Thursday, April 24, 2014

The boy on the porch by Sharon Creech

"The young couple found the child asleep in an old cushioned chair on the front porch.  He was curled against a worn pillow, his feet bare and dusty, his clothes fashioned from rough linen.  They could not imagine where he had come from or how he had made his way to their small farmhouse on a dirt road far from town."

Take a close look at these opening sentences from The boy on the porch - a masterpiece of storytelling from one of my most favourite authors - Sharon Creech.

In this short paragraph the reader can discover so many things - some explicitly stated others implied.  This couple have no children of their own perhaps, this boy comes from far away and he is poor as are the young couple who are eking out a living on this remote farm.  They may be poor but there is love and comfort in their home. On the other side this paragraph there are so many questions.  Who is this young boy?  Where has he come from?  What might happen when he wakes up?  How will the young couple react?  Will his family every be found?  Does he even have a family?  What has happened in this past to this child?

This is another one of those wonderful books that I devoured in one sitting.  In 150 pages you will go on an emotional journey where some of the questions I have listed will be answered while others will remain a mystery.  I selected this book as my 600th review because I enjoyed it so much.  I am looking forward to putting this special book into the hands of a sensitive mature reader.

Marta and John are not sure what to do. They wait until the boy awakes only to discover he cannot speak. There is a note :

Plees taik kair of Jacob
He is a god good boy.
We will be bak wen we can.

This note gives the child a name but it also raises more questions and anxieties.  When will these people return?  Who are they?  Why have they abandoned their child? Should John and Marta tell the authorities?

"When no one came for the boy by nightfall, John and Martha fashioned a small bed beside their own.  Marta fashioned a small bed beside their own. Marta offered the boy one of John's softest shirts to sleep in and set out a basin of warm water and soap for him to wash with.  She tucked him into the bed, patted his arm and hummed a few bars of an old, half-forgotten lullaby, softly, for she was embarrassed that John might hear her and think her foolish.  As she stood to go, the boy reached up and tapped her arm five or six times, in that funny way he did, always tapping lightly on surfaces ... his touch startled her, and she nearly wept, so grateful was she for the gesture."

On Sharon's web site you can read about the inspiration for this story, you can hear the author read the first chapter and you can click on a sample of the text to read it yourself.  I recommend you do all these things now!  Here is a video of Sharon reading the book so you can even see what she looks like.

This book reminded me of The Stranger by Chris van Allsburg and Ruby Holler also by Sharon Creech.

Banjo and Ruby Red by Libby Gleeson illustrated by Freya Blackwood

Banjo is a chook dog and he takes his job very seriously.  I love the way Freya Blackwood, in Banjo and Ruby Red, captures his exuberance as he rounds up the recalcitrant chickens each evening.  "Except Ruby Red.  She sits on top of the woodheap and stares."

Her defiance seems to be a challenge for Banjo.  He perseveres, however, and eventually "Logs tumble. Sticks fly.  Ruby Red rises. Up, up, up, and then down into the chook shed, onto her perch."

One day Ruby Red goes missing.  Banjo goes for a long search through all the nooks and crannies of the farm and he finally locates her under the woolshed but she is hurt.  The reader might imagine she has been attacked by a fox or perhaps it is heat exhaustion.  It is at this point this lovely story takes a huge emotional leap.  Banjo gently "takes her in his mouth and carries her to his kennel."  This illustration reminded me of Fox by Margaret Wild (Fox is for a much older audience).

Look at the time change between the opening and closing end papers - dawn and dusk. For city kids it will be good to talk about words like woodheap, roost, chook shed, lambing shed and woolshed.  This book has been selected for our CBCA awards for 2014 and I think the youngest children will enjoy the warm heroism of Banjo and the onomatopoeic features of the text.  The feathers on the first page could be used for an art activity.

Here is the author web site and a page from the illustrator.

Other books about chickens (we have over 60) which are favourites in our school library include :
Albert and Lila by Ratik Schami
Bear and Chook by the sea by Lisa Shanahan
Bob by Tracey Campbell
John Joe and the big hen by Martin Waddell
Kip by Christina Booth
Louise, the adventures of a chicken by Kate DiCamillo
Peggy by Anna Walker
Queenie the Bantam by Bob Graham
Something wonderful by Jenny Nimmo
Wendy by Gus Gordon

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Three times lucky by Sheila Turnage

The plot of Three Times Lucky is so complicated (and so rewarding) I am not going to say too much here. If you want to read every detail here is a long review.

