Friday, March 9, 2018

Tarin of the Mammoths: The Exile by Jo Sandhu

Tarin cleared his throat and stepped forward. He tried to stand tall and unafraid, when inside, his stomach had shrivelled to a hard, cold lump. But he knew he had to do this - for his family, and for his clan. ... All faces turned to look at him. He knew what they saw. A weak, undersized, scared boy, standing apart and alone. 'I will take the Offering.'

Tarin is born with a weak leg.  Winter is coming. These are desperate times. The clan need food and this mammoth hunt will be the last for the year. Tarin is not allowed to hunt but he is watching.  There is an accident and the mammoth herd stampede. At the clan meeting that night Tarin is blamed and his punishment is a form of social isolation called Haamu but Tarin decides he has help his clan, help his family, prove his own worth - he will make the journey to the Great Mother taking the Offering.

The Offering contains a parcel of food, two carved ivory beads, a cave bear tooth, a flint blade, healing herbs, a spear and a small piece of amber with a tiny ant trapped inside.  Tarin will need to make use each of these things on his journey long before he reaches the Great Mother's Mountain.

Meanwhile a brother and sister in a different clan are forced to flee when sickness arrives in their settlement. Kaija and Luuka have lost their younger brother and their mother will die soon.

Each of these young people have knowledge of hunting and gathering and they also know a little about medicinal herbs but one of the things I enjoyed was the different ways each has learnt to make fire:

Tarin - "Out of a leather pouch, he took his fire-lighting stones. He weighed them in his hands. ... Tarin closed his eyes, picturing his mother striking the stones together, drawing the spark, and blowing gently until the flame grew strong."

Kaija - "From a pouch inside her furs, she drew her fire-sticks and the leaf litter provided perfect tinder. Kaija place one pointed fire-stick into a depression in the other and started to twirl. ... usually she and Luuka would take turns twirling the fire-stick downwards, alternating in rhythm so the stick was always spinning. By the time a wisp of smoke rose from the tinder beneath, Kaija felt warm."

Towards the end of The Exile, Tarin shows Kaija and Luuka his method of making fire and they are amazed.

Now I have a huge dilemma.  I am reading my way through all the CBCA Notable books for Younger Readers. I thought I had settled on my top six and then along came The Exile - book one in the series Tarin of the Mammoths so here is another contender for the short list. For me this is a ten out of ten book. I felt as though I was really on this journey with Tarin suffering the cold of the snow and water, trekking through the forest, sheltering in caves along with times of extreme hunger. This is powerful atmospheric writing with a hero who simply must succeed.

You can read some sample pages here. Jo Sandhu shares some of her writing techniques. I enjoyed the discovery that this is Jo Sandhu's first book and that she really enjoys doing research. I remember hearing Michelle Paver talk about all the research she did for her book series including swimming with killer whales.  I do hope this book reaches reviewers at Kirkus and Horn book - it absolutely deserves a wider international audience. I would follow The Exile with  Chronicles of Ancient Darkness by Michelle Paver which is a series I found utterly absorbing.

I am keen to pick up Book 2 which is available and Book 3 which is released this month.

While full of life-or-death action and authentic details about food, medicines and weapons of the time, Tarin of the Mammoths: the Exile is also a spell-binding tale of adventure, survival and friendship. It's also an extraordinary ode to the value of being different. Kids Book Review

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller

Reading changes your life.
Reading unlocks world unknown or forgotten, taking travelers around the world and through time.
Reading helps you escape the confines of school and pursue your own education. ...
Reading shows you how to be a better human being.

  • This is an important book for teachers
  • This is an important book for teacher-librarians
  • This is an important for school administrators
  • This is a book I wish I had read in 2009 when it was published - it is inspirational
  • If you only buy one book for your own professional reading - make sure it is this one.

