Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Collage by illustrators

Last week I attended an excellent lecture by our wonderful collage illustrator Jeannie Baker. Walker Books hosted the event as a way to share Jeannie's new book - Playing with Collage.

This book will be published in June 2019 and will be an essential purchase for all school libraries.

By coincidence I borrowed this book, last week, from the Prep School library which I am lucky enough to visit each week.

The biggest different between these two books is in the way collage techniques are explained. In Playing with Collage Jeannie gives young readers ideas for collecting materials and ways to use them in designs with practical tips about preserving flowers and leaves and mounting your picture.  From Walker Books: "There are no right or wrong answers in this treasure of a book, it's all about trusting your instincts ... and playing!"

Lois takes a different approach using examples from her own work. She deconstructs her images showing how she has incorporated different scraps - hence the title. Lois says: "My art technique is called collage. I cut out scraps, like pieces of a puzzle, that I assemble and glue into place."

The other important thing about these two titles is that they are written by two famous children's book illustrators and so can be used as a way to explore their work.

I have a small Pinterest collection of work by illustrators who use collage. Here are a few of my favourite titles which use collage including a book by Ezra Jack Keats and one by Patricia Mullins:

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

The Tough Princess by Martin Waddell illustrated by Patrick Benson

Tuesday Treasure

"Once upon a time ..."

A conventional fairy tale opening for a non conventional tale.

The king and queen no longer live in a castle. Fighting wars and losing badly means they are reduced to living in a caravan in the deep dark wood. When their baby daughter is born they decide she can rescue them. Of course they did expect the baby would be a boy!

Her mother explains: "She will grow up to be a beautiful princess. I will annoy a bad fairy and get the Princess into bother, and then a handsome prince will rescue her, and we'll all go off and live in his castle."

Naturally Princess Rosamund has a different plan and it involves a lot of biffing. She borrows a bike complete with decorative dice, stirrup pedals and a lantern and heads off to find a prince. "Rosamund had lots of adventures .... She did all the things a heroine ought to do, but she didn't catch her prince." Look closely to see these things on the cover illustration by Patrick Benson. You may know his work already from the famous book Owl Babies also by Martin Waddell.

Rosamund returns home. She looks around the forest and in a perfect twist she sees this sign


and they "lived happily ever after, too."

I have loved this book for a long time and so I decided to purchase a used copy for myself because, yes you have already guessed, this book is sadly out of print. Tonight I made a startling discovery - my copy has been signed by Martin Waddell himself!

Another modern fairy tale about an assertive female, achiever, in this case leavened with the sort of ebullient good humor that sensibly whisks problems away as fast as they arise. Kirkus

In the late 1990s I completed some post graduate study in Children's Literature. For the final subject we were expected to complete a mini thesis (10,000-15,000 words) and this book - The Tough Princess was my inspiration. My topic - The Modern Princess Tale. I have surprised myself that I had not previously explored this book on my blog.

Some of the books referred to in my mini thesis:

  • Princess Smartypants by Babette Cole
  • The Worm and the Toffee Nosed Princess by Eva Ibbotson
  • The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch
  • Sleeping Ugly by Jane Yolen
  • The Karate Princess by Jeremy Strong
  • The Princess who hated it by Robin Klein
  • Snow White in New York by Fiona French

Monday, March 25, 2019

Spoon by Amy Krouse Rosenthal illustrated by Scott Magoon

Spoon is a wonderful picture book for all ages. It has humour, pathos and a very satisfying emotional arc. Spoon is having doubts about his worth. He comes from a large family filled with spoons of all sizes and shapes.  Today I took along some odd spoons to share with my reading group and they especially like the shell shaped spoon - there is one in this story.

One boy thought this spoon would be useful as a clay mold. Before we started reading we talked about spoons in stories and within minutes every child recalled the famous rhyme "and the dish ran away with the spoon!"  How perfect because this also gets a mention in the story of Spoon. The back cover (seen above) also gave us some good hints about what might happen in this book. We probably should have spent more time talking about facial expressions.

