November 30, 2011

Books for ballerinas

November 29, 2011

Paper flowers bring faith

by Peter H. Reynolds

Rose, a collector of seeds, travels the world in a fantastic teapot. In the middle of a bustling city, she finds a forgotten stretch of earth. There, she decides to plant her seeds. But when she returns to her teapot, she finds that birds have eaten most of the seeds. Nevertheless, she sows the remaining seeds and waits for them to grow. Nothing happens for a long time. While Rose patiently waits, children bring her paper flowers, adding colour and stories to her bare plot. Rose's faith is rewarded when she discovers real flowers growing among the paper ones.

As always, Reynolds' delicate, minimalist illustrations are the perfect backdrop to a charming little story.

November 24, 2011

Books vs iPads, part 2

I recently had a conversation with a young twenty-something woman who insisted that all print books should be replaced with electronic versions or apps. She claimed that her friends don't give books to their kids anymore, they just hand over an iPad. She failed to take into account that some books, like picture books or pop-up books, could never be replaced by an electronic device, and that there are a lot of people who can't afford a pricey tablet computer.

 I will never stop loving printed books; the advantages of books over ebooks is best exemplified in Lane Smith's It's a Book. 

As a gorilla sits reading quietly, a donkey pesters him about this strange thing: Does it need a password? Can it text? How do you scroll down? The gorilla always replies No, it's a book. The donkey may be a complete ass, but he finally comes to understand the value of a good book.

For parents concerned about the language, Smith also created a board book for younger audiences.


November 22, 2011

Books vs. iPads

There's an article in the Globe and Mail that is very interesting and a bit disturbing. Headlined For some kids, a book is just an iPad that doesn't work, it discusses how book apps blur the line between books and games and how they may ruin the parent-child reading experience. Having interactive widgets can prevent children from turning the pages at their own pace and can make reading into an isolated activity rather than a shared one. This is especially true when it comes to picture books. Children like to comment on the pictures as they read, which often lead to interesting discussions with their parents.

The best apps are those that depart from the source material and can be enjoyed by both parents and children. A good example are the Stella and Sam apps. They are based more on the animated television series and are games, not books.

Another good app is Barnyard Dance by Sandra Boynton. With bouncy music and singsong narration, this is a very fun experience. Boynton's books have always been filled with movement and dance so it's great to see how well they adapt to being animated. In the app, you can fiddle with the cow, bow to the horses, twirl with the dog and promenade the animals two by two. It may even get kids interested in actual square dances!

November 17, 2011

Poems for birdwatchers

by Michael J. Rosen
illustrated by Stan Fellows

A collection of haikus that capture the essential nature of 26 birds like the American Goldfinch, the Chimney Swift and the Cedar Waxwing. Distinctive facts about each bird are written in curly, elegant script. 

Here’s Rosen’s take on the European Starling:

masking the daylight
one wheeling black star explodes
thousands of starlings

House Sparrow:
hunkered, plumped sparrow
each feather pockets the heat
a mitten-warmed fist

Northern Mockingbird:
the one-man bird band:
diva, choir, and orchestra
unbroken record

November 16, 2011

The power of music and art

by Charlotte Gingras
illustrations by Stephane Jorisch

Every family has its troubles. Emily’s mother is depressed, her grandmother’s in a nursing home, and her father is having an affair. Even the piano has been sold - a sign that her family is about to collapse. If she could find the piano, Emily thinks, her family will be happy again.

In just 60 pages, Charlotte Gingras has crafted a beautiful story about the healing power of music. A perfect gem. 

by Dulari Devi (as told to Gita Wolf)

Dulari Devi could not read or write, but she could create pictures in her mind. One day, she made a bird out of mud. The next day, after seeing her employer in a painting class, she asked for painting lessons. Soon, she began painting every day. Filled with her vibrantly coloured creations, Dulari's story shows how art can transform a life.

November 15, 2011

The Beard Makes the Man

by Patricia Rusch Hyatt
illustrated by Kathryn Brown

Joseph Palmer dared to grow a beard. And not just any beard! It flowed down from his chin to his knee and stretched from elbow to elbow. The townspeople were shocked. When Beard Palmer’s neighbours tried to shave him, he fought back. When Palmer refused to pay the fine, he was sentenced to a year in jail!  A letter writing campaign earned his release, but he was then expected to pay the jailer for his keep. Outraged, Beard Palmer refused to leave!

