Thursday, May 26, 2016

Figgy and the President : Growing up can be full of surprises by Tamsin Janu

I really enjoyed Figgy in the world and was hoping it would be selected for our CBCA awards.

Today I read the sequel Figgy and the President and I so happy to say it is just as good as the first installment.

Figgy lives in Ghana.  Her life is not easy.  As a tiny child her mother abandoned her on the doorstep of her grandmother then she lost an eye in a fire and she lives in a remote and very poor village.  Despite this Figgy has so many good things in her life. The deep love of Grandma Ama, the loyalty of her best friend Nana and her own desire to help others.

In this second installment her mother has returned.  Figgy has such mixed feelings about meeting her mother and forging a relationship with this woman she has never met.

"Why did you leave me with Grandma Ama when I was a baby?'  Mama's hand stilled.  For a few seconds I thought she was angry with me for asking.  But she soon resumed stroking my forehead and answered me, her voice calm.  'Because I couldn't look after you as well as your Grandma Ama."

Nana, her best friend, is determined to become the President of Ghana.  He too has experienced some extremely harsh circumstances in his short life including appalling abuse by his father.  Nana has now reached the safety of his new home with Grandma Ama when one day his father returns to claim him. It takes every ounce of ingenuity and bravery for Figgy to follow the trail and save her friend.

These books do go together.  I would recommend reading Figgy in the World first so you meet the amazing people who help Figgy in a variety of ways.  One of the most important is Kofi who again is able to help Figgy in such a wise and loving way.

The Figgy books are perfect for Middle Primary readers.  It can be a wonderful experience to walk a mile or two in the shoes of a different child, living in a different place and hopefully reading these books you will gain an understanding of a life so different from your own.




Bad Ned : A really bad story by Dean Lahn

Bad Ned is such fun because my Grade 5 students and I explore the life of the infamous Australian bushranger Ned Kelly in great depth each year. This means I can really appreciate all the little historical inclusions in this story.

This is not a serious book - it is a romp through the life of Ned using a young boy (coincidentally also called Ned) as a copy-cat to the real Ned.

We see little Ned stealing cupcake, making trouble with the garden hose and the washing line and constructing armor firstly from a set of cardboard boxes but later from a disused water tank.

My favourite part of this book comes when young Ned quotes from the famous Jerilderie letter "Take this you big, ugly, fat-necked, wombat-headed, big bellied, magpies-legged troppers."

Here is a review with more detail.  You might also enjoy Meet Ned Kelly by Janeen Brian, The Oath of Bad Brown Bill by Stephen Axelsen, Wicked Rose by Sally Farrell Odgers and Bossyboots by David Cox.  Sadly some of the books I have listed here will be out of print but you should find them easily in an Australian school library.

Playing from the heart by Peter Reynolds




There is something quite mysterious about the power of music.  I have a friend who is such a talented musician.  As children she could play the most complex music but not in a mechanical way - her music making was filled with a very sophisticated emotional understanding.  I used to have a piano and had lessons as a child.  I will never been skilled at this instrument but that is not important.  For me music touches my soul.  I think this is why I loved this book.  The Kirkus reviewer sees this as a book with more appeal to adults and perhaps that is true but I would still love to share this book with a sensitive child.


Here is a fabulous interview with Peter Reynolds.  It is quite long but well worth your time.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Rino Alaimo's The boy who loved the moon



"Many years ago, one night in June, the lights of the city went out, one by one, until only a single light illuminated the sky."

This is the light of the moon.  The moon captures the heart of a  lonely boy. He longs to show the moon his love.  He collects a beautiful rose, a deep sea pearl and the diamond eye of a dragon.  Each gift is rejected although not too harshly.  What gift can the boy give the moon?

It seems odd to mention this but today with our Kindergarten classes we read Happy Birthday Moon by Frank Asch.  This is a much simpler book but it is also contains an deeply felt expression of love for the moon.

One of my annual joys is to attend Little Big Shots - a festival of children's short films.  Last year I saw this little film and I was entranced.  Then I discovered this special book made by the film maker. If you are looking for a text and film to explore with a senior class take a look at The Boy who loved the moon.  You could then look at this review which compares the book and the film.

One reviewer likened this book to The Giving Tree.  With a younger class you might also look at Papa Please get the moon for me, Sarah's Heavy Heart and Laura's Star.




Monday, May 23, 2016

Pax by Sara Pennypacker illustrated by Jon Klassen




In an in awe of an author like Sara Pennypacker.  One of the most wonderful things about reading is when you know you are in the safe hands of a master storyteller especially when realise this right from the start of the story.  You know the characters might experience hardship, difficulties, pain and trauma but you also know the author will bring everyone safely home - not in a sentimental or trite way - but in a way that leaves you gasping at the sheer brilliance of their writing.

