Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sky Color

Sky Color
 Peter Reynolds. 
Candlewick, 2012
ISBN: 0763623458
Material Type: Book
Grade Level: All Ages

Highly Recommended

Sky Color is the third book in Peter Reynold's creatrilogy, which also includes The Dot and Ish. Marisol is a budding artist who lives and breathes for painting so when she is asked to help paint a mural in the library she is ecstatic. Marisol volunteers to paint the sky but is taken aback when she discovers there is no blue paint. A puzzled Marisol becomes more attuned to her surroundings and begins to notice nature's abundance of colors, tones, and hues.  A reminder for everyone of all ages to pause and take note of the vast array of colors in our world and to embrace creativity and individuality. 

Saskatchewan Curriculum Connections
  • Arts Education: Creative and Productive
  • English Language Arts: Personal and Philosophical Context 

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


Malinda Lo.
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2009
ISBN 978-0340988374
Grades 8-12

Highly Recommended

Ash is an entrancing, lyrical and beautifully written fantasy. The author, Malinda Lo, explains that Ash is a retelling of the Cinderella story in a fantasy world that in some ways is a familiar one, but in one critical way is not. Ash is a lesbian retelling of Cinderella in which the heroine falls in love with a beautiful huntress instead of the prince. 

Lo masterfully portrays alternative lifestyles in such a manner that it does not take away from the captivating plot. The story does not revolve around her being a lesbian, and in fact it wasn't until quite late into the book  that I paused to consider that perhaps Ash had feelings for the huntress. What I found to be fascinating about this story was that Lo created a fantasy world in which homosexuality was completely normal. Lo explains that this allowed her to write Ash as a fairytale story, not as a coming out story.

Reviews and Awards for Ash

 The Prequel

The Huntress, the companion novel to Ash.

Ash and Huntress are extremely powerful books that I would highly recommend adding to your YA collection as they give our LGBT students a voice. If you are interested in including more LGBT titles to your collection I have found that The American Library Association has one of the most comprehensive, reputable, and up to date Rainbow Books Bibliographies that I have come across.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Leaders and Legacies Series

The Mystery of the Moonlight Murder: An Early Adventure of John Diefenbaker
The Legends of Lake on the Mountain: An Early Adventure of John A.Macdonald
Leaders and Legacies Series 

Roderick Benns.
Whitby, ON: Fireside Publishing House, 2009.
245 pp., pbk., $12.95.
ISBN 978-0-9812433-0-6.
Subject Headings:
Diefenbaker, John G., 1895-1979-Childhood and youth-Juvenile fiction.
Prairie Provinces-History-1905-1945-Juvenile fiction.
Prime ministers-Canada-Juvenile fiction.
Macdonald, John A. (John Alexander), 1815-1891-Childhood and youth-Juvenile fiction.

*Canadian Author 

Roderick Benns' Leaders and Legacies Series stood out to me largely due to the inclusion of Saskatchewan, Canadian, First Nations, and Metis content. As a Saskatchewan based teacher-librarian I am always looking for new and interesting books to include in my collection that contain Saskatchewan, First Nations, and Metis content. 

In the Leaders and Legacies Series Benns is able to blend Canadian history through the fictionalized mysteries and adventures of John Diefenbaker and John A.Macdonald. Through the characters and events in this series he is able to promote diverse perspectives, and does this in in such a way that will intrigue students across the grade levels, and will evoke questions and curiosity. 

I found it very helpful that Roderick included a note to the reader, in each of his books, that outlined the truth and authenticity of the story, as well as a reference list of resources that helped him craft his story. Either one of these books would make a great read aloud and would provide background information and perspectives when teaching First Nations and Metis content across the subject areas.

Watch the book trailers below and read the reviews from CM magazine to learn more about the Leaders and Legacies Series. 

