Tag Archives: literacy

GLOBAL BOOK REVIEWS

There is an expression that says ‘Walk a mile in my shoes’ – meaning that you cannot understand someone else’s struggles and problems until you have tried to see things from their side. The following books let you ‘walk a mile in someone else’s shoes’ – and see what it is like to be confined to a wheelchair, to be homeless, have an abusive parent or face many other obstacles in life.

The King of Jam Sandwiches by Eric Walters is a fictional story but very much based on the popular author’s own childhood. Living with only his father, Robbie leads a double life. He tries to hide his domestic troubles from his teachers and friends. No one knows that his father often disappears for days. How will Robbie survive if he doesn’t return? He lives in constant fear of how his father will react to anything he says or does. His new friend Harmony lives in foster care. Meeting her changes everything and, eventually, helps Robbie to overcome some of the obstacles he faces. ISBN 978-1459825567, Orca Book Publishers

No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen is one of my favourite novels for young readers about homelessness. Felix is twelve. His mom struggles to hold on to jobs. When she can’t pay the ever increasing rent, the two live in their van, just for one summer month. But when school starts in September, they still live in their van and Felix needs to keep their homelessness a secret. A realistic, endearing and almost humourous story about a very real problem that gets solved in unexpected ways.  ISBN 978-0735262775, Random House

Unbound, Judith Scott, Melissa Sweet. This is the true story of Judith Scott, born with Down syndrome and undiagnosed physical handicaps. Her twin sister is healthy and, as young children, not aware of her sister’s differences. But once Judith has to go to live in a home, life changes for both girls. It is not until many years later that the sisters are reunited and that Judith finally gets the opportunity to express herself through art. Art that eventually becomes well known and in demand. An impressive book that helps us realize how much has changed over the years, and how much still needs changing. This brand new picture book was illustrated in fabulous at by Caldecott winner Melissa Sweet and is great to use with all ages. Every art teacher should have a copy! ISBN 978-0-525-64811-6, Random House

Petey by Ben Mikaelsen is an older title but still as important as ever. What is it like to move to a new town where you don’t know anyone? This is what Trevor did and he wonders how he will make new friends. What is it like to spend your life in a wheelchair, unable to communicate because you have cerebral palsy? That’s what life is like for Petey. This is the story of an unexpected friendship and discovering how the human spirit can triumph over physical obstacles. ISBN 0-7868-1336-9, Hyperion

Out Of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper is a similarly powerful story of a child in a wheelchair. 11 year old Melody is the smartest kid in school. She knows the answers to all questions. The problem is, no one knows it. Melody cannot speak. She has no way of communicating with others. The teachers think she cannot learn. But Melody understands everything and has a photographic memory. Trapped inside her own mind and body, Melody needs the friendship and skills of a special ed teacher who slowly helps to unlock the door to Melody’s mind. A great read for kids, but also for all educators. ISBN 978-1-4169-7171-9, Simon & Shuster

I love the two view points in Counting on Hope by Sylvia Olsen. This is the story of early British settlers on Canada’s west coast, but is also a universal story of colonization. Letia’s family has always lived in their traditional summer camp on an island. One day a British ship arrives and settlers, who were given land by the Queen of England, move in. The families each warn their children to staying away from the dangerous others. But whose land is this and how can it be shared peacefully? A beautiful, skillfully told story from the view point of two children. ISBN 978-1-55039-173-2, Sononis Press

Margriet Ruurs, MEd, conducts author presentations at international schools. Her books have been published in many languages.

GLOBAL BOOK REVIEWS

Books don’t always have to be issue driven or full of information. Sometimes a just plain funny book can hook a reluctant reader into wanting to read more. It can offer an escape to a young reader who just needs a laugh. And when a child wants to read, he or she will tackle more and more books that will then lead to more knowledge. But let’s not forget the importance of a plain fun story to share. Here are some of my favourites.

Princesses Versus Dinosaurs, by Linda Bailey, illustrated by Joy Ang. This brand new picture book is about pretty princesses. No wait, it’s about roaring, stomping dinosaurs. They argue about who gets to be in this book. They can’t agree on anything. And they certainly don’t want to play together. Building a wall turns out not to be a solution. In a fun ending, everyone ends up living together happily ever after. A great read out loud for younger students. ISBN 978-0-7352-6429-8

Perhaps these funny books, too, have hidden meanings when we search for them, but in our family we love to read Click Clack Moo by Doreen Cronin because it’s so silly and such fun to share out loud. The cows are on strike, the chickens want electric blankets. What’s next on this farm?ISBN 0-439-31755-X

