Sunday, July 5, 2015

The birthday ball by Lois Lowry illustrated by Jules Feiffer

I picked up this book, The Birthday Ball,  last week because it was written by the talented Lois Lowry.  Sadly I would not have picked this book up from the hundreds of new titles we have ready for our library based on the cover which I do not like.  Do you?

Luckily the cover did not sway me.  This is a terrific read for a middle primary student and could be useful for teachers looking for detailed, if somewhat vile, character descriptions.  There are three or perhaps four suitors all vying for the hand of Princess Patricia Priscilla.  The Princess, meanwhile, is bored with life at court and so she decides to dress as a peasant girl and attend the local school.

Duke Desmond of Dyspepsia had "huge, crooked, brown-spotted teeth, and a tuft of coarse copper-coloured hair."  You can see the illustration of him below.

Prince Percival of Pustula "dressed entirely in black, always.  Even his underclothing was black. His hair had once been a nondescript brown, but he kept it dyed jet black and thickly oiled.  His mustache, as well."

Count Colin and Count Cuthbert the Counts of Coagulatia wore clothing "specially made, with four arms and four legs and two neck-holes, and a very wide waist." They are conjoint twins who are determined to annoy each other.

Lois Lowry uses a rich vocabulary in this fairy tale style romp.  The Princess has a cat called Delicious.  

"It's nutritious, Delicious."
"Stop looking avaricious, Delicious"
"Your size is ambitious, Delicious"
"The size of your tummy was suspicious, Delicious!"

Here is a review from the New York Times and another with quite a detailed description of the plot and characters I mentioned previously.  I highly recommend reading any book by Lois Lowry - you will not be disappointed.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Blown away by Rob Biddulph

Stories told in rhyme always hold special appeal for young children.  Blown Away is a terrific example.  It is also a wonderful celebration of co-operation and team work.

A windy day.
A brand new kite.
For Penguin Blue
a maiden flight.

Needless to say Penguin Blue is blown away along with some wonderful friends who try to stop his kite.

The other joy you will find in Blown Away are all the visual jokes. On first reading you might miss the little stowaway from the jungle who joins the voyage back to Antarctica. Similarly the gorilla on the last page will provide a good discussion point.  Make sure you also take time to read all the little signs too - such as "You are leaving the Antarctic. Please swim carefully."

Blown Away is the winner of Waterstones Children's Book Prize for 2015.

Here is a set of puzzles based on this book and some drawing ideas from the author.  Here is an interview with Rob Biddulph.  Make sure you read the Kirkus review too.

You might also enjoy A wish for wings that work by Berkeley Breathed which is another splendid example of team work.

Ducky's nest by Gillian Rubinstein illustrated by Terry Denton

In this blog I talk quite often about books that have long been out of print.  For today I have a good news story.  Ducky's nest was first published in 1999 and our old school copy is in a very poor state so I was excited to see a new copy in a bookshop recently. This book is a true gem. In fact Walker have reprinted a good selection of their past titles including the wonderful Murgatroyd's Garden by Judy Zavos and Louise builds a House and the partner book Louise builds a boat by Louise Pfanner.

As a special addition, the back of Ducky's nest has extra information about this book from the original publisher Mark MacLeod along with Gillian Rubinstein and Terry Denton. These will add to your understanding of the themes in this book and the creative process.

Ducky is a special toy loved by Claudie.  Ducky goes everywhere with Claudie during the day and is an essential companion at night.  Luckily mum knows all the hiding places and so Claudie never goes to bed without her precious friend.  Grandma, however, does not know that Ducky is regularly misplaced.  A new baby is coming and grandma has come to look after Claudie.  They enjoy a lovely outing to the park but Ducky is left behind. "She put Ducky in the reeds by the water's edge so he could watch the ducks as they paddled across the lake to eat the bread."

Living in the lake are a group of ducks.  Once they establish Ducky is a toy and not a tadpole they decide to help him find his way back home.  All through the night the new friends fly Ducky across the city.  Terry Denton gives the reader a splendid panorama of the surrounding fields and landmarks. Ducky's home cannot be found so the ducks go back to the park.

"Each of the birds took a feather of down and they made Ducky a cost nest and tucked him in it. The black duck told him stories about famous ducks of history until he fell asleep."

This is a simple sentence and yet it shows such deep love and comfort. There are many nests in this story including the one that will now be made for the new baby.

Here is a set of teaching notes.  This is a book to treasure and own.  I am including the original cover.  After reading this book make sure you look for one of my all time favourite books Felix and Alexander also illustrated by Terry Denton.  You might also enjoy Ruby by Alison Lester.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

A library book for bear by Bonny Becker illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton

"Bear had never been to the library
He had seven very nice books at home:
three about kings and queens, three about honeybees,
and one about pickles.
Bear was quite sure he had
all the books he would ever need."

You might well imagine that I love this book A library book for bear.  Bear has books.  Why does he need to visit a library! He has made a promise to mouse and so he puts on his roller skates and this unlikely pair set off to the huge public library.

Mouse is the happy optimist.  Bear is sure this will all be a huge waste of time.

