Sunday, June 24, 2018

Just right for Two by Tracey Corderoy illustrated Rosalind Beardshaw

About a week ago I was sitting in a small public library in London browsing their picture books when I saw Just right for Two

Dog has a big, blue suitcase and it contains so many special things such as a really good stick, some dancing leaves and a big, red shiny button. "I have everything I need!"  Or does he? Mouse arrives. He is curious about the contents of the suitcase. Then Mouse suggests the pair enjoy a game of hide and seek.  That evening, after Mouse leaves, Dog looks in his suitcase and it seems something is missing.  This book would be absolutely perfect to share with a young child. It is a truly comforting story.

I would follow this book with Pig and Small, Lost and Found and Herman's Letter.  You could also link this book with our CBCA 2018 slogan "Find your Treasure."  Here is a video reading of the whole book.

My reading pile

Yesterday I called into Beachside Bookshop and the owner Libby kindly gave me a some advanced reader copies of new Middle Fiction to read.  I also picked out a couple of books to buy for myself.

Fire Witch by Matt Ralphs
I have been keen to read this after I had enjoyed Fire Girl.
From the blurb : "Hazel Hooper is no ordinary girl - she is a Fire Witch on a quest. Her mother, Hecate, has been kidnapped by a demon, and Hazel is determined to enter the underworld and bring her back - regardless of the danger."

You may already be a Winner by Ann Dee Ellis
I picked up this one for the usual reasons - I liked the cover, the endorsements were glowing and the blurb sounded good.  I actually read this whole book today! I will post a longer review later and YES it is good!
From the blurb: "Olivia knows that luck is real. And she's counting on it to bring her a million dollars so that she and her little sister, Berkeley, can move away from Sunny Pines Trailer ark. So she doesn't have to miss school to take care of Berkeley since they can't afford daycare. So her mom doesn't have to work all the time and be too tired to be a mom at all."

Advanced Reader Copies

Swallow's Dance by Wendy Orr  Due for publication July 2018
This is the sequel to Dragonfly Song which was short listed by our CBCA a couple of years ago.
From the blurb: "Lira is starting her initiation as a priestess when her world is turned upside down. A violent earthquake leaves her home - and her family - in pieces. And the goddess has finished with the island yet."

Charlie and me 421 Miles from home by Mark Lowery Published April 2018
The setting for this story is Cornwall which is a place I adore.
From the blurb: "Martin and his brother Charlie are on a very special journey. They're travelling 421 miles, by train, bus and taxi, all the way from Preston to the very tip of Cornwall. ... It's a journey full of challenges and surprises."

Inheritance by Carole Wilkinson Due for publication September 2018
Many years ago I read Dragonkeeper by Carole Wilkinson - it is a book I should re-read I remember it was such a powerful and rewarding story.
From the blurb: "Nic is left in the care of her grandfather at the remote family property that was once her mother's childhood home; a place with 30 rooms, three dogs and no mobile reception. Left to her own devices, Nic searches for clues about her mother - who died when Nic was born. But what Nic discovers is so much more than she could have imagined. A dark and shocking secret that haunts the land and the people who live there."

Children of the dragon The Relic of the Blue Dragon by Rebecca Lim Due for publication August 2018
This is the first book in this series (thank goodness) and I do enjoy a good dragon story!
From the blurb: "When Harley Spark 'finds' and old Chinese vase on the footpath something compels him to stuff it under his jumper and head for home. But in a moment of misadventure the vase shatters and a young Chinese warrior rises from the fragments."

Splash by Charli Howard Due for publication July 2018
Nosy Crow always do brilliant books and I really like the cover on this one although it seems to have been slightly changed for the publication copy.
You can see inside this book here.

The infinite lives of Maisie Day by Christopher Edge Due for publication August 2018
I will need to read The Many Worlds of Albie Bright.
The trailer for Maisie Day certainly has some powerful endorsements.

