Friday, November 15, 2019

Kind - a book about kindness


Alex Scheffler asked 38 kind illustrators to contribute to this book which was published to support Three Peas - a charity who provide vital help to refugees.

Some names you may recognise among the 38 illustrators are listed here. I've put one book title after each name but of course there would be many more you could explore.


  • Beatrice Alemagna (On a magical do nothing day)
  • Michael Foreman (War and Peas)
  • Sir Quentin Blake (Mr Magnolia)
  • Axel Scheffler (Books by Julia Donaldson such as Room on the Broom and The Gruffalo)
  • Steve Antony (Please Mr Panda)
  • Brigitta Sif (Swish and Squeaks noisy day)
  • Ken Wilson-Max (Astro Girl)
  • Britta Tecentrup (Kindness Grows)
  • Nick Sharratt (Books by Jacqueline Wilson and picture books such as Pants by Giles Andreae)
  • David Roberts (The Dunderheads)
  • Chris Haughton (Shh! we have a plan)
  • Lydia Monks (What the Ladybird heard)
  • Guy Parker-Rees (Giraffes can't dance)
  • Helen Stephens (How to hide a lion)


You can see some pages from this book here.  Here are a set of teaching ideas from the publisher Scholastic.

Here are some examples of the text which these illustrators were given:

"Imagine a world where everyone is kind. How can we make that come true?
Here's a good place to start - just give someone a smile!
There are lots of good ways to be kind.
We can listen to people, especially when they're sad.
We can give them a hug if they're feeling lonely."

"Sometimes people have lived through very hard times. They've had to leave their homes and their countries because of danger. They are brave and amazing and have extraordinary stories to tell."

This is a book to treasure in a library or a home. I love books where a number of illustrators are able to showcase their work in this way.  Here are some other books that follow this format:






I first saw Kind about four months ago at the Westmead Children's Hospital Book Bunker. On that day it was a brand new addition to the collection so I decided to wait a few weeks before borrowing this book so it could be shared with the children. Sometimes we loan books in the hospital to patients with infectious diseases. When this happens we cannot take the books back and so we either gift them to the child or sadly need to destroy the book. Yesterday, when I visited the Book Bunker our replacement copy of Kind had arrived. You have probably guessed what happened to our original copy. I have loved spending time exploring this book and I look forward to putting it into the hands of a child in the hospital over the coming weeks.

If you can find a copy of this book in a shop or a library take a look at these pages. The pages illustrated by Cindy Wume (she is new to me); David Barrow; Susanne Gohlich (an illustrator from Germany); Lucia Gaggiotti (she is new to me); Helen Stephens; Melissa Castrillon (her page is about making a kindness jar); Philip Waechter; Pippa Curnick (she is new to me) and David Roberts.


Thursday, November 14, 2019

Dumazi and the Big Yellow Lion by Valanga Khoza illustrated by Matt Ottley


Dumazi, a Zulu girl, is on her way to the waterhole to fill her empty calabash pot. She comes across a lion caught in a trap.

"I've been trapped for many days without food or water ... Please save my life and set me free!"

Dumazi has to decide what to do? This story is filled with problem solving and decision making. She asks the lion to promise not to eat her.  He makes the promise so Dumazi sets the lion free but once the ropes fall away he breaks his promise.

"I am so thirsty, I could drink the whole African River Limpopo. And I'm so hungry I could eat a Zulu girl."

Dumazi is shocked but also she is a quick witted girl. She offers to let the lion eat her but suggests they should first talk to the other animals and ask their advice. The lion reluctantly agrees. They ask the giraffe but Aunty Giraffe is worried about humans and the way they are cutting down trees. The giraffe tells the lion he can eat the girl. Dumazi quickly suggests they need to ask one more animal. The lion reluctantly agrees and so walk on and meet an elephant. Just like the giraffe, the elephant is worried about humans - the poachers take tusks. The elephant tells the lion he can eat the girl.

Luckily for Dumazi, a small monkey has been listening to all of this. He is such a clever monkey. He challenges the lion to show him the ropes that held him captive and then he tricks the lion back into those ropes. The lion is trapped, Dumazi is saved but is everything really resolved? No Dumazi feels sorry for the lion.

"She picked up her kalimba and returned to him. From nearby, she played gentle music and the big yellow lion fell into a deep, deep sleep. Dumazi crept up to the sleeping animal and untied the hunter's ropes."

You may be surprised to see what happens next.

