Dust flowers by Lisa Gammon Olson. Illustrated by Kyle Olson. Book review. Tales from American Herstory Series.

This lovely and engaging picture book tells the story of the dust bowl era in the United States through the eyes of a little girl. Her grandmother tells her stories of the beauty of the land before the drought. The little girl has no memory of it and barely remembers her mother ever wearing a smile.

One day the girl finds a little green shoot and secretly waters it until it until it blooms into a gorgeous vine of morning glories. When her mother sees it, she smiles and dances with joy with her daughter. Although another dust storm is rising, they also hear the sound of thunder foretelling the coming end of the drought.

The pictures are soft, expressive watercolour hinting at dust without being overly oppressive. The story is told with tact, beauty, hope, and charm. I did, however find the occasional fully capitalize the word distracting and did not understand its purpose. This wonderful book would be a great addition to any classroom shelf or child’s personal book collection.

Buy link http://a.co/4ldRov2

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

 

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Little Miss History Travels to La Brea Tar Pits and Museum by Barbara Ann Mojica. Book Review.

Barbara Ann Mojica has written a children’s picture book that will be of interest to students and adults interested in either history or science. Once again Little Miss History takes us on a tour of an interesting American site. This time we explore La Brea Tar Pits and Museum. I had no idea that this prehistoric fossil excavation site was right in the middle of Los Angeles,  California.

Mojica explains the history of the tar pits and the key players involved and its discovery and transition into a museum. Once again clever illustrations are combined with real photographs of the site.

A clear, understandable explanation of how the tar pits form and their impact upon the earth will interest budding geologists. Photographs of the amazing prehistoric animals are sure to intrigue young readers.

The Little Miss History series stimulates travellers to examine well known and less well known historica sites across America. Mojica’s books, including this one, would be a wonderful addition to any school library or classroom. The books are suited for ages seven and up.

Purchase link http://a.co/eMmyovQ

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Harvest Celebrations by Clare Chandler. Book Review.

The topics covered in this nonfiction book for ages 8-11 are:

  1. harvest around the world
  2. a successful harvest
  3. the history of harvest festivals
  4. religious festivals
  5. other harvest festivals
  6. the changing harvest
  7. calendar of harvest festivals

The book is 31 pages long and is half text, half photographs. It includes a glossary.

Some sensational information may be disturbing to children.

  • “It was the custom for ancient people in many parts of the world to sacrifice human beings at harvest. This was supposed to make sure of a good crop the following year. The people of Canar in Ecuador, South America, used to sacrifice one hundred children every year at harvest.”

It does not mention that many religions today still sacrifice living animals on altars. I think this is skewed reporting. It is easy to condemn the behavior of early cultures without honestly examining those of our time.

Another shortcoming is the glossing over of modern farming. Everything is written in a positive fashion with no mention of deforestation, child labor or poor migrant workers. The factory farming of animals, overfishing, and the destruction of the environment due to modern food production aren’t even mentioned.

I borrowed this book from the library. It needs to be updated and made more socially relevant.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

 

A Different Generation – Listen to the Wisest of All by Rita Blockman and Kimberly Morin. Photography by Charles Mercer. Book Review.

Listen to the Wisest of All is a collection of interviews with men and women aged 88 to 104 years old.

One thing that impressed me was the positive attitude many of the interviewees had toward their childhood even if they were raised in difficult circumstances, even poverty. They were proud of their own contributions to their families sustainability. They enjoyed simple things and appreciated what they had. Family, religion, and country were the three predominantly important influences on them. Gathering wealth, collecting expensive items, or garnering attention or a following was not of interest. Most importantly was contributing and acquiring independence and skill. These values are what a bold this generation to survive a world war and the Great Depression.

 Click on the cover to buy a copy.

There were sweet stories of romance, some with happy endings, some with un-requited love.

The best part of the book was when we were reading the direct quotes. Biography is so much better when told directly from the source. However, the authors have done a wonderful job of helping the reader connect to the 14 people featured in this little book. Their observations, emotional responses, and interpretations have made this more than a factual account of events.

