Monday, April 16, 2018

Andrew Henry's Meadow by Doris Burn

Just as relevant today as it was in 1965, this is a heart-warming story about children who want to feel special and appreciated for who they are.  Book Depository

This is a very old book but luckily it is a classic and so it is still in print.  Andrew Henry's Meadow was first published in 1965 and so it seems odd that I had not heard about this book nor had I encountered Doris Burn who is such a skilled illustrator.

Andrew Henry lives in the town of Stubbsville. Andrew Henry is an inventor. He makes the most wonderful devices - a helicopter in the kitchen, an eagle's cage in the living room, a merry-go-round for his sisters Marian and Martha and a "system of  pulleys" for his brothers Robert and Ronald. Sadly his family do not appreciate his creativity so he packs his tools and sets off to build a house for himself. Sam, his dog, is left at home. Andrew Henry finds the perfect location and he builds a splendid house using clay, rocks and poles. Andrew Henry enjoys his solitude but he is not alone for long. Alice Burdock arrives and she asks Andrew Henry build her a tree house. As the days go by George Turner wants a bridge house and Joe Polasky wants a dugout house. Jane O'Malley and Margot LePorte request a castle and a tee pee.  Meanwhile all the parents are frantically searching for their missing children. It's time for Sam to save the day!

When Andrew Henry comes home things change. He is given space for building and he makes something for every member of his family.

"He built a roller coaster for Robert and Ronald's toy cars. By using a bucket and parts of an electric fan, he made a hair dryer for Marian and Martha. The coffee mug he made for his father worked the same way as a bird feeder does. And he was especially proud of the automatic table setter he made for his mother."

You can see more of the illustrations here and here. You can see a video reading of the whole book.

I would pair Andrew Henry's House with Building our House, The Junkyard Wonders, Iggy Peck, Architect by Andrea Beaty and Whatcha building by Andrew Daddo.  If you have a child who loves to draw grab this book because the pencil sketches are sure to inspire them. Also why not take this book outside to read and then make a construction, invention or house yourself. The fun you and your children will have might amaze you.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Toby by Margaret Wild illustrated by Noela Young

Ah yes, the dogs and other animals ... Noela's are so realistic, they seem to crawl, fly or scurry off the pages. Their eyes sparkle with so much life that the reader practically expects them to blink. Karen Jameyson Magpies Magazine

In an interview in Magpies Magazine Karen Jameyson asked Noela an important question which relates to books like Toby:

"Time after time Noela's talents have been called on to capture life's more piercing moments, often a sick or dying pet or grandparent. How is that she has repeatedly been able to rise to the occasion with exactly the right touch?
I can feel them ... I can just feel them all.
But how can she bear to keep travelling around these emotional carousels?
I have to keep reminding myself that it's not real."
Mapgies volume 31, issue No 4, September 2016.

I wonder if this is really true. The book Toby feels so real and this is due to the perfect combination of text (Margaret Wild) and illustration (Noela Young) but surely also both Noela and Margaret have experienced the death of a loved pet. The sadness as we watch Toby grow old is very powerful as is the emotional reaction of Sara.  Mum explains this to her brothers. "Everything is changing for Sara. Next year she starts high school, ... she's growing up, and she's not sure that she likes it. ... Sara doesn't want anything else to change. She doesn't want Toby to get old and die."

I have been reading books illustrated by Noela Young this week. I am sure this one will be in all Australian school libraries as it was short listed by our CBCA in 1994. Sadly this is another title which is now out of print. When you do pick up this book take some time to look at the first illustration of a tennis ball under some flowers and then notice how this image is repeated on the final page.

Having said that, when the subject arises, Wild - Australia's best picture book author, bar none - handles death with a frank compassion that goes beyond mere sensitivity. Judith Ridge The Age

Wild describes the realistic events with touching simplicity. Young's beautifully observed watercolors are less impressionistic than Shirley Hughes's, and include more literal details, but they are in the same richly empathetic spirit.   Kirkus

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Keep Out by Noela Young

When I was researching Noela Young for my recent post I found some beautiful words by Maurice Saxby.  He compared the children at play in Keep Out with those by Jane Tanner in Drac and the Gremlin.  Both are books about imaginative play. Making use of simple objects to create stories. In this case a tyre swing.

