Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Read aloud titles for Grades 3 and 4


The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.” 





I am often asked about ideas for books to read aloud as a serial with a class.  Last night I worked on this list for a colleague and since nearly every title came from this blog I thought it might be helpful to share this list here with links(colour titles) to my pages.  Start with this short video where Kate DiCamillo talks about the impact and importance of reading to a class every day.



Year Three
Tumtum and Nutmeg by Emily Bearn
The Night Fairy by Laura Amy Schlitz
Hector the Rat by Tony Wilkinson (Sprinter series)
Gooney Bird Greene by Lois Lowry
Thalia the failure by Robin Klein
Victor’s Quest Pamela Freeman
Stella by the sea by Ruth Stark – Aussie Chomp
The trumpet of the swan by EB White 
Chocolate Fever by Robert Kimmel Smith
My father’s dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannet
Fortunately the Milk by Neil Gaiman
Ollie’s Odyssey by William Joyce (save for Term 3 or 4)
Donavan’s word Jar by Melissa DeGross
Little dog lost by Marion Dane Bauer
The Whipping boy by Sid Fleischman



Year Four
The year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes
Mrs Frisby and the rats of NIMH by Robert C O’Brien
A rat’s tale by Tom Seidler
A book of Coupons by Sally Morgenstern
The Wonderling by Myra Bartok 
How to Steal a dog by Barbara O’Connor
There’s a boy in the girls bathroom by Louis Sachar
The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry
Spunky tells all by Ann Cameron
Masterpiece by Elise Broach
The chocolate Touch by Patrick Catling
Beetle Boy by M.G. Leonard
Mr Stink by David Walliams
Jamil’s shadow by Christine Harris
The one and only Ivan by Katherine Applegate – later in the year
Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate
Figgy in the world by Tamsin Janu
The tuckshop kid by Pat Flynn
The Real Thief by William Steig 
The legend of little fur by Isobelle Carmody
Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner

Here is a challenge. Do you have a read aloud book that you love to use with Grade 3 or 4?  Tell me about it in the comment section and these lists can grow!



Sunday, January 28, 2018

Run, elephant, run by Patricia MacCarthy

I picked this picture book up at my local library today.  Run, elephant, run - an Indonesian rainforest adventure is a little outside the scope of books I usually talk about but I really liked the onomatopoeic style and the lively illustrations so I will talk about it here because this would be a lovely book to buy as a gift for a very young child and yes this is a very new book so it should be easy to find.

The storm is coming, the herd are on the move, little elephant is afraid but he sticks close to his mother.  A huge, old tree falls down and little elephant is separated from his mother and the herd. Now he needs to run for his life because a tiger is headed his way. As the rain becomes heavier and heavier the chase accelerates then just as it seems the tiger will pounce little elephant slides down a muddy slope and bumps straight into his mother. She trumpets and stamps her big feet and the tiger turns to run for his life.




If you need a book about rain this one is perfect.  So many words to describe the way rain sounds and feels. These words show a how the best picture books are actually poetry.

spit spot spit spot
pitter patter pitter patter
rattle rattle rattle rattle
drumming drumming drumming
whoosh swoosh whoosh swoosh
pitter-patter spit spot spot spot


If you need a book about rainforest animals this book is perfect. On the last page thirty five are revealed and then you can go back and try to spot them in the book. Exotic sounding animals such as the red leaf monkey, Javan banded pitta, Sunda Sambar deer, pygmy tasier, mouse-deer and the Asian Tapir.

Make sure you check the end papers - you know I love them and in this book we see the storm beginning and ending which is of course the perfect way to bookend this story.

Here are two other books in our school library with illustrations by UK illustrator Patricia MacCarthy.  I was excited to see she is the illustrator of several books by the wonderful New Zealand writer Margaret Mahy including 17 Kings and 42 Elephants.  I was not familiar with this UK Publisher Otter-Barry but I recommend you take a look at their web site.





Friday, January 26, 2018

Wish by Barbara O'Connor

On the line describe your family, I wrote 'Bad.' 
What is your favorite subject in school 'None.'
List three of your favorite activities. 'Soccer, ballet, and fighting.'
Two of those favorite activities were lies but one of them was the truth.
I am fond of fighting.




Charlie (do not call her Charlemagne) knows hundreds of ways to make wishes and she has set herself a task of making a wish every day.  She is now twelve years old and has been making wishes since Grade Four. Charlie needs to make her wish (which you may guess as you read but I won't spoil this) because her family is in disarray.  Her dad is in a "correctional facility" and her mother has retreated into depression so Charlie is sent stay with Bertha and Gus.  Charlie has so much unresolved anger - she just keeps lashing out at everyone.  These are the moments that touched me the most as I walked with Charlie on the journey to her wish.

