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Notes from a Children's Librarian: Back to School

This September book list tackles the theme of inclusion in a variety of different ways.

Our Children's Librarian columnist, Julie Booker, brings us a new view from the stacks every month.


Book Cover We Move Together

The first weeks of school are a great time to talk about how we are all connected. We Move Together, by Kelly Fritsch, Anne McGuuire and Eduardo Trejos, is an invitation to ponder this, particularly through the lens of diversity of movement. The first half of the book’s colourful, simple text shows people mobile in the community, some walking, using crutches, wheelchairs and other mobility aids. The reader is encouraged to look at the world, to ask questions and to solve problems, such as how a step might prevent someone from buying an ice cream. Sometimes solutions create other issues; banning straws, for example, discounts people who rely on straws to feed themselves. The second half of the book is informative and prosaic in terms of explaining ableism (believing only "normal" bodies are those with value), and accessibility issues, such as the StopGap Community Ramp project. It also highlights specific community activists helping to raise awareness. (Kindergarten to Grade 6)


Book Cover My Name is Saajin Singh

My Name is Sajaan Singh, by Kuljinder Kaur Brar, illustrated by Samrath Kaur, is a first-day-at-school story about sharing your name. In Punjabi, Sajaan’s name means "loving friend," but when Ms. Wilson pronounces it wrong, he doesn’t correct her. He thinks grown-ups never make mistakes and that maybe outside his house, his name is said a different way. His parents empower him to speak up, have pride in his name, and insist on proper pronunciation. (Kindergarten to Grade 3)


Book Cover The Penicl

The Pencil, by Susan Avingaq and Maren Vsetula, illustrated by Charlene Chua, might prompt a discussion about classroom resources. When Anaana leaves the iglu for the day to deliver a baby, her three children take out the tiny pencil from her special wooden box. They’ve been taught to use what they have wisely, practicing their letters on the ice window by drawing with their fingers. Their mother is the one who uses their one and only pencil, teaching the alphabet by writing on tea boxes or sugar bags, but boredom leads the children to use the precious pencil to draw caribou, seals and their family. Upon Anaana’s return, she can’t be mad at her children for putting the pencil to such good use. (Kindergarten to Grade 3)


Book Cover You Hold Me Up

You Hold Me Up, by Monique Gray Smith, illustrated by Danielle Daniel, holds a gentle message of healing and reconciliation, but this book could lead to the creation of a class "treaty"—how to treat fellow classmates during the coming year. “You hold me up when you are kind to me/when you share with me/when you learn with me.” Kindergarten friendly, but could be used up to Grade 3.


Book Cover Stanley at School

In Stanley at School, by Linda Bailey, illustrated by Bill Slavin, Stanley and his fellow canines get tired of waiting outside the school for "their people" and curiosity gets the better of them. Once inside, they discover what kids really do all day—eat and run around. After a visit to the principal’s office, they are escorted to the door, where they decide to repeat the experience the following day! This one could be used in a lesson on point of view. How would other creatures view a day at school? (Kindergarten to Grade 3).


Book Cover From Far Away

From Far Away, by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Saussan Aska, is based on a true story of Saussan’s coming to Canada from war-torn Lebanon at age five. This one builds empathy and encourages making connections. Saussan doesn’t like her new school because she can’t speak English and events leave her frustrated and scared. Her father explains that at least no one is going to start shooting at them. Over time, Saussan feels comfortable, so much so, that by Grade 2 she’s reading and her teachers wish she would talk less! (Kindergarten to Grade 3)


Book Cover More Than Words

More Than Words: Navigating the Complex World of Communication, by Valerie Sherrard and Natalie Hyde, illustrated by David Jardine, a nonfiction text, is a fantastic resource for teachers who want to scaffold speaking and listening lessons for the year. This book is broken down into: body language, talking tips, active listening and online communicating. My favourite part are the individual and group activities at the end of each chapter with challenges a teacher can use to specifically target skills. Under "Listening," for example, a game involves each person says a sentence with a predetermined secret word while the listener figures out the common word. Under "Talking Tips," there’s a game involving changing inflection, using the same three words. Under "Body Language," teams are invited to discuss their top “offensive” forms of body language. Under "Virtual Communications," there are games to help define fact vs opinion. Also very handy is the chart showing the difference between debates and arguments. Tips for speeches include a game where teams take turns discussing a topic and get demerit points for inserting words like “um,” “uh," and “like.” Also valuable is a long list of possible community circle questions: “If you could ask any one question and be guaranteed you would be given the true answer to it, what would your question be?” Or “Would it be a good or a bad thing if all the world’s wealth were evenly distributed?” (Grades 1 to 6)


Book Cover School Rules

School Rules, by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Dave Whammond, is about a girl who loves school so much she stays after hours, after the caretaker has gone and the lights go out. Cassandra plays with all her favourite school toys until her dad finds her and brings her home. The next day is Saturday, and when the frustrated girl finds school is closed, she goes to the Everything Store to buy a building complete with caretaker, principal and teacher. Cassandra’s school is delivered to her street, much to the chagrin of her neighbours and jealous classmates. (Kindergarten to Grade 3)


On her first day as teacher-librarian, Julie Booker was asked by a five-year-old if that was her real name. She's felt at home in libraries since her inaugural job as a Page in the Toronto Public Library. She is the author of Up Up Up, a book of short stories published by House of Anansi Press.

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