Saturday, November 1, 2014

More Picture Book Heaven

I had not been to Paris before; that is, not until last week when I read Julie Kraulis' An Armadillo in Paris.
Kraulis, Julie. An armadillo in Paris. Tundra, 2014.

C'est bon! What a treat this picture book was. I absolutely love any story that combines non fiction facts within a narrative tale, and Ms. Kraulis performs the task seamlessly.

Arlo, the Brazilian armadillo, follows his grandfather's travel journals to the City of Love. The facts within the story bring the reader along on a true adventure. And who doesn't love an adventure? A Parisian one, at that?

Perhaps more enjoyable than the marriage of fact and fiction are the exquisite illustrations. The oil and graphite artwork simply must be seen. It's a tossup over which illustration is my favourite - the Arc de Triomphe or the Pont Neuf? Perhaps it is the double-spread of the Iron Lady herself.

What's up next up for Arlo? I hear that he may be headed to the City that Never Sleeps. Personally, I can think of a number of cities where Arlo could have himself a grand time. Here's hoping that this armadillo's adventures continue.

If you happen to be in Toronto in the coming week and would like a chance to meet the author, check out the details below:

Date: Wednesday, November 5, 2014
Where: Cafe Plenty
Address: 250 Dundas Street West, Toronto, ON M5T 2Z5
Telephone: 416-585-7842
When: 6:00-8:00 PM

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Must Read in 2014: October Update

Way back in January, I committed to the Must Read Challenge. I purposely designed my list as a realistic and attainable goal.  Just 10 books that simply must be read in 2014. No biggie.

It's now October and it's very tempting to ditch this update and just pretend that the whole challenge never really happened. Full disclosure: when I created my list I was in a heightened Canada Reads state and had every intention of reading all those titles before the voting began in March. As they say - life got in the way. Before I knew it, Canada Reads was over (at least I read the winner. Yeah The Orenda!) and I was onto other interests and other reads.

Over the past Thanksgiving weekend, I had the opportunity to reflect on Time and the Plans that we make. In a recent awkward exchange I was reminded that our time on earth is finite. It is very likely that not all our goals - reading and otherwise - will come to fruition. But still it is fun to plan and see where the plans take us.

Although I have only crossed one more title off of my list, I like to look at it as I'm 60% through my 2014 Must Read list.

So which title did I manage to read since my July update?

Roberta Rich's The Harem Midwife. A few years back, I had read and totally enjoyed Rich's The Midwife of Venice. I was anxious to continue this tale of Hannah Levi, a Jewish midwife now living in exile with her husband in sixteenth century Constantinople. And, while I did enjoy the plot and the richly described setting of this second installment of the trilogy, I found the ending a hurried and implausible disappointment. Ms. Rich seemed to be in a rush to wrap up the tale and tie up all the loose ends. The Harem Midwife is a quick read, and for lovers of historical fiction I still think it's worth a try. Will I read the final book about Hannah? The jury is still out on that one.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Picture Book Heaven - Part One

I returned to school this week to find a great big box of picture books that I had ordered the previous week.

Honestly - what a kid-in-a-candy store feeling!

And what a box full of treats I got this time.

One book that stayed with me the whole week was Trudy Ludwig's The Invisible Boy.

This very sweet, but powerful story asks the question, "which is worse - being laughed at or feeling invisible?"

It just hit me in the gut when I read that line. I substituted Brian's face for many other little faces I have known over the years. The ones who are not loud and sociable. The ones who don't demand to be at the forefront. We are all on the lookout for the child who is treated unfairly - the boy or girl who is laughed at or criticized. But what about those students who seem to take up no space at all? The ones who appear to be drawn in muted shades of grey? The Invisible Boy has reminded me that I have the opportunity and the obligation to make sure that no invisible students enter my library.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Feeling Autumnal

A few short weeks ago, I believed that my ideal reading location involved at least three of the following: sun, sand, water, cold beverage, semi-reclined position. Oh, how fickle I can be.

