Monday, June 29, 2009

The Influence of a Book

This spring I was packing up some books to take to the thrift store. When my daughter Marcie returned from her travels in Asia, and was getting ready to leave for Vancouver, I showed her two books I was going to dispose of. Her objection caught me off guard.
"Mom, those are books I read when I was young that made me think about traveling to the countries I just came from; you can't get rid of those books!"
One was a set of two books called "Families of the World", and the other was a coffee table picture book about planet earth, with very vivid photos of our beautiful planet. As I was thinking about this incident, it made me realize that these books had planted signifant seeds of wonder and curiousity in my child's heart that eventually took her to some of the places she had once discovered in a book that was in our house.
As she set off for life in Vancouver, those books were packed with her belongings. I am glad that I wasn't hasty in my quest to get the books out of my way. This was a reminder to me that we should never underestimate the influence of the literature that we bring into our homes.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Old and the New

Tis the season...for yard and garage sales! Some of the best children's books I have came from sales such as these. When I scan through the myriad of books at a sale, I look for books by familiar authors that I don't already have, or are no longer in print in the local book stores.
One classic I would recommend for kids of all ages is "Puzzle Island". This engaging tale has hidden pictures that need to be found by the missing letters in the alphabet border around each page.
I used this book with a small group of "reluctant readers" and the story, puzzle element and pictures kept them turning the pages. "Puzzle Island" by Paul Adshead, Child's Play (International) Limited. This would be great book for grandparents to share with grandkids, because it is suitable for a wide range of ages and reading levels. I purchased my latest copy at the Teacher's Book Depository in Edmonton. This is a wonderful local resource that is open to the public My previous copy was worn out by my own children when they were growing up!
This month I had the opportunity to attend an inservice that Edmonton Public Schools presents annually called "The Best of the Best", a panel of teachers/librarians/library techs read an assortment of many of the new books and spend an afternoon giving reviews of the latest greatest! While the list is too long to repeat here and I prefer to comment on books I have personally read, what I appreciated about the presentation was the number of new non-fiction books that have great kid-appeal. There are books on many topics of interest to a wide range of reading levels. One book that I am looking forward to reading is "Listen to the Wind: The Story of Dr. Greg & Three Cups of Tea" by Greg Mortenson and Susan L. Roth. This book is suitable for grades 2 -6 and raises awareness of other cultures. My daughter Marcie read the "adult version" and recommended it. She spent the last seven months travelling in various Asian countries and has seen some of what the author of this book writes about first hand. It includes an interview with his 12 year -old daughter Amira Mortenson. (Puffin Books, 2009)
Another one I would like to include on my summer reading list is "The Trouble Begins at 8: A life of Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West". Recommended for grades 6 -12, the reviewer found it to be "extremely entertaining " and a great read aloud. (Greenwillow Books, 2008)
Finally, the book I am currently reading is "Autumn Street" by Lois Lowry, a book that as she shared at Kaleidoscope 9 Children's Literature Conference in Calgary last November, is an autobiography. I recently had the opportunity to spend a weekend at the lake with my daughter, Julie, who is 26 and I read a couple of chapters aloud to her; I don't think a child is ever too old to be read aloud to! (Yearling 1980)

Friday, April 3, 2009

International Children's Book Day, April 2

I celebrated International Children's Book Day on Thursday, April 2 by reading to my one and only favorite almost 5 year old step granddaughter, Brody, and by giving her a copy of Barbara Cooney's delightful book "Miss Rumphius". "Miss Rumphius" was given to me as a baby gift by a high school friend when one of my daughters was born and over the years this copy has been read and reread until it is almost falling apart. For more information on Barbara Cooney and her other books, see . This looks like a great website about Children's literature.
Miss Rumphius is a lady who was known by different names, according to the various stages in her life. This wonderfully self illustrated book starts when she is a little girl named Alice, who decides at an early age that she will go to faraway places and live by the sea when she is old. Her grandfather wisely advises her that there is one more thing she must do, and that is to do something to make the world more beautiful. I won't spoil the ending, but she does find a way to make the world more beautiful. This picture book would appeal to all ages, but would be at a reading level for approximately grade 3 and older. Scholastic Inc., 1982, Winner of the American Book Award.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Peer Pressure and Bullying

