Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Mind the Gap

When it comes to caring for its poor and disadvantaged, Canada--according to the UN--isn't doing its part.

A quick quote from the CBC article (link above):

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights notes that Canada ranks at the top of the UN Human Development Index and praises it for improving equal pay for equal work, extending maternity benefits and plans to improve health care.

But it scolds Canada for failing to heed recommendations in two earlier reports aimed at improving the lives of aboriginals, youth, single mothers, African-Canadians, people with disabilities and women.

(Posts have slowed to a crawl as summer distractions have taken precedent. We're still here! And we're hoping to have some summer book reviews ready for you, shortly....

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Ottawa's 100 Favourite Books

Calling all OPL cardholders: you have until Saturday the 13th to vote in the 100 favourite books contest at Ottawa Public Library. The final list will be published at the link above on Monday, May 15th. There are prizes available! (Sadly, the prizes aren't books. Travel is fun, though, too.)

And of course there's also the Words at Large contest to win 100 "essential" books from McClelland and Stewart. (You could win the books on my behalf; I wouldn't complain.)

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Review Round-up etc...

Liz over a Chair, a Fireplace and a Tea Cosy was on a bit of a role over the last few days. Good couple reviews over there. Two that caught my eye:

1. Once Upon Stilettos by Shanna Swendson - I'll let you read her review - but I like the idea about a book that answers the question "What do Hogwart's Students do for a living when they grow up?"

2. This Book Is For All Kids, But Especially My Sister Libby. Libby Died. By Jack Simon, Age 5, As Told To His Mom, Usually At Bedtime. It's a book about dealing with a death in the family, told from the perspective of a five year old.

In lighter fare, Book Buds has a review HERE about a pop-up book about prehistoric sharks and other monsters. How cool is that? Official title: Sharks and Other Sea Monsters (Encyclopedia Prehistorica Series) by Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart. My younger brother was a huge shark fan growing up. I still know all sorts of facts about sharks from being subjected to documentaries on them. This would have definitly been a hit with him.

Fuse 8 has had, as usual, some good links over the last few days. Bit on Beverly Cleary HERE - news on a movie and her feelings about over-comercializing kids books (it's bad - kids should borrow from libraries); light post on something called the Booklympics and Book Hurling HERE. I suggested gently releasing books into the wild as an option instead...; and for all the list-crazed movie-inclined folks post HERE on the 14 worst children's books made into movies (For the record, I liked Disney's the Jungle Book as a kid and can sing most/all of the songs still).

Big A little a has two posts of interest. Reports HERE that Whoopi Goldberg is joining the growing club of celebrities writing children's books. She will be publishing Whoopi's Big Book of Manners.

She also has a very cool post about one of my favorite Hot Men of Children's Literature - Mo Willems. As a youngster, Willems wanted to take over for Charles Shultz.

Finally, further to a previous link I had here to Mother Reader's Wierd Ass Picture Books - she has a follow-up HERE.

New Poll: Canada not Making the Grade

There is a new poll out commissioned by the Canadian Council on Learning which has found that Canada is not making the grade in certain key areas related to life-long learning.

Some highlights of the poll include:

  • Currently approximately 40% of young adults (20- to 24-year-olds) in Canada are attending some sort of schooling, whereas Canadians think that rate should be 62%;
  • Approximately 58% of Canadian adults can meet most everyday reading requirements, whereas Canadians feel that 80% would be an acceptable level;
  • While 56% of employers provide some form of structured job training, on average, Canadians believe that 74% should do so;
  • Today, 57% of the working-age population has completed some form of post-secondary education, and Canadians think that figure should be 67%.

Full poll info can be located HERE courtesy of NALD Headline News.

Two other literacy-related stories of interest over the last few days - the first, immediately below from out east about how "too much testing takes the fun out of reading". As someone who volunteers for Reading Circles mainly because I believe that kids should see reading as something fun and not something only related to school and learning, I'm all for making reading fun for kids - though I'm not sure how to go about escaping testing them. How else do you know how you are doing literacy-wise as a country, province, school board etc... The second, also from out east, is about bachelor of education students from St. Thomas University who will be spending two weeks in Nicaragua and Honduras in mid-June, building fuel-efficient stoves and helping to develop subsistence farming in rural areas while also conducting literacy workshops with members of the communities. Not too shabby!

PUBLICATION: Times & Transcript (Moncton)
DATE: 2006.05.06
BYLINE: Aloma JardineTimes & Transcript Staff

Literacy tests for children 'killing love of reading'; Elementary teachers told children should enjoy education before being subjected to tests
They laughed, they cried, they got to their feet and applauded when David Bouchard came to the end of his one-hour presentation at the New Brunswick Teachers' Association Elementary Council spring conference in Sackville yesterday.