All is not well with spoon. He is felling a little blue (sitting beside a bowl of blueberries) and his mother notices he looks out of shape. Spoon has begun to compare his purpose with the others who live in the cutlery drawer - knife and fork. Knife can cut and Fork never goes stir crazy. What Spoon doesn't know is that Knife and Fork think Spoon is the lucky one.

Spoon can play silly games like bashing pots, spoon is used for measuring and best of all spoon can dive into dishes of ice cream. My favourite illustration is when we see spoon relaxing in a hot cup of tea and chatting to a tea bag!

Early in the book make sure you notice poor little spork (in Australia we call this a splade) who is pictured with the extended family of spoons but standing slightly to the side with a sad face. 

I found a picture book about Spork (by a different author) perhaps we should read that as our next book.

Amy Krouse Rosenthal also has a book called Chopstick.

Spoon is absolutely a ten out of ten book. It is a delight to read aloud and offers plenty of scope for discussion. If you haven't seen Spoon take a look at this video. You can see other books illustrated by Scott Magoon here and you can see all of Amy's books here. Sadly Amy died in 2017.

As I mentioned I am working as a volunteer with a group of Grade Two children who are part of a remedial reading group. The idea is to read these eight children a picture book or two each week. So far every book has been a winner which is a bit of a surprise to me!

List of books read so far:

Pog by Lyn Lee
The Lollipop Tree by Cherney Berg
Spoon by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
A bike like Sergio's by Maribeth Boelts
One is for one by Nadia Wheatley - this one has been the most popular!
Press Here by Herve Tullet
Crazy Hair Day by Barney Saltzberg
Smelly Socks by Robert Munsch
Billy's Bucket by Kes Gray

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Fairy Tales for Feisty girls by Susannah McFarlane

If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales. Albert Einstein

"They may be small, but they're big of heart-
kind and cheerful, brave and smart.
And so with courage, hope and laughter
they make their own 'happily every after."
Prologue poem verse four

Fairytales for Feisty girls is one of the twenty CBCA 2019 Notable titles for Younger Readers. I am so happy to see a book for younger students from grade one up, and I am happy to have a new collection of short stories to share. 

I am going to focus on one of the four tales here - Rapunzel.  The Grimm Brothers version of Rapunzel is a complex fairy tale with many elements. There is the rapunzel plant which the expectant mother craves, there is the bargain by the witch where she demands the new born child, their is the relationship with the young man who visits the tower and his subsequent blindness and there is all that hair.  In this version Rapunzel is not a passive girl sitting in a tower. She is an inventor and problem solver and so is Susannah McFarlane. Why is the tower impenetrable?  Susannah has it covered in climbing roses that work like barbed wire. What does Rapunzel do all day in the tower? In this version the enchantress fills the room with  beautiful things - furniture, clothes and cushions. How does Rapunzel cope with the weight of all that hair? Using her problem solving skills she converts a chest into a cart so she can simply pull the hair along behind her. She even makes a periscope so she can see the outside world.  Her new view of  the world means of course she has to escape. She does meet a boy outside the tower but this time the happy ending is not about getting married. Her actions actually help the whole village when the curse from the enchantress is lifted and so "everyone lived happily ever after."

With a group of older students it would be interesting to compare this book with other versions of the same fairytales. The discussion point could be did Susannah achieve her purpose which was to 'tilt' the well known tale. You can discover more about this here. I have included one edition for each tale here. I have selected quite sophisticated versions with especially beautiful illustrations:

Rapunzel retold by Brothers Grimm illustrated by Paul O Zelinsky

Little Red Riding Hood retold and illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman

Cinderella retold by Charles Perrault and illustrated by Roberto Innocenti

Thumbelina originally by Hans Christian Andersen illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger

There are some teaching tips you can download along with a colouring sheet on the Allen and Unwin web site. There is also a video interview with Susannah McFarlane and a trailer.