I liked this book so much because Mo (Miss Moses LoBeau) is such a feisty, determined and loyal young girl.  She has her own life problems such as her ongoing search for her mother and the mystery of her arrival at Tupelo Landing but she is also determined to protect the people who love her especially when a murderer is on the loose.

"Trouble cruised into Tupelo Landing at exactly seven minutes past noon on Wednesday, the third of June, flashing a gold badge and driving a Chevy Impala the color of dirt.  Almost before the dust had settled, Mr Jesse turned up dead and life in Tupelo Landing turned upside down.  As far as I know, nobody expected it."

Here is a detailed review by Anita Silvey.  Here is a treat - you can see other possible covers by Gilbert Ford.  Finally here is an interview with the author.

If you enjoy books with strong characters you might also enjoy Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo and When you reach me by Rebecca Stead.

Song for the Scarlet Runner by Julie Hunt

The writing talent of Julie Hunt is certainly diverse.  She is the author of the CBCA award winning book The Coat and now we have this incredible fantasy Song for a scarlet Runner which is set in a world so beautifully crafted you will feel every bump in the road and every sound in the marshes. This title is certainly deserving of a place in the CBCA short list for 2014.

Julie Hunt takes a few pages to gently introduce the main character Peat and her sister Marlie who live an isolated life tending a small herd of cows their only visitor an aged relative who calls once a month with supplies. The Overhang, where the girls live, is between three roads - one to the Badlands, one into the marshes and one to Skerrick.

"I would never have wanted to live in Skerrick even if I had been allowed to, but Marlie would have gone back and lived there the next day if she could. She'd been born there - well we both had, but she'd lived there for six years, and I'd only been there for a day."

As the girls anxiously await the visit of Wim, a stranger arrives. His language and appearance are foreign and he seems to have some power over their animals.  Marlie is suspicious but Peat is curious.  He does not stay long and when he passes by again he does not stop. It is clear he has been beaten.  Shortly after this Wim finally arrives but she has bad news.  The stranger has infected the people of Skerrick with a deadly disease and their leader (estranged father of Peat and Marlie) is out for revenge.  This means Peat must flee her home and the only security she has ever know. With two of the paths blocked she heads to the Badlands then later to the marshes and to a destiny she could never imagine. Along the way she will make friends with some remarkable people and animals including the Sleek you see on the front cover.

Here is a short video trailer. Here are some teaching notes.  You might like to dip into the author web site. If you need to read more of the plot here is a detailed review.  Here is an interview with Julie Hunt.

If you enjoy Song for a Scarlet Runner you should also look for the Little Fur books by Isobel Carmody, Wildwood by Colin Meloy, The Stonekeeper's daughter by Linda McNabb or Tajore Arkle by Jackie French. All of these have a similar sense of place, survival, trust and friendship.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

King Pig by Nick Bland

The most interesting character in King Pig has no name and almost no voice. If you look very closely you will see the tip of his little jester hat just above the grass as he walks behind his King.  On the next page we see a little more of the King with his sheep crook and a tiny corner of the page you can see that same hat some distance back from the King who is approaching his castle.  On the first page all is revealed.  The King has forced his subjects - the sheep - to make  a bridge from planks strapped to their backs.  This servitude combined with the haughty demeanor of King Pig himself certainly sets the tone and relationship between King Pig and his subjects - the sheep.  Our tiny hero is also a sheep but he will be allowed to enter the castle contrary to the sign above the castle door.

Once inside our faithful little friend prepares a delicious hot dog lunch for his master but King Pig is far more interested in those sheep who never seem to listen and worse who seem to make fun of him.  King Pig is a bully so he commands the sheep to wash his castle in the middle of the night "but he just couldn't make them like him."

Just like the Emperor in the famous fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen, King Pig decides he needs new and fancier clothes. Again it is the middle of the night but he summons the sheep and puts them to work dyeing and knitting the new fancy clothes.  Yes the new outfits are indeed spectacular but still his subjects are not impressed.  "What do I have to do to make you like me!"

King Pig does feel remorse but the ending is certainly open to further discussion.  Make sure you take time to notice the hats, the topiary trees outside the castle, the tent used as a shelter by the freezing sheep and the television antenna on top of the castle.