Although this past weekend found me soaking up every last patio minute of the summer of 2014, I have to admit that I have been feeling down-right autumnal of late. Blame it on the chilly mornings. Or the early setting of the sun. It could even be the arrival of  the Pumpkin Spiced Latte candles and soaps at Bath and Body Works.

In reality, I think it's the Starz production of Outlander that has me all loving the idea of Fall. Costume designer, Terry Dresbach has done such a superb job. I am over the moon for the woolens that Claire wraps around herself  in an effort to protect her from the cold and damp Highland weather - and to just look amazing. Not only am I embracing the idea again of cuddling up with a good book, a hot tea, and a warm blanket, but I am seriously thinking about resurrecting my knitting needles and getting to work on some of these chunky infinity scarves and wrist warmers.

What a way to get over a quickly fading summer.

Friday, September 12, 2014

What's Making Me Happy This Month - September

It's easy to figure out what's making me happy this month.

Back to School!

My inner child is released each September, as I anxiously await the newness, the return to routine, the opportunity to begin again that comes with the start of a new school year. I've never lost the urge to gather and arrange my new school supplies. And luckily, I get to indulge myself every single year.

And, of course, I look forward to seeing how much the students have grown and matured over the summer months. Which ones will run up to me with a hug, asking how my summer was? Who will awkwardly hold back, remembering that they hugged me goodbye in June, but wonder if they are too old for hugs now? What new students will arrive on the first day, needing a friendly face to welcome them to their new school? The squeals of excitement, the constant activity, the looks of wonder and awe, have all been missed these past months.

I remind myself every day how blessed I am to spend my days in a work environment that is full of hope, promise, and laughter.

Back to school is definitely what's making me happy this month.

Friday, August 22, 2014

What's Making Me Happy This Month - August

OK, I know a lot of people have had their fill of this. But what's been making me happy this month has been the Ice Bucket Challenge. Or, more specifically, the attention that Amyotrophic Lateral SclerosisALS /Lou Gehrig's Disease) has been receiving, of late.

Unless you've been living under a rock, or maybe just taking a well-deserved summer screen break, you can be forgiven for missing all the coverage that this viral fundraiser has been receiving. Everyone from Mark Zuckerberg to Shakira have accepted the challenge and filmed themselves being dunked with - wait for it - a bucket of ice water. For Canadians, the craze really took off when Sidney Crosby posted his challenge. From then on, it has been a daily deluge of online videos. The majority of the challenges have been casual, low-budget affairs; however, NHL player Paul Bissonnette's over-the-top production needs to be highlighted.

Aside from the fun factor of the stunt, I have a personal connection to ALS. You see, ALS stole the very first storyteller that I ever knew away from me. My grandfather was a born storyteller. On any visit, he would always ask if he had time for "one more story." In a cruel twist of fate, it was his voice that this terrible disease claimed from him first. Sure, we had the little white board and dry erase markers to communicate with, but his stories were in the oral tradition. He loved to tell a good tale and the silencing of his voice was one of the most heartbreaking things that I have witnessed.

Poppa knew his celebrities (he loved Shania and Vanna White), and his hockey players, and I know he would have had a chuckle watching all these ice bucket challenges.

#IceBucketChallenge - definitely what's making me happy this month.

For information, or to donate to ALS, go to 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Time to Hit the Road Again

After a few weeks of hanging around doing home-based things, it was time to hit the road again.

Just a mini road trip, but with lots of learning opportunities, naturally.

We began our excursion in the tobacco-turned-hop fields of Norfolk County (Ontario). Accompanied by OnlySon, I toured Ramblin' Road Brewery Farm. What a concept! What a beer! In addition to the hops, Ramblin' Road grows potatoes. Potatoes for potato chips, and ... potato beer. It's all good. A complimentary tour and tasting was an easy sell, and we brought a couple of souvenir packs home for Mr. Fun.

I had the great fortune to tag along with Daughter1 to this enjoyable  event - the unveiling of "Kil(n) Hand," an installation by Saskatchewan artist and Norfolk Artist-in-Residence, Heather Benning.

