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Seeing the Forest AND the Trees

Book Cover A Forest in the City

A Forest in the City, by Andrea Curtis, illustrated by Pierre Pratt, is the first in Groundwood Books’ new series ThinkCities about sustainability and urban systems. It looks at how trees in the city help mitigate climate change and help us all stay healthy and well. Author Andrea Curtis marks its April publication with a list of books for young people about trees. 

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Trees and nature have provided balm for the stress and anxiety of our lives since, well, forever. But perhaps no more so than in the midst of this pandemic. There can be little that is more soothing than to inhale the smell of green things growing, to gaze up at the swaying branches of a forest and know that these giants persist despite it all. But when self isolation and physical distancing has got your family cooped up, the next best thing might just be reading picture books (fiction and nonfiction) about trees. Here’s a list of some standouts in the category.

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Picture Books

 

The Night Gardener, by Terry Fan and Eric Fan

This fantastical and moving story of a topiary genius, who c …

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Reading Beyond Earth Day

Happy Earth Day! These books celebrate nature and the wonders of the world around us, underlining why it matters so much that we take care of what we've got. 

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Birds, by Robert Bateman and Kathryn Dean

About the book: At a time when bird species are disappearing rapidly, the poignant beauty of Robert Bateman's paintings is more urgent than ever. It reminds us why Bateman was compelled to study and paint his subjects and why we must work to secure their futures.

Bateman has sketched and painted bird life in every corner of the globe. His special relationship with some of the planet's most beautiful and fascinating creatures is captured here in an elegant volume that will appeal to bird lovers and art lovers alike.

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Cleaner, Greener, Healthier: A Prescription for Stronger Canadian Environmental Laws and Policies, by David R. Boyd

About the book: In Cleaner, Greener, Healthier, David R. Boyd sets out to remedy Canada’s environmental health problems. He begins by assessing the environmental burden of disease, identifies its unequal distribution, and est …

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How an Email to an Astrophysicist Changed My (Book’s) Life

Literary worlds collided when YA novelist Ria Voros, whose latest is The Centre of the Universe, connected with astrophysicist Dr. Elizabeth Tasker. 

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She writes about exoplanet research. I write about adolescent humans. This month, astrophysicist Dr. Elizabeth Tasker and I are embarking on a multi-city book tour in Canada in support of both our books. Hers, The Planet Factory, is nonfiction, and mine is a young adult novel called The Centre of the Universe. It turns out our areas of interest have some overlap, and maybe not in the ways you’d imagine.

Our connection goes back to January 2018, when I was working on the final draft of my novel. I’d written a male astrophysicist character for my astronomy-obsessed protagonist to look up to, but he didn’t feel quite right. I decided the astrophysicist needed to be a woman. And then I decided—because, why not?—that this character should be real. The known universe has a reasonable number of space scientists these days, and surely one of them would agree to be written into my story?

Book Cover the Planet Factory

At my local …

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Melissa Barbeau: Where Magic Meets Science

The Luminous Sea, by Melissa Barbeau, manages to be gorgeous right down to sentence level, with incredible, evocative descriptions, and yet also be fast-paced and plot-driven, so difficult to put down. Like the creature whose wondrous existence lies at the centre of the story, The Luminous Sea is not quite like anything else you've seen/read before, and it's also absolutely enthralling. Read on to find out more about it, and also for Barbeau's recommendations of other books where magic and science meet. 

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The Luminous Sea imagines an outport Newfoundland that is almost—but not quite—recognizable. The fishing village of Damson Bay abuts an ocean that is degrees warmer than it has been historically and the sea has turned strange. Phenomena normally found in warmer climates emerge along the North Atlantic coast. Bioluminescent tides emit their eerie light along the shoreline, fantastic creatures are brought to the surface.

The Luminous Sea imagines the discovery of a fairy tale creature in a scientific world where unique genetic code is considered treasure. The book asks whether magic and science can exist in the same space, and if there is any space left for wonder in a world that rushes to claim ownership of every new thing.

