Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Only Child - Guojing

Title: The Only Child
Author: Guojing
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade Books (Random House), 2015 (Hardcover)
Length: 112 pages
Genre: Children's Graphic Novel/Picture Book
Started: March 17, 2016
Finished: March 17, 2016

From the inside cover:

A little girl - lost and alone - follows a mysterious stag deep into the woods, and, like Alice down the rabbit hole, she finds herself in a strange and wondrous world.

But home and family are very far away. How will she get back?

In this extraordinary wordless picture book, Guojing brilliantly captures the rich and deeply felt emotional life of a child - filled with loneliness and longing as well as love and joy.

I saw the cover and knew this had to be mine, the cuteness alone made me melt.

The story follows a little girl in China who leaves home to visit her grandmother and ends up lost in the woods. She meets a stag, who takes her to a world in the clouds with baby animals as playmates. The stag eventually locates her family and delivers her back home.

The plot is pretty simple, but this book is incredibly beautiful, partly because there is absolutely no text so everything is conveyed without words, and also because the drawings are shaded rather than coloured. I especially like the fact that the story takes place in the winter, so the snow makes everything especially magical. It makes for a very surreal, charming experience. The author used her experiences growing up under the one-child policy in China in the 80s to inspire this, and as a fellow only child, the loneliness and desire for companions comes across well.

So gorgeous, this is a great addition to anyone's library. This would make a great creative writing prompt to use in the classroom as well. 

Thoughts on the cover:
So beautiful, and the art on the inside is even better.

Monday, March 14, 2016

It's OK to Go Up the Slide - Heather Shumaker

Title: It's OK to Go Up the Slide: Renegade Rules for Raising Confident and Creative Kids
Author: Heather Shumaker
Publisher: Jeremy P. Tarcher (Penguin), 2016 (Paperback) (Review copy is an ARC from the publisher)
Length: 363 pages
Genre: Adult; Parenting
Started: March 10, 2016
Finished: March 14, 2016

From the back cover:

With her first book, It's OK Not to Share, Heather Shumaker overturned all the controversial rules of parenting with her "Renegade Rules" for raising competent and compassionate kids. In It's OK to Go Up the Slide, Shumaker takes on new hot-button issues with Renegade Rules such as:

  • Recess is a Right
  • It's OK Not to Kiss Grandma
  • Don't Force Participation
  • Safety Second
  • Ban Homework in Elementary School
Shumaker also offers broader guidance on how parents can control their own fears and move from an overscheduled life to one of more free play. Parenting can too often be reduced to shuttling kids between enrichment classes, but Shumaker challenges parents to reevaluate how they're spending their precious family time. This book helps parents help their kids develop important life skills in an age-appropriate way. Most important, parents must model these skills, whether it's ;imitating technology use, confronting conflict, or coping emotionally with setbacks. Sometimes being a good parent means breaking all the rules. 

I believe this author's books came into my life at just the right time. When I read her first book, It's OK Not to Share, which focuses on toddlers and pre-schoolers, I was a brand new mom with an infant, but had my fair share of experiences with kids as a teacher. Now, reading the follow-up book, which is geared to issues of school-aged children, my daughter is four and in school herself (for non-Canadian readers, in Ontario we begin junior kindergarten at age 4), and my teaching experience has increased. Similar to my thoughts after reading her first book, this new instalment puts forth many parenting ideas, some are revolutionary and some are ones you and other parents might already be using. 

This book follows a similar format to the previous one: each chapter introduces a concept such as "It's OK to Talk to Strangers" and "Banish Calendars at Circle Time", shows the typical way most parents approach the issue versus the unconventional "Renegade" way, how children interpret the messages given to them when each way is used, and phrases to use and avoid when experiencing these concepts in your everyday life. 

Some of these ideas are ones that you may already be familiar with depending on your circle of friends. The first section on Risk and Independence with notions about letting kids assess risk, be the boss of their bodies, and not touting the typical "stranger danger" speech from the 80s is one that most parents I know tend to adhere to already. Granted, most parents I interact with are fairly well-educated, liberal, and don't helicopter, so these ideas might be a novelty in your area. 

Of particular interest to me as a teacher were the chapters on Children's Rights at School and More Rights at School. The author is pretty spot-on here, and her insights only reinforced that my gut feelings on these topics have been correct for years. For example, Recess Is a Right is a chapter that focuses on the benefits of recess in elementary school and how research shows that scores plummet when schools remove recess. I know there are schools in the US that have removed recess in exchange for more instruction time to prepare for standardized tests, so this just reminded me how privileged my family is to live where recess is protected. Like the author, I don't believe in taking recess away as punishment, kids need their breaks just like adults do, probably even more than we do. It's counterproductive in my experience as a teacher, so I simply don't do it. 

