Tag Archives: books

BOOKS FOR EARTH DAY

April 21 is Earth Day. It will be celebrated around the world by planting seeds, picking garbage, starting a recycle program or in many other ways of being kind to the earth. In addition to projects, you can also celebrate Earth Day through those wonderful books.

My Ocean is Blue by Darren Leboeuf, illustrated by Ashley Barron is a picture book with poetic text that looks at all characteristics of the ocean – from shallow to deep, from quiet to loud. A lovely read with the youngest readers. And a good incentive to collect shells and pebbles for an ocean display in the classroom. ISBN 978-1-52530143-8

Beginning scientists will love That’s No Dino! by Helaine Becker, illustrated by Marie-Eve Tremblay. This book shows how new research determines the characteristics of dinosaurs. From such extinct creatures as Platyhystrix (not a dinosaur!) to Velociraptor (yup! A dinosaur.) the book has lots of information, humour and a check list for budding dinosaur lovers. ISBN 978-1-5253-0023-3

Kids in grades 2 – 6 will likely love this gross book: Extremely Gross Animals by Claire Eamer. You’ll need a strong stomach to read this book but you will learn many unusual, fascinating facts like how fish can spit prey out of the air, how birds use vomit as self defence and about many other slimy, smelly adaptions that help animals survive. ISBN 978-1-5253-0337-1

Ashley Spires wrote a fun graphic novel about the power of bugs: Burt The Beetle Doesn’t Bite! The humorous text is a dialogue between the book’s narrator and the June bug who feels he has no super powers like other bugs which can use smell, webs, strength or flight. But June bug does redeem himself in the end. A fun book to read out loud or to encourage young readers to read by themselves. ISBN 978-1-5253-0146-9

For older readers, Flush by Carl Hiaasen is a good book about the environment and what kids can do to help. In this fictional novel, Noah wants to help his father in proving that someone is dumping raw sewage into the ocean. A fast paced, exciting read for anyone who loves the earth as well as reading. ISBN 978-0375861253, Grade 4 and up.

Margriet Ruurs loves the environment and has written many books about nature, including AMAZING ANIMALS, WILD BABIES and IN MY BACKYARD.

GLOBAL BOOK REVIEWS

Not all people are the same. Recognizing yourself in a story can be a powerful experience. The right book can be a tool to reach out and help a child. Here are some books that show how people can experience different feelings, emotions and conditions.

Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox is a beautifully written picture book that introduces very young readers to the concept of Alzheimers and memory loss. This story is so skillfully told that it will appeal to readers of all ages. Wilfrid Gordon lives next to a seniors’ home and knows all of the residents. Through sparse language we learn, as does he, what it means to lose memories. Wilfrid Gordon collects objects, each one of which helps his friend to remember special things in life. Highly recommended for classroom discussions. ISBN 978-0916291266

Duck Days by Sara Leach is a novel for ages 7 – 11. Third grade student Lauren has Autism Spectrum Disorder and experiences some things a bit different from her friends. Lauren has learned how to handle her own reactions and copes just fine. In this story her friend challenge her to ride a bike without training wheels. When her class has a bike workshop, Lauren is not happy but eventually overcomes her fears and triumphs. This book is part of a well written series for young kids on Autism and Asperger’s.  ISBN 978-1772781489, Pajama Press

Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper is written in the first person, which is a brave and bold move by this award winning author. Because Melody, the main character, has cerebral palsy. She cannot speak, her limbs move involuntarily, she drools and makes funny sounds. What no one realizes is that Melody’s brain works perfectly. She remembers facts, she gets match, she can spell like the best of them but she cannot let anyone know. Imagine the words and thoughts all stuck inside your brain and no way to let them out… Thanks to Draper’s skillful writing, we are inside Melody’s head and feel her frustration. This book is a must-read for all booklovers, but a special eye opener for all those (educators) who work with children who have physical challenges. ISBN 141697170X (ISBN13: 9781416971702)

Other highly recommended titles include:

Petey by Ben Mikaelsen (cerebral palsy); Wonder by R.J. Palacio (disfigurement); A Mango Shaped Space by Wendy Mass (synaesthesia); Rules by Cynthia Lord (autism)

Margriet Ruurs writes books for children and speaks at schools around the world.

GLOBAL BOOK REVIEWS

 If you work at an international school, chances are that you like to travel. If you like to read and travel, here are some of my favourite books to curl up with over the holidays.

 Driving Over Lemons by Chris Stewart, ISBN 978-0375709159

The author and his wife lived in England when, many years ago, they bought land in Spain. He now has three books about the trials and tribulations of (sheep) farming on the Andalusian slopes. The books are fun and make you feel like you are right there with him.