The first day of school does not go well for Charlie as you can see from her responses to the question page from her teacher.  At the end of the morning Howard Odom is assigned to be her "backpack buddy" but Charlie just wants to be left alone. Luckily Howard is persistent and he can see past her anger. Charlie sees a little stray dog but she needs Howard to help capture him. Gradually Charlie opens up to Howard and he patiently gives her strategies to combat her anger. Along the way though she almost destroys this precious friendship and her outbursts to the beautiful and kind Aunt Bertha are utterly shocking but somehow this wise woman also sees Charlie just needs love.

I remember seeing the cover of Wish sometime in 2016 and wanting to read it straight away but as is always the case here in Australia the hardcover edition was very pricey (Aus$34) so I knew I needed to wait for the paperback.  Shopping in the city yesterday I spied it on the shelf, bought it home and read the whole book in one sitting this morning.  Yes, yes it is that good! Here is a set of discussion questions for Wish.  Here is an interview with Barbara.  Here is an interesting way to make a book trailer.

If you are a fan of Because of Winn Dixie, Almost home and Missing May by Cynthia Rylant you will adore WishBarbara O'Connor is the author of another book I loved - How to Steal a dog and an exciting moment for me was when Barbara actually commented on my blog!  You should also look for The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis. It is easy to see links between the Elvis and his wild family and the wonderful Howard and his family in Wish. 

Ways to make wishes - just a few :

  • 11.11 on the clock
  • The first star of the evening
  • If you see a black horse shake your fist at it three times
  • Blow an eyelash
  • If you see a yellow railroad car

My wish would be to have Howard as my friend!  


Here are a few quotes from the book.

Charlie is sitting on the porch with Bertha and Gus "And then the most amazing thing happened. They both reached out at the exact same time and held hands."

"Maybe the Odom's hearts were so good that they didn't care that they lived in such a sad-looking house."

"I knew what it felt like to be stray, not having a home where somebody wanted you.  ... That dog and I had a lot in common. I was suddenly overwhelmed with love for that skinny dog."

"Charlie, ... you can't judge people for the mistakes they make. You judge them for how they fix those mistakes."

A warm, real, and heartfelt tale. Kirkus

Wish contains so much of what I love about middle grade fiction: an engaging plot ... a main character that readers will fall in love with, unforgettable supporting characters (not an easy thing to do), and a setting so real you feel like you’ve been there. Colby Sharp

Monday, January 22, 2018

The moon over High Street by Natalie Babbitt

I picked up The Moon over High Street because I read Tuck Everlasting in my very first school library and it is a story that has lingered with me for over 30 years.  If you have an ambition to be a writer (perhaps for children) I would recommend looking for this book also by Natalie Babbitt.  What struck me as I read The Moon over High Street were all the decisions I seemed to hear Natalie Babbitt making about her characters - the path seemed to divide for them so many times.

Joe has lost both of his parents but he was so very young when this happened it is not really a source of sadness.  He has a loving Gran who has cared for him for his twelve years.  They had planned to travel to see their only other relative Aunt Myra in Midville but Gran has broken her hip and will need time to recover so Joe travels to Midville alone on the bus.  Living in this same town is a self made millionaire named Anson Boulderwall.  He is originally from Poland and his name is really Anselm Boldivol.  Mr Boulderwall is concerned about succession planning.  His only daughter (now an adult and married) has no interest in his business.  He invented the "swervit" which is used in engines all over America and this has made his millions.  When he meets Joe and hears his name Casimir he hatches a plan.  Casimir is a Polish name.  Joe is an orphan and he seems to be a very bright boy.  Without talking to Joe, Mr Boulderwall plans an education for Joe and a life journey filled with money and prestige but is this what Joe himself would choose?

Looking at those plot decisions:

  • Joe expects to feel uncomfortable with Aunt Myra - instead she has his perfect room ready and on the first night they eat pizza and ice cream followed by breakfast the next day: "Pancakes and bacon, Joe ... Hope you like them.' Like them! Who didn't? ... There was orange juice, too, and butter and maple syrup and they sat down and began to eat as if they'd been together every morning of their lives."
  • Joe expects to miss his friends especially Emily Crouse - instead there is a huge friendly family living next to Aunt Myra and Beatrice is just his age.  She takes him on a town tour on the first day and the two become instant friends.  Beatrice provides a fresh view in the face of Joe's reticence to talk about his future plans.
  • I expected a disaster.  Gran is sent a letter from the lawyers of Mr Boulderwall outlining his plan for Joe. She quickly organises to come to Midville and meet him face to face.  I thought oh no, there will be a car accident and Joe will have to face these adults alone but no Gran arrives safely and she takes a tough stand with the presumptuous millionaire.  "My grandson is not for sale. Not now, not ever. ... Joe's dream is to learn things. Discover things. ... No, my grandson is not for sale. And neither, by the way, is the moon.  Goodbye."


