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Don’t have much time? Try this.

Posted by Celia Brogan

We’re all so busy. We are passionate educators and want the best learning experiences for our students and there are always so many things we want to plan for them, and learn for ourselves. Finding new local texts to offer our students is something that can take a bit of time if we don’t have reliable sources to which to turn.

Choc Lily logoWell here is a source for you: The Chocolate Lily Book Awards is a reader’s choice award for young BC readers reading BC authors and illustrators. Read your way through the shortlist (or give the titles to your students) for a great snapshot of some of the best current BC books for young and middle years readers.

Even better, register your class (or ask your teacher-librarian to register your school) and vote for your favourites! What a great way to participate in our province’s reading culture.

Journey to Cowichan’s Past

posted by Celia Brogan

Students at times have trouble identifying with historical events, especially when those events occurred to a cultural group other than the one(s) with which they are familiar. One way to assist students to identify and begin to understand the emotional and social costs of past injustices is historical fiction.

There is a specific type of historical fiction that I have always found particularly engaging: that which tells of a protagonist who finds herself pulled back through time and experiences a series of historical events firsthand.  There are a handful of great examples of this motif in YA literature: Fog Magic by Julia Sauer, Handful of Time by Kit Pearson, and The Grave by James Heneghan, to name just a few.
Today’s BC lit post adds Hannah and the Spindle Whorl and Hannah and the Salish Sea by Carol Ann Shaw to that list.

In the first book Hannah lives in present-day Cowichan Bay. On her walk through a patch of forest one day she discovers an old Salish spindle whorl and it transports her back in time where she meets Yisella, a Salish girl her own age.  They become friends and it is through this friendship that Hannah witnesses a small portion of the cultural pillaging that occurred when white Europeans started spreading out along South Coastal BC.

It looks as though a third book about Hannah is coming out this fall. This is a great trilogy to incorporate into a unit learning about the history of the peoples and cultures of South Coastal BC.

Two elem novels set in Vancouver

Posted by Celia Brogan

I currently live and teach in Vancouver so I am attuned to notice texts set here. Here are two authors who have set their work for elementary and middle years readers here in Vancouver.

Melanie Jackson is the author of the Dinah Galloway mystery series, among other great titles. The Dinah Galloway mysteries are set in and around Vancouver and feature a plucky young detective who, in the tradition of Harriot the Spy, gets herself into trouble while insatiably solving mysteries.

Victoria Miles authored Magnifico, a story of historical fiction set around Commercial Drive in East Vancouver. The protagonist is a first generation Canadian, born to an Italian immigrant family.  I like how there are many points of possible connection for students in Vancouver today, even if the countries and cultures of origin have changed.

Place-Making with Poetry

Posted by Celia Brogan

We are halfway through Poetry Month! In a change from last year, this April we are focusing on specifically BC literatures in support of the ABPBC’s Read Local BC campaign but luckily, when we look around poetry features prominently in the local cannon.

Today I would like to continue a thread started yesterday and share another iten created by the intersection of Local + Maps + Story.

A Verse Map of Vancouver  ed. George McWhirter (photographs by Derek Von Essen) is a beautiful volume of poetry and photographs whose aim is to celebrate and “represent the city’s places and principal features in poetry.” (from the introduction) It’s not meant to be exhaustive, but a snapshot of the city (so to speak: the actual photographs often are more portrait-like than snapshot.)

I love the idea of a verse map. Should you be inspired by this idea, the breadth of topography might vary: from covering a region or your entire town, to remaining on within the bounds of the school property.

Another book that could fall within the Local + Maps + Story thread, and is simultaneously smaller and larger in scope, is Gulf Islands Alphabet by Bronwyn Preece (Illustrated by Alex Walton). This picture book is a poetic description of the Gulf Islands and the Salish Sea, featuring an alphabetic sequence of alliterative passages accompanied by rich watercolour illustrations. It differs from A Verse Map of Vancouver in that it covers a wider area, but does so with a single text. It’s another option to inspire a way for students to engage with their geography through poetry.
(One drawback of this text for me is the minimal mention of First Nations’ current and historical use of the area as well as not enough information about marine life. These two aspects can serve as entry points for a critical reading.)

If you have a local resource of this sort for your town or area in BC, please share it in the comments!

We live among layers upon layers of story

Posted by Celia Brogan

“Anyone can lead a walk because everyone is an expert on the places they live, work, and play.”

Have you heard of Jane’s Walks? Inspired by the work of Jane Jacobs, Jane’s Walks are neighbourhood walking tours, led by a member of the community. The tour routes and content are as varied as the citizens who lead them. Consider this as a great way to get our students to embrace their presence in their community. If you don’t have the capacity to actually do the waking tours, a adaptation might include a mapped route with photo-anchor accompaniment to written or audio descriptions for a set number of points of interest. The global festival is May 1-3, but you can do Jane’s Walks any time through the year.

Another way to explore and bring forward the stories in our neighbourhoods and communities is to dig through the layers of a place. The book On Looking: 11 Walks with Expert Eyes by Alexandra Horowitz can provide the inspiration to bring your classroom into the community. The author took the same walk around her neighbourhood 11 times with 11 different people and noticed the difference in what she noticed.  To think about why we see what we see, and how we see it can be a fascinating entrance into a celebration of our place.

Homegrown, and still growing

Posted by Celia Brogan

What writing is more homegrown BC writing than that of our students? The BCTELA Student Writing Contest is more than a great way for students to give their writing a broader audience, the published pieces, Voices Visible, is also a useful resource to show our students what their peers are writing.

