Can This Be Real?

“Now is the dramatic moment of fate, Watson, when you hear a step upon the stair which is walking into your life, and you know not whether for good or ill.” Arthur Conan Doyle, Scottish writer

Ruiz Zafon, Carlos. The Midnight Palace.  New York: Little, Brown, 2011.

Ben has been raised in an orphanage in Calcutta, India.  He thinks he is alone in the world until he discovers, on his sixteenth birthday, that he has a twin sister.  He also discovers that a monstrous ghost from the past is trying to kill both of them. Set in the 1930s, this suspense-filled novel, translated from Spanish, will be enjoyed by readers 11 to 16 years old.  (India; Historical fiction; Demonology; Orphans; Twins; Secret societies; Friendship)

Click HERE for more stories set in India and Pakistan.

“If you try to cure evil with evil, you will add more pain to your fate.” Sophocles, ancient Greek playwright

Ryan, Pam Muñoz. Echo: a Novel.  New York: Scholastic Press, 2015.

“Lost in the Black Forest, Otto meets three mysterious sisters and finds himself entwined in a prophecy, a promise, and a harmonica–and decades later three children, Friedrich in Germany, Mike in Pennsylvania, and Ivy in California find themselves caught up in the same thread of destiny in the darkest days of the twentieth century, struggling to keep their families intact, and tied together by the music of the same harmonica.” – CIP. A 587-page Newbery Honor book recommended for readers 10 years old and up. 

Click HERE for more novels about World War 2.

“Yet it would be your duty to bear it, if you could not avoid it: it is weak and silly to say you cannot bear what it is your fate to be required to bear.”  Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

Yelchin, Eugene. The Haunting of Falcon House.  New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2016. 

“In 1891, twelve-year-old Lev Lvov travels to Saint Petersburg, Russia, to assume his duties as Prince, but must first use his special gift to rid the House of Lions of a ghost.” – CIP. Written by Prince Lev Lvov with pictures drawn in his own hand; translated by Eugene Yelchin who writes in the preface, “when I was a schoolboy in St. Petersburg, Russia,…I came upon a bundle of paper held together with frayed twine….Some years passed….Resolved to faithfully restore Lvov’s original narration, I set to work. To carry Prince Lev’s feelings across to the reader, I became inwardly connected to the young prince…” A spell-binding story for readers 11 to 14 years old. [Aunts; Extrasensory perception; Haunted houses; Orphans; Princes]

Click HERE for more stories set in countries around the world. “

“Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone – we find it with another.” Thomas Merton, American writer

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Please, let there be change…

Do our words matter?

Can our wishes change the world?

Before Morning by Joyce Sidman (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016):

a poem about snow and winter,

told in rhyme,

with scratchboard illustrations

by Beth Krommes, Caldecott medalist, 

a picture book

recommended for readers of all ages.

Click HERE for more stories in rhyme,

HERE for more stories about winter,

HERE for more stories with hidden sentences about real life, 

HERE for lessons on connecting to the truth in stories.

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The Miracle of Hanukkah

“And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” Bereishit – Genesis – 1:3

Adler, David A. The Story of Hanukah. New York: Holiday House, 2011. A straight-forward informative writing style by an award-winning author. Sophisticated full-page coloured illustrations by Jill Weber. Includes a recipe for latkes and directions for playing driedel. Highly recommended for readers 8-years-old and up. 

“He shone a light in the darkness for the upright, [for He is] gracious and merciful and righteous.”  Tehillim – Psalms – 112:4

Aloian, Molly. Hanukkah New York: Crabtree Pub., 2009.

An informative addition to the ‘Celebrations in My World’ series. Large print, colour photographs, a glossary, and an index combine to create a useful resource for readers 7 to 14-years-old.

“Even darkness will not obscure [anything] from You, and the night will light up like day; as darkness so is the light.” Tehillim – Psalms – 139:12

Baum, Maxie. I Have a Little Dreidel. New York: Scholastic, 2006. 