I love the little touches in this writing such as this description of the hall mirror in the big house :
"On the wall behind the table, an immense and heavy mirror framed in fussy gilt curlicues frowned out at them as if to say they should keep their reflections to themselves."

Here is a book talk from Scholastic.  Here is an interview with Natalie Babbitt about her book. Read an extract from Chapter 2 here.  Sadly Natalie died in 2016 so this is her last book.

Read some reviews
Kirkus
Book Page
Jen Robinson's Book Page


Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Cody and the fountain of happiness by Tricia Springstubb illustrated by Eliza Wheeler



As I keep mentioning I am constantly on the hunt for 'good' easy chapter books for our younger students.  Here is a brilliant one I just found in my local public library and I am so happy to discover there are three in the series.

First off the endorsement on the back cover from Sara Pennypacker caught my eye. Then I read the first page and I was hooked!

In this life, many things are beautiful:
Marshmallows
100% on your spelling test
Turtles with their cute thumb shaped heads
But if Cody had to name the most beautiful thing in the world, it would be ...
The first day of summer vacation.
Which was today.
Today!

Cody lives in suburban America with her mum who sells shoes in a large store, her father who is a truck driver and her brother Wyatt who wants to be a surgeon. He is also in love with Payton Underwood so things become interesting when Mum hires Payton to babysit Cody.

Cody has a loving family. I really like the way this is explained :

"Wyatt put her in his famous, escape proof headlock. As anyone with a big brother knows, this is what they do when they really, truly, in their heart of hearts, they want to hug you."

"Some grown-ups give so much advice, you don't need to listen. ... But not Dad. His advice was rare and precious as golden coins."

"Dad's talent was giving magic hugs. When you were in the middle of one, you magically felt kind toward the whole world."

"Cody scooted close and rubbed her mother's back in steady circles, the way the earth goes around the sun. She'd learned how to do this from Mom herself."

Mum is working and dad is away all week so Cody will need to go to Summer Camp but at the last minute the camp is cancelled. Cody is so happy especially now she has met a new friend named Spencer.  He is visiting his grandmother, he has lost his cat, he is unhappy, lonely and desperately in need of a friend - Cody is perfect for this role.

Listen the first chapter on audio here. Read this review for more plot details.

It’s hard not to cheer for Cody, with her sunny disposition and penchant for optimistic similes. Kirkus




Monday, January 15, 2018

Candy Floss and Impunity Jane by Rumer Godden

Several months ago I talked about a book called Everything I need to know I learned from a children's book.  I then talked about one of the books that 'taught' me things Miss Happiness and Miss Flower by Rumer Godden.  In the book Everything ... by Anita Silvey she mentioned Impunity Jane also by Rumer Godden and so I was keen to read this.  None of the libraries I have visited recently held this title so I purchased an second hand copy which arrived this week.

Published in 1954 Impunity Jane is a very old book as is the companion story Candy Floss is from 1957. My edition contains both stories in one slim volume published in 1992.  I was not able to find a cover image but here are a few old copies to give you some idea.



I did enjoy both of these stories but it is Candy Floss that will linger with me the longest.  I can see exactly where Rumer Godden found her idea for Belinda in Miss Happiness and Miss Flower (1961) because in Candy Floss she has a very similar character named Clementina.

Here is the tune Jack's music box plays :




Candy Floss




Candy Floss is a special little doll who lives with a carnival man who runs a coconut shy.  I think I must have read about this game when I was a child because I know it has always fascinated me.

Along with Candy Floss, Jack has his friends Cocoa a little dog who sits on a stool beside the shy and Nuts, a little wooden horse who sits on a music box.  Candy Floss sits on the horse's back and she turns around and around.

Jack is kept busy with his shy but when all the coconuts are won he covers over Nuts and pops Candy Floss in his pocket where "there was a hole handy so she could see out."  Together with Cocoa they enjoy all the fun of the fair - rides, games and food.  Then they spend their nights in an old van.  If Candy Floss is looking a little worn out or "when she needed a new dress Jack would soak the old one off with hot water, fluff up a new one and stick it on with glue." Life is happy for our little group moving on from one fair to another until the day Clementina comes to visit.  She is an unhappy and indulged little girl who has been given the most amazing toys and treats but nothing is ever good enough until she sees Candy Floss.  Jack patiently explains Candy Floss is not for sale so when Jack is busy with a customer Clementina snatches her.  Candy Floss cannot speak but she knows dolls can send wishes to receptive children.  Eventually Candy Floss does get through to Clementina and she returns the precious doll to Jack. A lesson is learned and a new friendship forged.

