Retold and illustrated by Mindy Dwyer.
Seattle, WA: Alaska Northwest Books, 1997.
32pp., cloth, $15.95US.
Grades preschool - 2 / Ages 4 - 7.
Review by Valerie Nielsen.
"This is an old tale of love and the way things came to be ... back in the days when Coyote had magic powers." So begins Mindy Dwyer's Coyote in Love, a story about that ultimate trickster and mischievous hero of native American folklore. Instead of making mischief, however, poor Coyote is captivated by a beautiful blue star. In search of his lovely star, he travels to the top of a mountain. There he stretches toward the heavens, begging the radiant blue star to become his wife. Alas, she rejects his love and thrusts him back to earth where he crashes into the mountain top so hard that nothing remains but a gaping hole. Coyote's heart is broken, his paws are blue, and he cries blue tears. Soon his blue tears fill up the great hole in the mountain top. It is in this way, so the story tells readers, that the clear blue lake which today is called Crater Lake came to be.
According to the author's notes, Coyote in Love is based on a story told by Coquelle Indian storyteller Susan Walgamott. Although it is slightly disappointing to see Coyote as the victim of a foolish infatuation rather then a wily perpetrator of mischief, this retelling of a Northwest Coyote legend is exceptionally appealing. Dwyer's bright, whimsical water-colours are combined with a striking use of stylized patterns and simple shapes. Coyote in Love is fun to read because the author has sprinkled a perfectly paced text with words of different colours, shapes and textures which often dance or leap unexpectedly across the page. Mindy Dwyer's first children's book should prove a valuable addition to the folklore collection in school libraries. Whether chosen by a beginning reader or by a parent or teacher as a read-aloud, Coyote in Love will provide an enjoyable introduction to one of North American's most popular legendary characters.
Valerie Nielsen is teacher-librarian at Bairdmore Elementary School in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
William Roy Brownridge.
Victoria, BC: Orca Publishers, 1997.
32 pp., cloth, $16.95.
Grades preschool - 3 / Ages 4 - 8.
Review by Dave Jenkinson.
When I was a boy growing up on the prairies, hockey was the most important thing in my life. I had a crippled leg and foot, so I couldn't wear skates. But that didn't matter. I could play goal in my moccasins, so my teammates called me Moccasin Danny.In The Moccasin Goalie, readers/listeners first met Danny, Petou, and Anita and learned how Danny, along with his two friends, became members of the Wolves. In The Final Game, Brownridge continues the story of their season. Initially, the trio had been well accepted, but, as the hockey season progressed, whenever the Wolves lost, the team, led by Travis, their best forward, blamed the threesome for the loss. When Coach Matteau chastises Travis, he retaliates by no longer passing the puck either to Anita or Petou. On the day before the championship match against the league's best team, Danny's brother Bob, a star left-winger for the Toronto Maple Leafs, returns home to rest an injured shoulder. Coach Matteau invites Bob to the team's practice where Bob assesses the Wolves. While the team members individually possess the requisite skills, Bob questions whether they can "play as a team." When the final game goes into sudden-death overtime, Bob provides advice to Travis which leads to the winning goal and team harmony.
Our hockey team was called the Wolves. I joined the team late in the season, along with my friends Petou and Anita. Petou was small but fast. Anita, who could play as well as any boy, was the first girl to join the league.
Again, Brownridge's paintings contribute significantly to the story's overall impact. In particular, his double page spreads of the hockey action capture the drama of the game while his use of colour recreates the eye-dazzling brightness that can be found on clear winter days. Smoke rising vertically from chimneys reminds readers of the coldness of prairie winters. As in Moccasin Goalie, only the presence of horse drawn vehicles and a steam locomotive alerts youngsters to the fact that the setting is not contemporary.
While the story's outcome is somewhat predictable, young readers/listeners will still respond most positively to Danny's latest hockey adventure.
Dave Jenkinson teaches children's and adolescent literature courses at the Faculty of Education, University of Manitoba.
Jan Bourdeau Waboose. Illustrated by Karen Reczuch.
Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press, 1997.
Unpaginated, cloth, $15.95.
Grades 1 - 4 / Ages 5 - 9.
Review by Valerie Nielsen.
