Thursday, February 27, 2014

Present from the past by Jennifer Beck illustrated by Lindy Fisher

I was showing my school art teacher the beautiful collage illustrations in Stefania's dancing slippers and she asked the obvious question which had not occurred to me!  Did we have other books illustrated by Lindy Fisher?  The answer is yes - Present from the past.

The timing for finding this book is perfect as we are preparing to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I.  I will add this book to my growing pile of excellent picture books we will share with students over April.

Emily is excited to meet her Aunt Mary who is coming to visit from England.  Aunt Mary has never visited the family before.  On Christmas day she gives Emily a battered tin and then she shares the story of how little tins like this were given as gifts from Princess Mary during World War I.  This actual box was a gift to Mary's mother and it contained chocolate but it also saved her life when a stray bullet hit the box and not the young nurse tending a wounded soldier.  At first Emily is disappointed with this gift but as the story unfolds she recognizes this little object is a very special family heirloom and something to treasure and pass on.

Here is a detailed review with further links.

Present from the past relates the story of these little tins that were presented to soldiers and sailors in 1914.

The idea was the initiative of Princess Mary, the 17-year-old daughter of King George V and Queen Mary. Princess Mary organised a public appeal which raised the funds to ensure that 'every Sailor afloat and every Soldier at the front' received a Christmas present.   Due to the strong public support for the gift, which saw £162,591 12s 5d raised, the eligibility for the gift was widened to include every person 'wearing the King's uniform on Christmas Day 1914', about 2,620,019 servicemen and women. 


Someday by Eileen Spinelli illustrated by Rosie Winstead


I picked this book up in our library the other day because the cover had fallen off.  I bought Someday home to read and I am very glad I did.  This lovely book could be used as a writing stimulus for our students.  It follows a simple structure.  The narrator shares her plans and hopes using alternating words "Someday", "Today", "Someday", "Right now", "Someday", "Today", "Someday", "In the meantime" and so on.

"Someday I will be invited
to the White House
to have lunch
with the president.
He will want my ideas
on world peace.
I will wear white gloves
and a hat with a rose
pinned to it.
I will bring the present
a box of golf balls.
The White House waiter
will pour tea.
I will eat my salad carefully.
No spills on the rug."

The dreams of the little girl are so ambitious and unfailingly positive.  She wants to be an artist, swim with dolphins, try her hand at archaeology, dine with the president, travel to Antarctica and Egypt and win an Olympic gold medal.   This book would also make a perfect read-a-loud to a young child.  The illustrations are filled with joy and movement.  I especially liked her little buck teeth that poke through every smile.

Click here to see all the books by Eileen Spinelli and I also recommend taking a few minutes to click through the work of the illustrator Rosie Winstead.

Another book that uses this idea of real life and imagination is Kirsty Knows best illustrated by the wonderful Anthony Browne and Imagine by Alison Lester.  You might also enjoy Daydream Dan by Sarah Garson.


Sunday, February 23, 2014

Bird by Crystal Chan

Some books arrive in our library as part of a subscription. Bird was an entirely new book to me. I had not heard of it.  The back cover said this was a YA novel so I bought Bird home to check that this book is suitable for our Primary school library.  It is!

This is a very sad book and yet Bird is really about healing.  Bird (his real name is John) has died aged five.  He jumped off a cliff wanting to fly. Blame still lies thickly over this family even now twelve years later. Grandpa named John, Bird.  Nigel, her father was not watching the young boy when he wandered off. On the day Bird died Jewel was born.  Jewel was born early - so is she to blame?  She has spent her whole life trying to please her mum, dad and reclusive grandfather.

"You'll all we got, Jewel.  I want you to make us proud.'  A small tremor ran through me, like my heart was splitting, a deep crack in the earth, and all kinds of dark fears rose up. I swallowed.  'I want to make you proud, too,' I whispered.  And nothing could have been truer than that."

Jewel makes a new friend but she knows "If you give up too much of yourself, too fast, then someone can just up and take it away."  Jewel loves rocks, she wants to be a geologist. She is also drawn to the cliff edge where her brother died.  This place has become sacred. In his grief her Grandfather no longer speaks. Over the course of the story Jewel and her Grandfather find they have a special relationship.  This is even more important when her parents destroy the sanctuary she has created at the cliff with her twelve birthday stones one for each year of her life.

