Sunday, September 17, 2017

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

 How do you know you love someone?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Appleblossom the possum by Holly Goldberg Sloan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michele Shaw  School Library Journal

Friday, September 15, 2017

Picture day perfection by Deborah Diesen illustrated by Dan Santat

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 14, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Robber Girl by Margaret Wild illustrated by Donna Rawlins

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Little Cat's Luck by Marion Dane Bauer

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is my favourite quote from this book :

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

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

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

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Eddie Frogbert by Sue deGennaro

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A big leap for a little frog

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Was it wonderful?"

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

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

Sunday, August 27, 2017

How to Bee by Bren MacDibble

"Lessons start on the speakers. Urbs don't like that we farm kids are too busy to get educated, so lessons get played over the speakers while we work.  Today's lesson's just for us. It's about the history of the  bees.  Not us. The real ones they used to have thirty years ago before the famines."

First off here is another one of my predictions.  This book How to Bee just has to be shortlisted for our CBCA awards in 2017.  YES it is that good!

It is the future but Bren MacDibble leaves the reader to imagine just what has happened in our world. I adore this kind of intelligent writing where there are hints but the author does not feel the need to spell everything out.

Whatever has happened there are now no bees and so children live and work on farms and while they are still young and agile they climb the fruit trees and perform the pollination.  Away from the farms, city life is dangerous.  Society is completely stratified - there are the mega rich and the desperately poor.  The rich have retreated behind high walls with security guards.  The poor wander the streets hands outstretched hoping for money or food.  There is a strong undercurrent of violence.

Peony (what a perfect name for a child who longs to work as a bee) lives with her grandfather and little sister called Mags, short for Magnolia, on a fruit farm.  Her mother visits infrequently from the city where she works.  Peony longs for her mother to rejoin them on the farm so they can be a complete family but her mother has dreams of becoming rich and living in an idealized house with every comfort.

The story opens on a day when new bees will be selected.  Peony is too young but she is determined to be chosen.  She completes a trial run up the trees with her good friend Applejoy.  He is selected to be a bee but Peony slips and falls.

"I pull the end of the wand out from the branches and start along a branch. A stick jams in my legs and I trip and fall straight out of the tree. I land on my stomach on the dirt. Pomz (Pomegranate) sniggers and scrambles up her tree.  She's stuck the end of her wand into my legs!"

Peony's mother arrives to take her to work in the city in the home of a rich man who actually sells the fruit so carefully harvested and packed by the farm workers.  Peony is amazed to learn only three people live in this enormous house.  One is a spoilt but terrified young girl called Esmeralda. The two girls form an alliance.  Peony helps Ez overcome her fear of being outside and Ez helps Peony escape back to the farm.

I have listed How to Bee for Middle readers in Years 4 and 5 but I do need to give a warning.  There are some very violent scenes in this book when Peony is kidnapped by her mother and her mother's abusive boyfriend.  Sensitive readers may find these scenes distressing.

There are a set of teacher notes on the publisher web site.  Read this thoughtful review in Reading Time.

We have over thirty non fiction books in our school library about bees.  It seems to have become a bit of an obsession of mine.  You might like to read these reviews of The Book of Bees and Bee.

I would follow this book with Chance of Safety and older readers should look for the series Hidden Children which begins with Among and the Hidden.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Dragonfly song by Wendy Orr

And so in a moment of madness, the chief defies the Lady, and the gods. He will make his daughter perfect himself. First left, then right: he holds the tiny arms and with his sharp bronze knife, slices away the useless thumbs. He pinches the wounds shut till the bleeding stops and rocks his baby till her crying stops, too.

Aissa is the first born child of the Lady but the Lady rejects her because of this deformity.  Her father dies the next day in a boating accident.  Is this fate or the gods?  Aissa is cast out.  Sent to live with a foster family.  She is a tiny baby and so Mama and Dada are her true parents in her eyes.  Then the raiders arrive when Aissa is just four years old.  Her Mama hides her in the hills with this warning :

"Don't make a sound,' says Mama, brushing her fingers over Aissa's lips. 'No matter what you see, no matter what you hear, you stay quite, still as stone till I come back."

