Alpha Textbooks

Home » Books

Category Archives: Books


Alpha Celebrates World Autism Day with Books You’ll Love

April 2nd was World Autism Awareness Day. World Autism Day was adopted by the UN in December of 2007, making 2008 the inaugural year. The UN encourages member states to raise awareness about autism to help improve knowledge about people with autism throughout the world. The day brings people and organizations together to deliver aid to research, diagnosis, treatment, and overall awareness. This is part of a larger general effort of UN initiatives to improve human rights.

Since the adoption of World Autism Day, awareness and research around the world has increased.

At Alpha, we observed World Autism Day by using the month to promote books related to Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome. We chose a selection of books from Jessica Kingsley Publishers, and created a store display. This display coincides with the USA’s Autism Awareness month, which is April.

Our selection includes books that help adults understand, cope with, and relate to children with autism. It also includes children’s literature.

These beautifully illustrated books reach out and help everyone better understand those on the autism spectrum, often through the eyes of children with Asperger’s and autism.

Here is more on the books:


Thomas LovesA rhyming book about fun, friendship – and autism.

By Jude Welton, illustrated by Jane Telford


Babies are Noisy – A book for big brothers and sisters including those on the autism spectrum.

By Anne-Marie Harrison, Illustrated by Beth Byrne


The Green Eyed Goblin – What to do about jealousy – for all children including those on the autism spectrum.

By K.I. Al-Ghani, illustrated by Haitham Al-Ghani


The Disappointment Dragon – Learning to cope with disappointment (for all children and dragon tamers, including those with Asperger syndrome)

By K.I. Al-Ghani, illustrated by Haitham Al-Ghani


Autistic Planet – a magical world where all trains run exactly to time, where people working in offices have rocking chairs, and where all kids dream of winning the chess World Cup. Join us on a journey to this alternative reality…

By Jennifer Elder


Flying to See Janet – Traveling by plane can be a stressful experience for anxious children (and their parents!) Prepare children for the unfamiliar sights and sounds of the airport experience in advance with this fun and gently humorous picture book.

By Laura Vickers


Can I tell you about Asperger Syndrome? – A guide for friends and family.

By Jude Welton, illustrated by Jane Telford


The One and Only Sam – A story explaining idioms for children with Asperger Syndrome and other communication difficulties.

By Aileen Stalker, illustrated by Bob Spencer


I am an Aspie Girl – A book for young girls with autism spectrum conditions.

By Danuta Bulhak-Paterson, illustrated by Teresa Ferguson


A Book About What Autism Can Be Like – Chris and Andrew are very good friends, but sometimes Chris does things that Andrew doesn’t understand.

By Sue Adams


The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome – The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome is the definitive handbook for anyone affected by Asperger’s syndrome (AS). Now including a new introduction explaining the impact of DSM-5 on the diagnosis and approach to AS, it brings together a wealth of information on all aspects of the syndrome for children through to adults.

By Tony Attwood


International Women’s Day 2017 #BeBoldForChange Books

Women's dayToday is International Women’s Day (IWD). The UN adopted this internationally celebrated day in the late 20th century, but did you know that the historic roots of IWD can be found in Russia dating back to 1917? On March 8, 1917, a demonstration of women textile workers covered Petrograd, the capital of Russia. Eight years before that, however, on February 28, 1909, the first “National Women’s Day” observance was held to honour garment workers in New York.

In 1977 the UN “adopted a resolution proclaiming a United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace to be observed on any day of the year by Member States, in accordance with their historical and national traditions” (UN Women Watch).

Today, IWD means many different things for people all over the world. Each year has a new theme. The 2017 theme is #BeBoldForChange.

Throughout the history of literature, women have not only been bold and gone against the grain to write great books, but they have also written books about other bold women.

9780062363602To honour IWD 2017 #BeBoldForChange, Alpha Textbooks is featuring books that we think represent bold women writers and stories.

