Welcoming the new year…

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“I see all of us reading ourselves away from ourselves, straining in circles of light to find more light until the line of words becomes a trail of crumbs that we follow across a page of fresh snow…” – Billy Collins, Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems
“Reading requires actual concentration. If you skipped a paragraph, or even an important sentence, you could lose the entire story. With most TV shows, though, you didn’t have to concentrate at all. You could space out for a good ten minutes, then come back and still figure out what was going on.” – Daniel Ehrenhaft, The Last Dog on Earth
“When I read a book, I put in all the imagination I can, so that it is almost like writing the book as well as reading it – or rather, it is like living it. It makes reading so much more exciting, but I don’t suppose many people try to do it.” – Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle

“…it’s not difficult to identify with somebody like yourself, somebody next door who looks like you. What’s more difficult is to identify with someone you don’t see, who’s very far away, who’s a different color, who eats a different kind of food. When you begin to do that then literature is really performing its wonders.” – Chinua Acheb


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“That is what learning is. You suddenly understand something you’ve understood all your life, but in a new way.” – Doris Lessing
“Maybe this is why we read, and why in moments of darkness we return to books: to find words for what we already know.” – Alberto Manguel, A Reading Diary: A Passionate Reader’s Reflections on a Year of Books
“In a real sense, people who have read good literature have lived more than people who cannot or will not read. It is not true that we have only one life to live; if we can read, we can live as many more lives and as many kinds of lives as we wish.” – S.I. Hayakawa
“In this modern world where activity is stressed almost to the point of mania, quietness as a childhood need is too often overlooked. Yet a child’s need for quietness is the same today as it has always been — it may even be greater — for quietness is an essential part of all awareness. In quiet times and sleepy times a child can dwell in thoughts of his own, and in songs and stories of his own.” – Margaret Wise Brown
Click HERE to discover some secrets of readers.

Christmas is coming!

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Little, Jean. Dancing through the Snow. Toronto: Scholastic Canada, 2007.
Min has already lived in four foster homes and now, when it is almost Christmas, she is stuck without any home at all. Where will she go?

Click HERE for more books about foster children.

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Smelcer, John.  The Trap. New York: Square Fish, 2006.
Seventeen-year-old Johnny is worried about his grandfather who is missing. Should he go looking for him? Meanwhile, his grandfather is stuck in a steel trap in the middle of a cold Alaskan winter?  How will he get free?

Click HERE for more books told from alternating points of view.

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Woodson, Jacqueline. Feathers. New York : Puffin Books, 2007.
Sixth-grader Frannie feels discouraged. Her friend is acting strangely. The school bully is becoming meaner.  And then a new boy, named Jesus, arrives to confuse everyone. How will she find any hope?

Click HERE for more books about moving to a new place.

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Click HERE for Christmas stories and ideas.

“At one time, most of my friends could hear the bell, but as years passed, it fell silent for all of them. Even Sarah found one Christmas that she could no longer hear its sweet sound. Though I’ve grown old, the bell still rings for me, as it does for all who truly believe.” –  The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg

“One can never have enough socks,” said Dumbledore. “Another Christmas has come and gone and I didn’t get a single pair. People will insist on giving me books.”  – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

Remembering War, Working for Peace

November 11th is Remembrance Day in Canada.

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Peace. Something we should always try to achieve in our society. We need peace in our life. Peace in our minds, peace with our peers, and peace with ourselves. However, making peace with someone you are unfamiliar with can be extremely difficult. Especially if the other person is your enemy, your target to kill. Regardless, in the picture book The Enemy by Davide Cali (Scwartz & Wade Books, 2009), two soldiers learn to make peace with each other. Listen to their thoughts, experiences and emotions as they endured an everlasting war. Notice their hopes, dreams and goals. Witness how two enemies, at war, came to find peace. Be sure to read this touching, heart-softening fable: The Enemy: a Book about Peace. (Ann in grade eight)

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Matthews, L.S. Fish. Delacorte, 2004.
Tiger and his parents have to leave the village where they have been working. A drought is drying up the land, war is approaching, and their only hope is to escape across the mountains. So they set out with a guide. But events become more and more mysterious after Tiger finds a little fish in a mud puddle and determines to keep it alive until they all reach safety. This short but sophisticated story is for readers with imagination eleven years old and up. (Refugees; Voyages and travels; Survival; War)

Click HERE to find more books about characters with courage.

