Sunday, August 17, 2014

Children's Book Council of Australia Winners for 2014

Friday 12 noon we all held our breath and crossed our fingers across my school as we waited to hear the 2014 CBCA winners.  It was exciting to hear the cheers as one of our favourites The Swap won the Picture book Early Childhood award.

In the days preceding the big announcement our classes had voted and The Swap was a resounding winner for our Grade One and Two students.  We were also pleased about Banjo and Ruby Red, an honour book in this same section.

Only a small handful of students have read the Younger Readers category winner A Very Unusual Pursuit. It can be difficult to tackle a long novel in our short library sessions but I enjoyed this one so much - it clearly stood out as a winner from the other short listed titles in this section. Our classes will enjoy extracts this week and we will purchase a small set for use with reading circles.

I told the whole school to listen for my screams if Silver Buttons didn't win! It didn't! But I held in my screams because this magical book did receive an honour in the Picture Book of the Year category.  The winner for this important section was Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan.  This is a book that needs to be read and then re-read.  You might like to compare Rules of Summer with the short stories in Tales from Outer Suburbia and the illustrations in What Miscellaneous abnormality is that? : a field guide. In fact looking at the whole body of work from Shaun Tan should allow you to make connections within and between his intriguing books.

Here is an excellent review of The Rules of Summer.  This one from Kirkus is also fabulous. Shaun Tan himself has several very informative and generous videos on his web site.  Shaun says :

... there are about 25 of these paintings,…together they form almost like a map of a particular kind of childhood experience which centres around the activities of these two boys, it’s a relationship that is both very friendly and caring but also antagonistic and towards the end of the book begins to disintegrate before finding some kind of redemption and coming together again. 

Here are some excellent teaching notes.

The slogan for Children's Book Week in Australia this year is 'Connect to Reading'.  We have a huge week of happenings planned including special lunch activities every day and creative thinking challenges for our Grade 3-6 students based around this slogan.   You can review all the winners and honour books here.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Herman's letter by Tom Percival

One of my favourite ways to discover new books is when they are recommended by the readers in my school library.  A few weeks ago we held our annual library Donate-a-book.  A big thank you to the generous parents who supported our library in this way. We have been able to add over 800 new books into our collection.

Among these books was Herman's letter and when it was returned earlier this week I asked the little girl and her mum if they had enjoyed it.  Their answer was a resounding YES!.  The mum then turned the pages and shared her favourite parts - both especially liked the 'real' letters that form part of this story.

This book shows the way illustrations beyond the text in the best picture books.  Think about these words - "They had great fun inventing their own games and they even had a secret club with a secret code and a TOP SECRET handshake."  Now I will tell you Herman is a large brown bear and Henry is a small, red raccoon.  I adore their handshake.

Life for these special friends is good until one day Henry moves away. Henry misses his friend and so he writes letters but sadly the letters only serve to make Herman feel jealous.  Herman does not write back to Henry until this important letter arrives :

"Dear Herman
I hope you are well.  I haven't received ANY of your letters.  There must be a problem with the post or something.
I miss you so much!
You're my best friend in the whole wide world.
Please say you'll come and visit me soon.
Love Henry"

Herman does write back but then he has a terrific idea - he will deliver the letter himself.  He embarks on a long and dangerous journey made even harder by the fact that it is now time for this bear to hibernate.  The twist at the end will make you smile.  Take time to watch the trailer made by the publisher.  Here is a set of teaching ideas.

If you enjoy Herman's letter then you should also look for Toot and Puddle Wish you were here by Holly Hobbie and Christmas Bear by Sal Murdocca.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Tua and the elephant by RP Harris illustrated by Taeeun Yoo

If you need to explain determination to a young child look no further than Tua and the elephant.  This is very special little novel which will introduce younger readers in a very authentic way to the culture of Thailand - the sights, sounds and smells.

Tua means peanut but Tua is not a peanut she is a brave little girl who shows enormous courage when she sees a small elephant is being very badly mistreated by some  opportunistic thieves. "These two ... were scruffy as sewer rats, beady eyed and sharp of tooth. Whiskers grew in sparse patches on their cheeks and chins like mildew. They were both shifty, but one was long and lean, and the other was squat and pudgy."

Woven into this story are many Thai words but these are not hard to work out from the context.  There is a glossary but I rarely referred to it.