These girls are problem solvers. They're assertive, proactive, and independent. Kids' Book Review

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Sonam and the Silence by Eddie Ayres illustrated by Ronak Taher

Music is forbidden, but that's when we need it most. 
But you can only hear music if you listen 
with all your heart. page 10

I am going to begin talking about this book by focusing on the musical instrument played by Sonam. There are much deeper themes in this book but I was so interested to make some discoveries about the rubab.  At the back of Sonam and the Silence book Eddie Ayres, who works for ABC Radio, says:

"Just think, without the rubab we wouldn't have the violin."

These words lingered with me long after reading this book, as did many other aspects of this moving and important story.

I have done a little preliminary research about the rubab. First off there are a few different spellings depending on where the instrument is found - rubab, rabab and rebab. The instrument that predates our modern violin was played with a bow. You can see it in action here. The original rubab comes from Afghanistan, it is a lute-like instrument and the word rebab means "played with a bow."

Music is all around us in the modern world. In supermarkets, in cars, through headphones on a bus, at concerts and in homes but in Afghanistan in from 1996 until 2002 music was prohibited. Eddie Ayres arrived in Kabul in 2015 to work at the National School of Music. This story of Sonam and her discovery of the power of music was inspired by his real life viola student.

When Sonam turns seven she must cover her hair and go off to work selling chewing gum to people travelling in cars. These are dangerous and desperate times. The market place is loud and noisy but amid all this Sonam hears a sound "that seems to come from the trees, from the earth, from the heart. A whisper."  She follows the thread of sound and finds an old man sitting under some trees - pomegranate and mulberry trees. In his hands he is holding a rubab.

"Music. This is what nobody in her country is allowed to hear. This sound which makes Sonam feel she is both up amongst the stars and deeper than than the tree roots, this is music."

The old man gives Sonam the instrument he played as a child. It is carved from a single piece of mulberry wood. Hearing the music, playing the music, gives Sonam hope and happiness but this is short lived. Her brother discovers her secret. He needs to protect Sonam. He takes away her rubab and forbids her to sing or hum. Sonam has lost her protection from the world. She becomes sad and withdrawn. Finally she decides to go back to the garden where she met the old man. He is gone but there is a  piece of fruit on the pomegranate tree. She gathers the seeds and goes home to plant them. Digging in her own yard she makes an amazing discovery. There is a wooden box hidden under the earth. It is her rubab.

I have found two very different sets of teachers notes for this book. Both are well worth exploring and will give you deeper insights into the themes and illustrations in Sonam and the Silence.

Magpies magazine volume 34, issue 1, March 2019 contains a wonderful interview with Eddie Ayres and Ronak Taher by Joy lawn. I was amazed to discover Eddie and Ronak have never met although did extensively collaborate on this book. Sonam and the Silence is an important book and an emotional and uplifting story. This book is one of the twenty CBCA Picture book of the Year Notable titles for 2019. Surely it must be selected for the CBCA Short list (announced 26th March). I would share this book with a group of older Primary students but it is included on the Grades 3 and 4 Premier's Reading Challenge list.

There is also an iTunes ebook version of Sonam and the Silence.

You could follow Sonam and the Silence with Ada's Violin by Susan Hood, Silence by Lemniscates or for an older class The Red Piano by Andre Leblanc.

Image source:

Friday, March 22, 2019

Swimming against the storm by Jess Butterworth


I do enjoy survival stories and oddly I also really enjoy books set around swamps. Swimming against the Storm fits the bill perfectly. Grab your wet weather gear and your courage - you will need both when you enter this book!

Eliza, her sister Avery and their mum and dad live in Coteville, Louisiana. Their backyard is the bayou. Mum and dad make their living from shrimping. As this story opens Eliza has turned twelve. This is the day Eliza can go shrimping. Her sister is only ten and so she is left behind. Avery is deeply disappointed and upset.