Until this evening I knew absolutely nothing about the history of tobacco farming in Ontario. Thanks to the artist and the guests of the Norfolk Arts Centre, I feel so much more enlightened. The above tobacco kiln (or locally pronounced "kil") was donated by a family that has been farming in Norfolk since the 1950's. Not visible in the photo are 500-600 casts of hands suspended within the kiln. The pulled back tar paper allows the viewer to have a peek inside. The many hands that are required to work the family farms? The loss of manual work in the move toward increased mechanization? There are many interpretations. A very fitting piece of artwork to commemorate this International Year of Family Farming.

Day Two found me at another repurposed tobacco farm - Bonnie Heath Estate Lavender and Winery. Owners Steve and Anita Buehner have vineyards and lavender plants where tobacco once grew. (See this Norfolk News article).

If only I had visited a couple weeks earlier! I would have been greeted with the more vibrant purple that comes with peak lavender season. A perfect excuse to mark it on my calendar and return next July. And they may have their lavender icewine available at that time, too. In the meantime, I am enjoying a delicious lavender honey that I purchased at Bonnie Heath. It makes a wonderful addition to a cuppa tea.

While at Bonnie Heath, I got a tip to check out Whistling Gardens in the northern part of the county. Just seven years ago, this piece of land was a cornfield. It now houses a botanical gardens and garden centre.

It's my understanding that yoga is offered in the beautiful gardens. 


A few hours and hundreds of photos later,  I did a time check and realized that I had to get a move on. Daughter1 would be finished work and  there were trails to be hiked.

I got back on the trails the next morning. This time, on wheels, and headed for the beach. You know if there's a beach only 10 km away - I'm there!

Gotta hand it to Norfolk County - great trail system!

book + beach = bliss
Are you wondering about Pete the Cat? Well I've had an escort on all my summer adventures. My Early Years and Primary students love Pete. I plan on creating a video for them and sharing Pete's summer holidays. Stay tuned.

Unfortunately, I needed to end my tour of Norfolk before I had checked everything off my list. Mr. Fun can only go so long without having me at  home. But I will be back! Anyone from Norfolk have any sights or sites that I need to add to that list?

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Back Again - Picture Books 10 For 10

Has it really been a year? Last year I was encouraged by Cathy Mere and wrote about my favourite Canadian picture books for this annual blogging event.

To choose 10 picture books is really an unfair challenge. Don't believe me? Just try it. Anyways, here are the ones I read over and over and over again this year. You may notice there are quite a few Canadian titles among this list. Yeah for awesome Canadian talent!

10 Picture Books I Have Been Loving Over the Past Year

Button, Lana. Willow Finds A Way. Illustrated by Tania Howells. Kids Can Press, 2013.
After finding her voice in Willow's Whispers, Willow acts as a leader when a classmate is getting a little too bossy. 2014 OLA Forest of Reading nominee.

Corey, Shana. Mermaid Queen: the spectacular true story of Annette Kellerman, who swam her way to fame, fortune and swimsuit history. Illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham. Scholastic, 2009.
A very cool biographical picture book. I loved learning about Annette's struggle to overcome her challenges in this vividly illustrated book. And Girl Power will always score some points with me!

Daywalt, Drew. The Day the Crayons Quit. Illustrated by Oliver Jeffers. Philomel, 2013.
Duncan just wants to colour, but his crayons have had enough. The true personality of each colour comes through in the hilarious letters that the crayons write. This book was always on my Holds Shelf last year.

Klassen, Jon. This is Not My Hat. Candlewick, 2012.
To know this Caldecott (2013) winning picture book is to love it. We had so many wonderful discussions about what really happened in the ending. Love, love love this one. 2014 OLA Forest of Reading nominee.

MacKay, Elly. If You Hold a Seed. Running Press Kids, 2013.
No words from me - just go ahead and experience this beauty. And when you're done, make sure to check out the youtube video of how Elly MacKay creates her stunning artwork. 2014 OLA Forest of Reading nominee.