Diary of a Worm by Doreen Cronin can be used as spring board for students’ own animal diaries, for nonfiction and to look at ‘voice’ in writing. But it can also be just a wonderfully funny book about Worm and his family. His best friend is Spider who can’t dig, while Worm cannot walk upside down. Wonderful art by Harry Bliss adds more fun to this book. ISBN 978-0060001506

Elephants Do Not Belong in Trees by Russ Willms. Bird, Squirrel and Money agree. An elephant does not belong in their tree. Even though Elephant really, really wants to live there they insist they he cannot. Until Elephant saves the day. And the tree. Complete with surprise ending. ISBN 978-1-4598-2599-4

Many years ago I wrote a plain funny story about my own chickens who were pretty clueless. ‘What if… a chicken didn’t know what to do with her eggs?’ That question lead to my picture book Emma’s Eggs. It won all sorts of recognitions and has been in print for many years. Later, reviews told me that it really was about a child wanting to please. But when I wrote it, it was just a fun tale about chickens. ISBN 0-7737-5898-4

Where’s Walrus?, Stephen Savage. When I first saw this wordless picture book, I had no idea how much fun we would have with this book. Following Walrus’ escape from the zoo and into the city, was fun. Young readers will love seeing all the hiding places where a walrus can blend in. Spotting Walrus in a fountain and in shop windows supplied us with hours of fun sharing art and stories. This, by the way, is one of those picture books that is also great to study with older (highschool) students since it’s such a great style of art. What makes it work? A book that encourages storytelling. ISBN 978-0-439-70049-8

For reluctant young readers, there is a series of chapter books that is hilarious and will appeal to their sense of humour. The 13-Story Treehouse by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton is a wild romp. Andy and Terry build their dream treehouse that contains a pool, a bowling alley and much more. Together they argue, they invent and they end up with amazing slap-stick adventures. Add 13 to find each next book in the series: The 26-Story Treehouse, 39, 52 and so on. ISBN 978-1250070654

Margriet Ruurs is the writer of many books for children. Check out her travel and book blog combination: www.globetrottingbooklovers.com

GLOBAL BOOK REVIEWS

Books can help create awareness of traditional and cultural holidays around the world. There are many wonderful stories, including fiction and nonfiction, about seasonal celebrations like Passover, Easter, Eid and Mimouna, often including unique traditional foods. Why not enhance reading by sampling matzos or painting eggs in the classroom.

Easter Morning, Easter Sun by Rosanna Battigelli, illustrated by Tara Anderson. A lovely rhythmic text  for the very young that celebrates more than just bunnies and eggs at Easter. This picture book is waiting to be shared out loud and can be chanted along, with sometimes predictable, other times surprising rhyming words, with preschoolers and kindergarten students. ISBN 978-1-77278-177-9

Passover, Festival of Freedom by Monique Polak. This nonfiction book explains the origins and traditions of Passover. Through text, facts, photos and personal accounts, the book shares stories and information from the Jewish community. Recipes for traditional Passover dishes are also included in this beautiful information book. ISBN 978-1-4598-0990-1

A Sweet Meeting on Mimouna Night by Allison Ofanansky, illustrated by Rotem Teplow

Not only is this brand new release a story about food, it also brings awareness of a Jewish holiday with which I was not familiar. Mimouna marks the end of Passover in Morocco and, like Ramadan, it is celebrated by eating special food at the end of a period of fasting. The lovely art shows a Jewish child who invites her Muslim friend and neighbor to share the food. The book includes a recipe to make your own moufletot, a pile of leavened pancakes. ISBN 978-1-77306-397-3

The Best Eid Ever by Asma Mobin-Uddin, illustrated by Laura Jacobson. This picture book explains the biggest holiday in the Muslim year when Aneesa gets to wear new clothes, helps cook lamb stew and goes to the mosque. ISBN 978-1-59078-431-0

Our Little Kitchen by Jillian Tamaki is a celebration of community kitchens. This picturebook has the looks of a comic strip with speech bubbles, making it joyous and interactive as everyone contributes ingredients, supplies and ideas. Together they peel, chop and splash. They set tables and invite in the long line of hungry, waiting clients. The multiracial characters bring this story to every realistic neighborhood and ends with the encouragement to volunteer in a community kitchen near you. Besides a read for younger students, this book can also be a good place to start classroom discussions of community service work with older students. ISBN 978-1-77306-262-4

Going Up! by Sherry J. Lee, illustrated by Charlene Chua is a brand new picturebook with a unique angle. The story focuses on the building in which all of the characters live. They have all received an invitation to come to a birthday party on the 10th floor. Many people get into the elevator, carrying their favourite dishes to contribute to the party. From cookies to gulab jamun this is a fun book to anticipate who will get on next and what they will bring. Will they all fit into the elevator before they reach the top floor? ISBN 978-1-5253-0113-1

What A Party! by Ana Maria Machado, illustrated by Hélêne Moreau is a joyous celebration of friends and food. What starts as a birthday invitation, soon turns into a feast when kids bring coconut cookies, mangoes, pickles and friends. Signora Gina makes pizza and Mrs. Tanaka brings sushi and together they celebrate global diversity. ISBN 978-1-55498-168-7

Margriet Ruurs is the author of My Librarian Is A Camel, How Books Are Brought to Children Around The World. She conducts author visits to international schools.

