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Alison Lohans. Illustrated by Marlene Watson.
Victoria, BC: Orca Book Publishers, 1996. 32 pp., paperback, $7.95.
Grades K - 3 / Ages 4 - 8.
Review by Michele Kallio.
Nathaniel's Violin is a brightly illustrated picture book that tells a delightful story.
Nathaniel is an only child living on his parents' farm. Though lonely, he enjoys helping with the farm chores. Life goes on with little excitement until one day a mysterious old woman comes to the farm to buy a dozen eggs and a pint of cream. As she is leaving, she pulls a beautiful violin from her cart and hands it to Nathaniel saying "This is for you child."
Nathaniel plays a squack/squack sound on the violin and his father tells him to practice in the barn. He practices and practices until one day he finds himself playing real music. Soon his mother notices that when Nathaniel plays his violin, the flowers grow brighter in colour, the hens lay bigger eggs, the cows give more milk, and just about everyone feels happier.
Then as all children do, Nathaniel grows up and moves away. Still, the magic of his violin continues on, and one day, many years later, the violin returns, this time in the hands of Nathaniel's own daughter.
Michele F. Kallio is a former teacher/librarian living in Blacks Harbour, New Brunswick.
Deborah Hodge. Photographs by Ray Boudreau.
Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press, 1996. 32 pp., hardcover, $11.95.
Grades K - 4 / Ages 5 - 9.
Review by Gerri F. Young.
Books in the Starting with Science series are bright, pretty and useful, and Simple Machines is no exception. Simple Machines shows young children that, with the help of six simple machines - the lever, wheel and axle, pulley, inclined plane, screw, and wedge, they can do something "impossible."
Thirteen colourfully photographed experiments challenge children to lift a friend without touching them, do a balancing act, find out how wheels help move things, have a bubble race, an egg drop, a penny lift, twirl a toy, make a mystery machine, and more. Each chapter is illustrated with a full-page photo of the children doing the experiment.
The fresh-faced children pictured represent a wide variety of cultures, and are shown enjoying themselves while learning. While no adults appear in the book, it is understood one is nearby teaching!
Deborah Hodge is a curriculum designer in Vancouver. She has presented her subject well. The book may seem too simple to some, but it is not. Something bright and cheerful like this is a great way to interest students. Their over-stimulated minds demand colour and simplicity.
Gerri F. Young works in Fort Nelson, B.C.
Regina, SK: Coteau Books, 1996. 137 pp., paperback, $5.95.
Grades 2 - 5 / Ages 7 - 10.
Review by Jennifer Johnson.
A short time later, an intruder entered the school. In the silence of the empty building, running shoes squeaked a steady beat up a flight of stairs. The intruder walked down the unlit second floor hall. On the right-hand side, from four open classroom doors, weak sunlight cut into the gloom. Veering left into a shadowy opening, the intruder pulled the door shut.When Henry and Mr. Z, the class guinea pigs, are stolen, best friends Caroline and Winston decide to find them. Slowly they amass a list of suspects ranging from an older bully to the vice principal himself. A wild nighttime chase through the school and several twists and turns of the plot lead Caroline and Winston to the pigs and the real reason they were stolen.
In his second novel, Dave Glaze, an educator with classroom and consulting experience, mixes pets, classroom dynamics, friendships and a mystery into a satisfying blend. In Caroline and Winston, he has created two close friends who may join the ranks of Cyril and Maggie as a well-loved pair. Caroline is an organizer and achiever who appears to be in charge, but who has her own hidden fear. She is a perfect match for Winston, who can recite a dictionary definition for every occasion, but who can't keep his locker tidy or organize his homework. Using the guinea pigs as a focus for concern works well, as does a sub-plot describing the day by day interactions between the pigs and their various care-givers while hidden. The posturing and menace with which older students present themselves to the younger, is very realistic. In establishing a group of adult characters however, Glaze is inconsistent - the teacher and one parent are caring, believable characters, but Mr. Kroop, the vice principal, emerges as a caricature. Mr. Kroop is not only incompetent, he is threatening to adults and children alike. As a possible suspect in the eyes of the children he is overdrawn and descriptions of his nervous tics are simply irritating.
Janet Wilson's cover illustration is a wonderful asset to the book. Two guinea pigs tucked into a knapsack sit before a very messy locker - which we soon identify as Winston's. The cover illustration wraps around the book, extending the visual appeal. The book has been printed onto bright white pages, with deeply centered chapter headings, and clear dark print. These factors will appeal to young readers and enhance the attractiveness of this animal mystery book. Winston and Caroline have more than just the theft of their classroom pets to deal with in Who Took Henry and Mr. Z? Bullies, lost school funds, and a spooky nighttime chase all enhance an appealing mystery for middle readers.
Jennifer Johnson works as a librarian in Ottawa, Ontario.
Bobbie Kalman and Greg Nickles.
Toronto: Crabtree Publishing, 1997. 32pp., hardbound, $17.56.
Grades: 4 - 6 / Ages 8 - 11.
Review by lan Stewart.
In the thousands of years before the padres arrived, Native Americans practiced their own beliefs. The different tribes did not follow one religion, as the padres did. Instead, each tribe believed in its own gods and spirits who were thought to live inside humans, animals, trees, plants, the earth, the sky and water . . . Native Americans who accepted Christian teachings and came to live in the mission were called converts or neophytes. The padres expected neophytes to learn Spanish, dress European-style, help with the work, and pray and worship with them.Mom always said, "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all!" Well, the opposite is true as well. Sometimes you can be too nice, and sugarcoat the truth so much, that it would have been better not to say anything at all.