Mann, Jennifer K. Two Speckled Eggs. Candlewick, 2014.
There will always be that student who is a little different. This is a beautiful story about finding friendship where it wasn't expected.

Reynolds, Peter H. Sky Color. Candlewick Press, 2012.
What colour would you paint the sky without any blue paint? Marisol learns a lesson in creativity in this simple book that inspired a few additions to my wall of student art. 2014 OLA Forest of Reading nominee.

Spires, Ashley. The Most Magnificent Thing. Kids Can Press, 2014.
Perseverance and creativity will get you a long way, as demonstrated by this fun story. I love the fact that it is a girl who is engineering this most magnificent thing. This is a great tie-in to the makerspace movement.

Stinson, Kathy. The Man With the Violin. Illustrated by Dusan Petricic. Annick Press, 2013.
I could say so much about this book. A true story, creative use of illustrations, and such a poignant message. A must-read.

Tullet, Herve. Press Here. Chronicle Books, 2011.
We had so much fun with this one! Students of all ages love this interactive picture book. Another constant inhabitant of my Holds Shelf.

Be sure to check out some of the other lists of 10 for 10 at or by following on Twitter #pb10for10.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Must Read in 2014: July Update

So, I'm a little embarrassed at my progress in the Must Read in 2014 campaign.

In conjunction with Carrie at There's a Book For That, and others, I began 2014 with a list of 10 books that I was determined to read NOW.

In April I updated that list.

Now here it is July and time for another update. Can you believe that I have only moved one more title to my Completed List? How can this be?  Any reader will understand when I say that I got a little sidetracked with new books, available books, books that came highly recommended.

But the purpose of the Must Read in 2014 is to tame these ever-growing TBR piles.

Have no fear. I know I'll complete the task.  I'm just happy that I only selected 10 must-reads.

So which book did I read since my last update?

I remember Daughter1 and Daughter2 reading Sisterhood around the time when it was first published (2001). They were the target age, and they loved it. I was never sure what it was about, and never seemed to have the time nor inclination to give it a read. Yet, I always kind of wondered.

Although a little dated in 2014 (best friends being connected only through snail mail when forced to spend their summer in different parts of the world),  Sisterhood has an enduring charm to it. The events and emotions experienced by these four teen girls is as applicable in the technological age as it was at the turn of the millennium. I liked it. I liked it so much that when the Scholastic Book Club flyer came out with the boxed set of the series, I picked it up for my personal library.

Has anyone watched the movie? What are your thoughts?

Thursday, July 10, 2014

What's Making Me Happy This Month - July

What's making me happy this month? Summer Road Trips!

Last week my baby brother got married in Florida. 2500 kilometres away. Now, we have made the trip many, many times. And given the choice to fly or to drive, hitting the open road will win with me every time.

Mr. Fun's sister has never understood our penchant for road trips. "It takes so much time," she says.



Time to: view jaw-dropping scenic beauty, strengthen familial or marital bonds, sing, laugh, play games, learn something new, be silent.

I have hailed the virtues of the Family Road Trip before, but this particular adventure featured just Mr. Fun and me. And it did not disappoint. In addition to a lovely wedding and a fantastic little paradise vacation, we made a few side trips - some planned; others not. All in all, a good time was had with lots of lifelong learning opportunities.

Wedding Vows
Florida Beach

Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater

Ohiopyle, PA - a little gem of a place we stumbled upon

Happy 4th of July from Savannah, GA

Georgia Beach Feet

Morning Coffee - It doesn't suck!
Cheers! (Again)
Road trips - definitely what's making me happy in July!

Friday, May 23, 2014

What's Making Me Happy This Month - May

What's making me happy this month? Easy - the return of Spring!

Although I love the beauty of winter, and the fact that I never have a problem deciding what to wear (layers, layers, and more layers), the arrival of spring is always met with such a sense of wonder and renewal.

Happy Spring!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Blog Tour: The Circus Dogs of Prague

Hooray! Hooray! JR is back, along with his canine friends Robert, Pie, and Beatrix.

In a continuation of The Metro Dogs of Moscow, Rachelle Delaney has sent her four-footed hero off on another adventure.

