Saturday, October 3, 2015

Sister Heart by Sally Morgan

Just by chance here is another verse novel.  I read this last week before reading The Crazy Man.  Sister Heart and The Crazy man do not have a lot in common on one level - one is set in Canada in 1965 and the other in Australia between 1905 and 1970.  On an emotional level, though, both are such important stories.

Sally Morgan herself says complex topics such as the Stolen Generation can be more deeply explained through a personal narrative. In this book we meet a little girl who has been named Annie.  We never discover her true name or learn where she is from. As the book opens Annie has been taken away from her mother and family. She travels over many days by ship and is placed in institutional care.  It is here that Annie makes an important friend.  A girl of the same age called Janey who befriends Annie and helps her to cope with her loss, bewilderment and the brutality of the care in this place which is now her home.

One of the best parts of this book is when Annie and Janey are able to wander away from the care home to a nearby creek.

The bush nearby smells damp
Birds swoop
call out
make nests

Annie's brother Tim gives her a laughing stone.

If ya feel sad
squeeze the stone
and laugh
Only don't laugh in school!

Here is a set of very detailed teaching notes.  This book should be considered as essential reading for a senior primary grade.  It could be used along side the book and movie of The Rabbit Proof Fence and The Burnt Stick.

You can read an interview with Sally Morgan here.  You should also listen to this Radio National interview.  It goes for about 14 minutes but is worth spending the time to listen right to the end.

I will make another of my bold predictions and say this book will surely be short listed for the CBCA prize in 2016.  Once it is available in paperback I plan to add a class set of this book to our library.

Here is a selection of other books on this topic which you might explore

The crazy man by Pamela Porter

In 2012 I visited one of my favourite book shops - Woozles in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.  While I was there (this was my second visit) the manager recommended The Crazy Man because it is an award winning Canadian book and because we had been talking about verse novels.

The Crazy Man is a wonderful verse novel - and if you have been reading my blog you will know I adore this format - they are always such powerful narratives.

The Crazy Man was first published in 2005 but my edition is from 2011.  This book is not in our school library but you might be lucky and find it in a high school or public library collection here in Australia - I hope so.

The book opens with a terrible farm accident.  Emmie is very badly hurt.  Her dad blames himself but takes his anger out on their dog Prince.  "... my daddy tied Prince up to the tractor shed and shot him with his hunting rifle."

The only visitor to the hospital is her grade six teacher Miss Tollofsen.

"She got out of her car with a fist full
of lilac flowers, and I found out
we had something in common.

Mum put them in a glass of water
and I got to smell them.  Dark purple ones
and light purple ones, Some still
     tight little buds.
Even some white ones, and they all
smelled a little different.

She bought the whole spring day inside
when she did that."

With her Daddy gone, Emmie and her mum need help on their farm.  It is planting time.  Nearby there is a hospital - a mental institution.  The year is 1965 and the air is thick with prejudice and gossip.  This is a book about healing and acceptance.  Amos, who comes to help on the farm, is healed and so is Emmie.  The people in this small town also learn a little about acceptance of difference.

Listen to Pamela talking about her book and reading an extract.  Here is a detailed review.

If you enjoy The Crazy Man you should also read Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse and Love that dog by Sharon Creech.  You might also look for A corner of the Universe by Ann Martin.

I will finish off with another quote so you can get a sense of the power of this writing.  In this scene Emmie has gone to Souris pool.

"Once I was in, I moved like a fish,
    kicking and squirming,
no heavy shoe to lug around. I turned 
in the water.  I floated on my back
and raced underwater,
like nothing had happened
to change me forever."

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Solo by Paul Geraghty

I recently reviewed Seagull by Danny Snell .  Solo would make a good partner for this text.  Here we follow a pair of emperor penguins and the arrival of their chick, Solo.  It begins as a gentle story of survival in an extreme environment.

The tone of this story takes a severe downturn when the father penguin Fin, fails to return.  He is bringing food for his partner Floe and baby Solo.   Floe herself has made this journey over the previous months as Fin kept their egg warm.