Such is the case with Spanish Missions. The text takes us from the Spanish conquest of the Americas to the modern era. It touches on various aspects of daily life in the missions - religious instruction, school, daily chores, growing crops, and raising livestock. It ends with historical guides taking tourists through restored mission museums. Yet this book leaves no impression that these missions were part of process that engendered tragic consequences.
There is no Native voice speaking in this book. No Native voice tells what it was like before Spanish colonial missionary zeal destroyed a culture and a way of life. No Native voice tells us that there was a way of life worth preserving and better than the imposed substitute.
Of course, in a Canadian context, we may substitute French or English for Spanish colonialism. Like Kalman and Nickles, any teacher's reluctance, particularly at the elementary school level, to critically confront economic, political, and spiritual racial imperialism will leave nothing but white-washed historical pap in the minds of our twenty-first century adults.
Spanish Missions is not just insipid - the treacly prose and paucity of content certainly won't enhance its readers intellectual capabilities - it is offensive in its lack of character.
lan Stewart works at Lord Nelson School and the University of Winnipeg Library.
Toronto, ON: Gage Educational Publishing Company, 1997. 1718 pp., hardcover,
Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.
Review by Mark Morton.
My first dictionary, won in a spelling bee twenty years ago, was an odd creature: its definitions made no attempt to use gender neutral language ("DEMOCRACY - the belief that all men share the same rights"); it contained no etymological information (prompting my childhood belief that words had always meant what they presently meant); and it contained numerous appendices of dubious relevance to a child, like myself, growing up on the Canadian prairies (such as a chart listing the various player-positions in cricket, including the Silly Mid Off, the Fine Leg, and the Backward Short Leg). In contrast, the new Gage Canadian Dictionary is an astute, informative, and elegant dictionary for use by high school and university students, and by the general adult population. Especially fine is this dictionary's unabashed emphasis on words that are uniquely Canadian, words like "patriate" (as in patriating the constitution), "snowbird" (a Canadian who goes south for the winter), and "squidjigger" (not, as I assumed, a Celtic dance, but rather a device for snaring squid). On the downside, the Gage's emphasis on Canadian English means that it contains no entry for Silly Mid Off, an omission that will surely have a deleterious effect on North American cricket.
Physically, the dictionary is very well-made: my 33 year old eyes can read the entries with ease, not only because of the font size, but also because the entries effectively use different type faces to distinguish their various components, such as the head word, the definition, and the illustrative examples of the word in use. The dictionary also passed a test I learned from an eager encyclopedia salesman: I was able to lift the entire dictionary from my desk by pulling upwards on a single page - nothing teared, nothing stretched, nothing smeared. The book, in short, is as tough and hardy as the Canucks who'll use it, and I would be glad to see one in every home and high school locker in Canada.
Mark Morton teaches at The University of Winnipeg and is the author of Cupboard Love: A Dictionary of Culinary Curiosities.
Great Careers for People Interested in Art &
Great Careers for People Interested in Travel &
Donna Sharon and Jo Anne Sommers.
Great Careers for People Interested in
Great Careers for People Interested in The
Great Careers for People Fascinated by Government and the
Anne Marie Males.
Toronto, ON: Trifolium Books; Calgary, AB: Weigl Educational Publishers, 1996. Each book is 48pp., paperback, $13.95. Teacher Resource Bank $59.95.
Grades 7 - 12 / Ages 12 - 17.
Review by Alison Mews.
The Career Connections series presents a variety of traditional and non-traditional occupations to high school students to help them match their interests with career possibilities.
The books maintain reader interest throughout, beginning with the attention-grabbing titles and attractive book covers. Once inside the book, readers will find an unusual Table of Contents that not only leads them to the correct page for each described career, but also asks a question that defines it and piques their curiosity, such as: "What did 18th-century soldiers use for toilet paper? Ask Tracy Macdonnell - Historical Interpreter". Each book has six profiles of successful professionals including personal information, verbatim advice, activities to further explore the career choice, and a short list of related careers with brief definitions. Following the profiles are four short sketches that delineate additional career personnel. The final portion of each book presents a hypothetical job ad aimed at high school students, gives tips for applying for the position, and some role-playing exercises. The reader then gets to decide which of two applicants would get the job, based on their resumes and covering letters and the jot notes of the interviewer. These are thoughtfully done and could provide plenty of substance for group discussions if used in a classroom environment.
The series consists of eighteen books in sets of six, with a teacher resource bank for each set. (I did not see the teacher resources.) The books are forty-eight pages in length with plenty of pictures, portraits, and illustrative photographs. Pleasingly designed, the colour, font size and information boxes are well-placed on the page and contribute significantly to the books' appeal. An index is also included.
A statement on each book indicates that all activities included were tested and are safe when carried out as suggested. Many of these activities are so basic, however, as to be useless. For example, the books suggest readers "take on a part-time job to get experience dealing with people" and "learn to use a computer for text processing and to store and retrieve information." They also suggest readers job shadow people or volunteer their time to familiarize themselves with the profession. Firstly, it is doubtful that busy professionals would want individual high school students calling and asking to do this; such arrangements are better made by school councillors or job-training programs. Secondly, only in large urban areas would many of these careers be available for preview.
