Friday, June 23, 2017

The Vegetable Thieves by Inga Moore



First off I do need to give a little warning here.  You probably won't find a copy of The Vegetable Thieves.  It is long out of print and unlikely to be held in a public library or even a school library.  All of this makes me sad but I do want to share this book with you.

One of the wonders of the Internet is book shopping and especially second hand book shopping. From time to time I have thought about The Vegetable Thieves (1983) which I first read and enjoyed in 1985. I decided to see if I could find a copy somewhere in the world.  Tonight my copy (in mint condition) arrived.  It even smells good.

Inga Moore was born in England, lived in Australia and then moved back to England.  A very popular book in our school library is Six Dinner Sid by Inga Moore and I still read two of her earliest books occasionally - Aktil's big Swim and Aktil's bicycle ride.  I also really love The truffle hunter. More recently Inga Moore has illustrated Wind in the Willows and The Secret Garden.

Des and Letty work very hard in their market garden.  It is successful but the personal price is high.  Every night they collapse exhausted - there isn't even time for a stroll home after the movies.

"Then one night, thieves came.  ... By the end of the week they'd taken two cauliflowers, six swedes, a string of onions, a sack of potatoes, leeks, parsley and a very large savoy cabbage."

Can you guess the recipe?  Can you imagine the identity of these thieves.  I do think you will get a surprise and since you probably won't be able to find this book I will tell you.  Des and Letty try to keep watch but after another hard day they fall asleep.  When they wake up they see a trail of empty broad bean pods.  They follow the trail and discover a group of mice eating broad beans, "done up nicely in leek and parsley sauce!"

Des and Letty are outraged.  They burst in with their sticks raised.  Only to discover the thieves are actually children.  They have no parents and they uncle has run off to join the circus.  The children's money has run out so they have been pinching things.

Letty makes a plan.  Rona, Reggie, Ronnie, Sid and Rita come to the market garden the next day after school.  They help with all the garden chores and Letty cooks a lovely dinner of pumpkin pie, bean hotpot and (I love the sound of this) steamed strawberry pudding.  The four little mice go home but the next day they turn up again on the doorstep with all their belongings.  The final illustration shows the whole group enjoying an evening game of shuttlecock - just charming.


Thursday, June 22, 2017

The girl of glass by Holly Webb

The Girl of Glass is such a difficult book to categorize.  It is a story about the use of magic. Mariana's father is able to add magic to the glass pieces he makes.  This is also a story about family relationships and deep grief.  Some reviews I have seen say age 9+ but I think this book would suit a more mature senior primary student who is ready to cope with the final scenes which I won't spoil here.  It is also a story about loyalty, gifts and talents and family expectations.

Mariana lives with her father, step mother and little sister  Eliza. Sadly Eliza is gravely ill and no remedy, and they have tried so many, seems able to cure her.  Mariana loves her tiny fragile sister but one day she dies :

"Eliza smiled again, and then the awareness faded out of her eyes, leaving them lifeless, emptier than the shards of blue glass in the spoils bin downstairs.  Marina's father leaned over, and held the bubble of molten glass to Eliza's mouth, in time to catch her last faint sighing breath."

This breath is then used to give life to a glass doll made to look exactly like Eliza.  This doll, however, is not Eliza and so she is rejected by Mariana's mother.  There are several violent scenes where Bianca, in her grief, lashes out at this strange glass creature.  Mariana, however, loves her glass sister.  She is not really a copy of Eliza.  She is a creature with her own needs and opinions. Their father finally realizes he has been cruel when he made this creature and so he sells the glass doll to a wealthy neighbour.  Now it is up to Mariana to rescue her new sister.

I did enjoy The girl of glass but I also found it oddly disturbing.  It seemed difficult to imagine how this book might end.  Being made of glass means Eliza is surely destined to break.  Again I don't want to spoil the ending.  I do find books about dolls are often quite disturbing.  I am thinking of books like Doll Bones, The Doll (After Dark series) and Coraline.  The Girl of Glass reminded me of Tilt which is a book I read quite recently.  Mariana has huge artistic abilities but her father will not accept this.  In his view only boys can work with glass.  This issue of sex-role stereotypes was also a theme of Tilt but with a more positive outcome for Netta.

