Earth Day

“Dear old world…You are very lovely, And I am glad to be alive in you.” – Lucy Maud Montgomery

Chief Dan George (1899 – 1981)

The beauty of the trees,
the softness of the air,
the fragrance of the grass,
speaks to me.

The summit of the mountain,
the thunder of the sky,
the rhythm of the sea,
speaks to me.

The faintness of the stars,
the freshness of the morning,
the dew drop on the flower,
speaks to me.

The strength of fire,
the taste of salmon,
the trail of the sun,
And the life that never goes away,
They speak to me.
And my heart soars.

“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.”- Rachel Carson

More quotations for Earth Day HERE

Books for Earth Day HERE

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The Power of Words and Stories

Two novels about coal-mining and feisty self-determination:

Knight, Mary. Saving Wonder. New York: Scholastic Press, 2016.
Twelve-year-old Curley Hines lives in the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky. Most of his relatives have died, his father in a coal mining accident and his mother and younger brother in a mud slide caused by the mine. So now he lives with his grandfather who – every week – gives him a new word to learn: 26 letters x 2 = 52 weeks and 52 new words every year.

Right from the first sentence, this debut novel is full of the joy of life: love, hope, and determination. And the power of words! Which is exactly what Curley needs to use when the mine announces their plans to blow the top of Red Hawk Mountain. Coal is needed and a new mine manager is resolute in his decision to expand operations. Curley and his best friend Jules – with the help with her new boyfriend, the mine manager’s son –  get together to oppose the destruction of their beloved home.
Each chapter in the story emphasizes one of Curley’s words and ends with a definition. The humour in the format is delightful and never feels overbearing or didactic, probably because of Curley’s spunk and his grandfather’s loving wisdom. This novel is highly recommended for readers 10 to 14 years old. [Appalachian Region; Coal mines and mining; Environmentalism; Friendship; Grandfathers; Kentucky; Orphans] 

Porter, Tracey. Billy Creekmore. New York: Joanna Cotler Books, 2007.
Ten-year-old Billy suffers the cruelties of life in an orphanage. Not enough food. Not enough warmth. And no love, at all. Everything changes, though, when an uncle and aunt claim him and take him off to live with them in a coal mining town in West Virginia. Billy’s spunk and love of storytelling, though, cause trouble when he gets involved with the union. This is 1905 and the mine managers are angry. So Billy runs away to join the circus and find the father who long ago abandoned him.
This modern-day Charles Dickens novel could also be compared toThe Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick. It is highly recommended for readers 9 to 14 years old. It would also make a wonderful read-aloud for a fifth grade class.  [Aunts and uncles; Circus; Coals and coal mining; Fathers and sons; Historical fiction; Honesty; Orphanages; Runaways; Self-reliance; West Virginia]

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Homeless in America

Strasser, Todd. No Place. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2014.
Dan, a high school baseball star, is dating Talia, a beautiful wealthy girl. But then Dan’s parents lose their jobs and their home. The family ends up in a shelter. What does life look like when you cannot afford to be part of the “cool” crowd? Can you hold onto your social life when you live in a tent city? Can you hold onto your hopes for a college scholarship? How does it feel to be one of the people to whom you once offered charity?

Strasser excels at writing young adult novels about modern social problems. This story is no exception. The main character’s best friend, Noah, is part of an educated well-to-do African-American family in the town of Median, and the story’s focus is on poverty among white middle class Americans.  The novel flows quickly and is told from the point of view of the main character whose voice is strong enough to sustain the interest of readers even during philosophical paragraphs about unemployment and homelessness in America today and repeated comparisons to life during the Great Depression as portrayed in The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck. 
Readers who enjoyed Alexandria of Africa by Eric Walters – a story of wealthy high school girl who learns about life for the less fortunate – will appreciate this 262-page young adult novel by a prolific American author. [Dating (Social customs); Homeless persons; Poverty]

More novels about modern social problems

More stories of poverty

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Coal Mining

Coal mining is starting again on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia.
The first underground coal mine opened on Cape Breton in 1720, almost 300 years ago. Now, after a 15-year break, it has started again.

Two Canadian picture books depict life long ago in the coal mines:

Carter, Anne Laurel. Out of the Deeps. Victoria, B.C.: Orca Book Publishers, 2008.
Young Savino’s school life is over. It is time for him to join his father down in the mines. On his first day, as he helps load the coal box pulled by Nelson and walks alone with the pit pony through the tunnels, his lantern goes out and he is left in pitch darkness. But Nelson knows the way and leads them safely to the surface. This suspenseful story, dramatically illustrated by Nicolas Debon, is based on the life of Savino Calibrese who was sent down into the Cape Breton mines when he was 12 years old. An afterward explains how the pit ponies spent their lives underground until machinery was introduced in the 1950s. This emotionally powerful and informative picture book is recommended for readers – and listeners – 8 years old and up. [Cape Breton Island (N.S.); Coal mines and mining; Fathers and sons; Historical fiction; Horses; Nova Scotia – History]