Impunity Jane



"This little doll is very strongly made ... Why, you could drop her with impunity. ... Impunity means escaping without hurt."

Impunity Jane's name is a self fulfilling prophesy.  Over fifty years she has so many owners Effie, Elizabeth, Ethel and Ellen.  None of these girls are even sightly interested in Impunity Jane and she languishes at the bottom of the dolls house but one day Ellen's cousin Gideon comes to play "and suddenly Impunity Jane knew she could make Gideon feel. 'Rescue me,' wished Impunity Jane as hard as she could."

Gideon slips Impunity Jane into his pocket and her wonderful adventures begin but there is a complication - Gideon is a boy with a toy doll.  Think about the exploration of this idea in 1954!

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Wishtree by Katherine Applegate illustrated by Charles Santoso




Please, before you read my thoughts on Wishtree,  watch the publisher trailer - it is just perfect!  Now pick up this book and peel back the dust jacket. You don't want to miss the carefully embossed leaves underneath.

Be patient. Read this book slowly.  Let Katherine Applegate introduce the narrator Red (a tree) and his friend Bongo (a crow).  I hope when you get to page 52 you will have the same reaction I had - I gasped.  Such is the power of just one word.  The tone of this book flips right over :


LEAVE

Red has been growing in this place for over two hundred years. Red is exactly two hundred and sixteen rings old.  Red has watched human families grow and change, Red has sheltered hundreds of small animals and Red has listened to secrets and wishes.  One of the newest residents is Samar and her family. She loves to sit under the tree, being still and gradually the small creatures who shelter there gather around her. Samar writes her wish to tie to the tree - it is for a friend.  Why is this an issue :

"A few months ago, a new family, Samar's family, rented the blue house. They were from a distant country. Their ways were unfamiliar. Their words held new music. ... Our neighborhood had welcomed many families from faraway. What was different this time?"

A few weeks ago I received an invitation from a Goodreads book group to join a discussion about Wishtree.  I put this book on my list and yesterday made a special trip into the city to pick up a copy. Today I read it all in one sitting but really I didn't want the magic to end.

Names are a source of humor in this story.  This lightness of touch balances the heavy themes of intolerance, violence and prejudice.  There are also moments of  wisdom and odd ball jokes shared by Red.


  • Trees - all have the same name red oaks are called Red, sugar maples are called Sugar, junipers are called Juniper and so on.
  • Crows - some have human names, some are named after manoeuvres and the crow in this story Bongo is named after the bongo drums played by a band in this neighborhood - this is a sound she likes.
  • Skunks - all named after pleasant scents such as FreshBakedBread. 
  • O'Possums - named after things they are afraid of such as Flashlight.
  • Owls - take sensible names like Harold.
  • Raccoon mothers are not good with names so all their offspring are called You!

Katherine Applegate talks to Nerdy Book Club and shares her thoughts and hopes for Wishtree.  You can read the first twelve pages here but then please find the book because the most important parts happen after page 52!  Here is a long video with Katherine where she talks about her book.  Take a look at this review which includes discussion questions.

This is my new favourite book! I give it a ten star rating.  It is right up there with Because of Winn Dixie Sarah, Plain and Tall and all books by Patricia MacLachlan I have talked about on this blog.  I do hope Wishtree wins some big prizes so then it can come to the attention of book buyers and libraries everywhere.

Wishtrees are real and come from Ireland and here is a photo of one.  They are usually hawthorn trees.  I expect to see lots of school library with wish trees for everyone to fill.



I was excited to discover Charles Santoso is Australian and he lives in Sydney and he also illustrated the precious book Ida Always.

A deceptively simple, tender tale in which respect, resilience, and hope triumph.  Kirkus Star review

Another stunning effort from Applegate. This thoughtful read is a top choice for middle graders.  School Library Journal

Saturday, January 13, 2018

The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd illustrated by Levi Pinfold

"It was late summer when I first arrived at Briar Hill.  Sister Constance took me straight to her office and removed the identification tag pinned to my coat. While she made notes in a ledger, I tried to smooth my tufts of hair in the mirror above her desk. Then completely out of nowhere, completely without warning, a winged horse clomped straight through the mirror-doorway, prim as anything, tail held high, as though Sister Constance's office was the exact place he was looking for."