Friday, June 22, 2018

What about me? by Gertie Evenhuis

Years ago I found What about me? in my school library.  This is an obscure little book which I first read in about 1997 but somehow the story lingered.  I often recommended it to students who read Number the Stars, The Silver Sword or The Upstairs room. Sadly our library copy disappeared and ever since I have had this book in my mind as a title to look for in used bookstores. Fast forward over 20 years to my recent holiday in UK.  While I was in Suffolk I visited a very messy and huge second hand bookshop. I was browsing the small selection of children's titles when to my huge delight and surprise I saw What about me? tucked away on the shelf. And it only cost 70 pence.

The scene I remember so vividly did not disappoint. Dirk is about to turn 12. The Germans have invaded Holland. Dirk is anxious to know what is happening. He sees change all around him but his older brother, who he once idolized, keeps telling him he is too young to understand. Dirk suspects his brother is involved with the resistance. He knows his brother has 'illegal' papers and posters in his room.

"I looked round hurriedly, Yes, there were forbidden newspapers. I snatched a handful. It was the least I could do. After all, the pamphlet had said: pass this on. I would be able to do something for my country at last. I might not be able to kill Hitler, but I could do something to help."

Dirk posts some of the papers on walls around the town and passes one onto his beloved teacher.  The next day word reaches the class that Mr De Lange has been arrested. Dirk now has the awful task of disposing of all these papers. In one terrifying scene he even tries to flush them down a toilet all the time sensing terrible danger for himself, his brother, his teacher and his whole family.

Gertie Evenhuis (1927-2005) was a Dutch children's author of over thirty books. This one was originally called En Waarom ik Neit? which translates as And why not me? and published in 1970. The translated by Lance Salway, the Puffin edition was published in 1976.

I would follow What about me? with The Little riders by Margaretha Shemin and Honey Cake by  Joan Betty Stuchner. Both are set in Holland and feature the work of the resistance during WWII. The art work on the cover may look familiar.  Richard Kennedy has quite a collection of book covers from past favourites.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Tin by Padraig Kenny

Tin is about heart and soul, friendship, and mechanical strength – it’s about the future of machines and the inheritance of human loyalty. It’s also funny, adventurous, and loving.  Barry Cunningham Chicken House books in The Bookseller.

I really enjoy books where the author asks the reader to do some work, some thinking.  A book where the pieces of the plot puzzle are slowly revealed.  Where, as a reader I keep forming and re-forming theories about the characters, time period, and in this case, the political scene.

Enter the world of Tin.  There are mechanicals and propers.  Propers are human.  Mechanicals are mostly robots made by engineers and most look like children.  Engineers need a licence to operate and create mechanicals and there are strict laws.  It is forbidden to :

"confer life and sentience upon any raw material which conforms to the standard agreed dimensions of an adult or 'proper' human being."
"it is strictly forbidden to confer life upon a mechanical using the principals of refined propulsion, otherwise known as 'ensoulment."

As the story opens Mr Absalom, who seems to be a shady character, is striding through the town with Christopher and Jack.  It is clear Jack is a mechanical. 

"Snow was falling from the night sky, and all the world was cold and hushed except for the regular metallic squeaking of Jack's joints."

Christopher is a mystery. He shows emotion, he seems to be working for Absalom but it is Jack, not Christopher, who sabotages Absalom's plans. Absalom has other mechanicals in his yard -

Round Rob - Rob's head was always coming loose and  "the trunk of his body was made from an old cooking pot (and he) ... could be hired out for proper children to roll him down hills at festivals and fetes."

Manda "Her grin was a crooked as ever, and the brown curls on her head didn't sit quite right. Her left eye was larger than the right and her right leg was shorter than the left ... "

Gripper  "the largest standing over eight feet tall with a barrel chest that tapered at the waist. He had tree-trunk wide legs and great clod-hopping feet. His huge arms were a muscled collage of wires and rivets and piping - they ended in gigantic clawed hands ... "

Estelle - a young girl - human -  skilled in the application of skin.

Together these disparate and kind creatures form a team.  Christopher is in danger and it will take all their ingenuity to save him.

