Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Sea-Breeze Hotel by Marcia Vaughan illustrated by Patricia Mullins

Picture Book Month - a celebration of some picture book gems




The Sea-Breeze Hotel was first published in 1991 and so it has been long out of print which is sad because this book is a true picture book gem.  The story and illustrations (by the amazing Patrica Mullins) are simply a joyous celebration of a community coming together through the magic of kite flying.

The Sea-Breeze hotel is empty.  No one comes to stay on the cliff overlooking Blow-me-Down Bay. With no guests the hotel may have to close.  This is a huge problem for Sam, who lives with his Grandad Henry - the hotel handyman along with the owner Mrs Pearson and the housekeeper Hilda. Sam has a brilliant idea. He makes a kite.  It flies so beautifully that everyone joins in a makes a kite of their own.  Hilda makes a butterfly kite, Henry builds a box kite and Sam makes a dragon kite for himself. "People began to notice the four kites circling and soaring in the sky above the Sea-Breeze Hotel."  Perhaps the ending is predictable - well you need to read this special picture book to find out.

You can see many of the collage illustrations from this book here.

Are there other books you could link with The Sea-Breeze Hotel?
I would grab hold of The Tiny kite of Eddie Wing by Maxine Trottier.  This book is another wonderful celebration of community life and kites too of course.  This is also the perfect excuse to find all the kite making books in the library and also to experiment with the tissue paper collage which Patricia Mullins uses in her books.

Nothing by Mick Inkpen

Picture Book month - a Celebration of some picture book gems

"But instead he found himself shuddering and shaking, as great uncontrollable sobs quivered up his little raggedy body, and sat him on the ground.  
'I don't know who I am!' he howled.  I don't know who I am!"

A little toy is lying neglected in a dusty attic.  On moving day he is tossed aside as the attic is cleared and he hears someone say "Oh its nothing .... let the new people get rid of it."   Now that the pile of junk has been moved little Nothing can stretch and stand.  He takes his first steps and embarks on a journey of self discovery.  Along the way he meets different characters - a mouse who is the voice of doom, a fox who may be an enemy but luckily Nothing cannot be eaten and finally a cat named Toby who is destined to play the role of a true friend.

There are times when a book feels like a window to your soul. I may be going too deeply but this simple search for identity and a name does seem to mirror the journey we all take throughout our lives.  I adore the work of Mick Inkpen (I heard him speak once at a conference and yes this is his real name!) and I especially love this little book Nothing.  You may already know his books about Kipper.

In US schools celebrations for Picture Book Month are well underway so I decided to browse my school library picture book shelves and, without spending hours, pick out 20 special picture books. No doubt if I did this again I would make a different selection but I am happy with my twenty books for this year.  I did plan to read one each day at the end of lunch time but so far we haven't managed this so I thought I might focus on my choices here in my blog.

Why did I pick Nothing by Mick Inkpen?
Essentially this is a book about identity.  It is a sensitive story and includes a heroic character - the cat who takes Nothing to his new home.  I love the narrative arc and the affirming ending where we see little Nothing restored to his former glory.

Are there other books you might link with Nothing?
The perfect match with Nothing would be The Bunyip of Berkley's creek by Jenny Wagner. Other possible books are Hidden House by Martin Waddell and Albert Le Blanc by Nick Butterworth who coincidentally is a good friend of Mick Ingpen.

Something special
As I sat down to re-read Nothing tonight I discovered our old copy has an autograph by Deborah Inkpen the wife of Mick Inkpen.  I wonder how that happened?  This book was purchased over twenty years ago so I guess I will never know how our copy came to be signed.





Sunday, November 16, 2014

The ANZACS 100 Years on in story and song by Ted Egan


I rarely review books like this - Non Fiction - but this is such a special and important volume.  2014 marks the Centenary WWI and next year Australians will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the ANZAC landing at Gallipoli.

The ANZACS 100 Years on in story and song has 158 pages and is probably best read by adults and teachers but I am mentioning it because it is such a fabulous resource.  The accompanying CD has fourteen tracks interspersed with commentary by a soldier who survived WWI.  Jack (John Leslie Nicholson) was born in 1894 and died in 1986.  The contents of this book and CD are organised in chronological order and so between each section Jack recalls his experiences in a way which is so poignant. Chapter 12 of the book briefly relates some details of Jack's life and war experiences. Listening to Jack should help our students make a connection to this important period of world history.  The choice of songs and beautiful recordings are also worth mentioning.

