Tag Archives: children

Eureka! TD Summer Reading Club 2014

07.03.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

For my children, June 27 was the last day of school—the day when the bell marks one of the most anticipated moments in a child’s memory—the transition from end-of-school-year to the full freedom of summer vacation.

Xara on the last day of school with her favourite JK teacher, Mr. Vilku. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Xara on the last day of school with her favourite JK teacher, Mr. Vilku. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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The whole family with Michael's Grade 4 teacher and friend, Mr. McCutcheon. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
The whole family with Michael’s Grade 4 teacher and friend, Mr. McCutcheon. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

And now we’re here, a full two months of summer freedom, the opportunity to sleep late and sleep in, endless events to choose from, activities and crafts, and lots of free play. As a parent, it can be daunting to try to plan an entire summer that will not only entertain your children, but also keep education involved in their activities without making them feel like they’re back in school.

One great opportunity is to participate in the Eureka! TD Summer Reading Club 2014, hosted by a number of public libraries within the GTA.

Parents can sign their children up online at their local library, receive a membership ID number for future login, an activity booklet, a reading log book, a page of stickers, and the encouragement to keep reading throughout the summer.

For every two books read and logged online, equals an entry into a ballot to win a number of prizes hosted by the local library running the summer reading club. Members can win a Chapters Gift Card and an ice cream scoop from Baskin Robbins. A prize is also awarded to each club member who completes the 15 book challenge.

At the end of the summer, club members who have logged at least two books will be entered into the final grand prize draw for a chance to win a Kobo Arc!

Eureka Summer Reading Club 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Eureka Summer Reading Club 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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It’s a great motivator to keep your children eager and interested in reading all summer long with an opportunity for them to create their own, personal reading goals. It’s also a great way to keep record of the books your children have read.

As of today, both my children have been logging in the books they’ve read so far (my son tallies at six books and my daughter tallies at five) since they have both signed up for the program.

Here’s to summer—and all the great books to be read!

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If you have children, are they participating in a summer reading program?

Which books are you looking forward to sharing with the children in your life?

Have you heard of the Eureka! TD Summer Reading Club? Do you think you will enroll your children in the club?

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Mother’s Day Weekend

05.13.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez

The second Sunday in May is a sentimental celebration for a lot of women—the arrival of spring, the birth of better weather and the bloom of flowers, and a day to recognize and honour the gift of motherhood.

Not everyone is privileged to be a mother, but everyone is certainly born of one.

I’m blessed to be privileged of both.

If you know me personally or if you’re a keen follower of my blog, you’ll know that a key part of my identity and pride is deeply rooted in my two children, Michael and Mercedes.

M&X. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
M&X. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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But, it certainly hasn’t been an easy road to (and sometimes through) motherhood.

While most in my family highly suspected pregnancy as a reason for my “shotgun” wedding to my husband almost 13 years ago, it wasn’t actually easy for me to conceive. We had, if anything, not thought of having children until quite later in life in the plan of first fully enjoying our independence as a newly married couple. And then when my “biological clock” started ticking (and ticking loudly), my desire to have a child was as natural as it was thrilling—and frightening.

Both of my pregnancies were extremely difficult. I was told on both occasions that I had miscarried. And then in my first pregnancy, I  went into pre-term labour at a mere 25 weeks (six months), which brought upon severe complications for my son and exhaustion and hardship for myself and my husband. My little one was in hospital for three months before he could come home.

Because of the nature of my first pregnancy, I was classified as a high-risk patient and had to be under the care and keen supervision of a neonatologist. This meant more appointments, tests, and restrictions than other women throughout each trimester and a cervical suture operation in order to help carry my second baby further along in pregnancy. Even with this surgery, my daughter still came early.

But, the joy of having children far outweighs my negative experiences with having them.

My son, Michael, who is almost 10-years-old is a sensitive, caring, and extremely obedient boy. While he’s known to talk a lot, speak loudly, and be somewhat hyperactive (which can carry its own burdens)—Michael is always the first to notice others’ needs before his own and the most willing to sacrifice for others out of his depth of compassion. He’s also a keen activist for the environment, which surprised me considering his age. And he is thoughtful and extremely loving, traits I am absolutely grateful for and proud of.

(c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
(c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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My daughter, Mercedes, who is almost 5-years-old is feisty, rambunctious, and self-assured, which is admirable, but can also be weary and a constant test of my patience. She is, however, extremely affectionate and tender when in the right mood and will often give me the sweetest and most thoughtful compliments when most needed. And if anything, the things she often says will just make me laugh!