Jump forward 8 years.  Aissa is now living in the court of the Lady.  Aissa does not know her heritage but she is coming to realise she has a special gift of communication with animals.

"The Bull King ... hears that your island is troubled by slaving raids and pirates. He promises that these will end from today. In return for his protection, each year you will pay twelve barrels of olive oil, twelve goat kids, twelve jugs of wine, twelve baskets of grain, twelve baskets of dried fish, twelve lengths of woven cloth - and a boy and a girl of thirteen summers"

"If they survive the year, they may return home and your island will be free of further tribute."

While Assia is desperate to be chosen as a bull dancer she is the lowest of the low. She is the slave who cleans the privies, she is the slave other slaves taunt and abuse.

She hates the spitting,
wet on her face
muck on her hair,
her clothes, her feet.

The selection of the bull dancer is done by lottery.

The guard holds out the basket of shards.
Aissa chooses:
a piece long and thin,
tapering down to a point
like a dragonfly tail.
She takes the charcoal,
draws the sign of her name,
and drops it in.

When Nasta's name is called my heart stopped beating for a moment such is the power of this writing.

In the second part of this powerful book you will read about Aissa's journey to the court of the Bull King, of her dancing lessons and position in the court as a priestess until finally it is her turn to enter the bull ring.

Dragonfly Song has nearly 400 pages. I found it took me a long time to settle down and actually read long sections and I am not sure why this happened.  I actually started this book three or four times.  I can now say I absolutely enjoed this book especially the last third.  I am so glad I persevered because the strong scenes in this book continue to linger with me especially the scenes in the bull ring and earlier in the book when Aissa is given a new tunic.  Twin slaves Half-One and Half-Two toss it into the privy hole.

"Servants are given their freshly washed, handed-down tunics for the next year.  Aissa's is neatly folded in a corner of the kitchen ... clean and almost white, with all the tears mended.  ... 'Your new tunic didn't stink the way you like it. So we threw it down the hole this morning."

This is so awful but the next scene is glorious.  Everyone is away.  Aissa goes into the Lady's bathroom. She finds a discarded tunic. She slips out of her own filthy rags and steps into the tub which is filled with luxurious hot water.  She washes her body and hair until the water runs clear and then she steps into the new tunic fully revived.

The combination of narrative and verse writing adds to the strong emotional impact.  Mature readers with stamina will be rewarded with a rich story, a wonderful heroine in Aissa and desperate scenes of rejection balanced with those showing deep human compassion.  There are some violent scenes in this book - you can preview one on pages 300-301.  I would follow Dragonfly song with Fearless by Tim Lott (a book I have mentioned on this blog previously which I plan to re-read in the coming weeks) and Wolf Hollow.

Read an extract of this award winning book on the publisher web site.  You will also find some teacher notes. I actually cheered when I saw Kirkus gave Dragonfly Song a star!  You might like to read the CBCA judges report too.

As mesmerizing as a mermaid’s kiss, the story dances with emotion, fire, and promise.  Kirkus star review

Powerful, eloquent and moving ....  Boomerang books Blog

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Children's Book Council of Australia 2017 winners

Well I was wrong again.  Nearly every book I thought would win - didn't!  We gathered our 900+ students together on Friday and announced the awards for 2017.  Every student knew I was hoping for Gary and so there was a huge cheer when this book received an honour.

At least I had blogged one winner or honour book in each category so we will start there :

Picture Book of the Year
Winner - Home in the Rain by Bob Graham
Honours - Patchwork Bike and Mechanica

Book of the Year for Younger Readers
Winner - Rockhopping by Trace Balla
Honours - Captain Jimmy Cook discovers Third Grade and Dragonfly Song

Early Childhood Picture book of the Year
Winner - Go Home Cheeky Animals by Johanna Bell
Honours - Nannie Loves and Gary

Eve Pownall Award (Non Fiction)
Winner - Amazing Animals of Australia's National Parks
Honours - A to Z of endangered Animals and Genes

I will be talking about Dragonfly Song in a future post.  I am happy to see this book has gained an Honour.