In an attempt to escape the summer heat and smog of Moscow, JR's human, George, and his likeable girlfriend, Nadya, have decided to spend a week in Prague. Not only can they enjoy the sights, but they can also visit Nadya's brother, Niko, who performs for Circus Sergei, a travelling Russian circus that would be visiting Prague at the same time. The more the merrier, so the happy couple and their Jack Russell terrier are accompanied by John, the Australian embassy worker; his two shepherds, Robert and Pie; and Beatrix, the diva keeshond, whose own human is unable to take time off.

Unlike in The Metro Dogs of Moscow, where the canine crew met up with stray dogs, on this adventure the dogs come face-to-face with a community of stray cats. One particular feline, whom Nadya takes in and names Kisa, threatens to take over JR's prime pet position. But there is little time for a jealous Jack Russell because the dogs soon find themselves in heavy demand to help save Circus Sergei. With JR as director, the animals hijack the show. It's up to the reader to find out if it's enough for the circus to survive.

The story line is a catchy one. More than one person has wanted to run away and join the circus. Where Ms. Delaney really shines is in her characterization and dialogue. And she does this with apparent ease. Readers will easily identify and fall in love with at least one of the characters - human, or otherwise. Will it be JR, the loyal, spunky, and quick-witted terrier? He's my personal favourite. But each of the characters is brimming with personality. There is a lot of dialogue in this book. How else is the reader supposed to know what the animals are thinking? But the mechanics of the conversations are done so smoothly.There is a flow to the dialogue that never gets bogged down or difficult to follow. And funny. Did I mention how humorous some of the sound bites are? Not to mention, full of emotion and attitude.

I didn't have the same personal connection with Prague as I did with Moscow, but still I felt immediately transported to this eastern European city. I could easily envision myself strolling among the Czech cake shops near the Charles Bridge. A pretty nice vision, for sure! I am excited to think of the possibilities that exist for future adventures with JR and the gang.

The Circus Dogs of Prague
Written by Rachel Delaney
ISBN: 9780143184164
Puffin Canada
April 2014
178 Pages
Ages 8 to 12

With sincere thanks to Penguin Canada (Puffin Books) for an ARC of The Circus Dogs of Prague.

Monday, April 7, 2014

What's Making Me Happy This Month - April

What's making me happy this month? I have to say the abundance of lifelong learning opportunities. There really can be no excuse for failing to find something new and interesting to discover. One organization that feeds my inquisitive nature is fairly close by - The Royal Botanical Gardens. And even though many of the gardens themselves still lay dormant under a blanket of snow, the chance to learn something new is still very much alive.

On a recent trip I learned all about carnivorous plants. I  have to admit that childhood visions of enormous man-eating plants came to mind. Come on, I know you've imagined the same thing! I was very surprised at how small these Venus Flytraps actually are.

I was completely astonished at how quickly their leaves can close when particular hairs are stimulated within a certain time frame. The procedure was only demonstrated once, so as not to force the plant to expend unnecessary energy. Did you know that the venus flytrap's habitat is mainly confined to the American states of North and South Carolina? It sounds as if they are a little finicky to grow as a houseplant in Ontario, but I'm thinking of giving it a try and bringing one into the Library. I can imagine all kinds of curious wonder.

Still not in any hurry to head out to the overcast day, I continued my tour of RBG. I was taken by the striking structure of the agave plants.  I'm not sure I ever gave any thought to the plant that produces the sweetener I use for my tea; not to mention the tequila that goes in my margaritas! They reminded me of an aloe plant - different sizes and varying degrees of blues and greens.

When I saw this tree I couldn't help but think of The Story of Ferdinand, by Munro Leaf, one of my very favourite picture books.

Cork Tree with a trunk that feels exactly like - a cork.
I have always loved the way Robert Lawson illustrated his cork tree!

