Sunday, August 25, 2013

One Last Gasp at Summer

Ahh, where did these July days go?

They were good while they lasted. But it is August now. And not only August, but late August.

The shift in pace seems to have happened almost overnight. I am madly jotting notes and reminders on my phone, a scrap piece of paper, the backside of a receipt - whatever is on hand. Not only am I anxiously anticipating another school year myself, but OnlySon needs to get set up for his second year of uni. He lived in residence in his first year, but this year, as tradition tends to be, is living in a big old house with a bunch of classmates. So there have been trips to IKEA and Costco; trailers to borrow (oh yes, we will need to have a trailer hitch installed on your car says Mr. Fun, and we might want to pick up a bottle as a thank you gift for the trailer owner); trips to the uni town to assemble and install said IKEA furniture, and clean the house itself (we are paying this much rent and it was left in this condition?); insurance appointments to make (Mom - some guy just rear-ended me. Yes, I'm OK, but Dad's car isn't). Oh, and tuition payments to make. As I sit outside on a quiet Sunday morning, I am trying to ignore the frenzy that has taken on a life of it's own around me. Actually come to think of it, the frenzy seems only to inhabit my own being. I appear to be the lone individual overwhelmed by all that remains to be taken care of. I think that says something about who is ultimately responsible for ensuring that another school year begins without a hitch. Or, who assumes they are the one responsible.

In the spirit of that new school year, I think I will take a moment to look back on my last week of summer vacation 2013 - a week that included a few of days of sun, sand, serenity, and a little bit of Pure Michigan.

 All photos my own.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

February in August

Dedicated readers will remember that I suffered a serious back injury this past winter. While long, long walks and near-constant motion helped in my physical rehabilitation, it was the steady engagement of my intellect that kept my mind sane and focused. One of the programs that I was fortunate enough to listen to in it's entirety was the CBC Canada Reads Turf Wars. This annual Battle of  the Books features well-known Canadian personalities pitching their favorite book from the shortlist presented. Regional fiction was the genre this year, and each celebrity was matched to his/her geographical area of Canada. Podcasts and televised episodes are available in the event that one is unable to listen to the live radio broadcast. I highly recommend tuning into this program and cannot wait to hear what is planned for 2014.

Newfoundland-born comedian, Trent McClellan, successfully defended Lisa Moore's February. It was chosen as the Canada Reads 2013 winner. Perhaps it would have been more beneficial if  I had read the book before listening to the Canada Reads program. Nonetheless, the discussions that ensued caused me to immediately include February on my To Read list. Although I had known of Lisa Moore, I had not read any of her work at this point. I must confess that a good friend had given me a copy of Moore's Degrees of Nakedness, with high praise. That was a few years ago. And although I gave it a try, I just couldn't seem to get into this collection of short stories. I will certainly be giving it another go.

I can't even begin to describe Moore's writing style. What can you say about a novel that has so much dialogue, yet does not include one quotation mark? And yet, it is so easy to follow along. Even when the past and present are intertwined in the narrative. Isn't that how real life is played out? The past is such a feature in our lives that we often live interchangeably between the two. Like the main character, our dreams and memories become a part of our present reality. And then there is the word choice and placement. Moore expertly crafts her narrative. I began by marking sentences and phrases that attached themselves to my senses. Not only could I envision the scene, but I could hear, smell and feel it as well. Many of the words just sounded delicious on my tongue. To avoid completely marking up my whole copy, and to preserve the enjoyable reading experience, I soon abandoned this practice. And enjoy the book, I did.

Although the book has a big event at it's centre: the real-life sinking of the oil rig Ocean Ranger on Valentine's Day, 1982, the story is really about a collection of small, everyday events that occur to Helen O'Mara, a 56 year-old mother of four, widowed by this catastrophe. The reader is taken along this journey of Helen's life, from her teen years to the present (2008). Each of the life stages that she encounters are described so realistically that Helen O'Mara ranks right near the top of my list of identifiable characters. Of course, anyone who knows me well, knows that I love reading books that are set in a familiar locale. I loved picturing Helen walking along Bond Street (where Daughter1 lived while working in St. John's) while she goes into labour. Or, Helen and Barry going to Quidi Vidi to watch the New Year's fireworks - just as we did when we ushered in 2013. Moore is also able to effortlessly capture the Newfoundland dialogue in realistic snippets, while not overdoing it. I can certainly see how February was chosen as a representative of Atlantic Canada fiction. Overall, just very well done. I gave it 4 out of 5 stars (remember: I very rarely give out 5's).

