Saturday, November 18, 2017

The extremely inconvenient adventures of Bronte Mettlestone by Jaclyn Moriarty illustrated by Kelly Canby

"... you have bravery deep within your heart."
"But when important things happen between new friends - winning a treasure hunt, getting in trouble for walking on railings, ... the friendship stretches and billows, and dives deep into your heart."



I have something odd to tell you about this brand new book.  I attended the launch last night having rushed to read 494 pages and 91 chapters over just 2 days.  Reading this book I was certain Jaclyn must have used miles of planning sheets perhaps pinned up all over her walls with the names of each of the ten aunts that Bronte needs to visit to fulfill the requirements of her parents' will. In my imagination there would be huge diagrams and lots of crossing lines showing the connections between the aunts, the gifts they receive from Bronte (another condition of the will) and the adventures/incidents/disasters which Bronte faces during each visit.  I was entirely wrong about all of this.

Jaclyn Moriarty did not talk for long last night (there was special cake waiting for her attention) about her newest book but she did say three interesting things.

1. Usually her books involve an enormous amount of planning but reading the now very famous Big Little Lies by her sister Liane Moriarty she marveled that such a complex book could be written with out detailed plans and in fact her sister said the revelation of the killer in Big Little Lies was as much a surprise to the author as it is for all readers.  I imagine you have guessed I was totally wrong about the planning for The extremely inconvenient adventures of Bronte Mettlestone.  Jaclyn told the audience at Mosman Library that she did not plan out this book.

2.  Where did the cloudberry tea idea come from?  Jaclyn received a letter from a fan many years ago and lady mentioned sipping cloudberry tea while enjoying one of Jaclyn's books. Jaclyn promised herself she would one day include cloudberry tea in a story.

3. Jaclyn comes from a large family and if you add them all together there are ten aunts.  Her childhood relationship with some of these aunts showed her every one has a 'back story' - children only see one moment in time or one aspect of a relative - often there is so much more going on.  When you read The extremely inconvenient adventures of Bronte Mettlestone you will see how Jaclyn carefully gives tiny insights into each aunt - personality, life changing moments, desires and more.

When she is a tiny baby Bronte is left in the lobby of her aunt Isabelle's building.  Inside her pram there is a note (sadly lost), a bottle of milk and a "canister of cloudberry tea."  I love this moment from Chapter One :

"So for a while I carried about a little notebook and took down the favourite hot and cold beverages, fruits, sweets and ice-cream flavours of everybody I encountered.  That way, when I myself grew up and abandoned my only child ... I would be sure to add a sample of  their preferred treat to the pram."

When Bronte is ten she and Aunt Isabelle receive the new horrible news that her parents have been killed by pirates. They visit the lawyers and hear the terms and conditions of their complex will.  Bronte must journey across the kingdom, alone, delivering small gifts to each of her ten aunts.  If she fails to follow any instruction her home town will be destroyed.

Now take a look at the publisher trailer.

It will spoil the story if I go into any more plot details so I just want to draw out aspects of this book that appealed to me.   I loved the discovery that Jaclyn wrote her book sitting in different cafes around Sydney.  In their will, her parents, tell Bronte where to eat and what to eat and this part of the story made me smile.  It was a light diversion during times of struggle as Bronte journeyed across the lands to visit her quite eccentric aunts.  Here are some of Bronte's cafe experiences :

Aunt Sue - The Dishevelled Sofa - Today's Special and house-made lemonade
Aunt Claire - Visiting Gainsleigh - the Arlington Tea Room - lemonade and cakes
Aunt Nancy - Mountain View Cafe - order Hot Chocolate
Aunt Alys - diner next to the Stantonville Post Office - cheese and ham sandwich, a fruit frosty and a slice of cheesecake

The trailer and blurb talk about dragons as though they are frightening.  When you read Chapter 31 and meet Aunt Sophy the dragon veterinarian you will absolutely change your ideas about this.

"I soon forgot to be afraid.  It helped that some of the dragons cold speak human language. Once you start chatting with a monster about the weather, you begin to forget that it's a monster."  In fact  it is the dragons who help Bronte escape when the confrontation between good and evil reaches it's terrifying climax towards the end of her long journey.

I am going to finish with a few thank goodness moments :


  • Thank goodness Bronte had "a small sack of silver coins 'for expenses' on my journey"
  • Thank goodness for beautiful words like skedaddle, exuberantly, tiff, impenetrable, resonant and appraise.
  • Thank goodness for scrumptious picnic food - salmon fish cakes, a cheese and bacon tart, roast chicken drumsticks, potato salad and chocolate cake and this is just a small sample of the delicious food eaten during this adventure.  You will want to eat Ricochet oranges - I am sure they are amazing.
  • Thank goodness for Bronte's commendable work ethic for example when she sorts out Aunt Carrie's dark sad home and when she puts everything back at Aunt Emma's after it has been ransacked by The Chief Detective.
  • Thank goodness for great friends and fun loving cousins.
  • Thank goodness for resourceful librarians!