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Rumford, James. Silent Music: A Story of Baghdad. New York: Roaring Brook Press, 2008.
In this picture book for adolescents, bombs and missiles fall on Baghdad while a boy uses the art of calligraphy to emotionally distance himself from the fighting.

Life lessons, I learned, can come from pretty much anywhere, whether it is my mom telling me to think ahead of what the weather will be like and to dress appropriately, or just me realizing I just did a stupid thing and telling myself, “Well, I’ll never do that again.”  And many times I find those life lessons in books. Silent Music by James Rumford (Roaring Book Press, 2008) is one of the books from which I learned a good life lesson. At first, when I picked up this picture book, I didn’t know what to expect. All I knew was that I needed to sign out two picture books so this was the one I grabbed off the shelf. Well, I guess this was the right one to pick because in the few pages this book had, there was so much meaning that a whole novel could be written on it.  Some of the things that I learned are that inspiration can lead to great things, and that in a time of depression, desolation and war, not losing yourself is one of the most important things that you can do. This story is set in Baghdad and is the tale of Ali, a young boy, who loves to play soccer and dance, but most of all loves practicing calligraphy. He is inspired by the great calligrapher Yakut and so, totally trapped in a country where war and poverty are all around, he turns to what he loves to bring peace to his heart and to his mind. This was truly an inspiring story. (Luisa in grade eight)

Click HERE to find more books about wars since World War 2. 

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I recently read the book War Horse by Michael Morpurgo (Kaye and Ward Ltd., 1982), an historical novel about a farm horse sent to war where he makes friends with both sides. He also gains the trust of a fellow horse who is much larger and prouder but just as brave as him. The two become great friends and get even closer when one of them gets really sick and weak. I really enjoyed this book because I like horses and action and the author is very descriptive. Near the end of this novel, the main character gets stuck in no-man’s-land so the two sides come out to flip a coin to see who will get him. Wales beat Germany in the coin-toss so Joey was led to the Wales’ side where he later met his original owner who took him back home with him at the end of the war. This story is filled with suspense and perseverance which makes it that much better. (Kiera in grade eight)

Click HERE to find more books about wars around the world from WW1 to WW2.

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Kent, Trilby. Stones for My Father. Toronto: Tundra Books, 2011.
Twelve-year-old “Corlie Roux, an Africaner from the Transvaal, copes with many changes after her father dies, war breaks out with the British, and she and the mother who clearly prefers her brothers escape to the bush only to be sent to a concentration camp.” – CIP  Set during the Boer War at the turn of the 19th century, this vivid historical novel – with some swearing – is highly recommended for avid readers in grades 6 and up. [Brothers and sisters; Concentration camps; Historical fiction; Mothers and daughters; South Africa; South African War; Survival] 

Click HERE to find more books about wars before WW 1.

Suddenly, Autumn Arrives

“Autumn seemed to arrive suddenly that year. The morning of the first September was crisp and golden as an apple…”  – J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

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“The autumn leaves blew over the moonlit pavement in such a way as to make the girl who was moving there seem fixed to a sliding walk, letting the motion of the wind and the leaves carry her forward. […] The trees overhead made a great sound of letting down their dry rain.” – Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

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“Why is summer mist romantic and autumn mist just sad?”  – Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle

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“He found himself wondering at times, especially in the autumn, about the wild lands, and strange visions of mountains that he had never seen came into his dreams.” – J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

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“After the keen still days of September, the October sun filled the world with mellow warmth…The maple tree in front of the doorstep burned like a gigantic red torch. The oaks along the roadway glowed yellow and bronze. The fields stretched like a carpet of jewels, emerald and topaz and garnet. Everywhere she walked the color shouted and sang around her…In October any wonderful unexpected thing might be possible.”  – Elizabeth George Speare, The Witch of Blackbird Pond

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“On the fifth day, which was a Sunday, it rained very hard. I like it when it rains hard. It sounds like white noise everywhere, which is like silence but not empty.” – Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

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“October extinguished itself in a rush of howling winds and driving rain and November arrived, cold as frozen iron, with hard frosts every morning and icy drafts that bit at exposed hands and faces.” – J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

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“The sun did not shine. It was too wet to play. So we sat in the house. All that cold, cold, wet day.” – Dr. Seuss, The Cat in the Hat

My dog,
galloping through the rain,
galloping through the freezing rain,
galloping with his dog friends through the freezing rain,
yells with joy.
– Jake, WAFMS grade 8

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“In November, at winter’s gate, the stars are brittle. The sun is a sometime friend. And the world has tucked her children in, with a kiss on their heads, till spring.” – Cynthia Rylant, In November

An Enthusiastic Reader

A Great Student

Saniya is just starting grade eight, but already she is busy writing about the books she is reading. She has set high goals for herself this year, and she is well on on her way to achieving them!