Here are some teaching notes.  You might also discuss the double meaning in the title.  Here is a detailed review.  This book has been short listed for our CBCA Awards for 2014.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Swap by Jan Ormerod illustrated by Andrew Joyner

Caroline Crocodile is jealous of her new baby brother.  He seems to get all the attention she craves from Mama Crocodile.  What can Caroline do?  On a shopping trip to return a newly purchased hat Caroline sees a solution to her problem.  There is a baby shop in the street.  Why not swap this brother for a different one?

"This baby brother is not exactly what I want,' she said. 'It's smelly and it dribbles, it's no fun, and it takes up all the room on my mama's lap.  I want to swap it for one that is just right."

While The Swap is not a new story and perhaps not even a very surprising one it is told with such joy and the illustrations are so much fun.  I do hope this book wins an award from the CBCA for 2014.

Make sure you go back and look at all the little extras such as number plates, the photos in the house, the sale sign outside the bookshop, the mouse and his motorcycle and the way mama's new hat exactly matches Caroline's pretty yellow dress.

After reading The Swap you might also enjoy some other books about new babies, siblings and jealousy such as  The very worst Monster by Pat Hutchins, Another Brother by Mathew Cordell, Noisy Nora by Rosemary Wells, Rosie and Tortoise by Margaret Wild or Julius the Baby of the world by Kevin Henkes.

You might like to read this review by Louise Pfanner or this one from The Bottom Shelf.

ANZAC Day - a book list

ANZAC Day is commemorated next week and in our school students prepare and present a moving service each year.  We have so many excellent books suitable for all ages in our library which allow students to gain some understanding of the events surrounding World War I and II along with other more recent conflicts. Some focus on individuals, others on major events such as the landing at Gallipoli while others explore courage and heroism.  I have included a little quote from each book to give you an idea of the tone and content.

My Grandad Marches on ANZAC day by Catriona Hoy and Benjamin Johnson
"He wears his best jacket and has shiny medals on his chest.  He doesn't have much hair on his head but he does have a big moustache."

Only a Donkey by Celeste Walters illustrated by Patricia Mullins
"I was a donkey who served in a war that was fought long ago in a place far away, and many young soldiers who fell would have died, except for one man who just followed his heart.  At the sound of his voice I was willingly led.  With his hand on my halter, sure-footed I trod."

The Bantam and the solider by Jennifer Beck illustrated by Robyn Belton
"Food became scarce, and Arthur and his companions collected grubs and worms for Bertha from the muddy banks of their clay prison.  And she rewarded them.  In the midst of a raging battle, when the sky was crisscrossed with fire, Bertha laid a warm brown egg.  When Arthur found it, he hugged the little bantam to his mud-caked jacket."

Gallipoli by Kerry Greenwood illustrated by Annie White
"The ANZACs had been at Gallipoli for months now.  The weather was hot, and they were sweaty and dirty. Insects bit them day and night.  Sometimes they got letters and presents from home. Bluey opened a parcel wrapped in brown paper with string. 'Fruit cake and tins of apricot jam!"

The house was built in a day Anzac cottage by Valerie Everett illustrated by Barbara McGuire
"A proud community gazed upon its achievement. On a street in their suburb stood Western Australia's first Gallipoli memorial, a house that could never be sold.  The Australians who fought and died would live on in their hearts and memories..."

ANZAC Biscuits by Phil Cummings illustrated by Owen Swan
"The farm was quiet.  Rachel and her mother were in the kitchen.  The fire crackled and Rachel was warm.  'Let's make some biscuits for Dad,' her mother said.  'Yes, let's!' Rachel cried."

"Snow was falling.  The solider turned his back to the bitter cold. He lifted his collar and lowered his unshaven face to feel the warmth of his own breath."

In Flanders Fields by Norman Jorgensen and Brian Harrison-Lever
"A brightly coloured robin is trapped.  One wing is flapping helplessly. The bird is unable to free itself from the tangle of deadly barbs."

Photographs in the mud by Dianne Wolfer illustrated by Brian Harrison-Lever
"Hoshi and Jack stared into each other's eyes. Then Hoshi rolled closer, groaning with the effort.  Scalding pain burned across his chest as he held out the picture."

Present from the past by Jennifer Beck illustrated by Lindy Fisher
"Princess Mary, who was the only daughter of the King and Queen of England at the time, decided that she wanted to give a special present to all the allied troops serving overseas."

Anzac Day parade by Glenda Kane and Lisa Allen
"Sixty years since he saw the battle when ninety-three mates got blown away by cracking mortar and machine gun rattle, now names on a plaque at the RSL."

