Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The case of the missing Moonstone by Jordan Stratford illustrated by Kelly Murphy

Title : The Case of the Missing Moonstone

Cover : Which one do you like?

Characters :
Augusta Ada Byron later Ada Lovelace
Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin later Mary Shelley
Charles Dickens
Charles Babbage

Setting : London 1826

Crime : Theft of the Acorn of Ankara from Turkey made of moonstone (sodium potassium aluminium silicate) said to have the property of mesmerism

Words you need to know : mesmerism, clandestine, constabulary

Ada is eleven and living in a large house all alone except for some loyal servants.  Her absent mother - wife of the famous poet Lord Byron - has arranged for a tutor to take over from Ada's long time nanny or nurse Miss Coverlet.  The new tutor is named Percy Snagsby or Peebs (later revealed to actually be Percy Shelly long time friend of  the now dead Lord Byron) and he is also to tutor a young girl named Mary Godwin - daughter of the famous feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft.  Ada is precocious and incredibly intelligent but not wise at all in the ways of the world.  Mary is a sensible older girl who is well versed in all the limits that society places on young girls in eighteenth century Britain.  The two girls decide to set up The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency.

There are some difficulties, however.  The girls cannot travel to The Times to place their advertisement or collect their letters.  "Riding a carriage without an escort is modern. But travelling out and about unescorted is unheard of."   This is where the girls enlist the help of a young man called Charles.  He travels each day in the same coach as Mary but he is not supposed to be there as he could never afford the fare. He has made a deal with the coachman and now Charles can happily read in peace on his way to the boot-polish factory each day.  He quickly becomes a friend to Mary.

Our two girls now hear of a crime involving the  Acorn of Ankara and a young lady called Rebecca Verdigris.  Rebecca is convinced her maid Rosie did not steal this jewel even though Rosie has readily confessed and is now in Newgate prison.

Read this review for more details of the plot or just pick up this book and enjoy an engrossing read. As for the hot air balloon you can see on the cover.  You need to read this book to discover where it is located, how it is used and what role it plays in the capture of the jewel thief.

Here is an interview with the author.   By coincidence I made friends with a lady who lives on Salt Spring Island in BC, Canada when I was travelling in Scotland!  Also this book series has a web page with extracts and puzzles.

Kirkus criticize this book series for 'bending the truth' putting famous characters together who in real life, while they may be connected, would not have actually met.  I don't think this is an issue for young readers.  The notes at the end of the book give an excellent explanation of all the famous people who feature in this story and in our school library we have these two picture book biographies which students can read following The Case of the Missing Moonstone.  These lines towards the end made me smile :

"Thank you Lady Ada for a bit of excitement.  It's back to the boot-polish factory for me.' Charles executed a small bow and headed to work.  ... 'Who the dickens was that boy?' asked Peebs."

I really like the illustrations in this book and in fact Kelly Murphy is the illustrator of other books I have reviewed here - The Miniature world of Marvin and James, Secrets at Sea, and Masterpiece.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Zoo Boy by Sophie Thompson illustrated by Rebecca Ashdown

Hello, dear reader.
Are you sitting, lying down, standing on your head, eating a jam sandwich comfortably?
Then I'll begin ...

Zoo Boy is one of those little books you might miss in all the flurry of new books arriving in our school library and that would be such a pity because this little book is terrific.  Yes it is a very funny little story of a boy who can talk to the animals in the zoo but it is also a poignant tale about the power of giving and gratitude.  It also contains the most delicious words such as scurrilous, mollycoddled and deplorable.

Zoo boy Vince lives beside a zoo. His dad is the zoo keeper and entry to the zoo is via a special Zoo Keepers' Song.  Today Vince has turned eight so it is time to join his dad in the zoo.

"Vince felt like the king of the castle  But before he had time to gloat and imagine all the ermine on his cloak and how big his crown should be, an enormous badger who smelt of old socks appeared from the scrubby shrubbery."

Vince discovers he has grandad's gift - the gift of understanding the language of animals.  This is thrilling but it is also a huge responsibility as the animals gather around Vince and make their demands.  These demands might surprise you :

Penguin - fish fingers
Flamingo - Battenberg Cake - the pink bits
Pig - free range eggs
Owl - sugar mice
Llama - Sherbet lemons
Goat - clover and denim shorts

Luckily down the road there is an Everything You Could Possibly Want For 99p Unless It's Slightly More Expensive Shop. The owner of the shop is "a ridiculously cheerful man called Leviticus Corkindale Percival Calamine Periwig Candlewick Throooob. But everyone just called him Bob."

