Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Princess Smartypants and the missing princes by Babette Cole

I first read Princess Smartypants thirty years ago.  I loved it and gave a copy to a newly born young relative much to the consternation of her conservative grandfather.



I have always had the full set of Princess Smartypants books in our library along with so many other terrific titles by Babette Cole.

Sadly, just recently, we lost the wonderful Babette Cole.  Fortunately this new book was already published.  The format here is a junior novel with 130 pages and 8 chapters.



In this latest installment (more will follow this year) Princess Smartypants has a problem. Her friends Snowy (Snow White), Cindy (Cinderella) and Punzie (Rapunzel) arrive in a carriage.  They need a venue for their engagement party.  "Unfortunately, the princes (the girls were planning to marry) had very troublesome mothers who all wanted the official engagement party to be held at their own particular palace. The girls had decided to take the matter into their own hands..."

Princess Smartypants is given the guest list but one name is missing - Araminta Allspell.  Think of Sleeping Beauty and the consequences of rejecting the bad fairy.  On the night of the party the three princes fail to arrive. Princess Smartypants realises they have been taken by Araminta and so the chase begins.  Of course it all ends happily ever after!  Well sort of.

This is an easy reading little chapter book filled with recognizable fairy tale characters and madcap situations.  Good will triumph but only because Princess Smartypants uses her brain and problem solving power.

You might also enjoy The Tough Princess by Martin Waddell, The Birthday Ball by Lois Lowry and The Pea and the Princess by Mini Grey.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Lucy's book by Natalie Jane Prior illustrated by Cheryl Orsini




Before you read my book from today please take a look at The Lonely Book which is the perfect partner for Lucy's Book.



Lucy visits the public library and, from the huge book selection available, the librarian Mrs Bruce selects the perfect book.  Lucy reads it all day and night over and over again.  Tilly borrows it the next week and then Lucy borrows it the following week and discovers it is full of arrowroot crumbs. The book passes from hand to hand and is even returned to the school library by mistake. Along the way the book does suffer some rough treatment :

eaten by a baby
taken to the beach
splashed at the zoo
made into a banana sandwich
and much more



Then one day after "Lucy had shared her book with all her friends and learned it off by heart ... the next time she went to the library, her book was gone."

The family try to buy another copy, but like many precious and favourite books, it is now out of print. They can't even find a copy on the internet!

Yes there is a happy ending but I won't tell you how Lucy and her book are finally reunited.

Here is a set of questions you might use with this book.  We often talk with our youngest students about book care.  There is so much to discuss in Lucy's book and the soft pastel illustrations will make great discussion prompts.

I love the way Lucy shares her special love of this book with a variety of friends who also enjoy it.  I also love the librarian Mrs Bruce and her colourful inviting library. One funny moment for a Teacher Librarian is seeing how expensive the book becomes when Lucy finally tracks it down.  Last night I was looking to replace an old book in our library.  It is a paperback published over 25 years ago.  The only copies I found cost over $50.

Natalie Jane Prior has a beautiful web site.  She says this is where the idea came from :

Like anyone who’s ever worked on a circulation desk, I’d always wonder what happened to the books when they went out the door.



Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Captain Jimmy Cook discovers Third Grade by Kate and Jol Temple illustrated by Jon Foye





This book is not the greatest of literature but it will certainly be very popular with readers from Years 2-6 who like a quick moving story with plenty of laughs.

James Cook (known as Jimmy) is absolutely certain the real Captain James Cook is his ancestor. It is History Week and Jimmy is delighted.  He plans to keep a log (not a diary) just like Captain Cook, wear a tricorn hat at all times and win first prize in the Wheat Blocks competition.  First prize is a trip to Hawaii.  Jimmy is convinced James Cook is still alive but mum says :

"Try telling that to the Hawaiians.'  So I googled it.  Turned out Mum was right (which happens a little too much for my liking." Hawaiians did kill Captain Cook!"

Jimmy eats tons and tons of Wheat Blocks.  He is desperate to get to Hawaii so he can get his ancestor's expedition back on track.