Each book considers a broad range of career choices in the thematic grouping. For example, Travel & Tourism includes festival, convention and safari planning, along with the more traditional travel agent and tour operator careers. There is a good mix of male and female professionals of all age ranges and cultural backgrounds. The careers are also very relevant to the 1990's and include many areas unheard of ten years ago, such as Internet marketer and fiberoptic splicer, highlighted in the Communications Technology book. In all the books, one thing is stressed - the importance of education.
If any of the career choices captivate a teen, these books will certainly help motivate them to become serious about their future. In all, I was very impressed with these short books and will endeavour to purchase the others in the series.
Alison Mews is Coordinator at the Centre for Instructional Services in the Faculty of Education at Memorial University of Newfoundland.
Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press, 1996. 368 pp., cloth, $45.00.
Grade 11 and up / Age 16 and up.
Review by Gary Robertson.
In the case of the National Ballet of Canada, an assessment reveals a company not of international stars, but of disciplined, highly individual artists, competent to interpret a variety of different styles. It reveals a company which now, after nearly fifty years of professional activity, has the depth of generations.
This is the story of the history and development of one of the world's great ballet companies. The author, James Neufeld, has woven an accurate and intimate story, with the help of excellent archives, and a host of personal interviews and shared recollections.
The story is presented in a fair and detailed documentary style which creates an almost day by day picture of the principle characters and their struggle to create and operate the National Ballet. But this close attention to detail, while factual, gets a little ponderous in describing the personality struggles, the artistic temperament of the big name stars, the political mindlessness, and the corporate pressures to keep such an entity in both creative and financial health.
Still, there are good insights into major characters, like Rudolph Nureyev, Celia Franca, Erik Bruhn and Sir Frederick Ashton. Their professional and artistic contributions certainly coloured the Canadian dance scene, and ultimately elevated the National Ballet to the world stage.
The rehearsal hall wasn't big enough for two large egos. Franca, whose real love was working in the studio, and who was herself cast as the wicked fairy, Carabosse, the major dramatic character role in the ballet, removed herself to the administrative offices and allowed Nureyev a free rein with the company members.
An excellent ninety-five page appendix lists every performance ever given, along with the dances performed; all of the dancers who performed with the National Ballet; references; information sources; completed workshops; board members; and group concert itineraries. There is also a full index.
Power to Rise is really suited to the senior student or adult reader who has a specific interest in dance. The average reader would soon tire of the details of past tours, personality conflicts, and organizational struggles. It is a very complete document and the accompanying photographs, while small, are appropriate to the text. This book is recommended as a Reference Book in a library, but would not be of much general interest to young readers.
Gary Robertson is a former high school Fine Arts instructor and is a practising artist and musician in Regina.
Burnstown, ON: General Store Publishing House, 1996. 240 pp., paperback, $19.95.
Grades 11 and up / Ages 16 and up.
Review by Deborah Mervold.
In the cooling period between the alleged crime and the trial, rescheduled for April, the world as it touched on the Luckey tragedy settled once more into comfortable routine. The case had all but disappeared from the papers, the occasional tidbit being sandwiched in between the war in Dahomey and ads for miracle cures.This novel is a blend of fiction and fact detailing a crime which took place in rural Ontario in the 1890s. Charley Luckey was accused of murdering his parents, only two months after the famed Lizzie Borden incident in the US. But even at the time of his indictment, there were questions. Was Charley really the murderer? Was the crime a copycat of Lizzie Borden? How did the law and the police force account for their inadequacies?
Shock and self-righteousness diminished, horror turned to ambivalence, ambivalence to empathy. Empathy evoked the instinctive need for insularity. People still spoke in superlatives: it was the most heinous, the foulest of foul, the dastardliest crime of the century. But the intonations were less shrill, the attitude slightly blasé, the air of a maiden aunt becoming accustomed to a brothel in the neighbourhood.
The tide was turning in Charley's favour, for reasons which had little to do with his guilt or innocence. Charley's arrest was regarded as an indictment of his entire family, causing confusion of loyalties in Kitley Township. Who could judge the innocent bereaved harshly? Those who were undecided or easily influenced swayed like blossoms in a breeze, waiting to take their cue from the Luckeys themselves. The remaining Luckeys had conducted themselves in public consistently with decorum: what Johnny did in the dark hours when he went off in his buggy without disclosing his destination could only be guessed at and was considered beneath comment. For every utterance against Charley there would be demurring rejoinders: a comment on the business acumen Sam was developing, or the bravery of the sisters homesteading out west, or the impossibility of baking rhubarb pie that would top Liza Ann's in taste and texture.
Adams, who has written poetry and short fiction as well as non-fiction articles and book reviews, splits the narrative into several streams. One is a chronological account of events, another a series of interchapters, "Entr'acte," that detail the thoughts and feelings of the hamgman who goes by a number of different names. Adams also includes the letters of Charley's lawyer and accounts of the actions of Charley's older brother Johnny, as well as Montgomery, the officer involved in the case.
Adams stretches herself thin with all these parts. The superfluous stories and characters - the hangmen, the lawyer, the officer, etc. - add more than is necessary to the novel and the division between fact and fiction begins to blur towards the end of the book.
