Sunday, May 1, 2016

Teacup by Rebecca Young illustrated by Matt Ottley

I would like to start this review with a quote from Matt Ottley (found in the Australian Standing Orders notes Primary Picture Book No. 3, 2015)

Matt Ottley says :

"What spoke to me most about Teacup was quite simply that it was the most beautiful picture book story I'd ever read.  It is such a huge story about the human spirit, about loss and grief, love and joy, about beauty and also high adventure.  Yet it's told in such a spare, minimal way, like a piece of poetry, that there was room for me to interpret the words in so many ways, 
which is an artist's dream."




Teacup is the third book by Rebecca Young and a look at her previous titles (Button Boy and The skunk with no funk) you can see how much she is developing as an author. Teacup is such a profound text and so different from her earlier books.

"Once there was a boy who had to leave home and find another"

There is so much to discuss from these opening lines.  Why did he have to leave?  Who will travel with him?  Will it be a long journey?  Will there be dangers?  Where is he going?

"In his bag he carried .. "

What would you take?  Would this change if you had plenty of time to prepare?  What would you take if you only have a few minutes to flee?

"he carried a book, a bottle and a blanket.  In his teacup held some earth from where he used to play."

This line reminds me of an old book called The Green book which is about people from Earth who are forced to flee to live on a different planet.  While the people do take practical things to set up the new colony there is one little girl who takes a blank book. In Teacup, the boy also takes the practical things for his survival along with his cup.  Teacup also reminded me of Tanglewood. Not just because of the tree and the wild seas but because of the tone - hope for the future.

"where he used to play"

These are such chilling words. The pieces of text I have quoted here come from the first double page spread which should show the amazing depth of this writing.  I think it will be important to read this book very slowly and to explore it several times.

I am really looking forward to discussing this book with my senior students.  I know they will have brilliant ideas that move beyond the literal.  I also know that my own appreciation of this book will grow even stronger as my students share their insights.

I also plan to compare this book from the CBCA Notables list with Flight which has also been nominated along with another important refugee story -  Ziba came by boat.  We will also look at The treasure box by Margaret Wild and My Dog by John Heffernan - both titles from previous CBCA short lists.  These both deal with the trauma of leaving your home and travelling into the unknown.

It might be good to compare the page with the ominous clouds with the page in The Arrival by Shaun Tan.



Teacup is sure to be short listed for the CBCA Picture book of the Year award.  I cannot decide if Teacup or Flight will win - perhaps there might be two winners for 2016!

Here is a set of very detailed teacher notes.

Dixie O'Day and the great diamond robbery by Shirley Hughes illustrated by Clara Vulliamy

Dixie O'Day and the great diamond robbery is the second book in this appealing junior series. You might remember I recently talked about Dixie O'Day in the fast lane.

This second installment does not disappoint.  Dixie and his faithful friend Percy set out for the Hotel Splendide.  It is indeed a splendid place but sadly our heroes are not given a warm welcome.  On their journey they were forced off the road and Dixie's car is now covered in dust and mud.  Their near traffic accident is caused on the road to the hotel by none other than the famous Peaches Miaow.  Dixie is totally unimpressed by her fame and entourage but Percy is besotted.

At dinner that night Peaches "swept into the dining room wearing a silver satin dress and a smile as dazzling as her diamond necklace."  As you will have guess from the title these are the diamonds that will be stolen.  On their second night at the hotel a robbery takes place.  Dixie and Percy have previously made friends with a well mannered gentleman named Mr Canteloe.  As they tour his home and venture into some tidal caves beneath his cellar they find the diamonds.  Now comes the dilemma. How will Percy, Dixie and Mr Canteloe prove they did not commit the robbery themselves?

My favourite part of this book comes near the end when the hotel staff return Dixie's car.  "I've had it cleaned and polished for you, Sir ... and may I say what a great pleasure it is to see a car like yours on the road these days."

As I said in my previous review there are some terrific little extras in this series.  The book opens with an interview :

"What do you always pack in your suitcase?
DIXIE : My hot-water bottle, a choice of smart ties and my copy of 100 country walks.
PERCY : Plenty of chocolate."

At the back of the book you will find sample pages from book 3, a quiz, a maze puzzle and a map of Brightsea - location of the Hotel Spendide.  This book is also just seven chapters - one for each night of the week perhaps.

