Sunday, October 19, 2014

NSW School Magazine Bookshelf titles 2014

I have mentioned our NSW School Magazines in previous posts.  The final issues of the four magazines contain an index and I took a moment to review the books which were featured each month on their Bookshelf pages.    I do find this list is a terrific source of books to read.  Each year there are forty books featured.  Many are titles I am sure I would not discover if they did not appear as part of this selection.

Here are some I have previously reviewed:

The No. 1 Car spotter and the Firebird
Definitely no Ducks!
Book Uncle and me
Timmy Failure : Mistakes were made
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase
Flora & Ulysses
A very peculiar plague
The four seasons of Lucy McKenzie
Mysterious traveller
Wolf and Dog

Right now I am reading (and thoroughly enjoying) Creatures of Magic - watch this blog for a review coming soon.  You might like to read an interview with the Australian Author Maree Fenton-Smith.

Other titles featured in the magazines this year which I enjoyed but have not yet blogged are :
The Matchbox Diary, Journey and Fortunately the Milk,

Because of Mr Terupt by Rob Buyea

For a few months I have been reading a conversation about this book online. Opinions have ranged from high praise to readers who find all sorts of story faults.  The discussion made me curious so I bought this book for our school library.  We will add this title to our Year Six only loan category because it does contain a few mature concepts.

Because of Mr Terupt was published in 2010 so it is not a new book but it was new to me.

If you have read Adam Canfield of the Slash, The Fabled Fourth Graders of Aesop Elementary, or The View from Saturday you will be familiar with the format used in this book where each chapter explores a different voice.

In this story there are seven students in the class.  Actually I am sure there must be more than seven students but we do not meet them or hear about them.  Mr Terupt is a new and very special teacher. Each student has 'issues'.

Girls - Jessica is new and adjusting to her parents separation, Anna is an intelligent but shy girl with a family history that makes her the outcast.  Alexia is the 'cool' girl but maintaining this means she is a bully.

Boys - Luke is the class brain who enjoys thinking challenges especially the one called 'dollar words', Peter is the class clown and joker, and Jeffrey has a deep and very sad secret which makes him a loner.

Over the course of the year Mr Terupt and his students make discoveries about themselves and about each other.  We know from the beginning, though, that disaster is coming.

The school year is marked by the months and by the different assignments the students complete including counting the number of blades of grass in the whole soccer field.

I did enjoy Because of Mr Terupt but I recommend trying to read the book in a short time.  It is quite easy to lose track of the seven voices.  There is a sequel but it is more appropriate for an older audience.

Here is the author web site where you can see a list of all the awards this book has won.  You might enjoy a  trailer based on the book blurb.  Here is a better one - students in US schools make trailers as book responses and this one is well done.  Here is a set of very detailed teaching notes.  If you need a further idea - Anna always has a book in her hand.  Her reading list is excellent and these books would be popular in a senior primary classroom.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The cat, the dog, Little Red, the exploding eggs, the wolf and Grandma's wardrobe by Diane and Christyan Fox

Warning this is a seriously FUNNY book!  Start on the first page - the end papers :

Dog - "What's this page for?" 
Cat -  "It's called the end paper, but it always comes at the beginning."

The cat, the dog, little Red, the exploding eggs, the wolf and Grandma's wardrobe - all sounds a bit complicated to me.  Actually it is not all that complicated for an intrepid reader who is well versed in the story of Little Red Riding Hood and this is the essence of the humour here.  Dog has no knowledge of this famous story and so he interrupts cat at every turn.

Cat "It's a story about a little girl who always wears a red cloak with a hood."
Dog "COOL I love stories about superheroes.  What's her special power?"

The book becomes a conversation between cat and dog.  Cat grows increasingly frustrated by dog as he jumps into to ask questions such as 'What is a dainty"  The handwritten text and simple dog and cat line drawings add to the fun.

My favourite line comes near the end as dog attempts to summarize the story of Red Riding Hood.  "It's not a very nice story, is it?  Are you absolutely sure this is a children's book?"

Here is a trailer from Scholastic.  Here is a review worth reading.  Kirkus call this metafiction I would perhaps put it into the postmodern category too.  It is part of my "Picture books with a difference" Pinterest collection.  Christyan Fox has a terrific web site.

One last thing make sure you turn to the back cover - this is the real end to the story.