"I make too much noise' she confided. 'But I love it when people want to research! Do it! Dear child, you will love it! The catalogue is over there!'  Her voice rose to a shout at the end. ... I found a great stack of books on the subject that I wanted, and sat down to read."

The extremely inconvenient adventures of Bronte Mettlestone is a long book with nearly 500 pages and 91 chapters but the action does not ever falter and you will find yourself turning page after page as you race towards the ending which has surprises and lots of smiles.  You can see some of the terrific illustrations by Kelly Canby here.

Moriarty’s world-building is wonderfully imaginative and uniquely hers, while Kelly Canby’s energetic illustrations are a delight. This jam-packed, chunky novel is ideal for book-devouring readers in upper primary school.  Readings Melbourne

And the plot pulls together its many threads into a neat and satisfying climax. It will appeal to middle and upper primary readers who are happy to tackle long books as long as they have some pictures. Books and Publishing

This ambitious and clever novel seems geared towards younger readers, but I believe anyone will love it. I think everyone should read it, actually.  Trish Talks Text


Friday, November 17, 2017

My reading pile

I visited a local book shop near my school this week and picked up a huge pile of middle grade novels which I will read in preparation for a Christmas talk I am doing there in a few weeks.

I will be talking about many of these on this blog over the coming weeks but here is a sneak peek.

The Extremely Inconvenient adventures of Bronte Mettlestone by Jaclyn Moriarty

From the blurb : "... armed with only her parents instructions, a chest full of strange gifts and her own strong will, Bronte must journey forth to face dragons, Chief Detectives and pirates ..."
I have actually finished this and it is a splendid book with interesting characters, a hero you want to help and encourage and lots of excellent problems to solve.



The Wonderling by Mira Bartok

From the blurb : "Welcome to the home for wayward and misbegotten creatures, run by the evil Miss Carbukle, a cunning villainess, who believes her terrified young charges exist only to serve and suffer."







The Rogues by Lian Tanner

From the blurb "The devious Lord Rump and his granddaughter Duckling need a disposable boy, and Pummel, a farmboy looking for work int he city, fits the bill perfectly. Duckling is happy to tangle him in her grandpa's web as long as Grandpa keeps his promise - that this will be his very last Scheme."

Whimsy and Woe by Rebecca McRitchie

From the blurb : "After being abandoned by their thespian parents, Whimsy and woe Morduant are left in the care of their austere Aunt Apoline.  Forced to work in Apoline's boarding house, slaving at the beck and call of outlandish and demanding guests, and sharpening the thorns of every plant in the poisonous plant garden, Whimsy and woe lose all hope that their parents will ever return. Until one day, quite by accident, the siblings stumble upon a half-charred letter that sets them on a course to freedom and finding their parents."


Prisoner of ice and snow by Ruth Lauren

From the blurb : "Valor is under arrest for the attempted murder of the crown prince. Her parents were cast out from the royal court. Her sister was banished for theft of a national treasure. Now Valor has been sentenced to life at Tyur'ma a brutal prison built form stone and ice."

Diego and the rangers of the Vastlantic by Armand Baltazar  Book One in the series Timeless

From the blurb : "In New Chicago, Diego's middle school hall ways buzz with kids form all eras of history ad from cultures all over the world. The pieces do not always fit together neatly, but this is the world he loves. There are those, however, who do not share his affection."


Smoke by Cao Wenxuan illustrated by Yu Rong


I really enjoy reading powerful picture books to older students especially those that focus on conflict resolution.  Smoke would be an excellent book to use with any Primary class.

Mr Shou and Mr Pang live in nearly identical houses on different sides of the river.  An argument on a bridge sets off their feud.  Each father returns home :

"From now on, you aren't to go over to the west of the river to play with Beanpole! That whole family are so ugly, thin as rakes, all of them."
"From now on, you aren't to go over to the east of the river to play with Butterball! That whole family is so ugly, fat as pigs, all of them."

The two fathers also ban the dogs from playing so Pointy Ears and Floppy Ears are forced sit on each side of the river desperate to have fun.  Eventually the dogs just need to play and so they jump in and frolic before returning to sit under the apple trees.  Time passes until one day both families are cooking near the river. One uses wet firewood and so the smoke is black and the other uses dry firewood and so the smoke is white.  As the smoke drifts into the air it intermingles.

"they hugged like two friends meeting. They twirled happily in the sky ... like two ribbons of silk, one black, one white."