Married to Bhutan by Linda Leaming is a fascinating account of daily life in an unusual country. She takes you along inside the homes and on walks around the country and culture into which she married. This book made me want to visit Bhutan some time, where the gross national product is measured as happiness.

Pole To Pole by Michael Palin (ISBN 978-0753823262) is one of my favourite travel books because it covers little bits of many different countries and cultures. He sets out to travel from the very North Pole to the South Pole along the 30º line of longitude which travers the most land mass on the planet. Using mostly public transit, he takes the reader along, sharing his trip but also bits of culture, history, politics and customs.

 A few years ago I did author visits to international schools in Turkey. I wished I had read this book then: Full Moon Over Noah’s Ark by Rick Antonson (ISBN 978-1510705654)

Not only is this a great read about the author’s trek up Mount Ararat in (what is currently) Turkey, it is also a good story of ancient and biblical times, of rifts between nations, of interested cultures, beliefs and people. 

And one more fascinating nonfiction book – even if it is not exactly a travel destination: The Girl With Seven Names, Escape From North Korea by Hyeonseo Lee is an unusual story from North Korea. It shows life with all of its ups and downs in North Korea. I found it well written and an intriguing story from a relatively unknown part of the world. ISBN 978-0-00-755485-0

HAPPY HOLIDAYS! HAPPY READING!

Global book reviews

In today’s column I would like to share with you books of wintery tales and seasonal information. These books can all spark discussions about seasons and traditions as well as lead to classroom crafts and activities.

Snow Days by Deborah Kerbel is illustrated in collage by Miki Sato. This is a wonderful picture book to share with young children about the magic of snow. If they have never seen snow, they will want to after hearing about snow angels and snow men. The attractive art is featured on thick, shiny pages (‘toddler tough’ the publisher calls them) making this a good book for kids to explore and try to make their own paper snowflakes.

Pajama Press, ISBN 978-1-77278-135-9


What if you came from a warm country and had never experienced snow? Two Drops of Brown in a Cloud of White by Saumiya Balasubramaniam, illustrated by Eva Campbell tells the story of a young girl’s very first walk in snow with her mom. This picture book casts a new light on snow clouds, on snow falling and covering everything, making sidewalks slippery and trees pretty. What is better, snow or sun?

Groundwood Books, ISBN 978-1-77306-258-7

Raven, Rabbit, Deer by Sue Farrell Holler is a brand new release. This picture book is a walk in the snowy woods of a boy and his grandfather. Together they make tracks and grandfather teaches the boy which animals make which tracks as well as the Ojibwemowin names of the animals.

Panama Press, ISBN 978-1-77278-136-6


I Found Hope in a Cherry Tree by Jean E. Pendziwol, illustrated by Nathalie Dion is a lovely story of winter – when shadows disappear but snowflakes dance and the wind tells stories. It is a poetic picture book to share with young readers and discuss miracles of nature, like how do cherry trees know that their buds will blossom when spring returns.

Groundwood Books, ISBN 978-1-77306-2204


The Three Brothers by Marie-Louise Gay is the story of Finn, Leo and little Ooley. They like to tell stories about exploring and about wild animals. But a real adventure is even better so they set off, on a very snowy day, to explore the woods. They don’t spot many animals and worry about climate change. But they do end up building their own snow animals – even better than building a snow man!

Groundwood Books, ISBN 978-1-77306-377-5


One of my favourite Christmas stories ever is Linda Bailey’s When Santa Was A Baby. Have you ever wondered what Santa was like when he was little? ‘He had a little nose, like a cherry!’ And his voice? Not a baby’s soft gurgle but, even in his cradle, he made booming ‘Ho, ho, ho!’ noises.

This book is fabulously funny and a great one to share with kids of all ages. It can even inspire students to write their own hilarious childhood stories of other fictional characters.

Tundra Books, ISBN 978-1770495562

And finally I want to bring this great resource to your attention: Christmas, From Solstice to Santa by Nikki Tate and Dani Tate-Stratton is an 80 page nonfiction book explaining history and traditions of Christmas around the world. From Egyptian Solstice information to traditions from Guyana, the book has lots of personal stories of food, decorations, beliefs and customs. A great resource for any (international) school library.

Orca Book Publishers, ISBN 978-1-4598-1355-7

Margriet Ruurs is the Canadian author of over 40 books for children, including Stepping Stones, A Refugee Family’s Journey. She conducts (ZOOM) author presentations in schools around the world.


Books About refugees

BOOKS ABOUT REFUGEESThe recent article in TIE Blog by Matthew Piercy titled The Challenges and Promises of Migration about a virtual refugee experience for his students, inspired me to share these books about refugees with you.