Our list includes (in no particular order):

I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban, by Malala Yousafzai

Persepolis & Persepolis II, by Marjane Satrapi

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, by Margot Lee Shetterly

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou

The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood

Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank (aka Diary of Anne Frank)

Hannah’s Suitcase, by Karen Levine

What We All Long For, by Dionne Brand

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen

To the Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf

What other great books written by women about bold women would you add to this list? Why?



Book of the Month for December – Swimming Studies

swimming-studies-book-coverIf, like us, you’re still immensely impressed by the performance of Canadian athletes at the summer Olympics in Rio, particularly Penny Oleksiak’s performance, then you will find Leanne Shapton’s Swimming Studies engrossing.

In this autobiographical novel, Shapton reflects on some important moments in her life that were shaped largely by one activity: swimming. To most of us, swimming is just that – an activity. But to Shapton, swimming was all encompassing.  Whether it was swimming for the Olympic trials, or swimming for the pure enjoyment of it, she spent much of her life in the water.

Slipping into a body of water is to Leanne what strumming a chord is to a musician, or what painting is to a painter. It feels right to her. It is in describing how she feels in water where the writing in Swimming Studies becomes so serene and poignant. Swimming becomes a source of inspiration for her, not only as a writer, but also as a painter.

The book’s ruminations on a life spent in water doesn’t follow a straight, linear path. Instead, the book starts at one moment, jumps three years into the future, only to go back ten years in the subsequent chapter. However, the book does focus on the significant stages of Leanne’s life, particularly, her time training for the 1988 and 1992 Canadian Olympic trials.

The life of an athlete is often distilled down to superficial statements about having to work hard, train hard, and strive to be the best every day. Leanne’s story goes beyond stale platitudes and shows us the strain of chasing perfection; the almost daily 5:30am practice sessions, the cardio, the strength training, the drills, and the carbo-loading before a race.

Although the book takes us through the routine tasks of an athlete, the reader is also shown how the obsession to get better can manifest in interesting and unique ways depending on the athlete.

For Leanne, the time one minute and 11 seconds (1:11:00) was significant to her as a teenager, but it also haunted her. It was the time she wanted to swim in the 100-metre breaststroke for the Olympic trials. While nuking her breakfast in the microwave on mornings before practice, she would set the timer for 1:11:00. She would then close her eyes and visualize her race, trying to beat the microwave on its countdown to 00:00:00. There are many idiosyncratic moments sprinkled throughout Swimming Studies, like Shapton’s race against her microwave, and they breathe so much life into the book.

But as the reader learns from the outset of the book, Leanne didn’t make it to the Olympics. Once she accepted that she wouldn’t be a competitive swimmer, she had to figure out who she was and what would come next. Identity quickly surfaces as a major theme in Swimming Studies. Is she an athlete? Is she just a casual swimmer? Can she be a teacher? Like the ebb and flow of a tide, Leanne had to find a balance between the competitive swimmer she was in her adolescence, and the person she will become in her adult life. Her struggle to move on from a sport that defined her offers some of the most emotional and relatable moments in Swimming Studies.

Swimming Studies is an engaging read about the author’s journey of self-discovery, and her efforts to reconcile her feelings about swimming after walking away from competitive swimming. The book offers a look into the mind of a former athlete who finds the beauty and tranquility in a sport after years of seeing only competition and five different coloured rings.


Why this is good for teachers

This is a great book for teachers that are looking to include materials into their curriculum that cover the sporting world.

Swimming Studies is an honest look at the life of an athlete. The book, however, doesn’t just explore the physical and mental demands, but also the relationship between the author and the activity that makes her sport a sport: swimming.

Swimming Studies will satisfy teachers that are looking for something that can appeal to the sports fans in their classroom, while challenging their students to view sports from a different perspective.


Why this is good for students

Leanne Shapton’s reflections not only on her career, but also her love of swimming and being in the water, will be thought-provoking for many students, especially those that are involved in a sport or enjoy watching sports.

Shapton’s autobiography reveals her deep appreciation for everything swimming has given her: the friendships, disappointments, familiar smells, bathing suits, and the cathartic, self-affirming moments spent floating calmly on water.

Swimming Studies gives the reader a glimpse into an athlete’s mind that is unique, and young people either involved in sports or just interested in sports will be intrigued by Shapton’s views on swimming.