"We sat like that for a long time in that warm and comforting room, our hearts hanging wide open.  I learned then that hearts don't speak with words like how we think they do in movies or in songs; I think they need a lot more space than that.  Anyway, all I really knew was that my heart had an awful raging fever that day, and in the silence, Grandpa bought with him the cooling rain."

You can hear from the author, listen to the first ten minutes and  more at the author web site.  You can read more of the plot here.

If you enjoy Bird I recommend looking for Savvy, Because of Winn Dixie or Pictures of Hollis Woods which have a very similar tone.  I read Bird in one sitting.  This means I enjoyed it.  The ending almost made me cry but not quite. I think a mature reader in Year 6 would enjoy spending time with Jewel as she and her family finally find a way to move on from their grief.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Stefania's dancing slippers by Jennifer Beck illustrated by Lindy Fisher

When I read this book aloud later this year to our senior students I am going to add one word to the final page.

Stefania's dancing slippers is set during the Second World War. Stefania and her mother are forced to flee their home as war threatens their home in Poland.  The Russian soldiers arrive and the pair have only a few minutes to pack their bags with food and blankets.  Stefania can only take one treasure.  She quickly tucks a pair of precious dancing slippers, made by her mother when she was just five years old, into her coat pocket.  Their journey takes them to Siberia and then later Stefania travels on alone to Persia.  This land also becomes unsafe and so the children travel by ship first to India and then onto New Zealand.

The story ends with her arrival in New Zealand.  An author note at the end of the book explains in 1944 over 700 Polish refugee children and their caregivers were welcomed to New Zealand.  Stefania arrives alone but eventually hears her father is coming.  He carries with him the lost dancing slipper.  "Your mother sent it for you. She wrote that she hopes to join us some day."  I thought this sounded so sad.  I want the ending to be more hopeful.  Surely Stefania's mother will come so I am planning to add the word soon to this final quote.

The illustrations in this book are almost tactile.  Lindy Fisher uses lace, music scores, confetti and ribbons in her exquisite collages.  You might also like to read My Dog by John Heffernan or The Angel with the mouth Organ by Cristobel Mattingley.

The fearsome five by Wolf Erlbruch

This book, The Fearsome Five has been in our school library for a couple of years and the cover has always intrigued me.  Today I bought it home to read.  I was wondering if this book was suitable for our youngest students because the animals on the cover look a little fierce.

It is true they are fierce but this book is suitable for all ages and I have made some excellent discoveries.  Firstly this is a book in translation. This book is from Germany and was first published in 1991. I always seem to enjoy European children's books that are translated into English.  Well done Gecko Press for sharing this book with us. Secondly this is quite simply a charming and heart warming story about friendship, pancakes and good music.

Toad, Rat, Bat, Spider and Hyena know "it's generally agreed that we're revolting."  Other words used in the text include horrible, sickly, awful and hideous. It is Hyena who has the answer.  "It doesn't matter a jot if others think you're ugly... It's what you do that matters.  I advise you to do something - anything."  He then picks up his saxophone and everyone is entranced by the tune. Inspired, Rat pulls out his ukulele and joins in, spider sings with her delicate voice and Bat adds a soulful whistle.  But what about Toad - he has no musical ability.  That is no problem - Toad can make pancakes.

The five new friends now set up a musical pancake palace but as midnight passes not a single customer turns up.  Hyena begins to play and the others join in.  "The five of them made such a happy racket, it could be heard in the farthest corner of the neighbourhood."  I won't spoil the ending but it is certain to make you smile.  The sentiment of this book reminded me of the wonderful Frog books by Max Velthuis.

You might also enjoy another book illustrated by Wolf Erlbruch in our school library - The Little Mole who knew it was none of his business.


Thursday, February 20, 2014

Losers? by Pauline Reeves illustrated by Adam Carruthers

You may have noticed I have not reviewed many books about sport on this blog.  This is partly because I rarely find a sport theme book that I enjoy.

