Thursday, September 24, 2015

Solo by Paul Geraghty

I recently reviewed Seagull by Danny Snell .  Solo would make a good partner for this text.  Here we follow a pair of emperor penguins and the arrival of their chick, Solo.  It begins as a gentle story of survival in an extreme environment.

The tone of this story takes a severe downturn when the father penguin Fin, fails to return.  He is bringing food for his partner Floe and baby Solo.   Floe herself has made this journey over the previous months as Fin kept their egg warm.

Survival instincts kick in and Floe is forced to leave little Solo behind.  "Solo tried to follow, but she couldn't keep up. She waited quietly for a while, but then she cried out from the cold."  This scene and the following pages may break your heart. The ending is bitter sweet.  Yes Solo finds her mother and is reunited with her father but the final image of the little family shows their will be ongoing struggles - human made struggles - for this intrepid family.

You can see a full list of wonderful books by Paul Geraghty here.  You can see some terrific art inspired by this book.  This book should be added to your study of the environment with a young class.

Monday, September 21, 2015

The case of the weird blue chicken by Doreen Cronin illustrated by Kevin Cornell

This is the second madcap adventure by the Chicken Squad and I must confess I missed the first (yes it is in our school library) but it did not seem to matter I quickly fell into the workings of the squad and their riotous exploits.

The squad consists of four odd ball chicks named :


You lost it.
We'll find it.
You broke it?
We'll fix it.
In trouble?
We'll get you out.
Looking for trouble?
We'll bring it to you.

A tiny blue bird shows up at the chicken coop with a problem.  Someone has kidnapped her house. This is the perfect case for our squad.  You can read more about this adventure when you click the Kirkus link below :

Please take a minute to listen to this little audio sample - it is perfect!  This book might work well as readers theatre or adapted as a play with your class.  If you have not read any other books by Doreen Cronin look in our library.  I love reading Vote for Duck each year to our grade six students when they are talking about government.  This same book is called Duck for President in the US.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Newspaper hats by Phil Cummings illustrated by Owen Swan

Don't rush to open Newspaper Hats.  Take your time. Explore the collage end papers first where you will see headlines through the decades.  Some are tragic such as the Challenger disaster and some heroic - the conquer of Mount Everest.  Some will make you smile - Nelson Mandela free and some are nostalgic - The groovy ladybird portable record player.  Most importantly these clippings help establish the mood of a long life filled with memories.

Wait a minute - don't rush into this book.  Next stop is the dedication statement.  Have you ever noticed these?  Phil Cummings dedicates this deeply personal and fragile story to his Nanna Luce and "our newspaper hats".  I don't know for certain but this makes me think Phil made hats with his own Nanna.

Hold on a little longer.  Go and find a copy of Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge because after reading Newspaper Hats I want you to share this book with a young reader too.

Each week I visit two special older people in a care home.  Both still have strong memories but around them I see people like Georgie's Grandpa and I understand her repeated concern :

"Grandpa,' said Georgie, 'do you remember me?"
"But do you remember me?"
"But Grandpa, do you remember me?"

Oh so gently Phil Cummings takes us into Grandpa's room and his memories.  His room is full of sunshine and old newspapers.  The newspapers are perfect for making newspaper hats.  Sharing this moment between the three generations it does not matter if Grandpa doesn't know Georgie.  The moment is all that matters - this time together is what really counts.

One of the most special images in this book for me comes from the opening line :

"Georgie walked through the doors that opened like curtains."

I have been a Phil Cummings fan for a long time.  Many decades ago he visited my rural school and shared his first books - Goodness Gracious, Midge mum and the neighbours and Marty and Mei Ling all of which are still in my school library and all of which are still used each year. Phil was once a primary teacher and so his visit was perfect for my youngest students.  Now all these years later Phil has published more than forty books.

Here is the web site for the illustrator.  His work can be seen in Anzac Biscuits also by Phil Cummings and you can read more about this wonderful book here.  You can read a review of Newspaper Hats from Reading Time.