Book of the Month for September – Intro to Mass Communication: Media Literacy and Culture, 8th Edition

intro-to-media-and-mass-comm-coverFrom the moment we wake up to the moment we go to bed, we are bombarded by messages from hundreds of media sources. The man on the ad tells us the deodorant he uses will help you smell like an Irish spring, the people on the latest reality TV show present their version of an ideal lifestyle, and the news anchor tells us the top story of the day involves a squirrel and a jet ski.

Messages like the ones above can have a very obvious impact on individuals, their behaviour, and the culture they’re a part of, while the impacts of other messages are less apparent. This begs the question: how aware are we of media’s influence on us, and are we able to scrutinize the messages aimed at us to discern their intent? Stanley J. Baran’s Introduction to Mass Communication: Media Literacy and Culture, 8th Edition takes a comprehensive look at media and mass communication, and how we can learn to effectively comprehend images and messages targeted at us, the consumers.

Baran does a good job unburdening the reader with weighty concepts and theories. That’s not to say there aren’t a lot of key terms in the book, because there are many. He makes it easy for the reader to conceptualize everything he presents by using plenty of real world examples that young people will find interesting and relevant to them (i.e., the rise of Apple products, pirating music, product placement in movies like The Social Network, and the rise of shock jocks on the radio). This makes the text more engaging, and the information easy to retain.

The book takes the large, messy and convoluted world that is media, mass communication and our relationship to the media, and lays it out in a clean, methodical fashion. The author groups his deep dive into this world into four chapters: 1) Laying the Groundwork, 2) Media, Media Industries, and Media Audiences, 3) Strategic Communication Industries, and 4) Mass-Mediated Culture in the Information Age.

The book begins by introducing the reader to the key concepts and terms that continually pop up in the book,  then looks at the history and influence of the most pervasive media industries (film, Internet, TV, PR, advertising, etc.), and finally, it explores the social responsibility of the media.

The section of the book that looks at the dominant media industries is a very intriguing part of the book. The chapter on the Internet, in particular, is equal parts interesting and concerning. As I previously mentioned, the author takes a holistic approach to the content in his book. That approach is used in an effective way in the chapter on the Internet, as he tasks the reader to confront the good, the bad, and the ugly of the World Wide Web. The chapter invokes many mixed thoughts and feelings about this technology that has such a strong influence on our lives.

Needless to say, there is a lot to digest in the book. Although there is a lot of content (to the point where it could seem daunting), the text is neatly divided into easily digestible chapters, and the reader always knows what to take away from each section, with each chapter having learning objectives and a detailed review section.

The thoroughness of the review section is very helpful, as it helps the reader memorize important information. It covers the key terms, provides review questions and  review points that sum up all the important information succinctly, and features thought-provoking discussion questions that make the reader apply what they learned using critical thinking.

Author Stanley Baran is able to take a dizzying amount of information and present it in a clear and concise fashion, making it easy to both retain important information and use it to interrogate the world of media and mass communication.


Why this is good for students

Students will enjoy using Introduction to Mass Communication: Media Literacy and Culture, 8th Edition because it covers a world that they are steeped in every day. With the amount of time they spend on the Internet, social media, television, etc., and as key media targets, students will enjoy learning how to scrutinize ubiquitous messages and images.

Furthermore, the text does a great job relating its concepts to people, places and events that young people are familiar with. Many examples are from events that students have witnessed in their lifetime, which they will feel more connected to, and they will have already formed an opinion on them.


Why this is good for teachers

For anyone introducing students to media and mass communication, Introduction to Mass Communication: Media Literacy and Culture 8th Edition is the perfect teaching resource. The textbook takes a holistic look at media and mass communication – no stone is left unturned. The book reduces the need for supplementary materials considerably, if not completely.

Teachers will also appreciate how far the book goes to foster discussion and critical thinking. Along with the numerous discussion questions, there are plenty of opportunities for the reader to apply their media literacy skills in the real world (i.e. any of Donald Trump’s campaign literature).