Told from the points of view of th …

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Notes From a Children's Librarian: Books on Biodiversity

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

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The following books complement the Grade 6 Biodiversity unit. 

Planet Ark: Preserving Earth’s Biodiversity, by Adrienne Mason, illustrated by Margot Thompson, makes biodiversity easy to understand. Using the biblical Noah as a metaphoric guardian, biodiversity is covered in three ways: species biodiversity, genetic biodiversity, and biodiversity within habitats. The text explains that an astounding 15,000–20,000 new species are identified each year, and the reader is asked to think about preservation in the following way: beware trashing your broken skateboard because you might later need one of its parts. At the end of the book is a grocery list of why biodiversity matters, along with examples of modern-day child Noahs who are working to preserve biodiversity. 

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The Tree of Life: The Incredible Biodiversity of Life on Earth, by Rochelle Strauss, also illustrated by Margot Thompson, is a great scaffold for learning about biodiversity. The tree me …

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Exploring Space: Notes From a Children's Librarian

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

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Reading the books on this list (which complement the Grade 6 Science and Technology Unit) will result in a thirst for all-things-space, as well as a deep appreciation for the scientific imagination.

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The picture book Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13, by Helaine Becker, illustrated by Dow Phumiruk, is the true story of a NASA aerospace technologist and her early beginnings as a gifted math student. Her calculations were so reliable that John Glenn bypassed the computer-generated numbers to ask if it passed "the Katherine test." When Apollo 13 exploded, Katherine calculated a safe flightpath home, while three astronauts awaited their fate in outer space.

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The Amazing International Space Station, by the Editors of Yes Magazine, covers the ins and outs of this incredible scientific feat. Fascinating facts are presented in a kid-friendly way. Did you know it takes eight minutes to leave the earth’s atmosphere, and 41 hours fo …

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Notes from a Children's Librarian: Plants and Soil

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

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The following picture books support the Grade 3 Plants and Soil Science unit:

Weeds Find a Way, by Cindy Jenson-Elliott, illustrated by Carolyn Fisher, is a simple yet memorable picture book about weed seeds. The beautiful language of the text, i.e. “Weeds find a way to be loved, sending up flares of riotous red,” is followed by an endnote outlining weeds’ adaptive qualities and a description of the different soil types.

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Book Cover If You Hold a Seed

If You Hold a Seed, by Elly MacKay, follows the growth of a seed as well as the boy who plants it. MacKay’s dreamlike mixed media pictures beautifully illustrate life throughout the seasons, both plant and human. 

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David Suzuki, in The Tree Suitcase, illustrated by Yvonne Cathcart, brilliantly narrates how soil, …

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Notes From a Children's Librarian: Animal Books

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

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Here are some great nonfiction titles to introduce "Animal Classifications," the Grade 2 science unit.

I am Josephine (and I am a Living Thing), by Jan Thornhill, illustrated by Jacqui Lee, acquaints readers with the concept of classifying. “I am an animal, and so is my dad, and so is a fish, and so is a deer, and so is that mosquito that just bit me. (Ouch!)” Josephine is a human being, a mammal, an animal, and a living thing. This playful picture book, which asks the reader to find examples in the illustrations, also has summary definitions of the four categories at the back.

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Book Cover Chickens ARen't the Only Ones

Chickens Aren’t the Only Ones, by Ruth Heller, provides a colourful overview of animals that lay eggs. “Chickens aren’t the only ones. Most snakes lay eggs and lizards too, and crocodiles and turtles too.” Definitions of reptiles, amphibians, insects, fish, as well as mammals (with mention of two egg-laying exceptions: platypus and spiny anteater) are cleverly in …

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Notes from a Children's Librarian: On Structures

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

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Structures! Here are some great fiction and nonfiction titles to launch the Grade 3 science unit.

