Sunday, June 25, 2017

The storm whale in winter by Benji Davies

Noi could not forget his friend.

My countdown has begun.  The Storm Whale in Winter is post 997!  I am close to my target of 1000 reviews.

The Storm Whale in Winter is the companion book to The Storm Whale so you might like to start by reading my thoughts.  Then find this first book so you understand the sequel.  I love the work of Benji Davies and this new book is just as perfect as the first.  We have nine books illustrated by Benji in our school library.  Read an interview here.

Winter has come. Noi's dad sets off on hist last trip of the season but he fails to return home. The sea is frozen hard so Noi walks out onto the ice holding only a tiny lantern with snow falling all around. It seems all is lost when he glimpses his father's boat but it is empty. Noi climbs on board and falls into an exhausted sleep. What Noi does not know is that his old friend is close by - under the sea. The storm whale and his friends work together to push Noi back to the safety of the harbour.

Something to discuss with a class.  Look at the little boat and then look at the changes that are made in the Summer.  This would be a great book for a father and son to share.  You can see more art from this book here.

The bookshop girl by Sylvia Bishop illustrated by Ashley Bishop

"You have in your hands the story of Property Jones. I hope your copy smells of something nice - like crisp paper, 
or that churchy second-hand-book smell ... "

Property Jones is The Bookshop Girl but how did she get such a strange name?  This little girl, with special talents, was left in a bookshop when she was five years old.  Michael Jones, who was ten at the time, found her and put her in the lost property cupboard. She ended up staying with Michael and his mother Netty - the owner of the bookshop and so this story begins.  Oh and yes the name stuck.

The biggest secret you need to know about Property is that, while she does love her family and her life in a bookshop, she cannot read.  Michael and Netty do not know about this.  The family enter a competition to win a new bookshop!  Amazing.  The prize shop is called Montgomery Book Emporium.  It is filled with rooms which reflect the books inside.  This is such a great idea.  Here is the space adventures room :

"painted all over in deep indigo, speckled with twinkling lights. The books hanging from fine threads to that they almost seemed to be floating in mid-air."

Here is the room of woodland tales :

"which had a pine needle floor, and kept its books in trees, where there were actual living mice and birds."

The mystery -  why has Albert Montgomery given away such an amazing shop.  The answer comes the very next day with the arrival of a criminal called Mr Gimble, his accomplice Eliot Pink and a group of henchmen called the Wollups.  It seems Mr Montgomery owes money them money, forty-three million pounds, for a play actually written by the hand of Shakespeare.  Property will need to get to the bottom of this.  It is true she cannot read but she has extremely well developed powers of observation.  Something is not quite right. The writing and ink look fine but the paper and smells are wrong.  This crime is just the tip of an iceberg.  Michael and Property uncover the whole scam and everyone spends a delightful evening modifying these supposedly original manuscripts.  Here is an example of their additions :

  • Sacred book of 12th Century monks containing the opening scene from Star Wars
  • Ancient philosopher Aristotle claims the meaning of life is a deep-pan pizza
  • Cleopatra had a pet T-Rex called Nigel

Here is a review from The Guardian and a five star review from Books for Keeps.  I also need to mention the illustrations in this book are perfect.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

What do you do with an idea? Written by Kobi Yamada illustrated by Mae Besom

What do you do with an idea? Especially an idea that's different or daring, or just a little wild?  Do you hide it? Walk away from it? Do you pretend it isn't yours?

These are two very special books you could use with any class from the youngest to oldest children. In the first book What do you do with an idea? we see a little boy and his growing idea.

"I was afraid that if people saw it, they would laugh at it. I was afraid they would think it was silly."

This is a gentle book with themes of mindfulness, problem solving, resilience, perseverance, and the power of the individual.  Here is a set of excellent discussion questions.  This book is would also be useful for class work on visual literacy as we watch the colours gently progress from sepia to warm sunshine.

What do you do with a problem? is a more complex book.  You could pair this with Mr Huff.

"I worried about what would happen. I worried about what could happen. I worried about this and worried about that."

When the boy finally confronts his problem he discovers it was not what he thought.  He reverses his view and sees the problem as an opportunity and again the final pages are filled with warm colours.