You can read more of the plot here but I would wait until you finish reading Tin as it does contain some spoilers. You can hear the author speaking about the themes in his book in this brief video. Here is a great idea - Waterstones have collected images of window displays from their shops in this Pinterest board.  I highly recommend Tin for mature primary students and junior high.

There have been so many items in the media lately about Artificial Intelligence AI - Tin shows a possible beginning for the machines which are now part of our world along with the hope for kindness and the triumph of good over evil. Click on these links to read more about the current debate.

Each character is written tenderly, with exquisite details that are really immersive. The story sets out questions of war, morality and shows you how powerful friendship can be, with or without a human connection. Estellosaurus

It is tempting to hope that some movie studio is fighting to snap up film rights for this must-read YA novel, but would a movie spoil the book? Read Tin now before anyone else gets their hands on it. It is brilliant. John Millen Young Post City University of Hong Kong.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Goose Road by Rowena House

Rowena House has such a simple writing style but she manages to pack so much heart into each and every page.   A Fiction Addiction

Blending real-life hardships and the horrors of WWI with an overarching fairy tale-esque adventure, this is a classic David versus Goliath story in which a girl steps up to fight multiple Goliaths with large doses of determination, wit and a willingness to take risks. Highly recommended. Love Reading 4Kids

Reading a whole book in one day is an indulgence but it also equates to a captivating plot. Angelique is living in France.  It is 1916. The family are only just surviving on their family farm. Her father has been killed on the front and her brother is fighting on the Somme. Angelique and her mother are very hard working but after their cattle and horses are requisitioned by the army harvesting seems impossible. Angelique writes to her beloved Uncle Gustav and he arrives and offers practical help (he made me so happy) but then Angelique's mother confesses her husband had terrible debts and they are not even able to pay back the interest and the debt collectors will show no mercy.

Uncle Gustav and Angelique set off to sell the family geese. They hope to obtain a high price by taking them to the front lines.  "Top brass, that's what we need - rich officers with more money than sense ... the richest pickings of all might well be at Frevent. ... (we will find) the Commander-in-Chief of the Battle of the Somme."  This is a long and harrowing journey and you will feel you are taking every slow and cold step with Angelique.

At its heart this is a book about determination and trust. Reading this book I kept shouting at Angelique to be careful. So many people who purported to be kind turned out to be cunning swindlers. It still feels slightly amazing to me that Angelique did manage all of those geese and she did sell them for an excellent price. Be warned though, the personal cost is very high.

This book is listed as 12+ but I think a mature senior primary student would cope with the descriptions of violence by Angelique's father and also of the maimed soldiers returning from the front lines.  Once again thanks to Beachside Bookshop for passing me this Advanced Reader Copy.  here is a detailed review.  At the back of the book the author note explains the inspiration for this story and details all the research Rowena completed. The authenticity of the setting shows how well she synthesized all this material into a gripping historical novel - but more than that it is a book that features a wonderful hero. I highly recommend The Goose Road.

"You can't herd the geese to the Front ... 
But you can buy them a railway ticket."

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Orphan band of Springdale by Anne Nesbet

"(The) letter described some lamentable instances of exploitation and injustice ... So I've come, to support the fine work of the Federation of Woolen and Worsted Workers and to organize our brothers and sisters in the mills and shoe factories."

Gusta is a character who will linger with me for a long time. She is wise, determined and strong. It is 1941 and later this same year America will enter WWII. Suspicion is growing against 'aliens'. Neubronner sounds foreign and so does Bertmann. Even more suspicious Mr Bertmann, the oculist, has pigeons and he is training them to carry cameras.  But Mr Bertmann is a true friend to Gusta. He is able to provide her with glasses and suddenly her world comes into focus.

Gusta and her father are travelling to Springdale in Maine but on their last stop her father leaves the bus and does not return. Gusta is so worried about him. Men are hunting him.