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   I recently read a spectacular book called The Writing on the Wall by Wendy Lichtman. The main character, Tess, lives in a small community, spending most of her time at her school where she faces a dilemma: across from her school there is a wall with graffiti on it and when math loving Tess solves a secret math code, she discovers the word ‘arson’. After sending messages back and forth through math graffiti, Tess was given a knife drawing and the words ‘Hi Tess’. Once she was aware that this person knew her identity, Tess was a little frightened but still eager to discover who this mysterious person was and who started a recent fire at her school. But graffiti is illegal and one day when she was so close to getting her answer, her paints were discovered and she was suspended from school. There are all sorts of complications. At the end, Tess discovered that this math and graffiti genius was someone close to her and that the arsonist was no criminal but he was seeking innocent revenge on his mean and sarcastic teacher. I can tell you that this book was one of the most irresistible books I’ve ever read and I think it’ll blow you away too!

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   Have you ever felt wrong or guilty? Have you ever fallen in love? Then you’ll know exactly how Mary Lou Finney feels from the novel Absolutely Normal Chaos by Sharon Creech. Mary Lou was overwhelmed with guilt when she realised that she had misjudged her cousin. Carl Ray, Mary Lou’s cousin, came to visit the Finney family in eastern Ohio and immediately Mary Lou came to the conclusion that he was boring, lazy and simply weird. But what happens when she discovers that he came into town to find his real dad who died just a few days after he met him? On the side, she’s love-struck! Mary Lou knew Alex Cheevey from school as the guy with rosy pink cheeks. Everything changes when they start hanging out and Alex admits that he likes her. With this family drama of Carl Ray’s real dad and Mary Lou and Alex’s little romance what will she do? Read this suspenseful novel to find out! 

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You can learn a lot about life from books.  I learned some useful information from You Just Can’t Help It! by Jeff Szpirglas (Maple Tree Books/ Owlkids Books, 2011). Did you know that your pupils will dilate when you come across something you find interesting? Also, a shade of pink called Baker-Miller Pink is known to upset people causing them to lose focus. Another interesting fact is that tears contain water, oils, proteins, manganese, glucose, salts, mucin, and urea.  Most importantly, I learned that laughter has many benefits including boosting your immune system, giving your heart muscles a workout, lowering your blood pressure and relaxing you. Books are an awesome way to expand your general knowledge and to help you carry along facts that can help you in life.  And this book is a fantastic one to read if you want to learn about the wild and wacky things you do and why you do them!

If you want to learn how to write books responses, click HERE for some useful templates.

Ms. Rosen writes, too…

Between Old Walls: A Sestina

The sun shimmers on old stone walls. Under
awnings, strange tongues call to wandering crowds.
Lemons. Peppers. Clusters of grapes. Dark eyes
flash while quick hands tumble melons into dusky
bags that crunch. All around the oranges glow,
skin dimpled clean, self-sure. Mounds

of avocadoes stand proud. Mounds
of thin-skinned tomatoes loll under
signs with prices crudely chalked. Glow-
ing eggplants slump in purple heaps. Crowds
of green-topped carrots brush parsley, dusky
broad beans, sweet onions and black-eyed

peas. Open sacks hold popping corn. Eyes
are lured to silver scoops in mounds
of sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, dusky
herbs crushed spicy sweet. Sheltered under
glass sit rounds of cheese, yogurt, crowds
of eggs in paper flats. Voices clamour. Glow-

ing merchants stand self-sure; glow-
ing faces line the stalls while greedy-eyed
hordes push, squeeze, wait in crowds
for pretzels stacked on poles and mounds
of bread strewn with poppy seeds. Under
cloths, rounds of pita nestle in dusky