An author and former school principal from British Columbia, Bouchard was preaching the joy and necessity of literacy to a captive audience made up of hundreds of elementary school teachers from across the province.

In a week when poor Grade 9 reading and writing scores were making headlines, a dash of enthusiasm and a challenge to continue to work to get children reading was welcome.

Historically, New Brunswick literacy rates have been abysmal.

Current statistics say between 60 and 68 per cent of people in the province cannot read past a Grade 4 level.

The Grade 9 assessments found almost half of students have trouble understanding what they read and even more struggle with writing.

One of the aims of the province's Quality Learning Agenda is to have 90 per cent of children reading by the end of Grade 2. Students' reading and writing skills are currently assessed at the end of Grade 2 and in Grade 7.

The Grade 9 assessment was the first to be done at that grade level and a pilot program this year will test students' abilities at the end of Grade 4.

Bouchard is not a big fan of standardized testing for young children and says the idea of testing children in kindergarten should be scrapped.

"It's killing the love of reading. They see it as a task and a threat," he says. "So do parents. Parents don't read with love but with a sense of commitment and fear."

Meg Pryde has been a teacher for 30 years and is currently teaching a Grade 4- 5 split class at Florenceville Elementary School.

"I have argued for a long time about testing kids in kindergarten. We label kids too early," she says. "Some kids are just not ready to read. I had a boy in Grade 4 just learning to read and loving it.... He'd been labelled and put on SEPs (special education plans) and he really didn't need to be, he just needed time."

Bouchard says children should be allowed to enjoy their education before being subject to standardized tests.

His plan to get children reading is simple.

"Would we all walk and talk if we hadn't had a role model? (Children) need time, relevant books, and role models," he says. "You are somebody's hero. Let them see you reading with passion. Modelling isn't one way of influencing kids, it is the only way. You can't light a fire in someone else's heart unless you light one in your own."

Elizabeth Matson teaches a split kindergarten-Grade 1 class at Frank L. Bowser School in Riverview.

She says the books her students gravitate towards at book fairs are the ones that have inspired a response in her.

"They ran right over and said, 'Oh, this is the book that makes Mrs. Matson cry,'" she says. "If it creates an emotional response, whether you laugh or cry, the children will be drawn in."

Pryde believes in the power of modelling because she has seen it work first- hand.

"I taught in New Zealand for a while and the reason they have such good scores is because the whole population reads," she says.

Pryde says one area where schools are lacking is good male role models because so many elementary school teachers are women.

Bouchard says it is up to parents and educators to find books that children can and want to read.

Matson says when her own son was in Grade 5 she had his reading ability tested because he just wasn't reading. She found he was actually reading well above grade level.

"He told me, 'Mum, they've not yet given me anything I care to read,'" she says. "We have to meet their interest level."

With so many students still coming out of the school system unable to read, Bouchard says something's got to change.

"What we're doing now is not working," he says. "There is a whole body of belief that says we are doing it wrong and yet we are dead set on doing more of the same thing."

Pryde believes the province may now be on the right track, even if they're not quite there yet.

"I think the literacy movement has put strong emphasis on the importance of literacy and it has brought more good books into our schools and more opportunities for boys and girls to read a variety of literature," she says. "I think it will have an impact, but I'm wondering if it will have the impact (we're hoping for)... The system may not be perfect, but we're working on it."

Jane Jonah teaches Grade 5 intensive French at Frank L. Bowser and says the students coming into her classroom are more confident readers.

"They are coming up with an I-can-do-it attitude even if they aren't all at grade level," she says.

Whether the focus on literacy in the younger grades will translate into better results down the line remains to be seen, but Matson is looking on the positive side.

"You have to believe that what you are doing is going to be successful," she says. "We are doing a lot that is right and good for children."

Bouchard says in his own family his father did not pass the gift of reading to him, nor did he pass it on to his two older sons, though he says he has learned from past mistakes and is now making sure he passes a love of reading on to his young daughter.

"The greatest gift we can give our children is the gift of reading," he says, before issuing a challenge to the gathered teachers.

"Do better than I did. Let literacy be your legacy."
PUBLICATION: The Daily Gleaner (Fredericton)
DATE: 2006.05.08
BYLINE: MARK TAYLORFor The Daily Gleaner

B.Ed students plan trip to Central America; Helping out - Education students aim to lend hand in poorer countries

A group of future teachers will get a different kind of education next month when they begin work on a humanitarian project in Central America.

