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Blog: Teaching With Canadian Books

Earth Hour: Books & Activities to Spark Discussion and Environmental Action

On Saturday March 28th millions of people around the globe will turn off their lights and spend an hour without the use of electricity to mark Earth Hour. The movement, in previous years, has helped spark initiatives like tree planting and the banning of single use plastics in different countries. It’s important to talk about Earth Hour so young people understand the reasons behind the initiative and encourage their families to participate. There are many areas of the curriculum that involve environmental issues and stewardship. The environment is a natural springboard to explore different models of learning such as inquiry, design thinking, and project based learning. Here are a few titles and activities for kids from grades K-8 that fit with a discussion of Earth Hour and what we can do to help protect our planet.

Inspired by true events, In the Treehouse by Andrew Larsen, illustrated by Dušan Petričić is the story of a boy who plans and builds a treehouse with his dad and older brother. After a while his big brother doesn’t want to play anymore, he’d rather hang out with his friends. Until one night when the power goes out. The boy sees his neighbours actually come out of their houses and socialize. His brother joins him in the treehouse and they read …

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Reconciliation Through Education: Reading Jesse Thistle's From the Ashes with Senior Grades

Twice a month, we invite an educator to share their perspective on essential books for your classroom. To apply to become a contributor, please send us an email!
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Jesse Thistle’s memoir, From the Ashes: My Story of Being Métis, Homeless, and Finding My Way, took me on a heartbreaking journey of his life as a homeless Indigenous man. His resilience as he battled substance abuse and poverty (and eventually earned his GED in jail) was just part of this courageous story. Although there are many reasons to cheer Thistle on as he struggles to overcome intergenerational trauma, I was drawn in by the honesty of his writing.

This is not an easy story to read and I’d encourage grade 11 and 12 students to read it but still caution teenagers (16+) that there are many difficult aspects to Thistle’s life story that could be upsetting for them. However, the focus on the power of relationships and education shines through. In a CBC interview, the author said, “It was painful, but it was also very beautiful. These were really hard, painful, sharp memories. But I also saw there were people that were trying to help me, like the kind shop owner who gave me food or my friend at the shelter who watched out for my shoes. My brother Jerry always took care of me and took me in …

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Eight Books that Help Support Mental Wellness in Students

Twice a month, we invite an educator to share their perspective on essential books for your classroom. To apply to become a contributor, please send us an email!

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I’ve always been a worrier. In elementary school, I was afraid of speaking in class, and dreaded being called upon, even if I knew the answers. Well-meaning grownups would often say, “Don’t worry. There’s nothing to be afraid of. You just need to think positive.” I appreciated their reassurances, but you can’t get rid of anxiety with breezy bromides.

You can help ease fears by opening the door to a conversation, and here are some books that I wish I had growing up—both for myself and for the adults in my life. The following authentic and non-didactic picture books, middle grade, and teen fiction titles show realistic, nuanced characters who work on navigating their fears. These are books in which kids can feel seen and understood, and realize that they aren’t alone. Educators can make a profoundly positive difference in the life of a child, and these engaging stories also offer prescient insight into mental wellness supports. 

Healing power of art

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On the night before the first day of school, Molly Akita can’t sleep because it feels like there’s a pack of rabble-rousing dogs running wil …

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Embracing Winter with Inuit Games & Activities

Twice a month, we invite an educator to share their perspective on essential books for your classroom. To apply to become a contributor, please send us an email!

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Settling into the winter months here in Southern Ontario means we try to enjoy some outdoor activities in the snow, as well as finding ways to reclaim the warmth when we come back inside. With my family, this means good novels and board games, with my students it means books to engage our imaginations and activities to keep us moving.

In my classroom, we have been learning about some of the ways that communities in Canada embrace the winter months. Learning about the rich history of Inuit games and activities enjoyed by the communities across Nunangat has inspired my students to want to know more. I knew exactly how I could satisfy their curiosity.

I was fortunate enough — and thrilled — to be one of the teachers who won the 49th Teachers/Inhabit Education Nunavummi Reading Series giveaway. I received a box of gorgeous books. In the box, were books that I knew would be the perfect additions to the collection of books that I use to integrate Indigenous histories and perspectives into my classroom program. One, in particular, had a special role to play.

