Excerpt from December 2001, v.7, No.2
Buddha in the garden
Illustrated by Zhong-Yang Huang. Raincoast Books, 2001. 31p. Illus. Gr. K-6. 1-55192-452-8. Hdbk. $19.95
Sometimes a book magically transports the reader to a new and wonderful place and Buddha in the Garden is just such a book! It is the age-old story of the quest for enlightenment and the four Buddhist signs of enlightenment: hunger, sickness, death and seeking enlightenment.
The story is told via a garden boy who remains at a Buddhist temple while the monks leave to search the world for enlightenment. We readers are totally taken into the boy's garden world when a voice says "Buddha is in the garden". We watch as he cares for a kitten and a small bird. We share in the dreams he has and we delight in the peace and fulfillment he finds at the end.
The incredible paintings illustrating the text add to its mystery and magic. Zhong-Yang Huang has chosen to use calm quiet colours which beautifully portray the sense of a Buddhist temple and, more importantly, the spirit of the tale. They are an integral part of the whole.
This amazing picture book is a timeless tale for all readers who are searching for whatever is meant by 'enlightenment'. Its appeal will span many age groups. Children will delight in the story-line and the illustrations. More mature readers will grasp the significance of the underlying quest and how it is fulfilled. A book for everyone that shouldn't be missed!
Thematic Links: Buddhism; Theme of the Quest
A Mighty Big Imagining (Our Canadian Girl Series)
Penguin Canada, 2001. 64p. Gr. 3-7. 1-14-100252-2. Pbk. $7.99
A Mighty Big Imagining tells the story of Rachel, who comes to Nova Scotia with her mother after the American Revolution. The British promised freedom and land to any slaves who joined them. Rachel's stepfather Titan, her mother Sukey, and herself fled their master to do so. The story begins as Rachel and her mother board the ship that is to take them to their promised new land, where Titan already is. Rachel refuses to have their names registered with their former master's last name, and on the spur of the moment declares their surname to be Sparrow, an act which wins her the passing respect of the officer doing the recording. The colony of Nova Scotia is not very welcoming, though. The Black Loyalists have been given very poor land, and most have been so busy building the white town of Shelburne that their own houses in Birchtown are mere pits in the ground with roofs over them. Slavery is still legal in Nova Scotia, and the free blacks are looked down on by nearly all. Rachel's mother and new brother are ill in the winter, but Rachel's new friend, the Micmac girl Ann-Marie, and her aunt help the family out. Rachel's great victory is tricking a derisive Shelburne boy into showing her how to spell her name. The story ends on an optimistic note with the arrival of spring, and Rachel's determination to learn to read and write.
This is a simple, believable story told in a straightforward manner, which will make the experiencing of Rachel's life and of the time very real to younger readers. The short length and largish typeface make it a good book for those beginning to read novels; the vocabulary and sentence structure, although not overly-complex, are not condescendingly simplistic either. The occasional black and white illustrations are equally pleasing. The book includes a time line of Canadian history as well as an historical introduction. If the other three books in the series are as well-written and well-researched, the whole set of Our Canadian Girl will be a valuable addition to the school library. They could also be used as introductions to discussions of issues in Canadian history. With any luck, Penguin will do a companion series featuring boys as well.
Thematic Links: Slavery; American Revolution; Colonial Nova Scotia; Black Loyalists; Loyalists; African-Canadian History.
In Spite of Killer Bees
Tundra Books, 2001. 253p. Gr. 7up. 0-88776-537-8. Hdbk. $21.99
In Spite of Killer Bees, recently nominated for the 2001 Governor General=s Literary Award for Childrern=s Literature - Text, is the story of a year in the life of three sisters aged 15, 17 and 22 whose mother has abandoned them and whose father has died. As they struggle along under the care of Mrs. Muntz, a deli owner who has taken them in, they learn that their wealthy grandfather has died and that they have inherited his house. Grandfather Quade=s will stipulates that to keep the house the girls must connect with their Great Aunt Lily and all live with her in the house. As the story opens, Aggie, Jeannie and Helen arrive in small town Ontario, on the lake, to attend their grandfather=s funeral and take possession of the creaking old house.