This book is the complete package. It is a clever story that reads like a fable or a trickster tale. It has vibrant illustrations, a text with just the right amount of repetition for young readers and as a bonus the book comes with a wonderful music CD all packaged in a beautiful hardcover book. This is a book to enjoy in a classroom, in a library and it is also a book you should consider for your home shelves.

I say music because this CD is so much more than just a reading of the story. It has music composed by Matt Ottley and sung by Valanga Khoza.  The orchestration matches each animal that Dumazi encounters. It is a really special listening treat.  Here is a set of teachers notes from Scholastic made available by Pegi Williams. This is a book you should share with a music teacher. It would be perfect for a collaboration between the library and a music specialist if you are lucky enough to have someone who has this role in your school.

I am going to predict (here is another one) that THIS book will make our CBCA notable titles and from there the 2020 Book of the Year short list.

Listen to an interview with Valanga Khoza where he talks about playing the kalimba, he sings and plays the kalimba in this interview too and he explains his childhood in the Limpopo province of South Africa.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise




First off you might like to grab a map.  I'm in Australia so my knowledge of American states is fairly basic. Coyote and her father live in a bus. It's a converted school bus which they have named Yager. They don't have a destination. They just travel from place to place, across the US continent, occasionally picking up a traveler. Coyote believes she has to look after her dad. They are both suffering after the death of Coyote's mum and two sisters but this topic is banned and so while the pair are moving forward on their journey (they have been traveling for five years) they are not moving forward with their grief.

Each week Coyote makes a call to her Grandmother who lives back in their home town of Poplin Springs, Washington State. The news delivered by her Grandmother is a catastrophe for Coyote. Just before her mother and sisters were killed in a road accident the four of them buried a memory box in a local park. Coyote learns the park is being dug up to make way for a new intersection. Coyote is in Florida when she hears this news. Now she has to work out a way to get her father to drive 3,600 miles to Washington State and he cannot know why they need to go home.

Along the way, with Coyote desperately trying to make her dad hurry, they collect a few passengers. A new special friend for Coyote  - a boy named Salvador, a musician named Lester, a cat called Ivan, Val, a teenager who is running away from home, a goat, Salvador's mum Esperanza Vega and her sister Concepcion.

I started this book on Sunday afternoon and finished it midday Monday. Yes it is that good - reading this book over the last 24 hours became my addiction.

Colby Sharp video review:
"A remarkable book"
"One of those books you're just on the edge of your seat."
"You'll find things that need to get done aren't getting done because you're choosing this book over ... doing the dishes or folding the laundry or watch Netflix"
"If you're in a reading rut and you're looking for a book that you'll just have to keep turning pages .. read this book!"

Dan Gemeinhart talks to Mr Shu about the book cover the writing of this book. Here is a teachers guide and set of discussion questions from the publisher. Here is an audio sample from Chapter One.

In an interview for Horn Book Dan Gemeinhart said he loved journey stories such as A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park (I adore this book); Bud not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis (this book has scenes that will linger with me forever); and two other books I need to put on my to read list Under a Painted sky by Stacey Lee and Train I ride by Paul Mosier.

Click these review extracts to read more about the plot and characters.

It's a grand old journey across the United States in search of a pork chop sandwich with a gang who can name their favorite book, their favorite place and their favorite sandwich.  It's a tale of pain and grief and choices and sharing and opportunity and Uno and a wise cat and all the richness of a life. A Book and a Hug

In this book, the author builds trust between the reader and the author. So much so that you can have a scene where two characters scream their secrets into the wind on the top of a moving school bus and it’ll feel real and earned rather than a sneaky plot device meant to further the characters’ emotional growth in the eyes of the reader. Elizabeth Bird School Library Journal

I would pair The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise with Savvy by Ingrid Law. I am putting US and UK covers.  Look closely for the pink bus.



When you read The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise you will also want to read The One and Only Ivan (remember I told you the cat is called Ivan) and Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan.


Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Farfallina and Marcel by Holly Keller


Tuesday Treasure



Farfallina, the caterpillar, meets the gosling Marcel. The pair quickly become great friends. Playing hide and seek and enjoying their pond environment.

"Farfallina liked his soft feathers and his gentle eyes."

"He (Marcel) liked Farfallina's smile and her pretty colors."

One day Farfallina feels a little unwell. She retreats to the top branches of a tree and as time passes, Marcel comes to think he will never see her again.  Meanwhile Farfallina is undergoing a transformation. Of course Marcel is changing too.  Farfallina emerges from her cocoon transformed into a beautiful butterfly. She looks around for her old friend but all she can see is a large handsome goose on the pond. The pair strike up a conversation and make the amazing discovery.