From the very first page I knew Pax would be a powerful and memorable book.  Now I have finished reading Pax I know this story will linger with me a long time.

"The fox felt the car slow before the boy did, as he felt everything first.  Through the pads of his paws, along his spine, in the sensitive whiskers at his wrists."




Each chapter of Pax alternates between Peter, a young boy grieving the loss of his mother and confused by the reactions and life decisions of his father and Pax, a young fox that Peter has raised from a small cub.  Sara Pennypacker is able to give this wild creature such an authentic voice.

"He lifted his muzzle and bayed a single aching note.  It had been so long since he'd seen his boy. Before this, they'd never been apart for more than half a day. Often Peter would leave in the morning, and Pax would pace his pen in increasing distress until the afternoon, when Peter would come home, smelling of other young humans and of the strange breath of the large yellow bus that delivered him."

In this selection you can see how Sara Pennypacker is able to give the reader a deep insight into the highly developed senses of the fox.  His use of smell and other animal intuitions contrast with those of Peter and yet wild creature and boy have an amazing, spiritual connection.

We sadly need to cover our copy of Pax with plastic to protect it from multiple readings but if you can buy your own copy of Pax make sure you look under the dust jacket.  Megan Dowd Lambert alerted me to this special feature that is added to some picture books and novels.  

Here is the author web site and a set of discussion questions.  Here is an audio sample from the first chapter. This book would be a terrific addition to a unit on survival or it could be used with a small group as an extension text.  You can see some images from the book here.

If you enjoy Pax I would recommend the Chronicles of Ancient Darkness beginning with Wolf Brother by Michelle Paver, The Honest Truth, The eye of the Wolf by Daniel Pennac,  Julie of the wolves by Jean Craighead George, A dog's life by Ann Martin and Hatchet.

The quotes below link to reviews in the New York Times and Kirkus.



CBCA Short list for 2016




This is always an exciting time for school libraries and student across Australia when the Children's Book Council announce the short list.

The volunteer judges from around Australia read over 350 books each year, they select the best ones for a Notable list and then six titles in each of five categories as a short list.  In August, at the start of Book Week, the five winners will be announced.

I have blogged a few of the lucky books from the selection this year.

Younger Readers
Sister Heart
Molly and Pim
Run Pip Run

Early Childhood Picture Book of the Year
Mr Huff

Over the coming weeks I will look more closely at many of the other books.  I was a little disappointed that some of my favourite books were not selected especially Teacup and In the evening.




Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster audio book

And in the very room to which he sat, 
there were books that could take you anywhere ...
Norton Juster The Phantom Tollbooth last page!


It is wonderful to add new books to our library nearly every week but I do worry that some 'classics' might slip off the radar.

One of our splendid teachers recently retired.  The Phantom Tollbooth, first published in 1961, was a firm favourite as a class read-aloud.  I am sure hundreds of children who were lucky enough to be in her class will fondly remember listening to the joyous, turbulent, exciting, funny, wild story.



When I saw the audio book recently I happily purchased it for our school library.  As a bonus this version is read by David Hyde Pierce (Frasier) and he is a splendid narrator.  We have a copy of If you give a pig a pancake by Laura Numeroff which he narrates so I knew I would be in safe hands.

I am in awe of this audio book because David has to sustain so many disparate voices.  He does this brilliantly.  The best voice he saves for right near the end when our intrepid heroes meet the Gelatinous Giant.

I am not going to outline to complex plot for The Phantom Tollbooth.  If you click this quote it will take you to a splendid review in the New Yorker which was written to celebrate the 50th Anniversary.

What Milo discovers is that math and literature, Dictionopolis and Digitopolis, should assume their places not under the pentagon of Purpose and Power but under the presidency of Rhyme and Reason. Learning isn’t a set of things that we know but a world that we enter.

I want to focus one chapter which really tickled my funny bone.  In Chapter 18 Milo, Tock and the Humbug have almost reached the castle.  They are so close the Rhyme and Reason but there is one more obstacle - the senses taker.  Listening to the audio book you will at first think this is the census taker.  I can't wait to use this in August when we have a census here in Australia :

"I'm the official senses taker and I must have some information before I can take your senses.  Now, if you'll just tell me when you were born, where you were born, why you were born, how old you are now, how old you were then, how old you'll be in a little while, your mother's name, your father's name, your aunt's name, your uncle's name, your cousin's name, where you live, how long you've lived there, the schools you've attended, the schools you haven't attended, your telephone number, your shoe size, shirt size, collar size, hat size, and the names and addresses of six people who can verify all this information ... "



There is so much information available to use for your study of this book.  Here are a couple of sites to get you started.

Figurative Language

Video interview with Norton Juster.  This audio book also has a terrific interview at the end of the fourth disk.

Chapter by chapter questions

Plan to pick up the book or the audio book of The Phantom Tollbooth it is indeed a book that can and will take you anywhere!