Tuesday, December 6, 2016

How many sleeps till Christmas? by Mark Sperring illustrated by Sebastien Braun

We are celebrating Christmas in my school by giving book parcels to our youngest classes.  Each day we announce a 'winner' and send along a picture book for the class to read.

Yesterday one of our Kindergarten classes enjoyed How many sleeps till Christmas?

This book came to our library from Bloomin' Books.  Kate always has a good eye for terrific stories. Her parcels of books which arrive each term never disappoint.

Pip wakes up early.  He prods his dad.  "I think it's Christmas Day!" Daddy Grizzle explains - not yet four whole sleeps to wait.

So what will they do :
They "searched until they found the perfect tree, waiting quietly in the frost woods."
They "went for a brisk chilly walk" to deliver their Christmas cards.
"They both sat themselves down, and (without looking over their shoulders once) wrapped two 'No Peeking' presents to be opened first thing on Christmas morning."
"They made two snowmen - one big, one small"

Finally the special day arrives. As an adult you might predict this ending but a young child won't and that for me is the magic of sharing books with children.  They joy of a surprise ending.  I also love the idea of 'No Peeking' presents.

I would pair this book with Can't you sleep little bear by Martin Waddell, What do you wish for?, Worried Arthur Countdown to Christmas and  The smallest gift of Christmas by Peter Reynolds.

Now I just need to add the other book about Pip and his dad to my library shopping list.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Great Joy by Kate DiCamillo illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline

All of these books are in our library and all are illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline.  Great Joy is by the wonderful Kate DiCamillo and along with the gentle illustrations by Bagram Ibatoulline this is a book that will bring you great joy this Christmas.

Great Joy is not a new book.  It was published in 2007 but oddly today was the first time I had read this important story and I am so glad I did.  Did I tell you Kate DiCamillo will visit Australia (Sydney) in 2017?  Read my review of Flora and Ulysses and Raymie Nightingale.

The adults don't seem to notice the man on the corner, an organ grinder with a monkey but Frances is a caring child.  She is intrigued by the man, the monkey and the sad songs he plays.  She wonders where they go at night as the streets fill with snow. Her mother cannot or will not answer her questions so Frances stays awake and at midnight she looks out through their living room window.

"It was the organ grinder who looked up.  He took his cap from his head and raised it to her."

As Frances and her mother rush to the church for the Christmas pageant Frances stops to invite the man.  "The organ grinder smiled at her. But his eyes looked sad."  Frances stands on the stage ready to say her line in the play but she finds she simply cannot speak.

I do hope you can find this book to read for Christmas.  Here is a treat you can listen to the first four pages of this book.  I would pair this book with A Christmas star called Hazel and The Stone Lion by Margaret Wild. Kate explains the inspiration for her first picture book.  You can see a video of the whole book here with an excellent narration.

Wormwood Mire : A Stella Montgomery Intrigue by Judith Rossell

mire : a stretch of swampy or boggy ground
wormwooda woody shrub with a bitter aromatic taste, 
used in medicine.

In this picture you can see Stella reading a book.  There are two books which feature in Wormwood Mire and while the one you see here is quite important (the journal of the reclusive original owner of Wormwood Mire) the other is simply awful - a book about behaviour and the dire consequences of misbehaviour - a book favoured by the aunts.

Do you remember the final scene in the first book?  Stella was heading back into the hotel with her austere aunts.  

"And I'm going to find out who I am,' she said. ... Stella hesitated for a moment.  She waved one last time. Then she turned and walked up the steps to the front door of the hotel."

As this second book begins Stella has been sent away to Wormwood Mire the home of a distant cousin. His two children are living in Wormwood Mire with a governess. Uncle Frederick is travelling abroad, the house is rumored to be haunted and so Stella finds herself living with her cousins Strideforth and Hortense and Miss Araminter their distracted governess.  The house is huge and mysterious, the gardens are filled with exotic plants and there are creatures from around the world originally collected by Wilberforce Montgomery.  Some are taxidermy but others are alive. One of these creatures seems to be living in the lake.  It is a monster and it may have killed some of the local sheep and possibly a child. Stella, Strideforth and the silent Hortense set off to unravel this mystery and help Stella make sense of a photo she treasures of her mother and twin babies in a pram. One of the babies is Stella herself but who is the other, her twin, and where is she now?

One real strength of the writing by Judith Rossell is the way she creates a strong sense of place :

"They hurried across the yard and made their way around the long row of empty stables, through the orchard and across the terrace to reach the overgrown path that led to the lake They climbed down the mossy steps, ducking under overhanging branches and pushing through the dripping, jungly garden. The lake stretched away into the mist, covered with water-lilies."

This is the second installment in the series about Stella Montgomery.  I adored Withering-by-sea so perhaps begin by reading my review.  Here is a detailed review of Wormwood Mire.

Wormwood Mire can stand alone but I do recommend you try to read Withering-by-sea if you can.

Below I have included the US cover.  It is only slightly different which makes me ask why?

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Mayfly Day by Jeanne Willis illustrated by Tony Ross

I am going to quote some sections from this exquisite book :

Here is Mayfly.
It is her first day on earth.
It is also her last.

Mayflies only live for one day.
But is she sad? Not at all.
She is happy to be alive!

