Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Nonfiction: Learn to Speak Dance

Dancing queen Anne-Marie Williams has a wonderfully open, inclusive approach to dance. She starts with movement: Dance, as she puts it, is just a mashup of everyday movement and your imagination. Your instrument is the human body, and your job as a dancer is to find out what it can do!

Within the pages of this book, judgement, self-consciousness and embarassment are forbidden. Instead, use the prompts and and tips to learn how to move in a way that speaks to your unique rhythms and heart. If you weren't interested in dance before, you will be by the time you're done reading!

For extra inspiration, Williams has included video recommendations that span dance styles from ballet to b-boy (breakdancing, apparently, is so out!) For those with America's Best Dance Crew dreams, there are tips for assembling a your crew: business tips to help you go bigtime, and practical info on how to work with the behind the scenes folks who make performances go.

It helps that this excellent information is packaged up into a retro-styled, glossy tome weighing in at a respectable 96 pages. The sharp art-deco palette and squared-off art perfectly illustrate the balance of precision and creativity that's needed to carry off a dance. This is a wonderful example of art and text working together to make a finished product that pops.

For kids or teens who can't help wiggling and jiggling along to the music, this book might just be the catalyst that propels them into a full fledged dance career. It certainly made me want to kick up my heels!

Grades 6-12
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Fiction: Floors

Groundbreaking author Patrick Carman takes a break from his mixed-media experiments with this entertaining romp through the secrets of the Whippet Hotel.

Ten year old Leo is the son of the Whippet's janitor, and he knows ever crack and cranny in the hotel: or so he thinks. As his father's right hand man, Leo loves being sent on urgent errands to keep the hotel running smoothly. There's just one problem: Merganzer Whippet, the eccentric creator of the hotel, has gone missing. In fact, he's been gone for exactly one hundred days when something amazing happens.

While returning from a high priority duck mission (don't ask!) Leo finds a small purple box tucked away where only he will find it. The box is from Mr. Whippet, and it contains cryptic instructions: apparently, there are four boxes for Leo to find, two days to do it in, and only one other person may be recruited as a helper. What could this possibly mean? What's in the boxes, where will the clues lead, and why, exactly, should Leo bring a duck!?!

Kids will enjoy the fast-paced ride as Leo and his friend unravel the mystery of the boxes, finding hidden floors, secret elevators and brain-boggling puzzles as they go. There's a good reason for the breakneck pace: the greatest mystery of all - Mr. Whippet's disappearance - is waiting for the boys at the end of the clues!

Boys in particular will identify with the goodnatured Leo. The slapstick humour and the hotel's amazing contraptions seal the deal: this is a fun, fast read for middle grade kids!

Grades 5-7

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Nonfiction: Art Panels, Bam! Speech Bubbles, Pow!: writing your own graphic novel

This solid installment in the Writer's Toobox series covers the basics of how to craft your own graphic novel. Readers who are ready to make the jump to creation can use this title as a starting point, but may need to consult more detailed works as well.

The simple text is aimed at younger readers, who may be relatively inexperienced at reading graphic content. The clear, large-scale cartoons are designed to appeal to younger readers, and support rather than enhance the text information. Each full page spread includes a "tool", or tip, for writers: these tips are actually more like annotated steps that kids can follow during the creation process. The "getting started" exercises at the end of the book are particularly useful as prompts for those suffering from the dreaded writers' (or illustrators') block.

Again, this very simple title contains just the basics about creating a comic. Background info, such as "what is a graphic novel", is completely appropriate in this context: older readers with more graphic titles under their belts might find some introductory elements too obvious, and hunger for a meatier guide. Suggest this title for kids in grades 3-6 who are looking for a place to begin their graphic opus.

Grades 3-6
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Nonfiction: The Batman Handbook

I love that the author felt it necessary to include a warning at the front of this book: Batman is fictional, vigilante justice is illegal, and Batman himself would be a wanted criminal if he did, in fact, exist.

With that disclaimer out of the way, author Scott Beatty goes on to explain the basics of how to look, act, and fight crime just like everyone's favourite nocturnal hero.

Each of the five chapters covers a skill area, complete with clear, stylized graphics that support the more technical points of the text. Although the illustrations are clearly more utilitarian than decorative, readers will appreciate the visual additions.

Tips on training a sidekick will be particularly useful for those with younger siblings, but parents might want to keep tabs on the reader when he or she reaches the section on rappeling down buildings, or swinging round flagpoles. The entire chapter covering fighting skills is carefully organized to focus on defensive tactics (e.g. breaking a chokehold, disarming a gunman).

Chapters four (Detective Skills) and five (Escape Skills) include tantalizing subsections on collecting blood samples, withstanding a poison kiss, and extinguishing an inferno. I mean, really, what kid doesn't need to know this sort of stuff?

With its high-profile hero and bite-sized chapters, this utility manual is perfect for nonfiction fans or graphic novel fans looking for a text-based experience. It's also an excellent format for group reading, with plenty of opportunites to test out the more practical instructions. Just don't blame the author if you run into trouble while taking out a roomful of goons. Remember, he warned you!


Grades 5-8

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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Nonfiction: Witches! The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem

The story of Salem's witch hunts is mysterious, compelling, and horrifying. In the late seventeenth century, the Puritan inhabitants of Salem town were caught up in a whirlwind of fear and accusations of witchcraft. The resulting witch hunt took more than 20 lives, and ruined countless others.

Author Rosalyn Schanzer tells the true story of the accusations and trials in Salem and the surrounding towns. She uses many primary sources, and the story is always referenced back to documents and realia from the time period.

This would be a fantastic book for a class study (although the topic is definitely not on the Canadian curriculum). The transparent structure of the book gives kids a very clear idea of how narrative writing is related to research, and the length (144 pages, with woodcuts) is short enough to welcome kids who are new to the narrative nonfiction format. National Geographic is always a forward thinking publisher, and the QR code in the back of the book adds appeal for readers who come with their smartphone in hand.

With details that horrify and captivate at the same time, even reluctant readers would find this book accessible, interesting, and worthy of discussion.

Nonfiction (narrative)
Ages 9-14
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Nonfiction:The Monstrous Book of Monsters

Kids who love all things monstrous will be captivated by Candlewick's newest nonfiction title. The gruesome, intricately detailed pages are packed with information about monsters, including anatomy, monster spotting, and identifying a home infestation.

Part utility manual, the latter half of the book is a guide on how to avoid contact with the more dangerous varieties of monster. If all else fails, consult the book's section on defensive tactics (hint: under the bed is NOT a safe place) or resort to the ultimate solution of capture.

Kids will spend hours poring over the tiny flaps and sneaky jokes: grownups should get ready to be regaled with zillions of revolting monster facts and trivia tidbits. A great read for boys, and lovers of nonfiction.

Ages 7-11
Click here to check out the Port Moody Public Library's catalogue!