From the short list the books which were popular with our students and the books which generated the most discussion over the last few months were :

Chip by Kylie Howarth
This one worked really well with students in grades 1 and 2.  The students enjoyed the problem solving, airshow tricks and final scene when chips are replaced by fish.  My school is near the beach so the students easily related to the issue of seagulls and chips.

Fabish by Neridah McMullin
We read this book to students in Grades 2-6.  Use of a narrative as a factual recount was very popular and students were interested to see how hard the trainer worked to save his horses.  The illustrations in this this book are just perfect and all classes gasped when we turned to the page filled with flames.

One Photo by Ross Watkins
I was concerned about reading this book with our students.  We do have children who have grand and great grand parents who have dementia.  I shared my own family photos with each class and we read this spare text very slowly with students in Grades 4 and 6.  Their quiet attention showed me this important story touched their hearts.  It was also interesting to explain old technology of film cameras.

Out by Owen Swan
Our senior students spent several weeks exploring other picture books about the refugee experience. We linked Out with Ziba came by boat and an excellent new photo essay Where I live by Rosemary McCarney. After exploring many different text all four classes voted for The Colour of Home by Mary Hoffman as the best book on this topic.

My Brother by Dee Huxley
I was concerned this book might be too complex but when I shared it last week with my Grade 6 students our discussions were so deep and insightful.  Students recognised the journey the brother makes through his grief and the quiet acceptance of the ending illustration. As with One Photo we read this minimal text very slowly and I lingered over each illustration. I am sure there are many things I still need to discover about the complex cross referencing in this moving book.

Gary by Leila Rudge
Yes this was my favourite in the Younger Readers selection.  We shared this book with all our K-2 students.  I think this book had an excellent balance between illustrations and text.  The other pigeons explained their adventures to Gary and we see their conversation as a set of symbols which later appear on Gary's map.   We even had some students talking to pigeons in the playground and calling them Gary!

Mechanica by Lance Balchin
The premise for this book is wonderful.  I am a huge fan of dystopian fiction and Mechanica was a good way to introduce this genre to my Grade 6 students.  This is a book that would work well with a class for an in depth exploration of Darwin and the complex vocabulary used throughout the book. We will pass this book onto a couple of our classes now that the Book Week announcement has been made.

Finally I am so happy to see Bob Graham as the Winner for 2017 having been a fan of his books since I first started working in school libraries back in 1985.  I treasure my copy of Pete and Roland and enjoy the way Bob explores tiny but meaningful events in our lives.  We spent two sessions with each class lingering over the details in this book and this week I am looking forward to sharing it with our older students.  Take a minute to read this article in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The shop at Hooper's Bend by Emily Rodda

There is a tantalizing idea in this book that people come from stars.

"So some people get made mostly of the dust of one star, and other people get made mostly of the dust from other ones ...  And that's why some people are your friends straight away and some aren't."

Quil (short for Jonquil) calls her own star Palaris.  The others are :

Aginoth - people who are practical and confident
Broon - cheery but boring
Kell - prickly but interesting
Derba - calm and reliable with no sense of humour
Olmadon - generous and fun
Vanna - vague and dreamy
Fiskin - self-absorbed, manipulative bullies.

Quil has been left in the care of her aunt after the death of her parents.  Her aunt is busy and so Quil is sent to boarding school except this is the school holidays.  She is supposed to be heading to a four week camp in the Blue Mountains.

As the story opens Quil and Maggie (her aunt's personal assistant) are waiting for the train.  They are wandering through a market when Quil finds a china mug painted with her name.  Quil is such an unusual name where did this mug come from, who made it.  Quil needs to solve this mystery.

Meanwhile there is a little old disused shop in Hooper's Bend now owned by a business woman called Bailey.  There are also some shifty property developers who want to get their hands on this valuable site so it can be 'redeveloped'. Quil steps off the train at Hooper's Bend - she has seen this name on her mug.  She is befriended, almost immediately, by a small dog called Pirate.  In a jigsaw style plot each of these elements will come together leading to a most satisfying ending for all concerned including the reader.

