Volume 17, no.1 - October 2011

Picture Books

  • The Flute by Rachna Gilmore

    Illustrated by Pulak Biswas.Tradewind Books, 2011. 32p. Illus. Gr. 1-4. 978-1-896580-57-9. Pbk. $16.95

    Rating: E

  • You can hear the gushing river and the trill of a flute, so elegant, gentle and hopeful. A little girl called Chandra was born like most little babies, loved in their mother’s arms.

    This beautifully written and illustrated story is reminiscent of a folkloric tale, sweeping us away in the pains, struggles and the hopes of Chandra’s young life in an exotic land. Each page we turn we want to learn more about her, to the point of wanting to pluck her out of the book to help her.

    As some folklore and cultural based stories go, the protagonist gets ostracized because they do not live up to the standard of the people around them. This perfect formula is represented when Chandra moves in with her aunt and uncle since her parents disappeared. One can’t help but draw parallels to the classic Cinderella story, where both girls are worked mercilessly meanwhile being tormented, instead this time by her two male cousins. Her only solace was this eroded little wooden flute her mother had given to her upon her passing.

    Chandra’s character has such a deep human element. As time passes our memories start to fade of loved ones, as does Chandra with her mother’s songs. Continually occupied by obeying and working tirelessly to help her family, yet Chandra is treated like a second grade citizen. The one moment she rests she makes a connection with her mother through whistling, similarly as humans we clear our minds our hearts open up. The more Chandra starts to connect with this flute, the more it starts to nourish her both with food and love. Due to the fruits of her flute, the story takes a dark turn where the innocent Chandra eventually is accused of being “an evil child” and practising “unholy magic”.

    The story comes full circle. Now little Chandra is abandoned and submerged in the monsoon waters much like her parents were. The only thing she had to hold on to is the trust and guidance of the flute, which leads her to ultimately find a loving home.

    Rachna Gilmore’s enchanting story of hope and Pulak Biswas’ simple East Asian rural scenes flow with depth and grace just as the waters of the river in its calm spring stream. The graceful language is complimented in charcoal and ink textured monochromatic illustrations with hints of primary hues. A perfect marriage highlighting red for earth and life, blue for water and the yellow warmth of the sun and of course, her namesake Chandra for the moon in the sky.

    This inspiring book is sure to be a permanent fixture in any library and one to be handed down from generation to generation.

  • Thematic Links: East Asia; Music; Culture; Folk Literature; Traditional Fables
  • Lara Chauvin
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Fiction Grades 3-6

  • Deadly Voyage: RMS Titanic Jamie Laidlaw Crossing the Atlantic, 1912 (I Am Canada Series) by Hugh Brewster

    Scholastic Canada, 2011. 195p. Illus. Gr. 3-6. 978-1-4431-0465-4. Hbk. $14.99.

    Rating: E

  • Deadly Voyage is unique in the recent books that have been written for children about the Titanic in that it follows the story beyond April 14-15, 1912, and looks at the lives of survivors once they get home. The tragic story of the Titanic is well known, and Hugh Brewster uses that to his advantage in this fictionalized account that stays true to history. Jamie Laidlaw, a 14-year-old from Montreal, is heading home with his mother and father on the famous ship. He encounters many of the famous passengers including Mr. Astor and Mr. Andrews, and crew members Captain Smith and Charles Lightoller. It’s all one big adventure for Jamie, with new friends and no shortage of exciting things to see, until the unsinkable ship hits that infamous iceberg.

    Brewster provides excellent details about life on the ship, the decor, early ice warnings, and creates a vivid idea of what it must have been like on the glamorous ship before the night of April 14. The struggle to understand how the passengers felt, their reluctance to get into the lifeboats, and so many other details that are known about that night are seen through Jamie’s eyes. When it becomes clear the ship is sinking, his thoughts are for his beloved Airedale, and what will happen to him. Details like this make sense in a story being told from a young narrator’s point of view, and make the story fresh. Jamie and his father help to free extra lifeboats from their storage places, and when it’s clear that the ship is going down, Jamie dives into the sea, with no guarantees. He does survive, as does his mother who got into one of the first lifeboats, but his father does not.

    One of the most interesting details of this story is that it follows Jamie and his family home to Montreal. There, the reader experiences the sensationalist news, the sorrow of Jamie and his brother when they travel to Halifax to claim their father’s body, and even the sense that the Titanic would soon be forgotten. It has been just the opposite - the story of this great ship continues to inspire storytellers. Deadly Voyage takes the story of the Titanic beyond the tale of a sinking ship, and makes it a human story, and a welcome addition to the I Am Canada Series. The story commemorates the 100th anniversary of the Titanic next year and brings the story alive for a new audience. Highly recommended.

