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We raised $1050 for Kids Help Phone during our 2015 peak season

KidsHelpPhoneEvery year, Alpha Textbooks collects donations, both online and in store, to raise money for Kids Help Phone.

Supporting Kids Help Phone has been important to us for many years. We know that supporting children and teens through difficult times is critical to their success in school and later in life.

In 2015, we renewed our pledge to Kids Help Phone and reinvigorated our donation-drive for the duration of the back-to-school season. Customers were asked to donate $2 at checkout, in store and online.

The 2015 drive was successful. We surpassed our goal of $1000 and collected $300-400 more than we have in recent years.

While the team at Alpha Textbooks feels that we can collect more in future years, we’re happy about our success in 2015. More donations mean more awareness about the important service.

This year, Kids Help Phone expanded their online services by adding more time and resources to their live chat – a feature that has been growing in popularity over the years. They also introduced a new resource designed exclusively for teen boys, BroTalk.



Teen Boys are less likely to reach out for help, despite having equal needs for counseling and other support services. As a result, teen boys are more likely to die by suicide than teen girls. Addressing the root causes of this is at the core of the new service. To learn more about BroTalk and/or how you can support it, visit Kids Help Phone’s organizational site.

Thanks to Kids Help Phone for teaching us more about their services and plans for the future.

A special thanks to all of our customers who generously donated this year.


Grammar is not a lost art … so why is teaching it such a challenge?

The Grammar Debate

The grammar debate is never ending. Should we waste our precious time – and our children’s time – by teaching grammar in schools?

Most parents would say, “Absolutely, please teach them grammar,” while correcting their children’s written assignments. Yet, there is an ongoing push in education to let children learn grammar through “absorption.” Where did we get the belief that students will “pick up” the art of grammar the same way they pick up learning to speak a language? If it were possible, what are the implications of such a method?


Writing How We SpeakLooking at Painting

We all know learning to do something well is not as simple as being exposed to it. You don’t learn to paint by looking at paintings, and you don’t learn to play the guitar by listening to Slash rip-out solos. So why do we think people can pick up the art of grammar, especially when they are mostly exposed to mediocre grammar at best. Yet, for better or for worse, people do pick up language and speech through hearing it. As creatures of imitation, we learn everyday colloquial speech easily. Children learn from media and peers, adults pick up hip lingo from kids, verbal and nonverbal expressions from colleagues, newscasters, talk show hosts, or cultural icons.

Regrettably, writing the way we speak rarely conveys the message we intend. Speech is full of many other social cues that deliver a person’s intended meaning. From tone-of-voice to hand gestures, environment to social context, meaningful looks, or perhaps slipping-in an analogy for clarification, there are many elements that make us understand people when they speak, whether or not they actually say what they mean.


Write Exactly What You Mean

Writing stands alone. It lacks environmental, visual or acoustic cues that express meaning, which speech provides. Writing must use exact words, contain more detail, draw upon fully formed examples, and follow grammar rules. Consequently, writing must be more precise than verbal communication, or it risks becoming confusing.

If it were possible to learn to write well through “absorption,” students would have to spend an equal amount of time engaging and re-articulating grammatically correct texts as they spend communicating vocally. Unfortunately, with only 24 hours in a day that is a luxury few people can afford. One option would be to major in literature or humanities. However, in a world that prioritizes business acumen, majoring in literature alone results in limited career options. Instead, we teach our children how to be great business people, with no foundation in basic communication.

The consequence: for all the business sense our young, brave, wide-eyed, engaged, and entrepreneurial citizens have when they enter the workforce, many of them can barely string together a sentence in correspondence. They have difficulty finding work, supervisors don’t respect them as much as their work colleagues who write well. They can’t adequately or professionally convey their opinion to management and they may find themselves unable to move up “the ladder.”


Teaching Grammar

Contrary to popular belief, it is not social media that’s doing this to young people. It’s us. We need teachers to actively teach grammar in schools, to push for grammar to be taught, regardless of what the provincial curriculum says. We need parents to support that effort; we need small businesses and large corporations to support it.