(c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
(c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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While mothers never stop being mothers, working hard to not only raise their children well on a daily basis, but to also advocate fiercely on their behalf, and simply loving, and enjoying who they are in the journey of parenthood—Mother’s Day is a wonderful day to focus on the gift of what it is to be a mother and to also have one.

This Mother’s Day weekend, I celebrated with my mom, my sister, and my immediate family with a quiet, but filling lunch—potluck at my parents’ house that included traditional, Filipino, celebratory dishes like rice, Pancit, Pinakbit, Lumpia, spicy chicken, salad, Dulce Neopolitan cake, and Fudge cake.

(c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
(c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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(c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
(c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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(c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
(c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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And of course, Mother’s Day isn’t complete without those thoughtful gifts that you receive from your children! This year, I was really pleased to receive exceptionally creative gifts!

Xara's Mother's Day card. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Xara’s Mother’s Day card. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Xara's Mother's Day card. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Xara’s Mother’s Day card. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Mercedes who is in Junior Kindergarten and just learning to write her alphabet made me a card that says:

My Mom [is] recognizable because she loves me.

I also got a wonderfully creative paperweight from my daughter. She proudly told me:

Mama, you know what I got you for Mother’s Day? A ROCK! I painted it green so it wouldn’t be ugly. I got it outside when I was exploring and I decorated it in Craft. Do you like it? You can use if on your papers.

I love it!

My homemade paperweight from Xara. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
My homemade paperweight from Xara. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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And Michael made me a homemade frame to house a picture of himself and a candle. He also went out of his way to buy me the Jennifer Aniston perfume I liked with his own money.

He told me:

Mama, I bought you this, but Papa paid for the tax!

Yay! Now, I have a beautifully framed picture of my son that I set on my desk to remind me of him, a candle that I can light when I want to make the atmosphere more mellow, and perfume that I love (and makes me smell like Jennifer Aniston!).

Created by Michael. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Created by Michael. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Jennifer Aniston perfume from Michael. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Jennifer Aniston perfume from Michael. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Overall, it was a quiet Mother’s Day with a trip to one of my favourite hot spots—Kariya Park—where I enjoy the tranquility and beauty of cherry blossom trees and the blessings of being a mother to two, amazing kids!

Me, at Kariya Park on Mother's Day. (c) Photo by Esly R. Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Me, at Kariya Park on Mother’s Day. (c) Photo by Esly R. Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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To all the beautiful and loving mothers out there, hope you had a wonderful Mother’s Day filled with gestures to remind you of how much you are loved and appreciated.

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How do you celebrate Mother’s Day?

Are you close to your mother? How did you celebrate who she is and all she has been in your life on her special day?

Are you a mother? What do you love most about being a mom?

What did you receive for Mother’s Day? What special gestures of love did you receive on Mother’s Day?

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Book Review: The Bear by Claire Cameron

02.27.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

the bear

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Category: Fiction

Author: Claire Cameron

Format: Trade Paperback, 226 pages

Publisher: Doubleday Canada

ISBN: 978-0-385-67902-2

Pub Date: February 11, 2014

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Summary from Publisher:

The black dog is not scratching. He goes back to his sniffing and huffing and then he starts cracking his bone. Stick and I are huddled tight. . . . It is dark and no Daddy or Mommy and after a while I watch the lids of my eyes close down like jaws.

Told from the point of view of a six-year-old child, The Bear is the story of Anna and her little brother, Stick–two young children forced to fend for themselves in Algonquin Park after a black bear attacks their parents. A gripping and mesmerizing exploration of the child psyche, this is a survival story unlike any other, one that asks what it takes to survive in the wilderness and what happens when predation comes from within.

– From Chapters-Indigo website

Book Review by Zara

from The Bibliotaphe Closet

The Bear by Claire Cameron is an emotional story birthed from a real-life event, the tragedy of Raymond Jakubauskas and Carola Frehe in October 1991 on Bates Island on Lake Opeongo in Algonquin Park, two hundred miles northeast of Toronto. The couple who had planned a three-day camping trip never returned, but were attacked and killed by a large male black bear for no apparent rationale other than predation.

The high interest in this novel is not perhaps the tragedy of its plot, but instead the voice of its narrator, young five-year-old Anna, who must navigate a nearly 3,000 square mile of wilderness on her own in care of her much younger brother, Alex, affectionately known and called Stick, who is only two years of age, after the brutal attack on her parents while on a camping trip.