Initially the girls feel that the town is rejecting them, and that they are tainted by their father=s reputation as a thief. It seems all but impossible to communicate with their great aunt who has her own reasons for staying away from her brother's house. However, over the course of the fall, all the girls make some friends and succeed at work and school
in spite of themselves.
Told from Aggie=s sardonic point of view, this novel is amusing, touching and heart-warming. Aggie=s breezy self-talk reveals the raw heart of a teenager who has suffered too many losses. Her achingly sad hope that her mother will return and be able to pull her life together so she can behave like a Anormal@ mother brings tears to the eyes.
Kudos to Johnston for her unflinching portrayal of incompetent parenting with no happy ending. Aggie=s older sisters, seen through her eyes, can hardly wait to leave to work or go to university elsewhere, leaving Aggie to fend for herself. Their frustration is neatly balanced with Aggie=s anxiety to achieve some sense of family. Secondary characters are wonderfully true to life. Particularly good (in this age of teacher-bashing) is Aggie=s English teacher, a calm, loving woman who transforms Aggie=s negative feelings about school and helps her to succeed.
The small town Ontario on the lake setting will be familiar to many readers. The old house is simply amazing with all its nooks and crannies.
In Spite of Killer Bees= satisfying ending sneaks up on the reader the way it sneaks up on Aggie. This story asserts that there are good people in the world, that families can reconcile and that friendship and love will conquer fear and distrust.
Thematic Links: Friendship; Love; Family Relationships
To the Top of Everest
Kids Can Press, 2001. 56 p. Illus. Gr. 5 up. 1-55074-721-5. Hdbk. $18.95
Laurie Skreslet was the first Canadian to stand on the summit of Mt. Everest. He achieved this triumph in 1982, yet this rendering is as rich and fresh as if it happened very recently. His story is amazing yet filled with a modesty that makes him seem very ordinary, even as the reader knows he achieved the truly extraordinary.
The narrative begins with Skreslet's view from the summit of Mt. Everest but moves quickly back to his childhood when at nine years of age he climbs to the top of the suspension cables of a bridge. He describes his training with the Outward Bound Mountain School and credits that organization with instilling in him the importance of setting goals and giving best efforts. He is an accomplished climber despite problems with poor balance, clumsiness and, amazingly, fear of heights.
Without becoming laboured, the text goes into details of planning and preparation. The amount of food and gear required for such an expedition is incredible. The climb, especially the role of the Sherpas, is likewise described in detail but keeps up a lively pace. As with any climb, but especially Everest, disaster is always nearby. Four of the climbers (3 Sherpas and 1 Canadian) on that expedition were killed in two separate accidents. In the final chapter Skreslet gives recognition to Canadian Sharon Wood, the first woman from the Western Hemisphere to summit Everest. The final paragraphs give an upbeat and moving encouragement to never give up on your dreams.
Excellent colour photographs with interesting captions, clear easy-to-read print, and a glossary of climbing terms enhance the text. The story moves at a brisk pace and will have great appeal for many older readers.
This book is highly recommended.
Thematic Links: Goal Setting; Mountain Climbing; Canadian Achievements.
The Sex Book: An Alphabet of Smarter Love
Lobster Press, 2001. 200p. Illus. Gr. 9-12. 1-894222-30-X. Pbk. $18.95
This is a sexuality manual of sorts, or an expanded glossary of broad, narrow and related terms used for human sexuality, written for teenagers. The introduction states ASex is a big, big part of life. It=s exciting, confusing, liberating, and mysterious Y Over time you=ll find out what you like and what you don=t like, what=s right for you, and what isn=tY.@ The author=s purpose is to provide accessible information combined with reassurance, information that will ultimately lead to good decision-making, for either those who choose to be sexually active, or abstinent. Topic entries organized in alphabetical order include a fairly detailed definition/explanation, synonyms (these can be quite humorous or shocking, depending upon your perspective!), discussion related to personalizing the information, related question and answers, and humorous cartoon-like illustrations.
The strength of this resource is its frank talk on a wide range of topics in a language that combines colloquialisms (e.g. horny, blue balls) with more standard or medical terminology. The intended audience is young adult readers who are most likely to feel comfortable with this language style and content. The message is overwhelmingly one of personal safety, individual rights and relationships characterized by commitment and respect.