Each interviewee was asked what advice he would share with the younger generation. Many recommended showing respect for everyone. Pay attention to the little things. Don’t judge others. Health and contribute when you can, no matter how old you are.

Recurring themes were the concern over what seems to be eroded values in society. Many of the elderly frowned on overly revealing clothing, lack of personal communication between people, and undisciplined children.

The loss of innocence at such a young age due to the media was mentioned more than once. I share this concern. Childhood has shrunk to the blink of an eye. This is all the more apparent when listening to elders’ stories about the simple fun they had as children.

A book like this makes me wonder what kind of stories will be collected for my generation. It would be wonderful if this could be repeated every 20 years. What a fascinating chronology that would be.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Only in Canada! From the Colossal to the Kooky by Vivien Bowers. Book Review.


buy link – Only in Canada!: From the Colossal to the Kooky (Wow Canada!)

This hefty, nonfiction 95 page book has a humorous approach to engaging the reader. Scattered throughout the book are the narrators, a Canada goose and the moose, dressed in full clothing and making comments, some helpful and some silly.

There are six chapters in the book. The first is “Amazing Facts about How Canada Was Bashed, Pummelled, Scrunched, and Scraped into the Shape It’s in Today”. The humour and hyperbole draw the reader in to learn about tectonic plates, the Great Lakes, earthquakes, volcanoes, ice and more.

Chapter 2 is “Naturally and Wildly Canadian”. The author promises to share the “weird, intriguing, obnoxious, badly behaved, and utterly improbable plants and animals that exist in Canada.” I was not at all surprised to learn that Canada has one million square kilometers of muskeg.” Just try digging anywhere in my neighbourhood. I was surprised to learn puffins have a regular beak underneath their big fancy one, which they drop off after they win the female. Hmmm. Typical.

The only thing I must warn you about is if you need reading glasses, make sure you have them when you open this book. It is jampacked with tiny print. You won’t want to miss any of the fascinating facts and crazy tidbits. I had heard of Gray Owl but not Billy Miner or Two-gun Cohen. There’s even a paragraph about the lines down the middle of the road.

Chapter 3 focuses on the arrival of people. Chapter 4 is about Canada’s modern growth such as the canals, bridges, and buildings. Chapter 5 is about our weather. Yes it does deserve an entire chapter of its own. Chapter 6 is about interesting Canadians and I’m sure you’ll find some you’ve never heard of before.

This is a fun and informative book that may engage children (and adults) in Canadiana who otherwise would not be interested.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Canada Celebrates Multiculturalism by Bobby Kalman. The Lands, Peoples, and Cultures Series. Book Review.

Canada Celebrates Multiculturalism (Lands, Peoples, & Cultures) buy link

The topics covered in this nonfiction book are:

  • Beginnings of multiculturalism
  • Celebrating Canada’s history
  • Heritage days
  • Caribana
  • Cross-cultural festivals
  • Harvest festivals
  • Christmas customs
  • New year celebrations
  • Religion
  • Holidays
  • Family days
  • Festivals
  • Recipes

It also Includes a Glossary and an Index.

This is a lot of things to tackle in such a small book of 32 pages. Basically, it just whets the appetite.

The beginnings of multiculturalism is a two-page spread, three-quarters of which is a photograph. In the text bar there is a short paragraph written on native cultures, French and British, more people came, and celebrating multiculturalism. At the bottom, in italics, is a caption for the picture that reads, “Many cultures can be found in Canada. People in this picture represent the Native, German, Ukrainian, Filipino, and Engine populations in Canada. Can you identify them by their costumes?” I’m not sure about the other cultures, but First Nations people do not like their regalia to be called a costume. This is a disrespectful term.