The Red Poppy by David Hill illustrated by Fifi Colston
"Of course! The puppy would show they were near a patch of flowers. Jim put the flower into the pouch too, then looked into the dog's eyes.  'Hurry, Nipper.' The tail wagged again."

Lofty's mission by Krista Bell illustrated by David Miller
"Sorry, lad.' Frank McNamara was firm.  'The army needs top homing pigeons as messengers. Your Lofty, Number 371, is our best squeaker ... just what they need up in New Guinea."

Meet the ANZACS by Claire Saxby illustrated by Max Berry
"The ships docked at Cairo after six long weeks at sea.  The Australians and the New Zealanders set up camp side by side, close to the pyramids.  The air swirled hot and fierce, full of sand."

Lone Pine by Susie Brown and Margaret Warner illustrated by Sebastian Ciaffaglione
"The soldier looks down.  He stoops and plucks a pine cone that is still clinging to a branch.  Holding it up, he breathes in the fresh clean scent of pine. He thinks of his mother's garden where he used to play with his brothers.  The soldier slips the pine cone into his pocket.  It is a reminder of this sad day."

Do not forget Australia by Sally Murphy illustrated by Sonia Kretschmar
"Billy tried to imagine what it would be like to have your home destroyed, or to have no school to go to every day. And he wondered if there was anything he could do to help the kids of Villers-Bretonneux."

Memorial by Gary Crew illustrated by Shaun Tan
"But the tree's a memorial,' I say. 'The same as the statue - except the tree's alive and the statue's just rock and concrete. And the tree's full of birds and fruit bats and possums. Whole families, like ours.  The council wouldn't cut the big tree down, would they, Old Pa?"

The Poppy by Andrew Plant
"The poppies nod in the winds that blow over the Somme.  Their petals turn the fields red where once they were stained with the blood of the fallen."

Harry and the Anzac Poppy by John Lockyer
"A small wooden box was on the floor beside the chair.  Harry picked it up.  'What's this, Grandma?' Grandma Kate ran her fingers over the scratched lid.  'Do you know anything about World War One?' she asked."

Simpson and his Donkey by Mark Greenwood illustrated by Frane Lessac
"Jack was responding to a cry for help when he came upon a donkey cowering in a gully of pines."

The Afghanistan pup by Mark Wilson
"The solider suddenly stopped.  Just where he was about to dig was a little dog. covered in sand.  The pup wasn't moving, so the solider brushed away the dirt and discovered wounds on its legs and side. He could see that the wounds were badly infected ... He wiped the dust from the pup's face before dripping some water from his canteen into the animal's mouth.  It was soon time to go, so the solider picked up the pup and carried it to his truck."

Vietnam Diary by Mark Wilson
"Jason sat bleary-eyed in his foxhole early one morning as the sun burst through the trees.  But something wasn't right.  There was no noise.  Then suddenly, explosions erupted throughout the camp."

The Anzac puppy by Peter Millet illustrated by Trish Bowles
You might like to read my review.

A day to remember by Jackie French illustrated by Mark Wilson
You might like to read my review.

I was only Nineteen by John Schumann illustrated by Craig Smith
"Townsville lined the footpath as we marched down to the quay. This clipping from the paper shows us young and strong and clean. And there's me in my slouch hat, with my SLR and greens. God help me, I was only nineteen."

Christmas in the Trenches by John McCutcheon illustrated by Henri Sorensen
You can read the lyrics here.  This book is one of my favourites.

Why are they marching, Daddy?  by Di Burke
Madi is watching the parade with her father. "Why are they marching, Daddy?" she asks. Madi's father tells his daughter the story of Anzac.  He talks about war too: "Is war bad?" asks Madi... Daddy answers by talking about the good and bad. The reasons and the consequences. He talks about freedom. This little book addresses the big issues simply and clearly. It's a great book to talk about what we are commemorating on the 25th April every year.

The Fair Dinkum war by David Cox
"Everybody had air-raid shelters at home, too.  Some were just trenches, like our, that filled with water when it rained.  But some kids had air-raid shelters they could boast about, with cups and plates and cupboards full of canned food that would last for weeks."

What was the war like, Grandma? by Rachel Tonkin
"There were posters pasted up warning of spies. Some people were so frightened they thought there were spies everywhere.  Albie Sodablom from the petrol station was beaten up because his name sounded foreign.  He changed it to Albie Blom.  Our family doctor, Dr Danzeigre screwed a new brass plate to the wall outside his surgery saying 'Dr C Danbyy' in case people turned against him too."

Click here to read more details from My Little Bookcase blog.