The team of bachelor of education students from St. Thomas University will spend two weeks in Nicaragua and Honduras in mid-June, building fuel-efficient stoves and helping to develop subsistence farming in rural areas. As well, the group will be conducting literacy workshops with members of the communities.

The Falls Brook Centre, a sustainable development group based in Carleton County, is involved in the initiative.

"We are pretty excited about it," said David Ramsay, who took his place as one of many people at the Second Cup in Fredericton on Sunday night for a coffeehouse fundraiser.

He said he believes the people and the living conditions he will see will have an impact on him. Ramsay, a former computer consultant in Toronto, said he is looking forward to the experience.

"It's something that I've wanted to do for a while, especially after being to countries where there is work to do," he said.

Ramsay said he jumped on the opportunity to do the work with members of his class.

The native of Prince Edward Island plans to teach in high schools. Ramsay said he feels the trip will add to the quality of the teaching he can provide.

"There's that whole impact you can make with somebody," he said.

Andrew Sisk agreed.

The Chipman native, who has taken part in a similar project in Sri Lanka, was one of the people who suggested the mission to his classmates.

"Graduating classes will often plan a trip at the end," Sisk said. "It was myself and the others who said why not, because we're education students, go and give back somehow and in some way while going on a trip."

He said he remembers the trip he took to Sri Lanka just after receiving his undergraduate degree as a profound experience.

"I had all this theory and academic background," Sisk said. "To go and live in this country and not just observe it and to realize they were teaching me just as much as I would teach them was profound."

He said the trip will help him and the high school or middle school students he will later teach.

"I think anytime a teacher has real-life experiences and they're able to convey their experiences to the students, the students feel like its real," Sisk said.

He said a high school teacher he had brought lessons to life with the stories he told of his own experiences.

"That made it inspiring and real," Sisk said.

Anyone interested in finding out more about the trip and how they can help can visit the Falls Brook Centre website at www.fallsbrookcentre.ca.

A final note on plagiarism

Hi everyone,

This link is courtesy of Jen Robinson's Book Page. It is of timely interest naturally due to the whole Opal Metha controversy which I have posted on previously HERE and HERE. Meg Cabot is a YA Author probably best known for the Princess Diaries made famous by Disney.

Anyhow, in her blog post HERE she discusses the difference between plagiarism and creating work yourself, as well as the difference between being an overnight sensation and practicing and working at your craft until you are ready. It's a good read and makes the point very well.

On two side issues related to Jen's above post, I'd like to thank her for the shout-out, but also point out that courtesy of her link to another Jen site, I have discovered there is also a Poetry Thursday! I don't have enough poetry inspiration for once a week - let alone twice a week :)

Friday, May 05, 2006

Catching up on the News

Little bit of a news round up for you all. In no particular order:

1. Story HERE about a program at the Rainy River District School Board which tries to encourage boys to read. Asks the question: Is it possible, through the use of rich resources, monitored parental involvement, and the involvement of male role models, to increase boys’ interests in literacy and raise their level of reading success?

We have posted stories previously on getting boys to read HERE and HERE, for example.

2. Fun story HERE about a books for babies group in Newfoundland.

3. Story on a study HERE which shows that TV viewing lowers your literacy level. We've posted previous stories/discussion about TV and literacy rates HERE and HERE.

4. Bookshelves of Doom has a good post about The Clique series - specifically "The Pretty Committee Strikes Back" and chick lit for teens in general. Post was a follow up to Naomi Wolf's comments on the Chick lit genre last month when she referred to it as a "disturbing new genre of teen fiction" which portays female characters in a two-dimensional way, contains graphic, sexually explicit content and sends negative messages to young girls.

5. Kids Lit links to a site called the Children's Poetry Archive.

6. Fuse 8 posts on the top 21 kids books made into movies.

7. Ontario's new education Minister Sandra Pupatello made a speech in the legislature on the provinces student success strategy in High Schools.

8. And Lyndsay pointed this link on the Chapters site out to me. It is the top 100 Children`s Books. Have fun browsing for where your favorites are.

Galley Cat and Hot Writers

Through all the postings on the Opal Mehta thing, I came across a new site which I think I will spend some time on called Media Bistro Galley Cat, or just Galley Cat. It's a blog about books and publishing.

Opal aside, another fun post I found was this one HERE linking back to a previous post they had regarding a Gawker post about Lucky Magazine looking for an "attractive female author that has a newly released book" to feature in their August issue. This lead naturally to a large discussion about attractive authors. Unfortunately, a quick perusal didn't lead me to any new possible Hot Men of Children's Literature to recommend to Miss Fuse. :)

Opal Mehta continued...and a thought on Sweet Valley High

Seeing how I posted on this a few days ago HERE, I thought I might as well update you all on the story - which now appears to have calmed down and concluded.

