As we head into the holiday season, the oft quoted Game of Thrones phrase “Winter is coming…” could be responded to by hardy Winnipeg folk with a jolly challenge of, “Winter is HERE!” Now is the time to stock up on books to use in our classrooms in the New Year, books to curl up by the fire with over winter break, and books to gift to friends, nieces and nephews, our children or grandchildren as the case may be.
Our first installment of the RCGW Book Review features both new titles and some old favourites, as well as reminders of what’s coming to TV and the big screen from the world of children’s literature.
Read Aloud Books for Newborn – Age 5
Illustrated by Pamela Dalton
Published by Chronicle Books, July 11, 2017
A gorgeously illustrated collection of lullabies and goodnight poems from a variety of cultures. The exquisite illustrations are made using a 16th century German paper cutting technique known as Scherenschnitte, meaning scissor cutting. Bright colors set against a dark background ensure that the images really pop! Using a blend of old favorites such as “Hush Little Baby,” “I See the Moon,” and “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” along with other lesser known melodies and poems, this delightful collection is sure to be a favorite keepsake for new parents to read aloud to baby. Research has shown that exposure to the rhythm and rhyme of lullabies and nursery rhymes is highly beneficial in the development of early literacy.
This beautiful book would make a lovely gift.
Primary Readers (Grades K-2, Ages 5-8)
Written and Illustrated by James Mayhew
Published by Barron’s Educational Series, 2012
Perfect for ballet lovers, Ella Bella Ballerina is a series of beautifully illustrated ballet-themed books produced by UK author James Mayhew. The books introduce little ones to the most famous classical ballets through the adventures of adorable young Ella Bella, a pupil in Madame Rosa’s ballet class. Each book is an adventure in itself based on specific ballet, and each story begins in Madame Rosa’s dance studio.
It is almost Christmas and Madame Rosa leads her class onto the stage to introduce them to the music of Tchaikovsky and to recount the story of the Nutcracker Prince, as they dance around the base of a twinkling Christmas tree. But they cannot dance all day - Madame Rosa has a surprise for them! Before they can begin, Ella Bella is sent back to the stage herself to fetch Madame Rosa’s special music box, and a magical dreamlike sequence ensues. Ella Bella meets Clara beneath the tree and heads off on an adventure to fight the Evil Mouse King and fly on a magical sleigh through dancing snowflakes with Clara and the Nutcracker Prince to the Land of Sweets to meet the Sugar Plum Fairy.
A perfect winter confection to delight ballet lovers and to prep young ones for their first experience watching the Nutcracker ballet this holiday season.
By Cary Fagan, Illustrated by Banafsheh Erfanian
Published by Groundwood Books, 2017
In his latest picture book, award-winning Canadian author Cary Fagan has crafted a life-affirming fable about friendship and belonging. This luminous story follows the adventures of an empty birdcage seeking a bird to fill it. Along the way the cage encounters birds of all shapes and sizes, though none of them is seeking a cage to live in until…
The whimsical richly coloured illustrations in this charming picture book will delight children and adults of all ages. This remarkable yet simple tale about the universal search for meaning and fulfilment through relationship serves as a gentle reminder that while one must seek opportunities for connection, ultimately all good relationships are based on mutuality.
A lovely and unusual story in its own right, this book would be a useful tool in school guidance programs, assisting students who are struggling to be liked or to fit in. In the middle and high school years it could serve as a subtle reminder not to work too hard chasing after others – the best friends and romances are found by being yourself.
It is impossible to overstate the power and beauty of this book.
(Independent Reading for Grades 3-4, Ages 8-10)
By Andrea Davis Pinkney
Illustrated by Lou Fancher & Steve Johnson
Published by Viking (an imprint of Penguin Random House) in 2016
It’s been 55 years since Ezra Jack Keats wrote The Snowy Day back in 1962. Since then, it has become a classic and remains one of the most beloved and influential children’s picture books of the 20th century. As the first mainstream children’s picture book to depict an African American child as its main character, it did much to break down barriers and allow every child the opportunity to see themselves in the stories they read.