A big problem with teaching grammar is finding the most effective methodology. Every new study that comes out seems to indicate that one teaching method or another doesn’t work. I find this peculiar, since grammar has been taught in the past, and historically there have been entire generations of educated people who learned “good grammar.”

Run Grammar lessonsWhen I taught writing composition at Simon Fraser University, I found that every class was different. Every class had a unique set of problems when it came to writing their essays. Teaching methods that may have worked for one class just weren’t appropriate for another. Now, while I don’t know much about teaching children grammar, I do know what it’s like to stand in front of a room of stubborn 18-20 year olds who think they know everything, and proceed to tell them that they are not making any sense. I had three short months to teach my classes how to write well. I only saw them once a week. Thus every semester I had to reinvent my approach and only had a small window of time to do so. This is to say, teaching writing – grammar, syntax, form, etc. – with limited time and unexpected obstacles is not impossible. Succeeding in the effort is infinitely rewarding. Every semester my students left my classroom having learnt something.


For Elementary and High School Teachers

Giggly Guide to GrammarAt Alpha Textbooks we have an array of books and resources to aid elementary and high school teachers in teaching grammar and writing in general. Not all of them are going to work for every teacher, but that’s the beauty of having options. What makes us unique is that we specialize in all publishers and we aim to source materials that work for you regardless of producer, origin or cost. We want our clients to be happy. When teachers come to us with a request to look at books, we take them through our warehouse to show what we have in stock and what we can source.Painless Grammar

We will dedicate some future posts to reviews on books that tackle writing and grammar. In the meantime, if you are interested in looking at options for teaching writing composition, give us a call.


Here are some other articles that also deal with the topic of grammar in Canadian schools:

“How is grammar being taught in schools?” by Camilla Cornell in Today’s Parent. 

“The Case for Teaching Grammar,” by Paul Budra in Education Canada.

Alpha Textbooks delivers Audience Choice Award for Inspire Teen Reads 2015

Alpha Textbooks Audience Choice Award winner Alice Cheng and Cris Costa

Audience Choice Award winner, Alice Cheng, and Alpha Textbooks’ Cris Costa

Alpha Textbooks had an exciting Sunday afternoon at Word on the Street Toronto (WOTS), for Inspire Teen Reads on the Youth Launchpad Stage.

Inspire Teen Reads is an innovative competition created and organized by a group of bright young minds who care about literature. The aim of the competition was simple: encourage teens to read for pleasure. Participants presented a pitch aimed at convincing a panel of experts from the publishing industry, accomplished writers and the WOTS audience that they should read the participant’s chosen work of literature.

We were happy to see that like us, speakers believed that leisurely reading and expressive writing inspires creativity. Whether they were pitching Nabokov, Plath, or any of the other great authors that were represented on Sunday, each participant showed passion, belief and a true understanding of the benefits of reading.

In round one, 16 competitors shared their pitches with a jury of editors from HarperCollins Canada, Simon & Schuster, and Penguin Random House. These pitches ranged from poetry and prose to spoken word. Eight shortlisted contestants then presented their pitch in round two, to young-adult authors Kenneth Oppel, Megan Crew and Bill Richardson.

The Inspire Teen Reads audience had a critical role to play as well. They voted for the winner of the Alpha Textbooks Audience Choice Award. We offer huge congratulations to Alice Cheng for winning the Alpha Textbooks Audience Choice Award for her pitch on Wayson Choy’s The Jade Peony, also to Lauren Chang her first place win for her pitch on Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, the runner-up, Martine Duffy, for her pitch on Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, and all those who participated in the competition.

Kudos to the team at Inspire Teen Reads and all the WOTS volunteers for a successful event!

Although Alpha Textbooks primarily deals in educational materials, we strongly support leisure reading. Reading affords all of us a unique insight into the world around us, and more importantly into ourselves. Reading nurtures our identity and imagination, it assists in the development of strong minds and future leaders. In the words of Harry S. Truman, “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.”