Meanwhile mum cooks some wild stuff for dinner none of which is actually food according to Jimmy - Kim Chee (fermented stuff), preserved lemons and Kale.  Jimmy thinks Kale is a visitor and even sets an extra place at the dinner table.

"It's not that mum can't cook; Mum's a really good cook and she makes at least three things I like very much : 1. Sausages  2. Chops  3. Meatballs. The problem is she doesn't stick to what works."

I did enjoy the way the members of this third grade class are named - Casper N, Alice Toolie, Conrad and Lucas.  It is such a funny thing in schools the way some children have to be known by the initial of their surname.

I think adults might laugh at puns like YouTooTube and mePad.  Captain Jimmy Cook Discovers Third Grade is a title on our CBCA Notable list for 2017.  You can read more details about the plot here.

Take a small boy with a big imagination, a teensy bit obsessive and totally self involved and hilarity ensues.

What works so well is that we see the world through the eyes of a very unreliable narrator. Jimmy’s preconceptions and misconceptions are hilarious.


Monday, March 13, 2017

The girl who drank the moon by Kelly Barnhill

An epic coming-of-age fairy tale destined to be a modern classic.





If you only read one book this year - grab this one.  The writing and storytelling are breathtaking - no wonder it just won the Newbery Medal. I also love books about the subversive use of power.  In this case fear and sorrow are used to control the populace while the Elders enjoy rich food and status. This is also a story about destiny.  Babies are left in the forest each year to satisfy the witch, or so the villagers are told. But Xan, the witch, rescues the babies and takes them to another village.

"Xan took her time selecting the proper family for each child, making sure their characters and inclinations and sense of humour were a good match for the little life that she had cared for over the course of such a long journey. And the Star Children, as they were called, grew from happy infants to kind adolescents to gracious adults."

Xan rescues Luna but she accidentally fills her with moonlight and she also falls deeply in love with this tiny baby so instead of taking her to the village she takes her home.  Meanwhile Luna's mother is mad with grief and so she is locked in a high tower where the Sisters of the Star live.  Their leader is Sister Ignatia and she is truly evil but I won't tell you more.

You will need to set aside time to read this book.  It took me over a week partly because there are over 380 pages, partly because I kept gasping at the events in the story especially towards the end and partly because, while the rewards are great, this story does require some concentration. Reading just before bed was not the ideal time for this complex story.

You can hear the whole book here - eight hours of audio book.  Here is an interview with the author where the interviewer talks about the depth of the characters and the way you have to do so much thinking as you read this book as you untangle the motivations and connections between them.  I also recommend you read this review from the Nerdy Book Club.

Here are a few quotes from the text which I think demonstrate the beautiful craft of Kelly Barnhill:

"Luna's grandmother used to be bulbous and squat - all soft hugs and squishy cuddles. Now she was fragile and delicate and light - dry grasses wrapped in a crumbling paper that might fall apart in a gust of wind."

"A man with a scratched-up face and a swollen lower lip and bloody bald sports across his skull where his hair had been torn out in clumps met them at the door. ... his tongue went instinctively to the gap where a tooth had just recently been."

"There is magic in starlight, of course. This is well known. But because the light travels such a long distance, the magic in it is fragile ... it is enough to bless, but not too enmagic. Moonlight, however. That is a different story."

It is worth clicking on each of the quotes below to read the reviews and more plot details of this engrossing book.

After reading The girl who drank the moon I would look for Fire Girl, The Thickety (mature readers) and Dragon Keeper by Carole Wilkinson (and the sequels).  You might also like to try the trilogy by Anna Ciddor which begins with Runestone.