I also adore the character names used by Sophie Thompson (an English actress) such as Fenella (flamingo), Horace (the helpful wild badger), Asquith (penguin) and Terry (orangutan).

There is so much to love about this book and I think it would make an excellent read-a-loud title for a Grade One or Two class.   When you pick up this book you might like to begin with pages 85 and 86. Events towards the end of this book are so distressing (dear reader) that the narrator inserts an early ending to spare you any pain.

If I haven't convinced you to read this book think about bunting made from a long string of stolen undies all lit by fireflies. Such fun!

Saturday, October 1, 2016

A Lottie Lipton Adventure : The scroll of Alexandria by Dan Metcalf

We have three of the six books from this series A Lottie Lipton Adventure in our school library.  These are simple mystery books perfect for younger readers.  Each installment features young Lottie, who lives in the British Museum with her uncle, using her detective skills.

"She had lived in the museum ever since her parents had died in an accident during an archaeological dig in Egypt. Her Great Uncle, Professor Bertram West, had sworn to take care of her and and returned to England from Egypt to take a job at the British Museum."

There are five chapters and about seventy pages in each book plus a series of puzzles and cryptic codes which readers are invited to solve before Lottie reveals the answer and more of these to enjoy at the end of each book.

In The Scroll of Alexandria, the crazy museum director Sir Trevelyan Taylor declares he plans to sell all of the books in the museum library.  Lottie, her uncle Bert and Reg the caretaker set off to prove the collection must be preserved by order of King George III.

Lottie opens a small box that arrives with an Egyptian mummy in The Egyptian Enchantment.  She releases twenty shabtis into the museum but because she has only read half the spell these little doll like creatures race around the museum creating chaos. Shabtis are supposed to work as servants in the afterlife but these ones are out of control.

You can read more about each book on the author web site.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Magrit by Lee Battersby

Sometimes books come along to test boundaries 
Magpies Volume 31, issue 2, page 32.

When I read a book from our school library my mind often wanders to thoughts of which student might enjoy it. Magrit is almost impossible to categorise.  While I did enjoy Magrit it is such an odd book and at times feels quite harsh and dark.  Some reviewers suggest age 10 but I think this is really a book for a very senior primary student and certainly one who has read quite widely.

The setting for Magrit is a cemetery.  Magrit lives there with her 'friend' Mister Puppet.  Magrit herself created Mr Puppet.

"Magrit had pieced him together from elements she had found in every corner of the graveyard : a bone here, a stick there, a tin can in one corner and rotten twine from a garbage bag in another. Now he sat at the apex of the roof, with his long arms wrapped around the stone cross, and kept vigil."

Mr Puppet is the voice of doubt, the voice of reason perhaps the voice of authority.  He gives Magrit advice which is presented in a bold hand drawn font.

When a stork drops a tiny baby into the graveyard Mr Puppet orders Magrit to kill it but she does not.  Instead she nurtures and cares for the tiny infant.  She finds ways to feed, clothe and wash her new 'friend' and gives him the name Bugrat. Through care of this child Magrit discovers love and finds happiness. There is, however, one dark corner of the graveyard Magrit never visits.  Everything changes when Bugrat learns to walk and sets of exploring.  He wanders over to the forbidden place and finds the skeleton of a young girl and Magrit is distraught.

"It was a small skeleton, obviously a child, curled up on its side as if sleeping, with its legs drawn up towards its chest and arms folded as if hugging a non-existent teddy ...  Magrit realised that the whole world had fallen silent ... The murmur and hum that always emanated from the surrounding buildings, so prevalent that she never really noticed, was painful in its absence ."

You can read more of the plot here.

Watch this short video to hear the author Lee Battersby from Western Australia talk about Magrit.  I am not sure that I would read this book with a class but here are a set of teacher notes from Walker Books which might give you some further insights into this complex and yet compelling book.

Magrit is a unique book but it does have some links with The Graveyard book, The Unfinished Angel and perhaps Skellig.

You can read some reviews here by clicking these quotes:

Themes include resilience, responsibility and independence, wrapped up in a suspenseful and fantastical mystery. 

Magrit has plenty of soul, sadness, despair, and hope. It’s a delightfully dark fairy tale, full of Battersby’s whimsy and charm.