The picture book, Home, by Carson Ellis, is a great discussion-starter about different types of houses, as well as materials used to build them. This creative and humorous book showcases some fantastical structures, interspersed with questions: Who in the world lives here? And why? There’s a Japanese businessman’s sparse, cuboid home, a highly decorative Nordic god’s, a shoe (as in, ‘There was an old woman who lived in a…’), a tour bus, as well as homes belonging to a Kenyan blacksmith, and a “moonian.”

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Going Up! Elisha Otis’s Trip to the Top, a picture book by Monica Kulling, illustrated by David Parkins, will inspire young inventors. As a Vermont farm boy in 1818, Otis was intrigued by the ropes and pulleys hoisting hay up to the barn loft. As a grownup, he invented a platform to lift heavy machinery parts. He then moved onto elevatin …

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Why Recreate the Woolly Mammoth?

necrofauna

Jurassic Park meets The Sixth Extinction in Rise of the Necrofauna, a provocative look at de-extinction from acclaimed documentarist and science writer Britt Wray. We're pleased to share Chapter Four from the book: "Why recreate the woolly mammoth?", which poses the question of whether such an event would be fascinating science or conservation catastrophe.

Thanks to Greystone Books for the permission.

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CHAPTER FOUR: WHY RECREATE THE WOOLLY MAMMOTH?

It Would Be Cool!

People are often willing to pay for something that they think is cool: a flashy convertible, a table at a Michelin-starred restaurant, an overnight stay at an exclusive hotel. But what does it mean when the cool thing is a sentient being? What unexpected forms of commodification might that create? Who profits from making its coolness available? And what happens if it goes out of style?

When considering de-extinction’s potential applications, conservation consultant Kent Redford and colleagues write, “The work will attract funding, inform science, help develop techniques useful in other fields, and provide an example of synthetic organisms that have public appeal.” But that already raises an ethical issue: Should we be promoting the public appeal of synthetic organisms when we could be working harder …

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Notes from a Children's Librarian: Spring Books

Book Cover Roslyn Rutabaga

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

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Dirt, butterflies, flora, and native stories make this spring book list.

In Roslyn Rutabaga and the Biggest Hole on the Earth, by Marie-Louise Gay, Roslyn wants to dig a hole to the South Pole to meet a penguin or two. Instead she encounters a worm, a mole, and a dog, upset with her for digging up his bone-cupboard. (Roslyn thinks she's found a triceratops' toe-bone.) All the creatures Roslyn meets try to dissuade her from her quest, except her father who joins her with a picnic lunch. Gay's humour and understanding of young readers is perfectly rendered through dialogue and playful illustrations. Age 3+

Bye, Bye, Butterflies!, by Andrew Larsen, has just the right amount of text for the age 4+ crowd. Besides being a story about how to hatch monarchs, it's about a father and son being quiet enough to witness a special moment. Endearing big-eyed characters are illustrated by Jacqueline Hudon-Verrelli with a splendid full-circle ending by Larsen. Includ …

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Efficiency Expert: Lillian Gilbreth, Larger-Than-Life

Book Cover Spic and Span

Throughout National Science and Technology Week (October 17–26), we're celebrating new Canadian books on science and technology. Today we're talking to celebrated children's author Monica Kulling about her latest non-fiction picture book in the "Great Ideas" Series, Spic-And-Span! Lillian Gilbreth's Wonder Kitchen, illustrated by David Parkins. 

Lillian Gilbreth might be familiar to you as the mother of the family that inspired the Cheaper by the Dozen book and films, and sequels too. But in addition to being the mother of 11 children, Gilbreth was also a psychologist, a leading efficiency expert, industrial engineer, an author, a professor, and an inventor. Her inventions included the electric mixer, and the compartments you use every day in the door of your fridge

Monica Kulling explains why she was so captured by Gilbreth as a character, and what it was like to render her life in just a few pages. 

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49th Shelf: Lillian Gilbreth’s life was so remarkable—you’d scarcely believe it if it were fiction. What parts of her experience were most immediately compelling to you?

Monica Kulling: Lillian Gilbreth was absolutely larger than life. I think what impressed me most was her ability to remain calm and centered in the midst of so many demands on her time, bot …

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