Some things to notice in the quote above - pieces of this story puzzle.

  • Sister Constance - she is a nun and these women are caring for the children who have been sent far from their homes. They are efficient but also distant.
  • Identification tag - yes think of World War II and the evacuated children.
  • Tufts of hair - Emmaline is ill but there is something more - she has other injuries which I won't explain here lest I spoil the story.
  • The winged horses - no one else it seems can see them - why do they show themselves to Emmaline?


Emmaline sees the winged horses in all the manor house mirrors but she also finds one in the garden and this one has a broken wing.  She gradually gains the trust of this magnificent creature and in one exhilarating scene is even able to ride her.  Emmaline receives a note from the mysterious Horse Lord.  He warns Emmaline that Foxfire is in great danger.  She must be protected from the Black Horse.  The only way to do this is to surround Foxfire with all the colours of the rainbow.

"These objects will create a spectral shield that will hide her from him even during the brightest full moon. I beg you to accept this mission of utmost importance."

Now the race is on.  The full moon is only weeks away.  Emmaline is growing weaker.   Emmaline and all the other children have 'stillwaters' or tuberculosis.  The seriousness of their illness is indicated with a series of tags which are attached to the doors of their rooms.  Blue for patients who are well enough to go outside for exercise and fresh air.  Yellow for those who must stay indoors and Red for those too ill to leave their beds.  Emmaline is given a yellow ticket by Dr Turner but she is desperate to get outside.  She must visit Foxfire.

Her movements are restricted.  The air is filled with fear of the war.  It is now Winter and the world is cold and grey.  It seems almost impossible to find all the colours.  Emmaline has a true friend at Briar Hill.  A girl named Anna.  Anna has a set of pencils and these colours become a guide for Emmaline.  I love this list :

245 - Carmine Red
348 - Blush Pink
479 - Tangerine Orange
563 - Canary Yellow
656 - Emerald Green
781 - Sea Turquoise
868 - Lapis Blue
935 - Heliotrope Purple


Emmaline also needs to befriend the lonely man who works at Briar Hill. He has lost an arm and is quiet and withdrawn. The other children have invented horror stories about Thomas but Emmaline observes him and she is able to uncover the truth. He can also see her horses.  Tension builds as she adds each colour to the bushes surrounding Foxfire.

The Secret Horses of Briar Hill is a complex book with wonderful illustrations. Huge thanks go to a young reader in my school library who shared this book with me.  An interesting discussion point might be all the references to colour in this book which contrast with the gentle black and white pencil illustrations. An older student with reading stamina will be richly rewarded when they step into Emmaline's world at Briar Hill Hospital.   You might also enjoy The Loblolly boy by James Norcliffe,  Angel Creek by Sally Rippin or The unfinished Angel by Sharon Creech.

The right readers will love this to piecesKirkus

Does Emmaline really see the horses, or are they in her imagination? Shepherd effortlessly weaves together fact and fantasy in this poignant novel. Kids Reads

Emmaline is a brave child with a fierce imagination and a formidable strength of character. Misunderstood and alone, she tugs at our heart strings as she battles against her illness. The Book Bag




"She tears through the gate. Her muscles are rippling beneath my legs, her quicksilver hooves pounding the frozen ground. I gasp with the thrill of it. The fields streak around us and I lean into the bitter cold wind. If she is this fast running, what must she be like flying? I think she could outfly the Germans if she wanted to. She could certainly outfly the Black Horse."

Friday, January 12, 2018

Lighthouse family series by Cynthia Rylant illustrated by Preston McDaniels

On my recent trip to Seattle I stumbled across the Lighthouse Family series by Cynthia Rylant.  I picked out The Storm because I adore lighthouses, I am always on the look out for simple chapter books with satisfying stories and I really appreciate the writing of Cynthia Rylant with books like Mr PutterHigh-rise Private Eyes, Missing May and the Henry and Mudge series.  There are six books in the Lighthouse Family series and while they are available they are not new - the first was published in 2002.

Pandora, a kindhearted cat, has lived alone at the lighthouse for the last four years. She is very lonely but she knows this is an important job and she has saved many lives. She has occasional visitors such as a whale called Atoll and a tern called Henry.  We meet these two again in subsequent books.

Seabold is an old seafaring dog who is caught in a wild storm. His boat is wrecked near the lighthouse and Pandora rescues and cares for him.

"For he found himself in a little wooden bed under a cheerful gingham quilt, and he was no longer in the sea, but looking out at the sea, through a small window by his side. A daisy stood in a jar on the windowsill."