Here is the one from Drac and the Gremlin :

Compare this with one by Noela Young:

Today I borrowed several books by Noela Young from a library including Keep Out. This is a wonderful book, not just because the illustrations are, as Maurice Saxby said "the best ever drawn" but because  this book celebrates 'people power'. A group of inner city children have nowhere to play. Each time they begin a game the neighbours and shop keepers chase them away until one day they discover a fence and a locked gate with the sign "Keep Out".  They kids go inside.

"Inside they found the ruins of old houses that were being pulled down. There were piles of bricks, old doors, and windows - even an old stove, tucked away in the chimney, which was still standing. All sorts of rubbish had been dumped here, including a wrecked car. Everywhere there were things to break and no one to say, 'Don't'."

The children enjoy several days of wild and wonderful play although their choices may seem a little sexist to a modern audience with the girls playing house and the boys building a rope swing. Eventually the 'game is up'. The council team arrive to clear the space. Ironically there are plans to use this ground for a new "nice tidy park."  The children protest so the workers invite their boss - the Council Engineer. "Then came the Mayor, the Town Planner and a young architect, followed by three aldermen."  Not only do the children save the day but they are allowed to share their ideas for the new  playgound including the name - Adventure Playground.

Here are some wonderful images from this book which was published in 1975 and is now out of print but you might be lucky and find this book in an Australian school library like I did.

Beetle soup Australian Stories and poems for Children compiled by Robin Morrow illustrated by Stephen Michael King

The anthology includes stories and poems on every topic, from rubber thongs to the seasons to bulldozers, and with different moods and styles. The special appeal is that this is an anthology specifically for Australian children from Australian authors, so the Australian tone is strong.  Sally Murphy Aussie Reviews

When I was talking about A Boat of Stars recently I realised I had not mentioned Beetle Soup which is one of my favourite Australian short story and poetry anthologies.  In 1997 it was short listed for our CBCA awards and we shared nearly every poem and story with our classes. Dr Robin Morrow must have enjoyed the process of selecting all of these wonderful poems and short stories. There is art by Stephen Michael King scattered generously throughout this book celebrating the joy and exuberance of each poem and story.

One of my favourite poems is The Sock Funeral by Gwenda McKay. It has two parts here is the cheerful version:

Where do they go, those missing socks
Whose partners wait in an odd-sock box?
Tired of warming people's toes
They're off to a land that no one knows.
Reds and blues and stripes and spots,
Greens and yellow and polka dots,
Dancing away to have some fun
Leaving our feet with only one.
Alas and alack, they'll never come back,
They'll never come back,
They'll never come back.

My favourite story, which I have used over and over again, is Up the Creek by Penny Matthews because it is a great way to talk about explorers and mapping with younger children.

There are some absolutely huge names in Australian Children's literature represented in this book such as:

  • Colin Thiele
  • Robin Klein
  • Libby Hathorn
  • CJ Dennis
  • Pixie O'Harris
  • Judith Wright
  • Max Fatchen
  • Jean Chapman

Sadly Beetle Soup, which was republished as And the Roo jumped over the Moon, is long out of print but I am certain it will be found in most Australian school libraries. If ever see a copy of this book in a charity shop or used book store grab it with book hands - this is a book to treasure and share.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Heartwood Hotel: The Greatest Gift by Kallie George illustrated by Stephanie Graegin

"All those nights worrying about a gift and working on the rug. It seemed so important. But it wasn't really. Friends were important. Friends and food and the Heartwood. Those were the biggest gifts."

A few days ago I talked about the first installment in the Heartwood Hotel series - A True Home. Over the weekend my friend gave me the second book - The Greatest Gift and the third book - Better Together.

Often the second book in a series can be disappointing BUT this is absolutely not the case here. I enjoyed The Greatest Gift even more than A True Home.  In this second story it is Winter. Most of the guests are safely tucked away downstairs hibernating. After competing her chores Mona joins in the St Slumber festivities and watches as gifts are given to all the Heartwood Hotel staff. Mona is given a new apron with a tiny heart sewn on the front pocket, a cheese crumble covered in blueberry sauce, a subscription to the Pinecone Press, and a "walnut case, like the one she had lost in the fall."

"This cannot replace the one you lost,' Mr Heartwood said, 'nor is it a case with which to roam. It's a place to store your things, now that the Heartwood is your home."

Mona now puzzles over the gifts she can give to her new friends. A new and very grand guest arrives at the hotel - a rabbit called Duchess Hazeline. She is very bossy and demanding and announces that wants a carpet for her room - the penthouse - she tells Mona she must deliver the beautiful one from the lobby.