As an educator in an elementary school,who has experienced bullying by students and regularly witnesses the negative effects of peer pressure, I have recently read three very diverse books on the topic of bullying and peer pressure. Two were novels, and one a tragic true account that has turned into a positive effort to promote compassion and kindness in schools.
The first book I will review is a novel suitable for pre-teens - Grade 5-7 called "The Mother Daughter Book Club" by Heather Vogel Frederick, published by Aladdin Paperbacks, 2007. If anyone has read Amy Tan's "The Joy Luck Club", it is written in a similar format; the voices of four girls comprise the chapters. The Mother Daughter Book Club is the brainchild of one of the mothers, a librarian who launches a book club for her three friends and their daughters. At first, not all the daughters are interested in the concept for various reasons. The book they choose to read is Little Women; this book is also a delightful review of a classic that happens to take place in the author, Louisa May Alcott's hometown of Concord, Massachusetts. This was also the hometown of author Heather Vogel Frederick when she was a young girl.
As the girls in the group become more acquainted they develop deeper bonds. All the girls have "issues"; there are no perfect girls here, but examples of girls that are doing their best to cope in a variety of challenging personal and family situations. The existence of a rival group of girls led by a meanspirited "friend" who dictates what is cool for the rest of her followers to do or not to do is quite common in the hallways of our schools.
Overall I enjoyed reading this book and am looking forward to the next book in the series: " The Mother Daughter Book Club: Chapter Two" - the club members read "Anne of Green Gables". Finally, there is a list of discussion questions at the end of the book that would be suitable for a book club to use.

The next book, "The Isabel Factor" by Gayle Friesen, Kid's Can Press, 2005 is written for a high school age level audience. The main character, Anna, tells her story in her own voice, telling the story of her experience at summer camp as a Counselor in Training. This is the first time she is at the camp without her best friend, Zoe, which results in her having to adjust to a new cabin mate, Isabel, who is very different from her. After her friend Zoe arrives at the camp Anna realizes that she has to make some hard choices. I won't give away the ending, but Friesen has written a book that teenage girls will be able to relate to.

The final book, based on the true account of the Columbine Tragedy "Rachel's Tears" by Beth Nimmo and Darrell Scott ( Rachel's parents) with Steve Rabey, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2008 is a reprint of the original book written in 2000 with new interviews.
As the authors write, this is definately a book that they would have preferred never to have written, but along with the truth of the tragedy they have chosen to bring attention to their daughter's life before she was gunned down in the library of her high school on April 20, 1999. Along with a detailed account of the tragedy, most of the book is a compilation of Rachel's own writings from her journals, up until a few days before her death.
Her writings reveal a young lady who had found significance and security in her relationship with Jesus Christ. As her mother Beth writes (pg.98) "I knew something of Rachel's commitment even before her death and before I read her journals. She was very matter-of-fact about her faith and the demands it placed on her life. That was just who she was. She talked to people about God when she worked at Subway. She reached out to strangers who needed help".
Rachel practiced her faith by "continually finding creative ways to show people the compassion of Christ".
In the account of the tragedy, the truth of what happened is revealed in the chapter "Anatomy of Tragedy"; some of the most disturbing aspects are highlighted by the reference to the contents of the website and videos that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the killers, produced before their deadly rampage that resulted in the deaths of 13 victims and themselves. As Rachel's father Darrell writes (pg. 151)... it seems that Dylan Klebold was powerfully affected by peer pressure... (pg.152) Eric showed off much of his arsenal on some of the videotapes he and Dylan had made in the months before the killings... (pg. 153) In the end, I believe the most crucial factor leading to the Columbine tragedy was that many young people today have been raised in a culture where there is a complete lack of moral or spiritual exposure."
This book is a wake call for parents, educators and teens alike. The positive outcome of this tragedy is that Rachel's parents have dedicated their lives to promoting kindness and compassion in schools. Darrell makes school visits and both maintain seperate websites updating readers on the resources that are available to parents, educators and students.
See the Thomas Nelson Website for more information about this book:

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Several Lives of Orphan Jack

The Several Lives of Orphan Jack by Sarah Ellis, Illustrated by Bruno St.-Aubin Groundwood Books 2003 Historical Fiction
This delightful tale for middle readers is a great read from start to finish. Written in a last century style with rich language about the adventures of twelve year old Jack who is trying to stay out of trouble, but trouble always seems to find him.
Author Sarah Ellis has also written a very interesting and helpful guide for parents and educators called "From Reader to Writer", a guideline for what books to introduce to children to teach them specific writing skills.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Kids, Books and Me

This blog is being created to share with my friends and family members the joys of children's literature. Some of my earliest fondest memories include the books that were read to me and the books I read when I was in school. Authors like Lucy M. Montgomery, Lois Lensky and Louisa May Alcott were all favourites. Then there were the books I read to my children, the books I read with students at school and now the journey begins again with introducing books to my grandchildren! In the last year I have become even more familiar with local, national, newly published and some forgotten, but newly reacquainted authors. My personal preferences are books for children that are inspirational, provide positive character building examples and are edifying. I will be exploring various genres, books for a variety of age and developmental levels, and make suggestions for books for struggling and gifted readers. If you have any questions or suggestions for me, please let me know and I will address those issues as they arise. I am also interested in seeing posts of what your favorite kids books were and what your current favorite books are. I will also be doing book reviews of books I read, so check in from time to time to see what is new!