Under My Skin by Charles de Lint

Under My SkinUnder My Skin by Charles de Lint

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This Young Adult fantasy begins in Santa Feliz, California in present day. The story unfolds through two voices, Josh and Marina, who are best friends. In this school year, each character has become a Wildling, a shapeshifter from human to animal form. As more and more local teens are becoming Wildlings overnight, government and corporate organizations move in to lock down the situation. Josh’s quest is to make sure any external interest has good intentions, and Marina’s journey is more about acceptance and making sure that Wildlings are treated with respect.

Both Josh and Marina are caught up in the movement as different factions of Wildlings compete for their attention. Some come across as eco-warriors, while others explore the spiritual blessing nature of shapeshifting and other natural gifts. Every single adult and teen group involved in the Wilding phenomenon has a different agenda, and neither Josh nor Marina can identify where they belong. Instead, Josh is singled out as a natural leader, as his animal self, the mountain lion, is one of the oldest animal clans known. Marina’s intentions of aiding the Wildling cause confuse her as she has to choose between the cause and her own dreams.

The alternating voices in each chapter allow the reader to understand the perspectives more deeply. The novel is a familiar story of teens being misunderstood as they go through their quest for identity. The shapeshifter motif allows the author a way to explore questions of identity in sexuality, race and belief. As the shapeshifter story is now a popular culture meme, this puts Under My Skin clearly in a fantasy category for beginners. The novel ends only as Josh and Marina escape their first test of Wildling experimentation leaving room for the proposed sequels to take place. The story hints briefly at stirrings of sexuality and the violence is dramatic but not overdone. This novel’s realistic and modern setting will appeal to most any reader who is ready to dabble in the fantastic. Readers who are more experienced with the genre may find de Lint’s explanations of fantastical elements to be juvenile.

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Darkest Light by Hiromi Goto

Darkest Light (Half World, #2)Darkest Light by Hiromi Goto

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This Young Adult fantasy is a sequel to Goto’s Half World, which was nominated for numerous awards in young adult fantasy. Half World is a kind of purgatory where people go who haven’t resolved events in their lives. The first book introduced one such character, Mr. Glueskin, who is able to leave Half World for ours as a baby.

The story continues from Goto’s Half World following the life of Gee, now a teenager, who relies on his adopted grandmother, Popo, for guidance. Gee’s mysterious background and his penetrating black eyes make alienate him from his peers. He makes his first friend, Cracker, another alienated youth, have to defend their awkward lives from street predators. Gee and Cracker discover that they each have connections to Half World and together must travel there in order to answer questions about their pasts. Half World is filled with challenging and dangerous obstacles as Gee and Cracker are compelled to search for meaning. Together they must face their darkest fears to have any hope of finding peace.

The novel is filled with more questions than answers about what exists beyond death. Using realistic characters from our world to introduce the reader to the fantastical plane of Half World somehow makes the idea plausible. Goto’s descriptions of the various tragic events trapping characters in Half World are at times horrific but captivating. Although the character Gee is featured in Darkest Light, the character of Cracker is well-developed and leaves room for a next book.

Goto’s style is deliciously dark and detailed which will appeal especially to young adults who dabble in Asian literature. The spiritual questions involved in the subject matter may not appeal to some readers but would appeal to any curious young adult in search of answers about life beyond death. The story is quite violent in certain scenes but not in a gratuitous way.

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The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje

Book title: The Cat’s Table

Author: Michael Ondaatje

Bibliographic entry Ondaatje, M. (2011). The cat’s table. Random House Audio.
Description An eleven-year old boy, Michael, boards a ship for a long voyage from Colombo to England.  As young boys will do, he befriends 2 other boys and together they explore all the nooks and crannies of the ship, getting in and out of trouble.  One day they witness a murder and are reluctant witnesses to solving the crime.
Reaction This tale is told through the adult’s eyes looking back on the boyhood voyage.  It’s so realistic, that it seems to be, at least in part, autobiographical of Ondaatje’s experiences.  A page turner.
Recommended age level Intermediate/Senior
Subjects/themes Coming of age, adventure, survival
Curriculum connections English: read a variety of student- and teacher-selected texts from diverse cultures and historical periods, identifying specific purposes for reading
Awards LONGLIST 2013 – IMPAC Dublin Literary Award
Miscellaneous The audiobook is narrated by the author.