shadows. Cunning sellers thrust dusky
bags at passersby. Pomegranates, glow-
ing apricots, roasted peanuts. Under
wrinkled brows, mouths are pursed, eyes
shrewd. Buyers pause. Some touch the mounds
with diffidence; others slip through the crowds,

searching stubbornly. By corners, crowds
amass for fresh strawberries and dusky
watermelons. In dim caverns, mounds
of sweets wait on sticky trays. Faces glow,
fingers reach, coins flash. The eyes
of merchants scan, their voices call. Under

awnings, between walls, crowds chatter under
the morning sun. Dusky cats hide from eyes
dazzled by the mounds where dimpled oranges glow.

©2013 Sophie Rosen

Click HERE to see this poem announced as second-place winner for 2013 on the Pandora’s Collective site.


World Humanitarian Day


August 19th is World Humanitarian Day:
a day to remember aid workers who have died
in their efforts to save people in war-torn areas of our world.

Read true stories about life for people living in areas of conflict and for those who help:


Kuklin, Susan. Iqbal Masih and the Crusaders Against Child Slavery. New York: Henry Holt, 1998.
An account of the former Pakistani child labor activist whose life and unexplained murder has brought to the attention of the world the evil of child bondage. – CIP

Healing our World

Morley, David.  Healing Our World: Inside Doctors Without Borders. Markham, Ont.: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2007.
Winner of multiple awards, this is an “…excellent, timely, and relevant account of the work of Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders by the executive director of MSF Canada from 1998 to 2005. . . The easy-to-read text is accompanied by black-and-white photos that show the humanity and the intense severity of the conditions described. …”– School Library Journal Starred Review


Afghan Dreams

O’Brien, Tony.  Afghan Dreams. Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2008.
This poignantly illustrated collection of brief interviews tells the true stories of children and young adults trying to survive in Afghanistan.

Elephants Fight

Walters, Eric and Adrian Bradbury. When Elephants Fight. Victoria: Orca, 2008.
This non-fiction book “presents the stories of five children…from five very different and distinct conflicts — Sri Lanka, Uganda, Sarajevo, Afghanistan and the Sudan. Along with these very personal accounts, the book also offers brief analyses of the history and geopolitical issues that are the canvas on which these conflicts occur.” — back cover

Read a novel about a girl whose father provides humanitarian aid in war zones:

Against the Odds

Hof, Marjolijn. Against the Odds. Toronto: Groundwood, 2006.
Translated from German, this short award-winning novel tells the story of Kiki, whose father disappears while on a medical mission to help people in a war zone.

Read novels about people affected by modern conflicts:

Raven Summer

Almond, David. Raven Summer. Delacorte Press, 2008.
All of Almond’s novels are for readers with speculative minds. “What if. . .” is always the question that changes the course of what might have been a straight-forward realistic novel.  And in this novel, the question is “What if an abandoned baby leads us to discover children who have lived through horrific acts of war? What shall we do? Send them back to their nightmares?” Since Almond is a British writer, some of the words are not familiar in Canada but that will in no way detract from a powerful story that addresses questions faced by Canadians, as well. Suitable for grades 7 and up.


Bell, William. The Blue Helmet. N.p.: Doubleday Canada, 2006.
Lee wants to become a member of the biggest, most powerful gang in his neighbourhood. But when his initiation goes wrong and the police catch him robbing an auto supply store, Lee’s father sends him to live with his aunt in New Toronto [where he meets a former peacekeeper who was stationed to Bosnia]. (back cover)will intrigue readers aged eleven and up.


Coates, Jan L. A Hare in the Elephant’s Trunk. Red Deer Press, 2010.
Jacob flees when war comes to his Southern Sudan village in 1987.  He spends months on the run and years in refugee camps but somehow survives to tell his story and start a new life in Canada. Based on the experiences of Jacob Deng, this informative novel will be appreciated by readers who prefer ‘real’ stories. [Sudan; Refugees; Deng, Jacob; War; Historical fiction]

Broken Memory

Combres, Elisabeth. Broken Memory. Groundwood Books, 2007.
Translated from French by Shelley Tanaka, this young adult novel tells the story of fourteen-year-old Emma who sets out to discover the truth behind the nightmares that started when she was five years old, running away after hearing her mother slaughtered during the genocidal war in Rwanda. This short emotionally powerful novel is best suited for mature readers in grades six and up. [Rwanda; Genocide; Historical fiction; War; Orphans; Post-traumatic stress disorder; Courage; Survival]