Having written my own book about refugees, Stepping Stones, A Refugee Family’s Journey (Orca Books, ISBN 978-1-4598-1490-5) I am always interested in other stories on this topic. My book was illustrated in stones by an artist who still lives in Syria. The book has helped to raise awareness but also funding for refugees in North America. Recently, the Pope selected is a the text for Italy’s World Refugee Day. Here is a medley of books for all ages:

The Library Bus by Bahram Rahman is a picture book, a gently told story of Pari and her mother who operates a library bus in Afghanistan. Together they visit villages where girls cannot attend school. They eagerly await the library bus that brings them books to read. They also visit the refugee camp where books and educational supplies are treasured by the children. In the process, Pari even learns to read English letters, like UNHCR – on the United Nations’ tents in the camp. A great read to discuss the plight of refugees with young children.

Pajama Press, ISBN 978-1-77278-101-4

One of the most lovable, in-depth stories I have ever read about refugees and life in a camp is When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson. This book is done as a graphic novel, a vehicle that uses art and text to take us straight into the life of Omar who cares for his younger, speech challenged brother Hassan. The boys have lost their parents in Somalia and live for many years in a refugee camp in Kenya. The art and text are absolutely perfect and include the ‘true’ story of the boys in the back. No wonder this was a recent National Book Award finalist. 

Dial Books, ISBN: 978-0525553908

Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai is the beautifully told story of Há who, together with her siblings and mother, flees Vietnam in the last weeks of the war. Hers is a universal story of hiding, fleeing and fear. But I particularly loved reading this book because of Há’s voice. She is a funny, strong girl with her own opinions on life, her brothers and the world around her. Especially when the family settles in the American south and faces discrimination it is lovely to read how she deals with this very real issue. The story is not quite an autobiography but very much based on the author’s own experiences. The entire book is in free verse, it is a Newbery honor book as well as a National Book Award winner.

Harper Collins, ISBN 978-0-06-196279-0

Also told in gorgeous free verse is Home of The Brave by Katherine Applegate, the author of The One and Only Ivan.

Kek came from Africa with his mother and has to learn a whole new way of life in Minnesota. He makes friends with the owner of a cow, one animal of which Kek has much knowledge. He is also lucky that Hannah, a girl from a foster home, takes him under her wings and teaches him all about traveling on a city bus and going to a mall. Skillfully told through the eyes of a young African boy, this book can be an eye opener to life on a different continent as well as to what it is that refugees must face.

A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year. Square Fish (Macmillan), ISBN 978-0-312-53563-6

The Stray and the Strangers by Steven Heighton is a brand new release. The author helped in a refugee camp on a Greek Island and met Kanella, the dog whose story is told in this book. Kanella is shy and does not trust people. But eventually she is cared for by a refugee worker who allows her to sleep inside the kitchen building. In the refugee camp, Kanella meets many people who come and go. But one young boy stays. While he bonds with Kanella and understands her plight, he hopes that, one day, his family will come through this camp. And when they do, Kanella faces the loss of her friend and all that she knows. This is a gently told story of refugees but told through the voice of a dog which gives it a lovely, unique tone that will resonate with young readers.

Pajama Press, ISBN 978-1-77306-381-2

One of the most intriguing books I have read by a refugee author is Nujeen. This autobiography has the subtitle ‘One Girl’s Incredible Journey from War-Torn Syria in a Wheelchair’. The book is skillfully co-authored by Christina Lamb who also co-authored I Am Malala. Nujeen’s voice, though, is all her own – a teenager who was pampered by her family because she suffers from cerebral palsy. While her siblings brought her treats, Nujeen watched soap operas. Little did she know that this would teach her English. When their town becomes the centre of ISIS militant fighting, Nujeen and her sister are forced to leave. Together they embark on a 16 months journey across Turkey, the Mediterranean, Greece and Europe to freedom. Nujeen’s sister pushes her wheelchair while Nujeen discovers that her skill to speak English will benefit them. A fascinating read for older students and adults.

Harper Collins, ISBN 978-0-06-256773-4.

I also want to list some wonderful titles which I previously reviewed in TIE-in-print before we went to blog format. These books are also highly recommended for use with students:

Across the Dark Sea by Wendy Orr is a child’s look at a refugee family from Vietnam. This early-read  novel brings a dark period in history to life as Trung escapes across the dark sea to Australia.  ISBN 1-876944-45-5. Check out: www.nma.gov.au/makingtracks for more titles on Australian history.

Adrift At Sea, A Vietnamese Boy’s Story of Survival by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch with Tuan Ho, illustrated by Brian Deines, a nonfiction picture book. ISBN 978-1-77278-005-5

Let Me Tell You My Story, Refugee Stories of Hope, Courage and Humanity, a coffeetable photo book is a personal glimpse into the lives of refugees. Beautiful photos are accompanied by an interview that sheds light on each individual: their struggles, their journey but also their hopes and dreams for the future. This is a book that can grace any library shelf but also a school’s office. It can lead to discussions as well as art with students of all ages. Proceeds benefit refugees. Check out online: https://www.familius.com/let-me-tell-you-my-story Familius, ISBN 978-1-64170-049-8

GLOBAL BOOK REVIEWS

A Look at our Environment in picture books and novels. Here are some brand-new titles for readers of all ages, dealing with our environment and even with our current global pandemic.