Magrit is a wonderfully crafted story that is magical, unusual, strange and captivating.  I haven’t read anything quite like it before.  

Oliver and Patch by Claire Freedman and Kate Hindley

In our school library we have over 650 books about dogs and over 1100 books about friendship.  Our new library online catalogue allows me to create lists so today I combined these two terms and narrowed my search to just picture books and I now have a more manageable list of 22 titles but I am sure I could add a lot more.  Oliver and Patch is one of these titles.

Oliver has moved to the big city.  He is lonely.  On a rainy day he ventures outside and  "suddenly he saw it, bright as a poppy in a cornfield ... a small, soggy, white ball of a dog trailing a streak of red leash.  He was all alone, just like Oliver."

Oliver knows Patch must belong to someone but since no one is nearby he and Patch have a brilliant day together playing in the park, enjoying a huge icecream sundae (see the illustration below) and splashing in a fountain.  It is only at night, when Patch becomes sad, that Oliver knows he must take some action and find the real owners.


Days slip by and no one calls.  This is where you need to look more closely at the illustrations. Oliver and Patch catch a train and the commuter sitting beside them is reading a newspaper with a headline HAVE YOU SEEN THIS DOG?  Then on another rainy day Oliver and Patch are out exploring. Patch takes off, breaking free of his lead, heading for a tiny hidden park.  "A girl was sitting on the swings, sad and alone.  Oliver looked at her red coat and red boots - and he knew."

I adore books with emotional highs and lows.  What will happen now?  Oliver will have to hand over his new friend.  I am sure the icecream sundae on the last page will give you a huge smile.

Claire Freedman is the author of over fifty books including the hugely popular Underpants series. You should also take a look at the illustrator web site.

I called into school this week to pick up a set of books for holiday reading and among them was The Disgusting Sandwich.  Such a funny book.  I will definitely add this to my Kindergarten read-a-loud collection.

"One day a boy came to the park.
He had a sandwich with him.
It had fresh white bread and peanut butter.
It was a beautiful sandwich."

But not for long.  In a cumulative tale badger watches this delectable treat as it is covered in sand, goop, squish marks, ants, feathers, slime and worse.  Finally, though, badger has the sandwich in his paws. Yum!

The back cover says :

A gloriously yucky story, 
with a wicked twist in the tale.

Teachers might be able to use this detailed analysis of the illustrations, text and list of related books.
Celebrate Sandwich Day with great ideas from my friend at Kinderbooks.

Take a look at the beautiful web page by the illustrator.  I certainly need to add more of her titles to our library collection.

Here is a page from The Disgusting Sandwich.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

In Darkling Wood by Emma Carroll

From time to time school libraries and Teacher-Librarians debate the pros and cons of changing the organisation of fiction collections to reflect genre rather than using the traditional arrangement by author surname.

In Darkling Wood is a book that shows the complexity of using genre to classify fiction.  In Darkling Wood has historical elements, it is a fantasy with fairies, there is a strong environmental message and it is also a story about family relationships.  Not one of these themes or genres would adequately categorise this engrossing book.

Alice's brother needs a heart transplant.  Theo is only seven years old. Dad has moved away and started a new family so it is up to Alice and her mum to get Theo to hospital when they receive the late night message that a compatible heart has become available.  Alice cannot stay at the hospital so she is picked up by her grandmother - a reclusive and angry lady she has never met.

Nell lives two hours from London down a remote track.  Her home is called Darkling Cottage taking the name from the surrounding Darkling Wood.  The trees become a metaphor for the darkness in Nell's life.  Her younger son died when he was only eleven, she is estranged from her older son, Alice's father, and her efforts to remove the woods which endanger her home seem to be constantly thwarted.  Running alongside this story we read letters sent to a young soldier serving in World War I. Alfred's sister writes from Darkling Cottage in 1914 sharing her excitement.  She has found and even photographed fairies in the woods.

Meanwhile Alice meets a young girl called Flo.  "She looks about my age, only smaller than me.  And she's wearing the weirdest outfit.  Her boots make me think of ice skates without the blades, and she;s got on what looks like a petticoat.  Over the top of it, her red coat reaches almost to the ground."

Here is a ten out of ten review and one from Love Reading 4 Kids.

Emma Carroll is a wonderful storyteller and with In Darkling Wood she has taken quite a gallop of different aspects- the past and the present, the real world and a magical alternative- and blended them seamlessly into Alice’s story.