Like Jan Bourdeau Waboose's first picture book, Where Only the Elders Go - Moon Lake Loon Lake, published in 1994, "Morning on the Lake" reflects the author's deep respect and love for her natural surroundings and for her people's traditions. The author is a Nishinawbe Ojibway whose writing aims to convey the Native way of life. "What I would like people to see is that Indian people are proud, family-oriented people respectful of all and very, very spiritual." In Morning on the Lake, a series of three linked stories, an Ojibway grandfather, Mishomis, and his young grandson, Noshen, set out in a birchbark canoe one misty morning. Together in the early morning stillness, they watch a pair of loons and are rewarded by seeing the male loon perform his territorial dance. In the second story, "Noon", the boy and his grandfather climb a rocky cliff and are visited by an eagle whose presence, Mishomis explains, "... is a sign of honour and wisdom. As the Great Eagle is a proud protector of our people, I am a proud Mishomis of my Noshen." The final story, entitled "Night", takes place deep in the woods where the boy and his grandfather venture so that Noshen may see the night animals. Here the pair encounter a pack of timber wolves, but Mishomis' wisdom and courage are transmitted to Noshen, and he is able to overcome his fear and stand his ground in the yellow-eyed gaze of the leader. Accomplished illustrator Karen Reczuch, whose previous books include The Dust Bowl, winner of the 1997 IODE Book Award, and Just Like New, winner of the 1996 Amelia Frances Howard-Gibbon Award, has once again created, with meticulous attention to detail, breathtakingly realistic illustrations. Her knowledge and love of the northern bush country and her respect for its wild inhabitants are evident in each of her watercolour illustrations.
Waboose has chosen to write her story in the first person and in the present tense, perhaps to achieve a greater sense of immediacy and realism. Unfortunately the author's descriptive style and urge to convey her message sometimes overcome the young narrator's voice. In consequence, Waboose's text does not live up to the realism of Reczuch's illustrations. Given the length of the book, reading all three stories to a young listener at one sitting might prove daunting. The reader would be advised to treat each of the three parts of this narrative as a separate read-along and to enjoy the gentle pace and stunning illustrations in an unhurried way.
Recommended with reservations.
Valerie Nielsen is teacher-librarian at Bairdmore Elementary School in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Red Deer, AB: Red Deer College Press, 1997.
160pp., paper, $9.95.
Grades 7 - 9 / Ages 12 -14.
Review by Harriet Zaidman.
Sharon knew this was not normal. Playing with paper dolls was certainly not something to write down on a class hobby list, but what else was she supposed to do with her time? If she watched TV, she had to sit next to Uncle Bert and watch hockey. She didn't have brothers or sisters, and she'd never been good at making friends. Other kids seemed so different. They were always dashing off toward the horizon, shouting and laughing as they moved on to whatever it was they had to do. Sharon couldn't remember a time when she had something to look forward to.
Sharon Frejer is an eighth grader who has never felt like a normal kid. She is the only child of a teenage mother who is trapped in low-paying jobs. Mother and daughter are an embarrassment to their family, and they have moved from one uncle's house to another across the country in an effort to start anew and stay solvent. All of these happenings have contributed to Sharon's low self-esteem and solitary activity. She tries to hide from the world through books and paper dolls and by draping her hair over her face and looking downward all the time.
The move to a new school proves to be a positive one, though not without its rocky moments. An eccentric classmate, Fern, befriends Sharon, and Sharon and a boy who is also an outcast become friends. Richard is an aboriginal who lives in a foster home and who is frequently in trouble at school. Fern helps Sharon develop self-confidence while Sharon helps Richard expose a teacher who expresses racist sentiments. At the same time, Sharon is dealing with a boorish uncle at home.
Sharon and Richard are stronger individuals at the end of the story as is Sharon's mother who decides to go back to school so she can get out of the cycle of poverty. Sharon's uncle learns to respect his family, and life looks brighter in the Frejer household. Beth Goobie has written a believable, smoothly paced book for young adolescents. Sharon's low self-esteem and need for friendship are problems experienced by most teens. The story's plot is not complicated but has enough subplots to mirror both the home and school life with which most teens deal. The characters are realistic, as is the dialogue. Sharon's flashbacks to her younger years and negative experiences with her other uncle are frightening and make her personality problems understandable.