Nonetheless, the basic story of Charley and his alleged crime, fleshed out with details of the community and their reactions to Charley, makes for interesting reading.
This book would be a good choice for readers interested in non-fiction and/or history and is suitable for senior high school, private and public libraries.
Deborah Mervold is a teacher librarian in a grade 6 to 12 school, and a Grade 12 English teacher at Shellbrook Composite High School.
Toronto, ON: ECW Press, 1996. 340 pp., paper, $28.00.
Grades 12 and up / Ages 17 and up.
Review by Lorrie Ann Wannamaker.
The Canadian Professional Schools Factsheets is designed to be an effective and easy-to-use resource for people considering further education in the professional fields.Canadian Professional Schools Factsheets contains basic information about all post-secondary professional programs in Canada from Architecture to Veterinary Medicine. I wish I knew of this book's existence when I was looking for a university.
A formulated page for each school provides basic admission requirement and application information as well as answers to commonly asked questions like:
The introduction to the book gives helpful hints to the reader about how to use the information provided. The best part of the book is the sample time line for each month which reminds the reader of what tasks they need to complete and when. There are also some good suggestions on how to improve one's chances for being admitted, including tips for writing a good resume.
The Canadian Professional Schools Factsheets is updated annually and is distributed nationally. It is a great planning tool and can save time and money. Matched with the right person - this book is worth a million!
Recommended - targets very specific audience - students and career counsellors.
Lorrie Ann Wannamaker is Vice-Principal, Sir Wilfrid Laurier School, Hamilton, Ontario.
Lantzville, BC: Oolichan Books, 1996. 158 pp., paper, $14.95.
Grade 12 and up / Ages 17 and up.
Review by Katheryn Broughton.
If it were really possible to buy a life, I'd pass, thank you just the same. This one's already too much.
BC writer Michael Kenyon has won many literary awards for his previous works, and Durable Tumblers certainly adds to his lustre as a writer. The protagonists in this short story collection try valiantly to make sense of the predicaments life throws at them but often manage only to endure. The author finds little cause for joy.
"Angels in Cities" is the story of West Coasters Les and Anne, who travel to Lethbridge every autumn to prepare Anne's Uncle Hugh for the winter. Their relationship is fragile at times, and a quarrel develops when Les accepts money from Uncle Hugh. When Les inadvertently witnesses the robbery of a shop through a deliberately-broken window, he promises himself that he will send Hugh's money back and tell both his wife and her uncle about the theft. The title refers to Uncle Hugh's story of young peasant girls in China committing suicide so that they could become angels, such as those they had seen in cities. The bizarre juxtaposition of angels in China and ordinary human beings in Canada is intriguingly suggestive. What can readers make of it? We are left to ponder.
By way of contrast, "Chaste" depicts Glynis Tilley Arnason as she calmly faces the fact that her reliable husband Piet is inexplicably missing. Their daughter and son-in-law are in a panic but Glynis is remembering the renewal of her love life with Piet "after years of abstinence" and appears almost unconcerned about his uncharacteristic failure even to phone. Eventually Piet's body is found - he has died of natural causes. Sheila, their granddaughter, has drawn a picture of her Grandpa; Glynis notes that the "eyes are just right." The mood of acceptance is sustained against the background of fear and grief displayed by other characters.
In a connected story "Salvage," it is Glynis' seventeenth birthday and family members are coming to the party. Clarence is being driven by his wife, Sandra, who is to help with the party preparations. Clarence gets out of the car before they reach their destination, ostensibly in order to jog, but in reality, to meet his lover, Patrick. A parallel narrative concerns a suicide victim, Judy, and a murder victim, Nadine. They meet and converse at length under the water of the lake into which each body has been thrown. It is made clear that Clarence has killed Nadine and is worried that the police may appear at any time. The contrast between Glynis, in her youthful innocence, and of Clarence, deep in double subterfuge, contrasts sharply with the fantasy of the two dead women deep in discussion in the lake.
In the stories in Durable Tumblers, readers are taken into each world with an intensity that leaves them shaking and wondering. There are many questions to be asked; the answers are theirs to discover. Senior students will be intrigued by this collection; younger, less experienced readers are more likely to be bewildered.
Katheryn Broughton was born in the prairies and taught high school English and library skills for nineteen years in North York, Ontario. She has edited a book of short stories (entitled Heartland) for senior students. These days she writes about old houses for the historical society newsletter (which she edits) in her home town, Thornhill, Ontario.
by Elizabeth Morton.
Reprinted with the permission of the Canadian Library Association.
The 13th annual Freedom to Read Week will be celebrated across Canada Feb. 24 to March 2. Sponsored each year by the Freedom of Expression Committee of the Book and Periodical Council, Freedom to Read Week is an opportunity to discuss, study and respond to the various ways in which intellectual freedom is being challenged in Canada today.
This year, Feliciter takes a look at censorship of reading material in Canadian schools. School librarians and teachers face well meaning groups and individuals, speaking out in favour of exercising stricter controls over materials for young people. Since educators are deemed to act in the parent's place (in loco parentis), they have to be prepared when parents let them know that they feel their family's values are not being represented in the teaching materials their children encounter in the school.