"The rug was an important part of the lobby. It was made from tree moss, a beautiful minty green, and it was the first thing you saw when you came into the Heartwood."

The rug is delivered as requested along with the delicious crumble which was only just given to Mona. The Duchess is horrified that this is a gift for Mona and she flings the crumble onto the floor. The beautiful rug is ruined.  Mona is so upset but she is also a problem solver. She decides to make a new rug as a gift to everyone at the Heartwood.

While all of this is going on it seems someone is taking their food. A thief has been sneaking around the storeroom and supplies are dwindling and then a further disaster strikes. Their supply shipment is stuck in a snowbank.  Mona will once again save the day. She discovers the truth about the thief, finds and rescues the shipment and best of all helps the Duchess to own up to her bad temper and take on a better role in the forest.

You will be rewarded if you can read these books in order but they can also sand alone which is good news for young readers impatient to find the next book.

You might also enjoy The Vegetable Thieves by Inga Moore (sadly out of print).  You can read about book three - Better Together here.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Noela Young - celebrating her amazing contribution

Noela Young 1930-2018

"Her child figures are among the best ever drawn for an Australian picture book: leggy, cheeky, nonchalant, eager, vociferous - never resting."  Maurice Saxby on Keep Out (1977) in The Proof of the Puddin' Australian Children's Literature 1970-1990, Sydney: Ashton Scholastic.

"We salute the achievements of this wonderful illustrator, whose pictures have delighted and inspired Australian children of several generations ...  Here was such a meticulous artist, especially talented at depicting the outback, rural life and animals, but brilliantly observant too of the nuances of exchanged human glances (look again at Grandpa). She will be deeply missed, but her legacy lives on in many an illustrated page." Dr Robin Morrow in behalf of IBBY Australia

Last week one of our wonderful Australian children's book illustrators died. I knew her work best from the NSW School Magazine (in this ABC podcast you can hear Noela) and of course the Muddle-Headed Wombat but I also knew Noela had illustrated many more books so today I started digging.

Take a look inside this book because you will find examples of Noela's work from all her years illustrating the NSW School Magazine.

Many years ago I found a little book called John the mouse who learned to read (1969) and it was a story that made me smile. Imagine my surprise when I discovered today that Noela Young was the illustrator of this little gem.

If you have a copy of Magpies Magazine (Volume 31, issue 4, September 2016) you can read an excellent article by Karen Jameyson entitled Noela Young - Visual Magician.

Among her body of work I discovered Toby by Margaret Wild, Grandma Honeypot which is a book from my childhood and probably the oldest book in my school library and the covers of books by Emily Rodda, Patricia Wrightson and Duncan Ball.

The National Library of Australia cataogue has a comprehensive list of Noela's work.

Take a look in your school library for these treasures:

  • The Muddle-headed wombat and sequels by Ruth Park
  • Something Special by Emily Rodda
  • The Best kept secret by Emily Rodda
  • Pigs might fly by Emily Rodda
  • Grandpa by Lilith Norman
  • Keep out by Noela Young
  • The Bilbies of Bliss by Margaret Wild
  • Toby by Margaret Wild
  • The Ghost and the gory story by Duncan Ball
  • An older kind of Magic by Patricia Wrightson
  • The problem Pony (Aussie Bites) by Sherryl Clark

By some amazing chance I kept three old copies of the NSW School Magazine from 1970. Here are some pages with Noela Young's illustrations.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

A Boat of Stars new poems to inspire and enchant edited by Margaret Connolly and Natalie Jane Prior

Poetry is language at its most distilled 
and most powerful.  Rita Dove

Writing a book of poetry is like dropping a rose petal 
down the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo.  Don Marquis

Two of my most treasured books on my own shelves are The Random House Book of Poetry (Originally called The Walker book of Poetry)  and Beetle Soup (later called And the Roo jumped over the Moon).  I am always keen to share the poetry book treasures from my school library with staff and students.

Late last year I was given a generous book voucher for a local bookstore so I headed down today to pick up some books. The staff showed me A Boat of Stars and even a cursory glance showed me this was a special title.  I immediately added it to my basket along with Marsh and Me (2018 CBCA Short listed title) and Wings of Fire Book One which was one of the most popular books in my school library last year. It is certainly time for me to catch up on this series.