Saturday, August 10, 2013

10 For 10

Inspired by a recent Nerdy Book Club blog post, I set out to join in the fun and on August 10 compile a list of my Top 10 Picture Books. Not an easy feat by any stretch of the imagination. I was smitten with some of the lists from previous years, and their creative approach to make the 10 for 10 specific and personalized. Since many of the librarians and teacher-librarians that I follow online are American, I thought I would go the nationalistic route and choose my Top 10 from the True North, Strong and Free. This was still a very daunting task. There are so many amazing Canadian authors and illustrators. And so many wonderful picture books to choose from. I just hate the thought that I am omitting some well-deserved mentions. My selections are based on my own private likes, as well as the ones that never fail to elicit a strong reaction from my students. So, without further ado, I present, in alphabetical order, my

Top 10 Picture Books by Canadian Authors/Illustrators That Need To Be In Every Library

 Fernandes, Eugenie. The Tree That Grew to the Moon. Scholastic, 1994.
IMAGINATION! That's what this book is all about. Fernandes' beautiful dialogue, combined with her vibrant and detailed illustrations, have made this book a well-loved pick for close to 20 years.
 Fitch, Sheree. There Were Monkeys in my Kitchen. Illustrated by Marc Mongeau. Doubleday, 1992.
Again, lots of imagination and detailed illustrations.  There is a fair amount of text, but Fitch uses lots of silliness and rhyme to make it a favourite for the younger crowd. There's even an appearance by the RCMP - what could be more Canadian than that?

Forler, Nan. Bird Child. Illustrated by Francois Thisdale. Tundra, 2009.
Just when you thought I was stuck in the 90's, I have come to put a current offering on the list. From my friend and colleague, this is the book that needs to be on every library shelf. Forler's beautiful and lyrical text, along with Thisdales' almost-photographic artwork, present bullying from the bystander's viewpoint. This touching and emotional story is perfectly suited for older primary students. I cried the first time I read it.

McFarlane, Sheryl. Waiting for the Whales. Illustrated by Ron Lightburn. Orca, 2002.
I am crazily in love with this gentle and timeless book. The illustrations showcase the beauty of the Canadian West Coast, and the text so amazingly captures a sense of peace and purpose. The grandparent/grandchild relationship is presented, as well as a hint at the natural human life cycle. A perfect bedtime or quiet time story.

Munsch, Robert. The Paper Bag Princess. Illustrated by Michael Martchenko. Annick, 1992 (First published Turtleback books, 1980).
Although born in the U.S., Robert Munsch is considered one of Canada's best-known children's authors. He has been presented with the Order of Canada, and has even won a Juno Award. The Paper Bag Princess, written in 1980 is still relevant and beloved. And it's main character remains a popular Halloween costume. A strong female role model, and a warning about judging outward appearances - all presented with humour and in a non-preachy format.

Reid, Barbara. Perfect Snow. North Winds Press, 2009.
What can I say about Barbara Reid and her fantastic plasticine artwork? Really, if you are not familiar with this author/artist you are really missing out. You can even check youtube out for a demonstration of her amazing and original methods. Students, young and old, are simply captivated by this book. And, of course, I always save it for a very snowy day. Right before recess is best. It provides lots of inspiration for building and for teamwork and cooperation.

Stehlik, Tania Duprey. Violet. Illustrated by Vanja Vuleta Jovanovic. Second Story Press, 2009.
A touching story of a young girl of mixed-race who just wants to fit in. The message of the story is far from subtle, yet it is presented in such a unique and non-limiting way that it provides an excellent entry point for discussions of culture and diversity. It has also been well-accepted by students who know they are different in some way, and allows them to see this difference as a point of celebration.  Beautiful and quirky illustrations really add to the richness.

Stinson, Kathy. Red is Best. Illustrated by Robin Baird Lewis Annick Press, 1982.
Another oldie, but a goodie. Such a perfect little story for the very young who are wanting to assert their independence. I'm sure everyone can relate to the "juice tastes better in the red cup." Love it. Just thinking about this book again "makes my hair laugh."

Watt, Melanie. Scaredy Squirrel. Kids Can Press, 2006.
Melanie Watt has added to her Scaredy Squirrel series and all of them are delightful and loved by students at all of the schools I have worked. I think young children are better able to face their own fears when they see how much fun it is when Watt's character faces his. Although a little challenging to do as a read-aloud, it is well worth it. On one of the first warm "spring fever" type days of the year, I like to bring a couple of picnic blankets, a basket, and big conch shell outside and do my storytime under the shade of a tree. The students LOVE this.

Wishinsky, Frieda. You're Mean, Lily Jean. Illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton. Scholastic, 2009.
Everyone can relate to a bossy newcomer who upsets the status quo. This authentic portrayal has sometimes been needed for a few grade 2-3 girls who think they are the directors of the recess playground. Great dialogue and I have always been enamoured with Denton's illustrations.

So, there you have it. What do you think of my list? Anything that you would add?  I am looking forward to discovering all kinds of new favourites on August 10 when I read all the entries in the 10 for 10. You can follow along on Twitter using the hashtag #pb10for10. Or go to Reflect and Refine: Building a Learning Community or Enjoy and Embrace Learning for lots more good stuff.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

What We're Reading in the Fun Household

I am hard at work on a special post for August 10 - joining an online community that is working together to share and promote literacy. So, I just thought I would let you in on what everyone in the Fun Household is currently reading:

Me - February by Lisa Moore, 2013 Winner of CBC Canada Reads

Mr. Fun - Tripwire by Lee Child

Daughter1 - Beautiful Fools by R. Clifton Spargo

Daughter2 - What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen

OnlySon - Kill Shot by Vince Flynn

Make sure you check back August 10 for my Special Feature!