Andrea Davis Pinkney’s lyrical prose poem takes us on a journey back in time to explore the life and inspiration of Ezra Jack Keats. A Poem For Peter is an excellent book to use as an author study or mentor text when working with emerging writers and artists. Students will be intrigued as they read of the difficulties encountered by Keats and his family along the way to achieving his dream to become an artist. They will be delighted and inspired by personal details such as the photo of an African American child that Keats kept for 20 years before beginning to write his masterpiece and Caldecott winner The Snowy Day. Learning that many of Keats works were based on his own childhood experiences - the stuff of ordinary everyday life and the people around him, can be used to help young authors see the value in their own personal experiences as potential material to turn into stories. This text could also be used as part of explorations in social studies relating to history, world events and social justice as it gently explores issues related to poverty, limited opportunities, and discrimination while having a profoundly positive message and outcome.
Beautifully illustrated with many nods and references to the original illustrations from The Snowy Day incorporated throughout, this is a great book to cuddle up with on a frosty winter morning.
By Deborah Hopkinson, Illustrated by Nancy Carpenter
Published by Schwartz & Wade, 2017
Good teachers really care about their students. They expect and bring out the best in them. This moving story is told in the form of a letter from a student to her unnamed Grade 2 teacher.
It chronicles her memory of her second-grade school year, its ups and downs, triumphs and setbacks, and her own ever-increasing confidence and growing love of learning. As the lovable, curious girl struggles to stay still, to learn to read, to behave and follow rules, her teacher’s kindness and empathy shine through. When we come to the end of the letter only then does it reveal that the grade two student has grown up to become a teacher herself, about to embark on the first day of her own career. “I’ll think about everything you helped me explore and try my best to be like you,” she concludes.
Lovingly told with gentle humour and beautifully illustrated with line drawings and watercolor wash, this book realistically depicts the positive life altering effect a good teacher can have on their students. This book would make a perfect holiday gift for a favorite teacher or mentor.
By Jacqueline Briggs Martin, Illustrated by Mary Azarian
Published by Houghton Mifflin, 1998
Stunningly illustrated with boldly colorful woodblock prints, this lovely picture book earned a well-deserved Caldecott Medal. Told as a biography, it depicts the life and accomplishments of Wilson Bentley, the first person to produce photographs of real snowflakes. Born and raised on a farm in Vermont, Wilson Bentley was a unique person who followed his own passion and interest despite many obstacles and with limited encouragement. With the love and support of his parents, he was able to purchase a special camera and attempt to do what no-one had ever done before – photograph snow crystals! This was not an easy task and it was only after many failed attempts and much reworking of his photographic technique that Wilson Bentley succeeded. He was able to do so by ignoring the criticism and skepticism of others in order to live out his dream.
This wonderful book encourages students to be passionate and curious, and shows the value of hard work and determination towards achieving personal goals. It is an exceptional tool to use in the classroom to explore how curiosity and inquiry can lead to scientific discoveries and enhance world knowledge. Great for winter themed units, studies of crystal structure or for use as a mentor text when teaching writing information text/nonfiction text structures.
Coming to a Screen Near You….
Peter Rabbit is coming to the big screen this February 2018, and for literature lovers the word is out that this will be a dismal portrayal. Based on the trailer alone, some movie reviewers have dubbed the big screen version as “… so gut-wrenchingly bad…” and “… another kids’ classic wrecked forever” as well as an attempt by the minds who created it to “ruin Peter Rabbit as comprehensively as they possibly can.” This has a great deal to do with the fact that Peter is portrayed twerking (yes twerking!!) in the trailer while throwing a house party in Mr. McGregor’s home. Enough said. Meanwhile, other reviewers with differing opinions have proclaimed that it is “all kinds of awesome!” The truth remains to be seen. This holiday season all readers everywhere are urged to dust off and revive their copies of The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Please read it out loud to a child. Please share the magic. Watch the Scholastic video version. Watch the beautifully done movie Miss Potter. Have a good cry…we will not let them destroy Peter Rabbit. Not on our watch!
A Wrinkle In Time by Madeline L’Engle
Produced by Disney and directed by Ava DuVernay, critics are hailing this modern adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time as a masterful portrayal of the book by a diverse and stellar cast. This modernization of a classic published in 1963 hits theatres in March 2018. Since readers all know there is nothing like experiencing the book before watching the movie, and since now is the time to stock up on paperback copies that do not have movie stars on the front cover – this book makes a great holiday gift to yourself or someone you love.
The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman
Philip Pullman’s beloved trilogy His Dark Materials is being produced by the BBC as a much awaited serialized television program. The release date as yet unknown….