Teacher-Librarian Courses at UBC

I am currently taking two courses towards a diploma in teacher-librarianship through UBC. As the courses are online, blogging is part of the course requirement. Rather than start a new blog just for the courses, I’ve decided to use my already existing blog to post course assignments to.

I believe blogging is a powerful way to synthesis ideas and concepts that students learn in class/courses. I wish I had followed my prof’s advice while completing my MEd and blogged as I journeyed through that process. I hope the topics blogged about provoke some interesting discussions.

Deconstructing Dylan – Lesley Choyce

OK, I’m on a true Canadiana author trip at the moment. I cannot believe I found another Canadian gem! I LOVED this book. It was lent to me by a co-worker of my ‘bookstore daughter’s‘ and it was temporarily lost on the table in my office that is overflowing with my ‘to read’ piles! They grow ever more overwhelming as each week passes!

This very well constructed futuristic book (set in 2014) starts off with a teen romance ending in a very public manner in a high school cafeteria. Dylan knows he’s weird as Caroline points out in a major display of high-school female theatrics. He promises to try to be less weird. Too late. But, as in most high school romances, a new one is soon on the way with Robyn, a dark girl with her own distinct weirdness. Soon the reader is on a mysterious teen journey of self-identity and all its encompassing adolescent angst and rebellion – which is what I enjoyed most about this book – along with the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the Loch Ness Monster, genetic engineering and stem cell research. Huh! you may wonder! Can’t say more without giving away too much and then why would you want to read this marvelous book!

I think this book would make a terrific high school novel/literature circle book with ensuing discussions on ethics in science in the areas of genetic engineering and stem cell research. It is a gripping story and a provocative one. I would love to be in on a grade 12 English discussion on this one – which would be because I’m known in my SD for pushing the boundaries! I love edgy art and that is what this book  is: uncomfortable.

Official website: http://www.lesleychoyce.com/

Blog: http://lesleychoyce.blogspot.com

YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/lesleychoyce

Rating: 4 stars

Speak – by Laurie Halse Anderson

Winner of 7 state awards and a finalist for 11

You write to us
from Houston, Brooklyn, Peoria, Rye, NY,
LA, DC, Everyanywhere USA to my mailbox, My
Space Face
A livejournal of bffs whispering
Onehundredthousand whispers to Melinda and

I was raped, too
sexually assaulted in seventh grade
tenth grade, the summer after graduation,
at a party
i was 16
i was 14
i was 5 and he did it for three years
i loved him
i didn't even know him.
He was my best friend's brother,
my grandfather, father, mommy's boyfriend,
my date
my cousin
my coach
i met him for the first time that night and -
four guys took turns, and -
i'm a boy and this happened to me, and -

...I got pregnant I gave up my daughter for adoption...
did it happen to you, too?
U 2?

i wasn't raped, but
my dad drinks, but
i hate talking, but
my brother was shot, but
i am outcast, but
my parents split up, but
i am clanless, but
we lost our house, but
i have secrets - seven years of secrets
and i cut
myslef my friends cut
we all cut cut cut
to let out the pain

...my 5-year old coiusin was raped - he's beginning to act out now...
do have suicidal thoughts?
do you want to kill him?

Melinda is a lot like this girl I know
No she's a lot like
i am MelindaSarah
i am MelindRogelio i am MelindaMegan,
it keeps hurting, but
this book cracked my shell
it keeps hurting I hurt, but
but your book cracked my shell.

I cried when I read it.
I laughed when I read it
is that dumb?
I sat with the girl -
you know, that girl -
I sat with her because nobody sits with her at lunch
and I'm a cheerleader, so there.

speak changed my life
cracked my shell
made me think
about parties
gave me
wings this book
opened my mouth
i whispered, cried
rolled up my sleeves i
hate talking but
I am trying.

You made me remember who I am.

P.S. Our class is gonna analyze this thing to death.

Me: weeping

                              by Laurie Halse Anderson

The poem was created from lines and words taken from the emails and letters received by Laurie over a ten year period.