I read this book many months ago when I was given an advanced reader copy at a conference.  I wanted to talk about it straight away but the copy said it was not for review.  The final published book arrived in our school library last week.

Time for one of my predictions.  I do think this book will be short-listed for our CBCA award in 2018.  Emily Rodda is a prolific and very talented Australian author and I enjoyed her return to realism after all those fantasy series such as Deltora.

this is a story about coming home when you didn't even know that was where you belonged.  Harper Collins

The Shop at Hooper’s Bend is a story with a distinctively Australian flavour, infused with eucalyptus smells, cicada sounds, and nostalgia for simpler times.  Reading Time

There are no dragons or mythical realms in this book; the magic here is about following your instincts and finding a place where you belong.  Books and Publishing

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Strictly no elephants by Lisa Mantchev illustrated by Taeeun Yoo

I remember years ago we had a little book in our library called But No Elephants.   Reading Strictly no Elephants tonight I thought about this older book.  I also remembered a little junior chapter book called The pocket Elephant by Catherine Sefton.

All three books deal with the unlikely, but somehow delightful idea, of having an elephant as a pet and even better having an elephant as a friend.

A young boy has a pet elephant.  It is the day for a meeting of the Pet Club at Number 17.  Sadly when the boy and his elephant arrive there is a sign on the door "Strictly No Elephants."  As they travel home they meet a girl with a pet skunk.  The pet club members don't want to play with skunks even though this little skunk does not stink.

The solution - start your own pet club with a sign that says All Are Welcome.  And yes they all come.  Such a variety of animals and their friends meeting in a wonderful tree house.

I love this line from the book which comes as the boy and elephant make their journey to the club meeting :

"He doesn't like the cracks in the sidewalk much.  I always go back and help him over. That's what friends do : live each other over the cracks."

That's what friends do is a repeated refrain in this story which is about so much more than having an elephant as a pet.

There is even a song to go with this joyous book.  Here is a reading of the whole book.

Sweet and affirming. Kirkus

In “Strictly No Elephants,” a sunny, smart, tongue-in-cheek tale written by Lisa Mantchev, friendships are born out of mutual respect for the idiosyncratic choices of others.  New York Times

I absolutely adored seeing all the non-traditional pets. But my favorite part is the HEART of this book about fitting in. It’s a theme that any aged reader can relate too.   Nerdy Book Club

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Ada's violin by Susan Hood illustrated by Sally Wern Comport

Everything about this book is important.  The wonderful vision of one man to form an orchestra, the making of instruments from materials found in the garbage, the possibility of a different life for these young orchestra members and the simply stunning illustrations.

Start with this little film.  You will hear the wonderful sounds these children can make using instruments made from an amazing assortment of recycled materials.  Here is a report from US Sixty Minutes.

Ada's grandmother sees an advertisement for music lessons.  There are no music instruments.  There are so many children who want to learn.  Favio Chavez is not defeated.  He enlists help to make instruments from the junk dropped daily at the dump near their town and so the orchestra begins.

This book is based on the true life story of Ada Rios and the children in her town of Cateura in Paraguay.  You can read more about this at the back of the book along with further reading and web links.

I would pair this book with Magic Trash, The paper house and the senior novel Trash by Andy Mulligan.

Giving thanks illustrated by Ellen Surrey

Giving thanks - the subtitle says "more than 100 ways to say thank you."

"Hi I'm Andy. When I was asked if there was anyone I would like to thank, these are the people I thought of."

I love the retro style of this book and the lovely message of simply saying thank you.  Each double page poses a question.

  • What would you like to say thank you for?
  • If you could give them a gift, what would you give?
  • If you could do anything for them, what would you do?
  • If you could share an afternoon with them, what would you do?
  • If you could give them a feeling what would you give them?

The final two pages give ideas for thank you cards and gratitude jars.

Thank you are two simple words but they can be so powerful when expressed in a truly meaningful way.

