Thursday, December 14, 2017

How big is the world by Britta Teckentrup

"How big is the world?"  asked Little Mole.
"Why don't you go and find out?" replied dad.

You might remember my review of Bee also by Britta Teckentrup.  She is such a talented artist.  How Big is the World? is not a new book it was published in 2007 but I think it would be a perfect addition to the home library of a young child.

Little Mole wakes up one morning with the big question - how big is the world?  He dad suggests he go and find out. So Little Mole steps bravely out into the world and begins exploring.  He meets a spider who measures the world by the size of his web.  He meets a mouse who knows the world is as big as her field. A friendly seagull gives Little Mole a ride over the ocean where they meet a whale. The whale explains the world is MASSIVE and takes Little Mole from the poles to the tropics before turning for home.  Little Mole now has a perfect answer to his own question and dad is waiting to hear it.

In a time when we should be encouraging intellectual curiosity in our youngest children this book would be the perfect jumping off point.  After reading How big is the World you could explore your own neighborhood, pull out an atlas, open Google maps and images.  I would follow this book with One Small Rhinoceros and The real boat.

Here is the Kirkus review.  Click here to see all of the books by Britta Teckentrup.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The plant sitter by Gene Zion illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham

First off a warning - The Plant Sitter is a very old (1959) book and so it is out of print.  Many months ago I stumbled across this illustration by Margaret Bloy Graham and I liked it so much I used it as my ipad screen image.  I knew Margaret Bloy Graham from her glorious Harry the Dirty dog books but until today I did not know which book contained this picture.

With Summer holidays approaching this is a book to share.  "You said I could do whatever I liked this summer because we weren't going away on holiday."  Tommy is an enterprising boy.  He finds a job as a plant sitter and he gets a penny a day for each plant.  You can see in the picture above he will be making lots of money!  He also a boy who knows how to care for plants :

"He put those that needed shade on the shady side - and those that needed sun on the sunny side. He watered them carefully - some a lot - and others just a little."

The plants grow and grow and take over the house but Tommy is also a problem solver.  He heads off to the library, reads a book or two about plants and comes home knowing how to propagate cuttings.  When the plant owners return from their holiday they collect their thriving plants and Tommy is able to give baby plants to all the children.  His father has not coped with having a jungle in his house but when it is gone he realises he liked them.  "It was like being in the country ... How about a holiday ... And the very next day they went to the country."

Here is a generous review with many of the pages.  On this blog the author links three books together with a gardening theme.  Here is the Kirkus star review.

Mr Stink by David Walliams illustrated by Quentin Blake

Last weekend David Walliams visited Sydney and I went along to hear him and so did 1200+ others!
Books by David Walliams are so popular in our school library (they never stay on the shelf) which is something that I do understand because they are funny and easy to read and have bright inviting covers and yet it also puzzles me.  How did the children 'discover' his books?  Why single out this author and not one of the hundreds of others? Who told everyone these books were so good?

The publicity and publishing machine have certainly 'pulled out all stops' for David Walliams.  His web site is bright, inviting and slick.  Using highly talented illustrations such as Quentin Blake and Tony Ross was a master stroke.  Coming to Australia to promote his new book, Bad Dad, David was on a whirl wind tour - 3 days in Australia followed by 2 days in New Zealand.

It would be too easy to dismiss works by David Walliams as just light reading but books like Mr Stink are so much more.  This is a story which demonstrates the magic of kindness and compassion, along with the importance of listening and love.

Chloe lives on the outside of her family.  Her sister is the star, her mother is preoccupied with her political ambition and community status and her father is distant and sad.  Chloe's mother wants to be elected to the government.  She writes her manifesto. Here are some of the contents :

(4)  The wearing of leggings to be outlawed in public areas, as they are 'extremely common.'
(5)  The national anthem to be played in the town square every hour on the hour.
(10) Mobile telephone devices to have only classical music ringtones from now on ...
(15) The local library to stock only the works of Beatrix Potter.
(20) All homeless people ... are to be banned from our streets.