The Biggest Obstacle to Reading? Time

My blog is called Momotimetoread because the book Momo is an allegory about our use of time and because too many children (more so in recent years) say to me 'I didn't have time to read ... '

Donalyn Miller gives kids time in her classroom and she gives them choice and she exposes them to a huge range of genres and authors.  She gently and authentically encourages every student - the keen and the reluctant to read and read and read.  My school library was certainly filled with books - so much choice - but I seemed unable to give the kids time when I only saw them once a week and I know at home time for reading is rapidly disappearing.  I wish all class teachers in Middle and Upper Primary grades could read this book - The Book Whisperer - in the hope that some of our classroom practice might change.  

I have thought for a long time giving every child in a class exactly the same book to read with sets of contrived assignments is not a way to develop 'real readers'.  

"Teaching whole-class novels does not create a society of literate people."
"No one piece of text can meet the needs of all readers."
"Reading a whole-class novel takes too long."
"Whole-class novels devalue prior reading experience."

Here are quotes from this book:

"Why is the need to motivate and inspire young readers such a hot-button issue? ... This topic is in the limelight because so many children don't read. They don't read well enough, they don't read often enough; and if you talk to children, they will tell you they don't see reading as meaningful in their life."

"I am convinced that if we show students how to embrace reading as a lifelong pursuit and not just a collection of skills for school performance, we will be doing what I believe we have been charged to do: create readers."

"Do the teachers read? Most teachers who are not readers themselves take a skills-based approach. ... The instructional edge goes to the teacher who sees reading as a gift, not a goal."  "How are they supposed to become readers if they don't have any role models to emulate? ... You cannot inspire others to do what you are not inspired to do yourself."

Turning the teacher into a reader:
Commit to reading every day, choose books to read that personally interest you, read more books for children, take recommendations from your students.

Types of Readers :
Developing Readers - They need to read and read - the chance to feel success as readers instead of experiencing reading failure
Dormant Readers - Reading is work, not pleasure - these students need to discover that reading is enjoyable
Underground Readers - These students are gifted readers but they see the reading they are asked to do in school as completely disconnected. These students "have such advanced reading abilities and sophisticated tastes that few teachers design instruction around their needs."

(Some) Conditions for learning (read this book for a more comprehensive list)
Expectations ...

Here is a short journal article which summarizes some of Donalyn's philosophy and is a review which also highlights some of the main points shared by Donalyn.  Listen to an audio sample here.  Here is a video where Mr Sharp talks with Donalyn.

This is what I want for my students, to lose and find themselves in books.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Pip and Houdini by JC Jones

A young girl, a small dog and one big adventure.

Pip and Houdini walked on and on, as thoughts and feelings tumbled around inside her. How silly she'd been to think that, of all the Cassandra's in Australia - in the world! - she'd just happened to stumble across the right one. But she had thought that, and now she was like a balloon that someone had stuck a sharp pin into.

The story of Pip and Houdini is filled with coincidences and I love this.  Pip meets exactly the right people on her journey and each one brings her closer to her goal of finding her mum Cassandra.

Pip gets into a fight at school. Her foster parents are disappointed and decide she cannot go on the school field trip to the museum. Out walking her dog Houdini, Pip sees a bus with the sign Museum. She has some coins and so she climbs aboard. She does manage to explore a little of the museum but of course she is caught and taken home.  Pip is now in serious trouble and she feels she cannot stay with Mr and Mrs Browning even though they are actually very kind to her.  All she has is a fragment of information about her past - a postcard from her mum sent from Byron Bay. Pip sets off in the middle of the night with her dog Houdini - heading for Byron Bay.

She spends her first night in a van and awakes to find herself on the road, there is a crash, Pip tries to save a man trapped in a burning car but she cannot stay to see the outcome.  She needs to keep moving. She meets a young girl who was set to break into the world of music having almost won a television competition. Frankie and Pip do some busking and Pip makes enough money to continue her journey by train making sure she first pays back the fare from yesterday when she and Frankie caught the train without a ticket. Eventually she arrives in Byron Bay and finds the actual street where her mum once lived. A chance conversation with a neighbour leads her to a surfer with wild hair and a distinctive tattoo and then onto a surprise family and perhaps a different sort of happy ending - not quite the one she had imagined.