BOOKS for booklovers

As an avid reader and writer, I love books about books and libraries. Here are some outstanding ones.

Every once in a while you pick up a book that makes its way straight to your heart: Alphamaniacs, Builders of 26 Wonders of the Word, written by Paul Fleischman and illustrated by Melissa Sweet is such a book.  The text is a poetic description of  26 people who made a difference in the world of language – some are writers, others invented a new style or printed books in a new, unique way. Rather than a summation of biographies the author used the voice of a circus ringmaster to introduce each ‘Wonder of the Word’. There is Jean-Dominique Bauby who became paralyzed except for one eye lid and ended up dictating an entire novel by blinking the letters. An astonishing feat. Jumping back and forth through the ages, the book celebrates European writers and native Americans, among others. One is Jessie Little Doe Baird who singlehanded saved her Wampanoag language, actually bringing it back from extinction. There’s the inventor of Klingon as well as the creator of Esperanto, a universal language created by Ludwik Zamenhof in Poland in hopes of promoting peace and understanding between people.

Each story is accompanied by a piece of art by the incredible master of collage, Caldecott Honor illustrator Melissa Sweet, making this book is a feast for the eye and ear of any booklover. 

Candlewick Studio, ISBN 978-0763690663 

FROM A CHILD OF BOOKS

Another book I fell in love with is the picturebook A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston. One of those fabulous books for anyone who knows the value of stories, this one starts with a pen and a blank page. Then the main character takes us along on a celebration of books, through illustrations composed of words from those very books. While sailing the ocean, the words forming the waves are from books like Ten Thousand Leagues Under The SeaThe Swiss Family Robinson and more. Kids climb mountains of words from Peter Pan to reach the sky. They discover treasure and wander through forests made of book spines. I love this book and its powerful images, and I suspect that booklovers of all ages will love it, too.

Candlewick Press, ISBN 978-0-7636-9077-9

Oliver Jeffers is also the creator of The Incredible Book Eating Boy, a hilarious picture book to share with Kindergartens or older. Henry devours books, literally. The more he eats, the smarter he gets. Until he is so stuff full of books that he gets a tummy ache. Then he discovers that reading books is much better than eating books, and he gets smarter yet. The ‘real bite’ out of the back cover is a fun bonus.

ASIN : B007XJ7388

The Library of Ever by Zeno Alexander

As soon as I spotted this novel for young readers in my local bookstore, I knew I had to own it. And it was a wise choice. As I read, I met Lenora and traveled along on her wild adventures through the ages and around the globe, all entered through a library. 

Lenora is ‘hired’ as Fourth Assistant Apprentice Librarian and climbs her way up the library ladder, through solving problems and risking her life for knowledge. ‘Knowledge is a Light’ is the library’s slogan, chiseled in stone, and Lenore knows it’s true, especially when she encounters dark forces who want to get rid of books and ban others from gathering knowledge through reading.

I’ve read many other books with a library theme: Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library for instance. But those books are merely fun entertainment. The Library of Ever actually has a whole layer beyond its entertainment value that, almost imperceptibly, demonstrates the importance of books, research and the freedom to read.

I soon loved how this unique book blends fantasy with true questions, asked at the Help Desk and whose answers can be found only be doing research. The book is very cleverly written because we all have asked some of the questions and often have made the mistake of not enough fact checking. Reading, I learned some very interesting facts – from the highest point on earth (not what you think!) to Minoan Literature, from leap years to hieroglyphs. Readers’ minds can truly grow on this book.

Underlying all of Lenora’s adventures is the threat of Dark Forces. As the Chief Librarian states at one point: ‘the value of a Library cannot be counted in money.’ Same with the book – it was well worth the 10.- purchase price and both my grandson and I gained much more from the reading experience than just fun hours spent reading together. We kept sharing what we learned by saying “Did you know this? And listen to this!”…

Fantasy is not normally a genre I enjoy but now I can’t wait to read the next title: Rebel in the Library of Ever.

@ZAlexanderBooks

ISBN 978-1-250-23370-7