Archive for January, 2011

Review: The Imaginary Garden

Hello, everyone!  I’m back for my second “Forest of Reading” review.  This time I chose a Blue Spruce nominee (ages 4-7, grades K-2):

The Imaginary Garden, written by Andrew Larsen, illustrated by Irene Luxbacher.

The Imaginary Garden is a warm and colourful picture book.  Theo loves to garden with her Poppa.  When Poppa moves from his house to an apartment, Theo is upset to discover that there is no space on his windy balcony for gardening.  Undaunted, Theo and Poppa create a beautiful imaginary garden using canvas and paint.  This quiet story champions the everyday relationships between family, and the special place art and creativity occupy in our lives.  The illustrations capture beautifully the imaginary space shared by Theo and her Poppa, an experience young readers, still adept at playing “make believe” with their peers, will recognize with delight.

Last week I read The Imaginary Garden to the grade 4, SK, and JK classes.  The kindergartens enjoyed the book very much, but the grade 4’s found it much too slow.  The common consensus among the older kids was that there wasn’t enough action.  The kindergartens, on the other hand, loved the bright and colourful flowers, the relationship between Theo and Poppa, and the fact that it is Theo who solves the problem of having no space to garden by suggesting that she and Poppa use their imaginations.

This book would be excellent to use as an introduction to an art project.  Its very peaceful tone also make it perfect for reading during quiet time, or just before bed.  Recommended.

Review: The Giant-Slayer, by Iain Lawrence

Hello, everyone!  So great to hear back from a reader via a comment!  Thanks, Adam and Steph.  It is fabulous knowing that someone is reading my rambling writings.  It encourages me to continue.

I will begin my reviews of the 2011 Forest of Reading nominees with Iain Lawrence’s The Giant-Slayer.  This one is nominated for the Silver Birch Fiction award, ages 7-11 / grades 3-6. *  The book takes place during the 1950’s, and centres around a group of children in a polio ward.  A young girl named Laurie Valentine visits her friend one day and begins to tell him a story, set in a fantastical world where dragons and unicorns coexist with griffins and manticores.  Laurie’s story draws the attention of the other children, and allows them an escape from their pain and loneliness.  Lawrence’s descriptions of the polio epidemic are are honest and instructive, without being overly didactic.  He paints a clear picture of the polio experience: the ever present fear of catching the disease, the immobilizing effects of the illness, the terror of being encased in an iron lung, the final possibility of death – and yet he handles the content with enough gentleness and hope that young audiences can engage with the novel.  As the plot progresses, Laurie Valentine’s fictional tale begins to blend with the children’s reality, posing interesting questions about the strength of the imagination to influence our lives.  The friendships that develop between the children are sensitive and believable.  Modern readers will feel connected to the characters and their plight, even though the book is set in a time and place far removed from current experiences.  Ultimately, the story achieves a bittersweet conclusion, leaving the readers satisfied with the plot and offering much food for thought regarding the magic of story-telling and friendship, and their power to shape our lives.  Beautiful artwork on the cover, although readers may find it misleading (I did, although I wasn’t disappointed with what I found inside).  Highly recommended.  Younger readers will benefit from having this book read aloud to them.  The book opens up terrific doors for discussion!

Check out Iain Lawrence’s website: http://iainlawrence.com/ I can’t wait to get my hands on his other titles.

* A side note:  My apologies for not posting these reviews in order, according to their award level.  I have been allowing myself to base my choice of title on my feelings at that particular moment.  This may make my reviews more favourable than if I were to force myself to read without regard for my current “reading vibe”, but I won’t worry myself too much about that.  I think it’s important to go into a book feeling at least a little bit positive  toward it!  There are so many factors that affect our reading experiences…it’s fascinating, and mysterious, and part of the magic of it all….but I digress, back up to my review!!

OLA’s Forest of Reading

School opens up again next Monday, and with it will come our kick-off of the OLA’s Forest of Reading program.  I am reading each nominee from the Blue Spruce, Silver Birch Fiction, Silver Birch Non-Fiction, Silver Birch Express, and Red Maple categories in preparation for the program….and because the titles are always fantastic Canadian literature worthy of reading (by kids and adults alike).  I figure I may as well post my thoughts on each book after reading, for anyone interested (HELLOOooo – Elooo- ooo – anyone OUT there – OUT there – UT there……? ECHO – echo – cho…!!) and for my own sake, as a record of my reflections.  Stay tuned!