June 29, 2020

The Keeper of Wild Words: Guest review

Today's review was written by teacher Elizabeth Cook.

Written by Brooke Smith
Illustrated by Madeline Kloepper
Chronicle Books
64 pp.
Ages 5-8
March 2020

In Brooke Smith’s The Keeper of Wild Words, young Brook looks forward to spending the last day of summer vacation with her grandmother, whom she calls Mimi.  Secretly, Brook is worried that she won’t have anything good to share on the first day of school about her summer.  Even as Brook goes to confide in Mimi, her grandmother asks Brook to help save some of her favourite words from disappearing.
From The Keeper of Wild Words by Brooke Smith, illus. by Madeline Kloepper
Words disappear if we don’t share them when we talk.  If we don’t write them in our stories.  If we don’t read them in our books.  If we don’t use words, they can be forgotten.  And if they’re forgotten...they disappear.
Armed with a list of disappearing words, they set out to find each one. It isn’t long before they spot their first wild word, a wren sitting in a tree outside Mimi’s house.  Brook and Mimi spend the day exploring nature to find all of the wild words to ensure they don’t disappear forever. As they find each wild word, they also take the time to explore. Noting the smells of the flowers, the sounds at the pond, and the taste of freshly-picked mint leaves, Brook and Mimi have a truly magical day as they become Keepers of the Wild Words.
From The Keeper of Wild Words by Brooke Smith, illus. by Madeline Kloepper
At the end of this book, American author Brooke Smith explains her inspiration for this book, which originated with a news article that angered her.  The article listed words that would no longer be in the Oxford Junior Dictionary and included over a hundred words related to nature and the wild.  Even more upsetting to her was the fact that words such as “chatroom”, “database”, and “MP3 player” were being introduced. With an emphasis on technology leaving the wild world behind, it is understandable why such a book is needed for our young readers. Enhanced by Canadian Madeline Kloepper's stunning artwork, created in mixed media and Photoshop, the message about the importance of the natural world is threaded throughout.

As a teacher, I find myself thinking of ways to integrate picture books into my curriculum instruction whenever I can.  The Keeper of Wild Words would be great for a variety of lessons and age levels.  First, it could be used as inspiration for a dictionary hunt.  Moreover, it would be great to take a class walk into your neighbourhood to see how many wild words could be found, which is a great tie-in for science lessons of habitats and biodiversity.
From The Keeper of Wild Words by Brooke Smith, illus. by Madeline Kloepper
I also loved how the artwork emphasized the natural elements. From the petals on the poppies to the starlings in the sky, Madeline Kloepper's illustrations could definitely inspire some fabulous art lessons for all ages. 

Brook loved her day in nature and was excited to share her stories on the first day of school. We should all be inspired to venture outside to accept our own roles as Keepers of Wild Words and use our creativity to put something inspirational back into the world, as did Brooke Smith, thereby teaching our students how to counteract negativity with something positive.

Which wild words will you find today?

~ Elizabeth Cook is a teacher in the Halton District School Board. She is an avid reader and fan of Canadian literature.

June 25, 2020

Howdy, I'm John Ware

Written by Ayesha Clough
Illustrated by Hugh Rookwood
Howdy Books (Red Barn Books)
48 pp.
Ages 6-11
January 2020

