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Excerpts from February 2004, Volume 9, Number 3 

Audio-Visual Resources/CD-ROM Resources/Fiction Gr. 3-6/Fiction Gr.7-12/French Resources/Nonfiction Gr. K-6/Nonfiction Gr. 7-12/Picture Books

Picture Books

JORGENSEN, Norman and Brian Harrison-Lever
In Flanders Fields
Simply Read Books, 2003. 30p. Illus. Gr. 3-adult. 189496501-9. Hdbk. $22.95

Rating: Excellent

It is Christmas morning in the trenches of Flanders Fields. A young soldier receives the gift of a white scarf in the post, ties it to his bayonet, walks half-way across the battlefield and frees a robin from a tangle of barbed wire. Enemy snipers lower their rifles as the soldier returns to his trench, forgetting scarf, rifle, and all.

The story is moving in its stillness. While the language is simple, neither text nor illustrations shrink from the brutality of war. Mention of letters and parcels returned to the mail sack, their intended recipients no longer among the living, is as matter-of-fact as the description of the trapped bird. The opening illustration is a mute battlefield panorama, encompassing a burned-out tank, dead bodies tangled in barbed wire and rats scurrying over sandbags.

The sepia palette of the watercolour illustrations is a perfect match to the restrained, meditative quality of the text. Soldiers, blasted trees, and the wasted expanse of the battlefield are rendered in tones of brown and gray. Only the breast of the robin provides a burst of colour, all the more startling amidst the hard steel, dour skies, and muddy ground.

The sombre tones of word and colour compel readers to slow down and study the richly detailed illustrations. The message that emerges by the end of the story - that both camps are united in their common humanity - while not original, does not suffer for being repeated.

This beautiful, melancholy book is destined to become a Remembrance Day classic.

Thematic Links: World War I; Christmas Stories

Fiction Grades 3-6

ELLIS, Sarah
The Several Lives of Orphan Jack
Illustrated by Bruno St-Aubin. Groundwood Books, 2003. 84p. Illus. Gr. 3-6. 0-88899-529-6. Hdbk. $14.95

Rating: E

Sarah Ellis has transferred her extraordinary writing talents from the young adult fiction genre to a tale for younger readers in her new book The Several Lives of Orphan Jack. This book was shortlisted for the 2003 Governor General's Literary Award for English children's text. The text is lyrical, humorous, intriguing, and savvy.

The story begins at the Opportunities School for Orphans and Foundlings where the protagonist, Otherjack, (so named to distinguish him from a former student named Jack) is about to embark on a new life as a bookkeeper's apprentice. Despite his hopefulness, Otherjack determines early in his new career that bookkeeping is not for him. Jack decides to head for the sea. On his way there, he has many adventures in which his intelligence and resourcefulness keep him out of trouble. This quirky fellow (his most treasured possession is an old and incomplete dictionary) realizes that the dreary years at the Orphanage have served him well in a unique way. Jack has accumulated a wealth of "…thoughts, concepts, plans, opinions, impressions, notions and fancies." One day at the market, Jack discovers that people will exchange goods such as an apple, a pumpkin tart, a piece of toffee or cheese for ideas. When questioned by the local mayor as to what use are ideas, Jack replies " The use of them is fresh air for the brain. They make you stop and smile and say to yourself, Gee whillikers, I never thought of that before."

With lines such as "Flitters and fetchers and friends, said Jack to himself. That's the life of a wandering boy" this book is an enchanting read-aloud. The text is poetic and entertaining. The book, with Bruno St-Aubin's appealing, detailed, black and white illustrations, offers insight into nineteenth century life. The book is multifaceted. Each chapter describes not only Jack's adventures but also an aspect of daily life, attitudes, and social conventions of the time. This book is highly recommended for both public and school libraries. It is a joy to read at any age.