A Boat of Stars contains sixty poem.  The editors used a core team of five illustrators and then invited others and gave  them specific poems.  There is a profile of each contributor at the back of the book and there you will see some very famous Australian names such as Julie Vivas, Kerry Argent, Stephen Michael King, Sophie Masson and Margaret Wild.  You can also see Lesley Gibbes, Cheryl Orsini, Sara Acton, Alexa Moses, Tamsin Ainslie, Matt Shanks, Natalie Jane Prior and Lisa Stewart who have each provided many poems and illustrations to this book.

I also really appreciate the thematic index which shows topics such as Friendship, Imagination, Nature, Clothes, Indigenous Culture and more.

Here is a set of teaching notes with ideas for Reader's Theatre and other ways to explore this anthology including links to web sites for each contributor.  Here is an interview with Natalie Jane Prior and Margaret Connolly.  Megan Daley talks about this book here.

Here is one of the poems I enjoyed:

Cows do not Dance by Elizabeth Nussey

The gazelle leaps and bounds and kicks,
but cows do not dance.
The flamingo steps from foot to foot
but cows do not dance.
The fox frolics through the trees
but cows do not dance.

Tigers tap dance,
dolphins disco,
porcupines polka,
ferrets fandango - 
but cows do not dance.

Only this one wants to.

A gorgeous poetry collection for any bookshelf. Kids' Book Review

Being able to tell a story in just a few words and even fewer lines is a gift that few have but to the listener/reader it highlights the beauty of our language and shows how it is possible to make every word work hard to stir the brain and the heart The Bottom Shelf

Here is a wonderful window display:

Monday, April 2, 2018

Heartwood Hotel : A True Home by Kallie George illustrated by Stephanie Graegin

I am so lucky that a friend with an amazing school library is happy to loan me her books. Last week she handed me A True Home - the first book in a four book series called Heartwood Hotel. Now I know why she was smiling!  This is SOME book. I loved it from page one to page 162 and I read it all in one sitting.

winning tale. Kirkus

Mona the Mouse is lost in the forest. It is cold and raining. She stumbles upon the Heartwood Hotel -

We live by "Protect and Respect",
Not by "Tooth and Claw".

The hotel owner Mr Heartwood (a badger) takes pity on this small, wet, frightened mouse and agrees she can stay and work as a maid but only for a limited time. Mona is set to work with Tilly (a squirrel). Mona tries to be friendly with Tilly but in return all she receives is criticism and her bad tempered responses. Everyone is busy at the special hotel as they prepare for the First Snow Festival but the Mona learns there is huge danger lurking close by. It looks as though the festival will need to be cancelled.

Here are some story quotes to give you a flavour of this storytelling:

"With a squeak of wonder, Mona stepping inside to warmth, light, and the delicious smell of roasted acorns.  The room was large - very large for a mouse ... Across from the door was a small hearth, unlit but decorated with a garland of colorful leaves.  A mossy rug lay in front of it ... and from the ceiling hung rings of candles, casting a soft golden glow."

"Inside was another marvelous sight, and a much more lively one! Rabbits, chipmunks, squirrels, hedgehogs, birds! Even a lizard. and largest of all, a badger."

"Against one wall was a table stacked with food: mushrooms, juniper berries, licorice rots, and acorns - oh the acorns! Mashed, steamed, fried, souped ... And in the center of the table, a giant honeycomb with cups beside it to scoop out honey to drink."

"Different guests prefer different sorts of bedding. Rabbits like dried grass or oak shavings. Squirrels like crumbled leaves and twigs. Birds like nests of moss, and moles dirt and some leaves."

Right from the beginning Mona shows good sense, courage and we know coming to this hotel is not a coincidence. She has a tiny acorn case with a engraving of a heart and this same symbol is on the door of the Heartwood Hotel.

I mentioned there are four books in this series and this is to match each season.  Book One - A True Home is set during Winter.

After you read A true home click here to see the series web site.  It is a real treat. You can book in to the hotel and complete a quiz to select the perfect room. So much fun! The publisher even sent his kit to their book reviewers. Inside was grass and bedding and two tiny pillows.

If you need more plot details read this review in Quill and Quire. Here is a conversation between Kallie George and Stephanie Graegin. Three books from this series are available on iTunes. I also found a site with ideas for going beyond the book and making the little hotel with props. I would follow the Heartwood Hotel series with the Poppy books by Avi, Tumtum and Nutmeg and the Bambly Hedge books.  I am also keen to read another series by Kallie George - see picture at the end of this post.

