Sunday, December 14, 2014

Calvin can't fly by Jennifer Berne illustrated by Keith Bendis

His books took him to places wings never could.
And his heart fluttered with excitement.

As I work though our large picture book collection I have been selecting books about libraries and reading ready to use when we return to school after our Christmas and Summer break. Here is one that made me smile - Calvin can't fly.

Calvin is a starling. He comes from a big family but he is the odd one out.  When he is very young he discovers books! When the aptly named Mr Wingstead their flying teacher prepares for class Calvin is nowhere to be seen.  He is in the library. His love of books and reading leads to serious and hurtful teasing so he "waddled back to the library - the only place where he was happy."  Then the time comes for the annual migration.  His brothers and sisters are able to help Calvin with 'flying' but as he is dragged along Calvin smells danger.    He has read about hurricanes and he knows the flock need to find shelter.

The subtitle of this happy book is "The story of a bookworm birdie."

I can't wait to share this with my students early next year.

Here are some teaching ideas.  Here is a page with a video of real starlings.

Amy's three best things by Philippa Pearce illustrated by Helen Craig

Over the last few weeks we have been stocktaking or taking an inventory of our large library collection.  While this can be a tedious process one positive aspect is the re-discovery of books of loved books and indeed even the actual discovery of books that I had not read.

Here is a book I had not read but I should have guessed Amy's three best things would be brilliant. What a team Philippa Pearce (famous for Tom's midnight garden and A dog so small) and the wonderful Helen Craig (Angelina Ballerina and the Suzie and Alfred books.)

Amy is off to spend three nights with her grandmother.  She is such a sensible girl she packs three special things - one from beside her bed, one from the mantle piece in her room and one from the rack over the bath in the bathroom.

Each evening as her fears and homesickness rise Amy reaches for her special thing - a flying carpet, a small wooden horse and a tiny boat.  Using these she is able to discover how things are going at home and all is well until the last night when she sails across the open skies only to discover her mother, dog and baby brother have left home.

This book is perfect for our youngest readers. The pattern of three, the genuine fears expressed by Amy, the moment of tension and the beautiful resolution.

As with all the best books make sure you begin and end with a close look at the end papers. I would also be good to take time (if you are a grandmother) spending your days doing all the lovely things Amy and her Granny do - making scrumptious cakes, exploring old toys and enjoying a picnic lunch. I highly recommend this special picture book.  It would make an excellent gift.

The Imaginary by AF Harrold illustrated by Emily Gravett

One of my all time favourite books is about an imaginary friend.  It is called O'Diddy and is long out of print.  This book, The Imaginary, shares some concepts with O'Diddy but The Imaginary is for a much older audience and I have read two reviews which caution adults to read this book before putting it into the hands of a child.

Rudger is Amanda's imaginary friend but when Amanda is involved in a serious car accident Rudger must find a way to reconnect with his friend before he fades away.

"Some kids have big imaginations and they dream us up.  They make us and we're best chums and that's all good and proper, and then they get older and they lose interest and we get forgotten. That's when we start to Fade.  Normally that's the end, your job's done, you turn to smoke and blow away on the wind."

Several days before the accident, Amanda has had a visit from the mysterious Mr Bunting.  His appearance is decidedly odd :

"The man was dressed in Bermuda shorts, with a brightly patterned shirt, all clashing colours and dazzle, stretched across his wide round torso like palm trees bending in a tropical breeze ... A pair of dark glasses covered his eyes and a red moustache covered his mouth."

Along side this weird man there is a girl (see illustration below).  Amanda's mother cannot see this girl.  Perhaps she too in an imaginary friend.  But why would an adult still have an imaginary friend? And what does this strange and slightly threatening man want from their family?

I usually only comment on books I have really enjoyed but this book has an enticing cover, a world famous illustrator and it has been promoted in several Christmas book catalogs so I thought I would share my reactions. This book did frighten me.  Not in a silly story book sort of way but really scare me.  In fact as I was reading it I had to put it down several times and take a break.  The events are resolved at the end but the way Mr Bunting devours his victims is quite disturbing.  Katherine England in her Magpies Review (Volume 29, Issue 5, November 2014 page 36) said : "I found it seriously, unpleasurably scary ... choose your child judiciously."

Here is a comment by another reviewer

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.