Though I did find the narrative sometimes distracting  and contrived, obvious in its attempt to sound like a five-year-old while some of the plot outcomes were also somewhat unrealistic, the horror of knowing a child so young must be left alone, unattended, lost, and left to fend for not only herself, but also her little brother in answer to abruptly becoming an orphan without full knowledge of this, is painfully harrowing, a force that will coerce almost any reader to continue to read on.

The heart of the book is in its travesty and loss, a child’s lucid memory, her passionate attachments, the immediacy of her self-preservation, the innocence of her deductions, and the way in which children are brutally candid, and exceptionally thoughtful in their awareness, unbashful in their displays of love and affection.

Which is why children are so easily beloved—they are the uncensored selves we as adults painfully grown out of. And why it is equally horrific to witness the news of a child in danger, which is what propels this book forward.

The characters, as seen through the eyes of five-year-old Anna, are shown in the microscopic detail of her plain and honest view from Stick’s incessant stuffed-up breathing, his heavy-set bottom, his two-year-old waddle, and his insatiable love for cookies; to Grandfather’s scent of pipe, the weariness and nostalgia of his sorrow, to the familiarity of his pull-out chair; and the Lipstick Lady’s clinical demeanor and inability to genuinely connect with children, merely capable of one-sided misinterpretation when attempting to analyze Anna’s response to the tragedy of her parents’ deaths.

The plot, too, while at times, slow—not much seems to happen from the onset of the bear attack to the ways in which the children must meander through the wilderness on their own—the details depicted through Anna’s narrative convey the genuine willfulness a child has in trying to obey his or her mother’s last wishes, as well as the natural frustration a child encounters at being given responsibilities that far exceeds his or her abilities.

While some of the plot outcomes seemed far too unrealistic, perhaps my reading felt so, in conjunction with the narrative writing style also failing to consistently seem seamless. And the language sometimes too juvenile to truly represent how a five-year-old girl might respond to such a crisis.

But, the quest to survive as an instinctual need to move forward as much as it is a direct instruction from Anna’s mother to ride in a canoe, take Stick with her, and wait because they will come, is the thriving action in the novel.

Its power seen most clearly in Anna’s love and connection to her teddy bear, Gwen, who she sniffs often for comfort and security; her frustration at carrying the burden of being an older sister when five-years-old is obviously not old enough to be a real babysitter to her baby brother, Stick; and the tenderness and desperation Anna feels in the ideology that she’s created in her mind of belonging to a family of four.

While Anna is the main narrator, it was Stick, whom I felt most empathy for. A two-year-old in the wilderness, naked from the waist down, hungry with only a few cookies, a few berries, and mud water to quench on, feverish and soiled, falling prey to poison ivy, and at the constant mercy of the elements, and a bossy sister whose lack of nurturing could not be blamed any more than could her age—it was Stick, the secondary character in the book, who made my reading plunge into a well of pity and sorrow, intensifying my need for the two children to succeed.

The Bear will certainly alert its readers to the real dangers of the wild, a sobering wake-up call that requires our knowledge and respect of the animal kingdom we so often tend to underestimate and renew our belief in the autonomy and resilience of our children especially when faced with crisis.

***

Characters: 3 stars

Pacing: 2.5 stars

Cover Design: 2.5 stars

Plot: 2.5 stars

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Zara’s Rating

z ring - smallz ring - smallz ring - small

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A special thanks to Random House of Canada on behalf of Doubleday Canada for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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About the Author:

claire cameron

Claire Cameron’s first novel, The Line Painter, was nominated for an Authur Ellis Award for best first crime fiction novel and won the Northern Lit Award from the Ontario Library Service. Cameron’s work has appeared in The New York Times, The Globe and Mail, and The Millions. She worked as a wilderness instructor in Ontario’s Algonquin Park and for Outward Bound. She lives in Toronto with her husband and two children.

– From inside jacket

Links:

You can connect with Claire on her official website.

You can like Claire on Facebook.

You can follow Claire on Twitter.

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Imagine yourself as a five-year-old girl or two-year-old boy. What would you do to try to survive in the wilderness without your parents?

Have you ever encountered a bear while on a camping trip? What was your experience like?

Have you read “The Bear” by Claire Cameron yet? What do think of it?

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zara cat stamp

A Spook-tacular Halloween

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A Spook-tacular Halloween

11.01.2013

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

This year’s Halloween festivities were busy. While my children bought their costumes early this year, we still needed to pick up a few things at the very last-minute to add the finishing touches to their looks. And if it wasn’t mob-like lineups, or out-of-stock makeup, it was a parking hazard at the malls for my fellow Halloween procrastinators.

