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Notes From a Children's Librarian: In Conversation with Nature

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

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When Emily Was Small, by Lauren Soloy, involves an encounter between Small (young Emily Carr) and Wild (a wolf). It’s about a girl who immerses herself in nature long enough to discover its secrets. This book has lovely sound words; for instance, Emily adores "the glitter-glammer" beneath the translucent skin of white currants. She crawls into the forest, listening to all it has to say. There she finds peace, and meets Wild, who tells her, "You are bigger than you know." Together they fly like seeds, noticing a thousand shades of green, until her mother calls her back to the world where she feels small, again. A postscript connects the story to Carr’s real-life struggle to feel recognized.

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Peter and the Tree Children, by Peter Wohlleben, illustrated by Cale Atkinson, begins with a note telling us the author lives in a protected German forest and that the character Piet is based on a real squirrel. In the story, Peter, the forester, tells Piet t …

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Notes From a Children's Librarian: An April (Foolish) Book List

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

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Prank Lab, by Wade David Fairclough, Chris Ferrie, and Byre Laginestrac, is for the science-geek prankster. Each trick uses easily found objects and contains step-by-step illustrated instructions followed by a scientific explanation. There’s a fun rating system—for example, the ketchup volcano prank is prefaced by: “Victim: ketchup-loving family member, Mess: 9 (maybe 10!), Danger: 8, Science: 10.”

The “Warnings to the Future Me” provides hints and a “Prank Review" asks a few reflective questions—i.e. What did you learn and how might this apply to other situations?

The antics are divided into 4 sections: “Making a Mess”, including Mentos explosions, edible poop, and pencils skewering plastic baggies full of water; “Wanna Bet,“ which involves mathematical hoaxes with dice, predictive calculations and coin capers; “Clean Classics” including sudsless soap and debilitated remote controls; and “Messing with a Mind,” involving manipulating your victims’ behaviour.

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The following titles are about fictional tricks and hoaxes.

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Notes From a Children's Librarian: Valentine’s Day Picture Books

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

*****

Kiss Kiss, by Jennifer Couelle, with fun illustrations by Jacques Laplante, is the perfect book for a Kindergarten or Grade One classroom. The rhyming text covers kisses for every occasion: “Kisses that say ‘hi’ look just like those that say ‘goodbye… A morning kiss can feel so right—like sunshine after a rainy night.”

Kids could contribute a page to a class Kiss, Kiss book after brainstorming the kinds of kisses in their lives. What sounds do kisses make? “Big ones like…smooch! And little ones like…peck!” might spark an onomatopoeia (sound words) lesson. How about a lesson on counting by twos? “A kiss is sweet, when 4 lips meet.” Or the plural form: “If you have lots of love to send, add ‘es’ at the end.”

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Book Cover The Secret Life of Squirrels a Love Story

Kids will be mesmerized by the illustrations of The Secret Life of Squirrels: A Love Story, by nature photographer, Nancy Rose. It’s one in a series of books featuring photos of squirrels in miniature sets const …

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Notes From a Children's Librarian: On Activism

How to Become an Accidental Activist, by Elizabeth MacLeod and Frieda Wishinksy, illustrated by Jean Playford, is organized into ten chapters/ten tips, including: “Find Your Passion; Don’t Accept Things as They Are”; “Notice What’s Needed”; and “Just Get Started.

Large colourful photos accompany profiles of well-known figures, such as Greta Thunberg, Ai Weiwei, and Clara Hughes (who rode across Canada to raise awareness about mental illness.)

Lesser known people are featured, such as Jonah Larson, the Accidental Crocheter, who raises money for Ethiopian orphanages like the one he grew up in.

Or the Albertan twin singers Tegan and Sara Quin, creators of the Lego Movie hit, "Everything is Awesome," who sing about LGBTQ+ issues. Will “Egg Boy” Connolly who cracked an egg over an Australian senator’s head during a news conference because the politician blamed mosque attacks on immigration.

From land mines to pink shirt day to Girls Coding to Black Lives Matter to Jane Goodall’s chimpanzees—a smorgasbord of global causes and ages are represented.   

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Book Cover Our Future How Kids Are Taking Action

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Notes From a Children's Librarian: Islamic Culture

Book Cover the Proudest Blue

The Proudest Blue, by U.S. Olympic fencing medalist Ibtihaj Muhammad, with S. K. Ali, illustrated by Hatem Aly, is the story of Faiza, excited for her older sister’s first day wearing a hijab. In the schoolyard, Faiza keeps looking around to see Asiya’s head covering, which is the colour of the ocean, but then she witnesses some boys calling it a tablecloth. She remembers her mother’s words: “If you understand who you are, one day they will too.” Faiza dreams of the day she too will look and feel like a princess in her first-day wearing hijab. “Don’t carry around the hurtful words that others say. Drop them,” her mother says, empowering the sisters to stay true to themselves. (Author’s Notes explain this is Muhammad’s story, written by Ali.)

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Book Cover Once Upon an Eid

Once Upon an Eid, edited by S. K. Ali and Aisha Saeed, is an anthology of short stories by 15 Muslim authors covering all things Eid. Stories feature food, clothing (the Eid dress!), sacrifice and generosity. Standouts include “Taste,” in free verse form, about a girl taking over the cooki …

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Notes from a Children's Librarian: The Mooncake Festival

Book Cover The Shadow in the Moon

In mid-autumn, while the moon is at its biggest and brightest, East and Southeast Asian families come together and celebrate the Moon or Mooncake Festival to give thanks for the harvest. Lanterns are hung to symbolize the path to good fortune and mooncakes—round crusted pastries usually filled with red bean or lotus seed paste—are eaten.

This book list includes different versions of Chang’e, who is the lady and spirit of the moon, and also a fable about lanterns.