Book of the Month for June – Louis Riel

51CC3328KQL._SX314_BO1,204,203,200_If someone tells you that history (particularly Canadian history) is dry, then hand them a copy of Chester Brown’s biographical comic Louis Riel. To put it simply, Brown brings Canadian history to life in his comic, a format that succeeds in creating an engaging reading experience for learning about Canada’s sordid past.

Brown’s comic tells the true story of Louis Riel, a nineteenth century Métis leader. His struggle with the Canadian government – to secure rights for his people –takes the reader back to a time of much violence and uncertainty in Canadian history.

In the mid-nineteenth century, Canada was made up of four provinces: Ontario, Québec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia; and the Canadian government had its eyes on expanding its boundaries into the Red River Settlement – which today is Manitoba.  At that time, the Red River Settlement was part of Rupert’s Land, which the King of England granted to the fur-trading enterprise, the Hudson’s Bay Company.

Louis Riel opens in 1869, when Prime Minister Sir John A. McDonald makes a deal with the Hudson’s Bay Company to govern the Red River Settlement. The residents of the Red River Settlement, of which 80% were Métis, were dissatisfied with the news and concerned about governance.

Eventually, Louis Riel emerges from the confusion, anger and uncertainty, as the leader of, and to some a revolutionary for, the Métis people.

The fight for the Red River Settlement’s independence and self-governance is brought to life by Brown’s clean, simple and charming illustrations. The black and white graphic novel is done in an artistic style reminiscent of Serge’s Tin Tin stories (though Brown insists he got his inspiration from another source). Brown’s style is also similar to the Persepolis graphic novels.

Brown pulls us into Louis Riel’s life with a series of vignettes that focus on the integral moments of his 16-year struggle with the Canadian government. Brown keeps the narrative quick and focused throughout the story. The reader never has to wait long for the significant, emotionally charged moments to reach their climax. Even with the fast pace, the narrative never feels rushed, and none of the story’s important moments feel underwhelming.

Throughout the story, Brown portrays Riel’s highs and lows, and his inspiring – and contentious – moments. This is one of the book’s best qualities: it paints an unbiased portrait of Riel. Is Riel a good man, or is he a bad man? Was he a clever leader, or was he madman? Like any revolutionary, Riel does not perfectly fit the pristine image of a hero. Brown puts both sides of Riel on display, and leaves it up to the reader to make their own judgement on Riel’s character.

Whether you like Riel or not, Brown’s comic will certainly entertain you, while shedding light on an intriguing man, and his involvement in a struggle between two cultures that is not talked about too often in Canada.


Why this is good for students

Brown’s comic isn’t 300 pages of dates, names and places that students have to memorize for a test. Louis Riel brings Canadian history to life.

In one sitting, a student can learn about the important moments of Louis Riel’s struggle with the Canadian government in the same way they can read about Batman’s latest confrontation with The Joker.

Why this is good for teachers

Chester Brown’s Louis Riel is great for teachers who are looking for innovative ways to teach Canadian content. Not only is the engaging text by a Canadian author, but it also covers a chapter in Canadian history that teachers can use to discuss today’s social studies and current events.

While Canada continues the process of reconciling old, but harsh, truths about how indigenous people were persecuted in this country, students can discuss the treatment of indigenous people today, civil and human rights, and Canadian politics.

Louis Riel is a great comic for introducing students to the turbulent relationship between the Canadian government and indigenous people of Canada. Brown highlights many issues, like ownership, land distribution, governance, language, and cultural erosion. The book is thematically rich, and will give any classroom many avenues towards interrogating the treatment of indigenous people in Canada.


It’s Buyback Season

BuybackPileSummer vacation is nearly upon us, which means the school year is almost done. We feel that we can safely assume that the majority of your time is now spent planning and thinking about all of the fun you’re about to have in July and August.

But the end of the school year is also a time to plan for selling your no-longer-needed textbooks back to Alpha Textbooks to recoup some of your schools expenses.

Every year, families spend a lot of money on resources students rely on to succeed in the classroom. Textbooks, novels and e-resources, to name a few, are staples of a student’s educational arsenal.