If you are a teacher, a parent, a teen: Read this book, some books will save/change your life.

Unwind – by Neal Shusterman

Connor, Risa, and Lev are running for their lives. The Second Civil War was fought over reproductive rights. The chilling resolution: Life is inviolable from the moment of conception until age thirteen. Between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, however, parents can have their child ‘unwound’, whereby all of the child’s organs are transplanted into different donors, so life doesn’t technically end. Connor is too difficult for his parents to control. Risa is a ward of the state, is not talented enough to be kept alive. And Lev is a tithe, a child conceived and raised to be unwound. Together, they may have a chance to escape – and to survive…

I found this book on NoveList Plus while looking for new books for my Grade 7 Only shelf. It came recommended for those looking for books similar to Hunger Games. I read the description and thought, ‘are you kidding?!’ but was fascinated by the topic. I brought up the title at our local book store and the staff on at the time decided they had to read it, including my Bookstore Daughter. I hedged and waffled until a student in Grade 7 lent me her copy to read. It was the worst thing: I was gripped by the book and horrified by what I knew was coming. I wanted to read it constantly, but I kept putting it down and walking away, avoiding what I knew was coming.I LOVED the book. I will be adding it to my Grade 7 shelf. It is amazing. It is horrifying. It is possible.

Society wants unwanted teens to salvage their body parts. It is called being ‘unwound’. Between the ages of thirteen and eighteen a teen can be given up for unwinding by their parents – as Connor is. The teen can be given by the state as a cost-saving measure – as Risa is. Or in a religious family a tithe can be given – as Lev is. These three teens are brought together in the most desperate and harrowing of circumstances, head off in a daring cross-country escape knowing their lives hang in a balance of trust to survive. Can they last until they are eighteen? If so they are free.

This is, like Hunger Games, a story of survival, of choices, of consequences, of trust and betrayal. It is a story that gives teens an look at life: The challenge of where it begins, where it ends, of how valuable it is to be alive.

Just a note: Although this book deals with harvesting of body parts, it is written for a teen audience, not an adult audience. It does not portray this graphically with any ‘blood, guts, and gore’ but gives way for the readers imagination in some incredibly sophisticated visualization scenes with the same finesse as Neil Gaiman’s Graveyard Book.

Rating: 5 stars

The Book of Negroes – Lawrence Hill

Let me begin with a caveat to any and all who find these pages. Do not trust large bodies of water, and do not cross them. If you, Dear Reader, have an African hue and find yourself led toward water with vanishing shores, seize your freedom by any means necessary. And cultivate distrust of the colour pink. Pink is taken as the colour of innocence, the colour of childhood, but as it spills across the water in the light of the dying sun, do not fall into its pretty path. There, right underneath, lies a bottomless graveyard of children, mothers and men. I shudder to imagine all the Africans rocking in the deep. Every time I have sailed the seas, I have had the sense of gliding over the unburied. Some people call the sunset a creation of extraordinary beauty, and proof of God’s existence. But what benevolent force would bewitch the human spirit by choosing pink to light the path of a slave vessel? pg 7

Are you ready to read it yet? I was actually sucked in by the very first line in the book, I seem to have trouble dying. I wanted to know why and I never put the book down until well past midnight, on a week-day, work-day. All I thought about at school was; ‘ has the bell rang yet? I need to go home to read. No gym today.’

This is the story of Aminata Diallo, who is born in Bayo, West Africa in 1745, and is kidnapped by slavers at the age of 11.  She is forced to walk in a coffle, a line of slaves yoked together, for over 3 months to reach the sea port of Bance where she makes a wretched journey across the Atlantic Ocean on a slave ship whose stench can only detail the depravity of the conditions on board. While walking in the coffle, she meets an African boy named Chekura who befriends her and ends up on the slave ship with her and they are re-united in South Carolina, end up ‘jumping the broom’ together and having their lives intertwined with each other and their owners as Aminata struggles to gain her freedom and retain her dignity through out the trials of her life.