I even stayed up into the wee hours bagging pencils and erasers, making DIY Halloween tags, and decorating things with gold ribbon for every kid in my children’s class. And because my son’s teacher threw his class a Halloween party, I got A+ points for baking peanut-free cupcakes for the wee goblins, vampires, and ghosts.

The day was filled with a morning school parade where each child was able to showcase his or her costume in each classroom and then through the school gym where parents and grandparents were able to snap some photos and give the children their praises.

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Michael as the infamous web-slinger, Spiderman. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Michael as the infamous web-slinger, Spiderman. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Xara as Superman's first-cousin. Super Girl! (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Xara as Superman’s first-cousin. Super Girl! (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Aside from a day of board games, costume-flaring, cupcake baking, and candy-sharing, we hosted one of Michael’s friends to a night out of trick or treating. After school, the three kids played together, put a couple of puzzles together, and enjoyed pizza for dinner.

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Spidey putting an Avengers puzzle together. (c) Photo by Zara D, Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Spidey putting an Avengers puzzle together. (c) Photo by Zara D, Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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The Lizard working on HIS Avengers puzzle, too. (c) Photo by Zara D, Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
The Lizard working on HIS Avengers puzzle, too. (c) Photo by Zara D, Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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The Trick or Treaters Halloween 2013. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
The Trick or Treaters Halloween 2013. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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And then in the evening we went to my sister’s house to continue the Halloween festivities for more photos and a candy scourge of the streets. While it was fairly warm on an October night, it was unfortunately extremely rainy and windy, which forced us to battle against our own umbrellas for most of our Halloween trek. This didn’t deter the children, though, from going door-to-door to collect some candy. By the third house, they were experts, always courteous to remember to say “thank you” to their Halloween patrons.

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Lizard, Super Girl, Spiderman, and Iron Man. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Lizard, Super Girl, Spiderman, and Iron Man. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

Spidey & Iron Man tussle. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Spidey & Iron Man tussle. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Michael really getting into character. (c) Photo by Zara D, Garcia-Alvarez, All rights reserved.
Michael really getting into character. (c) Photo by Zara D, Garcia-Alvarez, All rights reserved.

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Super Girl going for her pre-flight before a night of Trick or Treating. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Super Girl going for her pre-flight before a night of Trick or Treating. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Iron Man shoots his repulsor blast! (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Iron Man shoots his repulsor blast! (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Iron Man shoots his repulsor blast! (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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The Loot. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
The Loot. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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How was your Halloween celebration?

What did you decide to dress up as this year?

What are you thinking of wearing next year?

If money was no limit, what costume would you choose to wear?

What’s your favourite treat?

***

zara bird autograph

Education Week: Literacy Day at School

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Education Week: Literacy Day at School

04.17.2013

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

My eight-year-old son’s public school celebrates Education Week on an annual basis, which encourages the celebration of different parts of its curriculum and hosts community events that parents and family members are welcome to participate in during the school day.

Education Week runs from April 15-19 and my three-year-old daughter and I were privileged to attend and participate for at least two days this week at Michael’s school.

Yesterday, we sat in Michael’s Grade Three class and witnessed their celebration of Art Day! We learned about the process of making things look like they’re in the foreground and background. And when we left, Michael was working on a rainforest picture.

And today, we couldn’t turn down the opportunity to visit Michael’s school because it’s Literacy Day! When it comes to reading, as a family, we’re all for it!

Here’s a picture of Michael outside the school, participating in his school’s Dance-a-thon:

Education Week1
Michael in the center in the red jacket participating in the school’s Dance-a-thon! (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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And now, we’re on our way in! Welcome!

Education Week2
Michael in his pyjamas for Pyjama Day with his favourite stuffed toy, named “Foxy!” He was SO happy to be able to bring him to school today. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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And while parents weren’t permitted to take photographs in the classroom in order to protect the students as well as avoid disrupting the class, we were able to visit Michael’s school Book Fair and pick up some literary treats.

Sixty percent of purchases go back to Michael’s school, so what better way to support my son than a treat to good books, bookmarks, and erasers? While I couldn’t buy everything on their shelves, Michael made a couple of great choices:

set 1

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The Cross of Lead by Avi Crispin

The Amazing Adventure of Nate Banks: Secret Identity Crisis by Jake Bell

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set 2

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The Keys to the Kingdom: Grim Tuesday by Garth Nix

Dead and Gone by Norah McClintock

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set 3

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And we’re in much agreement with “Bite into a good book!” So much so, we had to buy two bookmarks! And I love that monster eraser. I was tempted to buy another for myself, but I figured, it’s my son’s Book Fair, not mine.