 Eliza has imagined this day for years but she is not prepared for the reality of the by-catch. There are crabs, fish of all sizes, plastic debris, shrimp of course and a beautiful sea turtle all caught up in the nets. Eliza is distressed to see the turtle is hurt and while her parents do gently put him back many of the beautiful fish are left to die on the floor of the boat. Eliza had no idea shrimping also meant the death of so many precious sea creatures.

The sisters have a great relationship but jealousy over the shrimping outing is a real threat. Avery tells Eliza she and her friend Grace have found something mysterious and interesting on a small island in the swamp. After the disaster of the shrimping outing Eliza is keen to reconcile with her sister so the two set off. First they travel in a small motorboat and then jump into a pair of kayaks. Avery leads her sister across a small island to a footprint.

There is a legend in the bayou of a creature called a Loup-garou. Have they found evidence this creature really exists?

Meanwhile an oil company are advising all residents to leave the area and find a different place to live because the land is subsiding and sea levels are rising. Leaving the area will mean the end for this small, close knit community.

This area is also famous for wild hurricanes. Eliza, Avery, Grace and their friend Huy decide to investigate the mystery of the Loup-garou. If this creature does live in their swamp then maybe they can save their home. This is an action packed atmospheric story. You will feel the wild wind lashing at your hair, the mosquitoes biting your exposed skin and the mud of the swamp sticking to your clothes and hair. I loved final scenes which are filled with tension as the hurricane rages and the kids race home ready to reveal the truth. The title is perfect. There is the real storm, the storm of corruption by the oil company and the storm between the two sisters which Eliza is desperate to heal.

Swimming against the Storm will be available in April this year. I would follow this book with titles by Carl Hiaasen such as Chomp and The Explorer by Katherine Rundell.

I also very keen to read these two earlier titles by Jess Butterworth:

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Beware the deep dark forest by Sue Whiting illustrated by Annie White

This place is creepy, 
thought Rose.
And she opened her eyes
till they were as round as the moon.

Tinky is just a tiny pup. He doesn't understand the warning to stay away from the deep, dark forest. When he runs off Rosie has to conquer her fear and plunge in after him even though she is warned about the venomous snakes and carnivorous plants that lie in wait to attack her.

In the spirit of We're going on a Bear Hunt, Rosie bravely sets off into the unknown.  She does not encounter any carnivorous plants or venomous snakes but she does have to sneak past a ferocious sleeping wolf, make and swing on a vine rope across a chasm because the flimsy bridge is broken and finally confront an enormous and hungry troll. There is NO WAY Rosie will become dinner for this troll.

She grabs hold of her pup and then:

She swung across the dizzily deep ravine.
She slipped past the bristly brute of a wolf.
She squelched back through the deep and dark and muddy forest.

Here is a set of detailed teachers notes which focus on the story structure, characters and most important of all the language devices used by Sue Whiting such as alliteration and repetition. Annie White makes good use of font size and form along with huge bold capital letters when Rosie yells at the troll "I'M NOT DINNER! I'M ROSIE! I also love the colour palette she uses with lots of bright green and with splashes of red.  You can read how a young boy in a cape inspired this book.

Children in my school library often ask for 'scary books'. I think Beware the deep dark forest will meet this criteria. The troll is huge and perhaps a little frightening but the way Rosie scares HIM is sure to make a young audience howl with delight.

I do hope this book is selected for the CBCA 2019 short list along with Boat of Stars and Rainbow Bear.

That most of us will go to any lengths to save the thing we love, is the dominant theme in this book. It is a story of courage played out by a young girl who wants to save her young impetuous pup who doesn’t know what danger is, and is bent on discovering the world beyond his boundaries. Kids' Book Review

Beware the deep dark forest is a 2019 CBCA Notable book (Early Childhood).

Image source Cockburn Libraries :

I would pair Beware the deep dark forest with Scary Night by Lesley Gibbes and Dragon Quest by Allan Baillie.  With a group of older students you could compare this book with Into the Forest and/or The Tunnel by Anthony Browne.