Saturday, February 6, 2016

Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate

This is a big call but I think Crenshaw will prove to be my book of the year!  YES!! I did love it THAT much.

I have long had a love affair with books about imaginary friends. A tiny, old, out print book called O'Diddy has been part of my literature repertoire in our school library for over twenty years.

Of course Crenshaw has a much deeper story - the terrible implications of homelessness on a young child and the desperate need to understand the 'adult' problems of his parents and this why I adore this book.  The combination of humour and deep family pain.

The narrative of Crenshaw is not linear.  The chapters jump back and forth across time.  The story opens with Jackson meeting Crenshaw at the beach.  "His coat was black and white, penguin style.  He looked like he was heading somewhere fancy in a hairy tuxedo.  He also looked awfully familiar."  Jackson has a scientific mind.  This huge cat on a surf board with an umbrella, that no one else seems to see, cannot be real.

Jackson and and his sister live with their parents and early on we know life is tough.  Food is very scarce, it is almost impossible for the family to pay their rent and Jackson's dad has MS.  "Sometimes I want to ask my parents if my dad is going to be OK or why we don't always have enough food in the house or why they've been arguing so much."

As first grade ends the family is forced to move into their mini van.  His parents explain this will be temporary but they end up living in the van for fourteen weeks.

You might like to read an extract from Chapter five.  Here is a Q&A with Katherine Applegate author of another brilliant book The One and Only Ivan.

If you enjoy Crenshaw (wait a minute you will enjoy Crenshaw) the next book to look for is Hold Fast by Blue Balliett followed by How to Steal a dog.  You might also enjoy The Imaginary by AF Harrold but be warned this one is not suitable for young readers.  Read this review in Horn Book if you still need convincing that Crenshaw is fabulous.

Another book which would link very well with a study of Crenshaw is Farm Kid by Sherryl Clark - especially her poem about the clearing sale.  Jackson explains this experience is such a poignant way. "It's like walking around with your clothes on inside out.  Underwear on top of jeans, socks on top of sneakers."

Here is an extract from Farm Kid and the poem Clearing Sale

“us kids poking prying
someone else’s life
on show
for sale

who could sleep in a bed
that hard? …
what would people think
of our lives
spread out

across the grass?"

There are some really innovative teaching ideas here.  You might also like to look at the teaching notes provided by the US publisher.

I do enjoy books that cross reference other books.  Jackson loves the book A hole is to Dig by Maurice Sendak and his sister Robin constantly requests re-readings of The House on East 88th Street.  Sadly we don't have either of these books in our school library but we do have a copy of Lyle at the office which is one of the sequels to The house on East 88th Street.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Edward and the great discovery by Rebecca McRitchie and Celeste Hulme

Start with the end paper please when you pick up Edward and the great discovery.  At the front of this book you can see a pattern of spades or trowels.  At the back you can see the full range of Edwards archaeological kit - maps, rope, strong, brushes, a new, explorer hat and sandwich.

"Edward's mother is an archaeologist.
Edward's father is an archaeologist.
Edward's grandmother and grandfather are archaeologists.
And all of them have made very important DISCOVERIES."

The stage is set.  Edward needs a discovery of his own. After a long search Edward finds an egg. No it is not a dinosaur as you might expect.  It is a bird.  A very special bird.  A bird that cannot fly. Have you guessed - it is a dodo.

You might like to read this review.  Here is an activity you could try when you read this book.  You can see inside this book at the illustrator web site.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

The King and the sea by Heinz Janisch and Wolf Erlbruch

The King and the sea has a subtitle :

21 Extremely Short Stories

Yes this is what you will find inside this amazing book.  Twenty-one stories ranging in length from 2 lines up to 12.  This is quite a philosophical book but one that I think will appeal to mature children who are prepared to think deeply about the ideas presented here.

I think this is my favourite story :

The King and the Sky
"I need a blanket', said the king. 'This minute!
And make it a good one.'
With that it began to snow.
Soft flakes fell around him.
'There's your blanket,' said the sky as it covered the
landscape in glittering white.
The king gazed in wonder.  'Thank you,' he said."