This book is one of four set in Magical Venice and I am now keen to read the other titles : The maskmaker's Daughter, The water horse and The mermaids sister.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Too many friends Kathryn Apel

Not for lunch

'Maybe Lucy
would like to sit
with us
for lunch today,'
I say 
as we collect lunch boxes
from our schoolbags.
'She always seems so
alone."




Yes Too many friends is a new verse novel (I adore them) but before I tell you about this brilliant book I am going to make a big call and say surely this book will be short listed for our CBCA awards in 2018.  Yes it really is that good.

Tahnee is in Year Two. She has lots of friends and enjoys school but she is also keenly aware of the different personalities in her class and is especially sensitive to the feelings of outsiders like Lucy.

The class have a most wonderful teacher with the perfect name Miss Darling.  "She smiles a lot and wears colourful clothes with spots and stripes and swirly patterns. ...  (She) smiles as she moves around the room like sunshine chasing rainbows. Miss Darling makes school exciting."

You will read about class relationships, projects, team work and a wonderful whole class writing idea. Meanwhile Tahnee has a birthday to plan and she hopes Lucy will come along.  The birthday theme is The Show.  Dad is such a good sport allowing the kids to throw wet sponges - Duck Dad.  The food is perfect too - hotdogs, pizza, fairy floss, slushies, hot chips, popcorn, corn on the cob and cupcakes along with little old fashioned party games like pass the parcel and pin the tail on the donkey.  Things are not perfect all the time, though.  Making new friends can mean old friends feel left out or worse they reject their friends. Tahnee has to find a way to bring everyone back together.

Read this review for more details.  I rarely give ratings but I give this book five stars out of five.  I would follow this book with Where I live by Eileen Spinelli, Sixth Grade Style Queen Not! by Sherryl Clark and Pookie Aleera is not my boyfriend by Steven Herrick.

Too Many Friends is realistic—a finely nuanced story that gently reminds us of the positive effects of openhearted kindness and compassion. A welcome addition to our Australian fiction, it is credible and uplifting with nary a trace of didacticism.  Gleebooks

Monday, June 19, 2017

Wisher and the runaway piglet Georgie Adams



I have just spent the last week listening to the audio book of Wisher and the Runaway piglet the first book in the series Railway Rabbits.  It was such a delight to listen to this story briefly each day. Kate O'Sullivan does an excellent narration and seems to easily change so many character voices. Listen to an audio sample here.

Last year one of our students read Wisher and the Runaway piglet and she recommended it to me. I love it when this happens.  The young reader wondered if there were more books in the series. Together we looked inside the back cover and discovered there are eight more books so we have now added them to our library.

As this first story opens Barley is anxiously waiting for the arrival of his new babies.  Mellow has sent him off and while he waits looking at the river various animals from the woodland community pass by and offer their advice and good wishes.  Barley returns home to the news five babies (3 boys and 2 girls) have arrived.  They name them Bramble, Bracken, Berry, Fern and Wisher.

Close to their burrow there is a terrifying beast - the Red Dragon.  It "roared along the valley every day - up and down, up and down - whistling loudly and belching clouds of smoke.  Although it looked a terrifying beast Barley had never once seen it stray from its tracks."  Have you guessed what this really is?

After several weeks spent in the safety of their burrow the five little rabbits are allowed to explore the world outside - but not stray to far.  Wisher keeps hearing a little song in her head :

I whisper a song like the wind in your ear
Wisher, beware. Wisher take care.

While she does take care, Wisher somehow manages to become caught up in a race to find a tiny runaway piglet. Luckily she has made a good friend Parsley the mole.  Together they find Foster the piglet and restore him to his family.  One fun aspect of this is watching the spread of rumours about the fate of Foster.  First it is one dog, then two or three, then a pack of wild dogs - five or six.  This aspect of the story would make for an interesting class discussion.

I have included the new and old covers.  Read an interview with the author here.  I am sure younger readers will eagerly seek out this whole series which would also make a good family read-aloud.





The chocolate touch II by Patrick Skene Catling


A teacher in my school returned The Chocolate Touch this week and happily explained how much her class had enjoyed this quirky little story first published in 1952 (yes it is based on the idea of the Midas touch).  I was quite amazed to discover this first installment even has a Wikipedia page. Begin by reading this so you can catch up on the story.