“An illustrated retelling of the classic Hannukah song, with directions for playing the dreidel game and a recipe for making latkes.” – CIP.  Colourful illustrations and rhyming text combine in this cheerful picture book for listeners 5 to 8-years-old. 

Bodden, Valerie. Hanukkah. Mankato, Minn.: Creative Education, 2006. 

Includes directions for making a menorah, a glossary, and an index. Part of the ‘My First Look at Holidays’ series for 5 to 8-year-olds. 

“For You are my lamp, O’ Lord; And the Lord does light my darkness.” Shmuel II – 2 Samuel – 2:29

Heiligman, Deborah. Celebrate Hanukkah with Light, Latkes, and Dreidels. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2006.

Concludes with 6 pages of additional information including a recipe for latkes and directions for playing dreidel. Part of the ‘Holidays Around the World’ series for 8 to 14-year-olds. 

“For You light my lamp; the Lord, my God, does light my darkness” Tehillim – Psalms – 8:29 

Hesse, Karen. The Stone Lamp: Eight Stories of Hanukkah Through History. New York: Hyperion Books for Children, 2003.

“A collection of eight poems, each taking place on a different night of Hanukkah and following the history of Jews from twelfth-century England to twentieth-century Israel.” – CIP.  Historical information accompanies each poem by an award-winning writer. Full-page coloured illustrations by award-winning Brian Pinkney. Recommended for readers 11-years-old and up.

Kimmel, Eric. Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins. New York: Holiday House, 2014, c1985. 

“Relates how Hershel outwits the goblins that haunt the old synagogue and prevent the village people from celebrating Hanukkah.” – CIP. A Caldecott winner recommended for 6 to 11 year olds. 

Pinkwater, Daniel. Beautiful Yetta’s Hanukkah Kitten. New York: Feiwel and Friends, 2014. 

“Huddling with her parrot friends in a warm nest atop a street light as the winter begins, Yetta the Yiddish chicken discovers a stray kitten and must find it a safe home when her parrot friends are reluctant to adopt it.” – CIP.  Exuberantly illustrated by Jill Pinkwater with a chicken that speaks Yiddish and parrots that speak Spanish. Pronunciation guides are provided. Highly recommended for three to thirteen year olds. 

Snicket, Lemony. The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming: A Christmas Story. San Francisco: McSweeney’s Books, 2007.

A humorous, informative, and inspiring story by a master storyteller. Highly recommended for readers 9-years-old and up. 

Sper, Emily. Hanukkah : a Counting Book in English, Hebrew, and Yiddish. New York: Scholastic, 2003, c2001. 

A brightly coloured picture book with cutouts of candles and pronunciation guides for the Hebrew and Yiddish. Includes a short history of the holiday. Highly recommended. 

Yolen, Jane and Mark Teague. How Do Dinosaurs Say Happy Chanukah?. New York: Blue Sky Press, 2012. 

“Illustrations and rhyming text present some of the different ways a well-behaved dinosaur can celebrate the eight days and nights of Chanukah.” – CIP. Part of a series of ‘How Do Dinosaurs…’ picture books recommended for 2 to 6 year olds. 

“Your sun shall no longer set, neither shall your moon be gathered in, for the Lord shall be to you for an everlasting light, and the days of your mourning shall be completed.” Yeshayahu – Isaiah – 60:20

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Happy Christmas!

“Christmas is a necessity. There has to be at least one day of the year to remind us that we’re here for something else besides ourselves.” – Eric Sevareid, American journalist

The Birds of Bethlehem

dePaola, Tomie. The Birds of Bethlehem. New York: Nancy Paulsen Books, 2012.

“On the morning of the first Christmas, the colorful birds of Bethlehem gather to talk about the exciting events they have witnessed, from the long line of people approaching the town to the stable where a newborn baby lies.” – CIP.

“Christmas is built upon a beautiful and intentional paradox; that the birth of the homeless should be celebrated in every home.” – G.K. Chesterton, English writer

Click HERE to find more stories of the nativity.