In the “Celebrating Canada’s history”, there are paragraphs on Canada Day, Victoria day, Labor Day, and Remembrance Day. It does mention the alternative holiday celebrated by the French Canadians in Quebec. There is a small text box below the fireworks picture and a sketch about Louis Riel. It is entitled “remembering a hero.”

Under heritage days, the author gives a short blurb on the powwow. The entire second part of the two-page spread is about African Canadians. Turn the page and you’ll find paragraphs on the national Ukrainian Festival, Fete National, Festival du Voyageur, Klondike Days, Oktoberfest, Highland games, and Icelandic Festival. The entire next double-page spread is devoted Caribana.

Under harvest vegetables, Canadian Thanksgiving is described. The Green Festival celebrated by the Iroquois, harvest fall fairs, and the wild rice harvest by the Algonquin, Cree, and Ojibwa are explained. There is a flashback about the order of good cheer. A short paragraph explains the Chinese Moon Festival.

For such a short book, it shares a great amount of information on unfamiliar holidays. Well worth a read or for stocking your class library.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

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All Fall Down: The Landslide Diary of Abby Roberts – Frank, District of Alberta, 1902 by Jean Little. Book Review.

Jean Little is a national treasure. Her body of work is phenomenal and this is up there with the best of them. You don’t have to be Canadian to enjoy this book, or the series, which is told in diary format.

The story of the landslide that buried part of the town in the coal mining area of Alberta, Canada, is told through the eyes of a young girl, Abby. Her father has recently died and her family has moved to Frank to live with relatives who run a hotel. The family dynamics are as complex and intriguing as real life drama. Abby, is a sensitive and loving child, the only one of her siblings willing to care for her Down Syndrome brother. The story is told through her diary entries.

This moment in Canadian history is relatively unknown by people living outside of Western Canada. The book is based on the true events and the deaths and near misses resulting from the landslide are taken from actual historical incidents. There are black and white photographs at the back of the book which show the size and extent of the mountain’s partial collapse. An explanation is given in the afterword as to the possible causes of the enormous landslide.

This book is both an engaging story of a family around the turn of the century and a stunning example of the power of nature. Abby, and her family, are based on a number of people Jean Little researched. Although it is written for tween readers, anyone from 9 to 90 will be intrigued by the story and touched by the impact of this tragedy on the community and individuals.

This book is part of the Dear Canada series which features a number of remarkable books. Some speak of heroism and sacrifice while some examine our most shameful moments.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Coming to Canada: Building a Life in a New Land by Susan Hughes. Book Review.

 

This is a nonfiction history book is organized into easy-to-read sections. Is quite up to date and inclusive. It begins with the arrival of the aboriginal peoples. It follows through with the Acadians and the Great Expulsion, an example of how prejudice and politics can destroy the lives of ordinary people.

Throughout the book, it honestly shows the cruelties and failures done while building our country. Many people know generally about the loyalists’ tribulations but few know how badly the emancipated slaves were treated. For example, “of the 30,000 Loyalists who came north to Nova Scotia in 1783 in 1784, roughly 10%, or 3000, were black.” Many didn’t get their land grants and if they did it was soil that could not be farmed. They were treated worse than second-class citizens. “And what about the other resources promised by the British – the lumber, the money, the tools? Again, the black Loyalists were always at the end of the line. Many suffered through their first winters in the inadequate temporary structures they put up just for shelter.” They were not given the same rations as the whites. But in spite of all this, the black loyalists built several strong communities of their own. While some may think it is shameful to bring forth the treatment of groups such as this, I think that their descendents would be proud of their resilience and ability to overcome such blatant racism. There may be inspiration in their suffering. I wish I could say that these inequalities were quickly corrected, but in fact the people of Halifax’s Africville were appalling victims of entrenched systematic abuse and neglect for 150 more years. For those of us who are not black, seeing the truth is a reminder that we must be vigilant against prejudice toward immigrants and minorities. A timely topic.

The book covers the arrival of the Irish immigrants in the 1600s aboard the coffin ships. It follows these people through the building of the railroad where it also connects up with the experiences of the Chinese immigrants.