Jeffrey and Sloth by Kari-Lynn Winters and Ben Hodson

Book title: Jeffrey and Sloth

Author: Kari-Lynn Winters and Ben Hodson

Bibliographic entry Winters, K.-L., & Hodson, B. (2007). Jeffrey and Sloth. Victoria, Canada: Orca Book.
Description Intimidated by the blank page, young author Jeffrey tries to write a story but can only draw.  He creates a sloth who comes to life and starts to give Jeffrey all sorts of great story ideas.
Reaction A beautiful tale of unleashing your creativity through art.  A great conversation starter about the creative process.
Recommended age level Primary/Junior
Subjects/themes art, creativity, storytelling
Curriculum connections Art: identify and document their strengths, their interests, and areas for improvement as creators of art
Awards Finalist: 2008 BC Book Prize; Winner of the ABCs of Education best books of 2006-2007; Silver Medal at the 2008 Blue Spruce Ontario Library Association award; Silver Medal at the 2009 Chocolate Lilly British Columbia Reader’s Choice Award
Miscellaneous More information on the books of Kari-Lynn Winters can be found at: http://kariwinters.com/


The farm team by Linda Bailey

Book title: The Farm Team

Author: Linda Bailey

Bibliographic entry Bailey, L. (2006). The Farm Team. Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press.
Description The animals on Stolski’s farm haven’t won a hockey game against the Bush League bandits in 50 years but they haven’t lost hope of bringing home the Stolski cup.  With some teamwork and determination, this may be their year.
Reaction Action-packed and full of sports strategies, The Farm Team will appeal to readers young and old.  This book would be an excellent choice for use with dramatization in the primary classroom.
Recommended age level Primary/Junior
Subjects/themes Hockey, teamwork, competition
Curriculum connections Language: demonstrate understanding of a text by retelling the story or restating information from the text, including the main idea
Awards OLA Best Bets, Top 10 Canadian Children’s Books 2006; Shortlist, Ruth & Sylvia Schwartz Children’s Book Award, 2007; Honour Book, Ontario Blue Spruce Award, 2008
Miscellaneous Author Linda Bailey and illustrator Bill Slavin have teamed up to create six books together.



Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay

Book title: Under Heaven

Author: Guy Gavriel Kay

Bibliographic entry Kay, G. G. (2010). Under heaven. Toronto, Canada: Penguin Group.
Description Tai is assigned the duty of burying the fallen soldiers of his kingdom in order to put their ghosts to rest.  This strange task takes him two years to complete and leads to a series of events that will forever change his destiny.  He is awarded 250 pricless horses and must take them across China to his home kingdom.
Reaction This tale is both historical and fantastical as Kay creates the supernatural setting in ancient China.  The story is epic and involves many key players to help Tai set his life right again.
Recommended age level Intermediate/Senior
Subjects/themes History, family, tradition, honour
Curriculum connections English: read a variety of student- and teacher-selected texts from diverse cultures and historical periods, identifying specific purposes for reading
Awards Won the Sunburst Award, for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic; nominated in the Best Novel category at the World Fantasy Awardsnominated for an Aurora Award, for best SF/Fantasy Novel.  Awarded June 2011; nominated for the 2011 Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature.
Miscellaneous Set 300 years later, Kay’s next novel River Under Stars will be released in 2013.

Under Heaven US

The Adventures of Medical Man by Dr. Michael Evans and David Wichman

Book title: The Adventures of Medical Man: Kids’ Illnesses and Injuries Explained

Author: Dr. Michael Evans and David Wichman

Bibliographic entry Evans, M., & Wichman, D. (2010). The adventures of medical man: Kids’ illnesses and injuries explained. Toronto, Canada: Annick Press.
Description In this non-fiction graphic novel style book, Dr. Evan takes on the role of a new hero in six medical adventures.  Each adventure describes a common kid illness or injury including nut allergy, concussion, broken bones, strep throat, ear infection and asthma.
Reaction Told in the genres of film, the entertaining narrative voice takes on the qualities of the genre.  Both informative and amusing, The Adventures of Medical Man has the potential to expand to a series of books on medical subjects for kids.  The illustrations are larger than life and often contain detailed scientific subject matter.
Recommended age level Junior/Intermediate
Subjects/themes Medicine, illness, injury
Curriculum connections Health and Physical Education: recognize the responsibilities and risks associated with caring for themselves and others (e.g., while babysitting, staying home alone, caring for pets, volunteering in the community, assisting someone with a disability, preparing meals, travelling to and from school and other locations), and demonstrate an understanding of related safety practices and appropriate procedures for responding to dangerous situations (e.g., safe practices for preparing food; responses to allergic reactions, fire, sports injuries, dental emergencies, hypothermia, bullying)
Awards Nominated for the Ontario Library Association’s Red Maple Award 2013


Nice Recovery by Susan Juby

Book title: Nice Recovery

Author: Susan Juby

Nice RecoveryNice Recovery by Susan Juby

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Susan Juby’s own story of recovery is fascinating, raw and often hilarious. I thoroughly enjoyed the first 2/3 of this book. Although I read the rest of the book, I would describe it as opportunistic. This portion, where Juby talks about various strategies to recovery needs to be a reference guide, and not part of the actual novel. Recommended for the OLA White Pine award for non-fiction in 2012, it will be a fascinating read for its visceral and authentic voice.

