Sunday, April 20, 2014

King Pig by Nick Bland


The most interesting character in King Pig has no name and almost no voice. If you look very closely you will see the tip of his little jester hat just above the grass as he walks behind his King.  On the next page we see a little more of the King with his sheep crook and a tiny corner of the page you can see that same hat some distance back from the King who is approaching his castle.  On the first page all is revealed.  The King has forced his subjects - the sheep - to make  a bridge from planks strapped to their backs.  This servitude combined with the haughty demeanor of King Pig himself certainly sets the tone and relationship between King Pig and his subjects - the sheep.  Our tiny hero is also a sheep but he will be allowed to enter the castle contrary to the sign above the castle door.

Once inside our faithful little friend prepares a delicious hot dog lunch for his master but King Pig is far more interested in those sheep who never seem to listen and worse who seem to make fun of him.  King Pig is a bully so he commands the sheep to wash his castle in the middle of the night "but he just couldn't make them like him."

Just like the Emperor in the famous fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen, King Pig decides he needs new and fancier clothes. Again it is the middle of the night but he summons the sheep and puts them to work dyeing and knitting the new fancy clothes.  Yes the new outfits are indeed spectacular but still his subjects are not impressed.  "What do I have to do to make you like me!"

King Pig does feel remorse but the ending is certainly open to further discussion.  Make sure you take time to notice the hats, the topiary trees outside the castle, the tent used as a shelter by the freezing sheep and the television antenna on top of the castle.

Here are some teaching notes.  You might also discuss the double meaning in the title.  Here is a detailed review.  This book has been short listed for our CBCA Awards for 2014.




Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Swap by Jan Ormerod illustrated by Andrew Joyner


Caroline Crocodile is jealous of her new baby brother.  He seems to get all the attention she craves from Mama Crocodile.  What can Caroline do?  On a shopping trip to return a newly purchased hat Caroline sees a solution to her problem.  There is a baby shop in the street.  Why not swap this brother for a different one?

"This baby brother is not exactly what I want,' she said. 'It's smelly and it dribbles, it's no fun, and it takes up all the room on my mama's lap.  I want to swap it for one that is just right."

While The Swap is not a new story and perhaps not even a very surprising one it is told with such joy and the illustrations are so much fun.  I do hope this book wins an award from the CBCA for 2014.

Make sure you go back and look at all the little extras such as number plates, the photos in the house, the sale sign outside the bookshop, the mouse and his motorcycle and the way mama's new hat exactly matches Caroline's pretty yellow dress.

After reading The Swap you might also enjoy some other books about new babies, siblings and jealousy such as  The very worst Monster by Pat Hutchins, Another Brother by Mathew Cordell, Noisy Nora by Rosemary Wells, Rosie and Tortoise by Margaret Wild or Julius the Baby of the world by Kevin Henkes.

You might like to read this review by Louise Pfanner or this one from The Bottom Shelf.


ANZAC Day - a book list

ANZAC Day is commemorated next week and in our school students prepare and present a moving service each year.  We have so many excellent books suitable for all ages in our library which allow students to gain some understanding of the events surrounding World War I and II along with other more recent conflicts. Some focus on individuals, others on major events such as the landing at Gallipoli while others explore courage and heroism.  I have included a little quote from each book to give you an idea of the tone and content.

My Grandad Marches on ANZAC day by Catriona Hoy and Benjamin Johnson
"He wears his best jacket and has shiny medals on his chest.  He doesn't have much hair on his head but he does have a big moustache."


Only a Donkey by Celeste Walters illustrated by Patricia Mullins
"I was a donkey who served in a war that was fought long ago in a place far away, and many young soldiers who fell would have died, except for one man who just followed his heart.  At the sound of his voice I was willingly led.  With his hand on my halter, sure-footed I trod."

The Bantam and the solider by Jennifer Beck illustrated by Robyn Belton
"Food became scarce, and Arthur and his companions collected grubs and worms for Bertha from the muddy banks of their clay prison.  And she rewarded them.  In the midst of a raging battle, when the sky was crisscrossed with fire, Bertha laid a warm brown egg.  When Arthur found it, he hugged the little bantam to his mud-caked jacket."

Gallipoli by Kerry Greenwood illustrated by Annie White
"The ANZACs had been at Gallipoli for months now.  The weather was hot, and they were sweaty and dirty. Insects bit them day and night.  Sometimes they got letters and presents from home. Bluey opened a parcel wrapped in brown paper with string. 'Fruit cake and tins of apricot jam!"