  • Thematic Links: Titanic; History; Family and Friends
  • Jaclyn McLean
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Fiction Grades 7 - 12

  • This Dark Endeavour: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein by Kenneth Oppel

    HarperCollinsCanada, 2011. 298p. Gr. 8-12. 978-1-55468-339-0. Hdbk. $19.99 (Reviewed from uncorrected proof)

    Rating: E

  • It takes very few pages of this lively adventure story to recognize the hand of an experienced and relaxed storyteller at the height of his game. This Dark Endeavour is a thriller, expertly timed and balanced, and offering subtle psychological insights into the ravages of adolescence. It is not necessary to know many details about the later story of Frankenstein to recognize the foreboding that haunts this story of Victor Frankenstein's life as a sixteen-year-old.

    The plot, as befits its origins, is a classic adventure story. Victor and Konrad are twins who live in Castle Frankenstein with their younger brothers and their distant cousin Elizabeth, who has been brought up with them almost like a sister. The French Revolution is raging across the border.

    Konrad falls ill of a mysterious ailment, and although a doctor who professes the most advanced science manages to bring him round, he warns that there may be a relapse that could prove fatal. In the cellars of the Castle, the boys and Elizabeth have found a sealed-off library that contains many books about the Dark Arts. Through a series of plausibly described events, and with the aid of a disgraced local scientist, they realize that they may have located the recipe for the Elixir of Life. Much of the book recounts their adventures as they track down the ingredients and bring them back with much risk to life and limb, and the remainder of the story recounts the outcome of this sinister operation.

    Oppel is a master craftsman. Those who like the story of Frankenstein and those who care nothing for it will equally find this compelling story very difficult to put down.

  • Thematic Links: Frankenstein; Alchemy; Elixir of Life
  • Margaret Mackey
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Non-Fiction Preschool - Grade 6

  • Nowhere Else On Earth : Standing Tall for the Great Bear Rainforest by Caitlyn Vernon

    Orca Book Publishers, 2011. 121p. Illus. Gr. 4-9. 978-1-55469-303-0. Pbk. $22.95. (Reviewed from advance reading copy)

    Rating: G

  • Through facts, story-telling, and pictures, this comprehensive book carefully details the complex issues of conservation and preservation. Vernon's gentle, knowledgeable voice calls the reader to action without causing alarm or assigning blame to the perils facing one of the world's most rare and pristine environment, the Great Bear Rainforest.

    Complex ideas and concepts are organized and presented through text features and insets, making the reading accessible to a broad audience. Inserts entitled, Eco Stories, tell the author's personal stories from a young age of her encounters with and learnings from nature, which further draw the reader's attention and engagement into the material. Another added feature is Voices from the Coast, where the reader is presented with First Nation accounts of their historical and present interactions with the natural world. More insets include: Did you Know? providing interesting facts and Take Action which provides things for the reader to do in their own community to promote preservation and conservation. Other features include: maps, table of contents, glossary, and resources. Index to come.

    Vernon covers all aspects, including historical and scientific in her well-researched analysis of this unique forest ecosystem, where the ocean and forest are inseparable. The book could be used as a teaching tool for its historical perspective of the impact of settlers on First Nations as well as a life science unit on the flora and fauna that live in the Great Bear Rainforest.

    The publisher has noted that in keeping with the book's philosophy and their own goal of preserving the environment, the finished book will be printed on non-glossy 100% post-consumer recycled paper and use vegetable-based inks.

    At times the photographs don't support the text on the page and though the photos are excellent their small size would be hard to show to a large group without the aid of a document camera. I'm expecting with the inclusion of a comprehensive index, Nowhere Else On Earth would serve as an excellent reference for the huge number of topics it covers. As it is, I recommend it as wonderful browsing material for students interested in learning about the natural world.

  • Thematic Links: Adaptation; Bears; Biodiversity; Biological Interconnectedness; Climate Change; Conservation; Ecology; Ecosytems; Endangered Species; Energy; Environmental Activism; First Nations; Forestry; Global Warming; Habitats; Ocean; Old-Growth Forests; Pollution; Salmon; Sustainability; Trees; Water Cycle
  • Louise Sidley
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Non-Fiction Grades 7-12

  • Within the Stillness (One Family’s Winter on a Northern Trapline)by Keith Olsen

    Your Nickle’s Worth Publishing, 2011. 197p. Illus. Gr. 6 up. 978-1-894431-61-3. Pbk. $16.95

    Rating: E

  • Keith Olsen in his autobiographical work Within the Stillness refers to the Canadian North as his playground. He develops that unique attachment to the land growing up in a family that efficiently lives off of the land. Their time spent living through a harsh Canadian winter in an extremely remote location is a tale of admirable quality. Their will and determination as a family unit turns the rugged wilderness into a modest home. From such settings Olsen is able to live a profound childhood, where simplicity and nature becomes the most nurturing aspect of their imagination.

    The source of their livelihood is Olsen's wise father who is well versed in the extreme realities of nature. Throughout the novel we are left feeling confident that this man will never fail to provide sustenance for his family and security in his absence.

    Though their tactics for survival are memorable, perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Within the Stillness is the creative ways in which the family feeds themselves. They are extremely imaginative with their meagre supplies and the descriptions that Olsen provides for the most natural meals will leave one amazed by the culinary ingenuity. Whether it's moose tenderloin, venison stew or fresh bannock fried over seasoned birch, the recipes are completely natural and represent an authentic attachment to the outdoors.