Here is a detailed review and a video of What do you do with an idea?  and a Nerdy Book Club review. Here is the Kirkus review of the companion volume What do you do with a problem?

Friday, June 23, 2017

The Vegetable Thieves by Inga Moore

First off I do need to give a little warning here.  You probably won't find a copy of The Vegetable Thieves.  It is long out of print and unlikely to be held in a public library or even a school library.  All of this makes me sad but I do want to share this book with you.

One of the wonders of the Internet is book shopping and especially second hand book shopping. From time to time I have thought about The Vegetable Thieves (1983) which I first read and enjoyed in 1985. I decided to see if I could find a copy somewhere in the world.  Tonight my copy (in mint condition) arrived.  It even smells good.

Inga Moore was born in England, lived in Australia and then moved back to England.  A very popular book in our school library is Six Dinner Sid by Inga Moore and I still read two of her earliest books occasionally - Aktil's big Swim and Aktil's bicycle ride.  I also really love The truffle hunter. More recently Inga Moore has illustrated Wind in the Willows and The Secret Garden.

Des and Letty work very hard in their market garden.  It is successful but the personal price is high.  Every night they collapse exhausted - there isn't even time for a stroll home after the movies.

"Then one night, thieves came.  ... By the end of the week they'd taken two cauliflowers, six swedes, a string of onions, a sack of potatoes, leeks, parsley and a very large savoy cabbage."

Can you guess the recipe?  Can you imagine the identity of these thieves.  I do think you will get a surprise and since you probably won't be able to find this book I will tell you.  Des and Letty try to keep watch but after another hard day they fall asleep.  When they wake up they see a trail of empty broad bean pods.  They follow the trail and discover a group of mice eating broad beans, "done up nicely in leek and parsley sauce!"

Des and Letty are outraged.  They burst in with their sticks raised.  Only to discover the thieves are actually children.  They have no parents and they uncle has run off to join the circus.  The children's money has run out so they have been pinching things.

Letty makes a plan.  Rona, Reggie, Ronnie, Sid and Rita come to the market garden the next day after school.  They help with all the garden chores and Letty cooks a lovely dinner of pumpkin pie, bean hotpot and (I love the sound of this) steamed strawberry pudding.  The four little mice go home but the next day they turn up again on the doorstep with all their belongings.  The final illustration shows the whole group enjoying an evening game of shuttlecock - just charming.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The girl of glass by Holly Webb

The Girl of Glass is such a difficult book to categorize.  It is a story about the use of magic. Mariana's father is able to add magic to the glass pieces he makes.  This is also a story about family relationships and deep grief.  Some reviews I have seen say age 9+ but I think this book would suit a more mature senior primary student who is ready to cope with the final scenes which I won't spoil here.  It is also a story about loyalty, gifts and talents and family expectations.

Mariana lives with her father, step mother and little sister  Eliza. Sadly Eliza is gravely ill and no remedy, and they have tried so many, seems able to cure her.  Mariana loves her tiny fragile sister but one day she dies :

"Eliza smiled again, and then the awareness faded out of her eyes, leaving them lifeless, emptier than the shards of blue glass in the spoils bin downstairs.  Marina's father leaned over, and held the bubble of molten glass to Eliza's mouth, in time to catch her last faint sighing breath."

This breath is then used to give life to a glass doll made to look exactly like Eliza.  This doll, however, is not Eliza and so she is rejected by Mariana's mother.  There are several violent scenes where Bianca, in her grief, lashes out at this strange glass creature.  Mariana, however, loves her glass sister.  She is not really a copy of Eliza.  She is a creature with her own needs and opinions. Their father finally realizes he has been cruel when he made this creature and so he sells the glass doll to a wealthy neighbour.  Now it is up to Mariana to rescue her new sister.

I did enjoy The girl of glass but I also found it oddly disturbing.  It seemed difficult to imagine how this book might end.  Being made of glass means Eliza is surely destined to break.  Again I don't want to spoil the ending.  I do find books about dolls are often quite disturbing.  I am thinking of books like Doll Bones, The Doll (After Dark series) and Coraline.  The Girl of Glass reminded me of Tilt which is a book I read quite recently.  Mariana has huge artistic abilities but her father will not accept this.  In his view only boys can work with glass.  This issue of sex-role stereotypes was also a theme of Tilt but with a more positive outcome for Netta.