During the past year, Elizabeth Roberts, a K-12 school principal in Rockglen, Sask., and a past president of the Saskatchewan School Library Association, carried out a survey of censorship in Saskatchewan schools. This research, carried out under the auspices of the Saskatchewan Writers Guild, formed the basis for Roberts' M.Ed. thesis recently accepted by the Faculty of Education, University of Regina.
As part of her study of the censorship activity occurring in public schools in Saskatchewan between Sept. 1992 and June 1995, Roberts surveyed 546 school Iibraries in the province. The response rate was approximately 62 per cent. Roberts' study was modeled on the study conducted by Dave Jenkinson in Manitoba (see 'Censorship Iceberg: Results of a Survey of Challenges in Public and School Libraries,' Canadian Library Journal 43 (Feb. 1986): 7-21). Roberts reports that her results were similar.
She found that one-third of the responding schools had received challenges to one or more resources during the three-year period. In addition, Roberts reports there was strong evidence from the 'comments' section of the questionnaire that the practice of soft censorship was prevalent. (Roberts defines 'soft' or 'spontaneous' censorship as censorship that takes place either at the time of the selection of resources or prior to the time when the resource is placed on the shelves.)
"This kind of censorship takes place despite the fact that the resource has not been challenged by any external person or group," said Roberts. "In other words, resources are removed from the library because, in the opinion of someone on the library or school staff, the resource either will corrupt the reader's morals or will be found offensive by parents or other members of the community. The problem of soft censorship is particularly pronounced in the rural schools, where the libraries tend to be staffed by teaching assistants (TAs), not teacher-librarians. Some TAs are on a mission. The amount of soft censorship revealed in this study appears to be just the tip of the iceberg. In addition, although censors generally exist along a continuum stretching from the extreme right-wing perspective to the extreme left, most of the activity in Saskatchewan school libraries at present is in response to censors who represent right-wing interests and issues."
In all, 151 resources, including books, periodicals, videotapes, and plays, were challenged. The majority - 66 per cent - of challenges occurred in schools in rural centres with a population of less than 5,000. The majority of schools that experienced challenges (61 per cent) were K - 8 schools. Challenges were mainly brought by parents or guardians (62 per cent), but fully one-third were the result of actions by school staff.
"How does one implement resource-based learning in this environment?" Roberts asked. "There is a lack of awareness that intellectual freedom is, indeed, an issue for students and the school libraries that serve them." However, she was quick to point out that teacher-librarians, where they exist, are doing a good job.
Violence was the number one reason cited for challenges in the urban schools; witchcraft topped the list in rural schools. In 49 per cent of cases, the resources were retained; in the remaining cases, the item was removed, altered or restricted in use. The only factor that had any significant effect on the outcome of challenges, Roberts found, was the presence of fully implemented, consistently used selection and challenge policies in the school.
"Despite this fact," noted Roberts, "and despite the fact that selection and challenge policies are required by the Saskatchewan Education Act, 31 per cent of schools that responded reported that they did not have any such policies in place. The largest number of schools without policies were in rural areas of the province. This finding appeared to be strongly related to the qualifications of the library personnel. Where a teacher-librarian was employed, there was almost always a selection policy in place." Most teacher-librarians were employed in urban schools.
Roberts' report recommends that
When asked about the implications of her study's findings, Roberts responded, "In a resource-based curriculum, censorship narrows the scope of a library collection and, thus, narrows students' thinking. Censorship creates a restrictive atmosphere in the classroom and limits the flexibility of a teacher's instructional strategies. It contravenes the spirit of the goals of education in this province, and it makes it difficult to encourage the development of a multicultural, global outlook among students. Censorship stifles creative and critical thinking by narrowing the viewpoints available to students. And because it restricts formats, reading levels and the number of resources available on various topics, censorship restricts the ability of the teacher to adapt the curriculum to the learner."
Interestingly, the title or series that received the most challenges in Saskatchewan was the Goosebumps series by R.L. Stine. And in Nova Scotia, the Goosebumps series and the Fear Street series, also by Stine, were challenged early in 1995 by parents of the Halifax County-Bedford District School Board (which has since amalgamated with two other school boards to form the Halifax Regional School Board). Graham Pierce, a teacher-librarian with the board's department of research and technology, reported that this was the first time the board has had a formal censorship challenge.
The case began when three parents sent a letter to every elementary and junior high school principal in the board. "The letter complained that books in the extremely popular Goosebumps series and the Fear Street series might 'develop unhealthy, harmful thoughts and behaviour in children,"' explained Pierce. "The parents believed these 'horror-thrillers' would confuse young readers to the extent that they would 'no longer be able to choose right from wrong.' Excerpts, taken out of context, proved their points."
The letter requested the removal of these books from the library and all classrooms. The parents also suggested the use of book clubs be discontinued because they promote these books.
According to Pierce, reaction on the part of the principals to the letter varied. Some immediately removed the books, others sought advice from teacher-librarians, while most simply did not know what course of action to take.
"Eventually," said Pierce, "the complainants sent their letter to the full school board and asked that the books be banned from all elementary and junior high schools."
Some board members agreed and were quite ready to pull the 'evil literature' from the shelves and banish it to the garbage can, reported Pierce. "The board members were unaware, as were most principals, that the board had adopted a selection of learning resources policy in 1991." Included in the policy is a procedure for public complaints about instructional materials.