John Ware, born into slavery around 1850, was a man of strong character and fortitude, who parlayed hard work and his skills as a cowboy into a life of accomplishment in present-day Alberta.
From Howdy, I'm John Ware by Ayesha Clough, illus. by Hugh Rockwood
Though accounts of John Ware's early life are spotty, it is known that, after the abolition of slavery, he was hired on as a ranch hand, earning a reputation as a hard worker. Working as a cowboy on cattle drives, John Ware helped move cattle from the southern US to the north. It was one drive in 1882 that brought cattle from Idaho to the foothills near Calgary and landed John Ware north of the border and into the country that would become his home.
From Howdy, I'm John Ware by Ayesha Clough, illus. by Hugh Rockwood
Regardless of his accomplishments as a cowboy, John Ware still suffered the discrimination of a black man in the predominantly white world of ranching. Nevertheless, his skills and good nature would ultimately win over those who'd seen only his skin colour, recognizing him as an outstanding man of integrity and determination.
From Howdy, I'm John Ware by Ayesha Clough, illus. by Hugh Rockwood
There are stories of extraordinary courage and strength and the legends about John Ware covered everything from wrestling steers, lifting a cow, walking on the backs of bulls and be able to ride anything. In addition to John Ware's accomplishments as a cowboy, he became a rancher, starting with a small herd, marrying, and growing his family and his ranch into a fine life. Upon his death, his funeral was "the largest that young city (Calgary) had ever seen" with ranchers calling him the finest gentleman, a good soul and an incredible horseman.
From Howdy, I'm John Ware by Ayesha Clough, illus. by Hugh Rockwood
Ayesha Clough tells John Ware's story as he might recount it, sharing how others saw him or what they knew of him while expressing his own surprise, pleasure and sadness with life's milestones. His attitude to the animals is especially poignant.
     I connected with animals. Like me, they had to work for a master. But there was no need for fear and violence.
     I cared about them, showed them love and respect. They, in turn, gave their best for me. (pg. 23)
Appended with photos, a timeline and notes for educators, Ayesha Clough helps ensure that John Ware's story is remembered. Though his accomplishments have been recognized with a number of place names like Mount Ware and John Ware Ridge as well as several buildings, this picture book will serve to introduce him to young children.  He achieved so much as a cowboy and, with decency and hard work, created a life of goodness for himself and his family and, with comic book artist Hugh Rookwood's illustrations to focus on the occasions of the cowboy's life, both challenging and impressive, John Ware's story becomes accessible to all young readers. 

It is fitting that two Albertans, Ayesha Clough and Hugh Rookwood, should honour another Albertan, John Ware, a cowboy who dealt with racial discrimination and achieved respect and admiration from all, by telling his story in Howdy, I'm John Ware. It's a story I hope all will read.



I have a free copy of Howdy, I'm John Ware for giveaway from publisher Red Barn Books. 
For your chance at this giveaway,
just leave a comment below about why you'd like a copy of the book.
I'll do a random draw at 6 p.m. EST on June 29, 2020.

Good luck, readers! 


June 23, 2020

An Owl at Sea: Guest review

Today's review was written by teacher Elizabeth Cook.

Written by Susan Vande Griek
Illustrated by Ian Wallace
Groundwood Books
32 pp.
Ages 6-10
May 2019

This beautiful picture book was written by Susan Vande Griek after she read a news article about a Short-eared Owl that somehow flew to an oil rig many kilometres out in the ocean off Scotland.  An Owl At Sea starts with an owl resting on a fence post in a field looking to see if it can find a mouse to eat.
From An Owl at Sea by Susan Vande Griek, illus. by Ian Wallace
It doesn’t explain why or how the owl got so far from this field when we see it navigating the sky above the ocean next.  However, the story of its journey to that oil rig, and then home, is captivating to read.

I am always drawn into books written in verse.  For me, it makes the story all the more magical.  An Owl At Sea by Susan Vande Griek is written in verse and I was instantly struck by the power of a simple description of the owl written in verse. 
Chunky legs,
tired wings
talons searching
for something to hold.
These words helped me feel the exhaustion of the owl, desperate for a place to rest after finding itself so far from its field back home. Susan Vande Griek weaves words so beautifully that the scene unfolds before your own eyes.

From An Owl at Sea by Susan Vande Griek, illus. by Ian Wallace
The words alone create wonderful images for the reader; however, that shouldn’t take away from the stunning artwork by Ian Wallace. His watercolour artwork brings the scene alive. I especially loved his images of the owl on its harrowing journey above the crashing waves and in the misty weather. It is almost as if you can feel the salty spray on your face as you cross your fingers tight, hoping for a safe landing for the owl.

From An Owl at Sea by Susan Vande Griek, illus. by Ian Wallace
An Owl At Sea is a great story to read about the determination of animals.  In the classroom, it would be an interesting book to read in combination with a non-fiction book on owls to compare how extraordinary a feat this journey was for the Short-eared Owl.  It could inspire more research on astounding animal accomplishments and their stories.  This book also illustrated the kindness of the humans that all helped this feathered creature return to its grassy field.  Perhaps, it will inspire children to find ways to help out animals in their own community.