The house was built in a day Anzac cottage by Valerie Everett illustrated by Barbara McGuire
"A proud community gazed upon its achievement. On a street in their suburb stood Western Australia's first Gallipoli memorial, a house that could never be sold.  The Australians who fought and died would live on in their hearts and memories..."

ANZAC Biscuits by Phil Cummings illustrated by Owen Swan
"The farm was quiet.  Rachel and her mother were in the kitchen.  The fire crackled and Rachel was warm.  'Let's make some biscuits for Dad,' her mother said.  'Yes, let's!' Rachel cried."

"Snow was falling.  The solider turned his back to the bitter cold. He lifted his collar and lowered his unshaven face to feel the warmth of his own breath."

In Flanders Fields by Norman Jorgensen and Brian Harrison-Lever
"A brightly coloured robin is trapped.  One wing is flapping helplessly. The bird is unable to free itself from the tangle of deadly barbs."

Photographs in the mud by Dianne Wolfer illustrated by Brian Harrison-Lever
"Hoshi and Jack stared into each other's eyes. Then Hoshi rolled closer, groaning with the effort.  Scalding pain burned across his chest as he held out the picture."

Present from the past by Jennifer Beck illustrated by Lindy Fisher
"Princess Mary, who was the only daughter of the King and Queen of England at the time, decided that she wanted to give a special present to all the allied troops serving overseas."

Anzac Day parade by Glenda Kane and Lisa Allen
"Sixty years since he saw the battle when ninety-three mates got blown away by cracking mortar and machine gun rattle, now names on a plaque at the RSL."

The Red Poppy by David Hill illustrated by Fifi Colston
"Of course! The puppy would show they were near a patch of flowers. Jim put the flower into the pouch too, then looked into the dog's eyes.  'Hurry, Nipper.' The tail wagged again."

Lofty's mission by Krista Bell illustrated by David Miller
"Sorry, lad.' Frank McNamara was firm.  'The army needs top homing pigeons as messengers. Your Lofty, Number 371, is our best squeaker ... just what they need up in New Guinea."

Meet the ANZACS by Claire Saxby illustrated by Max Berry
"The ships docked at Cairo after six long weeks at sea.  The Australians and the New Zealanders set up camp side by side, close to the pyramids.  The air swirled hot and fierce, full of sand."

Lone Pine by Susie Brown and Margaret Warner illustrated by Sebastian Ciaffaglione
"The soldier looks down.  He stoops and plucks a pine cone that is still clinging to a branch.  Holding it up, he breathes in the fresh clean scent of pine. He thinks of his mother's garden where he used to play with his brothers.  The soldier slips the pine cone into his pocket.  It is a reminder of this sad day."

Do not forget Australia by Sally Murphy illustrated by Sonia Kretschmar
"Billy tried to imagine what it would be like to have your home destroyed, or to have no school to go to every day. And he wondered if there was anything he could do to help the kids of Villers-Bretonneux."

Memorial by Gary Crew illustrated by Shaun Tan
"But the tree's a memorial,' I say. 'The same as the statue - except the tree's alive and the statue's just rock and concrete. And the tree's full of birds and fruit bats and possums. Whole families, like ours.  The council wouldn't cut the big tree down, would they, Old Pa?"

The Poppy by Andrew Plant
"The poppies nod in the winds that blow over the Somme.  Their petals turn the fields red where once they were stained with the blood of the fallen."

Harry and the Anzac Poppy by John Lockyer
"A small wooden box was on the floor beside the chair.  Harry picked it up.  'What's this, Grandma?' Grandma Kate ran her fingers over the scratched lid.  'Do you know anything about World War One?' she asked."

Simpson and his Donkey by Mark Greenwood illustrated by Frane Lessac
"Jack was responding to a cry for help when he came upon a donkey cowering in a gully of pines."

The Afghanistan pup by Mark Wilson
"The solider suddenly stopped.  Just where he was about to dig was a little dog. covered in sand.  The pup wasn't moving, so the solider brushed away the dirt and discovered wounds on its legs and side. He could see that the wounds were badly infected ... He wiped the dust from the pup's face before dripping some water from his canteen into the animal's mouth.  It was soon time to go, so the solider picked up the pup and carried it to his truck."

Vietnam Diary by Mark Wilson
"Jason sat bleary-eyed in his foxhole early one morning as the sun burst through the trees.  But something wasn't right.  There was no noise.  Then suddenly, explosions erupted throughout the camp."

The Anzac puppy by Peter Millet illustrated by Trish Bowles
You might like to read my review.

A day to remember by Jackie French illustrated by Mark Wilson
You might like to read my review.

