Sunday, September 17, 2017

The big question by Leen van den Berg and illustrated by Kaatje Vermeire

 How do you know you love someone?

I love making connections between books and life.  A good friend and fellow Teacher-Librarian gave me this book a long while ago. I finally sat down to read it today. Meanwhile I had been reading and researching versions of Snow White for one of my classes this week.

The class celebrated Roald Dahl day last week and had enjoyed reading the famous book Revolting Rhymes.  As a part of this unit the teacher took the time to read a few versions of the traditional fairy tales including Snow White.  She mentioned one edition had worked especially well because the retelling included beautiful language and descriptions.  I mentioned my favourite Snow White version Snow White in New York.  On Friday this class and I explored this intelligent and inventive retelling.

In The Big Question the shy elephant raises the question "How do you know you love someone?" at the annual meeting which is usually chaired by Turtle but this year his wife is ill so Ant has taken over. Ant is impatient and dismissive but elephant gathers her courage and asks her important question.

Everyone has something to say using personal examples including Snow White (hence my connection) who responds :

"When I kiss my prince," said Snow White, "I forget all my troubles: wicked stepmothers, quarrels, sour apples ... Don't ask me why. That's what love does to you,  I think."

Various participants at the gathering answer Elephant :
Mouse "I felt as big and strong as an elephant."
Clouds "We always float in the same direction."
Apple "When I see my love, I start to blush."
Grandma "I pick out a beautiful poem. Then I read it in our favourite spot."
Child "I write my own poems and slip them into his pocket..." (illustration here on the left)
Stars "We don't need words ... We can be silent together for a thousand years."

We are not told how elephant feels about all the answers she receives but as the meeting closes she rushes away - I hope into the arms of her true love.  Meanwhile the grumbling Ant drops the meeting notes off for Turtle and then she rushes off to her carrying work "unable to understand why she suddenly felt so alone."

Here is another connection.  Recently a young bride asked for advice about a picture book to read at her wedding.  She had intended to use Dr Seuss Oh, the places you'll go but then it appeared as part of a television commercial and the magic was lost. I hunted around and asked a few people and settled on Guess how much I love you by Sam McBratney.  If only I had read The Big Question this would be a completely perfect book to share at a wedding.  Yes I am a tragic romantic.

You can read an interview with the illustrator here and a detailed review here.

This book comes from the publisher Book Island.  They certainly have an eye for wonderful titles such as The Lion and the Bird - a truly special book.  We do have another book illustrated by Kaatje Vermeire in our library - Maia and what matters.  This was also a gift from my colleague.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Appleblossom the possum by Holly Goldberg Sloan

There are lots of possums in my neighborhood and they are quite noisy at times and of course leave their little deposits on my veranda but after reading Appleblossom the Possum I have new insights into this little fury survivor and the ways they have adapted to life in the suburbs.

As this story opens Appleblossom is born - yes she is actually inside her mum.  "And then push comes to shove and she's out."  She makes the long journey up to the pouch.  All first born possum babies have names beginning with the letter A.  Subsequent litters will use B then C and so on. "Mama Possum is a free thinker and she encourages her babies to find their own names."  So we have Antonio, Alisa, Abdul, Alberta, Ajax, Angie, Allan, Alphonse, Atticus, Alejandro, Augusta, Amlet and finally Appleblossom - the last born.  At seventy-seven days the thirteen possums begin their acting lessons especially death scenes.

Eventually Mama Possum leaves the youngsters to find their own way and food.  Appleblossom, Amlet and Antonio decide to forage alone but come back together each evening.  Appleblossom finds herself in a tree above a human home. Her mother has warned her about these monsters and to make things worse there is also a dog in their yard but the tree where she shelters is full of delicious treats and so the next night Appleblossom heads back to the same yard but this time she climbs onto the roof and accidentally falls down the chimney.  Now her adventures can truly begin and she will need to call on all her acting talents to survive.

There are so many funny moments in this book especially towards the end when the three young possums confront the dog using quotes from Shakespeare.

"By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes!"
"Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none!"
"All's well that ends well!"
"Fie, fie! Unknit that threatening unkind brow!  And dart not scornful glances from those eyes!"

