Sunday, October 21, 2018

The gift of Dark Hollow by Kieran Larwood

Great storytelling continues in this latest Longburrow adventure. Kirkus

 A modern-day classic that is not to be missed, with stunningly detailed fantasy illustrations by David Wyatt. BookTrust

A few weeks ago I talked about The Legend of Podkin One-ear by Kieran Larwood - my new favourite book. This week I have read the second book from this series - The Gift of Dark Hollow and it is just as good as the first.

Once again it is the bard who is telling the story of our hero Podkin. Along with his sister Paz and baby brother Pook, they are caught up in a series of fierce battles against the Gorm. They have now acquired three more 'gifts' with magical powers which brings their total to four of the twelve from the ancient tribes.

  • Starclaw -  The magic dagger of Munbury it can cut through anything except iron
  • Moonfyre - A brooch that lets you jump in and out of moon shadows the gift of Dark Hollow.
  • Ailfew -   The magic sickle which is the gift of Redwater Warren.
  • Surestrike - The hammer of Applecross can make weapons that pierce the Gorm's armour.

As the group travel to Applecross to retrieve Surestrike they meet Zarza, a bonedancer, Vetch of Golden Brook and Yarrow the bard.  Right from the start I didn't trust Vetch and I am fairly sure we will meet him again in future installments.

"He seemed desperate for someone to like him. A bit too desperate perhaps."
"And as for that Vetch, well I trust him about as far as I can throw a giant rat."
"Vetch, wrapped in his exotic cloak, sidled up to Podkin at one point, giving him a nervous smile. His eyes kept darting to the dagger on Podkin's hip."

Vetch returns to Dark Hollow with a rescued farmer, his wife and children. Meanwhile our heroes travel on to Applecross to find and open the mysterious bridge over to Ancients Island. It is a furious race to outrun the Gorm, retrieve Surestrike and make it home.  You will be on the edge of your seat gripping your sword and holding your breath through the scenes that follow.

I love all place names and rabbit species we meet in this series - "The other surviving rabbits were refugees from all over Gotland and Enderby. Some were from Munbury and Redwater warrens but there were also sables from Cherrywood and Ivywick, lops from Applecross, and brindle-furred rabbits from Stormwell and Hillbottom. Some came from tiny warrens Podkin had never heard of, like Toadleton and Muggy Pit. There was even a shield maiden all the way from Blackrock."

The gift of Dark Hollow employs a rich vocabulary with words like: priority, brusque, comatose, loamy, vulnerable and bandoliers.

Listen to an audio sample from the first book (page 6-8) and here is one from The Gift of Dark Hollow. Take time to look at the web site of the illustrator David Wyatt it is brilliant.

This is an adventure story, fast paced and tense. It seems that the free rabbits of Enderby will be easily overpowered by the Gorm, with their deadly weapons, armour and devious spies. The fight is to preserve the rabbit race at all costs, but most of all so that rabbits can once again live in peace. The Book Bag

The third book from this series is The Beasts of Grimheart. Due in Australia at the end of October.

Good Dog by Dan Gemeinhart

You. Me. Together. Always.

... one thing wouldn't budge: the hard tug of his love for that boy. That love was the biggest truth he could ever imagine.

His heart glowed to a gold more glorious than any Forever. It shone brighter than all the blue skies and green fields and sunny days of anywhere and everywhere put together.

A few years ago I read another Dan Gemeinhart book - The Honest Truth - it captivated me. Last month I spied this book by Dan at a library book fair and the Teacher-Librarian kindly gave me this copy. Good Dog is a 'harder' book than The Honest Truth. Harder in the sense of emotional distress. The lines between good and evil are powerfully drawn. The scenes between the hell hounds and our two dog heroes Brodie and Tuck are harrowing. This is not a book for the faint-hearted.

Brodie has died. As the story opens he is in the afterlife but this is a place of transition. Brodie cannot move on because he has unfinished business back with his boy. He is allowed to go back to the land of the living but there are conditions. He will be invisible to humans and his time will be short.

"You're not going back as you were. You're going back as you are. A spirit. Nothing more. You're going back to a living world ... but you're going back dead. ... Your spirit will still have life for a while, down there,' the angel said. 'You'll even be able to see the glow of it. But with each moment in that world, it will fade. When your glow is gone, Brodie, you'll be stuck. You'll be lost. Forever."

"Every time you really touch the world, every time you make yourself real enough to do something - like jump on a truck - it costs you a little bit of your soul. Even walking down this sidewalk right now, all this touching of the world ... it's taking a little of our souls, just a drop at a time."