Sharon's experiences demonstrate to the reader who may feel overwhelmed by personal problems that these problems can be overcome. Sharon does not do anything momentous; she just stands up for her rights and those of the people for whom she cares. She finds her inner strength, and it has a positive effect on her mother and on Richard. She no longer has to cover her face in shame and look down as she goes through life.
Beth Goobie has written a very warm and useful book for teens who need encouragement to find their inner strength and face their problems head on.
Harriet Zaidman is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg.
Toronto, ON: Alfred A. Knopf Canada, 1997.
208pp., cloth, $19.95.
Grades 6 - 10 / Ages 12 - 16.
Review by Dave Jenkinson.
Reviewed from Uncorrected Proofs
"It was the perfect gesture the Boston patriots made when they threw those chests of tea into the Boston harbour. The perfect gesture!" Papa had slammed his fist down on the heavy wooden table. "The King should know that we cannot, we will not, tolerate taxes on tea or any other goods. If we may not send our elected representatives to the Parliament in Great Britain that makes decisions about our lives, if we are not to be treated like proper British subjects, then, say I, we will no longer be British subjects." He had pounded so hard on the table that the dishes had bounced on the dresser across the room.In this piece of historical fiction which revolves around the American Revolution, Lunn provides a powerful picture of the effects of war on innocent civilians who are caught in the middle of the conflict. Thirteen-year-old motherless Phoebe Olcott is deeply concerned in May of 1775 when her father, Jonathan, announces his intentions to join the Patriots, especially when her beloved cousin Gideon, 17, declares that he will enlist in the Loyalist forces. After her father is killed in one of the revolution's early battles, Phoebe is taken in by Gideon's parents. In the fall of 1777, Phoebe's world is severely shaken when Gideon secretly returns to his community, only to be captured and hanged as a traitorous spy by members of the Patriots' Committee of Public Safety. A distraught Phoebe finds a message from Gideon in the hollow tree, their "mailbox" in more innocent times. While she refuses to take sides in the conflict, Phoebe, out of a sense of loving loyalty to Gideon, decides to honour his message's request that she deliver a coded message to Fort Ticonderoga, a daunting journey of 50 miles through trackless wilderness and mountains. Finally reaching the fort, Phoebe finds it deserted, but there she is befriended by a young man, Jem Morrissay, who invites her to join a group of Loyalists who are making their way to the nearest British fort some 100 miles away in Canada. Among the party, Phoebe discovers Gideon's parents and his younger sister, Anne, who bitterly accuses her of being responsible for Gideon's death. As the Loyalists make their arduous trip northward through rugged, snow covered terrain, they are robbed by soldiers from both sides and encounter measles, then a potentially fatal illness for children. Phoebe's greatest challenge comes when the band of refugees captures a young man whom they believe to be a patriot spy. Fearful that this person will suffer the same fate as her cousin, Phoebe helps him escape, knowing that her action means she will have to complete the journey alone. Despite the trials and sorrows which seem to dog Phoebe's every footstep, Lunn ultimately provides her with a happy ending, and the "Epilogue" will offer a delightful surprise to readers of Lunn's Shadow in Hawthorn Bay.
"If it be necessary," he had finished slowly and unexpectedly softly, "every American who cares for the rights of free men must perforce go to war."
Like the best of historical fiction, Lunn imbeds her plot and theme in unobtrusive historical detail while providing particulars which make the period come alive to all of the reader's senses.
Dave Jenkinson teaches children's and adolescent literature courses at the Faculty of Education, University of Manitoba.
Toronto, ON: Napoleon Publishing, 1997.
165 pp., paper, $8.95.
Grades 7 - 11 / Ages 13 - 16.
Review by Mary Thomas.