Mona the mouse is a character who starts off feeling scared, lonely and a little insecure, and ends up finding she's brave, courageous, a good friend, and strong in knowing who she is.  Mundie Kids

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Beryl goes wild by Jane Simmons

Beryl sat in her sty. It was the only place she had ever known; she had lived in it all her life. It was the sty where her mother had lost her life when Beryl was born. It was the sty where she'd seen them take her father away.

Beryl goes Wild or Beryl: A pigs tale as it is called in America is sadly long out of print but you should check your nearest library because this is a little book young readers will enjoy.

Beryl is living on a farm.  Her mother has died and her aptly named Aunt Misery and cousin make sure every day is a misery for little Beryl. When the farmer comes to select pigs to be taken away Aunt Misery makes sure Beryl is marked with his large sticker. She is placed into a truck with a crowd of other pigs. When the lorry crashes, Beryl is the only pig with enough curiosity, gumption, sense to seize freedom. Living as a 'pink' she has been told lots of cautionary tales about wild pigs. She is terrified of being eaten by them and so she is very suspicious when she meets a young wild pig called Amber. Beryl does not realise that very soon Amber will become more than a friend.

There are a group pigs living in the settlement called The Sisterhood of the Mystic Boar. They use stones to foretell the future. Moonshine, mother of Dew,  is one member of the Sisterhood and she explains Beryl is The Chosen One! This might be true but if Beryl stays with this group of wild pigs she will be breaking Rule Number One: "no other type of animals allowed into the settlement."  The council banish Beryl, Amber and her family along with the Sisterhood and a few other supporters. Uncle Bert explains why they must now leave:

"This isn't about the safety of the settlement! It's about prejudice! We need to work out a better way for the rules to protect us all. and I for one, won't stay where the rules are not for the protection of all pigs!"

There are so many interesting topics covered in this book. The idea of factory farms raising pigs for the abattoir, the prejudices and preconceived ideas about others which can be dispelled by a simple friendly conversation and the politics of control.

The Book Bag has more plot details and here is a very detailed review which might give you ideas for discussion questions with older students or among adults.  Your older students might follow Beryl goes Wild with another book series by Stephen Measday which begins with A pig called Francis Bacon. Sadly these books are also out of print but you might be lucky and find them in a school library.  You should also look for all the wonderful picture books by Jane Simmons including Ebb and Flow (try to find the DVD) and Daisy.

This is a tender adventure story about fears, finding yourself, being a leader and risking change to make your world a better place. A Book and a Hug

Saturday, March 31, 2018

The Old Man by Sarah V illustrated by Claude K Dubois

This is an extraordinary book, one that can make the needed connection for young children to see human beings as more than their circumstances.  Kirkus

The sadness and reality of homelessness is powerfully brought home in this classy picture book.  Bobs Books Blog

One of the true joys of my job as a Teacher-Librarian in a Primary school is in finding important, poignant and profound books like The Old Man.  Congratulations to Scholastic for adding this book to their International titles Standing Order.

This story begins with opening scenes reminiscent of Sunshine by Jan Ormerod. A small girl and her father prepare to set off for work and school. Overnight it has been raining. An old man, who has spent the night sleeping on the street, also needs to get up and begin his day. He is wet, hungry, cold and very tired. He lies down by the side of the road until some police arrive to move him on. He finds his way to the homeless shelter but one simple question unnerves him.

"Your name, please.
His name? He doesn't remember ... Easier to leave.

He climbs onto a bus and falls asleep but when the bus fills up he is forced to get off quickly. He wanders into a park and sits down. A small girl sees him.

"Do you want my sandwich?
You're funny, you look like a teddy bear!"
The little girl smiles.
It's the best sandwich in the whole world.

It is a tiny gesture, by a small girl, which makes a huge difference on this one day for this one man.

On our city streets we see more and more homeless people. Our children see them too. I would hope a book like The Old Man might show adults that kindness counts and give our youngest children a small glimpse into the lives of people who are less fortunate.

Gecko Press specialise in the finding and publishing of foreign language texts. I learnt a new word tonight reading about this book. This little book, written with great compassion and sagacity ... has profound lessons of kindness for its young readers.  Sagacity means wisdom and that is the perfect word to describe this book.

Here are some  detailed teaching notes.  Here is a review where you can see some of the illustrations. If you want to follow this book with other picture books about the lives of homeless people here is a list to explore.

The Old Man was originally published in French with the title Bonhomme.  Here is the cover.

You could explore the topic of homelessness further with older students using two excellent Australian titles - Way home by Libby Hathorn and Space Travellers by Margaret Wild.  I would also link The Old Man with Footpath Flowers.