Thank you Inspire Teen Reads for giving us the opportunity to participate. We look forward to the next Inspire Teen Reads competition.

Get Celestial Writing Advice: 2014 Short Story Contest Winner Celestial Santiago Shares a Story on Writing a Short Story

It’s the middle of the first month back at school. The 2015 Alpha Textbooks Short Story Contest is well underway. Many students are thinking about how to write a compelling story with the hope of getting published. For young writers, developing a creative, but structured short story that has engaging characters and zero spelling or grammar errors might be easier said than done. That’s why we’re here to help. We spoke to Celestial Santiago, winner of the 2014 Short Story Contest high school category and would like to share her experience with you.

Celestial, 2014 Short Story Contest high school category winner

Celestial Santiago entered the contest in grade 12 through her Writer’s Craft teacher. The contest was intended as a minor assignment that exercised students’ creativity in writing, but it also helped Santiago hone her skills as a writer.

Every writer experiences the dreaded writer’s block, and as a young writer Santiago is no stranger to it. She faced that challenge almost immediately, during the story planning stage. Her mind was preoccupied with many different things, so it was hard to create something out of thin-air. Santiago recalls staring at a blank document for hours with little success. She then relied on her teacher’s advice for conquering writer’s block: write about your experience or something else you know.

“At the time, I was in my own jungle of thoughts and emotions about university applications and portfolios,” says Santiago. “So I decided the easiest story to write was something I knew the most about, and that was the feeling of growing up.”

Once Santiago overcame what she describes as the hectic brainstorm, the writing process was less challenging than she anticipated.

Celestial’s story “It Takes One to Know One” takes readers on a journey with a first year university student on her first day. Santiago – in high school at the time of writing the story –draws upon her own experiences of feelings of uncertainty, nervousness, excitement being overwhelmed and that all-too-common experience of not knowing where you are supposed to go on your first day of university, as her narrator makes the transition from high school.

“Everything in the story is related to my personal emotions and concerns about my first day of university,” says Santiago talking about character development. “From trying to fit in a new environment to reminiscing about the old one, [the] character based off [me].”

But writing the story wasn’t a solo ride for Santiago. She found inspiration outside of herself too, with the help of friends and peers. In the original draft, Celestial’s character is unable to belong. She is left alienated and alone. During the revision process, Celestial’s peer pointed out the inaccuracy of the story’s ending in relation to what can happen at university. Inspired by the suggestion, Santiago produced a more hopeful ending – despite the character’s wildest fears and perception of reality, the first day of school turned out not to be so bleak after all.

Echoing a sentiment shared in a previous post, an interview with Canadian author Alex Leslie, Santiago advises that especially during the initial stage of story writing – in a writer’s early years – it’s important for young writers to remember their voice matters, and that it can be a part of the conversation of other and even great works of literature.

To jog her inspiration, Santiago would look at other literature. She recalls her own feelings of doubt and intimidation after reading great pieces. “Prior to an assignment of any sort,” she said, “I always find myself online looking at how other writers write. I would spend hours reading amazing articles or short stories, and then begin to doubt my own abilities and creativity. As a result, I started to alter my own writing to fit another person’s voice.”

Realizing that you can still be original while allowing yourself to be influenced or inspired by other writers was a great learning experience. Santiago encourages students to find inspiration from external resources, but reminds them not to be intimidated when stumbling upon great work. Most importantly she says, “Take the opportunity to show the reader who you are.”

Like Edgar Rice Burro said, “If you write one story, it may be bad; if you write a hundred, you have the odds in your favour.”

Tell us about your experience writing your first short story!

7 Steps for Effective Short Story Writing

Startup Stock Photos

School is back in full swing. Forget Snapchat. There’s no better time to break-out the keyboard and write a story. Our Short Story Contest is officially open to all middle school and high school students in Ontario.

Writing fiction can be tough for both established and aspiring writers. Here are seven short story writing steps to help you write your first masterpiece.