I cannot do justice to this whole book so I would like to focus on one song which touched my heart - A song for Grace.  Here is the third verse :

When the telegram came, my mother collapsed, and I had
The terrible task of breaking the news to my Dad.
With our old draught-horse, Punch, my father was ploughing the land
[When] I ran to the paddock, the telegram clutched in my hand.

The Irishman read it, said: 'Thank you, now leave me alone,
'Go on back to the house, help your mother, she's there on her own'
He called: 'Stand up, Punch; we have to get on with this job'
But I saw his slumped shoulders, and I heard his heart-rending sob.


I don't normally tell my readers where to buy books but I do highly recommend this one for all school libraries so here are the publisher details.  You can read more about Ted Egan here.

Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L Holm

I am putting a little image here of Babymouse because I can hardly believe this but Turtle in Paradise is by Jennifer Holm who also wrote the Babymouse series.

Turtle in Paradise feels like a book from a completely different author. The setting here, for this middle to upper primary novel, is Key West in Florida.  The date is June 1935 and America is in the grip of the depression.  Poverty and hardship pervade life of the characters in this book and it is precisely because of this poverty that Turtle finds herself living away from her mother with her harassed and overworked aunt and boisterous collection of boy cousins.  "Truth is the place looks like a broken chair that's been left out in the sun to rot."

Key West is a tiny community where everyone knows everyone else and nearly everyone is related. Within hours of her arrival everyone knows about Turtle and they know her mum is far away working as a maid.  Aunt Minnie has no time for the new arrival.  "This is just like Sadiebelle.  She never thinks.  As if I don;t have enough already with three kids and a husband who's never home ... And you bought a cat?"

The three kids are named Kermit, Beans and Buddy.  Along with their friend Pork Chop these boys are The Diaper Gang - they mind crying babies and change diapers in exchange for candy.  Turtle is not allowed to join this gang because girls are not allowed but she tags along.  What these boys don't know yet is that Turtle is a strong willed and very capable.  She has no interest in Shirley Temple but she does have a huge dream of a special house to share with her mum.  Along with her aunt and cousins, two other important people live at Key West - Turtle's angry grandmother Nana Philly and an old fisherman called Slow Poke.  Within weeks of her arrival Turtle has a job and she has begun to forge a relationship with her cantankerous grandmother.

Here is a flavour of the story - a description of a cut up :

"After we finish swimming, we have a cut-up.  A cut-up is something these Conch kids do every chance they get. Each kid brings whatever they can find lying around or hanging on a tree - sugar apple, banana, mango, pineapple, alligator pear (avocado), guava, cooked potatoes and even raw onions.  They take a big bowl, cut it all up, and season it with Old Sour, which is made form key lime juice, salt and hot peppers.  Then they pass it around with a fork and everyone takes a bite.  It's the strangest fruit salad I've ever had, but it's tasty."

There are only 177 pages in this book but it contains so many fabulous twists and turns you will find yourself spinning and smiling and definitely cheering for our special heroine Turtle.

My only real disappointment with this book comes from never really discovering why Turtle is called Turtle although I think I can make an educated guess.  Here is a good review and if I haven't convinced you that this is a terrific book here is another very detailed review from Jen Robinson.

You might also enjoy Waiting for Normal.

Turtle in Paradise won a Newbery honor (2010) so there are lots of book trailers - here is one that I like.  Here is a set of questions and a vocabulary list. One of the interesting ways I have already used this book was at a parent talk last week.  I think I convinced some of my audience that I had actually been to Florida - I love this aspect of reading when you feel as though you have really been a participant in a book long after you have finished reading.

Sable by Karen Hesse illustrated by Marcia Sewall

"She was all the dog I ever wanted, dark brown except for a blaze of white on her chest and the tip of her tail.  Even with brambles stuck in her dusty fur, there had never been a more perfect dog."