The drawbacks of this resource, although not outweighed by the advantages in the reviewer=s mind, need to be considered before adding to a school library. It contains a very wide scope of topics - from puberty to pregnancy to oral sex - and all are presented in alphabetical order. There is no organization from big topics to subtopics, general to specific, introductory to advanced, which could cause some confusion (or alarm?) to the reader who is only beginning to make sense of this very large topic. Information, instruction and opinion are presented side by side, and although the latter is representative of our modern Canadian parental values, it may be challenged by a number of more conservative parent groups.
This is a serious resource clothed in a light-hearted costume - it will be very helpful to students involved in personal information quests, or specific research topics related to human sexuality. They will come away with valid information, a sense of individual rights and responsibilities, and a smile.
Donna K. Johnson Alden
HILL, Linda D.
Connecting Kids Exploring Diversity Together
New Society Publishers, 2001. 178p. 0-86571-431-2. Pbk. $25.95
Connecting Kids Exploring Diversity Together offers a multitude of suggestions, activities, and thought provoking ideas about how to connect children with each other. The book quotes its main purpose to be: "... how to guide children from different backgrounds to include each other in an atmosphere of safety, equality, choice and fun."
The author has chosen twenty connecting skills to bring children of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds together in a cooperative world. Considering the diversity within the schools of today, this book is an invaluable resource for present day educators. The fast paced world of the twenty-first century offers many opportunities for competition and challenge. This book has suggestions for a second necessary component for success : cooperation.
Some readers will travel back in years to fond childhood games and memories such as Farmer in the Dell and Simon Says. However, the author has taken these games further by offering variations of traditional games like Hide and Seek with activities such as: Sardines, Kick the Can, and Camouflage. Participation, music, and fun permeate the ideas in this book. It should be used by both classroom teachers and other specialists such as physical education teachers.
The author has included poetry, songs, and anecdotes to illustrate the connecting skills. The connecting skill of I'll be Your Partner! is introduced with three activities including: an anecdote about a child with a learning disability, a game Children in the Dell which is modelled from Farmer in the Dell, and an illustration by a four year old.
The book ends with other resources for exploring diversity. It is the type of book which teachers will return to time and again to support the social and emotional strands of the curriculum. Not only does the author provide games and activities, she offers many variations for flexibility. As teachers become familiar with this type of thinking, they will find themselves increasing their own creativity and flexibility and thinking of their own adaptations to suit individual needs.
This book is a bonus for anyone working with children. It is an excellent resource for the classroom and contains may ideas which should be shared with parents.
Thematic Links: Diversity; Cooperation
Journey to Justice
Director: Roger McTair. Producer: Karen King-Chigbo. National Film Board of Canada, 2000 . VHS. 47min, 8sec. Closed captioned, decoder required. Gr. 9-12. C9100 077. $39.95.
Rating: E -Excellent
Journey to Justice relates some of the history of Black Canadians stnigghng to overcome racism and to obtain civil rights in Canada. The video begins with Stanicy G. Grizzle, Canada=s' first black citizenship judge granting citizenship to new Canadians. The presentation then proceeds to discuss and describe Black Canadian history through documenting the struggle of six people who refused to accept inequality.
Numerous examples of discrimination against blacks as a whole and as individuals are provided in this production. In the 1950's, Dresden Ontario, which had been known as the terminus of the Underground Railway, would not allow Blacks into pool halls, restaurants, barber shops, or hospitals. Viola Desmond, in 1946, was dragged out of her seat and jailed for attempting to sit in the non Black section of a Halifax movie house. The Canadian military in 1939 refused Blacks that tried to enlist. When they were eventually accepted in 1941 they were used as batmen and to empty honey buckets. Ray Lewis a medal winner sprinter in the 1932 0lympics could not get a coaching job. Montreal in 1936 would allow blacks to perform on stage but not to sit in the audience. Ontario's 1949 equality referendum failed to pass. The Klan operated in several Canadian cities but differed from their American counterparts in that they had maple leaves on their sheets.
Two main forces are credited with playing key roles in improving the lot of Blacks and ending formal discrimination in Canada. The Sleeping Car Porters Union worked extremely hard and fought discrimination and provided Blacks with a voice. "We Shail Not Be Moved" was their theme song. Leslie Frost, when pmmer of Ontario went against his cabinet and party and enacted legislation outlawing dismimnation. Ontario was the first province to do so.