According to the policy, the challenged titles were to remain in circulation while a reconsideration committee was struck to look into the complaints. The reconsideration committee consisted of a senior administrator, a junior high school teacher, an elementary teacher-librarian (Pierce), a parent trustee from an elementary school, and a parent trustee from a junior high school. The committee was chaired by Jane Thornley, the board's supervisor of information technology and services, who has been a teacher-librarian and English teacher at the junior high level and is a past president of the Canadian School Library Association.
The reconsideration committee read every book that had been challenged, heard submissions from students, parents and teachers on both sides of the issue, and deliberated for a total of 27 hours. Each one of the books was read cover to cover by at least one member of the committee.
Pierce recalled that one group of parents submitted what they stated were 400 letters supporting their position. However, the committee found there were 229 form letters in total, only 183 of which were signed by residents of the board. "Because these were solicited form letters," said Pierce, "we made random calls to the signees. Of all the people we spoke to, none had read the books completely and many were responding to pre-selected excerpts provided for them."
In its final report in June 1995, the committee strongly endorsed the board's instructional resources policy. It also recommended that
The committee pointed out that particular attention must be paid in combination elementary/junior schools and junior/senior high schools to ensure that materials are clearly designated and professional staff are involved in guiding students to reading materials. As well, the committee recommended that if there are any materials to which parents wish their own children not to have access, the parent should forward those titles or authors to both the teacher-librarian and the classroom teacher. The committee encouraged the board to develop a brochure for parents.
Finally, the committee found that the challenged books written by Christopher Pike and L. J. Smith are not normally age - or interest - level appropriate for elementary grades and should, therefore, not be included in the board's elementary school libraries. In addition, the challenged books in the Fear Street series are not considered age-appropriate for elementary students and should, therefore, not be included in the board's elementary school libraries. However, the committee found that the challenged books in the Goosebumps series are age-appropriate and should not be removed from the board's elementary school libraries.
"The board rejected the report at first," Pierce noted, "but after they had actually read it, the recommendations in the report did pass by a close vote."
Pierce commented that school boards that do not have policies that define the criteria for selecting learning materials are going to have a very difficult time resolving challenges to resources.
"School boards must recognize that professional expertise is required when choosing and evaluating books and other learning materials for our students," stated Pierce. "Public input is vital, but final decisions must be left to teacher-librarians and teachers. After all, we are the ones held responsible when the complainants come calling!
"It was quite a six months," he concluded. "There was coverage on the TV news and in the newspapers. It was a hot issue, and as a member of the committee, I found that my professional reputation was on the line."
The Canadian Library Association and the Freedom of Expression Committee of the Book and Periodical Council (BPC) - of which CLA is a member - acknowledge the ongoing commitment of Canadian librarians and educators to intellectual freedom. The work of the reconsideration committee of the Halifax Regional School Board and Elizabeth Roberts' survey are part of that commitment.
Elizabeth Morton is editor, monographs at CLA. She was editor of CM: A Reviewing Journal of Canadian Materials for Young People from 1987 to 1994. My thanks to Elizabeth Roberts and to Graham Pierce for providing me with background information. Copies of Elizabeth Roberts' thesis are available from the University of Regina; copies of her complete report may also be obtained from the Saskatchewan Writers Guild. A summary of Roberts' study is also appearing in the January/ February 1997 issue of FreeLance, published by the guild. A write-up of the Goosebumps case by Graham Pierce appeared in the Sept. 1995 issue of the Nova Scotia School Library Association Bulletin.
Reprinted with the permission of the Canadian Library Association.
Freedom to Read Week.
Reprinted with the permission of the Canadian Library Association.
In addition, the BPC recently released When the Censor Comes, a guide for teachers, librarians, booksellers and others who disseminate the printed word. Researched and written by Sandra Bernstein for the Freedom of Expresson Committee, the booklet walks the reader through definitions of censorship, how to spot (and thwart) a would-be censor, and the procedures used by Canada Customs at our border. It also gives examples of policies that should be put in place in schools and libraries. Copies are available from the BPC for the cost of shipping. To order single copies, send a self-addressed, stamped 6 x 9 envelope. Copies of the Freedom to Read Week kit may be ordered for $12.84 each (includes postage, handling and GST). The BPC is located at 35 Spadina Rd., Toronto, Ont. M5R 2S9; (416) 975-9366; FAX: (416) 975-1839.
Reprinted with the permission of the Canadian Library Association.
Volume 18 Number 3.
Book reviewers Dave Jenkinson and Pat Bolger look at "selection" censors and "censoring" reviewers and force us to consider our role in the book selection process. Are book reviewers supporting censorship in the school and public library? What is book reviewing?
Censorship wears many faces. It appears in its most recognizable form when individuals or groups in a community succeed in having a book or other material permanently removed from the shelves of a school or public library. Such censorship frequently attracts much media attention and may generate strong outpourings of pro-and anticensorship feeling. Because these overt occurrences of censorship are fortunately not daily events in most locales, it is perhaps easy to believe that, while the threat of external censorship may be omnipresent, its actual manifestation is relatively rare.
I would suggest, however, that in some of its other guises, censorship is always with us. "Silent" censors, for example, are those school or public library system employees who seek to remove materials from the system without the noisy fanfare that usually accompanies externally generated censorship.