"It's so different now from the way it was. I mean, the way it will be," he said. "In my time all the trees are gone. Only this hasn't changed." He jerked his thumb at the stones behind them.David is a 17-year-old Canadian boy who has been uprooted from home after the death of his mother and taken to Wales by a father whom he believed to have deserted them. After a serious quarrel with his father, David storms out of the house, steals a motor bike from a friend, crashes it, and wakes up in sixth-century Britain. Bear is the young man of this era who finds him, takes him back to his village and persuades his mentor and guardian to look after him. From this point, the story follows the fairly preditable route of David's adapting to the hardships of life in these times where his gift for music, despised by his father, is recognized and encouraged, but where he is expected to work at both it and learning how to defend himself and the village. This mixture of tough love and understanding, which was so notably absent in his own times, makes David grow up to the point that, when the village is attacked by the Saxons, he joins the other young men as they pursue the marauders in the hopes of getting back the prisoners, including a girl with whom he has fallen in love, but who is betrothed to another young man of the tribe. In the ensuing fight, David is hit on the head and wakes up in hospital, a week after his accident.
"It's already as old as time," said Bear. "I'm glad there's something I know that doesn't change. But I can't imagine living in a world that wasn't green. Still, your world has all the other things you've told me about ..." His voice trailed away. He shaded his eyes to gaze at the pale wafer of moon floating in the western sky. "Like the men who will walk ... there."
David grinned. "That's your favourite of all my tales, isn't it? That and the dinosaurs."
The unusual twist to this story comes when David, in an attempt to make sense of his experiences, talks to a retired professor of history who not only persuades him that his experience was real (he actually can play, and play well, a small Welsh harp), but ties Bear and the lads of the village to the story of King Arthur, and the development of the Round Table (The ancient Celtic word for Bear is Artos.). This information, which comes as a surprise just at the end of the book, adds depth and interest to the story and helps David both to accept his removal from the people whom he had come to love and appreciate and to start to get his "real" life in order.
While the book is a bit sterotypical, David and Bear are interesting boys, and readers will care that they should work out their salvation satisfactorily.
Mary Thomas began her working life as a chemist but took the opportunity of a parenthood break to switch to a career in Kiddie Lit, first by selling children's books, and now as a library technician working in two very different Winnipeg schools.
Toronto: Groundwood, 1997.
179pp., paper, $9.95.
Grades 7 and up / Ages 12 and up.
Review by Cheryl Archer.
Under the blue starry night he sat on Earl's steps and waited for her. There were ancient whisperings in the cosmos. The full moon shone in a beautiful way on the abandoned LaFreniere cabin, on its soft silvery wood. This is what I've learned about waiting, he thought. If you wait with all of your senses, you don't wait empty.
Then light from Earl's kitchen flooded in behind him. She came out, wrapped in a long quilt, her hair gleaming down her back like the sheen of an animal diving under water.
They walked up together. Medicine Bluff irradiated a smoky haze. Halfway up, poplar leaves clicked, old woman's tongues. Near the crest of the hill, she turned. Cradled in her arms, glowing with moon, were her father's ashes.
She opened the box and set it down on the sage-smelling land. In the space of four heartbeats, her left hand came away, pale with the powder of her father's bones. She made a fist, held it high, danced in a circle, threw back her head, and howled like a wolf.
The enchanting and spiritual journey of two 18-year-olds who must confront their ghosts of memory and mysterious visions when spirits draw them to five miles of prairie along Fatback Lake in Manitoba's Lacs des Placottes Valley. This land has been in the LaFreniere family for generations, since the very first LaFreniere, a Métis trapper and buffalo hunter, settled there. However, Lonny LaFreniere does not want his father to pass the land on to him. Every since Lonny, at the age of eleven, dug up skeletons from Medicine Bluff, the Indian burial mound on the property, he's been haunted by dreams and guilt. Two nights after he uncovered those bones, his mother died. Even though Lonny knows a weak heart killed her, deep down he fears that unearthing the bones caused her death. When Lonny's father decides to sell the land, Lonny is re-visited by dreams of his mother whispering to him, "Let the spirits dance. The land will wake up and tell you things." He is also shocked to discover the property has been willed to Alexandra Sinclair, a city girl.
Alexandra is just as surprised when she receives this gift of land - a legacy from her recently deceased father, a white man she's never met except through the occasional letter. At first she hates the gift and doesn't want it; but when Alex has dreams and waking visions of her dead Cree grandfather and another spirit, Old Raven Man, calling to her to be brave and face the mystery, she visits her property. She not only finds a lake, a cabin and land, but also Lonny who just might be the special person her Grandfather once told her to watch for - the person with buffalo medicine. Together, as they share their stories and face their pasts, Lonny and Alex begin to understand themselves, as well as each other.