This isn't any old day.
This is the best of days.
She lives for each moment.

We talk about mindfulness and mediation.  Mayfly Day is the perfect book to share for an understanding of these abstract ideas.

This is another of those little treasured books I lifted off our shelves as we work our way through our large picture book collection.

Here are the final lines :

Mayfly lays her eggs
It is a peaceful night.
The best of nights.

She makes one last wish:
'Little ones, may all your tomorrows
be as perfect as my yesterday!'

Mayfly watches the moon come up
and the stars go out.
And is thankful for her wonderful life.

Tony Ross has done gentle pastel illustrations for this book. He has worked with Jeanne Willis on several books including Tadpole's promise and Caterpillar dreams.  Here is one page from Mayfly Day :

You could pair this book with Silence or Someday by Eileen Spinelli.

One more interesting thing to share with you.  Inside many of our books we have little presentation stickers because we hold an annual donate-a-book event each year.  Recently some older students returned to our school for work experience and one was the girl who donated this book. Wish I had found it in time to show her.  It was donated in 2007 when she was in Year One.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

A single pearl by Donna Jo Napoli illustrated by Jim LaMarche

This story begins with a simple grain of sand and ends with a pearl.  A diver finds the pearl and sells it to a prince.

"The prince, in turn, gave it to his beloved wife, who said it glowed like the moon.
She saved it on a slip of velvet in a gold cup until she had a daughter who laughter was as light and whose face was as lovely as the moon."

Why am I selecting these seemingly random books for my blog?  Over the next few weeks we are working our way through our picture book and junior novel collections - culling out our older titles. It is always a joy to 'rediscover' books I have read in the past and that is how I came to talk about A single pearl.

I have discovered that this story was inspired by a Persian poem.  I wish I could find it but I don't know the title.

I especially like the emotional arc in this story.  At first the grain of sand feels hopeless and insignificant and then despair as it is trapped in the oyster but all this changes with the pearl.

"The grain of sand sat in the center of the pearl. And it mattered."

The illustrations in this book are especially beautiful.  Jim LaMarche makes the pearl look luminous.

Here is a review from Publishers Weekly.  Donna Jo Napoli writes amazing novels for Young Adults.  Check out this list.

You might like to look for these other books about pearls in our school library.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Marguerite's fountain by Rachel Elliot illustrated by Petra Brown

"Every day Benjamin watched Marguerite dancing 
around the fountain. He longed to be friends with her 
but Benjamin was shy and didn't dare."

Marguerite dances alone but one day Randolph arrives.  He wants exclusive rights to the fountain so first he flatters and flirts with Marguerite and then he banishes her to the sewer.  Benjamin is distraught.  He knows he must take a stand and rescue Marguerite. He may not he brave but Benjamin is a problem solver.  He finds a way to turn off the fountain then he tells Randolph :

"The fountain is missing Marguerite."
"The fountain is unhappy because Marguerite is unhappy."

Randolph goes underground to investigate the problem but emerges dirty and unsuccessful. Benjamin then steps into the drain and when he emerges not only has he 'fixed' the fountain but he has found his voice.  He declares to Randolph :

"You are a coward! ... your heart is stony as the cathedral and as tiny as a single drop of water ... Leave now."

I have read some criticism of Marguerite's Fountain.  Yes Marguerite is a white mouse, Randolph is black and Benjamin is brown and perhaps this is a cliche but the illustrations (here is Petra Brown's web site) are very special and I think the message is too - bullies should not be allowed to 'win'.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Firstborn by Tor Seidler

I am so glad Firstborn does not contain any illustrations apart from some maps, the cover and the title page - this is quite a blood thirsty tale at times as we read the gory details the details of wild animals killed for food by this small group of wolves living in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.

"And it was Blue Boy who caught the scent and gave the cry of the chase: the same bone-chilling cry I'd first heard on that split-rail fence back on the triple Bar T ... he was standing over a deer stretched out on a platter of blood-soaked pine straw."

Not to mention the fights for supremacy of the wolf pack itself.

"When I could bring myself to look up the slope again, Raze's father lay on his side with blood gushing from his torn throat. Blue Boy lifted his bloody snout and let out what must have been an instinctive howl of triumph."

The heart of this book is about relationships - between Maggie the magpie and her 'family' of wolves, between the wolves themselves and also one special relationship firstborn son Lamar forms with a coyote called Artemis.  The tenderness these wolves show for one another and for Maggie and the way they look after each litter of new pups is very special.  I don't think this is a book everyone will enjoy but if you like survival stories and animals look for this book.  This quote from Chris Raschka really sums up my feelings about Firstborn.

"... there's lots of danger, excitement and beauty; but there are also things we know from human families like love and loyalty, bravery and honor.  You won't ever want to leave Blue Boy's wolf pack in the heart of the Rockies."

We also have A rat's tale by Tor Seidler in our library.  A very different book from Firstborn and a book I really enjoyed.

Readers among you will know the significance of the dedication of Firstborn:

In remembrance of
Jean Craighead George

You might like to read the New York Times review.  Click here to listen to an extract where you will hear the voice of Maggie the Magpie.  Here are a set of discussion questions.  Take a look at this review by my fellow blogger Mr K.