"Sable smelled like dried leaves, and dust, and pine trees. Her warm breath tickled inside my ear.  ... holding her face between my hands ... 'Sable,' I whispered.  For the first time she looked straight at me.  Her eyes shone like chocolate melting in the pan, all liquid and warm and sweet."

I wanted to begin this entry about Sable with these two quotes so you could appreciate the beauty of this writing. If you love dogs then this is a perfect book.


A dog appears on Tate's doorstep.  Tate names her Sable but her mother has a strong fear of dogs and will not allow this one to stay especially when Sable starts 'taking' things from the neighbours.  Sable is banished to a far off property but when Tate arrives weeks later to rescue her, Sable has disappeared.  Yes the ending is predictable but this story telling is so exquisite you just want to keep reading and reading.

You might also enjoy Shiloh, One dog and his boy and  How to steal a dog,   You should also look for Lavender by Karen Hesse.



Sunday, November 9, 2014

Rattlebang picnic by Margaret Mahy illustrated by Steven Kellog

It is picture book month and so we are celebrating in our own way with a selection of special picture books.

The Rattlebang Picnic is a wonderful story of ingenuity and family life by master storyteller Margaret Mahy.  Can you begin to guess the location of this picnic :

"It was a beautiful morning.  A plume of pure white cloud floated around the top of the mountain.  The old rattlebang struggled up the winding,rocky road - bumping and banging and backfiring - then stoppped right beside the hot springs."

The McTavish parents have discussed things.  Jack McTavish explains they can either have a wonderful speedy car or lots of children but not both. They decide to have a few children and an old car.  "So the McTavishes had seven children and drove an old rattlebang."

Luckily Granny makes a pizza for the picnic and luckily Granny is not a very good cook.  The pizza will save the day in a most surprising way.

I love exploring all the books in our library by Margaret Mahy.  Her picture books are all gems. This book makes a terrific read-aloud and lends itself to an exploration of our books about volcanoes.

Over November we are featuring one picture book each day.  I will explore some of our week one choices over the next few blog entries.


Temmi and the flying bears by Stephen Elboz


Temmi and the Flying bears is long out of print but you may find a copy in your school library. Luckily, even though our copy is very old, the original printing was on lovely white paper of a good quality and so this book has not turned 'yellow' as have so many of our older paperback books.

Temmi and the Flying bears is a book I first read in 1998 and ever since it is a title I recommend to our Grade 3 and 4 students who like a fantasy story.  Last night I thought it was probably time to revisit this book just to check my memory of the plot and storytelling.  This little book did not disappoint.  Temmi and the flying bears is a terrific fantasy adventure.  It is very short at only 126 pages and has quite large printing so it is perfect for younger readers who are just beginning to develop their reading stamina.

Temmi lives near a colony of flying bears.  He has a very special relationship with them and especially with Cush the last cub born that season.  One day some soldiers arrive from the queen. They have been commanded to capture a bear for the princess.  Temmi is distraught.  He must save his precious bears.  The soliders surround the village with fierce wolves.  By the time Temmi reaches the distant forest Pasha, the mother of Cush, lies dead on the snow.  Temmi is determined to save Cush and so he follows the men and their evil leader Tin Nose.  In the skirmish Cush is injured and so Temmi is allowed to travel with the group to the castle of the white witch.

"The castle was a jewel set in gardens of perfect snow, and was quite unlike any building he had every seen before - or any building he had ever imagined possible.  Built entirely from a single block of ice, it resembled a gigantic quartz crystal - that is to say, like an explosion of water that instantly freezes."

Haggoth, Witch-Queen of the High Witchlands, is dying.  Cush is a gift for her spoilt daughter Princess Agna.  Temmi needs to befriend this cold girl so he can secure freedom for himself and Cush.  He can not know that an odd group of dwarfs will become is truest allies.  My favourite scene comes as our band of brave friends flee the castle.  The covering of snow means they can be easily seen so Agna summons a herd of reindeer who surround them as they cross the open field.

I am very happy to keep recommending Temmi and the Flying bears to my students.  There is a sequel called Temmi and the frost dragon and here is a little video of Stephen Elboz talking about another of his books. Listen to an audio sample from the book here.