Thematic Links: Historical Fiction; Independence; Travel; Middle Ages

Laura Reilly


Fiction Grades 7-12

Groundwood Books/Douglas & McIntyre, 2003. 198p. Gr. 6-9. 0-88899-578-4. Pbk. $9.95

Rating: Excellent

Stitches by Glen Huser, winner of the 2003 Governor General's Award for Children's Literature - Text (English), is a wonderful and powerful story for teens. Written in first person, the main character, Travis faces many obstacles in his path to adulthood. As he approaches the middle teenage years, he is confronted by three male classmates who torment him relentlessly - emotionally and physically. His mother, Gentry, is on the road with her singing career. She is rarely around to be a part of his life and to help him cope with his struggles. Although he lives with his loving aunt and Gentry's sister, Kitaleen and her young children, Travis constantly witnesses the verbal abuse bestowed on the family by Kitaleen's husband, Mike. To add to matters, Travis likes to sew and create puppets. This results in taunts and put-downs by Travis' male classmates and by Mike. One of the greatest events in Travis' life is the friendship of Chantelle, a classmate who understands Travis' ordeals because like Travis, she has experienced put-downs and difficult times due to birth complications. Together Chantelle and Travis become the best of friends and win the admiration of teachers and classmates through their puppet production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. They support each other and broaden friendships with others. Despite their challenges, both Travis and Chantelle grow and mature to be extraordinary youth in a challenging world.

It is apparent that Huser has a connection with yuth. He has captured the thoughts, feelings and actions of young people as they move through the teen years and mature into adulthood. Students will certainly appreciate Huser's candid thoughts and ideas as expressed through the life of Travis.

Do not hesitate to add this book to your library collection. Your students will be glad you did!

Thematic Links: Bullying; Friendship; Emotional Abuse; Acceptance of Others; Maturation

Elaine Rospad

Non-Fiction Grades K-6

Exploring Saturn
Firefly Books, 2003. 64p. Illus. Gr. 4 up. 1-55297-765-X. Pbk. $9.95

Rating: Excellent

This book is absolutely packed with information and features 19 sections to help students learn about Saturn. These sections consist of brief, factual information about different aspects of Saturn, beginning with ancient discoveries and assumptions about the planet, facts about Saturn's composition, moons and rings, and end with a description of the Cassini-Huygens space mission that will reach Saturn in 2004. Backyard astronomers can find information about where and when they will be able to find Saturn for the years 2003-2010. The end sections give tables with quick facts about Saturn, its ring system and its satellites and the final page gives some authoritative websites for students who want to learn even more about Saturn and the Cassini-Huygens mission.

The pages are full of interesting information with strategically placed pictures and illustrations so that you are not overwhelmed by the text. This is a fantastic book that is well worth buying for any library where middle and high school students will be researching Saturn. It will also be very popular as the hype surrounding the Cassini-Huygens mission builds up in 2004.

Thematic Links: Saturn; Solar System; Planets; Astronomy; Cassini-Huygens Spacecraft

Heather Empey

Non-Fiction - Grades 7-12

Dinosaurus: The Complete Guide to Dinosaurs
Firefly Books, 2003. 448p. Illus. Gr. - Adult (suitable for teens, accessible to interested 9-12 year olds with adult assistance). 1-55297-772-2. Hdbk. $59.95

Rating: Excellent

If you're interested in dinosaurs, you'll love Dinosaurus! While the Foreword notes that this book can't possibly include every single known dinosaur, the coverage is certainly comprehensive enough to please dinosaur fans. The Introduction provides all the necessary background about evolution, fossils, timescale, even plate tectonics. Parker begins his tale with the earliest life, continues with a chapter on the evolution of life on land, and then dedicates the bulk of the book (11 of 15 chapters) to the dinosaurs. But the extinction of the dinosaurs doesn't mean the end of Dinosaurus! Parker also covers other creatures of the dinosaur age and then, in the last chapter, examines life after the dinosaurs, including human evolution. Chapter One, Early Life, begins with a photo of blue-green algae, similar to the early life forms on earth. The story ends with a postscript describing man's effect on the planet and illustrating this with a photograph of Los Angeles on a smoggy day. Yes indeed, Parker provides comprehensive coverage.

