September 30, 2016

Trash Talk

Trash Talk: Moving Toward a Zero-Waste World
by Michelle Mulder

Humans generate a lot of garbage! With landfills reaching overcapacity, we need to think up new ways to deal with our waste. Trash Talk explores the history of garbage, explains the workings of landfills and incinerators, and highlights some of the creative ways to generate a zero-waste world. Ideas such as insulating homes with worn-out jeans, making musical instruments out of oilcans, or turning old fishing nets into carpets show what can happen when we harness our imaginations.

With high quality, full-color photos, surprising facts, personal anecdotes, and references to other resources (including movies and websites), this book offers a very compelling argument for the benefits of conservation.

September 26, 2016

Reuse and recycle

Trash Action: A Fresh Look at Garbage
by Ann Love & Jane Drake

This book gets readers thinking about their ecological footprint and how it affects the environment. The authors discuss ways to reduce that footprint by reducing waste through recycling, reusing, and using less packaging. They also use stories to help explain how ancient civilizations hastened their own demises (by using up natural resources), how modern communities deal with garbage and hazardous waste, and how families saved and reused items during the Depression. 

Published in 2006, the pages look outdated, but the contents are still relevant. More importantly, the writing is lively and upbeat.

A very good book.

September 23, 2016

Rights and freedoms

That's Not Fair!: Getting to Know Your Rights and Freedoms
by Danielle S. McLaughlin
illustrated by Dharmali Patel

Mayor Moe and his councillors try to run their wacky city by enacting all sorts of new laws that end up trampling their citizens' rights. They then have to patch up the resulting chaos. Some of the controversial laws they enact include no lights on after dark, no saying anything bad or critical, and no hats and protests allowed. 

Councillor Bug, a firefly, is first to squeak "not fair!", but no one listens to her. Her frustrated expressions mirror that of children, who have an innate sense of fairness and don't like being ignored. Each story ends with the same three questions: what was the purpose of the law, did it work, and were there any unexpected results? No answers are given, which encourages discussions about civics and democracy. It also hones critical thinking skills and ways of disagreeing that is fair and respectful.

The characters are a motley collection of animals, bugs, and monsters with bright, funny features that are very appealing. It keeps the tone light and maintains child interest. The book is an excellent way to develop kids' understanding of rights and freedoms.

Highly recommended.

September 21, 2016

Children at work

Factory Girl
by Barbara Greenwood

Twelve-year-old Emily Watson takes a job at the Acme Garment Factory, the only place that will overlook her underage status. Emily would much rather be in school, but her poverty-stricken family needs every penny of her meager wages. The work is hard and long, made worse by the terrible conditions and cruel bosses. When a young reporter arrives, determined to reveal the truth about the workers' plight, Emily finds herself wrestling with a moral dilemma. If she talks to the reporter, the factory will close and she'd be out of work. Plus she'd be betraying her friend Magda and the other immigrant girls, who desperately need to keep their jobs. On the other hand, she really wants to change her situation.

Emily's story is fictional, but it is based on real-life accounts of child labor in the early 1900s. Barbara Greenwood ends each chapter with historical information about life in a slum, the risks of working in hazardous conditions, and the fight to improve social conditions. Historical photographs by Lewis Hine round out a compelling narrative and help to illuminate the workers' stark reality.

An excellent book.

September 19, 2016

March for children's rights

On Our Way to Oyster Bay: Mother Jones and Her March for Children's Rights
by Monica Kulling
illustrated by Felicita Sala

Eight-year-old Aidan and his friend Gussie are on strike at the cotton mill where they work. A woman named Mother Jones persuades them and other child laborers to join her in a march from Kensington, Pennsylvania to Oyster Bay, New York. Mother Jones wanted an end to child labor and was taking her message right to President Theodore Roosevelt himself. 

The jaunty text and cheerful pictures add a festive air to the proceedings even though the march itself was not always pleasant. Mother Jones even treated the children to a fun-filled day at Coney Island. Sadly, the march was unsuccessful as Roosevelt refused to meet with them. But their protest did work in raising awareness, leading to future laws against child labor.

An entertaining, child-friendly story that serves as a good introduction to social justice and citizenship.

