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Notes from a Children's Librarian: Celebrating STEM

Our Children's Librarian columnist, Julie Booker, brings us a new view from the stacks every month.

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This list includes all kinds of STEM’ers—science enthusiasts, builders, inventors, real life engineers—in both fiction and non-fiction texts.

In Fairy Science, by Ashley Spires, Esther is the only fairy in Pixieville who believes in science. According to Esther, magical rainbows are actually the dispersion of light; water droplets on plants, viewed as a bad omen, are simply condensation; spirit faces in the rocks are a result of erosion. She teaches her fellow fairies the scientific method, the periodic table and demonstrates gravity. But it takes a wilting tree and Esther’s data-based life-saving research to convert a few fairies to her way of thinking. This tale includes a bean experiment at the back. (Grades 1-3)

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Come Back to Earth, Esther! written by Josée Bisaillon depicts Esther as a normal girl with an astronomy obsession. She recreates solar systems at mealtime (e.g. a pancake and a strip of bacon looks like Saturn; half-bitten coo …

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Notes From a Children's Librarian: Scrumptious Stories

Our Children's Librarian columnist, Julie Booker, brings us a new view from the stacks every month.

*****

The Adventures of Miss Petitfour, by Anne Michaels, illustrated by Emma Block, is a brilliant collection of five short stories, all featuring the enigmatic Miss Petitfour. Miss Petitfour loves to bake little cakes and she loves to eat. She loves her neighbourhood with its bookstore and bakery. And she loves to fly, travelling by tablecloth, puffed up “like a biscuit in the oven,” with her “sixteen cats dangling in one gigantic puss-tail.” Each story brings adventures, big and small: discovering the empty marmalade pot, with the spoon still in it; getting caught up in a jumble of coat hangers; chasing a runaway rare stamp; celebrating Minky, the cheese-loving cat’s birthday; rescuing a neighbour from a confetti explosion.

The charm of this book, besides its obvious appreciation of food and enticing descriptions, is found in the playfulness of the language, imaginative characters and creative plot twists. Plus, there’s the bonus of the authorial voice instructing the reader on key phrases (some of which are even in a different font colour) that can turn a story on a dime or resolve a plot thread or steer into an interesting digression. For example, Mi …

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Notes From a Children's Librarian: Money Money Money

Our Children's Librarian columnist, Julie Booker, brings us a new view from the stacks every month.

*****

Financial literacy is part of the new math curriculum for grades 4–6. But why not start even sooner, as young as kindergarten? The concepts of saving, spending, earning, and donating are familiar to all ages. The complexities of budgeting, payment methods, taxes, and interest rates are found in books mentioned near the end of this list.

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Cinders McLeod has written a series for readers as young as four. “It’s never too early to teach your little bunny about money,” the afterword tells us. Her loveable bunny characters (often with simple “carrot” charts to demonstrate basic mathematical notions) will appeal to students from Junior Kindergarten to Grade 1. Sometimes math stories can feel like the plot is secondary, propping up a teaching concept, but these tales are completely satisfying. The series includes the following four titles:

In Give it!, Chummy’s grandma gives him some birthday carrots. He wants to spend them on a superhero cape to save the world. Grandma tells him there’s another way to help the world… planting flowers for the bees. He comes up with three different plans for his carrots and ends up doing more for the world than for hims …

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Notes from a Children's Librarian: The "I Am Canada" Series

Our Children's Librarian columnist, Julie Booker, brings us a new view from the stacks every month.

*****

The “I am Canada” series is addictive. Aimed primarily at boys in Grade 7 and up, these books about war are dark, action-filled and sometimes gruesome. They could work for mature Grade 5 or 6 readers, or also as read-alouds with follow-up discussion close to Remembrance Day. These first-person narratives are so compelling that a reader doesn’t even notice that they’re actually learning history. At the back of each book, there’s a note on the historical accuracy, with photos of original documents and images of the real life characters the books are based on.

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Book Cover Sniper Fire

Sniper Fire: The Fight for Ortona (Paul Baldassara, Italy, 1943), by Jonathan Webb

The dramatic opening puts the reader right in the thick of war. Paul is an Italian from Alberta who enlists in the Canadian army and finds himself in Italy during a month-long battle to capture (and eventually win) the town of Ortona. The descriptions of vicious street fighting that cost more than 2,300 Canadian casualties elicit all the senses. Paul and his buddies take Ortona street by street, house by house, enduring sniper fire, booby-trapped doors, chairs, and toilets. The effect on the civilians becomes evident …

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Notes from a Children's Librarian: Think Outside the (Hat) Box!