The Mystery of the Moonlight Murder: An Early Adventure of John Diefenbaker

The Legends of Lake on the Mountain: An Early Adventure of John A.Macdonald

Reviews and Resources

CM Review of The Mystery of the Moonlight Murder: An Early Adventure of John Diefenbaker

CM Review  of The Legends of Lake on the Mountain: An Early Adventure of John A.Macdonald

Ideas for the classroom: Included on Roderick Benn's website

Saskatchewan Curriculum Connections
  • English Language Arts: Social, cultural, and historical context.
  • Social Studies: Power and Authority and Dynamic Relationships

Monday, September 5, 2011

All the Rage

The popularity of dystopian, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction does not seem to be abating. Books, movies, and T.V shows with dark themes are all the rage these days for teens and even adults. What is the difference between each of these genres and why are they so appealing to our young adults?

In simple terms dystopian fiction is the creation of a nightmare world often in a repressive and controlled state, apocalyptic fiction deals with the end of civilization because of a catastrophe such as a pandemic or nuclear warfare, and post apocalyptic fiction is set in a world or civilization after a disaster where society has had to reform itself. 

Due to the explosion of these genres it is difficult to know what books to include in your school library collection, what to recommend to students, and how to incorporate them into the curriculum. To begin with, here are a few books and resources that I would suggest checking out.

Trash by Andy Mulligan (2010) Grades 6-8

Epitaph Road by David Patneaude (2010)  Grades 7-10

What Happened To Serenity by PJ Sarah Collins (2011) Canadian Author. Grades 5-8
Life As We Knew It Trilogy (2010/2011) Grades 7-10

Delirium by Lauren Oliver (2011) Grades 9-12

Browse Inside this book
Get this for your site

Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card. Grades 7-11

Incarceron and Sapphique by Catherine Fisher. Grades 7-11

Internet Resources

Teacher, Study and Discussion Guides for Life As We Knew It, The Dead And The Gone, and This World We Live In.

School Library Journal: Focus on Dystopia: Turn on the Dark

YALSA has an excellent post on their blog of Dystopian vs Post-apocalyptic teen books along with a few recommendations.

Comprehensive List of YA dystopian books

Saskatchewan Curriculum Connections
  • English Language Arts: Imaginative and literary context, and environmental and technological context
  • Social Studies: Dynamic Relationships, Power and Authority

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Thunder over Kandahar by Sharon E. McKay

Thunder over Kandahar
By Sharon E.McKay
Photographs by Rafal Gerszak.
Toronto, ON: Annick Press, 2010.
260 pp., pbk. & hc., $12.95 (pbk.), $21.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-55451-266-9 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55451-267-6 (hc.).
Subject Heading:
Afghan War, 2001- -Juvenile fiction.
Grades 7 and up / Ages 12 and up

Highly Recommended
* Canadian Author 


"I wish with all my heart that you were in school. I love my country, Daughter, but here we have been robbed of our most precious gifts: thought and imagination. Only in an atmosphere of peace and security can artists, poets, and writers flourish. Without our artists and storytellers, we have
 no history, and without history our future is unmoored-we drift. It is art, never war, that carries culture forward."
Thunder Over Kandahar
McKay tells the story from the perspective of Yasmine, an Afghan girl, who has just moved with her family  to Afghanistan from England. Initially, Yasmine does not understand the culture, land, attitudes, or the misogynistic society. As the story unravels Yasmine befriends Tamanna and the story is told through alternating viewpoints that present both sides of the cultural divide, question the role of foreigners and the military, uncover the opression of women, highlight the bond of friendship, and most of all capture the love and pride that Afghans have for their country.  

To learn more about the premise of the book watch the book trailer of Thunder over Kandahar created by Annick Publishing.

When I picked up Thunder Over Kandahar I assumed it would be similar to other novels dealing with war torn countries. In a lot of ways it was: the author spent time overseas to research and immerse herself in the culture,and the main characters were faced with the chaos and terrors of war. So what makes this book stand out, and how is it different than the others? To me, it was the unique perspective and insight that McKay shared with the reader, and the tough questions the reader is left to ponder and grapple with.