You will find historical tidbits you may not have known. For example, have you heard of New Iceland?

In the late 1800s, many Ukrainian immigrants arrived and most settled around Winnipeg. The book explores the premises made by the Canadian government to potential immigrants. It examines the prejudices and false assumptions towards southern Europeans. I was surprised to learn that, next to the Chinese, the Italians “played the biggest role in pushing the Canadian Pacific Railway through the diamond-hard mountain rocks and steep-sided river valleys of Western Canada.”

Hughes discusses the treatment of Italians in the first world war, the creation of ethnic neighborhoods, and, again, the mistreatment of immigrants. The most shocking is the refusal of the Canadian government to allow most of the east Indians on board the Komagata Maru to disembark even though they were not being supplied with food or water. Eventually, they were forced to return to their places of origin.

Of course, you cannot speak of immigration without discussing the treatment of Japanese immigrants and their descendents, especially during the second world war. It is one of Canada’s most dishonourable moments.

After the Second World War, 165,000 refugees came to Canada. Those countries that came under Soviet control did not experience true freedom. 1956, Hungarians rose up with nothing more than kitchen utensils and makeshift weapons. The Soviets sent in tanks. 2500 Hungarians were killed and 37,000 were admitted to Canada as refugees.

Although not refugees, there was a surge of Americans moving to Canada during the Vietnam conflict in order to avoid being drafted. Approximately 50,000 to 225,000 Americans came to Canada. When they were offered a pardon in 1974, few were willing to take the risk to return. Of course, many Vietnamese immigrated to Canada during this time as well. They were followed by refugees from Afghanistan, Somalia, and more. Between 1991 and 2001 almost two million immigrants have arrived in Canada.

Canada is a nation of immigrants and refugees. Most of us know someone from each of these groups. We do not consider ourselves a melting pot but strive to be a mosaic wherein people keep the parts of their culture that do not contradict Canada’s laws or strong social norms. This can be difficult at times, but it is also enriching. The first time I went to Europe in 1977, I was surprised at how each country seemed culturally isolated from the next. If you wanted spaghetti, you’d have to go to Italy. The last time I went, in 2015, this had changed greatly. Countries had become multi-ethnic and food, music, and entertainment had spread from one country to the next. It felt closer to Canada where my typical Christmas dinner had always included Ukrainian periogies, Chinese fried rice, Italian lasagna, French bread, English pudding, Jamaican jerk chicken, Japanese sushi, Canadian wild blueberry pie and more. Multiculturalism at it’s best.

This book would be a marvelous addition to a family library. Adults and young people alike will find much to attract their attention. There are photographs and illustrations on every page. These include copies of important telegraphs, tickets, maps, numerous photographs and drawings, and more. It is written in sections just right for short periodic reads. An outstanding book.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Colossal Canada – 100 Epic Facts and Feats by Elizabeth McLeod and Freda Wishinsky. Book Review.

 

buy link – Colossal Canada: 100 Epic Facts and Feats

This pocketbooks style nonfiction paperback is jampacked with interesting tidbits and photographs. The content chapters are:

  • uniquely Canadian
  • extremely Canadian
  • unforgettable Canadian moments
  • highflying Canada
  • who put the can in Canada
  • Canada did it
  • colossal Canada
  • monsters myths and mysteries
  • things that make you sing “O Canada”
  • Canada rocks the world

This would be a good book for someone new to Canada as it often explores cultural idiosyncrasies. It discusses such things as Inuksuk (which I also see spelled Inukshuk), tuques, mukluks, poutine, kayaks, and lacrosse. Our widely varied geology and strange and dangerous animals show up in chapter 2. Included in chapter 3 is the involvement of Halifax in the rescue operations for the Titanic. It always impresses me how, for such a sparsely populated country, Canadians have come up with so many wonderful inventions, a few of which appear in chapters 4 and 6. Chapter five discusses some of our odd place names such as Head-Smashed-in Buffalo Jump and the hoodoos of Alberta.