But what happens when the school year comes to a close and students don’t need those resources anymore?

Without a system in place to collect surplus school supplies, those resources can end up in a closet collecting dust, or even in a landfill. Neither of these outcomes are sustainable practices, nor do they help families stretch their budget for school expenses.

When textbooks go unused, or are thrown away, we are forced to replace them, and we use up more of a natural resource – paper.

Here at Alpha Textbooks, we strive to encourage our customers to help us keep gently-used school resources in circulation by selling their books back to us.

Saving money is a major concern for many people. By helping us operate as a sustainable company, our customers get the opportunity to get back some of the money they spent at the beginning of the school year. Furthermore, they earn credit that can offset the price of their educational materials for the following year.

With the help of our customers, we’ve been able to sustain the life cycle of thousands of educational materials, and in doing so, we’ve helped many families recoup some of their school expenses. And we’re just getting started.

Book of the Month for May – Yiddish for Pirates

61TotuDuNwL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_On the surface, Gary Barwin’s Yiddish for Pirates is a swash-buckling story about the yearning for adventure, the thirst for discovery, and the pursuit of ever-lasting life; and Barwin succeeds in telling a fun, enthralling adventure story full of memorable characters. But Yiddish for Pirates has more depth than one might initially suspect, as it depicts the plight of Jewish people living in Spain in the 15th century during the Spanish Inquisition.

The Spanish Inquisition was a time of intolerance and oppression for Jewish people living in Spain in the 1400s. The story’s main character, a Jewish boy named Moishe, finds himself in this precarious climate as he embarks on a quest to explore the world and live a life of adventure. He gets his wish early on when, in a whirlwind 25 pages, he becomes a servant on a ship, gets caught stealing, his ship is destroyed, and he is then marooned on a beach where he meets Christopher Columbus. This is a typical 25 pages for Moishe, as his narrative takes him from unassuming boy, to a bold and adventurous pirate. Indeed there are very few moments where the narrative stands still in Yiddish for Pirates, as Barwin maintains suspense throughout the novel.

Moishe’s faithful, yet sardonic, anthropomorphized parrot Aaron narrates his exploits – and he is fantastic in this role. Aaron continuously provides hilarious commentary on the significant events of Moishe’s life. Like a narrator of a Christopher Moore novel (à la Biff from Lamb), Aaron’s sarcastic, irreverent wit breathes humour into any dire situation he and Moishe encounter.  He is a wonderfully entertaining narrator, as he deftly turns bleak moments into light-hearted ones with his comedic charm – through Aaron, Barwin shows off his clever word play and comedic flare. No matter what transpires in the story, Aaron always manages to put a smile on your face.

Aaron’s witty narration is welcome in the story, especially when he and Moishe come face-to-face with the imperialistic and oppressive modus operandi of the Inquisition. Early in the story, our heroes encounter Jewish people struggling to preserve their faith and culture under a regime that seeks to erase their culture from the world. As Moishe and Aaron attempt to help this Jewish diaspora find a safe haven, they cultivate strong relationships with some quirky and lovable characters. It is here where the heart of Yiddish for Pirates emerges from under the flotsam and jetsam of its action-packed moments.

Yiddish for Pirates is a fun action-adventure story about a boy who wants to see the world. But it is also a story about a group of displaced, persecuted people trying to find a place where they can embrace their culture in the harsh face of intolerance. It has everything you’d want in a book: action, humour, romance, and adventures into the unknown. This wonderfully written novel takes you through a nautical journey with lots of heart, while providing hilarious commentary on the ideologies that fuelled the Spanish Inquisition, courtesy of a wise-cracking parrot. This book is definitely worth checking it out.

Great for Students

This book is a great for students looking for a fun adventure story. Yiddish for Pirates is an addictive page-turner, and an easy book to get lost in for a couple hours. Moishe is a great protagonist whose sense of adventure is something many young people will find relatable.

Students will also enjoy Aaron’s narration. His wise-cracks will keep young readers laughing.