All in all, it’s been a festive Education Week. I may just pop by the School Book Fair again and pick up a couple more bookmarks and erasers (another monster one, for sure)!

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How do you participate and give back to your community through the love of books?

If you have children, did they participate in Education Week this week?

What book recommendations might you have for an eight-year-old boy? Or a three-year-old girl?

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The Life-Lessons Are Out (20 of Them) with the Fight between the ETFO and Bill 115

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The Life-Lessons Are Out (20 of Them)

with the Fight between the ETFO and Bill 115

01.12.2013

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

The irony of Bill 115 is that it’s known to be the  Putting Students First Act, which gives the government the power to impose a contract on teachers if their school boards fail to negotiate a new collective agreement by a set deadline.

That deadline was December 31.

And unfortunately no new agreement was made at that time, which led to the Liberal government of Ontario to choose to impose a two-year contract  that enforces elementary and high school teachers to have their wages frozen until 2014 and no longer be able to bank their sick days for retirement.

The imposition is, of course, powered by Bill 115 itself, and while teachers and the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) disagree with it as a loss to their right to the democratic process of collective bargaining, the Minister of Education, Laurel Broten, announced that she will repeal Bill 115—but the reality is, not after the power it uses to impose the two-year contract that has recently been put into place.

It’s much like being coerced into lowering your weapon—that is, after you’ve already used it.

So, in response to the imposition of the teachers’ contracts, their frozen wages, and discontinuation of bankable sick days (and probably a lot more that I’m unaware of because I haven’t read it yet), the ETFO and its teachers have promised to continue to protest through job action.

And that was obvious with their plans to officially stage “a one-day political protest aimed at the government on January 11,” where parents were told to refrain from sending their child(ren) to school since (in my case) all Peel board elementary schools from Kindergarten to Grade 8 would be closed.

Parents like myself received notice of this on the afternoon of January 9th in letter-form from the Peel District School Board, only a day and a few hours before the protest was planned to take place—which meant last-minute scrambling for alternative care for our children in lieu of board-wide school closures.

And even though I was one of the luckier parents to suffer less because I’m already a Stay-at-Home-Mom (SAHM) with my three-year-old daughter and eight-year-old son, the interaction and decisions made as a result between the Ontario government and ETFO have certainly made it difficult for parents, children, and the community at large.

But the story doesn’t end there.

As a rebuttal to the ETFO’s effort in protesting against the government through board-wide school closures on the premise they could not “ensure the safety of students on the day of protest”—which they technically did not and could not call a “strike”—was met by the Premier, Dalton McGuinty’s quick action to seek a cease-and-desist order from the Ontario Labour Relations Board in what has now been deemed “an illegal strike.”

Call it what you will from either party—the ultimate losers of this labour battle are the children of which Bill 115 is called to protect and of whom teachers are called to educate.

In an even quicker (but not quick enough) response, the ETFO called off the planned walkout by teachers because the labour tribunal ruled the action would indeed be illegal. But ETFO did this at 4:00 a.m. on the proposed day of the protest, which left some parents, children, and families of school boards, notice of the change as late as 7:15 am, Friday morning.

You can imagine the uproar. The scramble. The confusion. And ultimately, the lack of communication and consideration given to Ontario parents, caregivers, and the children themselves—who had just spent the last 24 hours attempting to accommodate the needs of their children through alternative care and/or activities at the expense of their own wallets, time, and inconvenience—only, of course, to have the decision over-turned at the last-minute.

It’s a much more complex issue than arguing on behalf of labour rights versus implementing more control through financial ceilings in order to manage a $15 billion Ontario deficit. Nor is it just about inconveniencing parents for one or two days.

It is, however, about what lessons are really being taught to our children today on behalf of what has been said to be something ultimately in their favour—but is, in essence, not.

While we opt as a society to readily advocate inclusion, rights, and a protection of rights as well as the importance of fiscal responsibility—while those arguments are true, they have unfortunately moved to the forefront of an active duel between parties that have the power to hold parents and most especially, children, hostage in the educational sector.