Wallace, Ian. Boy of the Deeps. Toronto: Douglas & McIntyre, [19–]; Groundwood Books reprint edition,  2005.
James is declared old enough to start working with his father. Down, down, a thousand feet down in a steel cage, they go to join the men in the dangerous depths of the Cape Breton mines. And there James experiences – for the first time – the risks faced by men who work under the ground. An emotionally moving picture book for readers 8 years old and up. [Cape Breton Island (N.S.); Coal mines and mining; Fathers and sons; HIstorical fiction; Nova Scotia – History]

Cape Breton’s Miners Museum


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You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.”
– Scott M. Peck, American psychiatrist and writer

Paulsen, Gary.  Fishbone’s SongNew York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2016.
There is a deep ache in all of Paulsen’s stories. But there is also an expansive love. The kind of love that recognizes we are all part of each other.  Even when we think we are alone, we are not truly alone.  This Side of Life, an autobiographical account of some of the author’s relationships with animals, expands on this theme.
Fishbone’s Song, however, is Paulsen’s most lyrically profound novel. A young boy, a foundling, grows up deep in the woods, raised by an an old man, a veteran of the Korean war, who teaches him much more than how to survive. He teaches him how to live with wisdom and honour.  And he teaches him the power of memories and stories. And that is the power of Gary Paulsen. He shows us that your story and my story are connected. And that we will only truly have lived when we see that we are all part of a larger story.  [Country life; Foundlings; Hunting; Nature stories; Old age; Self-reliance; Storytelling]

Read more about Paulsen’s books HERE

Find stories about the power of reading HERE

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” – Philip Pullman, British author

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Don’t Stop Questioning

“The important thing is not to stop questioning.”
Albert Einstein

Meltzer, Brad. I Am Albert Einstein. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers, 2014.
This small biography is part of the charming picture book series ‘Ordinary People Change the World’. Told from the first person point of view and illustrated in cartoon style by Christopher Eliopoulos, each volume provides an overview of a famous person while focusing on a specific character trait. In this story, the focus is on curiosity. Black and white photos of Einstein, a time line, and a bibliography conclude this biography recommended for readers 8 to 14 years old. [Einstein, Albert; Physicists]

Click HERE to find more great biographies.

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International Women’s Day

“Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.” – L.M. Montgomery in Anne of Green Gables

Stanley, Diane. Ada Lovelace: Poet of Science : the First Computer Programmer. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2016. 

What a brilliant biography! The style of writing is lively and humorous!  The illustrations by Jessica Hartland enhance the mood and extend the story.  Historical information, a bibliography, and a glossary are provided at the end of the book. Highly recommended for all ages. [Babbage, Charles; Lovelace, Ada King, Countess of; Mathematicians; Women computer programmers]

“I do not wish women to have power over men; but over themselves.” – Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein  

The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq by Jeanette Winter (Harcourt Children’s Books, 2005).

Alia Baker, a librarian in Iraq, hid books in her home before bombs and gunfire could destroy them; she hid more books in a building right beside the library, but then afraid that they would be nevertheless destroyed, being so close to the library, she hired a truck to move all thirty thousand books to the houses of friends farther away where they would be safe until the war was over.  This simple yet powerful biography will appeal to readers seven years old and up.

Viola Desmond Won’t Be Budged! by Jody Nyasha Warner (Toronto: Groundwood Books, 2010).

The story of an African Canadian who refused to give up her seat in a movie theatre and move to the balcony reserved for black patrons. This courageous act in Nova Scotia in 1946 started the move to end racial segregation in Canada. Illustrated by Richard Rudnicki and accompanied by additional historical information at the end, this picture book is recommended for readers 8 years old and up and could be compared to the story of Rosa Parks in America.

More Books about Girls and Women

“We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back.” – Malala Yousafzai

The Tree Lady: the True Story of How One Tree-loving Woman Changed a City Forever by H. Joseph Hopkins (New York: Beach Lane Books, 2013).
In the late 1800s, an American moved to San Diego in southern California. Kate Sessions decided her new city needed more greenery, so she planted hundred and hundreds of trees and taught countless people how to grow gardens. She became known as the Mother of Balboa Park.

Seeds of Change: Planting a Path to Peace by Jen Cullerton Johnson (Lee & Low Books, 2010). 

Mama Miti: Wangari Maathai and the trees of Kenya by Donna Jo Napoli (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2010).

Planting the Trees of Kenya

Planting the Trees of Kenya: the Story of Wangari Maathai by Claire A. Nivoli (Frances Foster Books/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008). 

Wangari MaathaI: the Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees by Franck Prevot (Charlesbridge, 2015).

Wangari’s Trees of Peace: a True Story from Africa by Jeanette Winter (Harcourt, 2008).

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