You might like to read this review.  With a class you could perhaps read one story each day and follow this with a discussion.  It might be good to compile a list of discussion questions taken from these daily readings and perhaps publish these for other classes to explore.  Here are a set of teaching notes.

The tooth mouse by Susan Hood illustrated by Janice Nadeau

Have you ever 
lost a baby tooth,
placed it under your 
pillow and found a coin
left by the tooth fairy?
In many countries around 
the world, there is no such
thing as the Tooth Fairy.
Instead there is ...

At some point during Grade One our library literature choices usually center on teeth and the tooth fairy.  I have a number of favourites which I love to share such as Andrew's Loose tooth by Robert Munsch, The Tooth Ball by Philippa Pearce, Wibble Wobble by Miriam Moss and The Tooth Fairy by Peter Collington.  One of the most interesting books in our school library is Throw Your Tooth on the Roof: Tooth Traditions Around the World by Selby Beeler & G.Brian Karas.  This is the book where I first discovered that there are so many variations on the tooth fairy.  I like the idea of throwing a tooth up - a bottom tooth - so the new one will grow straight and strong reaching up to the old one.  I also like the idea of burying a tooth at a university where you hope you child might study in the future.  

Not everyone believes in the tooth fairy.  In some cultures teeth are collected by mice.  This little tooth mouse lives in France.  She finds herself in a grand cathedral and hears the Tooth Mouse - La Petite Souris - ready to announce her successor.  To prove worthy of this honour there are three tasks or challenges to complete.  Sophie is so excited.  She is sure she can meet the challenge.

1. Bring me the whisker of a cat
2. Bring me a silver coin
3, Make a plan for the use of all the baby teeth you collect

Sophie's solution to problem number three is sure to make you smile.  Susan Hood has created a charming story for all young children to enjoy.  Here is review in the New York Times and one in Kirkus.  You can see all the book illustrations here.

You might also enjoy April Underhill, tooth fairy by Bob Graham, Oliver Sundew Tooth Fairy by Sam McBratney (one of my most favourite books in the whole world!) and Little Big Feet by Ingrid Schubert.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Trouble at home by Cate Whittle illustrated by Kim Gamble

I spied this little book, Trouble at home, in a charming little country bookshop while I was down south on holidays.  It caught my eye because I adore the work of our illustrator Kim Gamble.  He is most famous for the Tashi series by Anna Fienberg but he also illustrated Our School Fete and one of my most favourite picture books Pog.

As Georgia walks home with mum, and her Kindergarten aged brother Henry, she witnesses the theft of her house.  Yes her whole house is stolen by a dragon.  This dragon is a "giant green dragon with blue wings and red scaly bits around his ears."  The loss of their house is indeed a catastrophe but things are far worse.  Gran was home with Godfrey when the house is taken.  Luckily Gran was not inside the house at the exact moment the dragon grabbed the house. Unluckily Godfrey was inside the house.

How will they every find Godfrey?  Where will the family sleep?  All that is left in their back yard is their tool shed (dad sleeps in here), the garden shed (Georgia and Henry sleep with a smelly bag of Foggets Special Rose Food in here) and their outside dunny (luckily).  For reasons I won't go into right now the tent they once owned is no longer available.  Mum and Gran have to sleep in the car.  Naturally everyone is extremely upset - especially mum.

No one believes Georgia when she tries to explain to her parents, Gran and the police about the dragon so she sets off with her brother to solve this problem, find their house and rescue her baby brother.  The trouble comes when she sees the new location of her house.

Pick up a packet of potato chips and a bottle of fizzy sarsaparilla drink before you read this book - you will understand why when you begin this sweet tale of determination and true courage.  I especially like the way Georgia looks in her school library for information about dragons.

I knew this book would be a winner from the first three sentences :

"Ages and ages ago - about two weeks since next Thursday - a giant green dragon stole my baby brother, Godfrey. Well, okay, the giant green dragon actually stole the house.  Godfrey, who is only almost three, was inside watching TV."