"It's funny,' Marcel said, 'but I feel as though I've known you a long time.'
'I was just thinking the same thing,' said Farfallina."

This heartwarming, colorfully illustrated story underscores beautifully the power of true friendship without glossing over the reality that change is inevitable as friends grow and mature. Kirkus

Listen to this book reading on NPR. Farfallina and Marcel was given the Charlotte Zolotow Award in 2003.  I adore this book - it is a beautiful story of friendship, understanding, acceptance of difference, loyalty and hope for the future happiness of this unlikely pair of friends.

I have always liked the art of Holly Keller.  Here are her books about Geraldine which sadly are out of print:






I would pair Farfallina and Marcel with Caterpillar Dreams by Jeanne Willis illustrated by Tony Ross.


Sunday, November 10, 2019

The secrets of Magnolia Moon by Edwina Wyatt illustrated by Katherine Quinn

"Magnolia wondered gloomily if they would ever again hang upside-down from the old fig, inventing new kinds of animals or guessing what type of fruit they would be."





Magnolia is nine and a half and her life is changing. Her best friend has moved away. Mum is having a baby. Magnolia has moved up to grade four with a new teacher and new friends.  Magnolia is a very special girl. She is positive, forthright and honest. She is also a problem solver, which I love. She thinks up practical solutions for any problems that come her way.

Here is an example. She visits her friend Imogen May for a sleepover. Imogen explains there is a ghost in the new house. Magnolia wakes up in the middle of the night and she hears the ghost. She leaves Imogen May sleeping and heads downstairs.  The ghost is in fact Ernest, Imogen May's brother. He is frightened of the noises made by the toilet when it is flushed. Magnolia takes charge. She leads Ernest up to confront the toilet. "I am going to flush you now, and you are going to get on with it and not make a fuss ... And you are to stay there, and you are not, I repeat not, to follow us down the hall."

I love the way Magnolia makes sense of time. "Time was tricky like that. It could be long and short all at once. And it was always going backwards and forwards getting stuck between yesterday and tomorrow."

"There's a whole year to go, which is a lifetime if you are a giant jellyfish."
"Barrow is a whole hour away, which is a lifetime if you are a cake in the oven."
"Six months .. but that is a lifetime if you are a bed bug."
"It was only three weeks since the girls had seen each other ... that was a lifetime if you were a bar of soap."
"There were five more hours until the end of school which was a lifetime if you were a sandcastle."

If you were using this book with a class you could make a lifetime book with a different example on each page.

I also love the tiny observations of life:

"Magnolia turned her pillow to the cool side."
"There were piles of washing all over the floor, spilling out of the basket in a tsunami of towels and sheets and tiny singlets."
Magnolia's new friend Casper Sloan makes his own lunch each day. He uses an alphabet system. On the w day Magnolia guesses it will be "won tons with wasabi, then waffles with white chocolate and watermelon." No he is having "watercress on white bread, walnut cake and wheatgrass juice."

And I love the delightful names:

Chimneypot Parade
Thistledown Preparatory
Applewhistle Lane

I think you can tell I really loved this little gem of a story. This is a quiet book which gently observes daily life for Magnolia allowing us to know her secrets.

I first read The Secrets of Magnolia Moon in June this year. Walker Book Australia kindly gave each of the people attending an advance copy. I am never sure how long I need to wait to talk about a new book so I put it to one side. The Secrets of Magnolia Moon was published in October and it is receiving so many positive comments.  Megan Daley read this book to her little girl and they both loved it.

Katherine Quinn is an illustrator from New Zealand.

I will make the prediction that The Secrets of Magnolia Moon will be a notable title for our CBCA awards in 2020 and from there a short listed title in the Younger Reader category.

I loved the previous picture book by Edwina Wyatt - In the Evening. I would pair The secrets of Magnolia Moon with Where Dani goes Happy follows.

The Secrets of Magnolia Moon is a whimsical and gentle portrayal of friendship and problem solving, with each page to be savoured. And I think young readers could do with more of that. Kids Book Review



A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck



It seems odd to say I really love books set in America (remember I live in Australia), set in times past (this is set in 1937) and set in small rural towns (this one is in Illinois). Perhaps it goes back to my childhood reading of the Little House books which I devoured.

A Year Down Yonder won the Newbery Medal in 2001. This means it is famous in America and it also means it has gone through lots of cover designs (see below).  I spied my copy (above) with a sale price in a Sydney children's bookstore. I know how much Horn Book editor, Roger Sutton, adores the writing of Richard Peck and I knew I had already read and enjoyed A long way from Chicago - many years ago so it was easy to make the decision to buy this book. I started reading it this morning and finished it about two hours later - yes it is THAT good!