Pip and Houdini can stand alone but if you have time go back and read the first installment Run, Pip, Run! 

Pip and Houdini has been listed in our CBCA Notables for 2018 but it is up against some strong competition such as How to Bee, The elephant, The extremely inconvenient adventures of Bronte Mettlestone, The shop at Hoopers Bend, Accidental Heroes, and Nevermoor The trails of Morrigan Crow. Since the judges can only select six books for the short list I am not sure Pip and Houdini will make the cut but it certainly should make your own reading list.

Read some reviews
Kids Book Review  I bet you'll find the pages fly in this sometimes heart-warming, sometimes heart-rending sequel to Run Pip Run.

Aussie Reviews  ... she has a very well-developed moral compass and an almost-inexhaustible store of openness, optimism and energy. 

Bully on the bus by Kathryn Apel

I peek into my schoolbag,
see my treasure and
start to count
the stars ...

'Whatcha got, Loser?'
the bully demands,
booming over 
the back of my seat.

As the title says this book is about a bully. An older girl who rides the same bus as Leroy and his sister Ruby. The bus driver is friendly but he seems oblivious to the awful treatment Leroy has to endure every day.  Ruby is there too but she is too fearful to intervene. Leroy doesn't tell his parents and over time he becomes almost ill with the fear of riding the bus twice each day. Meanwhile the bullying just seems to get worse and worse.

Bully on the bus will take you on an emotional journey figuratively and literally.  There were times reading this book that I just had to stop and take a breath and reassure myself that because this is a children's book, aimed at middle primary, everything would be okay for Leroy.

The Bully
She's big.
She's smart.
She's mean.
She's the bully on the bus.
She picks on me, and I don't like it.
I don't know
how to make her

Part of the problem here lies in the words "I don't know how".  Leroy needs to talk to his parents, his teacher, even his sister.  He cannot fight this battle alone. And what of the bully? Who is this girl and why is she so cruel?  Perhaps the answer lies in The Big Bad book of Fairy Tales.

This book is an important one to share with Middle Grade students.  I picked it up at a charity book sale because Kathryn Apel has another book listed for our CBCA Notables 2018 which I previously really enjoyed - Too many friends.  Kathryn has links to a chapter sample, several sets of excellent teaching ideas, a trailer and review comments on her web site.  If you are looking for some other books on this topic click here.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Figgy takes the city by Tamsin Janu

Figgy takes the City is the third book in the series that began with Figgy in the world and continued with Figgy for President.  I said the second book didn't disappoint and I will say this again about the third installment and now we have the exciting news that this book and another by Tasmin Janu have been selected for our CBCA Notables list.

Figgy and her friend Nana sit for a scholarship exam and both of them are selected to attend Hope College in the city of Accra. Figgy knows her friend Nana is clever and that he has studied hard to earn this honour but she is not so certain about why she has been selected.

"Principal Alfoso smiled. And he said, 'You deserve it for a number of reasons.' My breath caught in my throat when he tapped my cheek. Just below the spot where my second eye should be. I was not getting a scholarship because I was good at reading, sport or maths. Not even because I was in a movie I was getting a scholarship because I was missing an eye."

When the children finally arrive in the city after an eventful journey and a confusing first week they go to stay with Uncle Philmond.  Figgy is struck by the poverty she sees. "It was the biggest slum I had ever visited. It seemed to go on forever."  We know Figgy feels concern for the slum dwellers but it is Nana who takes practical steps to help them. Nana can see Uncle Philmond is rich and yet he often fails to send much needed money to Grandma Ama. Nana wants to make money to pay Grandma back for his care. He joins the slum kids each weekend scavenging in the dump instead of staying with Uncle Philmond. Figgy is both curious and furious. Nana seems so different and mysterious - is he still her friend? He won't answer her questions so one evening she follows him.

Tamsin really lets her readers inside a scene and this one is especially graphic.  Here Figgy is following Nana :

"The alleyway was not as busy as the street. I had to be careful Nana wouldn't see me ... The ground was muddy, slippery, and littered with bits of glass and plastic. I almost cried out when I tripped over a cow's head, which was surrounded by a cloud of flies. The cow's mouth was wide open, as if it had been yelling as it died. Most of it's skin had peeled away and what remained was being eaten by maggots."