Doder, Joshua. Grk Smells a Rat! Anderson Press, 2008.
Tim and his dog Grk are off to watch Max play in a tennis tournament in Delhi, India. But when they discover enslaved children working in hidden factories, they have to help even if it places their lives in danger.  Action, suspense and humour combine to make this a great read for fourth to seventh graders. (India; Adventure and adventurers; Dogs; Humour; Mystery and detective stories; Child labor; Tennis)

Never Fall Down

McCormick, Patricia. Never Fall Down. New York : Balzer + Bray, 2012.
Arn is forced to serve as a child soldier in this vivid novel, based on a real story, by an accomplished author. It will be appreciated by mature readers in grades eight and up. [War; Survival; Cambodia; Soldiers; Genocide; Young adult fiction; Kidnapping]

War Brothers

McKay, Sharon E. War Brothers. Toronto: Puffin Canada, 2008.
Jacob is the son of a wealthy landowner. Oteka has lost his parents to AIDS and is alone in the world. And Hannah, beaten but not defeated, holds the secrets of all the vanished children….[Their] destines become entwined as they find themselves in the clutches of the Lord’s Resistance Army, forced to march endlessly….The boys plan a group escape, but will…[they] survive? (back cover) [Africa; Child abuse; Courage; Friendship; Kidnapping; Soldiers; Uganda; Young adult fiction]


Oron, Judie. Cry of the Giraffe. Toronto: Annick Press, 2010.
Thirteen-year-old Wuditu and her family, Ethiopian Jews, set out for the Sudan, hoping to eventually reach safety in Israel.  Instead, Wuditu ends up in a refugee camp and life as a slave.  Will she ever be reuinited with her family?  Based on a true story, this novel is for mature readers. [Ethiopia; Sudan; Jews; Refugees; Slavery; Historical fiction]

Bamboo People

Perkins, Mitali. Bamboo People. Watertown, Mass.: Charlesbridge, 2010.
Chiko has been forced to join the Burmese army.Tu Reh has run away from a refugee camp to join his father fighting with the Karen people against the Burmese government. The two boys unexpectedly meet in the jungle.  What will happen? This young adult novel of compassion and hope set in Myanmar is recommended for readers 12-years-old and up, especially ones who appreciated  War Brothers by Sharon McKay and Shattered by Erica Walters.  [Fathers and sons; Burma; Survival; Soldiers; Refugees; War stories; Courage]

Smith, Harvey. Siad of Somalia. The Kids Netword, 1997.
A short novel written by a Canadian high school student about the effects of Canadian peacekeepers in Somalia. (Somalia; Soldiers; Canada; Children’s writings)

Chanda's Wars

Stratton, Allan. Chanda’s Wars. Toronto: HarperCollins, 2008.
Chanda Kabelo, a teenaged African girl, must save her younger siblings after they are kidnapped and forced to serve as child soldiers in General Mandiki’s rebel army. This vivid fictional account is for mature readers only due to the subject matter. [Africa; Brothers and sisters; Child soldiers; Civil war; Kidnapping; Orphans; Survival; Young adult fiction]


Walters, Eric. Shattered. Viking Canada, c2006; Puffin Canada, 2008.
A teenage boy from a wealthy home, volunteering in a poor area of Vancouver, B.C. in order to meet high school graduation requirements, meets a homeless soldier and learns about the plight of victims of war. Includes a forward by Lieutenant General Romeo Dallaire. (Rwanda; Soldiers; Homelessness; Vancouver (B.C.); War;  Post-traumatic stress disorder; Teenagers; Young adult fiction; AR 4.4)


Walters, Eric. Wounded. Toronto: Puffin Canada, 2010.
When Marcus’s father comes home from Afghanistan, the family is overcome by happiness that he is safe, but as the days pass, Marcus begins to feel that there is something different about his father. The plot contains descriptions of violence. – CIP [Afghanistan; Fathers and sons; Post-traumatic stress disorder; Soldiers]


 Click HERE to find more books about modern day conflicts around the world.

Click HERE to find more books about people of courage.

Click HERE to find an outline for writing an essay on heroes.