What I did miss in this novel, but it by no stretch caused me to put down the book or like it any less, was rich description and emotions. At times the book had a non-fiction history book feel to it and I missed the deep emotional connection to the character such as built by Maggie De Vries in her book Hunger Journeys.

What makes this book such a compelling read is how Hill recreates little known historical events into a harrowing, haunting, engrossing story. It has been some time since I have read an adult novel with a female character as strong as Aminata. She inspires and encourages as she struggles through her life. What I found of further interest was that the book is written from a female perspective by a male author.  Was he successful? What do you think?

A CBC interview with Lawrence Hill: http://www.cbc.ca/arts/books/book_of_negroes.html

An interview on The Hour: http://castroller.com/podcasts/TheHourWith/1100422

The Hunger Journeys – Maggie De Vries

I love historical fiction and Maggie De Vries newest young adult novel, Hunger Journeys, is historical fiction at its best.  It is a story of war, friendship, choices and the consequences of those choices. It opens up a world that many of us have never experienced; a nation conquered and starving. It is about Amsterdam and Holland during the final year of World War II. The book is based within the stories De Vries mother-in-law has told over the years. It is a gripping, haunting read that I highly, highly recommend.

The story opens with with the people of Holland hearing that the British are coming to liberate them from the Nazi occupation. It begins with hope that becomes as crushed as Holland at the hands of the German army; the British fail to come. The lack of food, a father who puts himself first and a pregnant mother set the tensions in Lena’s family. There is starvation and deprivation all over Amsterdam: people are risking their lives by foraging for wood to heat homes and stoves for cooking, searching garbage for food, and hoping to avoid being caught by the Nazis.  Even bicycles have been taken in order to stop people leaving. The only Jews left are the ones deep in hiding.  Against this back drop Lena and her sister begin leaving on what are called ‘hunger journeys’, where people from Amsterdam leave the city heading for the countryside to trade items for food. Only the farmers in the country side have increasingly little to spare and little patience with the city people knocking on their doors. This leads Lena and her friend Sophie to leave Amsterdam for a town close to the German border, Almelo, where they hope to find work and send food packages back to their families. They leave on a train with fake German papers and are quickly discovered by the German authorities.

“Well, well, well, what have we here?” said the largest of the men. His uniform showed his high rank, but even without it, he would have commanded attention. The other two men stood on either side and a little behind him, smirking. Lena’s own stomach clutched at itself…”Bring them to my office,” he said…”Ah,” the big man said, looking up from a desk in the next room that would have dwarfed the desks outside. “Now we have a little privacy.”…”I am willing to help you,” he said smiling…His voice was oily, nasty. Lena blinked. It was as if he was licking her with his voice.” pgs 106-108

Things become seriously ugly until a young solider named Albert takes pity on the girls, helping them by hiding them in the straw in a cattle car while they make their perilous journey to Almelo. Their adventures, choices and consequences based in the harsh cruelties of war, move the plot forward with gripping speed with little sympathy for their plight.

What makes this book such a stellar read is the way De Vries describes both the setting and the emotions of the characters. It is as if you, the reader, is living within Lena’s body and looking out through her eyes seeing and feeling everything as if you were really there. It is masterful written by a Canadian author to be reckoned with.

Maggie & her mother-in-lawThis is a picture of Maggie De Vries and Lin Stevens, her mother-in-law during a book launch at Joy Kogawa’s home. The book seller was Ria Bluemer of Sitka Books, 4th Avenue, Vancouver, BC, Canada.

Maggie & cut-out of Joy Kogawa Maggie with a cut-out of Joy Kogawa!

Photos: Roland Kokke

It’s a Book – Lane Smith

That bookstore daughter of mine sure can pick them. She literally dragged me by the arm to show “my geek Mom” this book and I bought my own copy, my very own copy. I have always loved the books Lane Smith has illustrated and this one was the first time I had read a book he authored.  You need to buy this book! It is my top pick for picture books for 2010!

This book is a spoof of the 21st Century age and hilarious. Is it for young children? No. I read it to students from grade 4/5 to grade 7 as younger students do not get the humour. Adults will love it, especially the techie adults.