Here is a review in Reading Time.  I especially like the way the three covers all link together and I thank Tasmin Janu for allowing me to spend a little time in Ghana with Figgy - watching her growing up and taking on new challenges.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

CBCA Notables Part 3 - which books made the list?

Last night the 2018 Notables were announced. There are lots of great books here to read but it will be a bit of a rush to get through "all of" them before the short list is announced. We have so much talent here in Australia and the Notables are a great way to showcase so many books some of which may have slipped into a school library unnoticed.

  • 25 Young Adult titles in the Older Readers Category
  • 37 titles in the Younger Readers Category
  • 45 Picture books in the Early Childhood Category
  • 48 Picture books in the Picture Book of the Year Category
  • 18 titles in the Eve Pownall section for Non Fiction

I was happy to see quite a few of the titles I mentioned previously made 'the cut' in the Younger Readers section especially How to Bee by Bren MacDibble and The Shop at Hoopers Bend by Emily Rodda.  In fact I cheered and startled the people standing near me!  I had forgotten about Too Many Friends so I was happy to see it listed too.  By coincidence  this week I read another amazing book by Kathryn Apel - Bully on the Bus. I have also talked about Trouble at home on this blog so now I need to pick up Trouble and the new Kid.

This morning I visited my local public library picked up four more titles from this section so over the coming days I hope to talk about :

The cursed first term of Zelda Stitch
The Secrets we Share - I did enjoy the first installment The secrets we Keep.
Pip and Houdini - I did enjoy the first installment Run, Pip, Run
Tarin of the Mammoths - The Exile

I took some time to look at some of the Picture book of the Year titles last night at the CBCA event (Dymocks only had a small selection) and I do like the look of What's up top by Marc Martin, The sleeping Beauty retold by Gebriela Tylesova  (exquisite illustrations) and Whatcha building by Andrew Daddo.  I talked about Tales from a Tall Forest on this blog a few weeks ago.  It is not quite a picture book but I guess this might be the best place to categorise it.

Finally I was so excited to see Tamsin Janu has two titles on the Notables list.  She will be speaking at an IBBY Event in Sydney in a few weeks so it will be great to congratulate her in person.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Notables part two - Younger Readers

On Tuesday night next week the Notable titles selected by the Children's Book Council of Australia will be announced. Earlier I talked about my Picture Book predictions. Here are some middle grade titles which the judges may have considered for this year.

I have never felt entirely comfortable with the name Younger Readers for this category of our CBCA Book Awards especially in more recent times when it is rare to find more than one or two junior novels for children aged 8 on the list.  Most of the books selected in past years have been for Middle Primary and Upper Primary readers.

Take a look at each of our Short Lists from the past few years

Looking back at my year of reading here are some titles (click them) which I think/hope might make 'the cut' for the 2018 Notable list.  The first three on this list are my personal top three.

How to Bee by Bren MacDibble
The shop at Hoopers Bend by Emily Rodda
The elephant by Peter Carnavas
The extremely inconvenient adventures of Bronte Mettlestone by Jaclyn Moriarty
Nevermoor : The trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend
The Beast of Hushing Wood by Gabrielle Wang
The Blue Cat by Ursula Dubosarsky
Polly and Buster : The Wayward witch and the feelings monster by Sally Rippin
The Rogues : Accidental Heroes by Lian Tanner
A different dog by Paul Jennings
Too many friends by Kathryn Apel

Books I should have read which might make the list include:
The Turnkey by Allison Rushby
Our race for Reconciliation by Anita Heiss
Jehan and the quest of the lost dog by Rosanne Hawke

Books I have read but haven't talked about on this blog (yet):
The boy and the spy by Felice Arena
Figgy takes the City by Tamsin Janu - I will be talking about this one soon I finished it last night and loved it.
The girl, the dog and the writer in Rome by Katrina Nannestad