"Their eyes looked like mysterious dark pools to Gusta. ...and the men were in uniforms, and that was how she knew the thing they had been dreading and expecting all these months, even years ... "

Gusta has with her a French Horn. At the orphanage, run by her grandmother, she meets a wonderful girl called Josie. Josie has a beautiful singing voice so the girls form their band with Gusta's cousin Bess but this is just a diversion from the real issues driving Gusta.  She meets her uncle and learns about his factory accident. His hand is bound up tight with scars and he has been dismissed. Gusta's father, a union activist, has shown her workers have rights. Gusta is determined to right this wrong and help her uncle but she will need a lot of money to do this.  If you click on either of the review quotes below you can read more of the plot.

Initially I liked the cover but now that I have read this gutsy book about unions and human rights I am not so sure - it is perhaps a little too 'pretty'.  I rarely give star ratings as you know but I give The Orphan Band of Springdale 5 stars out of 5. I especially enjoyed all the tension created by Anne Nesbet as Gusta finds herself in one predicament after another. This is a book which should be in your school library.

A big thank you to Beachside Bookshop for giving me this advanced reader copy of The Orphan Band of Springdale.  Here is an audio sample from the first chapter of this book.  Here is a detailed set of discussion questions.  This book would be perfect for a senior grade book discussion group.  Read an interview with the author.  I would follow this book with another favourite of mine -  Bread and Roses, too.

Sometimes suspenseful and always engaging, this snapshot of determined Gusta and life before the war is sure to captivate readers. Kirkus

Sometimes kids just need a book to cozy up with in an overstuffed chair, a secluded treehouse, or a nest of pillows. This is exactly that book. Elizabeth Bush

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Can I touch your hair? Irene Latham, Charles Waters, Sean Qualls and Selina Alko

Can I touch your hair? Poems of race, mistakes and friendship

We smile when we learn we both like books, but not sports.
We nod our heads over cool shoes and colorful laces.

Now we see each other as individuals ...
We share hurts like being left out at recess and getting into trouble with our parents. ...

We are so much more than black and white.

This is a complex book with so many layers that it risks being left unopened on the shelf if it is not shared with the child by an astute adult, either parent or teacher, who can begin and sensitively guide the conversations.  The Bottom Shelf

The Bottom Shelf shared her review of this book and was immediately intrigued. I love the power of poetry, I love verse novels and this title sounded interesting.  Very kindly The Bottom Shelf sent me her spare copy so now I can share my thoughts about this slim book of connected poems. (It's not quite a verse novel.)

Mrs Vandenberg sets a class project - pairs of students writing poems. Irene ends up with Charles. They are so different this pair of grade 5 kids but over the course of their writing their differences make way for understanding and friendship.  Irene is white, Charles is African American. Irene is a shy girl who loves horses and reading. She longs to take part in playground games. Charles is clever and outspoken and he also loves reading. Charles wants to understand the adult world and the rules around race and fear.

The result is a set of alternating poems from each child. As a reader I imagined the conversations between Irene and Charles as they share their poems and experiences with one another. Church is different but in both places a white Jesus looks down on the congregation. A visit to the beach is torture for both of them even if the reasons are different. The fear of walking out after dark is the same for both sets of parents. "That's a rough neighborhood, especially in the evening."  "Why Aunt Sarah doesn't go downtown after Dark - sky black, streets black, faces black, fear white."

This is an important book which should also generate conversations with children in Australia and it is a perfect book for teachers looking to explore perspective.  It also shows the power of poetry as a way to express big emotions.

You can read more about the four people involved with creating this book at the Walker Books site.

School Library Journal
Kirkus star review
Horn Book Magazine
Jama's Alphabet Soup

You can see Charles Waters here (begin at 14.21 this is a long program so set aside some time) where he reads some of the poems and then answers questions.  Here is a set of Teaching notes.  Here is a ten minute interview at The Yarn with Travis Jonker.

Here is a poem by Irene which shows the power of this writing:

When Shona
her family tree
to the class.

I see all
the top branches
are draped in chains.

Because my
were slaves
she says.

I swallow
I want to say
but those words
are so small
for something
so big.

Still I want to try.

So I write it
on a scrap of paper,
find her library book,
and tuck it inside.

Web sites for the collaborators who worked on this book of 33 poems -  Irene Latham, Charles Waters, Sean Qualls (illustrator of Emmanuel's Dream), and Selina Alko.