A riveting story of current day Afghanistan, the perils of war, and how friendship, hope, and love can prevail even in the most darkest of times.

To learn more about the Sharon McKay's experiences in Afghanistan watch the interview below.

Reviews and Awards

Saskatchewan Curriculum Connections
  • Glossary is provided
  • This book is available as an audio book through the Public Library. It is important to note that there is no glossary or authors note provided in the audio book.
  • English Language Arts: Social, cultural, and historical context.
  • Social Studies: Power and Authority, Interactions and interdependence.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Piece by Piece: Stories About Fitting into Canada

Piece by Piece: Stories About Fitting Into Canada
Toronto, ON: Puffin Canada, 2010
183pp., hardcover $20.00
ISBN 978-0-670-06849-4
Subject Headings: Immigrants-Canada-Biography-Juvenile literature.
Authors, Canadian (English)-20th century-Biography-Juvenille literature.
Grades 7-12/ Ages 12-17

Highly Recommended
* Canadian Authors and Content

Piece by Piece: Stories about Fitting Into Canada
Piece by Piece: Stories About Fitting into Canada is a young adult anthology featuring original stories by some of Canada's most distinguished authors who were born in another country and struggled to fit in when they moved to Canada. The authors share their personal experiences and feelings about belonging. An excellent addition to a school library and a valuable resource for teachers who are looking for a variety of perspectives about fitting in, overcoming obstacles, discrimination, and immigration to share with their students.
I have included a list of the contributors, and in some cases a glimpse into their stories, hardships, and celebrations about being Canadian.   

Red Maple Leaves: Svetlana Chmakova
Manga author born and rasied in Russia, and moved to Canada when she was sixteen years old. 

When we arrived, all we had were our hastily packed suitcases.
They weren't big enough to fit everything.
What I brought with me: clothes, books, my best drawings, diaries, and my stamp collection.
What we left behind: my older sister, my hometown, and a lifetime of memories.

Tales From the Twilight Zone:Richard Poplak
Author and director born in South Africa and now lives in Toronto.

Snapshots from the Fringes: Rachina Gilmore
Governor General's Award-winning author born in India.
It's difficult to come up with only a few snapshots of belonging because mostly I do belong. Canada and I have grown and evolved together, so that belonging is a status that is rarely jolted now, although it does still happen.

A Caravan of Words: Rachel Manley
Poet and author born in Cornwall England, grew up in Jamaica and now resides in Toronto.

You're Not From Around Here, Are You?: Linda Granfield
Canadian history author born in the United States of America.
When you are born in Canada, perhaps you never think about why others want to become Canadians. You don't know whether war, famine, cruel government regimes, jobs, or love drives people to Canada's shores. You might not even know the steps people take to become citizens. There are rules to be followed. Years to be lived in Canada. And tests to be taken.

One Foot in The Future: Alice Kuipers
Young adult author born in London England and now resides in Saskatoon, SK.

What Is For You, Is For You: Richardo Keens-Douglas
Actor, playwright, and storyteller born in Grenada.
I was lucky to have parents who encouraged me to do what I wanted to do. When they realized my heart was set in performing, and there was not way of learning that "drama stuff" on the island, they sent me to Montreal to study theatre. I was nineteen, and I will never forget the surprise when I landed in Canada.

Under the Armpit of Noah: Boona Mohammed
Poet, rapper, and a child of refugee parents from Oromia, a part of Ethiopia still under colonial regime.

What's in a Name?" Mahtab Narsimham
Author born in Mumbai and now lives in Toronto.

Crossing Yonge Street: Marina Nemat
Author born in Tehran, Iran.
After my release out of prison, the government of Iran refustd to give me a passport, and I had to wait six years to leave the country.

The Languages I've Learned: Dimitri Nasrallah
Author born in Lebanon in 1977 and moved to Canada in 1988.

My Piece: Teresa Toten
Award winning writer who was born in Zagreb, Croatia.

My mom  and I arrived in Canada on October 26th, 1955, on the Queen Elizabeth II.
 I was thirteen days old.
Six months later my father died.