Book Cover Mr. Zinger's Hat

Our Children's Librarian columnist, Julie Booker, brings us a new view from the stacks every month.

*****

Every September, a kindergarten teacher asks me for books about hats. I hand her a pile and within a week, her kindergarteners parade jaunty homemade bonnets, complete with construction-paper feathers, coloured stickers and curly ribbons. From fedoras to bowlers to shoe hats to winter toques to Carnival headdresses, this list is for anyone looking to inspire the creation of a hat.

A fedora is the featured chapeau in Mr. Zinger’s Hat, by Cary Fagan, illustrated by Dusan Petricic. Mr. Zinger looks like an elf in his black hat. Leo sees him every day in the park, shuffling along. Leo knows he makes stories that are published. One day, Leo’s ball knocks Mr. Zinger’s hat off and Leo chases after it in the wind. The boy and the man sit on a bench, looking inside the hat, where Mr. Zinger sees a story. Together, they make up a tale about an unhappy rich boy looking to reward anyone who will entertain him. After being offered a series of extravagant, boring gifts, the boy's happiness comes from an ordinary ball and another boy named Leo. Later, Leo meets a new playmate, Sophie, and together, they share a chocolate bar and create a story from inside Leo’s cap.

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T …

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Notes from a Children's Librarian: Bird Books

Book Cover That Chickadee Feeling

Our Children's Librarian columnist, Julie Booker, brings us a new view from the stacks every month.

*****

Once when I was young, on a family hike through the ravine, I spotted a man in the bushes with his arms out, a flurry of grey and white, black-capped birds fluttering round him. He put his finger to his lips as we approached. We stopped dead in our tracks, watching the chickadees swoop from nearby branches to peck at seed in the crown of his hat and upturned palms.

I remembered this magical moment when I read That Chickadee Feeling, by Frank Glew, illustrated by the Marna Twins. It begins with a kid who’s really, really bored, so their mom invites them on an outing with some seed and advice to be patient. When a bird lands on the child’s hand, the kid experiences “that chickadee feeling.” It’s the same feeling that comes from riding a bike for the first time, or winning a race (or encountering the Chickadee man in the forest). This tale challenges the reader to find a way out of boredom, with birding as a definite option.

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Over the Rooftop …

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Notes from a Children's Librarian: Texts on Textiles

Our Children's Librarian columnist, Julie Booker, brings us a new view from the stacks every month.

*****

Exploring the art of sewing? Here are some tales to comfort and inspire.

Book Cover Cloth Lullaby

Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois, by Amy Novesky, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault, follows the life of the sculpture artist who grew up restoring old tapestries with her mother. Textured fabrics come to life through Arsenault’s illustrations alongside Novesky’s beautiful language. Louise’s mother “loved to work in the warm sun, her needle rising and falling beside the lilting river, perfect, delicate spiderwebs glinting with caught drops of water above her.” Louise learned about warp and weft, spindles and needles, and how to dye wool from plants. The image of the spider takes on symbolic meaning throughout, i.e. “Her mother, like a spider whose web is torn, didn’t get angry, she just got on with the fixing of it.” After her beloved mother died, Louise harnessed her grief—cutting up bed linens, handkerchiefs, dresses, and wedding napkins for sculptures and cloth books.

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Notes from a Children's Librarian: What I Miss About the Library

Our Children's Librarian columnist, Julie Booker, brings us a new view from the stacks every month. This month she, like many of us, is working from home—and missing the library. 

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Book Cover Franklin

“My” library, where I spend each morning, is a long room with bookshelves all around the perimeter, beneath sky blue walls. Meeting tables are hexagonal and fit together like a beehive. A spinning holder of graphic novels stands as a leaning tower. Someone, long ago, built castle turret bookshelves, which punctuate the picture book area. They house popular series such as Arthur, and Elephant and Piggie, with small stuffies as clues to favourite authors. Various tiny Franklins cluster near Paulette Bourgeois’ books. A jumbo-sized Madeline slumps next to an ever-smiling Curious George, cotton poking through his midriff. A grey and white chickadee is perched near Frank Glew’s That Chickadee Feeling. More characters used to live here but I came in one morning to find Captain Underpants without underpants, Angelina Ballerina disrobed and Stuart Little with his tail between his legs.