  1. Start with Brainstorming

It’s always important to brainstorm before bringing a creative writing piece to life. Brainstorming helps you think through different story ideas and narrative threads. It allows you to think about many possible storylines and alternative outcomes. Brainstorming is also a good time to take notes on other story components, such as characters, themes, tropes and symbolism, title, etc.

  1. Pick a Good Title

Just as important as the first paragraph of your story, titles can “make or break” a reader’s interest. If you know what you want your story to be titled at the beginning, that’s great! But don’t be afraid to change it after the story is written. Many great stories had different working titles than what they were finally named.

You can take different approaches to deciding on a title. Titles can be symbolic and related to a theme; for example, Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises is a story about Americans in Spain, their complicated relationships and the running of the bulls. Literal and/or ironic titles might sound something like Flannery O’Connor’s short story “Good Country People.” You can also create a descriptive title, such as The Hunger Games.

Decide what kind of title is good for your story once it’s written. If you can’t think of one early on, avoid getting stumped by just moving ahead with writing the story.

  1. Think about Structure

Before you begin, think about the structure of your story. Decide if your story will be a first or third person narration. The “first person” tells a story that is happening to him or her. This is when you use the “I” pronoun. The “third person” narrates a story about other people. This is when you refer to all characters by their name or use a “he” or “she” pronoun, even for the main character.

Structure your story with a beginning, middle and end. Here’s what to include in the structure:

  • The beginning: introduce your character(s), and introduce the protagonist’s struggle or conflict. Try to evoke emotion from readers – make them laugh, smile or feel sad for your characters. Write the beginning with your story’s end in mind. Start to build a crisis.
  • The middle: develop the plot and action. This is where the crisis becomes clear. A crisis can be personal or private, it can also affect a group of people or be public. It can be multiple things. Be selective with what you include in your story; show what’s important, you don’t need to show it all. And always create some form of suspense.
  • The end: end the narrative with triumph or tragedy. Does the protagonist rise or fall? Are desires satisfied or is all lost? This is when readers find out the outcome of the main character’s challenge. Delivering a resolution makes the story satisfying for the readers.
  1. Write the First Paragraph

Just like other types of writing, you want to hook the readers early. You can do that in short story writing by creating a clear scene (i.e. story setting). What is your story’s setting? Determine a time and place for your story, incorporate that into the narrative in the first paragraph.

Introduce your characters early. Try not to overwhelm your 500-750 word story with too many characters (keep it down to 1-3 characters); after all it is a short story not a novel. Also, keep your story simple, cut to the chase and make sure that one of your characters is a protagonist.

  1. Write Characters

The protagonist is your main character. Prior to writing your story, know your character(s) well. Answer questions about your characters, even if you don’t include the answers in the story. Are they shy or extroverted? What do they love? What do they fear? Think about all the things that make up a person’s personality and keep those things in mind when your character says things and makes decisions.

Your characters can be “good” or “bad,” whatever they are, your reader will want want to root for them. Give readers a clear idea of the protagonist’s burning desire; what does he or she want? Every character should have a desire for something. Those desires could be similar, but they are probably different. Every character should also speak differently, at least a little differently. You want each of your characters to have their own voice. So think about the vocabulary and tone of each character.

  1. Establish a Narrative Tone

You want to establish your story’s tone early on, too. Is it dark or light? Humorous or serious? Use language that feels right for your story, and avoid using clichés. Instead look for interesting and new ways of saying something.

  1. Edit

Edit, edit and edit some more. Every great piece of literature undergoes revisions. Once you are done writing your story, take a break from it for a couple of days. Visit it again with fresh eyes.

When editing, pay attention to sentence structure, word choice (is it using the right words, or are there better ones?) and review all the story elements. Checking spelling goes without saying.

Ask a friend or family member to read the story. Be open to their comments or suggestions. You can always decide not to take their suggestions, but they might have an eye for something you didn’t see.


Like any art, skill, or even sport, great writing comes with practice – and editing. The best thing to do is to try. It’s that easy. Get it out. Find your voice. Don’t dwell on perfection in the early stages. You can always go back and change things once your ideas are on paper or the screen.