The dogs chase the smoke, the boys then jump into the river and climb into a boat to chase the plumes of smoke. Finally everything settles down, the smoke disappears out of sight and the boys return to their respective sides of the river.  Now comes the important turning point. Mr Pang compliments Mr Shou about his apples and Mr Shou compliments Mr Pang. Apples fly from one side to the other.

This is the third Cao Wenxuan book that I have featured here.  Bronze and Sunflower is a novel and Smoke and Summer are picture books but all have philosophical undertones reflective of the authors own passion for this subject.  Smoke actually feels like an ancient folk tale filled with wisdom. It would be good to link this with books by Demi.

Take look at the illustrator's technique - the video is in Chinese but you can see her skillful papercuts and the music track is especially haunting.  You can read more about Yu Rong and see her work here.


Thursday, November 16, 2017

Colin the cart horse by Gavin Puckett pictures by Tor Freeman

This appealing junior novel Colin the cart horse is so funny. It is told in rhyme, there are complex words which appeal to me and lots of bottom burps which will appeal to young readers.  It also has colourful and appealing illustrations.

Colin happily lives on the farm, working hard and eating hay but one day he discovers three other delightful foods.  The pigs are eating pellets, the chickens are eating corn and the cows are eating a trough of mixed vegetables. Colin eats a large amount of each until he is full.  Nothing goes to waste on this farm.  His manure is used to grow vegetables on the farm.  Eating a new diet changes the manure. The farmer sees an immediate change :

"He looked at his veggies and gasped with surprise
As they grew and developed in front of his eyes.
The pumpkins expanded to three times their size
His beanstalks grew tall and continued to rise."

The farmer can see fame and fortune coming from this so he provides Colin with an abundance of these new foods.  Unfortunately there are disastrous, smelly and exploding consequences.  The solution is ingenious.

Here are some examples of the rich vocabulary used by Gavin Puckett :

  • yield
  • grafted
  • conjunction
  • astray
  • mused
  • gorged
  • palpitations


There are three books in this series and I think they would make an excellent addition to any Primary school library.  Here is a review worth reading.

Juana & Lucas by Juana Medina

Peppered with Spanish words Juana & Lucas is a delightful romp inside the world of Juana a young child living in Bogota, Colombia, South America.  Juana is a very forthright girl and early on we find out the things she likes including, of all things, Brussels sprouts (repollitas).

Take some time now and read this splendid review by Elizabeth Bird of Juana & Lucas in the School Library Journal.

I am always looking for simple easy to read books for our youngest students.  I have a 'box' full of criteria which include a good story, an attractive book, and a story with humour (done with a light touch) and Juana & Lucas more than meets my criteria. 

Brightly coloured illustrations are scattered throughout the book, there are words that pop out of pages either by size or font.  I especially like the pages with character diagrams - you can see one her about Juana's mother.


Juana reminds me of Clementine, Daisy Dawson and Anna Hibiscus.   She loves her city of Bogota, she loves reading and often reads late into the night and the best part of her school day is playing futbol.  Juana does not like her school uniform (boys can see her pink underpants), her hot classroom and most of all having to learn "the English."

I really appreciated the way Juana Medina weaves Spanish into her story and that she is not tempted to offer translations.  She allows her readers to use their intelligence and work out any unfamiliar words.  Of course Spanish speaking children will delight in knowing all these words.

Here are some examples :

"I can't stop pnesando about my crushed lunch box all morning."
"chances are you'll find me in bed with a book .. or dos, or tres!"
"Sitting with Juli is always good because we have mucho to talk about."

I also want to share some of the humour - and show how Juana Medina has such a light touch.

"I love my furry amigo Lucas.  He is the smartest and most amazing perro every born.  ... He is my absolutely-no-single-doubt-about-it best amigo.  Some say Lucas is neurotic. I do not think so.  He is actually quite calm, especially while sleeping."

Lucas "eats math homework like a pro.  The harder the homework, the faster he'll eat it."

"Juli is a very good friend. ... She has two brothers, one older and one younger. She's in a brother sandwich!"

Juana & Lucas is the 2017 winner of the Pura Belpre award which is  is "presented to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth."

Here is an audio sample to give you an idea of this story.  Here is a video of Juana Medina showing her art processes.

I believe the book is a great choice for students who are seeking a new or greater understanding of global cultures as well as students whose experiences are similar to Juana’s, such as having to learning a new language yet maintaining a strong sense of cultural identity.   Mr J The Librarian

Summer by Cao Wenxuan illustrations by Yu Rong

Globalisation should mean children across the world have access to book treasures in every language.  Sadly this is not the case.  There are gate keepers who make choices about which books to translate and of course economic barriers which mean only a tiny fraction of all books published across the world reach us here in Australia.   If Cao Wenxuan had not won the Hans Christian Andersen medal in 2016 I am sure his book Summer would not have arrived in a local school library that I visited yesterday.