Survival instincts kick in and Floe is forced to leave little Solo behind.  "Solo tried to follow, but she couldn't keep up. She waited quietly for a while, but then she cried out from the cold."  This scene and the following pages may break your heart. The ending is bitter sweet.  Yes Solo finds her mother and is reunited with her father but the final image of the little family shows their will be ongoing struggles - human made struggles - for this intrepid family.

You can see a full list of wonderful books by Paul Geraghty here.  You can see some terrific art inspired by this book.  This book should be added to your study of the environment with a young class.

Monday, September 21, 2015

The case of the weird blue chicken by Doreen Cronin illustrated by Kevin Cornell

This is the second madcap adventure by the Chicken Squad and I must confess I missed the first (yes it is in our school library) but it did not seem to matter I quickly fell into the workings of the squad and their riotous exploits.

The squad consists of four odd ball chicks named :


You lost it.
We'll find it.
You broke it?
We'll fix it.
In trouble?
We'll get you out.
Looking for trouble?
We'll bring it to you.

A tiny blue bird shows up at the chicken coop with a problem.  Someone has kidnapped her house. This is the perfect case for our squad.  You can read more about this adventure when you click the Kirkus link below :

Please take a minute to listen to this little audio sample - it is perfect!  This book might work well as readers theatre or adapted as a play with your class.  If you have not read any other books by Doreen Cronin look in our library.  I love reading Vote for Duck each year to our grade six students when they are talking about government.  This same book is called Duck for President in the US.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Newspaper hats by Phil Cummings illustrated by Owen Swan

Don't rush to open Newspaper Hats.  Take your time. Explore the collage end papers first where you will see headlines through the decades.  Some are tragic such as the Challenger disaster and some heroic - the conquer of Mount Everest.  Some will make you smile - Nelson Mandela free and some are nostalgic - The groovy ladybird portable record player.  Most importantly these clippings help establish the mood of a long life filled with memories.

Wait a minute - don't rush into this book.  Next stop is the dedication statement.  Have you ever noticed these?  Phil Cummings dedicates this deeply personal and fragile story to his Nanna Luce and "our newspaper hats".  I don't know for certain but this makes me think Phil made hats with his own Nanna.

Hold on a little longer.  Go and find a copy of Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge because after reading Newspaper Hats I want you to share this book with a young reader too.

Each week I visit two special older people in a care home.  Both still have strong memories but around them I see people like Georgie's Grandpa and I understand her repeated concern :

"Grandpa,' said Georgie, 'do you remember me?"
"But do you remember me?"
"But Grandpa, do you remember me?"

Oh so gently Phil Cummings takes us into Grandpa's room and his memories.  His room is full of sunshine and old newspapers.  The newspapers are perfect for making newspaper hats.  Sharing this moment between the three generations it does not matter if Grandpa doesn't know Georgie.  The moment is all that matters - this time together is what really counts.

One of the most special images in this book for me comes from the opening line :

"Georgie walked through the doors that opened like curtains."

I have been a Phil Cummings fan for a long time.  Many decades ago he visited my rural school and shared his first books - Goodness Gracious, Midge mum and the neighbours and Marty and Mei Ling all of which are still in my school library and all of which are still used each year. Phil was once a primary teacher and so his visit was perfect for my youngest students.  Now all these years later Phil has published more than forty books.

Here is the web site for the illustrator.  His work can be seen in Anzac Biscuits also by Phil Cummings and you can read more about this wonderful book here.  You can read a review of Newspaper Hats from Reading Time.

Here is a simple video which will show you how to make a slightly more complex newspaper hats. Finally I am going to make another of my wild predictions and say surely this book will be short listed by the CBCA for the 2016 awards - fingers crossed for Phil.

Pig and Small by Alex Latimer

One morning Pig wakes up with a squeak.  His nose is squeaking!  It squeaks through all his daily activities including bath time so pig "got, the big medical book down from his bookshelf and looked up Squeaky Nose Syndrome."  He finds a long list of squeaky syndromes but nothing about noses. Pig squints down to the end of his nose and sees a tiny bug waving and squeaking.