I mentioned to the class teacher that there was a sequel with a funny scene involving Mickey Mouse and then I discovered our copy was long gone. Thanks to the wonder of buying second hand books from around the world I have been able to find a copy of The Chocolate Touch II (1997) and it arrived tonight.

Here is the scene that made me laugh out loud.  Mary Midas and her family are visiting Disneyland.

"What's bothering you?' Mickey kindly enquired.  Although he was an international star of motion pictures, television and comic books, he had always remained a decent, down-to-earth, practical mouse. ...   'Well,' Mary said, looking from Mickey to Minnie. ... I turned the water in the pool at the hotel .. into chocolate.  ... Mickey put his arm round Mary's back and gave her a friendly Uncle Mickey sort of hug - and a quick kiss.  It all happened suddenly.  Somehow, Mary's lips brushed against his cheek. Mickey Mouse instantly turned into a chocolate statue."

This is a minor book and long out of print but I just wanted to share this funny section with you.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Daughter of Nomads by Rosanne Hawke

Daughter of Nomads is an epic journey and an epic read and while it is well worth the effort you should be warned nothing that will be resolved on the final page and so you will need to continue your journey with Jahani into the second book.

The date is 1622.  The setting is the Mughal Empire. In the opening scene Jahani is visiting a local market with her friend Sameela.  In a few says Sameela is to be married. The market is busy and crowded. Someone knocks Jahani over.

"Jahani lost her footing and was just regaining her balance when a man knocked her over. ... 'Sami?' Jahani shook Sameela's shoulders but her fingers came away sticky."

Her best friend is dead but it seems the assassin was actually after Jahani. A young man steps up and picks up Sameela and guides them home.  His name is Azhar.  On this same day Jahani discovers her precious mother Hafeezah is not really her mother.  Her parents, she is told, sent her away when she was four years old to a distant region to keep her safe.  Now Jahani and Hafeezah, accompanied by Azhar and a very special horse called Chandi will make the long and dangerous journey back to the home of her parents. There are, however, more surprises in store because when she arrives her father Baqir has betrothed her to a war lord called Muzahid Baig and this marriage will take place in just a few days.

Living with Baqir and his wife Zarah are several snow leopards.  One in particular called Yazan befriends Jahani.  In fact Jahani seems to have a very special affinity with animals. She has so many questions and while it does seem Azhar knows the answers he never seems to fully explain anything. Then comes another huge shock for Jahani.  Zarah and Baqir are not really her parents after all.  She is a nomad girl.  In the final scenes of this first book Jahani flees her marriage and joins the nomads. She is also pursued by the demon king Dagar Khan.  He has heard a prophesy about a girl with red hair.

Beware the woman with the leopard's heart
Crowned in flame beneath a bloodless sun
The wretched daughter of a broken king
Come to seal what was rightfully won.

Jahani is now on the run so it is important to change her appearance especially since she has very distinctive flame coloured hair.  I did enjoy the scene where the nomad women dye her hair and add extra piercings to her ears.  If you pick up this book have a read of pages 204-207 as a way to preview this story.  My other favourite scene comes when Azhar finally takes Jahani for a ride on his flying carpet. I found it quite exhilarating.

Here is a set of comprehensive teaching notes. This book would make an excellent novel study for a junior high school class. I also recommend this book for mature senior primary students.  I picked up this book myself after reading this review by Megan Daley.  I am a huge fan of Rosanne Hawke - my favourite book is Soraya the storyteller.  Daughter of Nomads was also listed as a CBCA notable title for 2017.



Thursday, June 15, 2017

If I had an elephant by Richard Fairgray and Terry Jones


Before you read this book with a class why not use the title as a writing stimulus?

If I had an elephant ...  

Or you could use one illustration - they are wild.  Or just one line :

"If I had an elephant, his name would be Clarence and we'd get matching jackets. We'd sure feel silly when we got them mixed up!"

I guarantee the twist at the end of this book will make everyone smile.

You can read about the author and illustrator (not to be confused with Terry Jones from UK) who come from New Zealand here.  Here is a video interview with the author.  We have three books by this team in our school library.

I would follow this tall tale with Alistair's time machine, Just another ordinary day and Billy Twitters and his Blue whale problem.