Trouble at home is the first book in a planned series of four.  It is a perfect book for a newly confident reader. Scholastic have made a comprehensive set of teaching notes for this book.

One of the things that really works in this little book is the repetition of specific little phrases.  I think this will be reassuring for a new reader and also build confidence.

I would follow reading Trouble at home with Moving House from the Aussie Bites series.  You might also enjoy Yin's magic dragon and the classic dragon story The Paperbag Princess by Robert Munsch.

Monster Odyssey The eye of Neptune by Jon Mayhew

This book makes a wild claim on the front cover - "if you like Percy Jackson you'll love this" and so this is why I picked this book up last week.

This book, The eye of Neptune, is the first in a series but I am so happy to report that, while the way is certainly paved for the next book, things are resolved at the end of this first installment.

In this first adventure we meet our hero Prince Dakkar.  His mentor, Oginski, has been making an amazing submersible and so when he is captured Dakkar must race across the world, under the oceans, avoiding perilous monsters to find and free his friend.  Along the way he meets another adventurous and courageous girl called Georgia who also has found herself commanding another submersible made by her uncle. Together these young protagonists must face and defeat the evil megalomaniac Cryptos and foil his plan of world domination.

This is a fast pace action adventure story which is fairly easy to read.  It is certainly a page turner and there are some powerful battle scenes.

"A bony click accompanied the appearance of a long stick-like leg from the water.  Then another leg, and another, followed by a blue, spiny boulder with two black beady eyes on stalks and mandibles that fanned the air.  It was a massive crab.  It rose up above Dakkar on its long spidery legs, clicking sharp pincers at him."

Here is a review.  You might also like to check out the author web site.  Here are the details of the second book in this series.

The very important idea by Emma Dodson

This is a story about problem solving.  It is also very funny.  Mr Fat Cat has a very important idea which he promptly forgets following a small catastrophe in the office kitchen caused the new employee Rat.

Rat, ever anxious to be helpful, scurries off to find a a new 'VERY IMPORTANT IDEA'.  Naturally his search begins at his favourite place - the local tip.  "It was a rat's paradise - everything you could ever want."  Rat finds a wonderful sock which he takes back to the office where he makes a formal presentation using a large flip board.  Mr Fat Cat is horrified.  He does not want a sticky old sock. Rat goes back to the tip where he finds an even better sock which has so many uses from fashion accessory to hammock.  This sock is of course rejected immediately by Mr Fat Cat but Rat has one more idea.  He swaps the latest sock for a magic sock which he uses like a snake charmer.  It is at this moment Mr Fat Cat remembers his very important idea.  Perhaps you have already guessed what it is! I am happy to say no rats were harmed in the making of this book.

I would link this book with Strat and Chatto.  It also made me think of Letters from A Mouse which is a tiny chapter book that I adore.  It is long out of print but we are lucky to have two copies in our school library.
I think socks are a wonderful mini theme idea for younger students.  Here are some titles you might find in your library and here are some amazing ways to use old and odd socks.

Why not add a poem when you read this book.  Here is one about lost socks.

The Missing Sock by Angela Wybrow

This afternoon, I had quite a big shock: 
I discovered that I have a missing sock! 
I put my socks inside the washing machine, 
But now one sock is nowhere to be seen.

I started my hunt earlier - had a scout around, 
But, as yet, the missing sock is still to be found.
It's not hung on the line or the clothes airer.
It needs to be reunited with me: its wearer.

The socks were one of my favourite pairs: 
Light blue with a snowy white polar bear.
They also had stars sewn with silvery thread.
I've looked on the floor and inside my bed.

With a missing sock, I've no peace of mind; 
That missing sock, I simply need to find.
It has to be somewhere within the house -
Or maybe it has been stolen by a mouse! 

That poor little sock is all lonely and lost; 
I'll do anything to retrieve it: whatever the cost.
I'm feeling quite upset, as I really do hate
The thought of it coping without its mate.

With the missing sock, I am quite obsessed, 
And, until I have found it, I will not rest.
That missing sock, I will keep looking for
Until it's safe and sound back in its drawer.