BCTELA members receive a copy of Voices Visible free, and you can order additional copies to make up a lit circle/text set group, or enough for a whole class set.

BC features as a setting in many of the pieces in Voices Visible, either completely or sometimes as a juxtaposition to an immigrant’s home of origin. Students can find their home in these pieces written by their peers in a way that may be different than from pieces written by adults. Do you have back issues of Voices Visible? Try it: copy a piece or two and see what your students think, or try including a book or two in a poetry text set.

This year’s submissions are due at the end of this month. Click here for the application form and contest rules. You must be a current BCTELA member to submit your students’ work.

Why write about this place?

Posted by Celia Brogan

This evening I went to my second #ReadLocalBC event, called “An Evolving City: Writing Vancouver’s Past, Present & Future,” featuring George Bowering and Wayde Compton.

During the question period after the readings the authors were asked if writing about Vancouver was an obvious choice of setting for them in their writing, or, why did they choose to set their work in Vancouver. Their answers discussed how the choice to set writing, specifically fiction, here provides the power to address some very real and serious topics in a way that can be more powerful than setting their work elsewhere. They pointed out that readers can often feel saturated with concerns and an author’s voice can get lost in the chorus of ‘realistic writing.’ Setting fiction in our local environment allows an writer to propose a ‘what if’ scenario in a way that opens a space for readers to reflect on our current society. Readers can wonder what realities might come to pass given an event as plausible as a toxic fuel spill in Burrard Inlet.

Imagine the stories our students might write given this environmental event in Vancouver as a starting point. What might they imagine as futures for your community? Bowering and Compton suggest that by writing our stories, current and possible, we open the door for ourselves and our readers to see positive futures and to act to realize them.

 

*Check out the list of free #ReadLocalBC events at http://books.bc.ca/read-local-bc/. There may be one or two in your community.

Myth, Madness and a Tale of a Golden Spruce

posted by Celia Brogan

The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness and Greed  by John Vaillant.

I love this book. The prose are poetic to the extent that I have used passages as prompts in an art class. The story opens with a mystery and proceeds to weave together strands of natural history, botany,  political and economic history, adventure, cultural history, and social activism.

Every time I try to book talk this title I fall down some sort of rabbit hole: I can’t quite seem to ever tighten my description of the book enough and end up rambling. I could tell you that it’s the life story of an culturally important and botanically unique tree, from germination to felling, but that’s only one piece. I could tell you that it’s the story of a man named Grant Hadwin, who worked in the BC lumber industry and who suffered from a (probable) mental illness, who made headlines with his actions when he took a stand against logging practices in BC. But the book is so much more than that! I could also say that this text provides a lyrical and informative portrayal of geologic history, the history of human culture and the history of economic development of natural resources in BC (which is pretty great since that last topic can at times be a little dry). But those threads don’t constitute the whole text either.  Look! It’s happening again!

Make this book one of your summer reads this year (but keep a set of post-its near by!)

Getting to know BC through Farm and Food Lit

posted by Celia Brogan

I realized a few years ago that I like what I have decided to call “Farm Literature.” There may be an industry name for this but I’m happy with mine. Farm Lit is, for me, a book about someone’s experience living on a farm–hobby or sustenance–or other intimate experience with the food we eat. That’s not a exhaustively vetted definition, and has been developed as I read books I holistically add to the category.

When a local angle is added to the farm/food aspect, I feel even more fulfilled.  Here are three titles from my bookshelf you may want to check out:

Home: tales of a heritage farm  by Anny Scoones is a collection of stories about the ten years she spent living on and restoring Glamorgan Farm.  The farm is on the Saanich Peninsula, on the South end of Vancouver Island and was threatened by development when Anny bought it.  She restored it and made a point of raising heritage breeds and growing heirloom vegetables, opening the workings of the farm to the community.

Wise Acres: Free-Range Reflections on the Rural Route  by Michael Kluckner. Kluckner, a notable watercolourist and Vancouver historian, moved with his wife from a house in Vancouver to a hobby farm in the Fraser Valley. The book is a darkly funny chronicle of the couple’s experience adjusting to farm life, including animal husbandry.

The third title I’ll share today is a bit different. You may have heard of The 100-Mile Diet: a year of local eating  by Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon. The authors generated a huge amount of press when they spent a year eating only food that was grown or produced within 100 miles of their homes in Vancouver. Whereas the first two titles are a microcosm of BC food-life, sharing the day-to-day at the production end of the chain, The 100-Mile Diet shows us a broad view of the myriad aspects of the food industry in BC (and not even all of BC–how might this story differ if it was based in Smithers, or Kelowna, or Nelson?) from the consumer’s end.

Looking at local sources of food can be an inspiring way to get to know the land where we live. The people who feed us from our land are often unknown to us in the lower mainland. It’s not as anonymous in smaller communities, but time spent with our students on this topic can’t help but enrich their literacies of place.

 

Kit Pearson: a little magic in Victoria

posted by Celia Brogan

Kit Pearson has authored a number of popular novels for young and adolescent readers. Three of these are specifically set in BC and are great ways to help readers see the stories around them.

Awake and Dreaming is set primarily in Victoria and includes Pearson’s trademark element of magical realism.  The magical element first enables the young protagonist to escape the difficulties in her life, but then provides the safety she needs to clearly address her troubles.

The Whole Truth and its sequel And Nothing but the Truth are historical novels set in the 1930s on a Gulf Island and Victoria, respectively.  Emily Carr features as a character in the second book as Polly struggles with the trials and tribulations of growing up and going to boarding school, as well as some big family secrets.

 

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