Replete with traditional motifs, this nontraditional fairy tale boasts sinister and endearing characters, magical elements, strong storytelling, and unleashed forces. Kirkus


Barnhill’s language is lyrical and reminiscent of traditional fairy tales, but ­never childish or stereotypical. She writes impressively from a variety of points of view, not only those of Luna and Xan, but also of Sister Ignatia and the ­mother who has lost her mind. Magic abounds, both beautiful and dangerous.  New York Times

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Blue sky, yellow kite by Janet A Holmes and Jonathan Bentley

Walking along the beach the other day I saw a family flying kites.  I stood still and watched the group for a long time.  There was a strong breeze but even the youngest child kept his kite in the air. Flying kites to me represents happiness and freedom.  It is an activity we want to share with others. Those brightly coloured scraps of paper or silk soaring high connected only by a string or two continue to fascinate us.



Take a close look at the way the title of this book Blue Sky Yellow Kite is presented.  Sky and Kite are in flowing italics just like swooping kites.  You can also see just how windy it is by the way Daisy's hair is billowing behind her.

Daisy sees a kite.  She runs towards it.  William is flying the kite.  He shows Daisy how to control the kite but ...

Daisy runs with the kite ...
She does not look back once ...

Having the kite all to herself does not give her happiness.  She hides the kite and she can't sleep. Finally Daisy returns the kite and draws the word sorry on the path to William's house.  This is the turning point in the story. William could keep his kite and never see Daisy again but Janet A Holmes let's us see a different possibility - forgiveness.  William brings a box over to Daisy and it is filled with fresh kite making materials.  Now they can fly a pair of yellow and red kites together.

I would pair this book with Miss Lily's fabulous Pink Feather Boa.  I mentioned the CBCA notables list last week.  Blue Sky Yellow Kite has made the Notable Picture book of the Year list. This book does deal with some big emotional issues of guilt and forgiveness but I wonder if it might be better on the Early Childhood list.  I would share this book with children in Years 1 and 2.

If you want to read more picture books about kite flying I suggest The Sea-Breeze hotel and The tiny Kite of Eddie Wing.  Here is an activity where you can make the kites for yourself and here is lesson you could use with a preschool or Kindergarten group.

The curious guide to things that aren't by John D Fixx and James F Fixx

I seem to be following a theme - here is a another quirky non fiction title filled with trivia and interesting facts.



The curious guide to things that aren't - what does this mean?  Keep reading and you will discover the subtitle says :

Things you can't always touch, see or hear - 
can you guess what they are?

This is an A to Z guide to those elusive but very real things that are all around us such as:

air
breath
cold

itch
joke
kiss

pain
quiet
reflection

x-ray
yesterday
zero

Each letter begins with a puzzle page.  Here is an example :

"This starts with the letter T.  This is always passing by, but you can't see it, stop it, or even slow it down.  When you are raking leaves, cleaning your room, or waiting for your birthday to arrive it creeps by slowly. But when you're happy or playing with friends, it flies by. .... it is measured with objects that hang on the wall, are worn on the wrist, or contained in a cell phone."

What is it?

One aspect of this book that I really loved is the way each explanation also contains usage of the word in sayings.

For TIME "you can 'save time' or 'waste time', or you can be 'ahead of time', or 'behind the times."

Here are some others I like :
"breath of fresh air"
"kiss it goodbye"
"a pain in the neck"
"at a loss for words"

You can read more about the author and listen to an interview here.  This might be another book you could use with a class exploring one letter each day and then creating you own list of things that aren't.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Who? What? When? Where? Why? and How? Answers to tricky questions by Charles Hope



I loved The weird and wonderful world of words also by Charles Hope.  Here is a new book with answers to a random set of tricky questions.

When I was young one of my favourite books was called the Every Child's answer book.  It also posed the 'big questions'.  Here are some of the expected and unexpected questions you will find in this new book :


  • Why don't fish die when lightning strikes the ocean?
  • Why does the wind blow?
  • How do giraffes drink?
  • Why is the sky blue?
  • Why does cutting onions make people cry?
  • How much are the elements in my body worth?
  • How many countries are there?
  • Where is up?
  • Why did Pluto stop being a planet?


This might be a good book to use with a class - you could explore one question each day and then use it as a springboard to other questions and research.

One attractive feature of this book is the way each question page is presented on a different colour. Beginning with yellow and working through all the hues right up to red and orange.