The chapter on banning homework in elementary school is also something we already have semi-adopted here. Nightly homework, particularly for math, is more common in grades 7-8+ (our elementary schools are mostly K-8 where I live and work), but students do receive ample time in class to complete what would normally be assigned as homework otherwise. 

Some of the ideas presented are a bit more uncommon, even in my experience. The section on More Rights at School discusses the ideas of not forcing kids to participate, changing kindergarten expectations, and getting rid of activities at circle time when they aren't developmentally appropriate. The chapter on kindergarten I agree is very relevant (except for the suggestion to delay kindergarten entrance since many families cannot afford that), especially in the US where redshirting is a huge issue in some communities and the programs are very academic. My daughter is lucky to be in a full-day, play-based kindergarten program in an area with a December 31st cut-off date where redshirting is practically nonexistent. Even as one of the youngest in her class, she is thriving, and our experience has been positive, but I agree it isn't like that everywhere. The "don't force kids to participate" and "no calendars at circle time" concepts are ones I agree with, but aren't used by most teachers I know. It made me wonder why circle time always focuses on dates and times that most kids don't developmentally understand (my daughter is only just starting to grasp time as a concept at not quite 4.5), and why we force kids to do the same activities as everyone else (assuming safety doesn't factor in). 

The chapters in the Sorrow, Empathy, and Disaster section are ones I am sure will be of interest, particularly because we don't encounter them frequently. Don't Remove Ogres from Books is an idea I am passionate about as a reader, I don't believe in censoring "bad" things from children's literature, since I would rather have kids learn about heavy issues from books where they can safely process them and ask questions than learn incorrect information from a friend or see triggering images in the media. Deal with News Disasters and Share Unfair History are really important chapters in my opinion, since they deal with bad experiences and uncomfortable parts of our history that kids need to know about, but that we as adults sometimes struggle with how to convey in an age-appropriate way. 

Like the first book, this one is a must-read if you're a parent, teacher, or are otherwise around children often. These methods do work (sometimes with needed tweaking) and they result in happier kids and families. 

Thoughts on the cover:
Keeping the continuity from the first book of a single image against a white cover is simple, yet effective. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Glass Sword - Victoria Aveyard

Title: Glass Sword (2nd in the Red Queen series)
Author: Victoria Aveyard
Publisher: HarperCollins, 2016 (Hardcover)
Length: 440 page
Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy, Dystopian Fiction
Started: March 1, 2016
Finished: March 9, 2016

From the inside cover:

If there's one thing Mare Barrow knows, it's that she's different. Mare Barrow's blood is red - the colour of common folk - but her Silver ability, the power to control lightening, has turned her into a weapon that the royal court tries to control.

The crown calls her an impossibility, a fake, but as she makes her escape from Maven, the prince - the friend - who betrayed her, Mare uncovers something startling: She is not the only one of her kind.

Pursued by Maven, now a vindictive king, Mare sets out to find ad recruit other Red-and-Silver fighters to join in the struggle against her oppressors.

But Mare finds herself on a deadly path, at risk of becoming exactly the kind of monster she is trying to defeat.

Will she shatter under the weight of of the lives that are the cost of rebellion? Or have treachery and betrayal hardened her forever?

The electrifying next instalment in the Red Queen series escalates the struggle between the growing rebel army and the blood-segregated world they've always known - and pits Mare against the darkness that has grown in her soul.

I read Red Queen last year and quite enjoyed it, so I was eager to pick up the new instalment and dive back into the story. Glass Sword was okay, but unfortunately the first half of the book suffered from what I call bridge-book issues (where a second book just doesn't cut it like a first or final book), and it didn't really get exciting until past the halfway mark.

The book details Mare's involvement with the Scarlet Guard and their journey to locate the Reds with Silver abilities (newbloods) that Julian outlined in his list that he gave her. The constant traveling and trying and failing to secure the newbloods just felt like overkill, and Mare being a tad overdramatic about her suffering sucked any enjoyment out of it, I wanted to slap her upside the head for a majority of the the time. Things did pick up eventually, and my favourite character did make a repeat appearance. The ending is amazing and unexpected, but it felt like slogging through a whole lot of book just for a small redeeming section.

Bridge-book alert, I enjoyed Red Queen but this didn't quite cut it for me. Granted, I will probably pick up the next instalment to see what transpires from the ending here.

Thoughts on the cover:
These covers are incredibly pretty, and I like the continuity for the whole series of books and side stories.