The cover of Summer is complex and perhaps makes more sense after reading this book.  Begin with the end papers.  The opening spread shows morning in a dry landscape with distant mountains and sparse straggly trees.  On the final spread the heat of the day has passed and it is the cool evening.

The story opens with a description of a cool environment near a river where animals and humans rest in the shade.  This contrasts with the next scene.

"In the meantime, on the parched grassland a group of animals desperately searches for shade."  The animals see a tree in the distance and race off to claim the shade. But "the tree is barely alive."   The elephant claims the shade but when he chases off his rivals everyone realises there is no shade. There is laughter but it is not directed at elephant - just the collective realisation that the shade they sought was not even there. Then a boy and his father walk across the grassland.  "The father's shadow completely covers the little boy. Calmly they walk under the blazing sun."

There is a lesson and a solution here for the animals and using graduated pages each animal makes shade and then invites another to rest.  Lynx, jackal, leopard, brown bear, rhino, elephant, field mouse and beetle - everyone wins! And there is one more surprise.  This is a book that should be in every school library.

You can find more books by Cao Wenxuan from Twinkling Books.  I am waiting to see the book he shared at the recent USBBY conference - Lemon Butterfly.  I hope this one also comes to the attention of a publisher and translator very soon.



Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Pat Hutchins

School Library Journal Mary Hazelton


I was so sad to hear this week that Pat Hutchins died.  Her books have always been special to me.  This week I visited my local public library and was amazed to discover they only had one of her fabulous books.  I would have thought holding every Pat Hutchins title would be an essential part of any picture book collection.  I continued to search other public library catalogues but could only find a few of her famous books - Rosie's Walk, Titch, Don't forget the bacon and Goodnight owl.


Today I visited a very well stocked school library and borrowed a good selection. Pat is the author of nearly fifty titles but I particularly enjoy the woodland animal series.


  • The surprise party (1969)
  • The Silver Christmas Tree (1974)
  • What game shall we play (1990)
  • Shrinking mouse (1997)
  • We're going on a picnic (2002)


I enjoy these books because each has a affirming message about team work, friendship and making sense of the world.  I also really like her decorative style showing fur and feathers using contrasting patterns.  We see this illustrating style for the first time in her famous book Rosie's walk.  Here is the clumsy fox who never manages to catch the oblivious chicken.



The surprise party is very similar to another Pat Hutchins classic Don't forget the bacon because it is about muddling up language.  Rabbit whispers to owl that he is having a party but owl mishears and thinks "Rabbit is hoeing the parsley tomorrow."  As the news spreads the information becomes more and more complex and sightly ridiculous.  "Rabbit is riding a flea tomorrow."  When Rabbit finally catches up with his friends they reject his silly ideas because they have the wrong information.  Luckily rabbit decides to yell and not whisper "I don't know what YOU think I'm doing, but I'M HAVING A PARTY." 

The Silver Christmas Tree is an old favourite of mine.  Squirrel decorates his Christmas tree and just as he finishes a beautiful silver star appears on the top but then it disappears.  He goes off to ask his friends if they have seen his star but each friend is very secretive and each appears to be hiding a present.  Squirrel thinks they might be hiding his star but a keen observer will see the shapes of these various gifts are very odd.

In What game shall we play? the animals search for each other asking "what game shall we play?"  Every child will recognise they are already playing - hide a seek - and so we smile when Owl suggests this exact game.  The other aspect of this book which would be very useful for ESL teachers is the way Pat Hutchins uses prepositions such as across, among, over, in, near and around.

Shrinking Mouse tackles a more complex concept.  If something is some distance away is it in fact smaller?  The 'joke' her works when children know the animals are not actually shrinking and they most certainly will not disappear altogether.

If you have read Handa's surprise you will also enjoy We're going on a picnic.  The three friends fill the picnic basket with their favourite treats - berries for Hen, apples for Goose and Pears for Duck but as they walk along deciding on the best spot to sit a small team of thieves are at work. The final illustration is sure to make you and your young audience smile.

Finally I should mention Pat's newest title - the sequel to Rosie's walk (1968) entitled Where, oh where, is Rosie Chick?  This is the perfect book to read to a very young child and it contains the same visual jokes she included all those years ago.


If you want to explore Pat Hutchins books you should also look for her monster series - The Very worst Monster, Where's the Baby, Silly Billy and Three Star BillyWhere's the Baby is particularly clever in the use of rhyme of humour.  Students in my school always enjoy the antics of naughty Billy and his long suffering sister Hazel.  This book is a joy to read aloud.



Hutchins said of her writing, “I like to build my stories up, so the reader can understand what is happening and, in some cases, anticipate what is likely to happen on the next page. I think one can get quite complicated ideas across to small children as long as they are presented in a simple, satisfying way.”