This book is one of four set in Magical Venice and I am now keen to read the other titles : The maskmaker's Daughter, The water horse and The mermaids sister.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Too many friends Kathryn Apel

Not for lunch

'Maybe Lucy
would like to sit
with us
for lunch today,'
I say 
as we collect lunch boxes
from our schoolbags.
'She always seems so

Yes Too many friends is a new verse novel (I adore them) but before I tell you about this brilliant book I am going to make a big call and say surely this book will be short listed for our CBCA awards in 2018.  Yes it really is that good.

Tahnee is in Year Two. She has lots of friends and enjoys school but she is also keenly aware of the different personalities in her class and is especially sensitive to the feelings of outsiders like Lucy.

The class have a most wonderful teacher with the perfect name Miss Darling.  "She smiles a lot and wears colourful clothes with spots and stripes and swirly patterns. ...  (She) smiles as she moves around the room like sunshine chasing rainbows. Miss Darling makes school exciting."

You will read about class relationships, projects, team work and a wonderful whole class writing idea. Meanwhile Tahnee has a birthday to plan and she hopes Lucy will come along.  The birthday theme is The Show.  Dad is such a good sport allowing the kids to throw wet sponges - Duck Dad.  The food is perfect too - hotdogs, pizza, fairy floss, slushies, hot chips, popcorn, corn on the cob and cupcakes along with little old fashioned party games like pass the parcel and pin the tail on the donkey.  Things are not perfect all the time, though.  Making new friends can mean old friends feel left out or worse they reject their friends. Tahnee has to find a way to bring everyone back together.

Read this review for more details.  I rarely give ratings but I give this book five stars out of five.  I would follow this book with Where I live by Eileen Spinelli, Sixth Grade Style Queen Not! by Sherryl Clark and Pookie Aleera is not my boyfriend by Steven Herrick.

Too Many Friends is realistic—a finely nuanced story that gently reminds us of the positive effects of openhearted kindness and compassion. A welcome addition to our Australian fiction, it is credible and uplifting with nary a trace of didacticism.  Gleebooks

Monday, June 19, 2017

Wisher and the runaway piglet Georgie Adams

I have just spent the last week listening to the audio book of Wisher and the Runaway piglet the first book in the series Railway Rabbits.  It was such a delight to listen to this story briefly each day. Kate O'Sullivan does an excellent narration and seems to easily change so many character voices. Listen to an audio sample here.

Last year one of our students read Wisher and the Runaway piglet and she recommended it to me. I love it when this happens.  The young reader wondered if there were more books in the series. Together we looked inside the back cover and discovered there are eight more books so we have now added them to our library.

As this first story opens Barley is anxiously waiting for the arrival of his new babies.  Mellow has sent him off and while he waits looking at the river various animals from the woodland community pass by and offer their advice and good wishes.  Barley returns home to the news five babies (3 boys and 2 girls) have arrived.  They name them Bramble, Bracken, Berry, Fern and Wisher.

Close to their burrow there is a terrifying beast - the Red Dragon.  It "roared along the valley every day - up and down, up and down - whistling loudly and belching clouds of smoke.  Although it looked a terrifying beast Barley had never once seen it stray from its tracks."  Have you guessed what this really is?

After several weeks spent in the safety of their burrow the five little rabbits are allowed to explore the world outside - but not stray to far.  Wisher keeps hearing a little song in her head :

I whisper a song like the wind in your ear
Wisher, beware. Wisher take care.

While she does take care, Wisher somehow manages to become caught up in a race to find a tiny runaway piglet. Luckily she has made a good friend Parsley the mole.  Together they find Foster the piglet and restore him to his family.  One fun aspect of this is watching the spread of rumours about the fate of Foster.  First it is one dog, then two or three, then a pack of wild dogs - five or six.  This aspect of the story would make for an interesting class discussion.

I have included the new and old covers.  Read an interview with the author here.  I am sure younger readers will eagerly seek out this whole series which would also make a good family read-aloud.