When writing characters, tone or narrative-arc, or even in your editing, one rule of thumb is show, don’t tell. How do you plan that?

Now the only thing left to do is sit down and write! We wish you the best of luck in the contest. Happy writing!

Have you read all this, but you can’t seem to get the ideas out? Check out our post about how to tackle writer’s block.

Faced with Writer’s Block? 6 Tips to Overcome Every Writer’s Worst Nightmare

Every writer encounters writer’s block at one point or another. Even experienced writers wrestle with inspiration, or just figuring out where to start on an existing idea.

With Alpha’s Short Story Contest launch just around the corner – September 1 – we thought we could offer some helpful suggestions on how to get over writer’s block.


1. Brainstorm and Take Notes

Sometimes you feel inspired, so all you need to do is sit at your computer and write a story. But more often than not, you’ll find that you need to create your inspiration.

Brainstorming will guide you down the road to a great narrative. It helps to be “old skool” in this step. That means take a pen or pencil, use a notebook or even scrap paper. Write down all your ideas; even if you think you won’t use them write them down. Make diagrams, draw lines, whatever you need to do get your thoughts on paper.

You can brainstorm all story elements, from scenes to characters, plot, themes, conflict, and resolutions. Or you can start with a few things until you hit inspiration. Do what’s right for you. Write.


2. Write What You Know

Take a topic that is familiar to you and write about it. Write about something you care about, something that motivates you, or that you think about often. Take a story that you may have experienced in real life and change things – setting, characters and outcome – to create a work of fiction. Ask, “What if?” Think about the interesting characteristics, the quirks and great skills of different people you know and mix them up to create new characters.

Writing what you know will help you get over writer’s block, and it will help you write a story that feels real and engages the reader.


3. Write by Hand

Studies have shown that writing by hand helps you generate and process ideas more so than typing on a keyboard. This doesn’t mean that great writing can’t be done using a computer keyboard, but it means if you are stuck, writing by hand can give you an extra boost.

In this article, Sarah Baughman, a writer and teacher, says that she “use[s] the computer to actually write and edit, but if [she] need[s] to think first, [she goes] for the pen and paper.” Baughman goes on to cite many studies that link handwriting to thinking, and she refers to the Wall Street Journal, which notes “the hand has a unique relationship with the brain” when it comes to “composing thoughts and ideas.”


4. Move Around

Sometimes working in the same spot you always work in might make you feel stuck. Do you typically do your math at the kitchen table? We can associate certain places with specific feelings, and those feelings might leave you uninspired.

Try sitting on the couch, or work in your school library. Maybe a relative has a nice quiet room, where you will find a different atmosphere that inspires you. Maybe you often work everywhere except your study desk, so try sitting there!

Everybody is different. Some people work better staying in the same place all the time. But if you’ve tried everything else, a change of scenery might be the medicine you need to see beyond writer’s block.


5. Read a Book

At first it sounds counter-intuitive. Why should you be reading if you are supposed to be writing? Reading other literature you like not only gets your creative juices flowing, but it can also help you write in the tone you want for your story.

Many authors recommend reading the writers you want to sound like. In the end, you’ll always sound like you, because your voice is unique. People may detect influence in your work, and that’s okay.


6. Write All the Thoughts That Come to You

If you have an idea, put it down. You may not use everything at the end, but you have to work through those thoughts to create your masterpiece. One thought can lead to another. Days after you decided you didn’t want to use something, you may feel inspired to integrate it into your narrative in an important way.

The main point: just write.



There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to overcoming writer’s block. You may have to try different methods before you find what works, or even a combination of our suggestions. The tips we offer in this post are tried and tested by many writers, but don’t feel frustrated if none of them work for you. There are many different ways to get over writer’s block, so keep trying them out until you find something that works.

Do you have a different method on overcoming writer’s block? Share it in the comments!