Last week, I gathered my students on the carpet an …

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Four Fast-Paced, Captivating Middle Grade Books Any Student Will Love

Twice a month, we invite an educator to share their perspective on essential books for your classroom. To apply to become a contributor, please send us an email!

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If you’re looking for a great story, where the main characters are relatable, look no further than the Orca Currents collection. These books are known as Hi/Lo readers: short, high-interest novels with contemporary themes written specifically for middle-school students reading below grade level. (Reading levels from grade 2.0 to 5.0. Interest level ages 10–14.)

There really is something for everyone in this collection. The wide range of topics that are addressed in these books includes: fitting in, racism, gender equality, technology addiction, bullying, and self-image. Both the topics and characters will appeal to many readers. The main characters are always down-to-earth, real people, that many middle-school students can relate to. Whether it’s the new student, the child with a difficult home life, or the one struggling to develop relationships with peers, these characters will help your students to grow. I’ve placed a number of these books into the hands of students, and each time, they come back asking for more.

Although the Orca titles are aimed at students reading below grade level, I recommend these books to all students. We can all enjoy a fast-paced, captivating read every now and then, and that is what is so great about the Currents series.

Here are a few that I’ve read, and loved, recently:

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Six Books that Demand to Be Read Aloud

Twice a month, we invite an educator to share their perspective on essential books for your classroom. To apply to become a contributor, please send us an email!

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Inspired by my recent reading of The Enchanted Hour by Meghan Cox Gurdon, I am always looking for the next great read aloud. It has always been a cherished time, sharing a story with students of all ages. From a board book that seems so simple but you return to time and time again because the limited choice of words are so clever, to novels that seem to have long and luxurious chapters. Sometimes we get lost in the pictures. Sometimes we get caught up in the words. And sometimes, we can’t decide. The illustrations and the words have us so engaged, we lose track of where we are and fall deep into the story.

As a teacher-librarian, parents and students are always asking about favourite books. However, it is a different story when I say: Do you want to hear a new favourite book? There is a rush to sit up close on the carpet, sometimes pull up a cushion, and then it’s all eyes on me. Actually, it’s not all eyes on me. It is all eyes on the magic I hold in my hands. A creative expression that wants to be opened up and explored through the sound of my voice, using the author’s words and showing the illustrator’s artwork.

Fortunately, I have come across more than one book for all my readers. It's time to settle in on a carpet, cushion, or bed with these new favourites...

 

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Coding Simplified: 7 Books to Help Your Students Learn to Code

Twice a month, we invite an educator to share their perspective on essential books for your classroom. To apply to become a contributor, please send us an email!

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With December comes one of my favourite weeks of the fall, the Hour of Code. This year it takes place during December 9–15th and provides an excellent opportunity to introduce coding skills to your students. I usually run the Hour of Code for a two-week period, when students can participate in a variety of analog and digital coding activities. Depending on experience, they may start with the basics or try to code an animation, video game, website, or app. When I started running the Hour of Code a few years ago, my knowledge of coding was minimal. By sharing this fact with my classes and learning together with them, we created a community in which we could help and support one another as we worked through the process. Kids are always excited to try Hour of Code activities and many use their new skills throughout the year. If you don’t know where to start, here is a list of books to help introduce and/or reinforce coding concepts with your students.

A good place to begin the coding conversation is with an exploration of technology. When kids understand the purpose for coding, learning to code becomes …

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Five New Picture Books to Brighten Up Your Classroom

Twice a month, we invite an educator to share their perspective on essential books for your classroom. To apply to become a contributor, please send us an email!

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Just like the leaves (or snow!), new books are piling up everywhere. But there is never enough talk about the new picture books that will brighten up our classrooms! So much is offered for primary students these days and these new books don’t disappoint. They cover many diverse topics from what it’s like to be small, the importance of play and being silly, the importance of self-expression, being a good neighbour, and loving everyone. Not only do these stories speak to children’s interests but they respect our youngest readers and speak to them as intelligent, kind, and important members of our community. So just like my kids who don’t help me rake the leaves in our yard—let’s jump right into the piles of these new books and classroom discussions!

In Small in the City, author and illustrator Sydney Smith walks us through the blustery streets of a city we love from the perspective of someone small. The minimal text and gorgeous drawings illustrate how a little person can feel unseen in the bustle of city streets, the noise and chaos. I love that this story takes place in winter, when snow can …

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The Power of One Story: Using Picture Books to Teach the Lessons of the Holocaust

Twice a month, we invite an educator to share their perspective on essential books for your classroom. To apply to become a contributor, please send us an email!