Brodie listens to these warnings but he knows he simply has no choice. His boy needs him. Snatches of his former life and especially his final moments with Aiden play out in his mind in fragmented flashbacks. For the reader, these are like pieces of an unfolding puzzle. I enjoy storytelling like this where the reader has to put in some work to understand what has happened in the past.  The reader also has to trust the author will keep you safe over the course of this dangerous journey.

All of your senses will be on high alert when you read Good Dog. Here is an example - the hell hound bites into Brodie:

"Darkly's teeth sank into his shoulder. No. His teeth sank into ... him. It was like nothing he'd ever felt. His teeth sank deep, and a high, ripping whimper was torn from Brodie's throat. But it didn't feel like pain, this bite. It felt far worse than pain."

I'd like to talk about motivations at this point. Brodie needs to help his boy and this is easy to understand but what of Tuck? He is a loyal companion to Brodie but he also has unfinished business from his former life. Tuck is such a great dog. I wanted to reach out and hug him. He is full of life and bounce but it is the cat Patsy who is the most complex character and I found myself constantly questioning her true motives for helping Brodie.

"Why are you even here, Patsy? Really. If you don't wanna help, if you think we're do dumb and this whole thing is stupid, then why are you hanging around?' 'I told you, sausage-for-brains, I was bored.' 'No way,' Brodie snapped. 'You wouldn't come all this way and go through all this stuff just 'cause you were bored. There's gotta be another reason. Tell us. What is it?"

I would recommend Good Dog for a very mature senior Primary student. I would follow Good Dog with The Midnight Zoo by Sonya Hartnett and Dog by Andy Mulligan.  For a slightly younger audience take a look at One dog and his boy by Eva Ibbotson which has the same emotional arc. Here is a video where you can see Dan talking about his book. Click on the reviews below for more plot details.

Action-packed, highly suspenseful, and deeply moving. Perfect. Kirkus

Brodie senses before he thinks; his narrative flows in visceral waves of experience. These sensory pleasures are no match for the emotional sturdiness of Brodie’s good heart.  BookPage

Friday, October 19, 2018

How the Queen found the perfect cup of tea by Kate Hosford illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska

It is fun to use picture books as a springboard into other topics and this book How the Queen found the perfect cup of tea raises lots of possibilities.  You could trace the Queen's journey to Japan, India and finally Turkey. Her hot air balloon is a very fine way to travel.  With the help of a new young friend she samples and participates in the making of three different versions of tea and discovers that yes indeed each is delicious but there is another ingredient needed to make the perfect cup of tea - the company of good friends.  You could research types of tea, ways of making making tea and with older children - the customs involved with drinking tea for example look for the book Listen to the Wind.

For students of visual literacy you might compare the final spread in How the Queen found the perfect cup of tea classic images of the Mad Hatters tea party from Alice in Wonderland. This one is by Helen Oxenbury.

Here is the Kirkus review. Kate Hosford has a web site where you can see some of her other titles.  In our school library we have a very special book illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska - My name is Yoon.  For older children I would pair this book with Cloud Tea Monkeys by Mal Peet and with younger children the classic The Tiger who came to Tea. My friend at Kinderbooks talks about tea books here.  You can read an interview with the author.  If you want to explore some other funny books about Queen Victoria look for Queen Victoria's Underpants by Jackie French.

Mabel and Sam at Home by Linda Urban illustrated by Hadley Hooper

Tomorrow said Mabel, we will all explore and be bold. 
Tomorrow we will be even bolder than we are today.

This book combines some of my favourite story elements - imaginative play, cardboard boxes, sibling relationships and perfect illustrations.  This is a book I would love to see in all school libraries.

The children have moved into a new house. This is perfectly described by Linda Urban:

"There were chairs where chairs did not go and sofas where sofas could not stay."

In the midst of the chaos Mabel and her brother Sam find safety inside a large cardboard packing box which instantly becomes a ship sailing on a sea of blue carpet. Mabel patiently explains the ways of the sea to Sam.

"Ahoy!,' said Captain Mabel. 'Welcome aboard the Handle with Care. I am the captain.' 'And I am Ahoy,' said Ahoy. 'You're not Ahoy. Ahoy means hello. You are First Mate Sam."

The pair get to work swabbing the deck, hoisting the sails, riding wild waves and fishing for halibut. In the distance they see an island but Captain Mabel is sure the distant land is full of dangers. They sail on and things slow down, even the fish stop biting, until they see another land. The inhabitants are eating pizza so Captain Mabel agrees they can go ashore.

