Book Review: Nine Words Max By Dan Bar-el

Written by Dan Bar-el
Illustrated by David Huyck

Tundra Books 2014 

Dan Bar-el brings his strength as a storyteller to audiences of young children to his work as an author.  He works magic captivating young listeners.  Max, the main character of his story, is every bit as verbal as the author but less successful at captivating his audience.  Maximillian, is a young prince with many questions, the background knowledge to draw on and the tenacity to drive his brothers crazy.  A magic spell limits him to quick jolts of only 9 words at a time.  Sometimes less is not more and the book opens the discussion of the power of language.  David Huyck’s love of cartoons is evident in the illustrations of the book.  The illustrations provide as much information as the text.  Good fun  and lots of laughs for capable primary readers and intermediate students. IMG_0085

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Book Review: A Brush full of Colour: The World of Ted Harrison

By Margriet Ruurs and Katherine Gibson

Pajama Press 2014

In the foreward of this gorgeous book, Ted Harrison urges his readers to keep on reading, writing and painting to make the world a happier and more creative place.  Katherine Gibson and Margriet Ruurs tell the story of Ted Harrison’s life and inspiration for his work.  Photographs from his family collections, recollections, drawings and painting  trace his life and work from childhood in England to his eventual move to teach in the Yukon.  He explains that it was the “free lines of nature” and northern lights and reflections that inspired him in a way that has become synonymous with the North.  To quote Ted Harrison, “Art must be part of every child’s education…Painting is the last great freedom.  You can paint what you like.”  This book is a powerful example of a biography, an art book and a celebration.

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Book Review: Taan’s Moons A Haida Moon Story

By Alison Gear
Felt Illustrations by Kiki van dee Heiden with the Children of Haida Gwaii

mckellar & martin Publishing Group Ltd. 2014

This book made me want to go back to the Haida Gwaii.  It is a beautiful book and a celebration of the children of the Haida Gwaii who helped to make it.  The felt work is unique and a fitting representation of the BC Northwest coast.  Alison Gear has lived on the Haida Gwaii since 1996 and tells one version of the Haida moon cycle.  Each page has text in English with titles in both Skidegate Haida and Old Masset Haida.  It is very cool that there is a full written translation and audio recording in the Skidegate Haida dialect upon request.  Initially the book looks like a book appropriate for early primary but the poetry of text makes it just as appropriate for use with older students.  I shared this book with Grade 3/4 students.  They loved the artwork in the illustrations and how you could “almost feel” the texture.  They also liked how the animals that they know quite a bit about, followed the cycle of the moon.  The students currently researching British Columbia and the Haida Gwaii were also thrilled that they were able to garner information to include in the books they are currently writing using BookCreator on the iPads.  Taan’s Moons is an amazing way to consider Aboriginal ways of knowing and understanding that are evolving into written text after being passed down through oral traditions for centuries.

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Book Review: My Granny Loves HOCKEY

Written by Lori Webber
Illustrations by Eliska Liska

Simply Read Books 2014

Lori Weber is from Pointe-Claire, Quebec and a hockey enthusiast, as many little girls in Canada are.  In this charming book, the grand daughter is able to help her grandmother to live out her dream of playing hockey.  It’s a nice addition to a collection of Canadian classics that feature boys and their love of hockey.  I feel very fortunate to have had a friend and uncles who assumed I’d be playing when the fields froze over in Richmond. The celebrated Canadian Olympic hockey team is making this a greater possibility for Canadian girls.  Go Granny, go!

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Smart Change by Art Markman

Art Markman is not only an academic but personable and hence able to convey his message.  If the truth be known, I also like him BECAUSE he brought his mother to his presentation and book signing at The Learning and the Brain Conference in New York on Mother’s Day.  Every mother of a son realizes that being good to your Mommy is one of the criteria for true admiration and respect:D

Markman has also published Smart Thinking and Habits of Leadership.  His most recent publication, Smart Change:  Five Tools to Create New and Sustainable Habits in Yourself and Others continues to explore his work on understanding how the brain functions in developing new habits and maintaining old habits with automaticity.  Deeply ingrained habits do not require thinking to guide our actions.  This is why I have inadvertently headed on my expedited route to work when I’ve agreed to drop off a husband or son at the skytrain, even when he is sitting right beside me in the car.  The quest is to leverage the power of the brain to make the changes you want to make.  Interestingly several of the examples are related to diet, something many of us can relate to failures over the course of years.

The book is designed as a handbook for someone wanting to make a change in his/her life.  The Takeaways at the end of each chapter summarize key point.  Templates for a smart change journal are provided online (smartchangebook.com) or you can respond to prompts and questions in your own journal.   I have started the process and we’ll see how that goes.

Canada Reads The Orenda

The Orenda by Joseph Boyden was a perfect pick for the 2014 Canada Reads selection.   It appeals to me both as a reader and a history major. It brings a greater depth to the inter-relationship between the Huron, the Iroquois, the French explorers/traders, and the Jesuit missionaries during the 17th century. You come face to face with people of engaged in power dynamics. The characterization is so strong, that you are able to identify with individuals trying to live their lives with their conception of integrity, cope with their demons or sometimes with the belief that the end justifies the means. I was able to empathize or gain a better understanding of people who have been characterized as good or evil, depending on the historical representation you choose to adopt. Stunning examples of helplessness, cruelty, resilience and tenacity stay with you long after the book is finished.

 

One of the things that I always find startling is the intensity of the cruelty that human beings inflict upon each other: The Huron and Iroquois Nations and the tradition of “caressing” or torturing has been used to characterize the First Nations peoples as savages in history books. Yet it is something that is commonplace in human interaction when faced with whoever is perceived as “the enemy” of the day. Romans throwing people to be devoured by hungry lions, the Early Christian crucifying, the brutality during the Crusader, the genocide in WWII, Rwanda and Bosnia, capital punishment existing in the 21st century, debating the merits of torture in Guantanamo Bay – all examples of human beings making a conscious decision to treat other human beings as less than human. It is very difficult to characterize any one group as “savage” when the savagery has been embraced so readily throughout history.

 

At one point, Fox, one of the main characters makes the observation “..now he knows the pain I have suffered and from watching me for so long that this pain never really goes away, just wanes and rises like the moon…”(p.313)   Is the pain of the human experience the reason for the savagery? Is the orenda or human soul the reason for the moments of greatness when a person is able to sacrifice themselves to save someone else, to find their voice to defend basic human rights, to show kindness because she can or emerge beyond loss without malice?

 

I met a teacher at Camp Elphinstone that chose this book for all of the secondary students in her school to read. Not all students would be able to read the text independently, however if ever there is a great text to make accessible and provoke discussion of our shared roots as Canadians, it is this one.