It is this final 'rule' that pushes Chloe into action.  After days of personal struggle she has finally found the courage to talk to 'Mr Stink' - an old man, who does smell and who sits with his dog on a park bench in her town.  She is now desperately worried for his safety so she offers him a  place in the shed at the bottom of her garden.  In her mind she imagines all the possible reasons why this gentle and well mannered man has become homeless but even though she gathers lots of clues the truth is long way from any thing she could have imagined.

Clearly there are lessons for her fanatical mum, we need to discover what has happened to dad including the mystery of a burnt out guitar found in the shed and Chloe and Annabelle need to have heart to heart talk about life in this family.  At the end of the book Mr Stink is still Mr Stink but perhaps opening his heart to Chloe about his tragic past life might mean he can begin to heal just as he has helped this family to heal.  I certainly hope so.

Here are a few facts about David Walliams :

  • His name is really David Williams - he changed it when he found another actor had the same name
  • His first book was The Boy in the Dress in 2008
  • He has written 12 novels and several picture books
  • Six of his novels have been adapted as television movies
  • David has an acting part in each of these movies
  • Many of his books are available as audio editions with David reading his own work
  • You can listen to audio samples of his book here
  • Teachers can download ideas packs here
  • David has swum across the English Channel to raise money for a charity
  • This song celebrates his swim
David Walliams at City Recital Hall

There were some excellent procedural things in place for the Sydney event with all those eager readers.  Every one was given a little show bag with stickers, a poster, post card, bookmark and of all things a balloon.  David Walliams handled this so well.  He gave the kids a quick minute to make their noises and then expected (and achieved) a quiet audience.  Towards the end the compare Julia Zemiro asked for questions.  Usually these questions make me cringe but David Walliams had a brilliant idea.  He had ten signed book packs.  He offered these to the children who asked the 'best questions' and YES the questions were really good.  Two of the best were - what is your favourite aeroplane.  David talked about the time he flew in a real spitfire living scenes from his book Grandpa's great Escape.  His whole face lit up when he talked about the excitement of this experience which was like driving a sports car in the sky.  The second question I liked was about the character Raj.  The child asked when will will Raj have his own book and this received a huge clap from the audience.  David may need to seriously consider this idea.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Lollylegs by Pamela Freeman illustrated by Rhian Nest James

Lollylegs was a gift from a friend and how I wish I had seen this book last year.  Our school has a spectacular school fete each year.  We do have a wonderful picture book called Our School Fete by Louise Pfanner which is actually based on our fete but I have always struggled to find other books which explore this type of community event.

Lollylegs is a lamb and she is set to be auctioned at the school fete.  Laura's dad brings the lamb home a few days before the big event and of course Laura falls in love with his cute face and soft wool.  Then she discovers that the winner might want to eat her lamb!  About one hundred tickets will be sold.  Laura urgently needs to raise money and buy those tickets.  She cleans, sweeps, washes and tidies but on fete day some of the tickets have already been sold.

Laura can't eat. She can't enjoy the fete. She is desperate to save Lollylegs.  Who will win?

Here is a set of teachers notes.  These are perfect beginning chapter books.  Each has three stories or three chapters, line drawings and a satisfying story by some of the best children's writers from around the world including our own Bob Graham.  Pamela Freeman is also Australian and I have talked about Victor's Quest and Cherryblossom and the Golden Bear in the past.  When you look at the review of Cherryblossom you will see a comment from Pamela herself!  You can also see the amazing Sonya Hartnett on this list with her story Sadie and Ratz.

There are thirty books in the Walker Book series and we have a few in our school library but for some reason we missed Lollylegs.