Appleblossom the Possum has 275 pages but it is a very quick book to read partly due to the rapid plot but also the large print size (I appreciate this) and the use of white space.  The action really ramps up from Chapter 19. There are perfect full page illustrations drawn by the author's husband.

Here is an interview with the author.  Read the Kirkus review.  You can read Chapter 2 on the publisher web site.  Listen to an audio sample here read by Dustin Hoffman.  You can see some pages from the book here.  You might also like to read my review of Counting by 7s also by Holly Goldberg Sloan.

One word of caution - Australian children will pick up the error when Mama Possum is explaining marsupials and she uses the term koala bear.  All Australian children know our koala is not a bear but this is a very minor quibble and will not take away from your enjoyment of this sweet story.

Michele Shaw  School Library Journal

Friday, September 15, 2017

Picture day perfection by Deborah Diesen illustrated by Dan Santat

The funniest book in our school library about class photo day is Crazy Hair Day by Barney Saltzberg but now I have a perfect book to read alongside it - Picture Day Perfection.

I think of all my school photos and only one really pleased me. It was the one taken in my first year of teaching.  I even remember every detail of what I wore that day even though I am not a person who likes photos at all.

Our hero, on the other hand, loves picture day.  He has been marking off the days on the calendar, he has plans to wear his favorite shirt and the family even have a pancake breakfast tradition especially for photo day.

Of course everything goes wrong. He has the worst case of bedhead, his shirt is stained and wrinkled, there are syrup and paint disasters and the word cheese makes him turn pea green.

Yes the photo is a disaster but not in the way you might think.  This book has the perfect twist in the tale and I certainly did not see it coming.

Here is a trailer from the illustrator Dan Santat.  Here are some comprehensive teaching notes and questions. Read this blog post for ideas about how to use your ipad to create your own funny class photos.  I should also mention the end papers are a real treat.  If you have your own copy of this book there is a photo frame at the back where you can paste in your own photo.  Here is the Kirkus review.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Sir Tony Robinson's Worst Children's jobs in History illustrated by Mike Phillips

If you follow this blog you will know I rarely talk about non fiction.  Taking this one step further if I AM talking about a non fiction title it must be really GOOD - and yes it is.

If you have students or children who enjoy the Horrible History series rush out and grab a copy of this book which won the Blue Peter Best Book with Facts award in 2007.

There are six chapters in this book each with an intriguing heading :

  • First get yourself some training
  • The great outdoors
  • No hiding place
  • Mean streets
  • Service without a smile
  • Slave to the machine

You can get a feel for the colloquial style found in this book from the very first page.

"Stop reading this book right now! Put it down, walk slowly to the kitchen and open the door of the cupboard under the kitchen sink.  Off you go!  Don't touch anything just look. Are you back yet? Did you see lots of plastic bottles ... they make jobs like cleaning ... quick and easy."

Of course if you'd been alive in the Middle Ages you would not have had access to any of these products and every job would be ten times harder than it is now.

What jobs are we talking about?  Here is a list of some that you may never have heard of and there are lots more too.

  • mudlark
  • costermonger
  • link boy
  • fuller's apprentice
  • jigger-turner
Here is the picture for a fuller's apprentice.  "You had to take off your shoes and socks and climb into a barrel full of other people's wee."  This was the way they processed woven wool.

Each job has an easy to read description and a little job score scroll.  Here are the details for a stepper - a young orphan girl sent from a charity home to scrub doorsteps for a penny each.

Job Score
steps all look the same
Hard Slog
work till your hands and knees are red
very little
nobody notices you

Each chapter ends with a detailed timeline and there is an excellent index.  This is a book you can read quickly or linger over ... you can dip in or read from the first page to the last.  What ever way you read this book you are sure to learn something new and fascinating and perhaps slightly gruesome.  Watch this little film where Tony Robinson visits an exhibition about the worst jobs.

I would pair this book with some fiction titles such as A very unusual PursuitBarnaby Crimes Curse of the Night Wolf, Midnight is a place and Lydie by Katherine Paterson.