GetPublishedAlpha_BigTitle_Rounded-cornersClick here to learn more about the 2015 Alpha Textbooks Short Story Contest. Alpha extends a big thank you to the contest’s generous sponsors, including the Claremont Review, AGO, ROM, Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament, and Pizza Pizza.

Making Connections, Third Edition, shows students where geography can take them

making connections - political factorsAs students become more connected with the world around them, the need for current and relevant course material is becoming more apparent. Subjects like English, art or politics are often top of mind when it comes to contemporary material. Rarely do we think of geography as a “current” subject. Making Connections: Issues in Canadian Geography, Third Edition (Pearson) brings geography into the real world for students.


In a previous post, we touched on the difficulty that teachers encounter when it comes to keeping students’ attention in a world of smartphones and tablets. If that is true for subjects like English, it is certainly true for geography. It’s not uncommon to hear a student say, “When am I even going to use this?” Making Connections, Third Edition, overcomes this obstacle in one great way: it shows students the real-life applicability of the subject.


making connections - chart 1Many students exhibit lack of interest in school courses, because they do not immediately see the subject’s relevancy in their lives outside of getting a grade. Making Connections, Third Edition, addresses this by posing real life questions to students, such as, “Should Canada have a one child policy?” It then provides supporting points for each side of the debate, encouraging students to make their own connections and come to their own informed conclusions.


The text also explores natural resources as they are tied to the economy. Chapters on natural, renewable and non-renewable resources, as well as population, manufacturing, the service sector, and the economy, come together to provide a complete and connected picture of the relevancy of geography in our daily lives.


Why teachers will want to use it in their classrooms

This textbook includes preparatory material with OSSLTs in mind. It also provides teachers with support in the form of sample lesson plans, summaries for each unit and chapter, answer keys, assessment checklists and rubrics, modifiable line masters, lesson support, and curriculum support.


Above all, what teachers will appreciate the most is seeing their students make connections between what they are learning in the course and the world around them.


Why students will want to learn it

Making Connections - CoverThis textbook is great at making difficult information accessible. It includes interactive learning opportunities through ArcGIS, Geo Flight, and Google Maps, which speak to students through mediums they use every day and can easily navigate. It also gives students a chance to apply the theory they learn in the classroom.


The book even goes a step further by including a “Skills Tool Kit” section, which breaks down the concepts, technical terms, and skills required to use and read the graphics included in the textbook.


Essentially, Making Connections, Third Edition, provides students with all the tools they need to succeed in their Grade 9 geography course. Whether it’s a question of the Canadian economy or their future, your students will leave your classroom at the end of the year with all the skills they need to advance to their next steps.

Gaining “InCITE” on Student Imagination


“Alchemy” by Diana Salman, Hillfield Strathallan College

It’s no secret that Alpha considers literary excellence and creativity to be an important aspect of every student’s success. That’s why we were so grateful when Gregory Dominato, MacLachlan College Director of English and Chair of CITE (Conference of Independent Teachers of English), generously gave us a copy of InCITE 2015, at the Leading With Words conference in April, held at Hillfield Strathallan College in Hamilton. InCITE 2015 is a book of humorous short stories written by youth who attend private schools across Ontario. The collection is the product of a youth writing contest, judged by award winning Canadian author, Terry Fallis.

InCITE 2015 begins with a message from the CITE 2015 “Leading With Words” conference chair, Jeremy Johnston. Johnston notes that we don’t take comedy seriously enough. He says that humour is an essential ingredient to every story and situation. In this message, he writes, “We believe humour is as essential as tragedy in aiding our understanding of the human condition.”

The most gratifying part of reading this book is finding humour in every single story. Without turning each story into a stand-up routine, students took average, everyday situations, and developed witty, delightful narratives. There are stories that take on the theme of differences in humour across cultures, dark humour, or even the imagined humour of inanimate objects. In all stories, readers are guaranteed a smile.

Since the book is a collection of vetted contest entries, it had three winners for three categories: middle (grades 7 and 8), upper (grades 9 and 10), and senior (grades 11 and 12). However, all the stories published in InCITE 2015 are remarkable in some way, so I’m discussing a couple of “non winning” stories deserving of attention.