There are three 'chapters' in this longer format picture book. Each features a different set of colours. In the second section Mabel realises Sam needs a tour of the new home rather like visitors to the museum. She explains about the need for quiet, the importance of artifacts and the rule of no touching. The best thing they find at the museum is a frosted pitty-pat which Sam quietly licks.

I think the frosted pitty-pat is a lovely idea and perhaps they look like this. You could make some after your visit to the museum with Mabel and Sam.

As night falls the pair become astronauts. When things become really dark their mum plugs in the moon. I love the way the parents join the imaginative play at this point, becoming astronaut parents and even allowing Mr Woofie (the dog) to snuggle under the stars. Have you worked out why the boat is named 'Handle with Care'?

I would pair this book with Clancy and Millie and the very fine house by Libby Gleeson, Miss Mae's Saturday and On Sudden Hill.  If you want to explore another book series about brothers and sisters take a look at Annie and Simon.  Here is a conversation with the author. Linda Urban lives in Vermont and Hadley Hooper lives in Denver.

Each chapter is built around a color (navy, yellow, and gray-green, respectively) and mixes fully rendered characters with impressionistic settings and dappled textures, resulting in pages that brim with reassuring humor and lovely graphic nuances. Publisher's Weekly

Hooper’s retro, textured illustrations, rendered via printmaking techniques, expertly capture the joyous dynamics of imaginative sibling play in this lengthy story. (I love this longer text in a day where minimalist picture book texts dominate.) Mabel and Sam are so endearing; maybe we readers will be lucky enough to see them in a sequel. Julie Danielson Book Page 

Thursday, October 18, 2018

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo audio book

I made a long car trip recently and took along several audio book including The Tale of Despereaux. I first read this wonderful tale (Newbery Medal) in 2004 and so I was amazed at how much a remembered as the audio book unfolded. Graeme Malcolm is a UK actor and he has the perfect voice for each of the characters from Despereaux himself, to Miggery Sow, the young girl who longs to be a Princess. From Roscuro, the cunning rat to the Princess Pea and best of all the voice of Despereaux's French mother.

Here is the blurb:

Here, reader, is the tale of a tiny, sickly mouse with unusually large ears, a mouse who takes his fate into his own hands.

It is the tale of a beautiful flaxen-haired princess who laughs often and makes everything around her seem brighter.

It is the tale of a poor deaf serving girl, who entertains foolish dreams of splendour.

It is the tale of impossible love, of bravery and old-fashioned courage.

And reader, it is tale of treachery, unlimited treachery.

It is the Tale of Despereaux.

You can hear a sample of this audio book here.  As my friend an I listened to this book she kept hearing biblical and classical literature references and near the end of the book was quite sure someone could use this book to complete their PhD thesis!

The audio format is especially a treat and this comment from the New York Times sums up why:
The narrator, who speaks directly to the reader, is wildly authoritative, over the top, funny and confiding.  New York Times

And so unwinds a tale with twists and turns, full of forbidden soup and ladles, rats lusting for mouse blood, a servant who wishes to be a princess, a knight in shining—or, at least, furry—armor, and all the ingredients of an old-fashioned drama. Kirkus

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Walking with Miss Millie by Tamara Bundy

"Out the window I saw a beat-up sign that once said, WELCOME TO RAINBOW, but now with most of the letters faded, it only read, COME RAIN, and that made more sense in this dried-up little town. I remembered Daddy saying that the only good day in Rainbow, Georgia, is the day you leave."

It is 1968 and discrimination against African American citizens is still prevalent especially in the small towns in the south. Miss Millie is a African American lady. She has lived through some really tough times but through the pain of her past she is now able to offer a quiet wisdom to her new neighbour Alice.

Alice, her mum and brother have moved to Rainbow, Georgia. Alice's grandmother has Alzheimer's and she needs help with her daily life. Millie does not want to live in Rainbow. She is desperate to get back to Columbus Ohio. She is also desperate to see her dad. He has left, again. This time he has been gone for six months. Alice 'accidentally' hears a telephone conversation between Miss Millie and another lady from the town. As a penance her mother sends her to visit Miss Millie. A bargain is made. Alice will walk Miss Millie's dog Clarence but Clarence has other ideas. He is suspicious of strangers and so a daily pattern emerges. Alice goes next door each day and sets off with Miss Millie AND Clarence on walks through the town.

As they walk, they talk. Alice hears about Miss Millie's family, the joys and the tragedies. At the end of each walk Miss Millie gives Alice a small treasure. Each item serves as a reminder of a past event. Alice also finds a box of love poems written by her father to her mother when they both grew up in Rainbow. Alice decides to find the setting of each poem and collect treasures for her father ready for his return.