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Bibliographic entry Juby, S. (2010). Nice recovery. Toronto, Canada: Penguin Canada.
Description Juby’s struggles with anxiety as a child and teenager lead her to abuse alcohol.  This autobiography is very revealing in how young adults are consumed by emotions that often leave to a self-medicating behaviour with alcohol and drugs.
Reaction Juby’s gripping tale of drug and alcohol abuse, addiction and rehabilitation are disturbing.  Her humourous and self-deprecating spin on each tale allows the reader to approach these difficult topics with ease.  The latter third of the book is informational and dry, but the first two-thirds of the book are insightful.
Recommended age level Intermediate/Senior
Subjects/themes Anxiety, mental health, alcohol abuse, addiction
Curriculum connections Health and Physical Education: describe the influence of mental health on overall well-being
Awards Nominated for the non-fiction category of the Ontario Library Association’s White Pine awards
Miscellaneous This is Susan Juby’s first non-fiction book


Chickadee Magazine

Resource title: Chickadee Magazine

Author: Owlkids, Bayard Canada

Bibliographic entry (2012, March). ChickaDEE.
Description ChickaDEE is publishes 10 issues per year and aims to make “children interested in the world around them.”  Each issue is focused around a theme which is often seasonal, or subject-based.
Reaction The best parts of ChickaDEE are the diversity of the content which really has something for everyone including informational content, stories, crafts, science projects and contests.  There is very little advertising which will appeal to parents and schools.
Recommended age level ages 6 – 9
Subjects/themes Education, crafts, science, puzzles, comics
Curriculum connections Art: use a variety of materials, tools, and techniques to respond to design challenges
Awards Winner of a Parents’ Choice Silver Sear Honor, and several Distinguished Achievement Awards from the Association of Educational Publishers
Miscellaneous Owl kids also publishes Chirp magazine for ages 3 to 6 and Owl magazine for ages 9 to 13

Photo from: http://owlkids.com/chickaDEE/monthly.htmlScreen Shot 2012-12-02 at 12.05.11 PM

Dark Inside by Jeyn Roberts

Book title: Dark Inside

Author: Jeyn Roberts

Bibliographic entry Roberts, J. (2011). Dark Inside. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.
Description A devastating earthquake hits the west coast of North America and a mysterious illness is unleashed causing people to kill each other as if controlled by a hidden supernatural force.  Four teens struggle to stay alive using any means necessary.
Reaction Although post-apocalyptic settings are seeing a resurgence in young adult literature, this young adult supernatural thriller will appeal to a select group of teens.  Roberts’ style of multiple narrators is often confusing.  I won’t be compelled to buy any more of the series except for my students. The book does manage to be horrific without being gruesome.
Recommended age level Intermediate/Senior
Subjects/themes Supernatural, natural disaster, survival
Curriculum connections English: read student- and teacher-selected texts from diverse cultures and historical periods, identifying specific purposes for reading
Awards Nominated for the 2013 Ontario Library Association White Pine awards
Miscellaneous Rage Within is the next book in this series.


Canadian Student Research Centre

Resource title: Canadian Student Research Centre

Author: EBSCOhost

Bibliographic entry Ebsco Industries. (2012). Canadian Student Research Centre.
Description This database is designed for students to access media and book sources through a search.  It is has many features to assist with search terms including a visual search, sorting results and lexile.
Reaction This is the most used database in my secondary school because it has a clear layout, lots of assistance with search terms, and the results are not too advanced.
Recommended age level Intermediate/Senior
Subjects/themes Research, information literacy
Curriculum connections Any research in any course can use this database.
Awards Bronze winner of the Chief Learning Officer (CLO) Learning in Practice Awards for the Excellence in Content Category
Miscellaneous Subscription-based database


Canadian Encyclopedia (online reference source)

Book title: The Canadian Encyclopedia

Author: Historica-Dominion

Bibliographic entry Historica-Dominion (Ed.). (2012). The Canadian encyclopedia. Retrieved from The Canadian Encyclopedia database.
Description Organized by key people and events in Canadian history, the encyclopedia has fact-based articles searchable by keyword.  It also recommends articles for browsing and links to a live bilingual blog that highlights different topics within the encyclopedia relating to current events.
Reaction  Quite text heavy junior students would generally not handle the format.  Although filled with references at the bottom of each encylopedic entry, none of them are live links to further information.  There is room for improvement in incorporating new media types.
Recommended age level  Intermediate/Senior
Subjects/themes  History, people, events, places, Canada
Curriculum connections Geography: evaluate differing viewpoints on the benefits and disadvantages of selected resource megaprojects (e.g., James Bay hydro complex, Hibernia offshore oilfields,Athabasca oil sands, diamond mines in the Northwest Territories, Mackenzie Valley oil/gas pipeline)
Miscellaneous  The junior version is called The Youth Encyclopedia of Canada