I love all the little expressions in this book.  Such a rich vocabulary to talk about with young readers. Here are some examples :

"a happy wag of his whiskers"
"the wind rippling nicely through their fur"
"most excessive"
"terribly extravagant"

Bear decides the one book he would like is a book about pickles.  He only has one of these in his home library.  Bear does not know about library voices and he does not want a book about any other topic.  Mouse tries to explain but bear just gets louder and louder - perfect for reading aloud.  I also love the way the illustrator gives bear such wonderful expressions mostly through the eyes.

Every book in this series is a true gem make sure you look for every one of them today.  Here is the web site for Bonny Becker  and here is a set of teaching notes.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Henry's map by David Elliot

In Henry's Map, Henry decides he needs a map as a way to get a little order into the farm.  He trots off with his pencil and a large sheet of paper and beginning with his own sty he draws the farm and its inhabitants. Even the youngest reader will pick up on the complication with this. Henry draws the sheep beside their wool shed then they follow him across the meadow to a shady oak tree where Henry adds Abigail the cow to his map. The journey continues and now Maisy, Daisy and Clementine - the sheep - along with Abigail all follow Henry over to the stable and Mr Brown the horse.

Finally the farm map is complete and all the animals stand on a nearby hillside to compare the map with the scene in front of them. "All the animals looked at the farm. Then they looked at the map. And then they looked at the farm again."

This book has echoes of the wonderful concept books by Pat Hutchins such as Shrinking Mouse.  Another book to explore in our library is As the crow flies by Gail Hartman which explores the idea of perspective.  Little Henry himself also reminded me of two favourite characters - Toot and Puddle. If you want to explore the topic of maps and map making even further make sure you look for My Map book by Sara Fanelli. We have five books in our school library illustrated by David Elliot including the wonderful anthology The Word Witch by Margaret Mahy.  We now need to add the sequel to Henry's Map - Henry's stars.

One more thing - do take a minute to compare the end papers.  Young readers will enjoy finding all the differences between the morning and afternoon scenes.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The storm whale by Benji Davies

I have been away from my blog for about one month while I traveled to the Shetland and Orkney islands.  The storm whale has a lighthouse on the front cover.  I adore lighthouses and I saw some important and impressive examples in Scotland.  The setting for this book is an island and I have just visited some very remote island and even though I didn't see a whale on my trip we did keep a look out.

The best picture books leave room for the reader to 'join the dots.'  The storm whale certainly allows for this.  "Every day, Noi's dad left early for a long day's work on his fishing boat. He wouldn't be home again till dark."

What can we imply from this?  Noi has no mum, Noi is young but needs to be quite self sufficient and Noi might feel lonely since he spends so much time alone.

One day a tiny whale is washed up on the shore near Noi's home.  He rescues the whale pulling it home on his small cart and depositing this precious creature in their bath.  "Noi did everything to make the what feel at home.  He told stories about life on the island. The whale was an excellent listener."  The whale becomes his friend but a whale is a wild creature which needs to be returned to the sea.

It is the final illustration that is the most important in this book.  Make sure you take a look.  It is also worth spending time with the end papers which show our tiny whale falling behind the group at the beginning of the book and a happy reunion with all the large whales at the end.

Here is a terrific review.  You might also like to dip into Benji Davies web site where you will discover that this is his first picture book.  You can also see some preliminary sketches for this book here.  I was happy to discover The storm whale received a star from Kirkus. The storm whale was a winner of Oscar's First Book Prize which is aimed at books that a child under five can pick up on his or her own.  The perfect partner for this book would be Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers and with an older child I would pick up The Whales' Song by Dyan Sheldon.  If you want to read another picture book about rescuing a whale take a look at The Smallest Whale by Elisabeth Beresford.

Sunday, May 10, 2015


Ever since Puffling was short listed for the CBCA awards in 2009 and then was selected as the early Childhood picture book I have been fascinated by this little clown of the sea.  In a couple of weeks I will have the very special opportunity to see some puffins first hand.  This week we have been reading Puffling by Margaret Wild illustrated by Julie Vivas to our Kindergarten classes.  You can guess I have a huge smile on my face.  Picture above is from the National Geographic site.

Puffling is just such a perfect book. The illustrations are joyous, whimsical and at the same time seem very accurate.  The pattern of the story is just so satisfying.  Puffling asks Big Stripy Beak and Long Back Feather Am I strong enough, am I tall enough, am I brave enough?  Just like a young child - his development will take time and nurture.  Mum and dad diligently bring delicious fish and sand eels to their little baby and gradually he grows stronger, taller and braver until the day comes when he can leave the burrow to fend for himself.  I love the way mum and dad check his bravery by listening to his heart.  The Kindergarten children have all loved the idea of Puffling when "he popped his head out of the burrow.  He stuck one leg out of the burrow. He waggled his bottom at the scary gulls, watching and waiting.  But he remembered never to go right out of the burrow"

Here are a set of teaching notes for Puffling.

We have several books about puffins in our library.  You can see their covers below.  Nothing like a puffin is a gentle book that introduces very young children to some basic puffin facts - they can fly, they are black and white, they can swim and they are birds so they hatch from eggs.   Puffin Peter is for an even younger audience and has exquisite illustrations.  This book follows a similar pattern as Peter is lost at sea and enlists the help of a whale to help him find his friend Paul.  Together they work out puffins are funny and noisy and black and white with colourful beaks.  They are not parrots, or toucans or penguins - they are puffins!