Tua rescues the elephant whom she names Pohn Pohn which means double happiness. The difficulty is how do you hide an elephant especially when the aforementioned bad guys what this prize possession back.  Tua must use all her courage, commonsense and initiative to take Pohn Pohn on the long journey to an elephant refuge where she knows she will be safe.

Tua and the elephant is a fairly short novel at just 200 pages but there are moments when I simply gasped out loud hoping Tua could escape the two crazy elephant thieves.  In one scene near the end of the book Tua herself is tied up in the hammock where she is sleeping and kidnapped.  This time it is Pohn Pohn who comes to her rescue.

I will admit I might have walked past this little book in the shop if my friend and fellow Teacher-Librarian had not recommended it. Another reason why it is fun to shop for books with a friend. Here is a set of very comprehensive  teaching notes and here is a set of web links to extend your study of the setting and culture of Thailand.  Take a minute to watch this video trailer where you can see some of the illustrations from this book.

If you enjoy Tua and the Elephants I recommend you also look for Silk Umbrellas by Carolyn Marsden.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Wolfie by Emma Barnes illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark

Before you start to read Wolfie take a flip through the whole book and look at the illustrations by Emma Chichester Clark - they are brilliant.

Lucie wants a dog (how odd that I just read Invisible dog this week too) and so early on in the story her Uncle Joe brings her birthday present.

"Uncle Joe was standing on the doorstep.  But he was not alone. 'Hello!' boomed Uncle Joe. 'My, Lucie, how you've grown. And your hair is as read as ever, I see!'  
Lucie was not listening. She was staring at the animal that stood next to Uncle Joe.
It was BIG - bigger than Lucie.
It had pointed ears and sharp teeth.
It had a silvery coat and sweeping tail.
It had glinting eyes that looked straight at Lucie"

No one else seems to realise this is not a dog - it is a WOLF!  Lucie is a brave and practical girl and so she meets the wolf in the kitchen at midnight and discovers she can talk.   Her full name is Fang-that-Bites-Sharp-In-The -Forest but Lucie calls her Fang for short.  None of the adults notice Fang until one fateful day when Fang steps in to rescue a small child who has run onto the road.  The school authorities hear complaints about a wolf outside the school and so Lucie must find a way to protect her friend.  In a magical dream-like sequence she meets Silver Paw and he offers some advice in the form of a riddle :

"The task begins at your own front door
For answer follow your own right paw
Human knowledge is what you need
Written in the form that humans read."

An astute reader will know what this means long before Lucie.  Her neighbour is an old professor.  Lucie assumes HE is old and eccentric.  She is wrong on both counts but I will leave this for you to discover.

You might like to read this review or this one.  Here is a web site for the author.  We have 92 stories in our school library that feature wolves.  Wolfie might be a great way to begin your exploration of this theme.

Monday, July 7, 2014

I was a third grade spy by Mary Jane Auch

It is not often that I tell a reader exactly how to read a book but for this one I was a third grade spy there is one little trick that will help you make sense of this quirky romp - you need to notice the little illustrations at the top of each chapter.  These show you the voice or narrator for that chapter the most important of which is Arful the dog.

We do have the first book of this series in our school library - I was a third grade Science project.  This next story continues with Arful hypnotized and discovering he can now speak to his human friends Josh, Dougie and Brian.

If you have read Spunky tells all (and I hope you have) then I was a Third Grade Spy is the perfect follow on book.  Artful tries to help the boys win the school talent quest but while he can understand human speech many expressions and even individual words do not make sense to his dog brain.

This is a simple book but it is filled with humour and a quick story.  The ending at the talent quest is the predictable disaster and it is utterly hilarious.

In this scene the boys are attempting to make a souffle because they think their spy - Arful - has discovered this is what the girls are planning for the talent quest.

"We're in the kitchen, my favourite place in the whole world.  I pride myself on keeping this floor licked spotless. I'm hoping for a lot of spilling, because these guys haven't a clue how to cook.  I settle in the corner that gives me the best view. I could spot a dropped sesame seed from here."

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Crow-Girl by Bodil Bredsdorff

We have a small collection of books in our library reserved for our senior students in Grades 5 and 6 and this is where we will put The Crow-Girl.  This is a breathtaking story but it does contain strong themes and would be best suited to a very mature reader.  It is also quite a slim book which might be lost on our regular shelves so I want to be sure it reaches my keen readers.