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Six million is a number most adults cannot comprehend. Yet, when we reduce that number to one, to one single story, we may find ourselves beginning to understand the impact of such a number and what it represents. When teaching students about significant world events with difficult subject matter, such as the Holocaust, numbers and statistics lose meaning. When we approach difficult subject matter through the lens of just one story, it is more likely that students will empathize with what they are seeing and hearing, and from there, begin to understand.

Holocaust Education Week falls during the week of November 3-10, 2019, which may be an appropriate time to incorporate some of these books into your classroom. When confronted with teaching significant world events, such as the Holocaust, the magnitude of it can be daunting and formidable. Where do I begin? How do I get students to understand that which is incomprehensible? Such questions should not deter us from educating students, even though the subject matter is difficult.

The following books offer great opportunities for reading aloud to older elementary age students, and because they are picture books, which are shorter in length, allow for rich discussion and meaningful questions to be asked and shared. The classroom connection included with each text descript …

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Building Community and Fostering Micro-Neighbourliness

Twice a month, we invite an educator to share their perspective on essential books for your classroom. To apply to become a contributor, please send us an email!

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I recently attended a fascinating conference that focused on strengthening neighbourhoods and building community. The workshops brought together many voices, all passionate about the places where they live. There were many opportunities to learn from one another about how to galvanize change in everyone’s own neighbourhood. Storytelling was at the heart of all the sessions, and what struck me the most was the importance of seemingly small individual acts that everyone can do.

Classrooms are also communities where every student is a member and can make a difference. Take a leisurely stroll through these outstanding picture books and non-fiction titles that introduce and celebrate diverse neighbourhoods, and be inspired by stories that show the magic that happens when individuals work together to create positive change and a welcoming community.

Civic Engagement

In Me, Toma and the Concrete Garden written by Andrew Larsen and illustrated by Anne Villeneuve, two little boys play an impromptu tossing game with what appears to be worthless balls of dirt and unexpectedly transform a drab grey, empty lot into …

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7 Books to Promote Leadership Skills in Your Students

Twice a month, we invite an educator to share their perspective on essential books for your classroom. To apply to become a contributor, please send us an email!

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I spent some time over the summer thinking about how to improve the organization of various clubs and initiatives that take place in the library. The school year always starts with much excitement and great intentions, but midway through November I find that I’m already run off my feet. A wise principal once told me that whoever is doing the work, is doing the learning. Wouldn’t it be beneficial for students to take on some of these tasks? I’ve decided to put ownership back into the hands of the kids. By preparing my students as leaders and setting them up for success, I can start them off on an amazing learning journey. This year for example, I’m putting together a library book selection committee of students from K–8 who will discuss and implement a plan for which books belong in the library. I usually spend hours compiling lists and sourcing tiles, and I’m not even the target audience for the material. This year my library collection will be fully representative of my students.

My robotics and Minecraft clubs will also be run by expert students this year. These kids know way more about robots and Minecraft then I do anyway. As an added responsibility, they will design lunch and learns for teachers on these topics.

The question becomes, how can I make sure that my students are good leaders? Do they have …

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Own Voices: Bringing Indigenous Author Waubgeshig Rice's New Novel Into the Classroom

Twice a month, we invite an educator to share their perspective on essential books for your classroom. To apply to become a contributor, please send us an email!

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Moon of the Crusted Snow is the second novel from accomplished author, journalist, and storyteller Waubgeshig Rice. Although this is a relatively short novel, it is dark and intense, powerful and gripping and best suited for grade 11 or 12 students due to the mature content in the book. I actually read this book from start to finish in a few hours because I just could not put it down. The twists and turns that this story takes are shocking and horrifying at times, and it moves at a very fast pace. It has an apocalyptic feel despite being set in a modern day society and will leave the reader thinking about the story long after it is over.

Synopsis

In a small northern Anishinaabe community, Evan Whitesky works hard to build a life for his family and support his community. With winter fast approaching, Evan tries to shore up his resources for the difficult times ahead. Things become even more difficult when, for reasons unknown, their community loses power and their ability to communicate with other communities around them. Action is swiftly taken to ration food and other resources but panic, mistrust, and …

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