As I mentioned in my Wednesday post, in addition to Kaavya Viswanathan plagarising from Megan McCafferty, it was also found that she had pulled from the works of Sophie Kinsella, Meg Cabot and Salman Rushdie. Media Bistro has a bit more on the Sophie Kinsella angle HERE showing comparisons between Kinsella's Can you Keep a Secret, which I've read, and Opal Mehta.

For what Salmon Rushdie has to say about the affair, you can visit HERE.

Media Bistro then picked up another angle May 3 reporting on Harvard Independent's Jonathan Liu digging up "striking similarities" between OPAL MEHTA and Tanuja Desai Hidier's 2002 novel BORN CONFUSED which is another book about an Indian-American girl growing up in New Jersey.

Finally, a few different sites picked up on this part of the story - about the "convoluted authorial structure of Alloy books" which is the company behind Ms Viswanathan's now cancelled book. As someone who knows little to nothing about the publishing world, it was an interesting read. And I agree with Fuse 8 - greatly enjoyed the quote from Francine Pascal of Sweet Vally High fame at the end of the article:

But for all the tangled dealings in the Alloy book-packaging world, for a few, the more depressing concern is the content of some Alloy books. “Emotionally, there’s no progress,” said Francine Pascal, the creator of the Sweet Valley High series and an Alloy author. “It doesn’t touch on the classic values that Sweet Valley did—love, loyalty, friendship.”

In the spirit of full disclosure, I guess I should now admit to having been a huge Sweet Valley High fan when I was about 10-13. I have memories of trading the books back and forth with my friend Rhiannon and both of us having very strict rules about how to treat the books - ie: don't open them to far for fear of breaking the spines, don't bend the covers or pages. This was due to the fact that we were of course saving this very important and valuable collection for our future daughters. I also have a rather embarassing memory of being in Smithbooks with her fighting over which one of us was going to get to buy the elusive #32 The New Jessica (I won!)

Other people play Scrabble for Literacy too!

Given our whole Scrabble Night in Canada initiative this year, I couldn't help noticing that there are some others with the same idea!

Check out this group in New Jersey, and this initiative below in New Brunswick!

PUBLICATION: Times & Transcript (Moncton)
DATE: 2006.05.04

Scrabble tournament to raise funds for literacy;

Tournament. That's at least 12 points on a Scrabble board. If you like where this is going, you might want to consider taking in this weekend's Annual Literacy Awareness Scrabble Tournament.

"Along with the fun of playing Scrabble, it's just an opportunity to gather information and to get together and talk about literacy," says Micha Fardy, one of the event's organizers and vice president of the Greater Moncton Literacy Board. She has been involved with the annual competition for about four years now and says it's become something many look forward to each year.

"We get full-on Scrabble fans and we get people who just come to play," she explains.

The tournament, which is presented by the Greater Moncton Literacy Board, will raise funds for local literacy organizations.

"It means increased funds for projects that are happening. It can do anything from getting text books to papers and pens," she says. "The people who run these literacy programs can make a little go a long way."

The games will start this Saturday (May 6) from 9 a.m. to noon in Festival Hall of the Moncton City Market. Teams for the event should be made up of three players each, with a minimum donation of $15 per team.

Anyone interested in participating but has not oragnized a team is welcome to join up with others once the event is underway. The team that raises the most money will receive three tickets to a Capitol Theatre presentation and other prizes will be awarded for the top Scrabble teams.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Other Blog News

Few other bits and pieces of interest over the last few days.

1. Chicken Spaghetti links to an article in The Age about censorship of kid's books being on the rise in Australia and the covert censorship of non-selection of books by librarians.

2. Big A little a reminds everyone that they welcome submissions for the Edge of the Forest. If you are interested in submitting, do get in touch with them. It is a wonderful publication. Last month I wrote the piece for the Kid Picks section. Unfortunately work and life will be preventing my participation this month :(

3. Gail Gauthier finished her read-through and study of "wealthy-girl-gone-bad books" (Gossip Girl, The A-List, The Clique). In her post HERE she asks and tries to answer the questions: "Will These Books Turn Teenage Girls Into Slutty Shopaholics?" and "Do These Books Exploit Teenagers As A Market?"

4. Two stories from the UK HERE and HERE on the decrease in reading to kids before bed and how it is important to do so. Chicken Spaghetti has a post on it HERE.