Today a young boy in Grade 3 visited our school library. He is having difficulty with book selection and has been focusing on quite complex books intended for our senior students.  I know this boy loves his soccer so I took the opportunity to grab a handful of little chapter books about soccer.  We actually have quite a few.

Tonight I bought three home to read so that I can talk about them with this student and with other soccer crazy readers.

Losers? is just a brilliant little junior novel.  It feels like an authentic story as we read that the narrator has to give the sport report at the School Assembly.  Sadly the team have lost their last match of the season and lost it badly fifteen to one (we were the one).

"The other team were called The Rotten Rats.  They are sponsored by a pest company that goes around killing rats and mice and snakes. And probably lions and tigers too.  The Rotten Rats have a big fierce rat on their jumpers.  It's got huge teeth and there's blood dripping out of its mouth.  Our sponsor is Peter's father. He owns a worm farm.  We're the Wiggly Worms.  Our jumpers have a goofy-looking worm called Wally on them."

This slim book of just 55 pages has colourful illustrations and uses different fonts to emphasize important words - you may have seen this technique used in the Geronimo Stilton books.

There is no changing the fact that the team lost their match but our narrator is able to deliver a very positive report at the Assembly when he thinks about all the good things that have happened to his team over the season.  This book is from the Mates Great Australian Yarns series and I certainly plan to read some more of these now that I have made this discovery.

I read two other little soccer stories tonight both by Martin Waddell.  Going up follows the fortunes of the Belton Goalbusters as they climb the winners' ladder each week. Part of this book is laid out like a mini photo album so you can see the action from each game.  Cup Final Kid is all about the Hottenham Totspurs (versus Wombledon Home) and one special player called Herbie Bazooka.  He is small, he is fat, he wears glasses and he is only eight years old but he may be the best striker the team have ever seen.  This is probably because he plays like they do in Brazil.

"Herbie back flipped.  Herbie ball juggled.  Herbie cannonball shot with his right then with his left ... breaking the net. Herbie hit corner-inswingers and outswingers. The team were amazed. They'd never seen anyone play like Herbie Bazooka, except maybe Pele."

If you are a soccer fan and looking for a simple chapter book we have plenty to choose from in our school library.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Amazing Adventures of Chilly Billy by Peter Mayle illustrated by Arthur Robbins


I have talked about this little gem in a previous post but today I just want to make a HUGE announcement. My favourite little read-a-loud book has been republished!  A big thank you to Peter Mayle for organizing this.

Yesterday was Library Lovers Day and a little girl arrived in my school library with a huge smile on her face. She reached into her library bag and presented me with two brand new copies of The Amazing Adventures of Chilly Billy.  I could hardly believe my eyes!!

I have read more about this and discover Peter Mayle's wife suggested they have this book re-published. You can even buy an ebook edition.  The new print copy has black and white illustrations (the original ones were colour) and some of the layout is a little odd but these are small quibbles when compared with the joy of finding this splendid book again.  The ebook edition is in colour and follows the same format as the original print book from 1980.

If you are looking for an imaginative little book to share with a young child you are sure to enjoy The Amazing Adventures of Chilly Billy.

I will quote from the scene where Billy declares his love for Lily.

"You must admit this is a large and handsome fridge, with plenty of room and we could have friends to stay and parties and lots of fun and besides,' (here he had to stop for breath and pluck up his courage and squeeze Lilys little hand as tight as he could), I love you.' Then he went extremely pink and scuffed his boots and looked very carefully at his toes.'  'Oh Billy!' said Lily, and she lent over and kissed him once on the ear and three times on the nose."

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Alphabetical Sydney by Antonia Pesenti and Hillary Bell


I have talked about the appeal of Alphabet books in previous posts.  I do enjoy both the predicable structure and the surprise of the inclusions and Alphabetical Sydney is no exception.

A is for Amusement park - it is Sydney so this is our iconic Luna Park
B is for Bats in Centennial Park
C is for Cicadas which is perfect because this year they have been so noisy
L is for Lawn bowls
S is for sunburn
V is for vinegar - you will need to read Alphabetical Sydney to see how this fits in!

My favourite is the page :

"Sweet Frangipanis - their summery scent,
Rubbery leaves and their branches all bent;
Falling on footpaths and filling the gutter,
White as vanilla and yellow as butter."