Yiddish for Pirates is a work of historiographic metafiction, as Barwin uses real people and events from history and includes them in the fictional, often self aware, narrative. In this respect, the novel provides information about historical events while serving as a springboard for a discussion about those events.

Students can find parallels between things that happened hundreds of years ago, and things that are happening today. Barwin shines a light on intolerance and xenophobia in the 15th century that eerily mirror rampant intolerance and xenophobia in the 21st century.

There are many great discussion topics that can be pulled from Yiddish for Pirates that should generate many spirited discussions about human nature — the lessons we’ve learned, or have not learned, from our collective past.

Teachers can simultaneously explore the novel on a textual level, examining fiction as fiction, narrative devices and the act of story telling, while also engaging students in a historical and thematic exploration.

Yiddish for Pirates is also a good teaching tool, because it immerses the reader into a fun, suspenseful, adventure story — as learning should always be fun.


Change Your Teaching Materials Periodically and Keep Your Students Engaged


Teaching is a tough gig. You might have a great year with one set of students, then the following year it seems like your students are recent graduates from the inferno. As the wise Forrest Gump once said, “… you never know what you’re gonna get.”

When students are not engaged, they act out. So how do you keep them engaged?

Although personality management is something one learns over time, other remedies to calm inattentive or unruly students and get them back into learning are found in learning materials.

If you are experiencing difficulties teaching, because students are unable to understand or relate to their books, you do not have to endure a year of madness. There are many supplementary materials that you can implement in the middle of the scholastic year to improve lessons.

One problem area that we hear about all the time at Alpha concerns math books. Schools often use the same math books year after year. At some point, teachers find themselves in a dilemma when students do not relate to the books anymore. The  math lessons are lost on students.

We’ve heard different versions of this experience many times when speaking with teachers at conferences, in our store, or when they call us. We find that teachers share their experiences and issues with us after they realize that we are not a publisher.

oldbooksIt’s not just math, however. We hear similar stories in every subject — English, French, Science, Religion etc. Many teachers and schools are frustrated about their teaching resources, but they do not know where to source new materials. Since they have used the same ones for so long, it seems difficult to find out what else is available.

There are many different publishers to contact in order to figure out what new books would be the right one. It is not work that can be done during the day while a teacher is teaching. After school, there are extra-curricular activities, marking and other administrative obligations. Therefore, at no fault of their own, it is difficult for teachers to make time to meet with different publishers during business hours. So, teaching methods and programs become stagnant and students disengage.

This is when we get a phone call asking, “Can you show us everything in…”, or “Can you recommend something in [insert discipline] that’s new, relevant and age appropriate?” Some teachers come into the store (we are open late on Thursdays) and straight-out ask us, “What are the other schools using?” Or, “What’s new and being adopted in alternative schools?” Or the opposite, “What are the school boards using?” We can offer this information since we have relationships with school boards, private schools and alternative learning centres.

A lot of our information about textbook effectiveness, however, comes firsthand from teachers, principals and homeschoolers. This enables us to recommend certain textbooks and resources based on real teaching experiences and not just what the book jacket claims. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the book you are using is bad; it just means that it is not working for your students at this time or anymore – it is time to try something else.

With information about textbooks coming to us from different sources, we can recommend alternative math, science, language, religion, history, or supplementary materials, for example. We can inform teachers about new novels and graphic novels, or books that make it easier and more engaging to teach and learn classical texts.

Book-Stack-No-Back-Reduced_webThe advantage we offer over dealing directly with publishers is that we provide an objective perspective on the materials in question. Whenever possible, we try to maintain strong relationships with publishers or we form partnerships, that way we offer their products with a confident understanding of the benefits of their programs.

Schools find that we make buying easy for them, because they do not have to get their books from a million different sources. They can just come to us and we do all the heavy lifting. That also cuts down on administration costs.

As an added benefit, we might be able to buy those books that you no longer want, which is an effective cost saving opportunity for your school.

So if you are having a hard time with your current teaching materials, we welcome you to call us. We are happy to meet with you in our store, office, or we can visit your school if possible. We provide sample copies of books, as well as educational discounts.

Good luck wrapping up the fall semester. Let us know if you have any questions.

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.