This book is a sequel but I have no memory of reading of A long Way from Chicago so A Year down Yonder can certainly stand alone. Mary Alice is a wonderful character but it is her Grandmother that I especially love. She has a gruff exterior but underneath she has a heart of gold. She is wise, confident, loud, clever, caring and so very very hard working.

Click these review quotes for more plot details:

And the vignettes, some involving a persnickety Grandma acting nasty while accomplishing a kindness, others in which she deflates an overblown ego or deals with a petty rivalry, are original and wildly funny. The arena may be a small hick town, but the battle for domination over that tiny turf is fierce, and Grandma Dowdel is a canny player for whom losing isn’t an option. Kirkus

Between antic capers, Peck reveals a marshmallow heart inside Grandma's rock-hard exterior and adroitly exposes the mutual, unspoken affection she shares with her granddaughter. Like Mary Alice, audience members will breathe a sigh of regret when the eventful year ""down yonder"" draws to a close. Publishers Weekly

You can read an extract here.  You can also listen to an audio sample from the first page onwards.  I would follow A Year Down Under with Letters to Missy Violet, Turtle in Paradise, and The Girl who bought mischief.  I also recommend other books by Richard Peck such as The Mouse with the question mark Tail and Secrets at Sea.



Saturday, November 9, 2019

The Dark Blue 100 Ride Bus Ticket by Margaret Mahy




Carlo and his mother don't have much money. They really cannot afford extra things in the supermarket. Arriving in the car park Carlo sees a lady with a trolley full of shopping. Her name, he discovers,  is Mrs Christmas and she looks a little like a Christmas tree. 

She was an "old woman in her dark green skirt, her dark green jerseys and her red velvet jacket. Not only that her hair was dyed dark blue, and she wore a golden star in the front, which glittered beautifully, even though it was tilted sideways."

Carlo moves close to Mrs Christmas. He is curious to discover if she smells like pine needles but he gets a little too close and the pair of them trip and her shopping trolley falls over. The eggs are broken but Jessica immediately offers to pay for new ones. Carlo is shocked because they hardly have enough money for their own food. As they chat about shopping and busy places Mrs Christmas explains she usually shops at the Supermarket at the end of the World.  It turns out she is leaving town soon:

"my son's coming for me. His wife, who is such a nice girl, has got a job sorting out international rainbows, and they need someone to be at home after school - they've got twenty-seven children and it keeps them utterly busy ... oh and the elephant as well, which is a big job, with elephants eating so much ...  "

This sentence is quintessentially Margaret Mahy.  Think of all the children in The Rattlebag Picnic, think of the work done by the mother in Jam (she is researching sun spots) and think of the beautiful language used in The Man whose Mother was a pirate.

Mrs Christmas pulls out a dark blue card - it is a bus ticket that takes you to the end of the world. Waiting at the end of the world, travelers lucky enough to have this special ticket, find a supermarket. Not just any supermarket - it's the supermarket of your dreams. Carlo and his mum are allowed on the bus but there are some other characters, the Dowlers, who are out to destroy the supermarket. It is vital to stop them catching the bus.

The bus driver began "studying their feet closely. ... 'I can't let just anybody onto the bus of course, or we'd have the bus filled with Dowlers in no time. They're good at disguising most of themselves but it hard to get away with forked feet, let alone claws, isn't it?"

In the supermarket you can buy:


  • Optional Soup - tick the desired flavour - Tomato, Cockaleekie, Mixed Vegetable Turtle, Onion, Octopus, Gunpowder and so on.
  • Exploding Porridge - very useful if you are being attacked by Dowlers
  • There's a tearoom with "tongue-twisting tantalizingly tasty treats, tricked with tomato, toffee, tamarillo, treacle and tapioca, all tarted up with tender tapeworms."
  • And there is everything you could possibly need for an Almost Party.

At its heart this is a story about good friends, team work, trust, fun and of course good versus evil as Carlo and his new friend Jessica battle against the dastardly Dowlers - and win!

I spied this book at a recent charity book sale. I adore the writing of Margaret Mahy. The story is quite simply a delicious romp from page 1 to page 159.  Sadly, though, it is out of print. Perhaps you will be lucky and find a copy in a library or at a book sale as I did. If you can find The Dark Blue 100 ride Bus ticket I think it would make the perfect class read aloud for Grade 3 or 4.

Listen here to an audio sample from page 16 - Chapter 2. An audio version of whole book can be found here - I highly recommend you listen  - what a treat! Scroll down to find part 1 of the 10 parts.