Silent censorship by school or library staff members can manifest itself in a number of ways. The "light-fingered" censor disagrees with the results of the selection process, but does not wish to use the available formal structures to make these objections publicly known. Instead of asking that a book be reexamined by some reconsideration process, these "light-fingered" censors move directly to a personal "resolution" stage by surreptitiously stealing the offending material. At inventory time, the silently censored title becomes just another "missing" book, which may or may not be replaced.
"Authority" censors, on the other hand, use the power embedded in their position to have materials removed. In schools, these people, usually administrators, invoke their line authority either by directly ordering that titles be removed or by having an informal "chat" with the librarian and suggesting that in order to avoid possible unpleasantness with the local community later, it might be in everyone's best interests simply to remove the offending title(s) now.
Common to the above two forms of silent censorship is the fact that the materials had been purchased and placed on library shelves before they were removed and, consequently, the possibility does exist that the censorship wrongs might be righted. The "light-fingered" censor may be caught in the act or someone may stand up to and challenge the "authority" censor.
Unfortunately, another type of silent censorship exists which is much more difficult to detect directly, for it occurs before materials are purchased. The "selection" censor uses the selection process as an opportunity to prevent "suspect" materials from becoming part of a school or public library collection.
Some may argue that all selectors censor - since selectors do not purchase all books but in fact reject some, the rejected titles have therefore been "censored." Those who argue in such a manner do not understand the essential difference between selection and censorship. The selector approaches each potential purchase with the positive attitude, "How might this title contribute to my collection and the purposes for which it is being created?" The "selection" censor's starting position is quite different. Armed with a mental checklist of qualities or characteristics that would disqualify an item, the "selection" censor asks, "Does this item contain anything that might be offensive to someone?"
To be effective in weeding out potentially offensive titles, "selection" censors who make use of current selection tools require the co-operation of "censoring" reviewers, who draw attention to those parts of a work that would allow a "selection" censor to disqualify an item for purchase.
Consider the following two examples taken from a reputable American reviewing source. A positive review of Kevin Major's Thirty-six Exposures concludes with the following sentence: "Older adolescent boys should identify with Lorne, a more assertive character than Jerry in The Chocolate War, but some parents may object to the strong language and explicit references to sex." Another positive review, this time of Leon Garfield's The Strange Affair of Adelaide Harris, ends by saying, "The squire's earthiness may offend some, but the broad humour and convoluted action make for fun reading."
"Earthiness" may be more obtuse than "strong language" but the "censoring" reviewer's meaning is nevertheless clear. For the "selection" censor, the "correct" path is obvious. Though both books come from award-winning authors and both books merit purchase, each has also been identified as a title that could cause problems and, consequently, should be bypassed.
Consider, as well, the effects of becoming a "censoring" reviewer. The following recently published Canadian books are all perfectly good reads, and I would readily recommend each of them for purchase. But let's suppose I wanted to consider each book from the "censoring" reviewer's viewpoint. What might I find to be potentially offensive in these books that would give me cause to warn my fellow quiet censors against purchasing them?
Take, for example, Rhoda Kaellis' The Last Enemy, a very moving story about Lilly, a pre-teen Jewish girl, who comes to New York to live with relatives following World War II. Lilly's parents had been killed in a concentration camp and Lilly had been "hidden" in a Catholic orphanage. As the years pass, Lilly experiences enormous emotional struggles as her Catholic upbringing conflicts with her new Jewish "home." Unfortunately, the book's ending is not uplifting and is actually a real "downer." Lilly, seeking permanent relief from her problems, commits suicide by sticking her head in a gas oven - certainly not a model of behaviour for dealing with difficulties we would want impressionable teens to emulate!
Another poor model is fourteen-year-old Vicky from Cherylyn Stacey's I'll Tell You Tuesday, If I Last That Long. The novel is quite amusing, but Vicky shows poor judgment. She dates an eighteen-year-old, gets drunk, smokes marijuana, and ends up alone with him on a deserted beach with him where, we are told, he "smoothly eased me out of my t-shirt."
Carol Matas' Vesper, a companion novel to her award-winning Lisa, is a fine historical novel about a young man's activities with the Danish Underground during World War II, but might not some young readers be unduly shocked by Matas' graphic description of the mutilated hands of the central teen character? For, you see, the Gestapo had pulled out Jesper's fingernails while torturing him to get him to betray his fellow resistance fighters.
If you examine my "censoring" reviewer style, you will recognize that my treatment of the books shared some common characteristics. To point out the "bad" parts of a book to a "selection" censor, I generally did not look at the book as a whole but instead focussed on isolated pieces or incidents from the books and dealt with them out of context. Some "alerting" words I used, such as "graphic," lack precision while being highly loaded with connotative meanings.
It is easy to be a "censoring" reviewer. One need only approach each book with a checklist of "no-nos": sex, language (i.e. profanity), inappropriate behaviour (i.e. poor role models), violence, and witchcraft and the occult (and you can add many other "objectionables").
But what are we attempting to do when we review a book? The three key words are "review a book." A reviewer reads the entire book and reviews the entire book, not just selected passages. To place warnings in a review about certain aspects of a book's contents is not to review a book, it is to label the book. Such labelling skews the review by inflating the work's supposed "flaws" at the expense of its virtues. The part of the review that will be remembered and acted upon, certainly by the "selection" censor, is not the review's positive points but the label it bears.