By Kate Jones, The Country Day School

“Four Philosophers (Or, The Perks of Suspending Disbelief)” (26), by The York School’s 11th grade Adrian Marcuzzi, begins with three of history’s greatest thinkers, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. The philosophers are asked to solve some of the greatest philosophical questions posed by thinkers in the future. A stone slate with “clairvoyant properties” is brought into the room, and the philosophers are told that they “are forbidden to leave until [they] come up with something deep” (26).

The three set to work, asking the slate to show them the most popular question posed by the youngest popular thinker in the future. The rest of the story narrates how Socrates, Plato and Aristotle spend their time trying to derive meaning from Jaden Smith’s tweets, beginning with, “How Can Mirrors Be Real If Our Eyes Aren’t Real #JadenSmith,” (27). By the end of the story, with the help of the temple caretaker, Socrates realizes that perhaps the reason they can’t understand Smith’s tweets is because, “True wisdom comes to each of us when we realize how little we understand about life, ourselves, and the world around us, (28)” thus coming up with the famous philosophical statement we know today.

Marcuzzi’s story combines humour and philosophy. In his witty observations about Smith’s tweets, he manages to make some insightful statements about society, and tie in the modern day with the old. He also cleverly wrote his story in a way that managed to bring it full circle, offering readers an unanticipated ending.

Appleby College’s Sydney Kalyn is the author of “Meet the Literals” (96). The story is a perfect example of how students used this year’s prompt to display their own unique sense of humour. Kalyn’s story is about the Literal family, who take everything literally. When the Lancasters go over with their children for dinner, they begin to notice the Literals’ odd reactions to certain statements. When the Lancasters’ son, Max, tells the Literals’ daughter, Curiosity, that she’ll only catch him “[o]ver [his] dead body” (97) during a game of tag, the story takes a dark, but humorous turn that can be appreciated by readers of all ages. Kalyn’s story blends humour, horror and word play to produce a delightful rendition of the absurd.


By Yasmin Kirby, The Country Day School

 InCITE 2015 also features student paintings, drawings and photographs to accompany each story.                                 

Reading InCITE 2015 has been an inspiration and important point of reference for us at Alpha Textbooks, as we prepare for our 2nd Annual Short Story Contest. We anticipate that in it’s second year, the contest will grow, and students’ work will be just as imaginative. The new judges are going to have a great (and tough) time!

Students, schools and sustainability: great things happen when you put your mind to it



Sustainability is an important cause for most bookstores, and it’s a key cause for us at Alpha Textbooks. Our business relies on the use of a major natural resource – paper. This is why it is important for us to continue to make our business environmentally sustainable, and to give back to the communities that support us.

Howard PlantingOne way that we give back is by participating in an annual tree planting event with our sister company, BookSwap Inc. BookSwap plants a tree on behalf of every school or school department that orders more than $250 dollars in book orders in one year. In 2015, the plant took place on Earth Week in Caledon, and in 2014, we participated in the reforestation of Tommy Thompson Park on Toronto’s waterfront. BookSwap has been donating trees to the TRCA since 2006. On the day-to-day level, we make a conscious effort to reduce paper waste in the office. There is one initiative, however, that is unique to Alpha: new in 2015, we now have a worm farm.

Alpha Textbook president, Howard Cohen, says that this is something he has always wanted to do, “I have a degree in biology, and I’ve always been big on protecting our environment.”

“A worm farm is an incredible example of the cycle of life. The worms consume any fruit or vegetable, as well as shredded paper, and turn it into fertilizer. This in turn will be used in our home and office plants, as well as our gardens. The worms will eat their weight in scraps daily and then turn the compost into soil,” Cohen explains. “It’s stuff that normally gets thrown out anyway. This way, it has a purpose. It’s reusable and sustainable.” And it makes great, nutrient rich, soil. All the staff at Alpha enthusiastically participate in the development of the worm farm, by using appropriate lunch leftovers to contribute to the compost.