5. Mother Reader has a post HERE on "Weird-ass Picture Books." At first I just liked the title. But the post is quite good too :)

6. Finally, on a more serious note, courtesy of the UNESCO Blog, 18 million new primary teachers will be needed by 2015 to meet a U.N. goal of providing primary education to all the world's children by 2015. The full report can be found on Reuters HERE.


Plagarism and "How Opal Mehta Got Kissed"


Now for a round-up on the hot story on the blogs over the last week or so.

Here is the story in short:

Kaavya Viswanathan, a sophmore at Harvard, wrote a recently released YA novel called "How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life." She had reportedly signed a book deal for $500,000 while still a freshman for this and one other book.

Then it was discovered that more than a half-dozen passages of her book contain passages very similar to those in a book called "Sloppy Firsts" writeen by Megan F. McCafferty and published in 2001 by a division of Random House Inc., including one 14-word sequence that appears in both books. The books also have characters and plot points in common with both this book and McCafferty's 2003 book "Second Helpings."

So Random House sent a letter raising concerns about the similarities to lawyers for Little, Brown and Co., the publishers of ''Opal Mehta". Viswanathan apologized for "inadvertantly plagarizing" portions of the book in question - admitting to having read it and having "unconsciously internalized" it.

It was announced yesterday that she lost her book deal.

The Story was first picked up by the Harvard Crimson HERE and further reported on by them HERE. Further online stories in the Boston Globe (on which I based the above synopsis) can be found HERE and HERE.

For blogger discussion, Jen Robinson has a nice round-up on who's saying what HERE, Chicken Spaghetti provides some more insight HERE and Gail Gauthier offers an author's perspective HERE, which also reports on the extension of the allegations to include plagarism of Sophie Kinsella, Meg Cabot and Salman Rushdie in addition to Megan McCafferty.

I'm not sure I can say much on this that hasn't been said already by others aside from agreeing plagarism is, well, wrong. End of story.

A Hot Man Responds

So, this is a bit dated, seeing I'm playing catch-up, but wonderfully amusing and deserving of mention.

As some of you likely know, Fuse 8 Productions runs a series of posts called the Hot Men in Children's Literature. A while ago she reviewed author Mo Willems - one of my favorites - as one of kiddie lits hot men.

And then he wrote her back.

Check out his letter HERE. Quite the entertaining read. And hey, I think its just pretty exciting to get a letter from Mo Willems.

You can check out his new book HERE entitled "You Can Never Find a Rickshaw When It Monsoons - The World on One Cartoon a Day."

The quick review on the Amazon Site reads:

One June 1, 1990, less than a week after graduating from college, Mo Willems embarked on a year-long trip around the world. Traveling only with a notebook, pen and ink, and one change of clothes, he spent the next twelve months backpacking across more than thirty countries. At the end of each day, he drew the one event that stuck out in his mind the most––from the sublime to the ridiculous.Recently annotated by the illustrator and featuring a foreword from best-selling humor writer Dave Barry, The World on One Cartoon a Day is a unique snapshot of an artist’s coming-of-age as he tries to understand the world around him.

Based on his letter to "Miss Fuse" I'm not sure if I am looking forward to a Wang-Chung-ing pic or hoping it isn't there. However, I am also quite excited by the prospect of a forward by Dave Barry. I've read and enjoyed a few of his books as well.

She also had a new post in the series up yesterday on Don Tate II. He also blogs and recognizes his fellow bloggers.


Words at Large

We seem to be on a bit of a run for picking up on new Websites.

Be sure to check out CBC's new Website called Words at Large.

It's a web portal from CBC where Canadians "can take a journey into the world of books, poetry, drama, literature, literacy and much more."

It provides access to "radio programming, podcasts, a blog, lists and information that will entertain and inform you on the written word in Canada and around the world."

Of additional interest, it has a specific section dedicated to literacy. There you can find links to literacy events, awards and organizations.

Info courtesy of NALD Headline News.

Also of interest on the new website front is Inside a Dog a new website by the same blogger who does Read Alert. It is a new site about books for young people. You can link to some further info and commentary about it HERE.

Finally, Jen Robinson, who does one of my favorite blogs, points out new kiddie blogger on the block, Kurtis who has a blog named Outside of a Cat.

Few more posts to follow momentarily. Life has gotten in the way of blogging for the last few days!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

A new blog to drool over.

Learning.now, by the fine folks at PBS is the latest blog to cross my radar. The first post is really entertaining, talking about how sites referring to a certain site that rhymes with FlyTrace.com are now blocked in schools so teachers can't access them. Read up! Enjoy. :)