The Crow-Girl herself is an amazing character.  She demonstrates such important traits - resilience, love, clear thinking, creativity and bravery.

The Crow-Girl lives in a remote place close to the sea.  Her only companion is her precious Grandmother. Before she dies the old woman offers some important advice about the people the young girl may meet on her journey away from their cove.

"There are those that make you feel inside as if you are drinking a good, warm soup - even if you are hungry and the two of you have nothing to eat.  In spite of that they nourish you.  And then there are those who cause you to freeze inside, even if you are sitting before a roaring fire and have eaten your fill.  Those you should keep away from."

The Crow-Girl has no name at first.  Her grandmother called her chick.  The first person she encounters on her journey supplies this name but this is not done kindly.  The girl works hard for this woman and her husband but then she hears them plotting against her.  She stealthily leaves in the night taking back her grandmother's shawl which the woman has 'stolen' and also taking a small supply of food.

Her next meeting is with a boy and his father.  This man is deeply grieving the loss of his wife and be has become violent. He offers the young boy to the Crow-Girl and the two flee this place of destruction.  As their journey continues the meet a young woman and her daughter and then a kindly sheep farmer.  With each meeting and each person who joins her, the Crow-Girl moves closer to her rightful place in the world.

You can read here a speech by the author where she explains in detail the inspiration for her book.

The Crow-Girl was originally written in Danish. I have talked before about how much I enjoy books that have been translated - especially books from Scandinavia.  This book also feels like a folk tale because despite adversity justice prevails.

"Luminous and uncluttered...With resonate concrete images and without sentimentality, Bredsdorff tells a harshly beautiful story that charts the characters' progress toward interdependence." --Starred, The Horn Book

There are two more books in this series - Eidi and Alek.  Each follows a character from The Crow-Girl.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Go well Anna Hibiscus! by Atinuke

If you would like to read a little book that will

  • make you smile
  • make you cheer
  • make you feel like a visitor to Africa

and most importantly confirm why reading is such a special experience
go out and grab a copy of Go Well Anna Hibiscus!

I have written about other books by Atinuke and I do think she is such a talented writer.  Perhaps you have never heard of her and this might be because her books are intended for our youngest beginning readers but don't let the idea of a junior novel deter you - Atinuke is able to take her reader into Africa and into the lives of a very special family with Anna herself at the heart of the action.

Firstly let me introduce Anna Hibiscus :

"Anna Hibiscus lives with her mother and her father, her grandmother and her grandfather, her aunties and her uncles, her many-many cousins and her own two brothers, Double and Trouble. They all live together in a big white house in a big busy city on the wonderful continent of Africa."

As this story opens Anna's grandparents have decided to travel back to their remote village.  Grandfather says "he wants to be somewhere quiet enough to hear his memories think."

Anna and her three big cousins will travel with their grandparents but the car is too full so at the last minute Anna and her cousin Joy are left to follow behind on a very crowded bus.  The journey is long and filled with with interesting sights, experiences and characters.  Finally the girls arrive at their destination but there is nothing to be seen.  They must now take a long and dangerous walk to the village.  Anna is carrying her pet chicken Snow White and Joy has Anna's big pink bag. The girls must carefully place their feet in the footprints of the older women in order to avoid snakes but it is hot and Anna soon becomes quite exhausted.

"The village women were walking swiftly a long way ahead.  Their loads were balanced gracefully on their heads.  Anna Hibiscus was hot and too tired and too thirsty to even cry. ... Suddenly Anna Hibiscus knew what to do.  She shook Snow White off her head.  She balanced his heavy basket there instead. Snow White flew onto it. .. Anna Hibiscus did not stop she was not going to be left behind in a bush full of snakes!"

Joy copies this idea and everyone arrives safely. Now Anna must find a way to fit into village life.  She is too young to go swimming in the river and has no interest in sitting with the older men as they gather to gossip and reminisce.  Her solution to this problem will make you smile.

If you have not yet met Anna Hibiscus take a minute to watch this terrific video of one of her picture books. These are such wonderful books - simply perfect for young readers who are just gaining confidence.  We have nearly all the titles in our school library so why not borrow one today?