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



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

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.

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).

The House of Wisdom

“We should not be ashamed to acknowledge truth from whatever source it comes to us, even if it is brought to us by former generations and foreign peoples. For him who seeks the truth there is nothing of higher value than truth itself.” – al-Kindi, 9th century philosopher “

Heide, Florence Parry and Judith Heide Gilliland. The House of Wisdom. New York: DK Ink, 1999.

Long ago, during the Dark Ages in Europe, knowledge flourished in the Arabic-speaking world. Baghdad became the centre of a great civilization that made lasting discoveries in cartography, geography, mathematics, chemistry, medicine, and philosophy. Scholars gathered to study together and translate foreign documents in what was the largest library in the world.

Ishaq, the main character in this picture book biography, travels to far-away lands and returns with thousands of books and manuscripts  He later goes on to translate all the works of Aristotle into Arabic. Later still, those Arabic translations would help inspire the European Renaissance.

Softly coloured illustrations by Mary GrandPré, additional historical information, a timeline, and a map enhance this quietly adventurous biography for readers 9 years old and up.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” – Aristotle, ancient Greek philosopher