watercolour illustrations in this book offer some answers.

Themes such as imagination, fantasy, the change of seasons, attachments to favourite articles of clothing, travel and adventure are explored for the JK to Grade 2 set. For example, the footwear sends postcards to Abby from its travels. “We miss you to the bottom of our soles,” writes one pair of shoes. “Our straps are aching to hug you again,” writes another.

In winter, Abby’s sandals create a V formation to head south to warmer weather, just like migrating geese, and during summer, her boots take the Northern Express up to see the Aurora Borealis. The sandals come back, roomier and less worn than before, ready for another summer of fun with Abby. With their return, the book completes a cycle and ends on an upbeat note. One can easily imagine this book becoming a firm favourite at storytime.

A Flock of Shoes, Annick Press, Toronto, 2010, softcover, ISBN 978-1-55451-248-5, 32 pages, $8.95, distributed by Firefly Books, tel 416-499-8412 or 1-800-387-6192,

Mary Shaughnessy, OCT, is an adjunct instructor in the Faculty of Education at Queen’s University.


written and illustrated by Ningeokuluk Teevee

Alego is a charming dual-language book (Inuktitut and English) about an Inuit girl and her grandmother who spend a day together digging for clams along the shores of Baffin Island. Alego explores the various aquatic creatures inhabiting the tide pools as the story leads the reader through their day. Gentle illustrations and simple sentences lend a quality of peace to the narrative.

Alego could be used as an introductory text to explore ocean animals in the early primary grades. Simple images and a small glossary can help generate discussion about the various sea creatures, and end-page maps assist with the story location. This text would also be useful as an example of a dual-language text when introducing native Canadian peoples to primary grade students and as a model for students when creating their own dual-language texts.

Alego, Groundwood Books, Toronto, 2009, hardcover, ISBN 978-0-88899-943-6, 24 pages, $17.95, tel 416-363-4343,

Laura Barron, OCT, is a teacher-librarian at Fernforest PS in Brampton.

Bird Child

by Nan Forler

illustrated by François Thisdale

Bird Child is a hauntingly beautiful picture book about a girl who sees a bullying incident and remains silent until she figures out how to use her “wings to fly.” So many children are either bullied in school or have witnessed bullies in action and all too often feel powerless to do anything about it. As the story unfolds, imaginative but very real solutions to this entrenched schoolyard problem are explored. Many students I have read this book to relate very particularly to the faces of the illustrated children, identifying them as the kind of people they know. This book is a great portal to opening up anti-bullying discussions and for students to build reading strategies, such as using schema and making self-to-text connections.

Bird Child, Tundra Books, Toronto, 2009, hardcover, ISBN 978-0-88776-894-1, 32 pages, $21.99, tel 416-598-4786 or 1-800-788-1074,

Margaret Buckworth, OCT, is a Grade 1 teacher at Red Maple PS and an international languages teacher for SK to Grade 3 with the York Region DSB.

Catching Time

by Rachna Gilmore

illustrated by Kirsti Anne Wakelin

It’s Saturday morning. Mom is busy cleaning and finishing chores. Dad is washing dishes and doing the grocery shopping. Sara desperately wants to go to the park. When she asks her parents to take her there, they respond with, “If we find time” or “Maybe we’ll catch some time.” Her parents are too busy to notice when Sara attempts to control time. With a jar in one hand and a net in the other, she spends the rest of an adventure-filled day trying to capture time.

This book offers a great opportunity for teachers and parents to discuss with young children how families spend time. It would also be useful with older art students, who would benefit from analyzing the fabulously airy and bright illustrations. The final page showcases Wakelin’s image of “perfect time.” Students could be challenged to create their own final pages to this and other picture books. A study of the relationship between story and picture is also possible as is a more philosophical discussion about finding or losing time within the hectic pace of the lives so many of us live.

Catching Time, Fitzhenry and Whiteside, Markham, 2010, softcover, ISBN 978-1-55455-162-0, 32 pages, $19.95, tel 905-477-9700 or 1-800-387-9776,

Cindy Matthews, OCT, is a vice-principal at the Rosemount Family of Schools, Care, Treatment, Custody and Corrections sites with the Waterloo Region DSB.