I have discovered there are other titles in this series such as these books about World War I and World War II which are popular topics in our library.  These should go on the library shopping list.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The legend of rock, paper, scissors by Drew Daywalt illustrated by Adam Rex

Start with this publisher trailer for The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors - it will give you a good idea about the tone and humour of this story.

I was slightly amazed to read that the origins of this game can be traced back to Chinese Han dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD).  

In this 'legend' rock, paper and scissors are looking for a worthy opponent.  Each player in turn proclaims their challenge beginning with Rock.

Rock lives in the Kingdom of Backgarden
Rock versus Clothespeg
Rock versus Apricot

"And yet, smooshing you has brought me no joy."

Paper lives in the Empire of mum's study
Paper versus computer printer
Paper versus a half eaten pack of trail mix

Both are defeated "And so, with heavy heart, Paper departed the Empire of mum's study."

Scissors lives in the tiny village of Junk Drawer
Scissors versus roll of tape
Scissors versus chicken nuggets

Then one day our three heroes meet in the great cavern of Two-Car Garage.  Who will win?  Will each find happiness? How can a friendship be forged?

This is an interesting book.  On one level it is quite violent in a cartoon sense but it is also very funny and the final resolution is very satisfying.  Here is a set of teaching notes.  I would also make use of the the Wikipedia page with older students.   Playing by the book has a set of songs you could use with this book too.  Watch this video to hear the author talking about his book.

You might recognize the illustrator Adam Rex from one of my favourite books Billy Twitters and his blue whale problem.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Robber Girl by Margaret Wild illustrated by Donna Rawlins

First off this is not a new book and yes sadly it is out of print but it will be in most school libraries. We are exploring the writing of Margaret Wild with our classes over the next couple of weeks.  The youngest groups will explore Puffling, Little Humpty and Lucy Goosey. Our senior students are reading Robber Girl, Tanglewood, The Stone Lion and The Treasure Box.

One of the very special aspects of Robber Girl is the rich vocabulary used by Margaret Wild.  We will need to explore words such as :
ate sparingly

The robber girl is hungry so she ventures down to a nearby farm.  Her animal companions warn her to be careful.  On her first visit she takes a couple of eggs and leaves a rock crystal as payment.  On the second night she takes a little corn from the bin near the pigs and leaves a leaf fossil.  On the third night the animals entreat her not to enter the house but she has a plan. "Stealthily, the robber girl opened the door and slipped into the kitchen."  She takes a slab of bread and a hunk of cheese and leaves a glowing piece of amber as payment.

The farmer's wife is now very angry but her youngest child Josiah loves the beautiful gifts.   The house is firmly locked but the robber girl is able to look in the window and late at night Josiah sees her. There seems to be a bond between them.

The final scenes are so special and would give you some great discussion points with a class for example talking about the way we can choose how to react even in very stressful situations.  This is a beautiful book to read aloud and the illustrations are so rich and evocative.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Little Cat's Luck by Marion Dane Bauer

Just over a year ago I read Little Dog Lost and while I was reading some reviews I discovered the companion volume - Little Cat's Luck.  I wanted to buy it for my school library straight away but the hardcover was quite expensive so I decided to wait.  Today the paperback copy arrived in our library and I have just read it.


I have just let out a huge sigh of happiness.  This little book is epitomizes why I adore reading books for young children.  Reading Little Cat's Luck you will also discover why verse novels are so very special.

Patches, the little cat, is looking out the window of her home when she sees a leaf fall from a tree. She reaches out to to catch the leaf and finds herself outside when the window screen gives way. Patches is not frightened of the sudden freedom.  She has in fact been searching for a special place.

But if she didn't know
what her special place was for,
she knew exactly
what it would be like.
Hidden away,
quiet ...
very, very quiet.

Not far from her home there is a dog.  His name is Gus and he is living a lonely life behind a high fence. He barks at everyone and this makes him feel powerful but deep inside he misses his boy and his former life inside the house.

Patches hears Gus barking.  She goes to investigate and discovers her special place is in his yard - it is his kennel.  Very late that night she sneaks under the wire fence and snuggles into the empty dog house very aware that Gus could wake up from his spot on the porch.  Patches feels some odd little movements deep inside and she calls for help.  Gus arrives just as the first kitten is born.