This is a book to share with a young child or use with a class.  Take time to see what Andy does with his dad on each page.  It will warm your heart.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Beyond the bright sea by Lauren Wolk

"What's wrong?" I asked him.
"Not a thing," he said.  "I'm just looking at you.  Exactly as you are right now. And not because you'll change, though you will of course. ... But because if I could have built a human being, I would have built you.  Just so."
Nobody had ever said anything that good about me.

I seem to be locked on an island at the moment.  This is the second book I have read recently with an island setting.  I adored Lauren Wolk's previous book Wolf Hollow.  Beyond the Bright sea is a slightly more gentle book as Crow, a little girl who washed up on Cuttyhunk, the outermost of the Elizabeth Islands in Massachusetts, struggles to make sense of her origins and identity.

Crow is found in a boat, all alone.  She is taken in by the reclusive Osh.  He has moved to this remote island many years previously to escape has past.  While we never really know what happened to Osh it is very obvious that his love for little Crow has made a huge contribution to his healing.  On a nearby island Maggie watches this man and little child and she gradually gains his trust and joins in with the care of Crow.  She is also an excellent cook and is able to provide delicious and nourishing meals exactly when they are needed.

Across the water from Cuttyhunk is the island of Peikese which has previously been the location of a leprosy hospital. The hospital has closed but the people on Cuttyhunk are suspicious that Crow might carry this frightening disease.  She is shunned by the islanders but this just fuels her own curiosity about Peikese and it's history.

Crow convinces Osh and Maggie that she needs to visit the island and see the hospital for herself. Osh does not want to go there. He feels their life is settled.  No need to go looking for the past but he does eventually agree to sail over.  While the three of them are exploring, Crow hears a thud.  She is suspicious that someone might be trapped in a building on the island.  They meet a man who they think is the bird keeper but he seems odd and hostile and the three of them rush back to their boat and sail home.  Crow cannot get this thud out of her mind.  The three of them will need to make a return visit to the island and quickly.

The intrigue builds when Osh gives Crow a small collection of objects that came in the boat when she washed up all those years ago.  There is a fragment of a letter, a ruby ring and her feather shaped birth mark.  On the island there is a grave for a baby and also a carving of this same feather.

Here is an interview with Crow herself  - it is sure to make you smile and you can read an interview with Lauren Wolk too.  Here is a review with more plot details.

I feel lucky that I have visited Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket so I do have some sense of the setting for Beyond the Bright Sea.  If you enjoy the idea of island life or you want to read a good mystery look out for Beyond the Bright Sea.

This book will make people want to run away to the Elizabeth Islands. Kirkus

Leprosy, pirate gold, orphans, shipwrecks, lost messages, they all crowd the pages and leave you coming back for more. Wolk actually knows how to write for kids, and not just that, write beautifully. SLJ Betsy Bird

Monday, July 31, 2017

Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder

I hardly know where to begin with this very different, deeply thought provoking book, Orphan Island, which for me seems to be exploring what might happen if we go against our destiny.  Or perhaps it is about the external forces that control our lives.  Or maybe it is about taking steps into the unknown when the time is right. It is also a book about our human strengths and weakness.  Then there is the important lessons about responsibility and the power of kindness.  I will give one warning here.  Please do not be tempted to skip to the end and see 'what happens'.  Be patient and let Laurel Snyder take your hand and lead you carefully to an ending which will probably raise more questions than answers.

Nine children live on an island.  They are each one year apart in age.  The island somehow provides all their needs and over time the children have developed their own rules and so have a fairly good life.  Each year, as adolescence, looms a boat arrives to deliver a new child and take away the eldest. This is called The Changing.  Today Deen will leave and Jinny will take over as the leader.  She is expected to take care of the new child (her Care) who is called Ess and teach Ben his Elder lessons so he will be ready when his turn comes next but already Jinny is begun to question the status quo.  She misses her friend Deen terribly and initially resents the arrival and burden of this new child.

The first part of the book you will be in paradise. The children gather food - eggs from wild hens, honey from hives. They have a library filled with old books. The catch fish and wash in the beautiful waters on the shore line.  Ben is an excellent cook and seems to be able to provide just the right amount of food for each meal using everything the children have foraged.  They have even learnt to dry fruit and eat this as a type of candy.  High on the cliff top the lightest children can float on the updrafts.