Dinosaurus is profusely illustrated, in colour. A double-page spread (with fold-out flap) illustrates the timescale of prehistory. A second double-page spread illustrates the changing arrangement of the continents over time. A third double-page spread illustrates and explains the relative sizes of the various animals presented in Dinosaurus. Parker includes maps showing the major fossil sites in the Americas, Europe and Africa, and Asia and Australasia as well as a list of places to go to see these fossils (including three in Canada: Canadian Museum of Nature in Victoria; Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto; and The Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology in Drumheller, Alberta).

The page dedicated to each animal contains a wealth of information, including a description; an explanation about where this animal fits, how it was discovered, etc.; an illustration in colour (most often a "action shot"); a map showing the position of the continents at the time relative to their positions today; and a Factfile with the animal's name, the meaning and pronunciation of the name, the period, main group (classification), size, diet, and fossil sites.

The vocabulary and sentence structure Parker uses make it clear Dinosaurus isn't written for children. He does use scientific terminology, but defines and explains terms the first time he uses them, refers back to this earlier explanation (complete with page number) when he uses the term again, and provides a glossary for quick reference. Parker doesn't expect his readers to be scientists; he does expect them to be interested enough in the topic to want to know some of the technical stuff (like the anatomical distinctions between reptiles and dinosaurs).

Although Dinosaurus is written for adults, it will be accessible to interested teens with good reading skills. Indeed, because readers motivated by interest can often read above their usual reading level, dinosaur fans as young as 9 - 12 can begin enjoying this book on their own. And if you know of a child and adult who share an interest in dinosaurs, do them a favour and give them this book - they'll love exploring it together.

Thematic Links: Dinosaurs; Prehistoric Life; Evolution

Brenda Dillon


Professional Resources

DE VOS, Gail, Merle Harris, & Celia Barker-Lottridge
Telling Tales: Storytelling in the Family 2nd. Ed.
The University of Alberta Press, 2003. 204p. 0-88864-402-7. Pbk. $29.95 CDN

Rating: Excellent

We all love stories! From our earliest requests of "tell me a story", to standing in line to see the latest Lord of the Rings movie, we crave the power of a well-told tale to excite, inform, comfort or sustain. The authors of Telling Tales: Storytelling in the Family have created a volume that is at once highly informative and entertaining.

This book is a useful compendium of information about storytelling, written especially for parents who want to explore the magic of "tales" with their children. The expertise and experiences of the authors are shared with charm and rich humour. Not only is this book about storytelling, it uses anecdotes to illuminate examples and information. Content is divided into four sections: "Once Upon a Time", which discussed the value of story; "Stories from the Family Tree", which guides the reader to think about family stories, stories from a life, and sharing family lore. The third section, "Developing and learning to Tell Stories" provides excellent guidelines for shaping and telling personal stories. The last section, "Universal Tales", provides in-depth discussion of nursery rhymes, traditional folklore and folklore in popular culture. Many readers will find this last section particularly fascinating, as it moves from traditional, well-loved oral culture to a consideration of ways in which we can help children better understand the messages of books, films and computer games.

The storytelling resource section includes an extensive annotated bibliography of materials related to the techniques of storytelling, as well as recommended picture books, and collections: nursery rhymes, legends, myths, lullabies. The "traditional tales retold" category provides bibliographic information for a number of contemporary books. For example, there are 17 titles which are based on the Cinderella story. Books which are specifically mentioned in the text are presented, as well. The index will be useful for those who want to make the most of Telling Tales as a reference.

This book will be of value to parents, teachers, librarians, and anyone with an interest in oral culture. The authors have blended scholarship and extensive professional practice with an appealing intimacy which encourages the reader to believe in their own storytelling ability.

Thematic Links: Storytelling; Children's Literature; Oral History

Kathryn McNaughton

Audio-Visual Resources

Apples and Oranges
Director: Lynne Fernie; Writers; Lynne Fernie and Laura Kosterski. National Film Board of Canada, 2003. VHS 18 min. Gr. 7 up. Order # C9103 019. $39.95

Rating: Good

Apples and Oranges is designed to raise viewer awareness of the harmful effects of homophobia. The video discusses, in cartoon format suitable for the child viewer who is its main target audience such terms as: tolerance, homophobia, stereotyping and bullying. The video begins with an animated classroom discussion among elementary students regarding equity in the classroom. The specific incident revolves around children's paintings. This is used as the springboard to dissolve into two short stories: Anta's Revenge and Defying Gravity.