    Within the Stillness is a fascinating trek into the woods of Canada. It is uniquely Canadian and if one has ever spent time on any of the great lakes in Canada it will be very easy to relate many of the scenes to their own outdoor experiences. Though we may not be able to categorize our own experiences to such a level of 'roughing it', it is the ever important communion with nature that rings true throughout.

  • Thematic Links: Canadian North; Tundra; Family; Nature
  • Zachary G. Chauvin
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Audio-Visual Resources

  • Arctic Circle (On Thin Ice, Battle for the Pole) by SHIBASAKI, Takashi, Atsunhi Nishida & Wally Longul (Writers and producers)

    National Film Board of Canada & NHK, 2009. DVD. 80 min. Gr. 6 up. $129.00 PPR

    Rating: E

  • Arctic Circle is a documentary that outlines the current ecological state of the North Pole and forecasts how that state will tend to evolve over the next few decades. Arctic Circle is divided into two uniquely themed parts, On Thin Ice and Battle for the Pole. A very clear narrator leads us through both sections in an appropriately concerned tone. Both sections are laid out with poignant graphics that demonstrate the progressed state of the North Pole's decline.

    In On Thin Ice the documentary takes a close look at the food chain that is immediately threatened by the decimation of ice shelves in the North Pole because of global warming. Moving from the smallest microbes to the polar bear, one gets a good understanding of just what a food chain is meant to describe. When one particular species is threatened, all others are drastically effected. The evidence of receding ice is effectively portrayed through a visual presentation that chronologically maps out the movements of glaciers and ice recession. A sense of urgency is the only possible response

    That urgent sentiment is followed up by a “Battle for the Pole”. Mankind's further exploitation of the North Pole is demonstrated, as the disappearing ice shelves have granted oil companies better access to massive reserves. Such an increase in human activity it seems shall only exacerbate the ecological issue of extinction and ice recession. There are some positive signs however that certain oil companies understand the impact of their activity. This comprehension has led them to develop new technologies, especially in the area of CO2 containment. Such commitment is well received but the larger questions still remains - “is it really necessary to tap reserves in such a fragile area of the world?”

    Arctic Circle is a very well produced documentary. It does not rely too much on shock value but provides scientific evidence to back up all of its claims. The oil companies are not portrayed in a predominately sinister way but instead are given the benefit of the doubt. Carbon emissions is a global problem and it is clear that our consumption rates will not decline. Everyone is answering a call that will perhaps eventually provide solutions.

  • Thematic Links:Environment; The Arctic
  • Zachary G. Chauvin
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Professional Resources

  • Rock & Roll Literacy by Sigmund Brouwer

    Orca Book Publishers, 2011. 128p. Illus. 978-1-55469-358. Pbk. $19.95. (Reviewed from advance reading copy)

    Rating: E

  • Well-known Canadian author, Sigmund Brouwer walks us through his Rock and Roll Literacy school presentation in hard copy. It is an informative and easy to read resource for all teachers interested in nurturing young writers in their classrooms.

    The book emphasizes the all important emotional connection between reader and writer. It offers concrete strategies from generating ideas to revision, but also warns teachers not to confuse "writing" with "story". It outlines the importance of encouraging motivation to write in our students and thereby recognizing the fact that writing, because of its complex thinking requirement, is indeed difficult!

    Brouwer loads the text with real life incidents from his writing career and from his experiences giving school presentations to make the reading lively, entertaining, as well as grounded in what a working writer goes through. His recognition of the diverse nature of the modern classroom is appreciated! He doesn't pull any punches.

    This is a real treat from a successful writer. Filled with humour and honesty, I am going to encourage our entire staff to read it.

  • Thematic Links: Teaching and Studying Creative Writing; Reading and Writing; Canadian Author
  • Louise Sidley
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French Resources

  • Je m’appelle Catherine! DUNKLEE, Annika

    Illustrated by Matthew Forsythe. French translation by Hélène Pilotto. Éditions Scholastic, 2011. 24p. Illus. Gr. Preschool - 1. 978 1 4431 1160 7. Pbk. $10.99

    Rating: G

  • Catherine loves everything about her name. She hates how people change her name, adding little extras or shortening it to one syllable. In this picture book with little text, and clear illustrations in orange and sky blue, we watch the reactions of Catherine as she becomes more and more annoyed with how her name is changed. She eventually sets everyone straight by declaring in a loud voice, “Je m’appelle CATHERINE Amanda Roxanne Charlotte Beaulieu Joncas!” and then, “Mais vous pouvez m’appeler Catherine.” The last page shows her baby brother trying to pronounce it, and we wonder how it will turn out.

    This story about how one girl demands respect from the adults in her life is highly entertaining. Many children will identify with her personality if not her exact problem. The illustrations and text compliment each other to make a satisfying and entertaining read.

  • Thematic Links: Respect; Relationships; Perspective
  • Elizabeth Ford
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