A densely-layered, complicated plot, with the story narrated in third-person, past tense, and told alternately by the two central characters, Lonny and Alexandra, this novel will appeal to the more sophisticated readers in junior and senior high. Even though the style is complex and the mood is sometimes sombre, there is the message of hope and love that is often prevalent in Brooks' books. Another underlying theme is that of respect - respecting each other and the land. According to a letter sent to Alexandra from her father, Earl McKay, "...we are all guardians of the land on this sacred planet." Alexandra, Lonny and the many characters who surround them are well-developed with realistic, vivid dialogue. The interior monologues of the main characters ring true, as does the portrayal of their social encounters with other young adults. The spirit world of First Nations people is treated with reverence and adds greatly to the texture and mystique of the story. This is a fine novel that will leave readers embracing nature and honouring the spirits of the ancestors. Another splendid book by award-winning Manitoba author Martha Brooks.
Cheryl Archer, a student in the Faculty of Education, University of Manitoba, is also the Manitoba Officer for the Canadian Children's Book Centre.
Toronto, ON: Annick, 1997.
160pp, paper, $9.95.
Grades 7 and up / Ages 12 and up.
Review by Cheryl Archer.
I don't think abortion is completely wrong. For some people it might be what they have to do. Maybe they can't provide for a child in any way and, like in my case, they were using birth control and got pregnant by accident. Then maybe the right decision for that person is abortion or adoption. If my daughter came to me and said she was pregnant, I would tell her that I would support and respect any decision she makes about the pregnancy. Whatever she wants, I'll do everything I can to help her. I just want her to make the decision that she feels is best for her and her baby. I was taught all the right values by my mom and I'm going to do my best to teach my daughter all the right values too.Sexually active young women are often shocked when they find themselves facing an unplanned pregnancy. Initially, most worry about how their families, boyfriends and friends will react. Some teens feel so overwhelmed and scared, they even consider suicide. Dear Diary, I'm Pregnant offers teenagers guidance and support by providing the stories of 10 teens who have had to deal with the tough issues surrounding unplanned pregnancy. Using the first-person, the girls talk about getting pregnant and their experiences in opting for abortion, adoption or keeping their babies.
The book's genesis occurred in the early 1990's when several of Englander's acquaintances found themselves facing unplanned pregnancies. When books offering information on the choices available for young women couldn't be found, Englander set out to develop such a book herself. All across North America, she distributed flyers which asked teenage girls who had been pregnant to come forward and be interviewed. Ultimately, she spoke to nearly forty young women from many cultures, races and socio-economic backgrounds. The ten interviews included in Dear Diary, I'm Pregnant offer a balance amongst the options for pregnant teens: adoption, abortion or motherhood, with no one choice being advocated over the others.
Even though none of the young women in these interviews come from an "ideal family" in which their parents were happily married, financially stable or non-abusive, Englander makes clear that teen pregnancy happens in all social strata. While the past twenty years has seen an increase in the percentage of young women who have become sexually active, in many countries, Canada included, the pregnancy rate has not kept pace, a situation Englander attributes to such factors as public support for the use of contraceptives and the legalization of abortion.
Dear Diary, I'm Pregnant will be of great interest to many teens. Not only will it be helpful for those facing an unwanted pregnancy, but it will also increase young people's awareness of the realities and consequences of getting pregnant so young. The book's "Preface" and "Introduction" discuss the research behind the book, the myths of teen pregnancy, as well as the current statistics. The unique way in which the interviews are presented via the teens' actual words, incorrect grammar unchanged, gives the book an authentic tone to which many young people will relate. On the first page of each interview, Englander provides a sidebar that offers a brief introduction to that girl's particular story. The inclusion of black-and-white sketches of running shoes, cans of pop and young women, as well as the hand-written names of the girls as headings for each interview, gives a youthful feel to the book. Finally, the "Afterword," "You're Pregnant, Now What?" written by a nurse, provides superb practical advice which ranges from dealing with the initial shock and getting help to examining all the options. There is also an excellent section on coping with stress, as well as learning and growing.
Even though many of the girls commented on their boyfriends during the interviews, the viewpoints of these young men were not represented other than through the girls' eyes. Interviews with the "fathers" might make suitable material for a companion volume - a book that would certainly help teen boys cope with this stressful time and assist girls in understanding what the fathers of their unborn children are experiencing.