September 16, 2016

Signal flags

Alpha, Bravo, Charlie: The Complete Book of Nautical Codes
by Sara Gillingham

The large format (approx. 9” x 11”) and cardstock-heavy pages are perfect for this clever book, which introduces kids to signal flags, the phonetic alphabet, morse code, semaphore, and boats! Cheery graphics in bright, primary colours make for an eye-catching display that’ll lure kids into the secret world of maritime communications. Each letter of the alphabet is first presented with its flag name, a picture of a boat and a clear explanation of the flag’s meaning. Opposite is a full-page image of the flag, followed by a page which displays the letter’s phonetic code name, morse code signal, semaphore (as demonstrated by a cute sailor figure), and details about the type of boat.

With four different ways of communicating, kids will definitely want to try them out!
An excellent reference book and a must-have for code-lovers everywhere!

September 12, 2016

Phonetic alphabet

by Isabelle Arsenault

The phonetic alphabet is an internationally recognized code that enables emergency services, like firefighters and the military, to send messages clearly and accurately. The letter A is Alpha, B is Bravo, and C is Charlie. 

Isabelle Arsenault cleverly depicts each letter with arresting pictures that are ambiguous and open to interpretation. Charlie is a bowler hat that actor Charlie Chaplin used to wear, the red building for Hotel looks like it came from a Monopoly game, Mike is a pair of boxing gloves, Papa shows a wallet with a child's picture tucked inside, and Romeo is a dagger whose blade reflects a ghostly image.

Very young children will not understand it, but older kids should find it interesting. Even if they don't care for the images, they'll find that the uncommon juxtapositions will make the phonetic alphabet easy to remember.

September 9, 2016

Why people lie

Half-Truths and Brazen Lies: An Honest Look at Lying
by Kira Vermond
illustrated by Clayton Hanmer

Everybody lies. We’re usually taught that lying is wrong, but it’s not really so clear cut.  This book helps kids figure out the difference between good lies and bad ones.

In easy, conversational prose, Vermond describes why we lie (to get what we want, to avoid punishment, to be nice, or because we just can’t help it) and presents various scenarios and historical anecdotes that illustrate the consequences of lying. It ends with a chapter on lie detection that reveals a sad truth: catching liars will never be foolproof. But in an optimistic conclusion, Vermond notes that honesty and trust help build stronger, healthier communities.

A good conversation starter, this is a thoughtful, nuanced book.

September 7, 2016

Quiet is not a problem

Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverts
by Susan Cain (with Gregory Mone and Erica Moroz)

With its emphasis on group work and participation, school can be an exhausting experience for introverts – the quiet types who’d rather read a book instead of going to a noisy party. So it’s reassuring to meet the like-minded people in Cain’s book. She shows that a quiet personality can be an asset, not a hindrance in achieving one's goals. Divided into four sections - School, Socializing, Hobbies, and Home – she provides lots of practical advice for introverts to vocalize their needs to teachers, friends, and parents without damaging relationships. Topics range from how to be heard during class, thrive within a group, handle parties, and perform for an audience. Delivered in a sympathetic, non-preachy tone, her advice is particularly welcome in that it doesn’t ask introverts to change their natures but to work comfortably within them.

There’s nothing wrong with being quiet; a comforting thought for introverts who read this book, and an enlightening one for extroverts who struggle to understand them.

September 5, 2016

Middle school survival guide

Surviving Middle School: Navigating the Halls, Riding the Social Roller Coaster, and Unmasking the Real You
by Luke Reynolds

Reynolds begins his book with a hilarious account of his first day of middle school and how awesome it was. Sadly, his fond memories are shattered by members of his own family, who reveal the harsh truth: his middle school experience was awful. But somehow, it didn’t stop him from returning – this time as a middle school English teacher.

Using personal observations from his years in the classroom, Reynolds urges his student readers to always be true to themselves and resist the evil forces (he calls them space gnomes) that try to bring them down. These forces include competitiveness, peer pressure, grade obsession, romance, and scary teachers. He wants his students to be resilient and persevere – traits that he calls “caked dirt”, which is difficult to remove. This sense of determination and self-worth should guard against loss of confidence, which he emphasizes through end-of-chapter writing exercises designed to foster self-awareness and acceptance.

Reynolds’ sense of humour, affection, playfulness, and honesty will be appreciated by his young audience, unless they don’t like garlic bread (which represents their inner selves). Reynolds really really loves garlic bread – an obsession that soon gets tiresome. He's also a bit wordy at times, which may challenge some readers. But his advice is sound and will definitely help in navigating the perils of middle grade.