~ Elizabeth Cook is a teacher in the Halton District School Board. She is an avid reader and fan of Canadian literature.

June 19, 2020

2020 Forest of Reading® winners announced

Everything has been a little different this year. Readers would normally be reading and voting in their schools for the Ontario Library Association's Forest of Reading's readers' choice award programs but this pandemic has certainly changed the way things are normally done. Rather than announcing the awards at the annual Festival of Trees, this year's award ceremonies were held online, hosted by CBC Books on Curio.ca, an educational streaming platform (normally subscription based). Fortunately, these ceremonies were posted for all to see. It was a wonderful way to experience the authors and illustrators up close and hear their words and witness the awarding of the readers' choice favourites.

Here are this year's winners for each reading program as announced at the Forest of Reading Festival Award Ceremonies streamed on Curio CBC. The ceremonies for the English-language books were held on June 16, 2020 and can be viewed at https://curio.ca/en/collection/forest-of-reading-2020-2822/ while the ceremonies for the French-language awards were held on June 18, 2020 and shown at https://curio.ca/fr/collection/la-foret-de-la-lecture-2020-2823/.


That’s Not Hockey
Written by Andrée Poulin
Illustrated by Félix Girard
Annick Press

Honour Books:
The Reptile Club
Written by Maureen Fergus
Illustrated by Elina Ellis
Kids Can Press

Sloth at the Zoom
Written by Helaine Becker
Illustrated by Orbie
Kids Can Press

Written by Anna Humphrey
Illustrated by Kass Reich
Tundra Books

Honour Books:
Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13
Written by Helaine Becker
Illustrated by Dow Phumiruk
Henry Holt & Company

The Mushroom Fan Club
Written and illustrated by Elise Gravel
Drawn & Quarterly

The Mystery of Black Hollow Lane
Written by Julia Nobel

Honour Books:
Written by Kenneth Oppel
Illustrated by Sydney Smith
HarperCollins Canada

Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster
Written by Jonathan Auxier
Puffin Canada

Too Young to Escape: A Vietnamese Girl Waits to be Reunited with Her Family
Written by Van Ho and Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch
Pajama Press

Honour Books:
The Superpower Field Guide to Beavers
Written by Rachel Poliquin
Illustrated by Nicholas John Frith
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Killer Style: How Fashion Has Injured, Maimed, and Murdered Through History
Written by Allison Matthews-David and Serah-Marie McMahon
Illustrated by Gillian Wilson
Owlkids Books

No Fixed Address
Written by Susin Nielsen
Tundra Books

Honour Books:
In the Key of Nira Ghani
Written by Natasha Deen
Running Kids Press

The Unteachables
Written by Gordon Korman
Scholastic Canada

Written by Courtney Summers
Wednesday Books

Honour Books:
All Our Broken Pieces
Written by L. D. Crichton

Crown of Feathers
Written by Nicki Pau Preto
Simon & Schuster

La corde à linge
Written and illustrated by Orbie
Less 400 coups  

Honour Books/Livres distingués:
Tellement sauvage!
Written by Mireille Messier
Illustrated by France Cormier
Éditions D’eux

Ils ne veulent pas jouer avec moi!!!
Written by Andrée Poulin
Illustrated by Lucile Danis Drouot
Dominique et compagnie

Aventurosaure 01: Le réveil de Rex
Written and illustrated by Julien Paré-Sorel
Presses Aventure 

Honour Books/Livres distingués:
L’étrange fille au chat
Written by Rémy Simard
Illustrated by Julie Rocheleau
La courte échelle

Written and illustrated by Jean Lacombe
Soulières éditeur 

Vingt-cinq moins un
Written by Geneviève Piché   
Éditions Québec Amérique 

Honour Books/Livres distingués:
Jules et Jim, frères d’armes
Written and illustrated by Jacques Goldstyn
Bayard Canada Livres

Les timbrés 01: Le navet spatial
Written and illustrated by Dom Pelletier
Éditions Scholastic

The full press release is available at the Ontario Library Association's Forest of Reading® website.


Congratulations to everyone!