Reviewers should not play that game. My own refusal to become a "censoring'' reviewer will not cause "selection" censors to disappear, but it will make their task more difficult. Perhaps, in having to meet some public controversy, the "selection" censors will discover that there are people - right in their own institutions and in the larger community - who not only believe that children and young adults should have open access to reading, viewing and listening materials but are also prepared to come forward and defend materials that are challenged.
Dave Jenkinson argues that a review's references to possibly offensive aspects of a book enable the "silent" censor to eliminate books from consideration for acquisition. Although both reviewers and librarians selecting books for their collections will be obliged to examine their consciences, there is a case to be made for the inclusion of such references in book reviews.
The problems inherent in book selection for children and adolescents are often compounded for school librarians, who may be struggling with a shortage of funds for book acquisitions (library budgets of a few hundred dollars are not unheard of), lack of time (most of those in smaller schools must assume some classroom teaching duties), and the possibility of intervention by "authority censors," which Jenkinson raises. These librarians, with all their problems, are dancing as fast as they can, and they don't need surprises. They are the ones who can make judicious use of the "implicit warnings" to which he objects.
Librarians must be confident that they can defend the decision to include any title in their collections or be prepared to back off and remove a book - and removing a book is doubly undesirable where budget constraints are pinching already. A favourable review with an implicit warning does not say to selectors, "Don't buy this book!" but it will alert them to read it and perhaps to consult classroom teachers on ways to use it effectively.
If an administrator should come and question a certain title's inclusion in the collection, how nice for the librarian to be able to point out the qualities that balance any discomfort an isolated passage may cause. (Most administrators will accept the librarian's judgment and go on to the next crisis on their agenda.) And being prepared will certainly strengthen the position of the librarian if a book is more seriously challenged.
One must agree with Jenkinson that there are selectors who will use implicit warnings to keep their collections free of any book that could occasion criticism, no matter how good it might be otherwise. They are, one hopes, relatively few in number, and it seems almost pointless to set them up to purchase a book which they will then feel compelled to withdraw.
A favourite argument used by those who wish to censor books for young people suggests that information is dangerous because it may be misused (commonly expressed in the notion that providing information on birth control to young people will cause them to become promiscuous). It seems ironic that in opposing censorship we could be, in effect, using a similar argument - some librarians will misuse certain information about a book, so we should therefore not make it available.
CM subscribers may, like this writer, fully agree with Jenkinson that we are obliged to fight censorship but still prefer to have implicit warnings included in reviews where they are warranted. Perhaps readers can contribute their own views to this debate!
Dave Jenkinson teaches courses in children's literature and adolescent literature in the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba. He has reviewed juvenile fiction and non-fiction for a number of publications for the past twenty years.
Pat Bolger recently retired from a career as a teacher and librarian in a number of Ontario high schools. She writes book reviews for CM, Reviewing Librarian and Ontario History.
The Canadian Library Association (CLA) has launched its World Wide Web site to provide online access to a wealth of information of interest to both CLA members and others in the library and information services community.
The site provides information arranged in the following main categories:
Membership information (including forms), awards and scholarships information, and the complete CLA Publication and Microfilm Catalogues are just a few of the things that can be located at the site.
In addition to the launch of the main CLA site, a website is also being launched for the 1997 CLA Conference to be held in Ottawa, Ontario. As well, the Association's five divisions web sites are:
From the NBNSOFT Content Awards Ejournal
From the NOVAE GROUP Teachers Networking for the Future
The study compared the work of 500 students in fourth-grade and sixth-grade classes in seven urban school districts (Chicago, Dayton, Detroit, Memphis, Miami, Oakland, and Washington, DC) with and without online access. Results show significantly higher scores on measurements of information management, communication, and presentation of ideas for experimental groups with online access than for control groups with no online access.
The report offers evidence that using Scholastic Network and the Internet can help students become independent, critical thinkers, able to find information, organize and evaluate it, and then effectively express their new knowledge and ideas in compelling ways."
You can read the entire report at:
Starting on February 17, and continuing for two weeks, the more than 900 branches of McDonald's Restaurants of Canada will give away free to their customers copies of the first issue of True North Comics, The Halifax Explosion. One million copies of the comic book will be handed out in every part of Canada - 750,000 in English edition and 250,000 in French. A further three True North Comics will be given away by McDonald's during the course of 1997.
The Halifax Explosion the first of four comic books to be released in 1997, is being issued to help celebrate Heritage Day (February 17). The comic book tells the story of one man's bravery on December 6, 1917, just before the city of Halifax was devastated by the worst man-made explosion in the world to that date.
McClelland & Stewart and The CRB Foundation recognize that many Canadians of all ages have little idea just how extraordinary the history of their own country really is. True North Comics will captivate them with vibrantly illustrated, dramatic and historically accurate stories about some thrilling moments and fateful adventures from our past.
The next three comics in the True North series are: The Man Behind the Mask, about the night in 1959 when Montreal Canadiens' goalie Jacques Plante first put on a mask and changed the face of hockey forever; NITRO! which tells the groundbreaking story of one young man recruited in China for the highly dangerous work of building the Canadian Pacific Railway through the Rocky Mountains; and Discovering Dinosaurs, which shows Joseph Tyrrell's amazing discovery of dinosaur fossils in the badlands of Alberta in 1884.
Copyright © 1997 the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
The Manitoba Library Association
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