The characters are a mouse, a jackass and a monkey. (I explained the term ‘jackass’ before I read the story). It is a story of the ultimate 21st Century battle: the Web 2.0 junkie and the bookie! The illustrations are simple and exquisitely enhance the story’s humour. The jackass is drawn into the book, Treasure Island, with one simple page filled with life, death and battle (just like a video/computer game) and decides, “Too many letters. I’ll fix it. LJS: rrr! K? lol! JIM: 🙁 ! :)” and we the reader/listener are drawn into the humour like the jackass is drawn into the book.

The final punch line is given by mouse which brought on gales of laughter and a well-deserved round of applause for Lane Smith.

It’s a Book – video trailer

Lane Smith talks about It’s a Book

Lane Smith Books

Rating: 5 stars

Slaughterhouse Five & the Banned Book Club

Slaughterhouse Five was the last novel read for our local Banned Book Club. The meeting was a potluck supper meeting complete with a viewing of the movie of the book. I thoroughly enjoyed the sharing of a meal and a book all in one sitting. The group that night was smaller than it normally is, but what a terrific idea the potluck was. The movie is old (VHS) and the speakers were not so good so it was rather hard to hear, but watching the movie and discussing the book assisted in actually making me, grudgingly, decide it was an OK read. But I must agree with Arnold Edelstein who wrote in his paper, Slaughterhouse Five: Time out of Joint, “Most readers leave the book happy that they have read it, delighted by a few Vonnegut gems, but confused if they try to explain either their delight or happiness.” So I won’t do either.

I did finish the book. It is a book read in high school and I can unequivocally say that I hated almost every novel I read in senior high English as well as most of the ones read in my first undergrad English class. What did I appreciate about this one? The black, ironic humour. The bit with the fight in the trench where the scouts left Billy Pilgrim and Roland Weary fighting and end up being shot some distance away while Pilgrim and Weary are taken as POW’s. Also the part where Pilgrim’s wife is racing to the hospital where Pilgrim is taken after an airplane crash, reverses her car into another, looses her muffler and dies in the hospital of carbon monoxide poisoning. He survives an airplane crash, she dies as a result of loosing a muffler caused by backing into another car.  A priceless Vonnegut gem.

I also really enjoyed how the author is the narrator and how Kurt Vonnegut inserts himself into the book with, “That was I.” “That was me.” I also really enjoyed the language usage, especially ending with, “So it goes.” A passive acceptance, yet a continuation, very Tralfamadorian.

The book’s theme is about fate and free-will.  Vonnegut asks, in the best of existentialism, what is the purpose of life? Billy, through his experiences with the Tralfamadorians, discovers that man has to make his own purpose.

I must say, I am now interested in reading more Vonnegut books.

The next Banned Book Club read: The Tropic of Cancer.

Interview with Author Maggie De Vries

Our school had the pleasure of having Maggie de Vries come for an author visit and our students loved her. She inspired students and staff so much that we’ve invited her back for our October professional development day for a seminar on writing. While Maggie was at our school I asked if she would agree to an online interview. Here it is.

What inspired the book Fraser Bear?

I was asked to write a book about a black bear cub. I knew right away that I needed to explore the relationship between bears and salmon, in particular the Chinook salmon that spawn in the Rocky Mountains at the Fraser River’s headwaters. I loved writing a story that was set along the same river I live beside, but where it begins instead of where it ends. And I loved learning about black bears and salmon.

Can you explain how illustrators are chosen for illustrated children’s books?

Usually the publisher selects the illustrator for an illustrated children’s book. I have been thrilled with every illustrator I have ever had.

Did the constraints placed on your by your publisher (Greystone) and the sponsor (Rocky Mountaineer) for Fraser Bear interfere with your creativity or style as a writer?

Because I was approached by Greystone after they were approached by Rocky Mountaineer, and they gave me freedom to write the book I wanted to write, I didn’t feel constrained. At the same time, the story changed substantially in the editing process, mostly in terms of length. I learned so much that I wanted to include that the book started to get too long and the salmon part started to take over.

How did you conduct your research on black bears and salmon for Fraser Bear?