Seabold eventually rebuilds his boat and it seems Pandora will be lonely all over again.  But is has taken a long time to repair the boat, it takes a long time for his leg to heal and somehow the seasons pass. Seabold is surprised he enjoys being on land and he admires the importance of Pandora's work. One day in the Spring the pair spy a drifting crate with a flag. Seabold rows out to investigate and inside are three little mice - a boy, a girl and a tiny baby.  In fact the baby is named Tiny.  His brother  Whistler and sister Lila have escaped from an orphanage.  Now Seabold will stay - he loves Tiny, Pandora has a family to care for and the three little mice have found a true home.

"Seabold grew quite attached to Tiny. He put her in the soft roll of his knitted cap and she went everywhere with him, seeing all that he saw."

Here is a review of The Storm.  Take a look at this video of Cynthia's first book When I was Young in the Mountains.  There are some audio samples of The Storm and The Whale here.


Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Song from Somewhere Else by AF Harrold illustrated by Levi Pinfold



First of all a warning. The Song from Somewhere else is a book for a very mature reader in my view - I found the bullying scenes raw and confronting. I remember when this book was released in 2016 I was unsure whether to purchase it for my school library.  Having at last read this powerful story I do think it is suitable for a Primary library but I would restrict the loans to Grade 6 students.  I found these comments by one reviewer which confirm my feelings :  a palpable sense of dread, mystery and growing up ...

Francesca, known as Frank, has been having awful confrontations with a bully called Neil Noble and his two henchmen although she has no idea why they keep attacking her. There is also a boy at school called Nick Underbridge.  He is the outsider. He is shunned by the other children. They think his size is odd and his smell strange but it is Nick who bravely comes to her after an especially horrid attack by Neil.  Now Frank is torn.  Can she be friends with Nick? What will the others say? Then when she visits his home she hears the most beautiful music :

"No piece of music she'd ever heard on the radio or in the background of a tv show had ever made her feel so special, had made her feel so cared for, so improved.  ... that music. There was something in it, ... that lifted her spirits, that made her feel light and hollow and almost happy."

Frank is so curious about this music that she overcomes her inner voice and visits Nick again. Discovering the source of the music is a shock. There are connections to another world and now she has knowledge of a deep secret that must not be revealed.  The cruelty of Neil becomes extreme and to her horror Frank is forced to reveal Nick's secret. The battle between good and evil cannot be avoided but will Nick survive, will he forgive her, will Frank forgive herself?

The action in this tightly constructed story takes place over just five days and you will be on the edge of your seat and, perhaps as I was, also filled with horror as Frank endures the physical torture inflicted by Neil and her own personal torture as she struggles with her conscious.

You might like to read my review of The Imaginary another book by AF Harrold. There is a strong connection between these two books especially in the scenes of battles between good and evil.  For readers who want to explore other books which explore the violence inflicted by bullies you might look for The Present Takers by Aidan Chambers, Benjamin Dove and Wolf Hollow.  You might also look for an old book called Under the Mountain by New Zealand author Maurice Gee which has this same concept of other worlds.

The publisher web site has a first chapter extract and teacher notes.  You can see some of the brilliant art from this book below and on Levi Pinfold's web site.  I was excited to read he is from Australia. By chance the next book on my reading pile is also illustrated by Levi - The Secret Horses of Briar Hill.  Here is a Q&A with Levi.

Here are some reviews and it is interesting to see all have listed a younger recommended age group :





Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The tale of Angelino Brown by David Almond illustrated by Alex T Smith



Bert Brown has been driving this same bus route for ten years and for the previous ten years he drove another bus route.  By now he is tired of the stopping, the passengers, the naughty children "traffic lights, traffic jams, hold-ups, roadworks, glaring sun, fog and puddles, ice and bloomin' snow."

Yes it is time for a change - but perhaps all Bert needs is a change of focus - something special in his life - and this arrives in the form of a tiny angel he finds in his pocket.  He takes the little angel home and his wife, who is a very happy school lunch lady, adores him.  They name him Angelino and take delight in every tiny thing the boy does even his little farts (there are hundreds in this story).  Betty takes him along to her school and it is there he finds his voice.  Angelino sits through a very serious and, for a reader, a very funny English lesson with Professor Smellie.  When Angelino declares "I don't know nowt."  The professor explodes!

Meanwhile there are some baddies (of course) and they are plotting to kidnap Angelino and sell him to the highest bidder.  One of the 'criminals' is a master of disguise or so he thinks but he is also a former school student and Betty recognises him as Kevin Hawkins. His cover is blown. From this point on things become quite crazy with chases and more bullies and heroic children and even though little (he is growing actually) Angelino is kidnapped it all works out in the end with large helpings of happiness for everyone.