Photo courtesy of 

What lifelong learning opportunities do you like to take advantage of?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Must Read in 2014: An Update

At the beginning of the year I joined Carrie from There's a Book For That in the Must Read in 2014 Challenge. I listed 10 books, above and beyond the many, many other books that I would be reading, that I simply had to read this year. Nine of the ten books are Adult Fiction. One is a YA classic that has somehow escaped my reading schedule. And one title is an oldie that was written by an all-time favourite from my university days.

Three months into 2014 and I figured it was about time for an update.

Four of the ten titles on my list were Canada Reads nominees. It was my intent to have these four titles read before the debates began at the beginning of March. I must admit that I only ended up getting through The Orenda. I am currently right in the thick of The Ontario Library Association's Forest of Reading program at school, and in an attempt to read as many of the titles as possible, I simply ran out of time. I also spent more time on The Orenda than I had initially thought I would. Still, I enjoyed every minute of the week-long debates. Unlike last year, when I watched the shows live each day, this year I rushed home from school to catch the taped televised version. What a week it was! I am very proud to live in a country where people get so stoked about books that we create a reality show around them. If you missed Canada Reads 2014, or you know nothing about this very cool literary event, there's no need to fear. Highlights may be found at CBC Books.

And now for an update on what I've read so far:

The Orenda, by Joseph Boyden.
Hamish Hamilton (Penguin Canada), 2013.
490 p.

Chosen by CBC Canada Reads as the one novel that could change Canada, The Orenda is set in 17th century Huronia. It is told in the alternating viewpoint of three very different characters: Bird, a Huron elder and warrior; Snow Falls, an Iroquois girl who Bird kidnaps as payment for the death of his own daughter; and Christophe, a Jesuit priest who has come to evangelize the native population. No one voice is given prominence over another. I began the novel with the assumption that the Christians would be portrayed as single-minded and be blamed for all the evil that befell the aboriginals. Boy, was I wrong! Each character is developed with balance and respect.  I lingered over this book; allowing many of the images and ideas to percolate in my mind. Thanks to a few summers spent as a child on our family sailboat in Georgian Bay; coupled with an amazing school trip to Sainte-Marie Among the Hurons, I had no difficulty transporting myself to the novel's setting. I was moved to do further research on the time period - always a good sign.

I highly recommend this one - just prepare yourself for the torture scenes.

Lenin Lives Next Door: Marriage, Martinis, and Mayhem in Moscow, by Jennifer Eremeeva. Small Batch Books, 2014. 285 p.

Time for a little levity after The Orenda. I reviewed Lenin here. This one was light and fun, and just what the doctor ordered. Did I mention funny?

Empress of the Night: a Novel of Catherine the Great, by Eva Stachniak. 
Bantam Books (Random House Canada), 2014. 378p. 
Back to Russia we go.

I received an ARC of this novel from Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review.

Originally thinking it was a sequel to Ms. Stachniak's 2012 novel, The Winter Palace -  which I devoured, I need to point out that Empress is more of a companion piece. The two novels are written in a very different style: the first being told from the point of view of a loyal servant in the Winter Palace. Through Varvara the reader is introduced to Sophie (later taking the name Catherine) as a young girl. I thought this technique of a "fly on the wall" narrating the events as Sophie eventually succeeds to become Empress of Russia was very clever and engaging.

Empress of the Night opens with Catherine on the day of her death. Told through third person flashbacks, the story details the life of the Empress from the time of the coup, until the present state that the reader finds her - alone and dying from an apparent stroke. This is Catherine's story to tell, and although the events are interesting and the language and description really is superb, I found the novel to drag a bit and often had to force myself to read. Even though I wanted to, I just didn't enjoy it as much as its predecessor. Still, it is a very human portrait of a very extraordinary ruler.

One does not need to read The Winter Palace first, but I think it would help - especially for the reader who has little knowledge of the time period. Any additional reading would definitely enhance the reading experience. I must recommend Robert Massie's Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman. It is an enormous book (almost 700 pages), but gives the reader the required background. And it is extremely well-written.

Pondering all that went on behind these walls of the Winter Palace.
I would love to hear your thoughts on these books. 

And, if you have read any titles from my list, what do you suggest I start on next?