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In The Shadow in the Moon, by Christina Matula, illustrated by Pearl Law, Ah-ma tells her granddaughter the tale of how the shadow of the lady came to be trapped in the moon. Long ago, the earth was being scorched from the ten suns dancing in the sky, and so Hou-Yi, an archer, shot down nine of them. The immortals rewarded him with a potion for eternal life in the sky, but—understanding its power—Hou-Yui and his wise wife, Cheng’e, hide the potion. Later while Cheng’e is home alone, however, a thief breaks in and demands the potion, and Cheng’e drinks it to prevent him from stealing it. Hou-Yi comes home to find his wife trapped in the moon and forever pays tribute to her by staring up at her and serving her favourite round cakes.

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Notes from a Children's Librarian: Physics with Chris Ferrie

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

*****

At first glance, The Everyday Science Academy series, by Chris Ferrie, appears to be for very young children. But the series brilliantly simplifies complicated scientific principles for kids up to Grade 6. Each book features a cartoon-like version of the scientist himself, Dr. Ferrie, talking to a red kangaroo, with a few short paragraphs per page. Bolded vocabulary appears throughout and each book ends the same way, with a glossary, a 5 question summative quiz, a few “Test it Out” experiments using everyday objects, and a section: “What To Expect When You Test It Out.”

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Statistical physics is the subject of Let’s Clean Up. A messy room is the springboard for questions, such as, “If two things on your shelf are out of place, then can you count all the ways two things can be out of place?” It introduces the young reader to the concept of entropy. A clean room has low entropy because there is only one way for it to be clean. Red Kangaroo says, “So my messy room has high entropy because there are 15 ways for me to make a mess!” Experiments at the back use marbles in a pizza box or food colouring in water to demonstrate these concepts.

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Notes from a Children’s Librarian: Satisfying Endings

How do you create a sense of satisfaction in a story’s finale? The following books pull it off by covering the gamut of techniques—concluding with an important action or image, repeated text, dialogue, or one final word. Some come full circle with whole story reminders. 

Reading aloud just the beginning and final sentences of each book allows students to feel the full impact of each type of ending.

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An Important Action

Salma and the Syrian Chef, by Danny Ramadan, illustrated by Anna Bron, begins with Salma, in Vancouver, missing the rain in Syria. She longs to hear her mom’s laugh again, likening it to the sound of bicycle bells in the streets back home. She tries making a Syrian dish but her attempts to buy ingredients are thwarted by her lack of English. Salma “feels like an umbrella in a country with no rain,” so she draws her list of vegetables for the grocer instead. Then she draws a picture of her home, making it purple because “it’s okay to add new colours to my memories.” The final image in the book is that of a bike ride with her new friends (other refugees from the Welcome Centre), ringing their bells beneath a purple sky.

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An important image

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Notes from a Children's Librarian: Books on Jewish Heritage

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

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These stories showcasing Jewish heritage will be enjoyed by all ages, from Kindergarten to Grade 6.

In Ten Old Men and a Mouse, by Cary Fagan, illustrated by Gary Clement, a party of elderly characters keep the synagogue alive by shuffling there daily, even with their aches and pains. When a mouse appears, the party sets out to catch it, but they fall in love instead. They create a mouse home, complete with dollhouse table and cut-up magazine pictures on the wall. The “boy” mouse becomes round and reclusive—and has babies! They drive the burgeoning family out to the country to a perfect new home in a hollow tree. After some time, the lonely empty-nest mother returns in a hilarious ending. “Don’t worry…” the men tell her, “You’ll hear from your kids again…when they need something.”

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Oy! Feh! So?, also by Cary Fagan and Gary Clement, is a playful little book that needs to be read aloud. Aunt Essy, Aunt Chanah, and Uncle Sam visit eve …

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Notes from a Children's Librarian: Stories for Asian Heritage Month

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

*****

These are books highlighting Asian heritage for the month of May.

Awakening the Dragon: The Dragon Boat Festival, by Arlene Chan, illustrated by Song Nan Zhang, is nonfiction in picture book form. It describes the history and rituals surrounding the race which happens on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar in order to protect against misfortune. It also explains race preparation, rules, team makeup—the pacers in the front, the engine in the middle and the rockets in the rear. It captures the process: “Paddles Up! Race Ready!”—boaters' hearts racing, knowing the first powerful strokes count. (Grades 1 to 6)

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Book Cover Hana Hashitmoto Sixth Violin

In Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin, by Chieri Uegaki, illustrated by Qin Leng, Hana visits her Ojiichan’s (grandfather) home in Japan, complete with shoji screens and tatami mats. Having played in the Kyoto orchestra, he performs for Hana and her brothers on the porch, making his violin sound like crickets or rain on pap …

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Notes from a Children's Librarian: Life Sciences

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

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Celebrate Earth Day with these (mainly nonfiction) picture books. Ties to the Life Sciences curriculum include: Characteristics of Living Things (Grade 1), Growth and Change in Animals (Grade 2), Habitats (Grade 4) and Biodiversity (Grade 6).

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Wanted! Criminals of the Animal Kingdom, written by Heather Tekavec, illustrated by Susan Batori, is a clever way of presenting information. Each “wanted” animal is showcased alongside a rap sheet of aliases, distinguishing features, life span and sightings (location), and most fun—witnesses and previous arrests. There’s lazy Big Bad Mama (aka the common cuckoo), who sneaks her egg into a neighbouring nest, forcing another mother to do all the hatching. When Big Bad Mama’s baby is born, she pushes out the other eggs and moves into the newly vacated dwelling. The witnesses? Hundreds of angry mother birds. Older students could adapt the rap sheet format in order to record their own research findings. Kindergarten-Grade 3.

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Book Cover Different Same

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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.

*****

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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