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Notes from a Children's Librarian: On Real Women and Strong Girls

Sarah Ann Glover

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

Sometimes a book mysteriously survives the weeding process again and again, a publication that doesn’t belong in a children’s library but is too good for the recycle bin or the Goodwill. One such text reappeared this week: The Teacher’s Manual of the Tonic Sol-Fa Method by John Curwen, copyright 1875. A sketch of a seemingly depressed Mrs. Glover points to a scroll of letters, the famous notation method which she invented. Her face is strangely masculine and sad, considering she drew thousands of young singers to her teaching method. This started me thinking about books about real women and strong girls who’ve made an impact on the world.

Book Cover No Girls Allowed

Susan Hughes’ No Girls Allowed: Tales of Daring Women Dressed as Men for Love, Freedom and Adventure pulls together many stories of courage in an easy-to-digest format for kids. The graphic novel begins with Hatshepsut, 1800 BCE, who disguised herself in order to become a pharaoh. My favourite tale includes the …

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Notes from a Children's Librarian: On the Literary Quest

Book Cover A Big City ABC

Our Children's Librarian Columnist on Books that (Literally) Take You Places. 

I know a mom who uses A Big City ABC as a scaffold for outings with her three year old. The book consists of colourful detailed drawings of beloved places in a city: M is for market, P is for park, R is for rink. This mother/daughter duo travels to each location and takes a photo that captures the scene created by the author/illustrator, Allan Moak. The book is Toronto-centric (i.e. X is for the Ex), however it could spark an inquiry in any city.

City Numbers

This got me thinking about literary-inspired hunts. What about a city search for numbers and letters found in obscure places, such as sewer lids and graffiti, triggered by Joanne Schwartz's books: City Numbers and City Alphabet? Another Toronto book that lends itself to a quest is The White Stone in the Castle Wall by Sheldon Oberman. It’s a fictional account of how Casa Loma came to have one anomalous stone. Who can find it?

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Notes from a Children's Librarian 800: On Poetry

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

Book Cover I Did It Because

When I was a pre-teen, I visited the poetry section with the voracity of a homebuilder in the DIY department. One of my favourite books was Chief Dan George’s My Heart Soars. I studied the portrait on the cover: his wise wrinkled face, eyes upward, channelling the poetry gods. I knew the 819s so well that when a fresh book appeared I sized it up like a new kid in class, wary yet hopeful. One gem that delivered: Sean O’Huigin’s Poe Tree: A Simple Introduction to Experimental Poetry with its back pocket treasure—a phonograph recording of O’Huigin, bp nichol and Ann Southam. I can still hear their voices 25 years on: ‘wistful wisteria/ gross rose, gross rose…’ Another find was Ted Hughes’ Poetry In the Making, in which the author explains to kids how to be a writer, using poems to illustrate. The first chapter draws a brilliant analogy between catching fish and capturing a poem. Loris Lesynski’s I Did It Because… (How A Poem Happens) is a more modern and immediate how-to, illustrated by Michael Martchenko.

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Notes from a Children's Librarian 398: On Storytelling

Our new Children's Librarian columnist Julie Booker shares the magic of the oral tale.

Book Cover The Enormous Potato

As a children’s librarian, I know the magic of captivating kids with a great readaloud. But it can’t compete with the adrenalin required to tell a story. After seeing Aubrey Davis engage my kids with his telling of The Enormous Potato, (a book nicely illustrated by Dusan Petrocic), I decided to try. But not any story would do. It had to be written with the oral in mind.

Dan Yashinsky’s The Next Teller was my starting point. I chose “Va Attacher La Vache” by Justin Lewis, the tale of a stubborn couple who argue about who will tie up the cow. Its farcical ending and French refrain are designed to impress. I loved letting go of the usual physical prop to rely on my gut for dramatic pauses, pacing, perfectly placed hand gestures. I could see the illustrations form in the listeners’ eyes. The story became solidified in my memory so that years after my storytelling phase had ended I told it successfully to a summer camp full of story-thirsty kids.

Book Cover The Name of the Tree

Now when I tea …

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