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The Dam

5 Nov

I used to play on a dam.

Dad worked for Ontario Hydro and when I was in grade 2, we moved to Fraserdale. It was an isolated community. Before there was a Polar Express,  we had the Polar Bear Express that ran through our railroad station on its way to Moosonee. We were the last town before you got here.

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Ours was a hydroelectric dam, tapping the power of the Little Abitibi River. As youngsters we ran all over town and into the woods. There was an old boat docked on the dam and we played on it, using our imaginations to fuel our play. Near it was a plaque, on which was written Rudyard Kipling’s poem “The Sons of Martha”, in celebration of the care and dedication of workers–engineers, mechanics, and builders–to provide for the safety and comfort of others.

I got all sentimental about these halcyon days of my youth after reading David Almond’s new picture book The Dam.

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A father and daughter go out with a fiddle to sing in the abandoned buildings soon to be covered with water. The language is beautifully poetic and the illustrations, by Levi Pinfold, are exquisite.

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Publisher’s Summary: Kielder Water is a wild and beautiful place, rich in folk music and legend. Years ago, before a great dam was built to fill the valley with water, there were farms and homesteads in that valley and musicians who livened their rooms with song. After the village was abandoned and before the waters rushed in, a father and daughter returned there. The girl began to play her fiddle, bringing her tune to one empty house after another — for this was the last time that music would be heard in that place. With exquisite artwork by Levi Pinfold, David Almond’s lyrical narrative — inspired by a true tale — pays homage to his friends Mike and Kathryn Tickell and all the musicians of Northumberland, to show that music is ancient and unstoppable, and that dams and lakes cannot overwhelm it.

Although the dam is still there, the town where I lived is gone. They moved everyone out  and tore down the houses. Workers now commute in and, as I understand it, stay in a bunkhouse. It is sad to think this town of my youth no longer exists.

Despite the initial sepia tones of The Dam, the book ends more happily than my own tale. Although the residents of the Northumberland community no longer live in their homes, the area has been reclaimed by nature and the people still come.

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House Sparrows

13 Aug

At my old house, I had a little house sparrow that visited me. It would hop on my front porch and, if my front door was open to catch a breeze, she would hop onto the threshold and peek in. An elderly friend of mine told me it meant the bird had something important to tell me. I never found out what that was, but I think about that little bird from time to time, and I’ve been thinking about her a lot while I read The Triumphant Tale of the House Sparrow by Jan Thornhill.

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Publisher’s Summary:Behold the most despised bird in human history!

So begins Jan Thornhill’s riveting, beautifully illustrated story of the House Sparrow. She traces the history of this perky little bird, one of the most adaptable creatures on Earth, from its beginnings in the Middle East to its spread with the growth of agriculture into India, North Africa and Europe. Everywhere the House Sparrow went, it competed with humans for grain, becoming such a pest that in some places “sparrow catcher” became an actual job and bounties were paid to those who got rid of it.

But not everyone hated the House Sparrow, and in 1852, fifty pairs were released in New York City. In no time at all, the bird had spread from coast to coast. Then suddenly, at the turn of the century, as cars took over from horses and there was less grain to be found, its numbers began to decline. As our homes, gardens, cities and farmland have changed, providing fewer nesting and feeding opportunities, the House Sparrow’s numbers have begun to decline again — though in England and Holland this decline appears to be slowing. Perhaps this clever little bird is simply adapting once more.

This fascinating book includes the life history of the House Sparrow and descriptions of how the Ancient Egyptians fed it to the animals they later mummified, how it traveled to Great Britain as a stowaway on ships carrying Roman soldiers, and how its cousin, the Eurasian Tree Sparrow, was almost eradicated in China when Mao declared war on it. A wealth of back matter material is also supplied.

The narrative text is augmented by Thornhill’s realistic illustrations that help the reader picture the truly remarkable history of the house sparrow.

 

Dealing with change

1 Aug

Earlier this week, my school website changed my role from teaching 6th grade in Green Hall to 7th grade in Red Hall. As I have said before, it isn’t a bad change, but any change can be tricky to navigate. The familiar is always more comfortable.

This Duck and That Duck navigate changes of their own in Ellen Yeomans’ The Other Ducks.

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Publisher’s Summary: This Duck and That Duck were the best of friends. They did everything together but sometimes two ducks just isn’t enough.

When This Duck declares that he wishes there were Other Ducks around so they could waddle in a line (a very ducky thing to do), That Duck is quite confused.

That is until This Duck and That Duck go swimming, look down, and finally meet The Other Ducks.