In lieu of most recent strikes, one on December 11 and again, the planned, but cancelled “protest,” exactly a month later; this is how children and their parents have been affected (or threatened to be affected):

  • board-wide bus service cancellation
  • Before-School, After-School, and extended day programs offered by third-party providers cancelled
  • Hubs, Readiness Centres, Parenting & Family Literacy Centres closed to students and families
  • some, if not all, extra-curricular activities cancelled
  • missed days of school
  • ultimately gaps in opportunities for learning and access to curriculum and education

And with the recent imposition of contracts through Bill 115 and the even more recent ruling of the one-day political protest as an illegal strike, children are faced with:

  • teachers forced to return to work under contracts that were not collectively bargained for
  • potentially disgruntled teachers who are not only responsible for education in the classroom, but have direct contact with children and the outcome of choices made by the schools they work in as either directed by their union or themselves
  • the cancellation of some, if not all, extra-curricular activities and student privileges
  • a potentially negative or toxic working environment
  • continual protest and battle between the ETFO and the liberal government concerning Bill 115

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What the real life-lessons parents, children, and those that live in Ontario are “learning” through this “educational” process:

1. You have a right to feel entitled.

2. If you don’t like something, complain.

3. If your complaints are not being listened to or addressed in the way you would like, complain louder, more often, and for a longer time.

4. If you’re upset enough, just leave. And ask everyone you know to leave with you.

5. Negatively impact people who are not directly involved in your argument as pressure points to your opposition in order to gain leverage in your argument.

6. Saving money is more important than saving relationships.

7. Take sides.

8. It’s important to win an argument. Use all the power you have to win yours. (This is especially helpful if you’re already powerful enough to begin with.)

9. The tighter the pull, the more control you have.

10. The law is the law is the law—so long as it suits your purposes.

11. Shakespeare was wrong with: “What’s in a name?”—Apparently everything. Because you can change it and call it something else—and then somehow it is.

12. If you can’t make someone do something willingly, force him instead. And then make it legal.

13. Rebel for your cause. Then don’t rebel (the very next day) because it might cost you something more than your cause…like $2,000 x 76,000, for example.

14. The legalism of the law is more important than the spirit of the law and those of its people, which it is intended to protect.

15. Inconvenience others at the cost of putting yourself and your needs first.

16. Bullying is not allowed in schools or playgrounds. It is, however, allowed at the bargaining table and in courts.

17. Your decisions and actions don’t affect others negatively or at all— because they’re yours. And you’re entitled.

18. Parents should speak to their Human Resource representatives at work and ask them to implement or extend bankable sick days—because parents may need them to stay home if and when there is a last-minute teacher protest or strike. Or not. But, just in case.

19. Extra-curricular activities and student privileges are not important in the educational system because they are not mandatory.

20. Home-schooling is a viable option.

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A Review: The Baby Lit Classic Series (Children’s Feature)

A Review:

The  Baby Lit Classic Series

(Children’s Feature)

05.15.2012

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez

Modes of fantasy in literature have always fascinated the imagination of its readers, especially its younger audience of children as found in the classic tale of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll published in 1865.

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Now, parents don’t have to wait that long to introduce classic literature to their young ones with the publication of the Alice in Wonderland: A Baby Lit Colours Primer by Jennifer Adams with illustrations by Alison Oliver.

little master carroll: Alice in Wonderland

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Category: Children’s/Baby

Author: Jennifer Adams

Illustrator: Alison Oliver

Format: 6  7/8″ x 6  7/8″ Board Book, 11 pages

Publisher: Gibbs Smith

ISBN: 978-1-4236-2477-6

Pub Date: March, 2012

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And almost every student in high school has been exposed to the romance of the literary classic, Romeo and Juliet by the creative genius of William Shakespeare. The fictional couple is iconic in their “star-crossed” love, recognized both by the tragedy of their romance and by the play’s poetic verse.

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And now, the simplicity and bright design of Romeo and Juliet: A Counting Primer by Adams, illustrated by Oliver, is in its central appeal to wee ones, a wonderful book board version that both parents and their tots can enjoy.

little master shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet

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Category: Children’s/Baby

Author: Jennifer Adams

Illustrator: Alison Oliver

Format: 6  7/8″ x 6  7/8″ Board Book, 11 pages

Publisher: Gibbs Smith

ISBN: 978-1-4236-2205-5

Pub Date: August 2011

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The fate of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett has been one of the most captivating romantic archetypes of classic literature especially for those who love the backdrop of the English country. Now, babies can also enjoy the “romance” of counting in Little Miss Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: A Baby Lit Counting Primer board book.

Little Miss Austen: Pride and Prejudice

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Category: Children’s/Baby

Author: Jennifer Adams

Illustrator: Alison Oliver

Format: 6  7/8″ x 6  7/8″ Board Book, 11 pages

Publisher: Gibbs Smith

ISBN: 978-1-4236-2202-4

Pub Date: August 2011

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And who can forget the heroism of Jane Eyre’s quest for freedom and the romantic mystery between her and her bitter employer Rochester amidst the secrets of Thornfield Hall?