  • Handa's Surprising Day - Eileen Browne
  • Little Witch - Juliette MacIver
  • Mr Tripp Smells A Rat - Sandy McKay
  • Lollylegs - Pamela Freeman
  • Our Gags - Catriona Hoy
  • The King's Shopping - June Crebbin
  • Happy Birthday x 3 - Libby Gleeson
  • Robin Hood's Day - Josephine Feeney
  • What Mona Wants, Mona Gets - Dyan Sheldon
  • Glog - Pippa GoodHart
  • Sylvie's Seahorse - Mara Bergman
  • Nick Mack's Good Luck - Mara Bergman
  • Parrot Park - Mary Murphy
  • Sadie and Ratz - Sonya Hartnett
  • Not Like Me - Marguerite Hann-Syme
  • Ellie and Granny Mac - Elizabeth MacLennan
  • Jack's Little Party - Bob Graham
  • Leon Spreads His Wings - Wendy Lee
  • Jake's Cave - Lou Kuenzler
  • Grandad's Bench - Addy Farmer
  • Toffee and Pie - Pippa Goodhart
  • Nelson - Tor & Jude Freeman
  • Drusilla and Her Brothers - Dyan Sheldon
  • A Heart For Ruby - Franzeska G. Ewart
  • Mia's Magic Uncle - Lindsay MacLeod
  • The Lost Treasure - Jan Strandling
  • Kasia's Surprise - Stella Gurney
  • Comings and Goings of Parrot Park - Mary Murphy
  • Drawing Together - Mimi Thebo
  • My Dad, the Hero - Stella Gurney

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Explorer by Katherine Rundell illustrated by Hannah Horn

"They had become a pack.  Or, an expedition, 
he corrected himself. That was what you call a group of explorers."

"Every human on this earth is an explorer. Exploring is 
nothing more than paying attention, writ large. Attention."

Why did I pick up this book?  The author is a favourite of mine.  The cover looked very appealing.  The Amazon setting sounded intriguing especially since Journey to the River Sea is a book I totally adored  and it is set in the same location.

Four children (two girls and two boys) are travelling in a small plane across the Amazon jungle.  For different reasons the children are going to Manaus in Northern Brazil. They don't know each other.  Fred is excited to be flying but he notices the pilot is struggling :

"The pilot grasped Fred's wrist hard for a single moment, then his head slumped against the dashboard. And the sky, which had second before seemed so reliable, gave way."

With the pilot now dead and the plane a burnt out wreck the four children must now find a way to survive in a jungle that seems to be filled with so many dangers.  Fred, Constantia (Con), Lila and her five year old brother Max really have no idea about how to find food, shelter and water.  Fred has done a little reading about explorers and he is a resourceful boy but really it is just good luck that they stumble on an old unused shelter.  Over the coming days they experiment with things to eat and because it is the jungle they do eventually find bananas and pineapples.  In the shelter they find some flint stones and using Fred's broken watch they manage to make a fire.

It is little Max who seems to observe the world in a different way.  He sees some monkey's gathering honey from a bee hive.

"The monkey's washed their hands in the ants and then they fought the bees."  The children watch the monkeys and then gather the ants and rub them all over their skin.  The smell is like ammonia.  Fred and Con climb the tree and, even though it is utterly terrifying, they gather some honey and in the process find a pouch containing a map.  It is at this point their adventure takes a sharp turn.  Clearly someone has been there.  Fred has already made a raft so now the group know they need to move on, follow the river and the map and find the city of Manaus and perhaps even find the map maker.

I like the way Katherine Rundell gives small but very meaningful insights into the back story and personality of each child.

Fred - "Inside Fred was hunger, hope and wire... Fred's mind was quick with sharp edges. He wanted more from the world than it had yet given."

Con - "She moved stiffly, as if unaccustomed to using her own body. Her clothes seemed to sit on her like a bear trap."

Lila - "She was small and moved on the edge of her muscles, like an animal - a deer or a lemur - as if she heard things other people did not."

Teachers could make good use of the descriptions in The Explorer.

"His shoes were made from what looked like alligator skin, with very thin vines for shoelaces. A jacket sewn nearly from black furs, hung over his shoulders. The buttons were caiman teeth."