In Anta's Revenge, the main character discovers that creativity is a more powerful tool than vengeance. Anta is dealing with a school bully. The bully ridicules Anta because she has two moms. Her alternate lifestyle is the butt of their jokes until Anta uses her artistic abilities to her advantage.

In Defying Gravity, Habib and Jeroux are friends who enjoy skateboarding together. However, their relationship falls apart when one discovers the other is gay.

Apples and Oranges makes use of the animated stories to help elementary students on the video and in the classroom explore such activities as name calling, ridiculing, bullying those who are different from them. The video is very tastefully done. The use of animated short stories provides students with some emotional distance to springboard discussion about serious and existing topics in their lives.

In addition to the video, the writers have provided introductory activities and suggested questions for discussion.

While the stories are cute and useful, I would use this video with caution. One needs to know one's community before airing this video. Perhaps it would be an excellent one to show Parent Council or PTA members before using it in the school.

Thematic Links: Diversity; Alternate Lifestyles; Homosexuals

Gail Lennon

CD-ROM Resources

BARBER, Katherine
The Canadian Oxford Dictionary CD-ROM
Oxford University Press, 2002. CD-ROM. Gr. 4up. 0-19541-800-x. $60.00

Hardware Specifications: To use the Dictionary Shelf you will need: A PC with minimum 166 MHz Pentium class processor, Windows 95, 98, Me or Windows NT 4.0 or 2000, 64 MB RAM, approx 80 MB free hard disk space, CD-ROM or DVD drive, SVGA monitor displaying 16-bit colour (64K, high colour),Internet access (56K modem). This is required for customer registration with iFinger (optional) to purchase other titles and to download free software upgrades. Power user rights required to install and run the software when using Windows NT 4.0/2000.

Rating: Excellent

The Canadian Oxford Dictionary CD-ROM is part of the Oxford World English Dictionary Shelf - a "quick reference" software program that accesses word definitions using iFinger's Pop-up and search tools. The data sits on your hard drive, so you don't need the CD-ROM after installation. If you want to look up a word, you just hold your mouse over a word on your Web page, or double-click on a word in any Windows-based application and the word will be looked up for you. Configuring the program to do this is simple. You just click on configure in the ever-present iFinger window, click Configure and check the Double-click box. This Internet and Windows compatibility is well-suited to most school computer configurations and thus a great tool for any school. It is current (includes the controversial word McJob), comprehensive (hyperlinks to the Internet for more article information) and of course, Canadian (with entries on Celine Dion and Maurice Richard for example). Searches are not case sensitive and give base forms of words. It keeps a history of the last five words searched. It also allows you to copy entries into your own text and create a personalized user dictionary. English students can benefit especially from this easily accessible search tool.

Thematic Links: Reference Material; Dictionaries - Canadian

Anne Murphy

French Resources

Comptons jusqu'à un million
Translated by Lucy Rochon-Landry. Les Éditions Scholastic, 2003. 30p. Illus. Gr. 2-5 EFI, GRADE 6 LFI. 0-439-96988-3. Pbk. $8.99


Comptons jusqu'à un million is a creative Math book that allows the reader to see the progression of numbers in the decimal system. We explore the numbers in increments of ten and look at a variety of samples that are found in that quantity. The number ten is represented by 10 bold and big ladybugs, while the number 100 is represented by 100 gumballs. This book covers place value up to one million and shows the reader how multiplying by 10 increases the quantity of digits in the number.

The illustrations in this book are excellent. The vibrant colours and detailed images correspond well to the subject. I couldn't wait to see how the illustrator was going to represent numbers in the tens of thousands and beyond. The author does a very good job of explaining how the picture corresponds to the math fact on the page.

Thematic Links: Decimal System; Math

Janice Ling


Editor: Victoria Pennell