Pyongyang: A journey in North Korea

Book title: Pyongyang: A journey in North Korea

Author: Guy Delisle

Bibliographic entry  Delisle, G. (2007). Pyongyang: A journey in North Korea. Montreal, Canada: Drawn & Quarterly Books.
Description  This non-fiction graphic novel is about Delisle’s trip to North Korea to work in an animation studio there.
Reaction The black and white drawings are simple and journalistic.  The narrative is filled with Delisle’s reactions to the new culture he is experiencing in Korea.  Having experienced this culture shock first hand, I know this book would be great for anyone experiencing a cultural shift.
Recommended age level  Intermediate/Senior
Subjects/themes  Culture, communism, travel, animation
Curriculum connections Art: apply elements and principles of design to create art works that communicate ideas and informationSocial Science: describe some of the social institutions of at least three diverse cultures
Miscellaneous  Delisle has also written a graphic novel called Shenzhen: A travelogue from China

From then to now: A short history of the world by Christopher Moore

Book title: From then to now: A short history of the world

Author: Christopher Moore

Bibliographic entry Moore, C. (2011). From then to now: A short history of the world. Toronto, Canada: Tundra Book.
Description  A non-fiction description of the history of people and the unique societies around the world.
Reaction  Although the topic would certainly appeal to the recommended age group, the book lacks sufficient visuals.  The paintings used, although artistic and descriptive, are sparse. If it’s a book truly intended for young adults, the purpose isn’t clear.  It’s not comprehensive enough to be reference, and it’s not organized in a way to be accessible.
Recommended age level  Intermediate/Senior
Subjects/themes History, anthropology, human geography
Curriculum connections History: compare the characteristics of societies that are isolated and those that are in contact with other societies (e.g., leadership, religious beliefs, cultural expression, tradition and law, systems of communication, types of interactions within and among societies)

Geography: distinguish among opinion, argument, and fact in research sources

Awards  Canadian Library Association Book of the Year for Children award shortlist 2012

Using gaming and graphics to grab students

So many of the changes in our library, representing the new Ontario School Library Association’s document Together for Learning, are fundamentally shifting how we see popular culture’s role in education. The document recognizes the need for social networking and meeting the students where they are whether interested in graphic novels, anime or gaming.

I allow gaming before school, during lunch and after school but I haven’t done anything formal.  I tried to coordinate my committed players of Magic the Gathering together to organize cross-school tournaments, to recruit members and even go on field trips, but they were happiest playing Magic in their own social group.  I just attended a session at a conference where three elementary teachers had organized Minecraft clubs which included blogging about their experiences.  Most importantly they emphasized that gaming is another opportunity for teachers to nurture social activity in students who not otherwise have a place in a sport or other club.

Similarly in my library, graphic novels seem to reach an audience that I haven’t been able to reach otherwise.  Jonathan Seyfried (2008) had it right when he says “Students who had dutifully read only required books in the past, continued to return to the school library well after the elective was finished…” (p.45).  Their motivation to seek out reading material on their own proves the effectiveness of graphic novels.  Like Krashen,  I agree that “popular culture selections may serve as conduits…” (p. 25).  The body of struggling readers in my school are certainly attracted to the visual, but the most sophisticated readers in my library are also drawn to the nuance that text and visual graphics bring together in this unique genre.  We have a collection of at least 200 graphic novels.  An emerging subgenre in my library is non-fiction graphic novels.  A couple popular titles this year include: Two Generals and Cuba: My Revolution.  Both of these titles involve war and include some traumatic events, but the graphic artist is able to capture the violence in the visuals but emphasizes the horrors of war through the text.  History is often a topic that singularly captures the attention of teens but eludes their experiences. With this new found interest in historical graphic novels, I have recently purchased a graphic novel series called “Defining Moments in Canada“, which I believe has 8 titles so far.  Struggling readers or not, this series highlights Canadian history in a visual context that helps students understand the major players in these events.

One of the components to creating a true learning commons shift in school libraries is to design reading experiences “so that students will:

  • Pursue academic and personal reading and writing interests
  • Examine ideas, information and interpretations critically and creatively
  • Engage meaningfully with multiple kinds and levels of texts and multimedia in a resource rich environment (Together for Learning, 2010)

Both gaming and graphic novels help to motivate, connect and support readers of all types.