It is easy to see Katherine Rundell did quite a lot of research for this book. Apart from an actual trip to the Amazon she includes interesting and at times gruesome details about eating tarantulas, catching fish even piranhas, stripping vines to make rope and the dangers of bullet ants.

There is a link between the title - The Explorer - and finding of the map because the children do find a man.  He won't give his name.  He is an explorer, or at least he seems to be, he is living in the jungle and has the knowledge the children need to survive their journey back to civilisation but the man demands a promise from the children.  He needs them to understand why this environment is precious and why it needs protection from the outside world.

The Explorer would link well with Journey to the River Sea, Hatchet and The Island trilogy by Gordon Korman beginning with Shipwreck.  In this video Katherine Rundell explains the thinking behind her novel and in this one Katherine reads the first chapters of her book.  It is interesting to read this interview with Katherine by Kirkus.

I did enjoy The Explorer but I would like to know a little more about why these four children were travelling alone across Brazil.  Also in the final scenes (can't tell you too much) when Fred becomes the hero I wanted Con and Lila to shine a little more.  My favourite character is Max - he is funny, honest and very grubby.

Rundell’s rich, descriptive prose will transport her young readers to a mesmerising world where they can swim with river dolphins, eat a tarantula and discover a ruined city. The mystery deepens when the discovery of a map suggests they are not the first humans to find this place.  The Guardian

Monday, December 4, 2017

Nevermoor - The trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

"Death is boring.  Life is so much more fun. Things happen in life all the time. Unexpected things. Things you couldn't possibly expect because they're so very ... unexpected."

There is quite a buzz in the children's literature world about Nevermoor.  I actually bought a copy the week it was released but then I gave it away to a friend before I even had a chance to begin reading.  I picked up another copy last week from my local bookshop.  Last night and today I devoured the whole 450 pages.  This is such a great story with so many inventive ideas, scenes and memorable characters.

You can read more about the plot here.  I thought I might just share a few of the very special moments that I enjoyed :

The opening sentence filled me with curiosity - "The cat was dead and Morrigan was to blame."

The Ages are marked by the Skyfaced Clock - "... a round glass face, with an empty sky inside that changed with the passing of the age - from the palest-pink dawn light of Morningtide, ...  into the dusky, darkening blue of the Gloaming ... and the fifth and final colour of its cycle: the inky, star strewn blackness of Eventide."  Eventide is marked as the time Morrigan will die, that is until Jupiter North rescues her and transports her to Nevermoor.

Morrigan has to go through four trials spread out over the year. in order to become a member of the Wundrous Society.  There are 500 candidates this year.

1.  Book Trial to see who is honest and quick thinking
2.  The Chase Trial to see who is tenacious and strategic
3.  The Fright Tial to see who is brave and resourceful
4.  The Show Trial

This fourth trial is the most terrifying one.  Morrigan has to demonstrate her talent, skill, knack or gift.  Morrigan is convinced she does not have anything to share.  When you read about the performances of her fellow competitors you are sure to gasp.  In these final chapters Jessica Townsend's inventive writing really soars. I won't spoil this section except to say read Chapter 21 and then read it again.

For the Chase Trial all the competitors wear white.  This is because they have to ride a living steed with no fewer than two legs and no more than four and as they ride they have to strike a target. "Each one blasted a cloud of brightly coloured powder all over the candidate's face and clothes."  There is some talk Nevermoor will be made into a movie - this is a scene that is sure to be spectacular.

For the Book Trial, the answer books catch on fire when the children do not deliver 'correct' answers.  I relish words like conflagrated, tendril, impertinent and pristine and all of these are in just one scene in one chapter.

Jessica Townsend has really balanced her characters - Morrigan has so many worries and such low self-esteem, Jupiter North lightens every scene with his quirky comments and positive outlook, Hawthorne is a perfect friend and the Magnificat Fenestra is simply marvelous.