Our first copy of this book was a gift from a student.  I immediately passed it on to a teacher and she loved it so much she has created a whole teaching unit featuring this special book.  Every part of the book design is brilliant - the thicker paper, landscape shape, cloth binding, scrumptious language and the almost tactile illustrations.  I am going to predict this book might even reach our CBCA (Children's Book Council of Australia) short list for 2014.  I certainly hope so.

I would like to quote an other extract.  How exciting to find such a unashamedly Australian book - it would make a fabulous gift to someone overseas.

"N is for nature strip, jewel of the 'burb,
Two feet of grass between footpath and kerb.
Garbage night : roll out your red wheelie bin - 
But watch out for bindis, they're sharp as a pin!"

Do you need a translation?  'burb = suburb, bin = trash can, bindis = very sharp grass prickles

Here is a terrific web site about this book and its creation and creators.  I do wish I had seen the display of illustrations.


Belly Up by Stuart Gibbs

At times this terrific story made me gasp out loud. Henry the hippopotamus is found dead.  The vet suspects murder.  Theodore Fitzroy or Teddy lives at FunJungle with his parents.  Mum is a gorilla expert and dad is a wildlife photographer.  Teddy has had an exciting life up until now.  FunJungle is an amazing zoo but "after a few weeks, to keep myself amused, I'd had to resort to playing practical jokes, like giving the chimps water balloons - or switching the signs on the men's and women's restroom or replacing all the black jellybeans in Large Marge's lunch with rabbit poo."  Now it seems Teddy's days of boredom are at an end.  Henry is not just any old hippo - he is the zoo mascot.  There are toys, stationery and even a television show all based on Henry.  The fact that Henry himself was not a lovable hippo has been mostly overlooked by the zoo authorities.

Teddy sneaks into the autopsy.  He hears Doc explain there are holes in Henry's intestines which has led to peritonitis and his death.  "The possibility that Henry had been murdered alarmed me - though I have to admit, there was something exciting about it too."

Now the race is on to find the murderer.  Teddy teams up with the daughter of the zoo owner - Summer McCracken, but as the stakes get higher it seems Teddy himself might be the next victim.

Belly up is a thrilling story full of danger, crime and twists you could never anticipate.  There is a scene near the end involving the carnivores which made my hair stand on end. At the same time there are some very funny moments in this book too - one involving the body of Henry, a crane and hundreds of funeral spectators.

If you enjoy Belly Up you might also enjoy books by Carl Hiaasen.  Here is a review by Mr K.  Here are some questions you could use if you read this book to a class.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Tomato Dynamite by Sharyn Eastaugh illustrated by Mitch Vane

Do you love the taste of a delicious tomato?  My friend at Kinderbookswitheverything blogged recently about tomatoes in picture books.  There are not very many especially when compared with apples and potatoes but I did enjoy Oh, No! Monster Tomato.

When I looked in our school library I found a little Aussie Bite book I had not read called Tomato Dynamite. Strictly speaking this is not exactly a book about tomatoes - rather the dynamite that might come from an old jar of tomato pickles.  Jack is a scientist.  He loves to experiment and explore the properties of things.  Finding a jar of old pickles labelled "Devil's own Hot Tomato Pickle 1984" is an object full of possibilities for Jack but first he has to convince Mrs Thomas, his neighbor and babysitter, to give it to him.

"I needed that jar.  It was the key to my future.  With that jar of tomato dynamite, I could make scientific breakthroughs. ... I really wanted to change the world.  I wanted to very badly."  Jack invents a story about a fictitious Uncle who works for the council waste disposal department.  Mrs Thomas believes him and hands over the jar.  Jack is delighted.

He spends several weeks conducting experiments.  Sadly nothing explodes but there is an awful smell - "an evil stench of incredible nastiness" that comes out of the jar.  Meanwhile Jack has to attend the dreaded school swimming carnival. Jack cannot swim and so he has to participate in a silly bubble blowing game in the baby pool.  He is desperate to avoid this embarrassment.

How will this jar of tomato pickles save the day?

Aussie Bites are perfect for newly independent readers and this one will certainly make you smile.  Mitch Vane adds his little cartoon illustrations which add to the fun.