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Kite fighters by Linda Sue Park

I have said this in previous posts and I guess if you read my blog, even occasionally, you will know that I adore reading children's books.  When I read A Single Shard (also by Linda Sue Park) I said the story left me breathless so I was excited to read another book by this extremely gifted writer.  I am so happy I can also highly recommend this book too.

I picked up The Kite Fighters last night and read the whole book in one sitting.  As with A Single Shard and See Saw Girl the setting here is Korea.  Linda Sue Park gives the reader a wonderful insight into a family life which is steeped in tradition.  Young-Sup is the younger brother.  It seems all the good things happen to his older brother Kee-sup simply because of birth order.  Young-sup would love a kite but on this New Year he has been given a board game and so he must watch is brother and his clumsy attempts to fly the new kite.  Finally Young-sup is given a turn and his natural talents come to the fore.

"Young-sup picked up the kite. In that brief moment he had felt why it would not fly.  On only his second try he launched the kite from a complete standstill.  Kee-sup's jaw dropped.  'Hey! How did you do that?'  Young-sup shrugged, not wanting to display too much pride.  'I'll show you,' he said.  For he knew in his bones that he could do it again."

One of the best aspects of this book is the way Young-sup and Kee-sup work together firstly so Young-sup  can have a kite of his own and later when they participate in the annual kite fighting competition on behalf of the King himself.

If you want to extend your study of Korea here is a useful pinterest collection.  Another exciting teaching point comes from the five virtues of Confucius and the way Kee-sup uses these to convince his father Young-sup must fly their kite in the competition.

I have included two different cover designs below.  Our library copy is the one above but I prefer the alternate ones. After reading this book I recommend picking up the picture book The tiny kite of Eddie Wing.  Here is an excellent review which gives you more details of the plot.

Scary night by Lesley Gibbes and Stephen Michael King

Picture books are often poems and Scary Night is no exception.

Here is the refrain :

"But where were they going in the dead of the night, 
tip-toe creeping in the pale moonlight?
It was a mystery!"

Three friends - Hare, Cat and Pig - set out in the dark of the night to make a special journey.  They each carry something slightly mysterious.  There are serious hazards along the way but these parcels do not assist with their survival.  Can you guess where they are going?  Hare with a hat, Cat with a cake and Pig with a parcel?

This is Lesley Gibbes' first book so how lucky to have the amazing and talented Stephen Michael King as the illustrator.  One of the special features of these illustrations is the way Stephen Michael King marks the passing of time - the journey takes the whole night and as each page turns the sky grows lighter and lighter.  Another special detail comes from the sack that is carried by Hare.  There is no mention in the text but as the party begins we see Hare open his sack which contains drinks, party streamers and balloons along with two special hats - one for goat and one for pig.  I have seen the pattern for this hat in another Stephen Michael King book - take a look at Emily's dress in the book Emily loves to bounce.  You might also look for some of the other tiny details that Stephen Michael King loves to include such as the television aerial and single sock on the first page, the Halloween pumpkin, ghosts in the graveyard, coat hangers and bells.

Two more things.  Take time to look at the second last page.  Goat has two pictures on his walls and a cupcake on the table with one candle - these might make interesting discussion points with your class. Finally a warning - Scary Night is not a quiet book - it demands to be read with a group of children who can join in to scream, roar and shout surprise!

Our Book Week slogan for 2014 was Connect to Reading. When I read Scary Night for the first time I saw a connection with two of my favourite books The Silver Christmas Tree by Pat Hutchins and Frog and a Special Day by Max Velthuijs.

Here is the author web site.  Here is a review in the Sydney Morning Herald.  Lesley Gibbes will visit our school library next week.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Disappearing act by James Maloney

Disappearing Act.  This book has it all!  An intriguing plot.  A very recognizable Australian setting. Magic and mystery. History and flashbacks. Love and loathing. Alchemy and science. Greed and the urgent search for truth and justice.  All of this is contained in just 181 pages!

Matt Cooper finds a book in a language he does not recognize with detailed drawings showing the process for a series of magic tricks. Matt tries out the tricks, simple ones at first, and discovers he has a talent.  When he visits a city dentist with his mother he sees an old man writing phrases in chalk on the footpath.  He has no idea what this writing says but he recognizes the letters from his magic book and so he takes a piece of chalk and completes the phrase (see below).  The old man is ecstatic.  "I've waited so long - a whole lifetime."