What we love as much as the worm farm is seeing schools implement their own sustainability programs. Schools like Rowntree Montessori School and St. Mildred’s-Lightbourn School have noteworthy environmental initiatives.

Rowntree teaches students the importance of sustainability at a young age. Commencing in grade one, students learn how the recycling process works and what happens at the local recycling plant.

St. Mildred's

The playground at St. Mildred’s eco-wing.

St. Mildred’s has created an eco-wing at the school. The wing targets five specific categories: sustainable sites, water efficiency, indoor environmental quality, energy and atmosphere, and materials and resources. The eco-wing comes complete with motion censored lights, a daylight harvesting system, and a rainwater cistern.

Rowntree and St. Mildred’s have set a great example for students and teachers who wish to keep their schools sustainable and reduce their carbon footprint.


As many of you already know, the beginning of summer marks the beginning of Alpha’s BuyBack season. Putting books back into circulation is a huge part of how we give back to the environment. It helps reduce production of new books when there are many already printed that can be used again to teach, while offering reconditioned books to students at reduced prices.

This year, to bring home the message, a team at Alpha has been working to connect to the schools we visit and our greater community. We are aiming to remind them about the importance of putting their books back into circulation. It’s not uncommon that high school graduates bring us their books from as far back as grade nine! So this year, we’ve been working on reminding people to bring their books in early – the best time is at the end of June and in July. So, we hope to see you in the store with books to sell. Don’t forget to ask about our worm farm when you visit!


Nelson English 10 – making classrooms as contemporary and explorative as the students in them

Ground breakNelson 10 book photo - Talk About It pageing and refreshing are words usually reserved to describe contemporary literature. Rarely would you use these words to describe a textbook. In this case, we’re talking about Nelson English 10.


In a world where technology has infiltrated almost every human interaction, and school classes begin with a reminder to turn off cell phones, teachers are looking for new ways to help students stay focused and engaged. Nelson English 10 understands and addresses the changes that are occurring in the way students learn. From its design to the learning material itself, Nelson English 10 caters to students in the world that they live in.


The textbook is comprised of four different sections: conflict, innovation, humour and perspective. Each of these sections uses poetry, visual art, short stories and news articles to help students engage with the content in a way that speaks to them.


On making connections, Nelson English 10 has this to say, “In today’s world, where one text so often plays upon another, analyzing the relationships between texts has become increasingly important. For example, think of a current TV show. How much of your understanding and appreciation of that show depends on the connections you make between it and other texts or shows you have read or viewed?”


Nelson 10 book photo -- SabinaZeba

Moving from approach to content, the other refreshing aspect of this book is the material itself. Nelson English 10 tackles controversial topics that are sure to spark debate in a classroom, such as censorship, surveillance and LGBT rights. Articles and short stories written by influential figures such as Malala Yousafzai and Rick Mercer, to name a few, encourage students to think critically and develop informed opinions about world issues.


Why teachers will want to use it in their classrooms

For teachers, it includes support for the concepts covered, such as literary devices, elements of styles, and genre/text forms. The textbook also contains modifiable rubrics, comprehensive summative assessments, and of course, covers all curriculum strands. What teachers are bound to love most about the textbook is the discussion it can potentially create in classrooms.


Why students will want to learn it

Students will enjoy discussing the concepts taught in this book because it uses current events and issues to help students apply their knowledge. Each section begins with a “Talk about it” page, which prompts discussion using paintings, quotes and other visuals. What’s most important to note about Nelson English 10 is that it was written for young people and about young people. The real life applicability of the content will make concepts easier for students to grasp.


Heading into thenelsonir post-secondary years, students will be expected to apply their English skills to analyze and write about current societal issues and events. While this is not your traditional textbook, it prepares students for the type of learning they will encounter after high school at a level that is appropriate for them now. Nelson English 10 may not be for the lovers of tradition, but it is a great option for schools and teachers looking to update their course material and offer something new to students.


Review by Piya Singhal