Shadow Play:Rui Umezawa
Martial artist and author born in Japan who now lives in Toronto.

The Airplane Overhead: Eva Wiseman
Historical fiction author who immigrated to Canada during the Hungarian Revolution who now lives in Winnipeg, MB.

A roomful of eyes stared at me. Somebody snickered in the back of the room, but I couldn't tell who it was, for my oxfords drew my eyes like a magnet.

Permission to Work:Ting Xing Ye
Young Adult author born in Shanghai in 1952 and now lives in Orillia, Ontario.

Piece by Piece brought to the forefront that every immigrant has a story. I was able to identify with some of the stories, others provided thoughtful insight, and some were hard to fathom. The reality is, that some of these stories also mimic some of our own student's personal experiences. After reading this anthology I feel that I can better identify with some of the struggles that our EAL students may have in our schools, and most importantly I was reminded that at some point and time we all have struggled to belong.  A powerful message and reminder to share with all of our students.

Reviews and Awards
Curriculum Connections
  • English Language Arts: Personal and philosophical context
  • Social Studies: Dynamic Relationships & Power and Authority
  • Suitable for Middle Years and High School

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Queen of Hearts by Martha Brooks

Highly Recommended
* Canadian Author and Content


" I was twelve," she starts off, "when I was diagnosed with
this stupid damn disease."

And she's even swearing! What will fall out of her mouth next?

"Go on"

I didn't even have- you know- breasts." She lowers her voice at the word "breasts."

"We're alone, Signy. And you got your breasts."

"Small ones," she says with a sob.

"Oh, for pete's sake. Everybody's are different. Even cows."

"Yes, but now," she goes on, recovering herself, "when I try to stand up straight I can't because one shoulder is lower than the other and my back is humped on one side. Even if I get out of this place, even if I dress up in the prettiest, most expensive clothes in the world, I won't look like a normal girl and that's never going to change, now is it? Really it won't."

What can I say to that? She's right. It won't.  

"And who will love me?" she adds in a small voice.

It is 1941 in Manitoba and fifteen year old Marie Claire Côté knows that, " TB crawls up to your back door and howls like a hungry wolf nobody saw coming." Yet the Côté family is startled to discover that their uncle Gérard, who lived a hard life and had recently come to live them, is diagnosed with tuberculosis. Shortly after losing their uncle to tuberculosis Marie-Claire, along with her two siblings, were sent to the Pembina Hills Sanatorium.

Despite living in a Sanatorium with a terrible disease Marie Claire still wondered if she would ever fall in love, worried about her appearance, thought about her family, came face to face with death, struggled with friendships, and even fantasized about her future. Brooks eloquently captures the fears and life of a young teen-age woman battling tuberculosis during World War II. Even though Marie Clarie's struggles depict life in the 1940's I beleive that young adult readers in 2011 will be able to identify with some of the same feelings and experiences that she encounters.

Queen of Hearts also brings to the forefront the many hardships families faced during WWII, as well as the impact and significance of  tuberculosis in Candian history. In many ways this is a significant part of our history, but it is important to realize that it is still an ongoing problem in Canada today. For more information about tuberculosis in Canada visit Saskatchewan Health or the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Even though Queen of Hearts is a fictional story, Martha Brooks writes from firsthand experience. Brooks was raised on the grounds of the Ninette Sanatorium in southwest Manitoba and her father`s position as a medical superintendent also took them to the Trudeau Sanatorium in upstate New York.  After discovering a haunting black and white photogtraph of an unidentified tubercular boy with his thin and sad sisters, Brooks was inspired to create a story. After you read Queen of Hearts you will realize that it is not just a story. It is our story, a piece of our history.

Reviews and Awards

Saskatchewan Curriculum Connections
  • English Language Arts: Environmental and technological context
  • Grade 9 Health: Stigma and identities associated with individuals, families, and communities living with/affected by non curable infections/diseases, and those who advocate from them.
  • Social Studies: Dynamic Relationships