Gus was gazing at her baby
as though at a miracle,
so she said
'Perhaps you would like
to name him."

And so three kittens are born that night - named Moonshadow (Gus choose that one), Little Thomas (Patches choose that one) and Gustina (a friendly squirrel thought of this name).

There are three endings to this story.  The babies are born and everyone is safe but Patches misses her girl.  When she finds her girl Patches becomes trapped again in her house.  She does escape but when the cat and kittens are bought home it is Gus who is in despair. With a very light touch and a perfect colloquial style Marion Dane Bauer settles everything neatly for a perfect (happy) ending.

Here is my favourite quote from this book :

You see,
the main ingredient
for happiness -
for dogs
as well as for humans - 
is having someone
to love.

I would follow Little Cat's Luck with an old Aussie Nibble title Crusher Kevin by Penny Matthews.  Here is a brief teaching guide.  Listen to the author.  The Texas Blue Bonnet award page has other useful links.

Bauer is a master of that skill and crafts, with remarkably little text, memorable, fully understandable characters with achingly real worries and sorrows.  Kirkus Star review

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Eddie Frogbert by Sue deGennaro

"This,'  he said to himself, 'is something I would like to try."

About a week ago I was talking to one of the teachers in my school about the book The Pros and Cons of being a frog also by Sue DeGennaro and the very next day I spied Eddie Frogbert also by Sue.  There seems to be a theme here around frogs.  In the earlier book the little boy adopts a frog costume but he also learns important things about himself and about the complexities of friendships.

In Eddie Frogbert the main character is a frog.  Surely frogs can easily jump and dive but Eddie is a frog with a problem.  He is terrified of diving.  He watches the others until one day he decides to take his fear in hand and climb to the top of the diving tower.  Sadly this is all too much and he forced to shuffle back down the ladder.

This could be the end for Eddie but it is not because he is a problem solver.  I adore problem solvers. He devises a plan - small steps towards his goal.

"Eddie was sure there was a little leap inside him."

Then comes the big day.  He arrives at the competition.  He almost runs away but he musters his courage, tries a little 'self talk' and dives!

"as light as a feather, Eddie Frogbert ... leapt into the air."

Make sure you also notice the little snail moving slowly across the graph-paper end papers.  He starts on the left, moves nearly to the middle on the next page and by the end of the book he has nearly reached the end of the page - slow and steady 'wins the race'.

There are universal messages here about patience, perseverance, and practice along with goal setting and overcoming fear.   I would follow Eddie Frogbert with Puffling by Margaret Wild and Leonardo's Dream by Hans DeBeer.  You might also take a look at an old but important book - Leo the late Bloomer by Robert Kraus.

A big leap for a little frog

Once upon a small rhinoceros by Meg McKinlay illustrated by Leila Rudge

Over the last few weeks the children in my school library have been talking about Gary by Leila Rudge - short listed for our 2017 CBCA award and an Honour Book.  We even have a little knitted Gary in our library so I was excited to see a new book illustrated by Leila.

Once upon a small Rhinoceros follows a well established story line of following your dream just like little Gary.  Take the time to re-visit Louise the Adventures of a Chicken by Kate DiCamillo, Daisy by Brian Wildsmith, The snail and the whale by Julia Donaldson, The trip to Panama by Janosch and Wendy by Gus Gordon.

Our small rhinoceros wants to see the world.  She has seen boats sailing down the river with their sounds, sights and smells of faraway lands.The other rhinos are all contented with life in the mud by the river but small rhinoceros has dreams.  She is warned of all the dangers but she sets off anyway.

"It's dangerous!  You'll get lost!"  
"Perhaps," said the small rhinoceros.

I love the power of that one word 'perhaps'.  When the small rhinoceros returns the others ask questions and she explains that yes it was strange and scary but one tiny voice asks :

"Was it wonderful?"

This is a gentle book with soft illustrations perfect to read aloud and offering plenty of scope for discussion over the final scenes.  Since this book is brand new and Australian I will once again predict we have another book that surely will make the CBCA short list for 2018.

We do not find out the name of the small rhino but you might like to read Meg McKinlay's thoughts here about her gender.