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Babies can now “count” the different ways leading with “1 governess” to “10 books” in Little Miss Bronte’s Jane Eyre: A Baby Lit Counting Primer published by Gibbs Smith.

Little Miss Bronte: Jane Eyre

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Category: Children’s/Baby

Author: Jennifer Adams

Illustrator: Alison Oliver

Format: 6  7/8″ x 6  7/8″ Board Book, 11 pages

Publisher: Gibbs Smith

ISBN: 978-1-4236-2474-5

Pub Date: March 2012

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My Review:

This Baby Lit series is ingenious as it tugs at the sentimental “heart-strings” of literary parents who have enjoyed such timeless and famous classics as Alice in Wonderland, Romeo and Juliet, Pride and Prejudice, and Jane Eyre. But, it’s also a wonderfully designed set of books authored and illustrated by the same people for each volume, Jennifer Adams and Alison Oliver, consecutively, which makes for a streamlined look both in its board book formats and creative illustrations and book design. For children, each page opens up to a large font either in number, colour, and corresponding word of choice, all related to its original classical story. Tots may not know the name of the Chesire cat in Alice in Wonderland, but will be encouraged to recognize that it is certainly a bright orange colour! Our youngest readers may not know the ramifications of “forbidden love” yet, but they will be introduced to “2 hearts” and “8 love letters.” And though they may not have the pleasure of experiencing the complexities of the classic stories of Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice like they inevitably might in high school or college, they will be introduced to “4 towers” in Thornfield Hall and the “2 rich gentleman” found in Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy. The modern and creative design of the illustrations are bright, fun, yet remain aesthetically modern and artistic, something that will spark and retain a child’s interest, yet entertain and please its adult readers, too. The Baby Lit series can be purchased and read as stand-alone books or collected as a whole for your baby’s first and growing library and makes a perfect literary and “trendy” gift. But if not for your baby, the collection is still a spectacular find and would be a wonderful addition to any literary lover’s personal library for its sheer connection to the classic originals. Better, yet, it’s a wonderful companion to its original classic counterparts where the adult can enjoy the adult version of the book alongside the literary child(ren) in his or her life. My two-year-old daughter continually pulls these beauties off the shelf and reads them on her own, counting her numbers, identifying colours, and re-creating her own dialogue to match the pictures. She especially loves the book Romeo and Juliet and also loves choosing her favourite of the “nine fancy ball gowns” found in Little Miss Austen’s Pride and Prejudice counting primer book.

M. admiring the “9 fancy ball gowns” in Little Miss Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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She has even made her first own form of literary criticism of the work when she told me in her own words,

“Mama, this is a nice book!”

M. happy with the Baby Lit series published by Gibbs-Smith. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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That’s good enough for me! And quite encouraging to see that my daughter’s literary interest continues to grow as does our personal library. I highly suspect that this set of books will remain a nostalgic and highly valued series in both her personal library as well as mine. If you have a young one at home or know a tot you wish to enlighten with a thoughtful and “fashionable” gift, the books of the Baby Lit series are a great choice.

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Zara’s Rating

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A special thank you to the publisher Gibbs Smith for providing me with media copies in exchange for an honest review.

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Holy Mother! I’M a Mother!: Reflections on Motherhood Part 1 (Mother’s Day Series)

Holy Mother! I’M a Mother!

Reflections of Motherhood Part 1

(Mother’s Day Series)

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez

As a young girl, I was fiercely independent. Unlike my younger sister who secretly misinterpreted “apron strings” as “Siamese twins.” She was on my mother’s hip for a large part of her early years. Unlike me, who was content and unafraid to experience the world on my own. It’s not that I didn’t need my mother—I just didn’t need my mother.

Independent little me. (c) Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez.

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Later, my ambition, which was sparked not only by my very first “academic award” found in my compassion to “share my crayons” with another child sitting at my table in Junior Kindergarten when I was awarded with The Apple of the Day Award from Miss Sherry, my beloved teacher—was further embedded by my parents’ generous praise of my work and my intelligence.

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I was four.

And every picture that I painted or drew was hung up on the walls of our townhome laundry room, which was on the second floor.

Pictures of a crude, shaky hand: the ever-recognizable yellow-circled sun with straight lines for its rays of light; green scribbles of grass, over-exaggerated stems of tulips of varying colours and sizes (since I had no idea how to draw any other kind of flower); blue clouds, tiny m’s for flying birds, an apple tree with far too many apples and obvious stems; a box house with an attempted roof; and anatomically bare stick people who were taller than my boxed house.

Yes, these were the products of great praise. And so, I kept on drawing. I kept on painting. I kept on reading. And I kept on writing—I kept on.

