You can’t stump Ottawa Public Library’s Sandra Hobbs when it comes to children’s literature. Many stressed-out English teachers have arrived at her desk in the Main branch’s children’s department needing help selecting readings for their classrooms.
"I see a lot of substitute teachers [on deadline] and we're often able to put a group of books together, and when we're lucky, the materials are also on the shelf," says Hobbs, who is an assistant with Library’s children’s programs and public services.
“Once, I got a request to find a book that fits into the concept of ‘teaching musical instruments through picture books for younger grades.’"
A suggestion came to her in a flash.
“I immediately thought, how about Zin! Zin! Zin! a Violin?"
As first-year B.Ed student, I’ve found that Hobbs’ infectious enthusiasm and wide-ranging knowledge of children’s literature has made a huge difference in my lesson plans.
Many students like me are heading into three-week-long practicums in December, and one-on-one conversations with library staff like Hobbs can be the key to developing creative and more engaging unit and lesson plans.
Of course, we all know about the research resources at the University of Ottawa and the Faculty of Education’s Resource Centre, but I highly recommend integrating the Ottawa Public Library into your prep as well (if you haven't yet already).
"We really encourage teachers to talk to our staff" says Monique Brûlé, division manager of programs and services of the Ottawa Public Library. “But we would love to see even more teachers use our services.”
Best of all, these services are free to Ottawa residents.
There is truly a wealth of databases and programs to access at the Ottawa Public Library, but when pressed, Hobbs was able to whittle down two main resources for English teachers.
Of course, you’ll need your library card to access the following services. You have yours, right?
"NoveList is a fabulous database for making connections among various texts and finding similarities between authors," Hobbs says. "You can narrow your book search down to specific ages, grade levels, and then add that the book must appeal to fans of Percy Jackson… There are also go-to reading lists base on different topics and curriculum. It’s one-stop shopping for teachers!"
To access NoveList, first sign into the library website and then visit: https://biblioottawalibrary.ca/en/resources/novelist
Centre for Equitable Library Access
"CELA is an accessible website for members of the public if they have a visual, physical or perceptual difficulty," explains Hobbs. "Parents and teachers can apply to access the site if they are library members. There are some fantastic resources for students in multiple formats, such as downloadable ebooks, magazines and newspapers that are screenreader-friendly."
Be sure to drop by the library in December as they celebrate Jólabókaflóð, the Yule book flood, and check in with staff for their children’s and youth book selections to give as gifts this year.
Here are Hobbs’ Yule book flood fiction selections, along with her commentary:
Jen Calonita, Flunked
Plot: Gilly wouldn't call herself wicked, exactly, but when you have five little brothers and sisters and live in a run-down boot, you have to get creative to make ends meet. Gilly's a pretty good thief (if she does say so herself) …until she gets caught. Sentenced to three months at Fairy Tale Reform School, Gilly has to go to classes taught by scary former villains. But when she meets fellow students Jax and Kayla, she learns there's more to this school than its heroic mission. There's a battle brewing and Gilly wonders: Can a villain really change?
"This book has some great teachable themes around ethics and reform" says Hobbs. "It asks, 'Can people truly change?' and also features fantastic self-rescuing princesses."
Gordon Korman, Restart
Plot: Chase doesn’t remember falling off the roof. He doesn’t remember hitting his head. He doesn’t, in fact, remember anything. He wakes up in a hospital room and suddenly has to learn his whole life all over again. . . starting with his own name. He knows he’s Chase. But who is Chase? When he gets back to school, he sees that different kids have very different reactions to his return. Some kids treat him like a hero. Some kids are clearly afraid of him. One girl in particular is so angry with him that she pours her frozen yogurt on his head the first chance she gets. Pretty soon, it’s not only a question of who Chase is—it’s a question of who he was . . . and who he’s going to be.
"Restart has a lot of great themes for discussion, including bullying, making amends a is about character growth," says Hobbs.
Roshani Chokshi, Aru Shah and the End of Time
Plot: Twelve-year-old Aru Shah has a tendency to stretch the truth in order to fit in at school. Whilst her classmates are jetting off to exotic locales, she'll be at home, in the Museum of Ancient Indian Art and Culture where her mother works. Is it any wonder that Aru makes up stories about being royalty, traveling to Paris, and having a chauffeur? When Aru's schoolmates dare her to prove that the museum's Lamp of Bharata is cursed, she doesn't think there's any harm in lighting it. Little does Aru know that lighting the lamp has dire consequences. She unwittingly frees the Sleeper, an ancient demon whose duty it is to awaken the God of Destruction. Her classmates and beloved mother are frozen in time, and, accompanied by a wise-cracking pigeon and her long-lost half-sister, it's up to Aru to save them.
"Have you heard of the #OwnVoices movement? There's a push to have authentic cultural voices tell the stories of their own mythology and this is a great example. Some of the teachable themes include peer pressure, lying, cyber bullying, acceptance of self and cultural authenticity."
About Robert J. Ballantyne
Robert J.Ballantyne is a teacher-in-training at the University of Ottawa. In a former life, he was a journalist and producer/director at the CBC on a number of news programs including the fifth estate, Marketplace and The National. He also worked at the Toronto Star and freelanced at other publications.