Pig knows the little bug wants to be his friend but their size differences will certainly make for some serious lessons.  They try bike riding (Bug can't assist much here on their tandem bike) and chess (Pig falls asleep because each move takes Bug so long). Bug makes a cake and knits matching jumpers. It seems all the activities they attempt have predictable outcomes.  "Pig and Bug were very sad.  They'd tried so hard to be friends, but it just wasn't working. So they said goodbye ..."  At that moment Pig sees a newspaper with an article about a movie entitled "The Pirate, the Ninja and the invisible dog."  He has at last found something they can do together.

Friendships are always about adjustments.  This odd pair of friends love the movie and then discover so many other things to enjoy together.   By the end of the story they are also ready to welcome a new friend too. And yes he is also very different.

Here is a web site for the author.  We have most of his books in our school library.

You might like to follow this book with Sylvia and Bird by Catherine Rayner which is also a joyous book about an unlikely friendship.  When I visited Edinburgh recently I found the main public library in the centre of the city which has huge and very special murals painted by Catherine Rayner.  I love her art work.

Sylvia is a dragon.  She is lonely and alone. Then one day she finds a little bird. Together they travel to the moon.  There is a catastrophe which will seal their friendship forever. This is a book for a very young child and I think it is one you will re-read many times.  I have so many picture books in this blog about friendship - just click the link on the sidebar or check out my pinterest list.  You can see two cover pictures here - which one do you like best?

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Our school fete by Louise Pfanner illustrated by Kim Gamble

I actually can't believe I haven't talked about this book in a previous post.  Our School Fete is actually about the fete held at my school.  With nearly 900 students our fete is a huge affair which involves our whole school community in months of preparations and of course one huge day of fun!

Today was the day for our school fete.  In the week leading up to this event we love to re-visit this special book Our School Fete by Louise Pfanner.  Louise was a parent in our school and she experienced many school fetes first hand.  I think this is why this book has such authenticity.  In past years Louise has visited our school to share her book and when it was published in 2004 our library hosted a magical book launch where we set the whole library up as a fete complete with meringue mice and helium balloons.

The story opens with Charlie, Shen and their grade five teacher Mrs Flowers as they start work on their class stall - The Haunted House. An added layer of fun for the students at my school is the discovery that Mrs Flowers, Mr Beard, all of the children and the librarian in this book are all modeled on real teachers.

In a lovely sequence we watch as the fete preparations count down from three weeks, to two weeks, to one week and finally the day of the actual fete.  The opening pages show the fete map (drawn by mum) which is a little worse for wear after languishing for a few weeks on the kitchen bench.  Look closely and you can see juice spills and cup stains along with fold lines.

Mum is so busy for the fete - she is making things for the cake stall, the dress up stall, the craft stall and the sweet stall .  She has also sent in a collection of old toys and other household items for the white elephant stall.  One of my favourite pages is on the morning of the fete when mum stands back to admire her lovely empty, clean house.

Meanwhile dad is "taking a long time" over his chutney and tomato sauce.  Growing the tomatoes, making the sauces, washing the jars and adding labels and little fabric hats.

There are so many visual jokes to enjoy in Our School Fete.  Compare the empty house page with the final spread.  "We no longer have a lovely, empty house, but mum can't complain because she bought: a rainbow rug for Baby, a mini trampoline for Ruby, a boules set, an ice-cream churn and a special present for Dad."

Louise Pfanner uses repeated phrases such as "Baby and Ruby are helping too."  while on each page we see Baby and Ruby are not helping at all.  Zoe and Kitty keep practicing their duet which they perform perfectly on fete day and haunted house is a huge success.

When you sit down with this book make sure you look for the purple elephant, the tennis ball, the different clothes the school kids wear each day and the purple toffee apple from the title page.  You can see some of the pages here.

You can see some photos from our fete today - Games Alley, lucky dip bags and a spider from our Haunted House. We had a special day made even better by the sharing of this very special book with over 450 students in our school last week.  A big thank you goes to Louise Pfanner for writing about our school fete!