In this review you can see inside the three books from this series.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

The golden sandal : A Middle Eastern Cinderella story by Rebecca Hickox illustrated by Will Hillenbrand

"Maha worked from sunup to sunset but each day increased her beauty inside and out.  Her stepsister, on the other hand, grew selfish and mean ... "




Later this year I am planning to read some fairy tales with our classes and I hope to include fairy tale stories from other cultures.  The Golden Sandal is a perfect example. This is not a new book.  It was originally published in 1998 but we have a new copy for our library.

This Cinderella story comes from Iraq.  Maha's widowed fisherman father marries a neighbour.  She is kind to begin with but soon turns nasty.  Early in the story Maha rescues a small red fish from the basket she has collected from her father.

"Allah says a kindness never goes unrewarded. 
Call for me anytime and ask what you will."

You may have guessed it is this fish that takes the role of fairy godmother.  Maha longs to go to a special party for the bride of the merchant.  The fish gives Maha a silken gown, a pearl comb and pair of golden sandals. As she rushes home one sandal falls into the river.  It is found by Tariq, brother of the bride.  Tariq does find Maha but the stepmother has other plans.  She buys oil which will make Maha's hair fall out and give off a foul smell but the plan backfires.  "When at last he lifted the veil, the scent of roses filled the room and her hair was so  beautiful he could not stop stroking it."  The stepmother now uses this oil on hr own daughter - perhaps you can guess the disastrous results.

You might like to read this review.  Follow your reading of The golden sandal with some other Cinderella stories (thanks to my friend for her brilliant Pinterest collection) and perhaps The Talking eggs which has a similar theme. Here is a web site which lists 365 Cinderella Stories.  This short video will give you close look at the beautiful illustrations in this book.

Here is a slide share of the whole book which might be a useful way to share the illustrations with a larger group.


Monday, April 25, 2016

Suri's wall by Lucy Estela illustrated by Matt Ottley


The poignancy of this story comes from phrases such as

"The wall was Suri's only friend"
"She watched the other children playing in the courtyard.  
She was different to them."
"Her heart ached to join them."
"For a while Suri let herself cry."

One day Suri discovers she is now tall enough to look over the wall.  A little child asks Suri what she can see.  At this point in the book I am sure your students will gasp but I suggest you stop and ask for ideas from the class before turning the page. One thing to notice is the way Matt Ottley beautifully changes the colour palette as Suri describes the scene she 'sees'.

Read more about Matt Ottley.  Here is a comprehensive set of teaching notes with questions for each page of the book.  If you have a subscription you can view this book on The Storybox Library.

Take some time to read the author web site and view the video of her book launch which explores the idea of walls.  Here is a detailed review.

Suri's Wall is a title from our CBCA 2016 Notables list. I am certain it will be among the six short listed titles which will be announced in May.

This book would be a useful addition to an ethics class.  It raises questions about truth versus deception.  You might also like to compare Suri's wall with Journey by Aaron Becker.




The fourteenth summer of Angus Jack by Jen Storer illustrated by Lucinda Gifford




The spooky music of this trailer by Jen Storer for The Fourteenth Summer of Angus Jack matches perfectly with the tone of this complex fantasy.  As the blurb says : this book is funny, exhilarating and a little bit scary.



One of the most intriguing aspects of this book comes from trying to work out who are the good characters and who are the evil ones.  This does get sorted out but not until quite close to the final battle scene.  If you need to select an extract from this book this scene would be a good one to read aloud - Chapter 48 and 49.

There is a veil between our human world and the Old Realm - the world of goblins, witches and magick. Some humans have worked out how to move between the worlds.  Two little goblin girls have come to our human world in search of a narrare.  The hope to retrieve this precious globe shaped object and thus gain the status of the elite Guardian Class back in their own world.  Two human children are caught up in this drama when their grieving father moves them, once again, this time to live beside the beach and beside a very odd old lady, Reafen, who has an intriguing shop.  It is in this shop where the children see and learn about the narrare.

"It holds memories of the goblins .. each tiny snowflake stores memories of their customs, their music, their stories, their comings and goings. Their knowledge of the earth - its mountains, its land, its subterranean treasures.  To own the narrare is to own the power.  In the Old Realm they are guarded with great reverence."


One of my favourite scenes in this book comes when the carnival man Barney (a minor character), who is love with The Donut Lady, tries to take the boat which belongs to the goblin girls.

Graini explains "It is an awe-inspiring vessel and that Barney person tried to steal it.  When our boat would not allow him on board, he became angry. He tried to take a slice of our boat's timber ... so our boat bit him ... And hurled him aside.  ... You do not want to get bitten by one of our boats. They have an exceptional grip. .. Our boat blasted him with flames from its mouth . Whoosh!"