An entertaining story about injustice and human rights.

Here's Beard Palmer with his family:

November 10, 2011

Dramatic rescue

The world was riveted in October 2010, when 33 miners were rescued from a Chilean mine after being entombed for 69 days. Now read about their dramatic story in Trapped: How the World Rescued 33 Miners from 2,000 Feet Below the Chilean Desert.

It's a story full of danger, courage, hope and ingenuity, brought to life through Marc Aronson's suspenseful text. Using clear, everyday language, he explains how the problem occurred, how the rescue attempt proceeded, and how the miners and rescuers coped with their ordeal. With photos, quotes, and historical background, including a helpful section on internet research methods. An excellent book for students who enjoy science, exploration and survival stories.

November 8, 2011

Engaging novel about life and death

by Alice Kuipers

Sixteen-year-old Sophie is trying to forget the London subway bombing that claimed the life of her older sister Emily. But it hasn't been easy. Sophie, filled with loss and anger, lashes out at her mother, and refuses to speak to her therapist.  It also prevents her from seeing that her friend Abi has problems of her own.

Sophie's anger is so isolating that it even distances the reader, making it difficult, at first, to sympathize with her. Her only outlet is writing in her journal (the novel is a collection of Sophie's journal entries) and her new friendship with Rosa-Leigh, who encourages her to write poetry.

Sophie slowly begins to heal when she starts seeing a new therapist and reads a poem she wrote about Emily at the memorial service. That's when the reader finally understands the emotions that Sophie had been trying so hard to repress.

Kuipers does a fairly good job of depicting Sophie's emotional turmoil, while generating sympathy for Sophie's mother, who tries unsuccessfully to reach out to her daughter. The other characters are less well-developed; it's hard to see why Sophie is attracted to Rosa-Leigh. Meanwhile, we discover that Abi suffers from an eating disorder, but the reasons are not adequately explored. However, Kuipers manages to convey enough suspense - how Emily died is not revealed until the end - to keep the reader interested. 

A worthwhile and rewarding read.

November 3, 2011

New Hamlet disappoints

by John Marsden

Many teens know the story of the melancholy Dane; he is a mainstay of many high school English courses. Thus we know that Hamlet can be an exasperating read. Not only is he a mad procrastinator, but he has to speak in the obscure language of Shakespeare. So I had high hopes that this version, which the book's cover proclaims as "a wonderful treatment of the play" would modernize and shed new light on its characters and situations. 

I assumed that since the book is called Hamlet and Ophelia, we would hear the story from both Hamlet's and Ophelia's perspective. Most readers would expect a first-person account in alternating voices. Instead we get a juvenile beginning with short sentences and pedestrian dialogue, written in the third person. The point-of-view tends to jump around between characters, entering the thoughts not only of Hamlet, but of Horatio and Bernardo as well. Unfortunately, their thoughts tend to be very obvious or unintelligent. Hamlet's inability to act is revealed in a flashback (where he's unable to efficiently dispatch an injured animal). As for Ophelia, she goes mad all too quickly, and we never really figure her out. Both she and Hamlet express lustful desires, but since neither acts upon them, the scenes merely exasperate and distract (or cause unintentional laughter). 

The book doesn't come to life until the appearance of the acting troupe. Then it sounds more like the play, with Marsden using Shakespeare's words and cleaning it up a bit. It makes the plot easily discernible, which is a definite improvement on Cole's Notes. Just don't expect any new insights or Twilight-like yearnings. 

November 1, 2011

Transforming ourselves

edited by Marilyn Singer

Hallowe'en is all about pretending to be someone or something else. In this collection of stories, teens try to fit in at school or find a date by not being wholly themselves. This is taken to extremes in The Plan, in which Victor's mother pretends to be his sister in order to stay young. For Jamillah in Lucky Six, a high schooler who works nights as a stripper, the plan is to save enough money to support her siblings. And in the best story, Butterflies, by Margaret Peterson Haddix, a young immigrant is given an American-style makeover by well-meaning, but ignorant aid workers. Anna's thoughts as she looks in the mirror reveals a past life that the butterfly women, as she calls them, cannot possibly fathom.

These stories, despite some unevenness, will nevertheless leave an impression on teens concerned about appearances and true selves.