Journey to Justice would be an excellent resource for use in Social Suidies classes and some English/Language Arts classes. Senior high school students could also use this title on their own when doing research.
Thematic Links: Racism; Canada - History; Blacks - Canada; Civil Rights
J. Patrick Romaine
The Digital Field Trip to the Rainforest, AT Version.
Digital Frog International, 2001. CD-ROM, Gr. 8 up. $99 - Single Educational
System Requirements: Macintosh: Power PC 180 or better, 30 MB RAM or more, System 8.6 or better, Screen capable of 640 x 480, thousands of colors, an additional 8 MB of hard drive space needed for Quick Time. Windows: (Standard Use)Pentium 180 MHz processor (Pentium II 233 MHz or better), 32 MB RAM (64 MB or more recommended). Windows 95 or better., VGA /SVGA displaying 640 x 480, 16-bit color, an additional 15 MB of hard drive space needed for Text-to-Speech.
The Digital Field Trip to the Rainforest AT version uses virtual reality technology to allow students to visit a rainforest in Belize, Central America. The digital field trip allows students a 3600 view, with zoom features, along the hiking trail through the rainforest. This interactive CD-ROM incorporates animations, narration, games, text, video and color photographs. Another feature which I like is that students can click on most words to see a definition and hear the pronunciation.
The Digital Field Trip to The Rainforest teaches the principles of rainforest ecology and the importance of rainforest conservation. This comprehensive CD contains over 130 screens grouped into five main sections. The sections are: the Field Trip, Study of a Rainforest, Rainforest Types, Mechanisms of a Rainforest and Endangered Rainforests. These components are all integrated together with hyperlinks and search tools into a very interlaced and interactive learning tool. An accompanying workbook is also available but was not included in the review package.
I would agree with Digital Frog International that this CD Ais geared toward high school students but encompasses topics accessible to students of all ages@. Since it is interactive, it may best be used by individual students through independent exploration. However, at $699 per site licence, many schools may not afford this. A single copy could best be used as a station within a larger resource-based unit or by a classroom teacher using a data projection unit. Two to three periods would be required to adequately cover the vast amount of information included.
Students should not have any trouble maneuvering through this user friendly CD. It contains a good quick tour which I would suggest taking before one begins. Also, the CD map is an excellent graphical overview showing all the categories and their topics. It is great for navigating the program while viewing the big picture.
The AT version includes AAccessible Technology to allow all users, even those with sight and other physical disabilities, to fully experience The Rainforest.@ This Text-to-Speech feature, which can easily be turned on or off, has the computer >voice= all text, labels and instructions. This is a step in the right direction for allowing greater accessibility to students with reading difficulties, low English proficiency, etc. However, further work on the computer generated voices is needed before this component of the program is up to the same high standard of the rest of the CD. I would recommend this CD because of its excellent content and graphics, but I would not recommend it solely for its accessible technology.
Thematic Links: Rainforest Ecology; Environmental Science; Biology.
Léon le caméléon
Les éditions Scholastic, 2001. 29p. Illus. Gr. K-1, Grade 6 LFI. 0-439-98612-5. Pbk. $7.99
This is a simple, yet appealing tale of a chameleon who is different from the others. When all his friends turn green, he becomes red. When Léon is resting on the yellow sand, he becomes a very bright purple. In the clear blue water of the pond, he turns orange. How can a chameleon hide when he is so visible? Who would want to play camouflage games with a brightly coloured chameleon? These are the questions that plague Léon.
It is not until his friends wander off into the deepest part of the forest, that they finally appreciate the benefits of being different. When all the youngsters fail to return home, their parents go off to search for them. As the parents are peering off into the distance, they spot a colour that stands out from the rest. It is most certainly our hero, Léon! Thanks to the one chameleon who stood out from the crowd, they were all saved!
In many respects, it is the colours themselves that become the main characters of this story. Each page contains a bold primary colour to accentuate the difference between Léon and the others. At the end of the book, the author has included an informative look at the colour wheel and primary colours.
Thematic Links: Vocabulary related to colours; Friendship; Differences