#IMWAYR -Aug 15, 2016

It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? is hosted by Kathryn at The Book Date, and adapted by Kellee at Unleashing Readers and Jen at Teach Mentor Texts with a children’s/YA focus. The Sunday Post is hosted by The Caffeinated Book Reviewer. These weekly roundups are a great way to discover new blogs and bloggers, share titles, and add to your ever-growing to-read list.

I actually didn’t do that much reading this week – life got pretty busy, and I was just too tired to do anything but zonk out on the couch in front of the TV (what can I say, there are FIVE different Star Trek series on Netflix at the moment). I did manage to do a little bit of reading this week, though!

I shared another entry in my Beautiful British Columbia : A Reading Staycation series, taking a look at a British Columbian novel that was a staple in high school language arts classes when I was a teenager – Joy Kogawa’s Obasan.

Interestingly enough, Joy Kogawa’s childhood home has been turned into a venue for literary events, and is located just a few blocks from the library where I’m currently working. The house offers tours, programs, and writing residencies – definitely worth looking into if you’re going to be in the Vancouver area.

I also read Otter Goes to School, a sweet little picture book about an otter who starts a make-believe school for her stuffed toys, only to find that being a teacher can be a pretty tough job. With teachers everywhere either heading back into the classroom or counting down the weeks until September, this is a very timely, gently reassuring story.

As part of Australia month over on The Book Wars I dove into Hello Baby!, a delightful animal-themed picture book from Mem Fox, one of early literacy’s most passionate advocates. While researching the book I discovered that Mem Fox actually grew up in Africa, living in several different countries with her missionary parents. Fox he was born and later settled in Australia, which is the subject of many of her books, but Hello Baby! draws from her memories of a childhood in Africa.

at the beach

I also took a look at At The Beach, a picture book all about the traditional Aussie beach holiday. Did you know that there are no privately owned beaches in Australia? The ocean is such an intrinsic part of Australian culture and national identity that there is a strong commitment to ensuring that beaches remain open to the public for everyone’s enjoyment. There’s a lot of detail on each spread of this book, sort of in the spirit of Where’s Waldo, and kids can really explore all the little surprises in each illustration.

The Lady of the Rivers: A Novel (Cousins War Series) by [Gregory, Philippa]

In terms of adult reads, I finished off another Philippa Gregory novel, The Lady of the Rivers. I devour these books like popcorn – in many ways they’re romance novels with airs, cloaking themselves the more dignified title of historical fiction. There’s no doubt that Gregory packs a lot of research into each novel, though I’m sometimes uncomfortable with the way she blurs the realms of narrative historical nonfiction and historical fiction. One of my major gripes with Gregory is that her novels are typically expansive in their time frames – we often follow a character from childhood all the way to middle age or beyond. This in itself isn’t a problem, except for the fact that the novels aren’t particularly long, meaning that a lot of (turbulent) time  is squished into one novel. We don’t really get a chance to get to know the characters all that well, and significant historical events are often given a single page or two of attention, when any one of them could be meaty enough to carry an entire novel. Still, they’re easy, breezy and fun to read, and they get me through my mind-numbing commutes intact. This one wasn’t necessarily my favourite Gregory novel to date, but it was just the sort of low-impact read my exhausted brain needed.

So, what’s everyone been reading this week?


Review: Otter Goes to School

Back to school?!? Didn’t school just let out for the summer?! Here in Vancouver, most kids are still only about half way through their summer holidays, with school not resuming until September, but in cities across North America students and teachers are already packing their bags and getting read to head back to school.

So, why not celebrate their misfortune with an adorable school-themed picture book?

Otter Goes to School follows the adorable, hapless character Otter as she decides to start a school for her stuffed toy friends. There are several books in the Otter series, both picture books and early readers, and they are all, dare I say it, adorable. And trust me, that’s not a bad thing. I challenge you to read this picture book and not want to pick up that squishy, fuzzy little otter and give her a great big snuggle. This is definitely a roll-polly, cuddly protagonist that will readily appeal to young readers.

In Otter Goes to School, Otter begins to doubt her abilities as a teacher when one of her toy students, Teddy, declares the he doesn’t like school, and that he’s worried that all the other students are better than him at everything. Poor Otter doesn’t know how to help Teddy discover his hidden talents, and playing school suddenly isn’t very fun anymore.

Good old Otter Keeper, who sort of plays the role of Dave in Alvin and the Chipmunks here, reassures Otter than everyone is good at something, and that sometimes it just takes a bit of time to uncover what that something is. It’s a familiar story, reminiscent of Excellent Ed, but one that bears repeating. In a way, Otter Goes to School is written as much for teachers and caregivers as it is for young children. When our students or our children struggle in school and lose faith in themselves, our own belief in our abilities as carers and educators can take a major hit, too.


It never hurts to have a gentle reminder that sometimes connecting with children can take time, more than a little effort, and sometimes a change in perspective, and that the bumps in the road are natural, and aren’t indicators of our abilities as educators or caregivers.

And honestly – if you need a pick-me-up, just look at this cuddly otter! It’s so cuddly!!