Dear Diary, I'm Pregnant covers an important and timely topic, one that must be shared with all young people. Adults, too, will benefit from this book by perhaps becoming more sympathetic and understanding caregivers to teens. For adults wanting to help girls become strong, confident young women, and perhaps avoid the experience of an unplanned pregnancy, Jeanette Gadeberg's Raising Strong Daughters provides creative ideas to teach girls inner confidence, strength and know-how to get ready for adulthood.
Cheryl Archer, a student in the University of Manitoba's Faculty of Education and Manitoba Officer of the Canadian Children's Book Centre, is the author of the children's non-fiction title Snow Watch.
Burnstown, ON: General Store Publishing House, 1997.
174pp., board, $19.95.
Grades 10 - 12 / Ages 16 and up.
Review by Ian Stewart.
The departure airport at Grace Harbour, Newfoundland holds a prominent spot in aviation history. Out of twenty transoceanic flights attempted from Grace Harbour in the 1926-1937 period, eleven were successful, four were unaccounted for, two crashed on take-off, two aborted their flights for various reasons, and one crashed off the coast of Ireland with the pilot being rescued ...
The safety record for Grace Harbour was better than from many other departure points. In this adventurous era of the late 1920s and early 1930s many airmen and women were lost at sea. Not only were their aircraft, engines and instruments crude by present standards, but many of the crews lacked formal training in instrument flying. The probable cause of the many disappearances at sea was loss of control at night in the turbulent conditions causing a deadly spiral dive with possible structural failure.
To American author Tom Wolfe, the jet test-pilots of the 1960's and the original astronauts of the Mercury space program were made of the "right stuff". In the 1990's, the pilots of the F-18s, Stealth Fighters, and Harrier jump-jets became the "Top Guns" youthful aficionados want to emulate.
Canadian Erroll Boyd and his fellow "fly by seat of your pants" adventurers of the 1920's and 1930's did not have the massive government and corporate supports pilots have today. They only had courage, daring, and, more often than not, foolish bravado. Smyth's statistics of trans-Atlantic flights record that, of the 90 airplanes that tried to cross prior to 1937, only 13 got to where they were going, 30 got across some way, and 41 flyers lost their lives.
These men and women deserve proper historical recognition for their efforts. Boyd, a pioneering world record holder for long distance flights, has never been cited in the Canadian Who's Who, and his accomplishments are not mentioned in standard Canadian encyclopedias. It seems that until Smyth wrote this book, Boyd was a forgotten man in Canada.
Erroll Boyd once said, "Flying gets a hold of you and you can't keep away from it." It got hold of 20-year-old Erroll in 1912 and never let him go until his death in 1960. He received his World War I pilot training from Sir John Alcock, who, in 1919, became the first British pilot to fly non-stop across the Atlantic. In 1930, Erroll became the second British citizen and first Canadian to fly across the Atlantic.
He flew his plane, the Columbia, which, next to Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis, was the most famous plane of the decade, across the Atlantic on his first world record, a New York-Bermuda non-stop/return flight and then on a world record Washington-Haiti non-stop/return flight. Columbia was unfortunately destroyed in a fire in 1934.
Boyd knew all the greats of aviation's first generation of trans-Atlantic, long distance, and military fliers: Howard Hughes, Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart, Jimmy Dolittle, Billy Bishop and Claire Chenault. Like them, he was feted by the famous, lauded in the popular press, and had parades down main streets in his honour.
However, as Smyth tells the story, Boyd's fame did not translate into fortune; virtually all the prize money he collected went to pay the flights' heavy debts, a common occurrence among many of the early fliers whose only residual wealth consisted of memories of past glories.
Boyd was a dreamer, a promoter and, perhaps, even a bit of a scamp. He had a remarkable zest for life. He wrote songs and one, Dreamer, even became a popular hit in the 1920's. He was an early type of paparazzi and had a taste for gin. Even though there always seemed to be new adventures on the horizon and new companies with which to work, Boyd had little success after 1930. While the bailiff was not a stranger at the family's door, the Boyd's got through the hard parts and, it seems, had a pretty good time after all.