Unfortunately, The Other Ducks never seem to come out of the water! Oh how This Duck and That Duck wish The Other Ducks would waddle outside the big puddle with them. But it’s getting colder and their feathers are starting to itch for warmer weather.

Will these best friends ever find their companions?

This is sort of a slapstick buddy book. But That Duck, with the encouragement of This Duck, faces some fears and grows as a person, or rather, as a duck. Even if the humor isn’t your cup a tea, persevere to the end – it will melt your heart.

This was a sweet and funny book that got me thinking about Farfallina & Marcel by Holly Keller, which is a less humorous but equally sweet.

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Happy Canada Day 2018!

1 Jul

My mother’s passing has left me reeling. I suppose that is because it was so unexpected. Grief is such a strange emotion and there is no one way to mourn. Two Canadian picture books do an amazing job helping young readers navigate grief and emotions.

The first is The Funeral by Matt James.

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Publisher’s Summary: Norma and her parents are going to her great-uncle Frank’s funeral, and Norma is more excited than sad. She is looking forward to playing with her favorite cousin, Ray, but when she arrives at the church, she is confronted with rituals and ideas that have never occurred to her before. While not all questions can be answered, when the day is over Norma is certain of one thing — Uncle Frank would have enjoyed his funeral.

This sensitive and life-affirming story will lead young readers to ask their own questions about life, death and how we remember those who have gone before us.

They Say Blue by Jillian Tamaki is more stream of consciousness.

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Publisher’s Summary: In captivating paintings full of movement and transformation, Tamaki follows a young girl through a year or a day as she examines the colors in the world around her. Egg yolks are sunny orange as expected, yet water cupped in her hands isn’t blue like they say. But maybe a blue whale is blue. She doesn’t know, she hasn’t seen one. Playful and philosophical, They Say Blue is a book about color as well as perspective, about the things we can see and the things we can only wonder at.

Back to the books

2 Apr

The SOLSC Challenge is over, so now I am back to writing mostly about books – except on Tuesdays when I will post a weekly Slice of Life Story.

I read a number of books in March, but I will use today’s post to list the books I finished during Spring Break.

Picture Books

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The Great Dictionary Caper by Judy Sierra
illustrated by Eric Comstock

 

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Grace for Gus
written and illustrated by Harry Bliss

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On the Other Side of the Garden written by Jairo Buitrago
illustrated by Rafael Yockteng

 

Middle Grade Novels

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Arlo Finch in the Valley of  Fire by John August

 

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Ice Wolves by Amie Kaufman

 

Young Adult Novels

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Obsidio by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

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Daughter of the Siren Queen by Tricia Levenseller

Upside down and backwards

19 Feb

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I’ve heard (and used) this quote about Ginger Rogers a number of times. I hadn’t realized it originated in a Frank and Ernest comic!

I got to thinking about it because I just read a new picture book biography of Elizabeth “Libba” Cotten, self-taught blues and folk musician, singer, and songwriter. Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten is written by Portland Musician Laura Veirs and illustrated by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh.

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Because she was left-handed she played the guitar “upside down and backwards”, a refrain that repeats throughout the book and that brought to mind the Ginger Rogers reference.

Libba Cotten was convinced by her pastor to give up the guitar, saying she played “Devil’s music”. Later in life, she became the housekeeper for  Ruth Crawford Seeger and, in a house full of music, she rediscovered her passion. She made her first recording in 1958 at the age of 62.

This picture book biography includes an author’s note that gives more details about Cotten’s life and Veirs’ lifelong connection to her work, as well as a list of sources.

Here she is, playing her most famous song, “Freight Train”.

 

Two of my favorite things

22 Jan

Unsurprisingly,  two of my favorite past-times are knitting and reading. A perfect stormy day in the Pacific Northwest combines the two – I can knit while listening to an audiobook!

This rainy weekend, I spent a little time not knitting, but reading about fans of my two favorite past-times.

Baabwaa & Wooliamwritten by David Elliott and illustrated by Melissa Sweet, is an amusing tale that shows the power of story.

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Publisher’s Summary: Baabwaa is a sheep who loves to knit. Wooliam is a sheep who loves to read. It sounds a bit boring, but they like it. Then, quite unexpectedly, a third sheep shows up. A funny-looking sheep who wears a tattered wool coat and has long, dreadfully decaying teeth. Wooliam, being well-read, recognizes their new acquaintance: the Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing! The wolf is so flattered to discover his literary reputation precedes him that he stops trying to eat Baabwaa and Wooliam. And a discovery by the sheep turns the encounter into an unexpected friendship.

The book is funny, and, in this time of entrenched  beliefs opposite sides of a great chasm, it offers an intelligent way to bridge the gap.

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