In the corner is a den—a set of three carpeted stairs and a sloppy green couch donated by a family that couldn’t bear to set it out for garbage. Read-alouds are performed smack in the middle of t …

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Notes From a Children's Librarian: Books That Make the List

Our Children's Librarian columnist, Julie Booker, brings us a new view from the stacks every month.

*****

Book Cover Today

Lists are used in different contexts. The Writing curriculum for Grades 1-6 asks students to identify different purposes for writing, to generate ideas, and to write short texts using simple forms. Lists are one of these forms. Similarly, in the Reading curriculum, students are asked to understand the use of different text features, such as lists. The following picture books are useful mentor texts.

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Today, by Julie Morstad, is packed full of choices and to-do lists. The illustrations are detailed and child-like, laid out like a pictorial menu. (Even the book’s large size resembles a menu.) It begins: “What should I do today? Where should I go? Should I stay close to home or go far away? But first, what’ll I wear?” There are hairstyles for the day, breakfast choices, possible activities, ways of travel, flowers to pick. The text is full of quiet surprises. i.e. a page is devoted to a single choice: “…maybe you’d like to be in the middle of a quiet, heavenly nowhere, talking with the minnows?”

About the book: Every day is full of endless possibilities— especially TODAY!

The simplest moment has the potential to become extraordinary in this beautif …

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Notes from a Children's Librarian: Procedural Writing

Our Children's Librarian columnist, Julie Booker, brings us a new view from the stacks every month.

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The language curriculum asks students to understand and create a variety of writing forms, including the procedural form, involving "how to" text, and also pictures and symbols showing steps in a procedure.

Great examples of procedural text can be found in Melanie Watt’s Scaredy Squirrel series. Watt’s telltale humour is ever-present as the squirrel’s neurotic need for a plan triggers unexpected (and serendipitous) results.

The original Scaredy Squirrel showcases Scaredy making arrangements to leave the safety of his tree. The “What to do in case of an emergency” scheme includes “Step 1: Panic, Step 2: Run.” His daily routines are also in the form of a program, i.e. “6:45 Wake up. 7:00 Eat a nut.” Scaredy loves making lists—of his fears, emergency items, pros and cons—which could lead to a discussion about the ways that lists are different than procedural writing.

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In Scaredy Squirrel Makes a Friend, the squirrel writes, “How to …

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Notes From a Children's Librarian: Descriptive Language

Our Children's Librarian columnist, Julie Booker, brings us a new view from the stacks every month.

*****

These beautiful books exemplify descriptive language for Grades 1–6.

Once Upon a Northern Night, by Jean E. Pendziwol, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault, is the perfect mentor text for descriptive language. While a little boy sleeps, a snowy night scene is painted for both the boy and the reader.

“Once upon a northern night/pine trees held out prickly hands/to catch the falling flakes/that gathered into puffs of creamy white,/settling like balls of cotton,/waiting.” Check out Pendziwol’s description of deer: “They nuzzled the sleeping garden/with memories of summer.” And “... a great gray owl gazed down/with his great yellow eyes/on the milky-white bowl of your yard.” There are also some beautiful examples of alliteration.

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Another go-to text for vivid language, When the Moon Comes, by Paul Harbridge, illustrated by Matt James, captures a nighttime hockey game in the woods.

“End to end and around we fly, the long black stripes of our …

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Notes from a Children's Librarian: Text to Text

Our Children's Librarian columnist, Julie Booker, brings us a new view from the stacks every month.

****

Bird Child, by Nan Forler, illustrated by Francois Thisdale, is a poignant story of a girl who witnesses bullying. Eliza is like a bird—tiny and able to “fly.” From her vantage point, she can clearly see all that goes on around her. She can also look up and see possibility. When she witnesses the new girl, Lainey, being teased because of her straw hair and frayed coat, Eliza does nothing. She watches Lainey’s excitement about school waning with each passing day and still she does nothing. One day Lainey doesn’t show up for school and Eliza realizes what she needs to do—show her classmate how she too can fly.  

Lucy M. Falcone’s I Didn’t Stand Up, illustrated by Jacqueline Hudon, addresses a similar topic. A boy regrets not standing up to all different types of bullying (including against gay and trans classmates) and finally finds strength in numbers. 

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