"One by one Jinny and Joon set the dark green-skinned fruits out on the dry rocks. If they were lucky, and the birds didn't steal too many of them, the sunshine would shrink and sweeten the firm globes into rich bits of chewy deliciousness.  In about a dozen sleeps, they'd come back and collect them again."

Jinny begins to notice a change in herself.  As adult readers we might recognize the beginning of adolescence.  She seems to need to spend time alone.  For the first time ever she takes up the habit of marking the days.  Finally a year passes and the bell rings again signalling The Changing.  Spoiler alert - Jinny does not step in the boat.  She picks up the new child called Loo and now, with ten children not nine,  the island balance is disturbed.

Small things happen at first but you just know a tragedy or catastrophe is close.

Here is an interview with the author.  I highly recommend Orphan Island for any mature senior primary student.  I am sure it is a story that will linger with me for a long time.

Orphan Island is a metaphor, an allegory, a work of magical realism, a fantasy, a post-apocalyptic work of quiet science fiction. It’s for kids. It’s for adults who think they think like kids. It’s for adults that don’t think they think like kids at all. What’s the true story here? What is this book and who is its audience? Orphan Island is a book that leaves you with more questions than answers.  SLJ Elizabeth Bird

This charming, engrossing tale set in a vividly realized world is expertly paced and will appeal to fans of wilderness adventure stories and character-driven relationship novels alike.  Kirkus

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Mouseheart by Lisa Fielder

"What this mouse and this pretty rat were telling him was simply unbelievable. He didn't think they were lying, but perhaps they misunderstood the purpose of the camps and the conditions of Titus's treaty. Titus had responsibility to all who entered the gates of Atlantia. Atlantian citizens were safe. Titus cared about his subjects."

This is the great deceit.  Prince Zucker, son of Titus needs to be convinced his father is committing genocide against the mice and other small rodents as part of a corrupt peace treaty with the cats who are led by Felina.  Yes this is a violent story.

"Felina was, in a word, gorgeous. Pure white, with enormous tilted eye - one gray-green, the other the clearest icy blue. ... The queen had a perfect little pink nose, her ears were proudly pointed, and her fur looked almost too soft to touch. The gem-studded band that encircled her throat was proof of her pampered background."

The deal with Felina is for the supply of mice as food and entertainment for her subjects the cats. Lost mice and other rodents are taken to camps where they are fed and cared for prior to moving to resettlement areas.  Zucker believes "my father chooses rodents from his refugee camp and sends them out to colonize and build new cities in the tunnels."  This is not true but it will take two utterly dreadful events to show Zucker the truth.

Meanwhile three young mice have recently escaped from a New York city pet shop.  They are swept away down a storm water drain and are separated.  There is a legend among the mice who live along the subway train tunnels that their savior will be a mouse with a white circle marking around his eye. Hopper has this mark but so does his sister Pinkie.  Luckily for Hopper he makes friends with Zucker and together they are able to defeat their mutual enemy but before this can happen Hopper needs to sort out exactly who is telling the truth in a world filled with lies and deceits.

Here is a web site for this book series which includes an audio sample, games and teacher notes.  I did not feel the need for a sequel at the end of Mouseheart but I now discover there are two more titles so I will be happy to dive into the world of these mice again some time soon.  I was totally engrossed right through Mouseheart.  Little Hopper is a wonderful if naive hero and Firren, leader of the rebels, is inspirational.  I do enjoy books about mice and also books with a political layer. I should also mention the excellent illustrations which are scattered throughout the text.  One more thing - yes there are violent scenes but this is balanced with moments of true courage and warm humour.

If you enjoy Mouseheart you should then look for all the books in the Redwall series and I would also recommend Guardians of Ga'hoole if you are a fan of political intrigue.

Another stalwart mouse with a brave heart will win fans in this captivating underground adventure. Kirkus

Hopper is an easy enough protagonist to like. He cares about his siblings, even the one who doesn't deserve it, and he always tries to act selflessly. And of course, he's an adorable little mouse, so how can one not like him? The Reading Hedgehog