Here is a simple video which will show you how to make a slightly more complex newspaper hats. Finally I am going to make another of my wild predictions and say surely this book will be short listed by the CBCA for the 2016 awards - fingers crossed for Phil.

Pig and Small by Alex Latimer

One morning Pig wakes up with a squeak.  His nose is squeaking!  It squeaks through all his daily activities including bath time so pig "got, the big medical book down from his bookshelf and looked up Squeaky Nose Syndrome."  He finds a long list of squeaky syndromes but nothing about noses. Pig squints down to the end of his nose and sees a tiny bug waving and squeaking.

Pig knows the little bug wants to be his friend but their size differences will certainly make for some serious lessons.  They try bike riding (Bug can't assist much here on their tandem bike) and chess (Pig falls asleep because each move takes Bug so long). Bug makes a cake and knits matching jumpers. It seems all the activities they attempt have predictable outcomes.  "Pig and Bug were very sad.  They'd tried so hard to be friends, but it just wasn't working. So they said goodbye ..."  At that moment Pig sees a newspaper with an article about a movie entitled "The Pirate, the Ninja and the invisible dog."  He has at last found something they can do together.

Friendships are always about adjustments.  This odd pair of friends love the movie and then discover so many other things to enjoy together.   By the end of the story they are also ready to welcome a new friend too. And yes he is also very different.

Here is a web site for the author.  We have most of his books in our school library.

You might like to follow this book with Sylvia and Bird by Catherine Rayner which is also a joyous book about an unlikely friendship.  When I visited Edinburgh recently I found the main public library in the centre of the city which has huge and very special murals painted by Catherine Rayner.  I love her art work.

Sylvia is a dragon.  She is lonely and alone. Then one day she finds a little bird. Together they travel to the moon.  There is a catastrophe which will seal their friendship forever. This is a book for a very young child and I think it is one you will re-read many times.  I have so many picture books in this blog about friendship - just click the link on the sidebar or check out my pinterest list.  You can see two cover pictures here - which one do you like best?

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Our school fete by Louise Pfanner illustrated by Kim Gamble

I actually can't believe I haven't talked about this book in a previous post.  Our School Fete is actually about the fete held at my school.  With nearly 900 students our fete is a huge affair which involves our whole school community in months of preparations and of course one huge day of fun!

Today was the day for our school fete.  In the week leading up to this event we love to re-visit this special book Our School Fete by Louise Pfanner.  Louise was a parent in our school and she experienced many school fetes first hand.  I think this is why this book has such authenticity.  In past years Louise has visited our school to share her book and when it was published in 2004 our library hosted a magical book launch where we set the whole library up as a fete complete with meringue mice and helium balloons.

The story opens with Charlie, Shen and their grade five teacher Mrs Flowers as they start work on their class stall - The Haunted House. An added layer of fun for the students at my school is the discovery that Mrs Flowers, Mr Beard, all of the children and the librarian in this book are all modeled on real teachers.

In a lovely sequence we watch as the fete preparations count down from three weeks, to two weeks, to one week and finally the day of the actual fete.  The opening pages show the fete map (drawn by mum) which is a little worse for wear after languishing for a few weeks on the kitchen bench.  Look closely and you can see juice spills and cup stains along with fold lines.

Mum is so busy for the fete - she is making things for the cake stall, the dress up stall, the craft stall and the sweet stall .  She has also sent in a collection of old toys and other household items for the white elephant stall.  One of my favourite pages is on the morning of the fete when mum stands back to admire her lovely empty, clean house.

Meanwhile dad is "taking a long time" over his chutney and tomato sauce.  Growing the tomatoes, making the sauces, washing the jars and adding labels and little fabric hats.

There are so many visual jokes to enjoy in Our School Fete.  Compare the empty house page with the final spread.  "We no longer have a lovely, empty house, but mum can't complain because she bought: a rainbow rug for Baby, a mini trampoline for Ruby, a boules set, an ice-cream churn and a special present for Dad."