I don't think it is a coincidence that Bert reads or tells the story of Pinocchio to little Angelino when Angelino first sleeps in Paul's bed.  Paul was the son of Bert and Betty "He came a long time ago but he couldn't stay. He got very ill and very tired. He had to go back to heaven."  Bert and Betty have lost Paul but they have found Angelino.

When you pick up this book don't rush to open it.  Take time to stretch out the whole cover and then peek under the dust jacket and then puzzle over the end papers (no I don't know what these little illustrations represent.)  I think this book would be a winner as a class read-aloud with a middle Primary group.  It would be fun to talk about all the names invented by David Almond - Cornelius Nutt the Government Advisor and Narcissus Spleen the Secretary of State for Education.  You might also try some art activities such as those done by the children in the wonderful Mrs Monteverdi's class using Angelino as a model.

Australian children reading this book may be curious about the sweets that Angelino enjoys called Midget Gems.




I would follow this book with Conrad the story of a factory made boy (an old favourite of mine), Noah Barleywater runs away Skellig - also by David Almond and Eep!

Just for fun take a look at this web site where you can see Alex T Smith and David Almond enjoying some chocolate cake with custard - yes this treat is mentioned several times in this story.

This story is about goodness and kindness versus badness and unkindness; of opportunity reborn; the reinvention of the self and second chances. It is a story of love and hope rekindled. Kids Book Review

David Almond inspires readers’ imagination and raises questions about definitions of good and bad. It is a Wonderful book. Love Reading4Kids



Sunday, January 7, 2018

The Whisper by Pamela Zagarenski

"There once was a little girl who loved stories. She loved how words and pictures took her to new and secret places that existed in a world all her own. The characters became her friends, and quite often she grew to love them."



The Whisper is a very special book which appears on so many book lists since it was published in 2015. A little girl borrows a book from her teacher but on the way home the words all spill out. Luckily they are caught in a net by a fox.


When the little girl sits down to enjoy her book she is so disappointed to find there are no words but then she hears a whisper.

"You can imagine the words.
You can imagine the stories. ...
There are never any rules, rights, or wrongs in imagining - imagining just is."

Each double page spread has a scrumptious illustration and a title.
Blue Bear's visit
The Secret
The Quest
Tiger's Prayer
A birthday party
The magical clock
The golden key

"Hour after hour the little girl imagined an entire story for each page."  And this is something your students or reading companion can do too.  As the little girl returns to school with the book she meets the fox. He returns the words in return for a favour reminiscent of the Aesop Fable The Fox and the Grapes.

You can see a huge selection of the exquisite art work by Pamela Zagarenski here at Seven Impossible Things.  Here is a video of the whole book.  You should also look for Red Sings from the Treetops a very special book of poetry by Joyce Sidman also illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski.

Here are some more reviews
School Library Journal
Kirkus
The Reading Castle

I would pair this magical book with The Mysteries of Harris Burdick and Phileas's fortune : a story about self-expression.




Friday, January 5, 2018

Norman Speak! by Caroline Adderson and Qin Leng





One of my most loved books is Let's get a pup by Bob Graham.  Norman Speak! is the perfect book partner.

Norman Speak!
"We went to the animal shelter. So many kinds of dogs were there - brown, black, white, gray, large and small, curly and straight ... the sad way those dogs looked at us made me want to cry."

Let's get a pup
"At the Rescue Centre they found plenty of dogs without a home, and lots of dogs all alone. They found big dogs, small dogs, sniffers and sleepers, wire-haired, short-haireds, scratchers and leapers."

The family select Norman because he has been in the shelter the longest.  "His wag was a hula dance of happiness" compares well with Dave from Let's get a pup.  "Dave was so excited he came out sideways ... and he turned a complete circle in the air."

Norman seems happy but he just doesn't want to do anything the boy asks such as sit, come, speak.  The family decide he is not very smart. Then one day at the park a man calls out to his dog and Norman runs over to this stranger.  The man speaks Chinese and Norman understands.

"We signed up for Chinese lessons on Saturday mornings in the basement of a church."  Mrs Wang teaches the whole family Chinese words so they can talk to Norman - he such a smart dog!

Here is the web site for the author Caroline Adderson.


The Seven Seas by Ellen Jackson illustrated by Bill Slavin and Esperanca Melo




When you dip into my blog here at Momotimetoread do you sometimes wonder at the variety of books I seem to talk about?  Here again we have a book that is not new.  The Seven Seas was published in 2011 but I think it might be a good one to hunt out for a school library.