Doggy Slippers

by Jorge Luján

illustrated by Isol

Some time ago Jorge Luján sent an Internet message to children in Latin America asking for stories about their pets. The 13 poems that comprise Doggy Slippers is the result. Many of the letters offered chatty glimpses into the lives of children’s dogs and cats and birds. Some described more unusual pets like marmots and monkeys. The children wrote about the funny things their pets did, how they got them and how much they loved them. Even kids who had no pet wrote in to tell about how much they wanted one.

I particularly enjoyed this poem: My monkey and I are exactly alike, Except for our hands and feet, our hair, our bodies, our mouths, our clothes, and that I don’t stink.

With its simple words and childlike illustrations, this book would be most suited to primary grades for discussion, creating art around or writing about. Filled as they are with detail and joy, the poems are a lively entry into a variety of classroom projects.

Doggy Slippers, Groundwood Books, Toronto, 2009, hardcover, ISBN 978-0-88899-983-2, 32 pages, $18.95, tel 416-363-4343,

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

Fox on the Ice

by Tomson Highway

illustrated by Brian Deines

Fox on the Ice is a captivating picture book written in both English and Cree. It is a magnificent example of how Native culture and language can be incorporated into the classroom. Based on the adventures of a Native family setting out for a day of ice fishing, the story is an engaging tale of the family’s struggle to save each other and their livelihood after an unfortunate mishap on the ice. Papa’s split-second decision to save his family results in an exciting chase and a surprising conclusion. The language and imagery bring the story to life. Lyrical phrases such as “Mama’s shouts and the dogs’ barks sounded like crystal chimes” and “the sled looked like a faraway angel taking off on wings of rainbow snow,” along with Brian Deines’s beautiful illustrations, bring to life the serenity and splendour of the northern Manitoba landscape.

Fox on the Ice, Fitzhenry and Whiteside, Markham, 2010, softcover, ISBN 978-1-89725-266-6, 32 pages, $12.95, tel 905-477-9700 or 1-800-387-9776,

Andrea Murik, OCT, is a Special Education teacher with the Grand Erie DSB.


written and illustrated by Sean Cassidy

This is a story about the porcupine Spike. Under the tutelage of his friend Rupert, he learns how helpful quills can be, especially when a hungry bear finds the two porcupines in the forest and wants to eat them as a snack. I read Kazaak! to my Grade 1 class, and both the boys and the girls loved it. The title is intriguing and mysterious, and the students concocted many theories as to why that is the book’s title. The author concludes the story with a fact sheet about porcupines and suggestions for how to draw animals.

After following the story of Spike and Rupert, students were eager to draw them and to learn more about porcupines. I will use this book in my classroom over and over. It is highly entertaining and can be used to teach reading strategies such as predictions, and fiction versus non-fiction books.

Kazaak!, Fitzhenry and Whiteside, Markham, 2010, softcover, ISBN 978-1-55455-117-0, 32 pages, $18.95, tel 905-477-9700 or 1-800-387-9776,

Margaret Buckworth, OCT, is a Grade 1 teacher at Red Maple PS and an international languages teacher for SK to Grade 3 with the York Region DSB.


by Nan Gregory

illustrated by Luc Melanson

Vivi obsesses about all things pink. She despises the “Pinks,” those girls at school who have it all, including everything pink. Her family is far from rich. Her father is a truck driver and her mom cleans the halls of their apartment building. One day, Vivi becomes desperate to own a pink bride doll that she sees in a store window, but the proceeds from her piggy bank won’t cover it. Her parents encourage her to work at odd jobs to make up the deficit. When she takes her parents to see the precious doll, it is gone. Vivi feels discouraged but soon learns that her dad also has things he’d love to buy for his truck. By the book’s end Vivi has learned that no one can get everything they want.

While picture books generally have happy endings, this one doesn’t. But it does facilitate discussions with young students about delaying a purchase, the difference between needs and wants and the benefits of developing a savings plan. Pink won the Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award.

Pink, Groundwood Books, Toronto, 2007, hardcover, ISBN 978-0-88899-781-4, 32 pages, $17.95, tel 416-363-4343,

Cindy Matthews, OCT, is a vice-principal at the Rosemount Family of Schools, Care, Treatment, Custody and Corrections sites with the Waterloo Region DSB.