The Empty Pot, by Demi

This powerful tale, told in sparse words, stayed with me for a long time. The gorgeous art work adds to the Oriental setting and allows for many classroom activities that can be based on this picturebook. Ping is a Chinese boy with a green thumb: he can make anything grow. One day the Emperor announces that he needs a successor, someone who can carry on the kingdom with wisdom and kindness. He gives each child one seed, and the one who grows the best flower will take over as Emperor. Competition is fierce but Ping is heartbroken when nothing comes up and his pot with soil remains empty, despite his careful tending. On the day of the competition, he is the only child with an empty pot; all the others brings lush plants. But the Emperor has tricked everyone and announces that Ping, with his empty pot, is the only honest gardener--and thus the winner. Ages 4-7 but can be used with much older students and makes a beautiful coffee table tale as well. Henry Holt, PB ISBN-10: 0805082271 ISBN-13: 978-0805082272 Teaching guides:

SKYPE Author Visit!

If you are a teacher and interested in bringing me into your classroom, you might enjoy this article I wrote about using SKYPE: Hope to see you soon!

Canadian Teacher Magazine

Click on this link to read a copy of the current issue of Canadian Teacher Magazine with my article on 'What Canadian Writers Are Reading' as well as an interview with illustrator Dianna Bonder:

Nightjohn by Gary Paulsen

Week # 5 in my 52 week Bucket Book List! So many amazing books come in small packages. Like Stone Fox, or Sara Plain and Tall, Night John is the powerful story of a slave and the importance of literacy. Publishers Weekly called this "Among the most powerful of Paulsen's works (together with Hatchet and Dogsong), this impeccably researched novel sheds light on cruel truths in American history as it traces the experiences of a 12-year-old slave girl in the 1850's. Narrator Sarny exposes the abuse suffered by her people on the Waller plantation. The punishment for learning to read and write, she knows, is a bloody one, but when new slave Nightjohn offers to teach her the alphabet, Sarny readily agrees. Her decision causes pain for others as well as for herself, yet, inspired by the bravery of Nightjohn, who has given up a chance for freedom in order to educate slaves, Sarny continues her studies. Convincingly written in dialect, this graphic depiction of slavery evokes shame for this country's forefathers and sorrow for the victims of their inhumanity. Ages 12-up, great topic for conversation. A must read for adults, too.

Married to a Bedouin by Marguerite Van Geldermalsen

I 'discovered' this nonfiction novel while visiting the Middle East. It is a good, interesting read. But mostly the story stayed with me because of its uniqueness. How many of us travel when we are first out of school and want to see the world? But how many of us actually end up marrying someone from a different culture and spending the rest of your life living in a cave in Petra?! ‘Where you staying?’ the Bedouin asked the New Zealand girl visiting his town. ‘Why you not stay with me tonight—in my cave.’ He seemed nice and we, two girl friends, were looking for adventure." Thus begins the story of how Marguerite van Geldermalsen, a nurse, became the wife of Mohammad Abdallah Othman, a Bedouin souvenir-seller of the Manaja tribe. She shared her life with him and their children in a community of about a hundred families in the ancient caves of Petra in Jordan. It was 1978 when Marguerite and her friend traveled through the Middle East and met the charismatic Mohammad. She decided that he was the man for her. Their home was a 2,000 year-old cave carved into the red rock of a hillside. She became the resident nurse and learned to live like the Bedouin — cooking over fires, hauling water on donkeys, and drinking sweet black tea. Over the years she became as much of a curiosity as the cave-dwellers to tourists, even hosting the queen of England at one occasion. This is her extraordinary story, well told and fascinating to read.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

This small novel touched me more than perhaps any other book I can think of. Wow. It grabbed me and took me for a spin. I don't particularly enjoy wartime stories. Having grown up in Europe shortly after the war, I grew up on plenty stories from my parents. Horrible but fascinating stories. I read Anne Frank's Diary as a kid, of course. I knew that this little book was a story about that same war. When I first picked it up, I was in awe of the voice and the setting. How daring to place an innocent child in Auschwitz. Not inside the concentration camp but on the other side of the fence. Bruno's father has received a promotion, as director of the camp, and the family must move from their home to a new house far far away, where there is no one to play with and nothing to do. A tall fence running alongside stretches as far as the eye can see and cuts him off from the strange people he can see in the distance. Bruno longs to be an explorer and decides that there must be more to this desolate new place than meets the eye. While exploring his new environment, he meets another boy whose life and circumstances are very different to his own, and their meeting results in a friendship that has devastating consequences. I loved the gentle voice of the book which is in such huge contrast to the horrific setting. While reading, I was constantly aware of the background knowledge I brought to this book as a reader and thought what an interesting read and discussion this book would make for a Grade 12 class! I did not see the end coming (a tribute to the author's skill of masterful storytelling). I hit me between the eyes and left me reeling for a long time. Which is why I picked this book to be on my bucket list. A powerful tale for older teens and adults.