The next chapter of Disappearing Act sees the action switch to 1946.  We meet Mattheus Coperneau, a magician who has been given the honour of presenting a special performance before the royal family of Montilagus.

"Europe is not one country, but dozens of them.  Everyone has heard of Germany and France and Italy, but if you study the map closely you will see tiny specks among the larger ones, like pebbles in a rock wall.  These countries were never important enough to deserve a king and so they make do with princes.  That's why they are called principalities."

In a grand finale to his magic show Mattheus makes the Royal Sceptre disappear.  Naturally the second half of this trick should mean the sceptre reappears to the sound of great relief and applause but on this occasion the trick has failed and the sceptre is gone.  Magic is not to blame.  This is a crime but with no one else to accuse Mattheus is sent to the dungeon.  Chapters in this book now alternate between Australia 2011 and Montilagus in 1889.  At this earlier time Prince Edvord of Montilagus sees power coming from gold.  He enlists the help of a scientist called Joachim Tassisalus and an alchemist Augustine Rey.  Joachim knows alchemy is just trickery but the prince is determined there must be a way to turn ordinary metals into gold.

Look closely at these names Matthew Cooper and Mattheus Coperneau.  The story of Joachim and his love of Princess Agneta is also linked with Matthew Cooper but I don't want to go into these details and spoil the terrific twist at the end of this complex and highly rewarding read.

I will make one of my predictions that this book will be short listed for our CBCA awards in 2015. I do hope I am right!

Here is a set of teaching notes.  If you enjoy this book you might also look for The book without Words by Avi,   This book also reminded me of The Medici Curse. You can read more about James Moloney here.

Only the heart knows magic is real.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A snicker of magic by Natalie Lloyd

"A snicker?"
"That's magic leftover," Jonah explained.  
"Not good for much, not as fancy as it used to be - but enough to make it special."

There are some books, the best books really, that are so beautifully told that you just feel as though you are really there - in that town or school or home.  I have just spent three days in Midnight Gulch, Tennessee with my new friends Felicity Juniper Pickle, her best friend Jonah Pickett, her wise little sister Frannie Jo and all the other wonderful people of this magic town who are connected in ways you just need to discover.  I have also fallen in love with the idea of collecting words.  Felicity sees words hovering over people - real words and invented words but always true words.  This is such a terrific idea and by the end of A snicker of magic I wanted to collect all these words and put them in a jar for myself. This is a bit like the idea behind Donavan's word jar and the magic reminded me of A Tangle of Knots and Savvy.  The other lovely ingredient in this book comes from the town ice cream factory. You will want to eat huge spoonfulls of :

  • Andy's snickerdoodle sucker punch
  • Day's chocolate orange switcheroo
  • Marsh-Mallory Mocha Delight
  • Jim's just-vanilla's-all-I- want

But be very careful before you dip into Blackberry Sunrise.  "People buy it by the gallon because it helps them remember.  The problem is that you don't know what kindof memory this ice cream's going to dredge up.... if the blackberries taste sweet, you remember something good. But if you take a bite and the blackberry are sour, well ... "

A gulch is a narrow valley with deep sides.  This makes it perfect for a small community and perhaps for a place where you can feel safe and at home. Midnight Gluch is a town with a long history and with citizens famous for many different types of magic.  Sadly years ago magic seems to have left the town when two famous brothers, Stone and Berry Weatherly, known as the Brothers Threadbare held their famous duel in 1910.  When Stone lost the duel, after three days of frantic music, magic left the town and worse a curse descended.  It is now nearly a century later and Felicity feels she is cursed. Her mum is a wanderer.  The little family of three never stay long in any one town but as our story begins they arrive back in Midnight Gulch - the town of her childhood.

Here are some words from this book :
apple fritter

Read this splendid review in the New York Times.  This reviewer loved A snicker of Magic so much she is predicting it will reach the Newbery for 2015.  "Every so often a book comes along where you say to yourself, “I feel privileged to know that I live in a world where books like this exist.” They are books that are forever imprinted upon your heart, a heartprint book if you will."

Apart from the books I mentioned above after you read A snicker of Magic you should look for Waiting for Normal and Pie.   Here is a blog site for the author who actually has a dog called Biscuit. Activities for this book from Scholastic.  Below I have included covers from the Italian and German editions of this book. You can listen to part of the story here. I do hope I have convinced you to read this magical book - I promise you will not be disappointed.