Friday, March 30, 2018

A boy called Bat by Elana K Arnold illustrated by Charles Santoso

"Do you know what I see when I look into your eyes?" "Brown and black," Bat said. "With white all around."
"Yes," said Mom. "I do see that. But I also see your sweetness. And your thoughtful nature. And your busy, busy mind."

Can you see the animal on the front cover of this book A boy called Bat?  It is a baby skunk. Here in Australia we do not have skunks and so for me this interesting creature joins others we find in US and UK titles such as badgers, raccoons and hedgehogs.  I would like to think US and UK children would be equally fascinated by our koala, kangaroo, echidna, and platypus.

Bat (Bixby Alexander Tam) sees the world in a different way from others. He needs order and routine. He does not like loud sounds and "there was also the way he sometime flapped his hands, when he was nervous or excited or thinking about something interesting."

Animals are Bat's favorite thing and luckily for Bat his mum is a vet. Bat loves going to her clinic and spending time with the cats and dogs but today mum has bought a baby skunk home. The mother has died and this is the only surviving kit. Bat immediately falls in love with this tiny baby which his sister names Thor. The problem is Thor can only stay with the family for one month until he is old enough to be taken by the rescue center prior to his release back into the wild. Bat needs to convince his mum to let Thor stay with him for much longer.  Could Thor become his pet?  Can Bat become his caretaker?

Bat has a set of animal encyclopedias and he begins to read about skunks. One of the key questions is Do Skunks make good pets?  The answer in his book is from Dr Jerry Dragoo who works for the aptly named Institute for the Betterment of Skunks and Skunk Reputations.  At school the next day his kind teacher Mr Grayson notices Bat is very distracted. At recess he offers to help Bat write an email to Dr Dragoo.  Eventually an email arrives with an answer which is not quite as definitive as Bat would like.

Take a look here for some photos and facts about skunks. Here is an interview with Elana K Arnold. Here is a set of teaching notes with ideas for further reading.

This is an easy to read short chapter book with a gentle message about difference and perseverance. Older children might follow this book with Loser by Jerry Spinelli and Goldfish Boy. The 'voice' of Bat reminded me of Waylon which is a book for a younger audience.

Comfortably familiar and quietly groundbreaking, this introduction to Bat should charm readers, who will likely look forward to more opportunities to explore life from Bat’s particular point of view.  Kirkus

Here is the cover of the second book which has just been published.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Wolfie & Fly by Cary Fagan illustrated by Zoe Si

The box was in the basement. ... On the side was the name of the refrigerator brand, Super Cool. ... She lay down beside the box. Lying down was also good for helping her think.
I know! she thought. A submarine!

I have talked about this on other occasions. We are so lucky here in Australia to have access to books from around the world and because we speak English we can find books from UK, USA, NZ and in this case from Canada.  The real trick is in discovering books from far away.

This little gem Wolfie and Fly has just 85 pages and so there is no excuse - you need to pick this up and read it now. I timed myself and it only took 15 minutes to read the whole book. There are lots of illustrations and a larger print size making this is a perfect little beginning novel.

Wolfie (real name Renata) is so named because she is a lone wolf.

"Renata didn't have any friends.
Not even one.
Did this bother her? No it did not.
Renata didn't want any friends. She thought other kids were annoying. Other kids whined or talked too much or told stupid jokes or wanted to play boring games. Other kids weren't interested in the same things as Renata. They just got in the way."

I guess you know how this is going to end.  Renata clearly needs a special friend. Luckily the boy next door is perfect. He is unstoppable, energetic, imaginative and also in need of a friend.  Livingston Flott is known as Fly.

"Because I buzz around and annoy people. But I look at it in a positive way. I mean, a fly is persistent. A fly is a survivor. You can call me Fly if you say it in a nice way."

Together these unlikely friends make a submarine and set off on an underwater adventure complete with a lost baseball, funny songs, clown fish, home made scuba gear and a real pirate. You can read a more plot details in this review.

I would compare this book with the Frog and Toad series, Mouse and Mole series and Bonny Becker's bear series.  You could also use The Tunnel by Anthony Brown for a discussion about the importance of using your imagination.

This delightful story is a wonderful celebration of the power of the imagination. It turns out that having, and using, ones imagination can make all kinds of wonderful things happen. It turns out that having an adventure in a big cardboard box submarine can even make a lone wolf decide that being alone isn’t always a good thing. Through the looking Glass Review

Here is book two from this new series: