Scarborough by Catherine Hernandez
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is my favourite book that I’ve read this year HANDS DOWN. It first came to my attention because I enjoy reading from the Ontario Library Association’s Evergreen book list each year. I enjoyed the audiobook version through Audible as Hernandez narrates her own book. I listen to audiobooks a lot on my commute to and from work, but this summer, I used the audiobook to motivate me as I was weeding my garden. I found myself, on more than one occasion, weeping openly in my yard.
It’s a small but mighty hyperfocus on a neighbourhood in Scarborough, Ontario. It centres around the a Family Literacy centre which feels so real that I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Catherine Hernandez has done this work before, which is to say, scraping together a program and creating a culture of welcome using virtually nothing at all. The families that come and go each come to the centre for a different reason, and each child has unique challenges. 3 children’s lives, in particular, are emphasized: Bing, Sylvie and Laura. Through their lives, Hernandez calls the reader to attention and reveals the crucial necessity of outreach programming.
The book is so poignant, so concise, as if no words are wasted. The overlapping timelines, character development and continuous threads allow the reader to see cause and effect repeat with often catastrophic results. Hernandez masterfully builds hope and then thwarts it with a harsh blow of reality, making each development really earn its place in building to the conclusion.
It turns out that Hernandez splits her time between writing and the theatre which maybe why I can tell that we’re kindred spirits. This book could easily be staged or turned into a film. The images in my mind while listening were like a movie. I’ll be following Hernandez’s work and waiting impatiently for the arrival of whatever she’s written. I can’t say enough about the power of this book. Just go get it.
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The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I chose this book as it is nominated by the Ontario Library Association’s Forest of Reading program in the White Pine selection this year. …and I think it is a strong contender for the winner, but teachers aren’t allowed to vote. I’m not the only one who agrees it is a winner: this book is sitting on the Canada Reads 2018 long list, won the Governor General’s award for young adult literature and has even broken through the border into recognition in the American market.
It has all the makings of a popular young adult book: strong character development, a driving plot in a not unfamiliar dystopian world, and an optimistic resolution. More than this though, Dimaline takes many of the issues facing First Nations, Metis and Inuit people today and incorporates them into a book that will have readers racing to read more about reservation treaties, residential schools and environmental pillaging without making the reader feel ignorant for not knowing enough. There are so many things I liked about the book as an adult reader including the variety of adult role models that the main character Frenchie encounters.
As a secondary school teacher-librarian, I will be sure to recommend this book to any student looking for an adventurous book, with just the right amount of romance. There are well-developed, positive characters represented from a diversity of backgrounds who work together towards their common goal. This is a book for everyone.
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In 2015 award-winning author John Vaillant released his first novel “The Jaguar’s Children” saying that the issues of Mexico’s plight are just too complex to do justice in a non-fiction book. The book cover shows a wall….the same wall that everyone is talking about in 2017.
It’s this wall that our main characters Hector and Cesar must overcome but the greater story is in the reasons that have pushed Hector and Cesar to make this choice. For one, their home region of Mexico, Oaxaca, has been overtaken by corporate farming and the heritage strain of Oaxaca’s indigenous corn is being bioengineered out of existence. The corn is an underlying metaphor that pervades the novel as Hector’s own Zapotec heritage is threatened by modernisation and his decision to leave Mexico altogether. Most of the novel takes place inside the water truck which conceals the boys’ identities but becomes their prison as it breaks down in the hot desert sun. In dealing with this real conflict, Hector takes Cesar’s phone and tries to reach out for help. Timely and gripping, The Jaguar’s Children will leave you with questions about our own responsibilities as global citizens and who gains most from economic policy.
Join me in TeachOntario for a great discussion beginning February 21, 2017. TeachOntario is an open space for educators and the public alike. This is our first fiction collaboration with the Ontario School Library Association and we’ve chosen The Jaguar’s Children because it is a) a wicked good book and b) because it was nominated for an Evergreen award by the Ontario Library Association’s Forest of Reading program. The book club is inside the Explore section of TeachOntario as we are inviting the public to join in so please bring a friend.
