February 27, 2015

Life before refrigeration

The movie Frozen begins with a scene of men cutting blocks of ice out of a frozen lake. I expect most kids would have forgotten all about the scene by the time the movie ended. But for those who do remember, here's a book that will answer any questions that they may have about it. After all, the movie didn't show them what those ice blocks were used for.

ICE! The Amazing History of the Ice Business 
by Laurence Pringle

Way back in the 1800s, refrigerators didn't exist. People had to resort to underground cellars or ice-cold streams to keep food cold. They also tried drying, smoking, or salting food. But with the invention of ice saws to cut ice from frozen lakes and rivers, and the building of icehouses and iceboxes for storing ice, food could be kept cold almost year-round. 

In his book, Laurence Pringle describes the evolution of the ice business in the United States, particularly in the area surrounding one specific lake, Rockland Lake in New York. With lots of archival pictures, drawings and advertisements, he details the ice harvesting process and how ice was stored and delivered to homes and businesses. The book ends with the advent of modern refrigeration and the melting away of the ice business.

A very interesting, cold-weather read.

February 25, 2015

Life in the snow

Snow Amazing: Cool Facts and Warm Tales
by Jane Drake and Ann Love

Drake and Love present a potpourri of snow-related facts and information that should appeal to kids from grades three to five. They'll learn about snow crystal formation, weather forecasting, avalanches, glaciers, snow bugs, snow mammals, and snow homes. Color pencil drawings and photos are scattered throughout, though more relevant ones would have been preferable. As an example, there aren't enough pictures of birds and animals, and no pictures of snow crystals. 

Snow-themed tales and folklore round out the book.

February 23, 2015

Build an igloo

Building an Igloo
by Ulli Steltzer

A father and son build an igloo together in this simple picture book. Brief text describes the igloo's construction which is illustrated by striking black-and-white photographs. 

Surprisingly dramatic, the book does a good job of depicting the cold Arctic environment.

February 20, 2015

The Chinese in North America

Escape to Gold Mountain: A Graphic History of the Chinese in North America
by David H.T. Wong

Wong attempts to encapsulate the story of Chinese immigration in his first graphic novel and succeeds admirably. His book covers over 200 years of struggle, with panels depicting the poverty and opium wars in China, the early immigrants, the railroad workers in both the United States and Canada, and the racism and discrimination the Chinese endured after the railways' completion. His artwork may be rough at times, but it serves the story well, especially in the darker moments. Readers will find the hostility and lynchings disturbing to read about, while the forced separations due to the Exclusion Acts and Head Tax will cause both pain and sorrow.

In his preface, Wong mentions that the fictional family in the novel is not his, but their story is based on true experiences. As well, real historical figures like Charles Crocker, Andrew Onderdonk, Sun Yat-sen, and Mackenzie King appear in the story. Wong defines what is real and what is not in his afterword and includes extensive notes and references for readers wanting to investigate further.

An excellent book suitable for ages 14 and up.

February 18, 2015

Government scandal

The Dreadful Truth: Building the Railway
by Ted Staunton
illustrated by Brian Goff

Kids expecting a tedious textbook will be wonderfully surprised by this funny and irreverent book. Staunton describes all the scandals, blackmails and foul jobs with a perfect combination of wit and glee, as evidenced by one chapter called Having a Blast (the explosive kind). Aided by humorous cartoons, his book is a fast-paced, entertaining read that may just turn kids into history buffs.

Highly recommended for all school and public libraries.

February 16, 2015

Building Canada's railway

The Kids' Book of Canada's Railway and How the CPR was Built
by Deborah Hodge

This is the story of Canada's first transcontinental railway and the thousands of people who helped unite a country. It is also a story about steam engines, track repair, passenger trains, freight trains, and railway disasters.

The quietly dramatic prose summarizes the information in an easily accessible manner, while the many pictures are very attractive. A good introduction to an important era of Canadian history.

February 13, 2015

The nine-banded armadillo

The Astonishing Armadillo
by Dee Stuart

This book concentrates on a single species - the nine-banded armadillo. It not only delves into burrowing habits, pup raising and defense strategies, but on armadillo migration, mating, and scientific benefits. Unfortunately, the book is not divided into chapters. Thankfully, there's an index. 

Ages 9-12.

February 11, 2015

Armadillos inside and out

by Judith Jango-Cohen

This book provides a lot of detail about armadillo behaviour, but it suffers from poor presentation. Better editing and layout would have ensured that each page ended in a complete sentence. As it stands, kids are forced to flip back and forth to look at pictures and to read any extra information. However, it's the only book I read that had a labelled diagram of an armadillo skeleton and pictures of the different armadillo species.

For ages 7-9.

February 9, 2015

Amazing armadillos!

by Steve Potts

This is a simple, easy-to-read book for ages 2-5. Kids will enjoy the large photos while learning basic facts about armadillos - where they live, what they eat, and how they grow - in five very short chapters.

It's An Armadillo!
by Bianca Lavies

Nice simple book that presents basic facts in short sentences. There's no spacing between paragraphs, but it's still easy to read. The book has a lot of good pictures, especially ones showing armadillos jumping and swimming.

Good for ages 6-8.

February 6, 2015

Prairie artist

Breaking Free: The Story of William Kurelek
by May Ebbitt Cutler

William Kurelek is an artist best known for his picture books A Prairie Boy's Winter and A Prairie Boy's Summer. His finely detailed paintings capture the wide open spaces of the Canadian prairies and the call of its distant horizons. 

Cutler tells the story of Kurelek's life, from his difficult childhood to his death from cancer. He also struggled with depression, yet was able to paint deeply sympathetic portraits of immigrant lives and religious faith. Painting was the way for Kurelek to break free from his troubles.

Cutler writes with empathy and care, creating a text that is sensitive and slightly haunting. Best for ages 10 and up.

February 4, 2015

A life filled with art

The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life
by Lois Ehlert

Lois Ehlert has always been an artist. She grew up in a home filled with tools and art supplies, courtesy of her parents, who loved to make things. So it's no surprise that she now makes a living as a picture book artist. In a book bursting with paper, paints, scissors, leaves, folk art and other found objects, Ehlert reveals her book-making process and how she comes up with her many ideas. A very happy book and a thrill to look at, children and adults will be inspired to create their own works of art. More encouragingly, Ehlert revels in the messiness of art; a welcome relief to all budding artists.

February 2, 2015

Yukon artist Ted Harrison

A Brush Full of Colour: The World of Ted Harrison
by Margriet Ruurs & Katherine Gibson

Ted Harrison, who passed away recently (January 16, 2015), painted vibrantly colourful pictures of Canada's North that are instantly recognizable. His art is brilliantly reproduced in A Brush Full of Colour, which tells how a young man born in an English coal-mining town went on to become one of Canada's most acclaimed painters. Taught to create in the strict European-style, with severe lines and dark hues, Harrison found that it couldn't possibly capture the colours and movement of the Yukon landscape. His pink and purple skies, flowing outlines and bright yellow houses show children what painting should be like. In Ted's words: Painting is the last great freedom. You can paint what you like.

Beautiful and inspiring.