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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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