At the end of last year I was able to spend a few glorious hours in a very well stocked junior library which caters for children from Preschool to Grade 2.  The kind Teacher-Librarian was happy for me to fill a basket with picture books and novels. If I get the chance to do this again I will be a little more systematic but on this first visit I just fluttered around from shelf to shelf like a butterfly gathering nectar.

Told in rhyme the narrator (a rabbit) daydreams during a geography lesson and imagines exploring the seven seas.  His thoughts come in the form of a rhyme.

The Yellow Sea's a mystery, 
a sight that's worth the trip.
They say it's made of lemonade
and quite all right to sip.

This imaginative fellow visits the yellow sea, red sea, brown sea, black sea, purple sea and even pink sea.  I did start to question were all of these real.  "Yes, I have seen the seven seas, I've checked them off my list. Can you surmise which ones are lies and which of them exist?"

No need to grab an atlas - at the back of the book there is a world map and several fact pages including an explanation of the term sea and a set of questions and answers.  The flamingos flying east and west on the end papers are also fun.

I would link The Seven Seas with Jeremy's Tale by Duncan Ball and A Pet for Mrs Arbuckle. Sadly both of these books are out of print but if you can find them they will give you so much inspiration for plotting on maps of the world and exploring different forms of transport.  These books would be perfect use with the youngest students as they begin their exploration of world geography. Here is a review with more details.  I was interested to read about this author - Ellen Jackson  - she has written so many and such varied books but I had not seen her work until I read The Seven Seas.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Tales from a tall forest by Shaun Micallef

“As a kid, I found the peripheral characters in these stories slightly more interesting. Like the old woman who built the confectionery house. How would she get planning permission for that?” Shaun demands, eyebrow cocked askance.



Shaun Micallef is able to seamlessly weave so many famous fairy tales into the first story in this collection. We meet two builders who are excited by a new project commissioned by an old crone called Baba Yaga to build :

"a sweet little cottage with liquorice-allsort stones, candy-cane door frames and a rooftop of chocolate pieces all grouted together with marzipan."

Any astute reader will know at some point we are going to meet Hansel and Gretel and that there may even be a trail of breadcrumbs but before we reach these scenes the focus shifts to the castle where the new Queen is practicing her smiles and seething with rage over the natural beauty of her step daughter.  The Queen summons the Royal Woodsman to chaperone Princess Mathilda into the forest.  The puzzling thing is the Queen "also wanted her stepdaughter's heart cut out and bought back in a jewellery box." Naturally the Woodsman cannot go through with this plan and luckily, as chance would have it, along comes a terrified little girl in a red poncho.  Her grandmother has been eaten by a wolf.  They hurry off to the grandmother's cottage, the Woodsman cuts open the belly of the sleeping wolf and releases the grateful grandmother and takes out the wolf's heart.  The wolf is still alive (yes this is amazing) and really mad, especially now he has no heart. The panicked group follow a trail of breadcrumbs but end up at the Candy Slaughterhouse. The wolf arrives and devours Baba Yaga. The children and Tiny Poncho Girl deliver the beautiful Princess to the dwarves' house where she will be safe but her bed is occupied by that girl with the curly blonde-hair.  Eventually the Princess is able to return home, the wolf is killed in an accident and the Woodsman receives a knighthood. AND of course they all live happily ever after.

There are three main stories in this collection book-ended with Begin the Beginning and Ending the End.  The first story The Wolf and the Princess and the Trail of Crumbs as I described above was my favourite.  Many reviewers list Tales from a tall forest as a Young Adult title but I think older Primary students would enjoy this book. The only topic that is mentioned that might be more suitable for older students are the consequences that come from first cousins who marry and have children. Before reading the second story The Fisherman and the monkey and the Three wishes I recommend you revisit The Fisherman and his wife

This whole book is a thorough romp but there is one poignant moment which lingers with me.  When the Woodsman explains why the Queen is jealous and wants Mathilda killed he tells her this is because she is beautiful.

"The Princess had never thought of herself as beautiful before and the realisation changed her forever. She lost something of her innocence that day by the pond and, in a cosmic injustice that regrettably is the stuff of life, the young Princess would never quite be as enchantingly lovely as she was before she had her enchanting loveliness pointed out to her. The witless would be quick to call that 'irony' - but it was sadder than that."

Peter Bentley is also the illustrator of Blue Sky, Yellow Kite which was a book I loved reading earlier this year.  You can read more about Tales from a tall forest here.  Since this book is Australian and published in 2017 I wonder if it might be selected the the CBCA shortlist?

In this rich and rambunctious tapestry of tales, satirist Shaun Micallef unravels the traditional fairy story and nimbly weaves your favourite characters into new and surprising adventures
Better Reading