Louise Pfanner uses repeated phrases such as "Baby and Ruby are helping too."  while on each page we see Baby and Ruby are not helping at all.  Zoe and Kitty keep practicing their duet which they perform perfectly on fete day and haunted house is a huge success.

When you sit down with this book make sure you look for the purple elephant, the tennis ball, the different clothes the school kids wear each day and the purple toffee apple from the title page.  You can see some of the pages here.

You can see some photos from our fete today - Games Alley, lucky dip bags and a spider from our Haunted House. We had a special day made even better by the sharing of this very special book with over 450 students in our school last week.  A big thank you goes to Louise Pfanner for writing about our school fete!

Rabbit and Robot the sleepover by Cece Bell

This is one of those special little books - very simple to read - but also very satisfying.  Rabbit and Robot The sleepover should go on your list of books to share with a young child who is just beginning to master reading. If you love Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel you will certainly want to meet these new friends.  They are an odd couple but tonight everyone (the reader and characters) will discover the value of a true friend.

Rabbit and Robot are very different.  Rabbit likes pizza, playing Go Fish and watching television. Robot likes nuts and bolts on his pizza and prefers to play Old Maid.

Rabbit has made a list for the sleepover.  His list is very prescriptive but Rabbit will need to learn some tough lessons about compromise.  In four little episodes the two friends DO find a way to enjoy their first sleepover but the way the evening pans out may surprise you just as it surprises Rabbit.

This book was a worthy honor book in the Theodor Seuss Geisel awards. You can read a little more about this book here. Or you might like to click the quotes below.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

This book belongs to Aye-Aye by Richard Bryne

Last week we bought forty new picture books for our library and over several days I have been reading this set.  While all of them will appeal to our students only one or two had that extra little something.   These are the ones I will add to my own pile of terrific read-aloud books to share with my Kindergarten students.

This book belongs to Aye-Aye has the ingredients of an excellent picture book for a very young child :

  1. A young hero that readers can identify with
  2. Repeated story elements that allow for the satisfaction of knowing more than the main character
  3. Terrific illustrations which go beyond the words
  4. A very satisfying ending (although I did not believe these rabbits were completely reformed) 
  5. A bonus - in this case a little craft project to try yourself

Aye-Aye loves picture books, he would love to star in a picture book and to this end he attends the most perfect school "Miss Deer's academy for aspiring picture book animals".   One day his teacher announces she plans to give a special award to the most helpful animal this week.  Aye-Aye hopes the prize will be the one thing he wants most in the whole world.  Sadly his plans are constantly thwarted by the cunning rabbit twins.  Happily he has special support from his classmates.

Here is the web site for Richard Byrne.  Take a look at my review of Millicent and Meer also by Richard Byrne.  Here is an instruction sheet showing you how to draw Aye-Aye.  After reading this book you might like to read about the aye-aye which is a threatened species found only on the island of Madagascar.  I was interested to read the aye-aye is nocturnal.  You could make a fact and fiction table with a class comparing the story version of the aye-aye with our little hero Aye-Aye from the picture book by Richard Bryne.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Seagull by Danny Snell

There are three things that came to mind when I read this book today.  Actually it only arrived today.  My school is located beside the sea and seagulls are a common sight for the children I see each week. Books with a repeated refrain have a special kind of read-aloud magic and while Seagull does have an important environmental message but it does not feel too didactic.

The seagull is caught in some discarded fishing line.  The more she struggles the worse she becomes tangled.  Seagull enlists the help of others - a mullet, a pelican and a crab.  Each tries but can only loosen it a little.  Then comes the important turning point :

"Soon Seagull was too exhausted to move any further.  She nestled in among some tall grass at the edge of the dunes and closed her eyes. The setting sun looked on. Through the half light Seagull heard footsteps."

Aside from the gentle story and lyrical language I really loved the illustrations in Seagull especially the full page which shows the pelican.

If you are exploring an environmental theme with a class of younger students make sure you add Seagull to your book collection.

Here is a set of teachers notes. You might also enjoy Samantha Seagulls Sandals by Gordon Winch and Peter's Place by Sally Grindley.