As I grew, I became a scholarly and serious student, often, if not always at the top of my class. I even graduated as Valedictorian, winning a Brampton Rotary Award of Excellence that drove me to believe I could someday conquer the world (okay, not the world, but maybe a good two or three countries).

Needless to say, my drive for success propelled me into an accepted solitude with a focus only on a strong career and vocation, extravagant travel plans, a nomadic lifestyle, a few adventurous lovers, dependable and like-minded friends, along with a house full of cats (I later found out that I’m anaphylactic to cats and put myself at risk of death in ever being near them!)

(c) Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez

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Marriage or having children were not part of my long-term plans—or even part of a short-term one.

I had nothing against children. Or even men or marriage. I just had other plans. (And we all know how plans usually go…)

My husband and me on our wedding day. (c) Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez

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I’m not complaining. Some of the best things in life derive from spontaneity and surprise. And poof! I met someone who didn’t make me forget my plans or myself, but helped me acutely remember.

Two years into our marriage, “we made plans” to try for a baby.

The actual stick that changed my life. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez

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Unlike some women (and my previous academic success), my pregnancy and that surrounding childbearing was not in any way, “textbook.”

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I was diagnosed with an incompetent cervix, a terribly insulting term, which alluded to the idea that my cervix was somehow wilful and unwilling to succeed in its primary function, which is to carry a child. And just as insulting to my very nature, which was not used to being called “incompetent” at anything I had set my mind to.

And so, I carried my child for as long as I could until my firstborn was born too early—the mere size of a pop can, born at six months gestation instead of the anticipated nine.

(c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez

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That’s how my personal experience of motherhood began. Not the wistful, flowing ebb of sentimentality usually associated with Hallmark cards, perfectly colour-coordinated baby showers, and gushes of congratulatory hugs, handshakes, and bravado cigars. No.

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I had panic and pain when I should have been ethereally glowing. I had Level- Three-priority hospital care with the subjugation of pity, awe, and scientific wonder and study. I had worry, anxiety, and fear—first of labouring, which I had never experienced before, and second, of the potential death of my unborn and then “born-too-early” child.

It was an intensive time of postpartum hormonal change with the heightened stress of death banging on my son’s isolette incubator door. He was 875 grams when he was born. He was fully intubated, depending on the life source of CPAP machines, strong antibiotics, a strict visitation code, a revolving shift of surrogate nurses, and the grace of God.

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I had missed my prenatal classes by two weeks! My son was born before I could attend my first session and so when the accompanying nurse told me to breathe, I didn’t know what the heck she was talking about, nor did I know what it was to enjoy a baby shower.

I had one—an impromptu gathering of my mother, a few of my aunts who had thrown a few gifts into some gift bags, and a buffet of food I didn’t feel like eating because all I could do was worry about whether or not my baby would live or die.

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Dramatic? Yes. True? Absolutely.

And rather than tell you in detail of the four years of frequent hospital visitations, medical appointments, tests, studies, and other forms of my son’s near-death experiences and medical scrutiny—I will say, that we had by no means, any plans to have another child due to the extensive care our son required and the fear of surrendering a second child to a similar fate.

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But, you know how plans go.

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And so, five years later, we put our faith into the possibility of having another baby…

Now, I have a seven-year-old son and a two-year-old daughter!

M & M, my two “kidsters!” (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez

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What’s the moral of the story?

There isn’t one—but, it is my story. And that of my children. And in reflecting back, Mother’s Day isn’t a day to merely celebrate what it is to be a mother—but also to celebrate the children themselves who have made us so.

I know I will most likely be receiving a similar drawing to the one I drew as a child, on Sunday from my kids. The crude and shaky lines will most likely inscribe,

“Happy Mother’s Day, Mama! I love you!”

And yes, I will most likely post it our fridge door.

The yellow-circled sun will most likely be replaced with the steel mask of Iron Man and the straight lines will become its rays of light-beam weaponry. The green scribbles of grass will most likely be the bludgeoning green of Hulk, while the over-exaggerated stems of tulips will become the varying colours and sizes of enemy ships. The blue clouds will stand as Captain America’s shield and the tiny m’s of flying birds will most likely become boomerang discs.  The apple tree will stand firm as the tree from Black Panther’s forest. And the boxed house with an attempted roof will most likely become a testament to the Superhero Squad’s secret headquarters!

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And of course, the anatomically bare stick people—will now include two more!

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How do you celebrate your children as a mother?

If you’re not a mother, how do you celebrate the children who are in your life?

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