In 1940, his father wrote him, "For a man with some good brains, you continue to sell them for a poor income. Why so silly?" That's often the down-side of following dreams: no money; no security; no respect.
However, Smyth leaves it to his readers to decide whether Erroll Boyd made the better trade.
Ian Stewart, a Winnipeg Public Library Trustee and regular CM reviewer, also reviews for other Canadian publications.
Markham, ON: Pembroke, 1996.
128 pp., paper, $12.95.
Professional and Grades 10 - 12 / Ages 15 - 18.
Review by Willa Walsh.
Teachers can encourage students to read examples of the kind of writing they are being asked to produce. If students are writing film reviews, for example, they should read several reviews in newspapers and magazines. Ideally, they would read conflicting reviews of the same film. In developing revision criteria for their own reviews, students might note topics that frequently appear in film reviews, such as audience appeal, quality of acting, technical features and emotional impact. Students might note the structure of film reviews-the way they are effectively introduced and concluded and the authoritative voice that characterizes them. These features can easily become revision criteria for students' own reviews.Student Self-Assessment, authored by the Language Arts Supervisor of the Calgary Catholic School Board, is a very useful, accessible manual for students striving to improve their writing skills. It contains many checklists which guide writers by providing clear criteria for each different writing assignment-whether it be composing poetry, writing a business letter, or producing an expository essay.
The book's major strength is that it promotes involving students in their own evaluation and encourages them to set specific goals to improve their writing. It stresses that the teacher and the students are working together to make progress, and it gives ownership for this progress directly to students. This method of evaluating develops critical awareness in a positive, supportive environment and is very likely to increase competency. It is a much more effective method than a plethora of red marks and teacher corrections in the margins of a piece of writing over which a student has agonized - a method of evaluation that makes even the most assured writer cringe!
Another strength is that students can see exactly where they can make improvements - so often students have no idea why they received a low mark on an essay. Peer evaluation is also used, as well as small group discussions, to help identify areas needing attention. This approach promotes direct feedback as students read and comment upon each other's work, and it also addresses the variety of learning styles found in the classroom.
Chapters three and four are particularly useful as they concentrate on several critical aspects of good writing. Details are provided on using correct parallel structure; focusing techniques are described-such as the RAFTS method on page 47; the writer's voice is emphasized (p 50); and the importance of "showing not telling" in creative writing is also identified. Chapter four is full of good advice and lists of criteria for teachers and students to modify for their own use. Very sane observations are given in reference to writing in specific forms. Particular criteria are necessary for each specific form of writing, and the checklists and suggestions make this explicit. Students need to know and apply the right criteria. Often students are confused about the purpose, audience, and form of their writing. The author emphasizes that adaption, not adoption, is the aim of these checklists - suggesting that five to ten criteria work best in most situations.
The book's major weakness, the one which prevented a four star rating, is the use of examples which are supposed to have improved the writing but do not. Often weaker and less "powerful" than the original, they demonstrate that the author is not always following his own advice. This is a serious flaw as students may not be able to identify that the example provided is not a good one. For instance, on pages 16 & 17, the writing goes from being too sparse to too flowery-from no descriptors to descriptors which are repetitious and obsequious. On page 25, a strong opening statement is replaced with a wordy and unnatural one.
A lesser, but still quite annoying, fault is the overuse of the word "powerful." It appears on many pages (as well as in the subtitle of the book), and sometimes more than once on the same page! The author does not expand his own vocabulary enough-a criterion for good writing that appears in all self-evalutions. Students would do well to use the checklists, ideas, and excellent guidelines addressing specific types of writing and to ignore some of the examples.
Student Self-Assessment would be most effective with struggling writers who need pointed guidelines to improve their writing. Linear thinkers would appreciate the step-by-step approach to the complex task of writing well. Global thinkers may not find the checklists as useful as they often write well because they read a lot and pick up skills through a process of osmosis. The entire book uses current educational strategies - learning logs, responses to literature, etc., and all of these promote the critical thinking capabilites of students. This book makes writing a much more conscious process for students.
A good index and excellent blackline masters of the checklists (with permission to copy for classroom use) appear at the end of the book.
Willa Walsh is a teacher-librarian in McNair High School in Richmond, BC, and a member of the BCTLA Executive.
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