'Twas the Night Before Christmas

Moore, Clement C. ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. New York: Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2015.

An exquisitely designed picture book adapted and illustrated by Daniel Kirk. The style and size of the font are perfectly suited to the colourful and cheerful illustrations. Highly recommended.

Click HERE to find more illustrated versions of this famous poem.

Little Elfie One

Jane, Pamela. Little Elfie One. New York: Balzer + Bray, 2015.

“Elves, snowmen, stars, and reindeer cavort at the North Pole on Christmas Eve, introducing the numbers one through ten.” – CIP. A joyous adaptation of the famous song “Over in the Meadow” illustrated by Jane Manning.  The style and size of the font match the quirky illustrations sure to be enjoyed by readers – and listeners – three to nine years old.

“Christmas is doing a little something extra for someone.” – Charles M. Schulz, creator of ‘Peanuts’

Deck the Halls

Becker, Helaine. Deck the Halls: a Canadian Christmas Carol. Toronto: North Winds Press, 2016.

A rollicking Canadianized version with a simple piano transcription at the very end. The full page-illustrations by Werner Zimmerman are full of details sure to be enjoyed by readers four to ten yours old.

Shooting at the Stars

Hendrix, John. Shooting at the Stars: The Christmas Truce of 1914. New York: Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2014. 

Click HERE for more Christmas picture books, novels, and nonfiction books.

Stick Man

Click HERE to watch this story read aloud.

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” – Charles Dickens, author of ‘A Christmas Carol’

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Poetry often seems obscure, so dense with meaning that reading it feels like a being in a dark fog. So it is not surprising that many students feel a sense of relief when high school poetry classes end and real life begins.

I am a teacher and, for me, poetry is real life. Nevertheless, in my eighth-grade Humanities classes, we don’t spend a lot of time analyzing poems. We talk about them, decipher difficult words, and notice some literary techniques. Mostly, we read them aloud. Over and over. Until finally, in groups, students stand and recite by heart.

The first poem of the year is usually ‘Walkers with the Dawn’ by Langston Hughes:

Being walkers with the dawn and morning,
Walkers with the sun and morning,
We are not afraid of night,
Nor days of gloom,
Nor darkness —
Being walkers with the sun and morning.

Later, we learn ‘My Heart Soars’ by Chief Dan George:

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.

Tears of happiness often fill my eyes when I hear students reciting poems. I am filled with awe, listening to them learn great works of literature that have held people together from one generation to another. Sometimes, while waiting to be dismissed, students recite just for the fun of watching me cry. One year, a few students – while waiting in attendance rows for gym class to begin – spontaneously started reciting ‘No Man is an Island’ by John Donne. Soon, almost 60 of them were loudly reciting in unison. When they were finished, they smiled at me and started again:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manner of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

Poetry has helped me through hard times in life and I’ve trusted that it would help my students, as well. This week, after a thirteen-year-old girl was killed by an intruder in one of the local high schools, I got an e-mail from a former student:

“As you have heard Abbotsford Senior has experienced tragedy on Tuesday. What you may not know is that I had the unfortunate privilege of administering first aid on the second victim, which saved her life. I email you because I wish to thank you for a poem you made me memorize in the eighth grade, 4 years ago. Not only has it stuck with me as my favourite piece of poetry…, but it has really helped me accept what happened. The poem is by John Donne and it is called “No Man is an Island”…. Thanks again for this poem, and I would like to assure you that I am doing okay,…. Just so you are aware, I give you permission to use this as an example for the importance of poetry.”

I was humbled by this young man who found strength and peace from remembering a poem written almost 400 years ago. This time, my tears were the bittersweet ones that come from seeing children turn into adults. They were the quiet tears that come from seeing people cope with the pain of life through the power of poetry.

We don’t have to always analyze poems. Just learn them. Keep them safely in our hearts. They will help carry us through life.


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