I love this section in chapter 8 entitled “Five Myths About Canada” with explanations. For those non-Canadians reading this, just in case I will give you the headlines.

  • Myth number one: Canadians live in igloos.
  • Number two: Canada is always covered in snow. (It only feels that way. )
  • Number three: the national sport is hockey.
  • Number four: Canadian police officers dress in red.
  • Number five Canada is just like the U. S.

For those of you are interested in the unusual – Did you know Canada has its own special werewolf mythology? Did you know Northumberland Strait has a ghost ship? Neither did I.

This is definitely a fun and interesting book to read and its small size makes it easily portable. Great for leisure reading and for the classroom.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Canada Day – 150 Years

 

If you are not Canadian, you may not know that this Canada Day, July 1, 2017, is a special anniversary. It has been 150 years since Confederation.

I remember the excitement of our Centennial celebration in 1967. I was 14 years old and 100 years seemed an imaginatively long time. Looking back, the 50 years since seem to have flown by. However, our culture has matured and developed in ways that make me happy to say I am Canadian. We are more inclusive and respectful of differences. Our concern for the welfare of all citizens has grown and taken root in our actions and policies. We strive to protect our earth and to develop new forms of energy. We cherish our children and are working toward a sustainable future for them. This is not to say that we still don’t have a long way to go. But I am ever hopeful for our future.

We are a multicultural country. That means we recommend you learn English or French but respect your need to speak your own language as well. You’re welcome to keep your traditions, religion, and clothing styles as long as they do not break any of our laws or create dangerous situations for citizens. Myself, I am grateful for this attitude as I otherwise would never have found a Shin Buddhist Sect to join 30 years ago. Thunder Bay would not have developed from a pizza and doughnuts dominated city to a pizza and doughnuts dominated city with a lot of cool little ethnic restaurants as well.

Every year we have a Folklore Festival where people share their traditional food, dance, music, and dress. Thousands of people attend and it is not unusual to see a person of Scottish descent participating in a Japanese fan dance or and East Indian child devouring pierogies and Jamaican jerk chicken. With both deep regret and profound respect, we will watch the First Nations dancers and drummers perform on stage, their elaborate regalia testament to their strength, courage, and determination to survive in spite of the atrocities committed against them especially in residential schools.

If you live in Toronto or Montréal, you may not have the same view of Canada as those of us who live in small towns or cities in the north surrounded by forest. To us, Canada means you are 20 minutes away from wild spaces filled with trees, wildflowers, animals, rushing streams and sparkling lakes. This is the Canada I love, irreplaceable, fragile, and in need of our protection.

Without getting into politics, I have to say that I am dismayed that the POTUS to the south does share the same sentiment with regard to protection of wild spaces, clean air and water, and all species of animals. This is not to say that our track record is perfect. Canada has made some major mistakes as well. But in our hearts, I believe each of us understands the profound beauty and eco-diversity we need to cherish and shield. Although we may not agree on the methods by which to achieve this.

Most of the books for the rest of this month are about our beautiful nation. You will undoubtedly notice how dominant natural spaces are in our national psyche. I believe it is essential that every child, urban or rural, spends regular time surrounded by our bountiful boreal forest. Nothing calms your mind, refuels your energy, stimulates your creativity, and strengthens your gratitude then connecting with the earth in its purest state.

On Canada Day, we will be attending the city celebrations with loud music, and overindulgence of food, dancing and singing, and noisy a spectacular fireworks. But, in a truly Canadian way. Our celebration will be held at the local marina where sailboats and waterfowl glide past, the waves of the majestic Lake Superior splash up and over the breakwater, and the Sleeping Giant (Nanbijou) dominates the harbour reminding us that all Canadians need to be included in our policies, practices, and dreams for the next fifty years.

HAPPY CANADA DAY!

 Like this shirt, the pictures above  (and more) are available in my Cafe Press shop.