Here are some excellent teachers notes by Robyn Sheahan-Bright.  Read some connections between Nevermoor and the Harry Potter series.  Here is an interview with Jessica. You can hear and see the author reading an extract from her book.  I am sure this book will feature on the CBCA short list for 2018.

There will be a sequel but I am happy to say enough is resolved at the end of this first installment to leave you satisfied and not in despair that you will have to wait for book 2.

Whimsical worldbuilding, humorous dialogue, and colorful supporting characters complement an adventurous, magic-filled plot that champions bravery, self-confidence, and hope.   Publisher's Weekly

The magic of Nevermoor is shiveringly, thrillingly wonderful. Open its pages and discover a hotel room that changes to suit your personality, a large talking cat with exactly the right amount of cattitude, and children with awe-inspiring magical abilities. This novel is an absolute treat.   Readings

Waylon - One Awesome thing by Sara Pennypacker illustrated by Marla Frazee

"No wonder he blurted things out.  This world was so amazing, how could anyone hold it all in?"

I enjoy saying the name Pennypacker  it seems perfect for an author of quirky little chapter books.  Have you met Clementine? Waylon is in her class and this book is his story.

In this time when we are focusing on STEM  - Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths - Waylon is a book and a character you need to meet.  He adores science and uses his knowledge to solve problems.  Right now his problem is with school friendships but this might not have such an easy science solution.

The class cool kid Arlo has set up a gang which he calls The Shark Punchers.  Waylon does not see any point to this.  He has friends in both groups.  Perhaps he can be an isthmus - a bridge between both groups.  Actually he needs to be an isthmus between his parents and his sister too and also find a way to reach the new boy Baxter Boylen - a boy who everyone, teachers and kids, is afraid of.

His sister is called Charlotte Bronte Zakowski (dad is a writer hence the famous name) but she has decided to change her style, personality and name to Neon. She "had undergone a complete metamorphosis. Instead of spinning a chrysalis around her, she had walked into her bedroom and painted it black."  Neon no longer talks to her family and Waylon misses the games they used to play.

The new kid, Baxter is both scary and fascinating.  He arrives with a 'beard' and a scar.  He seems to know a lot about the police. The rumor is he has been in jail but it is Waylon who discovers the truth.

While all of this is going on Waylon is also grappling with his own new feelings :

"Recently, a strange thing had been happening, and it was happening now. The strange thing was : he imagined how he appeared to others. As though he was outside his body."

"Seeing himself from the outside made Waylon feel dangerously sheer, as if he were a hologram instead of a solid boy."

There are some really funny moments in this story.  Waylon asks his dad for advice with the gangs at school.  "In galactic time, his father wasn't that much older than he was - only about thirty years. But in terms of helping with fourth grade problems, he might as well be from the Jurassic Period."

The truly heart warming part of this story comes when Waylon meets a dog, called Dumpster Eddy, who being held at the police station. Baxter and Waylon need to work out a way to save this dog because he is on death row and, in doing so, members of both class gangs really need to pull together.

"Eddy locked his gaze on Waylon's. And suddenly there were no bars between them. There was no boy skin; there was no dog fur. Waylon and Dumpster Eddy grokked each other's souls ... "  Grokking is a "science fiction term that meant to connect with something so totally that you practically merged with it." At the end of One Awesome thing the stage is set for the sequel.  Luckily my copy had a chapter sample so I know Waylon and Baxter will continue to look for ways to save the life of Dumpster Eddy.

I would follow Wayon with The Dunderheads and the Stuart books also by Sara Pennypacker.  You might also pick up One dog and his Boy by Eva Ibbotson.  Sara Pennypacker is also the author of a wonderful book for older readers called Pax.

In Pennypacker’s skillful hands, Waylon is an appealing every kid whose passion for science just might spark readers’ curiosity as he contemplates ideas from angstroms to alien hand syndrome.  School Library Journal

An upbeat celebration of lively imagination, friendship, family, community, and the exuberance of childhood. Kirkus