 This Is My Daddy! by Mies van Hout is a lovely board book for very young readers. Each colourful image shows an animal baby and four possible daddies who look amazingly similar but are actually different animals. The art really makes you look closely at wings, legs, feelers, horns to determine whose baby this is. A fun book for preschoolers, complete with surprise ending. ISBN 978-1-77278-112-0, Pajama Press

Benjamin’s Blue Feet by Sue Macartney is a fun, engaging picture book about creatures living at the Galapagos Islands. Benjamin thinks his beak is too long, his wings are to wide and his feet are… too blue! The iguanas, lizards and crabs are all adapted to their own environment.  But when Benjamin tries to alter his looks with things found on the beach, he discovers that he is just perfect, too. This book offers additional resources here: pajamapress.ca/resource/benjamins_blue_feet_extra_content ISBN 978-1-77278-111-3, Pajama Press

A Forest in the City by Andrea Curtis examines the importance of trees and park in city landscapes in this nonfiction picturebook. Tied to urban development and climate change, the book shows the importance of paying attention to parks as city populations grow. A good resource for upper elementary and middle school students who are looking at city planning and environmental impact. ISBN 978-1-77306-142-9, Groundwood Books

Kah-Lan and the Stink-Ink by Karen Autio is a chapter book for young readers. We all know the perils and consequences of an oil spill in the ocean, but how would a young sea otter feel when his environment is endangered? This interesting story is told from Kah-Lan’s viewpoint as he grows up and is ready to leave his family raft. Venturing out alone along North America’s west coast, Kah-Lan learns about the dangers he must face and experiences what happens when people pollute. A nice story to share and discuss the environment. ISBN 9-781989-724071, CP Press

Don’t Stand So Close To Me by Eric Walters is a timely novel about the world’s current pandemic. Although based on recent events, facts and experiences, the strength of this book is that it is a fictional story in which young teens can recognize themselves. Suddenly faced with school closures, Zoom meetings and face masks, 13 year old Quinn and her friends learn to deal with a new reality. This book will show upper elementary and middle school readers that they are not alone in facing many new challenges. The story also shows how kids can take positive initiatives to help others. ISBN 978-1459827875 Orca Book Publishers

Mostly Ghostly Books

These not-so-obvious scary books are a treat to share around Halloween

In this column I share books with you that have global appeal. I hope to help you, in a quick and easy manner, to find the most fabulous books to share with your students. Of course, nothing is better than a read-a-loud – regardless of age level.

FROM FAR AWAY by Robert Munsch is a picturebook for the younger grades, co-authored by Saoussan Askar (age 9). She wrote to Robert Munsch, of Love You Forever fame, to share her story of immigrating from Beirut, Lebanon. She was happy to live in a safe place, but when Halloween came around she was suddenly confronted with ghosts and skeletons in closets. Munsch skillfully turned her scary tale into a funny one that highlights differences in cultures and the difference a caring teacher can make.

ISBN 1-55037-396-X, Annick Press

GHOSTS by Raina Telgemeier is a graphic novel. Its word choices and story content make this is a great story for slightly older readers. Catrina, her sister Maya who suffers from cystic fibrosis and their parents move to a new town. Catrina does not like it there. Nor does she like the town’s history full of ghosts, which is celebrated during Diá de los Muertos. Catrina is very hesitant to go out on Halloween night but she and her sister meet many ghosts who help change their perspective.

ISBN 978-0-545-54062-9, Scholastic 

SEVEN DEAD PIRATES is a great classroom read at any time, but particularly fitting around Halloween since Lewis Dearborn is moving into his great-grandfather’s dilapidated old mansion. The mansion, it turns out, is already inhabited by no less than seven ghostly pirates. Lewis ends up with seven rowdy room mates who depend on him to reclaim their ship so they can roam the seven seas again. In the process, Lewis has to face his worst fears. 296 page novel.

ISBN 978-1-77049-815-0

Finally, and coincidentally by the same author, a picture book that is perfect for older readers – including high school students. 

MARY WHO WROTE FRANKENSTEIN by Linda Bailey is the beautifully crafted background story of Mary who, as a little girl who learns to read by tracing the letters on tombstones. At age 19 she is challenged by Lord Byron and Percy Shelley to write a scary story. Mary Shelley ends up creating the most terrifying, and enduring, tale of all: Frankenstein. This gorgeous biography showcases captivating art by Júlia Sardá.

ISBN 978-1770495593, Tundra Books