I read a lot of books, many of them non-fiction for children and I did some on-line research. I also took the Rocky Mountaineer from Jasper to Whistler and drove the route so that I could explore it properly and take photographs and ask questions. The best thing was a talk given by a young man at the Valemount Visitor Centre. We gathered by the creek where Chinook salmon were spawning and he told us all about how they spawn and about the different stages of their lives. I have never written so fast in my life, trying to get everything down!

How many times did you have to edit Fraser Bear?

Too many to count! I did at least a dozen major re-writes. The nice thing about picture books is they are short enough that a writer can take the time to get every single word just right.

Do you ever have writer’s block and how do you work through it?

I often have trouble getting myself to start writing and I also have trouble sticking with it once I’ve started. My best strategy is to write first thing in the morning, before I even have breakfast, or check my email. I just feed the cats, get a cup of coffee and settle in for at least an hour. Then, by the time I stop for breakfast, I already have a good bit of work done. I often start by reading what I wrote the day before. It helps me ease in and make it easy to pick up and keep going.

What do you think makes a successful children’s author?

I think that successful children’s authors come in many shapes and sizes. A good memory of one’s own childhood helps and a deep interest in childhood experience helps; so does respect for children. A love of reading children’s books is important (though some children’s authors don’t). Some experience with children in the present, whether as a parent, an aunt or uncle, a friend, a teacher, a coach…and a willingness to spend lots of time alone.

You have a new novel out that has just been released. Can you tell us a bit about it.

My new novel is called Hunger Journeys. It is a historical novel set in the Netherlands in the last winter of World War II. The Germans had cut off the food supply to the western part of Holland and people were starving. Many, many thousands died.  In my story, Lena, the main character, must deal with terrible trials in Almelo and she gets involved in the Dutch Resistance. Her friend gets into trouble and Lena must help her as well.

What inspired you to write Hunger Journeys?

I was inspired to write the book because I was struck by how complicated people are. In the story, Lena’s father is not a very good man, and two young German soldiers help the main characters. The horrors of the war form the underpinnings for the whole story, but greed, selfishness, bitterness, kindness, generosity and love drive ordinary human beings both to rise above what one might expect of them, and to sink below. Humans do not divide tidily into the good and the evil, even during a war that spread more evil perhaps than any other in history.

Who or what inspired the characters in the novel?

The main character, Lena, is based on stories my mother-in-law told me. My mother-in-law and her friend ran away. They snuck onto a train and made their way to Almelo in the east. Lena, is based on these stories, but she is not my mother-in-law. Other characters are also drawn from her stories, but in every case I shaped them to fit my story.

What is one thing you want readers to take away from Hunger Journeys?

I think it would be a sense of the importance of personal responsibility. At every moment in our lives we make choices, and many of those choices have real power to help or harm. That is just as true for Lena as it is for the German soldiers. In action is a choice too. And that is true for each of us today, not just for characters in books or in history.

Thank you very much, Maggie, for granting me this interview. I have a copy of Hunger Journeys sitting on my table, bookmark in place, waiting for me to begin the journey. Can’t wait and can’t wait to pass this one onto our staff.


Maggie de Vries is a writer for children and adults and a children’s book editor. She also teaches creative writing in various venues and a course on writing, publishing and the book trade for children at UBC. She travels extensively, speaking at conferences and doing workshops and author readings for both children and adults.

Books by Maggie De Vries

Once Upon a Golden Apple – 1991

Chance and the Butterfly – 2001

How Sleep Found Tabitha – 2002

Missing Sarah: a Memoir of Loss – 2003

Tale of a Great White Fish: a Sturgeon Story – 2006


Governor General’s Nomination for Non-fiction – Missing Sarah, 2003

VanCity Book Prize – Missing Sarah, 2004

George Ryga Award for Social Awareness in BC Literature – Missing Sarah, 2004

ASPCA Henry Bergh Children’s Book Award – Tale of a Great White Fish, 2006

Christie Harris Illustrated Children’s Literature Prize – Tale of a Great White Fish, 2007