Here is some of the quiet wisdom in this book:

"Alice-girl,' Miss Millie shook her head. 'The world is fulla mean people. But it is also fulla nice people, too. That's the important thing."

"Ah Alice-girl, truth be told, you're never too old to be hurt just a little. But if you're lucky, one day you'll be smart enough to quit putting yourself in situations that hurt ya."

"I learned it's okay to get sad, but after all that gettin' mad and sad, ya gotta get smart. Ya gotta take a step back, away from all your hurtin', and figure out what ya can change and what ya can't."

When Miss Millie talks to Jake about his family she says "it takes a strong plant to come up out of hardened group, 'specially when it ain't given much sunshine.' Jake looked right back into her eyes and smiled a smile that said he knew she wasn't really talking about growing plants."

I would follow Walking with Miss Millie with Kizzy Ann Stamps, Walking to the bus-rider blues, The Crazy Man and, for an older audience, The Watson's go to Birmingham, 1963.

Take a look at the author web site where you can see some of awards given to this book. Tamara explains the background to her story. Small warning you will probably cry at the end of this book - I did.

The summer of 1968 brings huge changes to the lives of a young white girl and an elderly black woman—and cements a beautiful friendship. Kirkus

Tamara Bundy’s beautifully written debut celebrates the wonder and power of friendship: how it can be found when we least expect it and make any place a home. Kids Reads

The Wild Robot Escapes by Peter Brown

Cows grazed in the pasture.
Wind rustled through the tall grass.
Clouds drifted over the fields.
Farm machines rumbled and buzzed.
Milk flowed into bottles.
Bottles were packed into boxes.
Boxes were loaded onto the milk truck.
The truck drove away full and returned empty.
Children romped with their dog.
A man sat at his desk.
A robot dreamed of escape.

Many weeks ago I read (or better, actually devoured) The Wild Robot by Peter Brown. It was first published in 2016 and I have been waiting for the sequel to arrive. Every time I enter a bookshop I have searched for - The Wild Robot Escapes. Two weeks ago I found it. I held my breath as I opened the cover. Sometimes sequels are disappointing but not this one. It is just as exciting and intriguing as the first installment.

Read my review of the first book or better I would suggest you need to read the first book. At the end of The Wild robot you will remember Roz was captured after a fierce battle. Now she has been repaired and refurbished and is delivered to Hilltop Farm.

"Mr Shareef pulled a small computer from his pocket. He tapped the screen and bought up a map of Hilltop Farm. 'There you are Roz,' he said as the robot's electronic signal appeared on the map. 'You'll be working all over this farm. And now that you're in the system I can always see right where you are."

Read these lines and then take another look at the title of the book - The Wild Robot Escapes. How will Roz (Rozzum unit 7134) ever escape if her every movement can be tracked?

Roz is desperate to return to her idyllic island and to her son Brightbill. Luckily the two children on the farm love stories and since the loss of their mother they are desperate for a companion. Roz tells stories of an island and about the hatching of an egg. The children love these stories.

"You are correct, children, those robot stories are about me,' admitted Roz, with a hit of sadness in her voice. 'There were so many times that I wanted to tell you the truth about my past ... This is my son. His name is Brightbill.' Reader, there's another important quality that children possess. In addition to being sneaky and smart, they're also compassionate. Children care about others, and about the world, and as Jaya and Jad gazed at Roz and Brightbill, their little hearts were full of compassion."

Take a look at Peter Brown's web page where be describes his plot outlines and research for this book. This is an excellent resource to share with children because Peter Brown shares his editing and re-writing process in such an honest way. Writing this book was a true labour of love. Here is a set of questions to use with this text. You can listen to Chapter 26 here.  This sequel is a ten out of ten book but I highly recommend reading The Wild Robot first.

Science fiction meets fantasy in this delightful sequel that gives readers a unique look into what technology could someday have in store. A must-buy for any middle grade collection. School Library Journal

I don't usually read sequels but I had to read this book. ... Following Roz's journey was magical ... an amazing book, a wild adventure ...  Colby Sharp

Using short, direct sentences (he’s not one to engage in flowery figurative language), short chapters, and a measured pace, he invites readers into Roz’s thoughts. He also returns to the chummy voice of the first book, affectionately addressing readers directly and bringing them into the fold by describing Roz as “our robot.” Roz’s paradoxical self is for all of us. We’re in this together. Chapter 16 Blog