Here is a terrific description of Reafen : "The new neighbour was not much taller than Martha, and slightly hunched.  But the way she was dressed! ...an evening gown.  It was lurid red like squashed pomegranates ... the top bit was layered with heavy black lace and studded with large red beads that twinkled in the sun.  A lolly-pink feather boa trailed from her throat.  Her hair was blue-black, piled in glossy loops like curled licorice straps."



Character list
Angus Jack - age fourteen trying to make sense of his father, cope with the grief of losing his mother and take care of his sister

Martha Jack - Sister to Angus, in a rage against the world and especially against her father

The Professor - father of Angus and Martha

The Donut Lady - a traveller between Realms, her motivations are slowly revealed

Reafen - the eccentric old lady who has a cluttered junk shop called Frozen in Time which is next door to Angus and Martha.  She wears outrageous clothes and has very large feet.  Her main diet consists of very sugary treats.

Graini and Ava - the goblin girls. They are loyal and brave become very good friends to Angus and Martha whom they recognise as "kind and truth-speaking ... gentle and peace-loving humans."

Varla - the witch from the Old Realm who is desperate to get her hands on the narrare that Reafen has on display in her shop.  She uses mirrors to spy on our world.

Lynch - he is also after the narrare and will stop at nothing to get it.


The fourteenth summer of Angus Jack has a web site where you will find answers to some of your questions about this book.  I should also mention the illustrations by Lucinda Gifford are perfect.



Jen Storer has several books in our school library the Truly Tan series, Tensy Farlow and the home for mislaid children, and The accidental princess.

I read The fourteenth summer of Angus Jack because it is another title from our CBCA 2016 Notables list.  There are some excellent titles in this category - Younger Readers - but I think this book is certain to reach the final short list of six.

You might also enjoy The Emerald Atlas.


Frog find a place by Sally Morgan and Kzekiel Kwaymullina illustrated by Dub Leffler



Who am I?
What are my talents?
Can I fly?
Is life better over there?
Where do I fit in?

There are so many children's picture books that explore these questions especially the question about flying.  My favourite also features a frog - Frog is Frog by Max Velthuijs.  Here are some other books that explore this theme and the theme of identity :



"When frog was a tadpole, a moonbeam sliced through the murky water of his pool and lit up his tiny tadpole face."

Thus begins a quest by Frog to reach the moon.  He enlists the help of three others who live near his pond. Firstly Spider who suggests making a ladder of ferns. Next Possum who suggests swinging from a vine and lastly Crow who suggests making a set of wings.

After each of these suggestions fail to work the wise old Owl returns.  Frog feels utterly defeated. "Sad and tired, Frog perched on a branch in the middle of his pool. " Owl advises him to look again.  Frog looks into the water. At last he can be with the moon and the stars.  Sometimes the things we are looking for are much closer than we realise.

Frog finds a place is another book from our CBCA 2016 Notable list.

Here is a set of detailed teaching notes.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Here they come A day to remember by Jennet Cole-Adams and Judy Cauld illustrated by Warren Brown



Here they come - A day to remember is a perfect addition to our collection for ANZAC Day.  It is in the format of a big book and so not available for loan to our students but I know it will be used extensively by our teachers especially in the junior primary grades.

As this book opens we see Bert, an old man, sitting on his bed in his pyjamas.  His medals are already pinned to his jacket.  His photo sits on his bedside table showing Bert as a young man in the navy. Now flip to the last page. The Anzac day ceremony is over for another year.  Bert has caught up with his mate Stan. they are the only ones left from their mates who served at Kokoda.  Now Bert returns to his room.  He is holding a precious photo showing four very young sailors and his smile shows he is remembering.

On the second spread of this book we see a group of people standing beside a war memorial.  Each of these people feature in the following pages.  There is a child called Will who has come along with his dad.  Caitlyn a young soldier who served in Afghanistan. Roslyn, now an old lady, who remembers ANZAC day with her dad when she was a tiny girl. Col who remembers his companions from Vietnam - his medals feel heavy on his chest. Samir who has come to Australia as a refugee from Sudan.  Libby who stands with her little daughter.

"This part of the ceremony was always hard.  Thoughts of Luke crowded her mind.  Luke in his uniform, Luke at the beach, Luke cradling their baby girl.  Libby took a deep breath.  She was proud of Luke.  He loved being an army officer and he died serving his country. It was hard without him."

Here are the comprehensive teaching notes.