To register for the book club, go here: https://www.teachontario.ca/community/explore/TO-OLA-book-club
They Left Us Everything: A Memoir by Plum Johnson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I first became interested in Plum Johnson’s They Left Us Everything as it has won the Ontario Library Association’s 2016 Evergreen award for best in Canadian adult fiction. This book is my surprise read of the year. Aging parents and all their stuff? The topic doesn’t really sell itself, does it? But then I engaged with Plum’s story as it speaks to the changing nature of family dynamics. Her family is challenged by her father’s Alzheimer’s disease, her brother’s cancer and the general decline of her mother. As her parents age and pass away, she is left with a monument to their time on Earth that seems psychologically insurmountable to deal with. Each item that Plum touches resonates with a history sometimes obvious but more likely it’s true meaning isn’t revealed until Plum has a series of serendipitous moments. This book spans the time it took Plum to deal with each item, the family disagreements about how to deal, and the time of putting it all to rest. This book is filled with the things that we think and don’t say and in joining Plum in her memoir, I feel better about the future challenges in my own life. It is descriptive and concise, and a true tribute to family dysfunction in all its glories. If I could, I’d buy a copy for each family member with a card attached that says “Fair warning.”
As I was searching, I found this article about the home itself filled with marvellous descriptive pictures that match the ones in my head: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/real-estate/a-lakeside-home-well-stocked-with-history/article622715/
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This week I’m presenting on this topic at the Ontario Library Association’s Superconference 2016 #OLASC16. Here is a link to my presentation:
During the presentation I’ll be asking participants to participate! (surprise surprise) One of those ways is using crowdsourcing. I’m asking you to contribute your own ideas for cultivating a participatory culture using this form:
The responses will be here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1KopTSzmKQ3oJZkyjzQuoBseA6q8JWN401Erk-T20_ts/edit?usp=sharing
This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate by Naomi Klein
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Reading this book has changed my life. This book is the first book I’ve read from the Ontario Library Association’s Evergreen selections for 2015. Naomi Klein is such an important voice for Canada that this book was on my to-read list well before it was nominated though. I enjoyed reading this book through Audible.com‘s selection so I listened to about 7 hours a week which was wonderful because it has a lot of important information about climate change that are combined with unfamiliar issues such as economics, world trade, environmental law, industrialization, and indentured slavery that I needed to digest in smaller pieces. Klein manages to put all of these issues together into one book and concludes that if we can’t manage to adjust our culture of consumption that we don’t have a chance of stopping global warming. More importantly though, that we need to start making right the crimes that we have committed through industrialization and globalization and make reparations to developing nations that are still disadvantaged by centuries of colonial actions. At home in Canada, Klein argues that we need to demand a higher minimum wage so that people can stop taking McJobs for shitty companies who continue to put capitalism first and human needs and the environment as distant seconds. In a deeply personal chapter, Klein reveals that her concerns for climate change exploded during her struggles with infertility and points to our dramatic increases in infertility and disease as the red flag symptoms that we continue to ignore by believing in the capitalism-driven pharmaceuticals instead. In summary: I learned a lot.
As a secondary school teacher-librarian, I will carry this book in my library but it isn’t going to be an easy sell. However, as a research tool it will be phenomenal and I will bring bits and pieces of it out to stimulate inquiry research and for discussion for years to come.
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Book title: The Adventures of Medical Man: Kids’ Illnesses and Injuries Explained
Author: Dr. Michael Evans and David Wichman
||Evans, M., & Wichman, D. (2010). The adventures of medical man: Kids’ illnesses and injuries explained. Toronto, Canada: Annick Press.
||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.
||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
||Medicine, illness, injury
||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)
||Nominated for the Ontario Library Association’s Red Maple Award 2013