I was only Nineteen by John Schumann illustrated by Craig Smith
"Townsville lined the footpath as we marched down to the quay. This clipping from the paper shows us young and strong and clean. And there's me in my slouch hat, with my SLR and greens. God help me, I was only nineteen."

Christmas in the Trenches by John McCutcheon illustrated by Henri Sorensen
You can read the lyrics here.

Why are they marching, Daddy?  by Di Burke
Madi is watching the parade with her father. "Why are they marching, Daddy?" she asks. Madi's father tells his daughter the story of Anzac.  He talks about war too: "Is war bad?" asks Madi... Daddy answers by talking about the good and bad. The reasons and the consequences. He talks about freedom. This little book addresses the big issues simply and clearly. It's a great book to talk about what we are commemorating on the 25th April every year.




Click here to read more details from My Little Bookcase blog.


A very unusual pursuit by Catherine Jinks Book One City of Orphans

If you enjoy a book which takes you into a place and time so fully you feel as though you are living with the characters, breathing the same air, smelling the same smells and even touching the same surfaces then you will love A Very Unusual Pursuit.  This book has been short listed for our annual CBCA book awards in the Younger Readers category and it is my pick for winner.

Birdie McAdam has been 'prenticed to Alfred Bunce, the bogler. A bogle is defined in the excellent glossary at the end of this book as a "monster, goblin or bogeyman."  Bogle's are very nasty creatures who feed on children.  Bridie, aged 10,  has been trained to lure them so her master can use his deadly spear.  She has an exquisite singing voice.

"Alfred stood to the left of the fireplace, his salt in one hand, his staff in the other.  He didn't speak to Birdie, who took up her usual position inside his magic circle.  Though she'd turned her back on him, the little mirror she was holding gave her a clear view of everything that lay behind her: Alfred, the fireplace, the gap in the ring of salt.  She only had to take one step - a single step across the white line on the floor - and she would be safe.  But she couldn't do it yet.  Not until they'd lured their quarry out of its hiding place... not until they'd baited their trap.  Suddenly Alfred gave a nod.  It was her cue, and it made her heart leap.  The blood was thundering in her ears.  When she began to sing, however, her voice was clear and calm."

The murky world of London (1870) is filled with these monsters along with some very shady characters.  I really enjoyed the names used by Catherine Jinks such as Sarah Pickles (mistress to a gang of pickpockets), Elijah Froggett (a rag and bone man), Mrs Grunge (the workhouse cook), Jem Barbary (thief in the employ of Sarah Pickles but also a friend to Birdie) and Ned Roach (a mudlark or child who scavenges along the riverbank who is also a good friend to Bridie).

Miss Edith Eames is a wealth single lady who has developed an interest in creatures like bogles.  She wants to conduct a scientific study of these creatures in order to find better ways to destroy them - ways that do not involve using a young girl like Birdie as bait.  This idea horrifies Birdie.  She is proud to work as a 'prentice to Alfred and gains a sense of self worth through her success and skill.   Miss Eames wants Alfred to use a gooseberry pie to lure the bogle.  Birdie is burning with anger.  "Had she been allowed to talk, however, she would have told Miss Eames to stick her pie where it would hurt the most. I'd like to throw it in her face, Birdie thought.  She didn't say so, however.  She just kept stomping along in Alfred's wake, grim-faced and silent."  Needless to say the pie does not work and once again Birdie shines as she lures another heinous monster into Alfred's trap.

Bogles are not the only danger, though.  Birdie and Alfred are asked to look into the shady practice of a doctor - Dr Morton.  Some clothes belonging to children who work for Sarah Pickles have been found in his yard.  As I mentioned when we enter this house you will feel you are really inside with Birdie.  "the kitchen was damp and decrepit ... there was a smell of mildewed potatoes ....  (the drawing room was filled with) an extraordinary array of ... knives and candles, apothecary jars, a bird's claw, a human skull, a carved stone figure, a shrunken head ... and a grotesque feather mask."

The other powerful aspect of this book comes from the detailed character descriptions :

"Sarah Pickes was a fat woman with a face like a withered apple."
"Her son Charlie, a pale, ferret-faced youth"
Miss Eames "was dressed in several shades of mustard, with a modest bustle, no flounces, and the plainest of hairstyles.  Her pale face was shaped like a cat's, wide at the cheekbones but tapering off to a pointed chin."
Elijah Froggett "was memorable because he had a long stringy beard like a piece of frayed rope, and because he had never been known to remove his velvet smoking cap."

Here is a video interview with Catherine Jinks where she talks about A Very Unusual Pursuit. I am also pleased to see this book was reviewed in our NSW School Magazine last year.  Read more about this book at the author web site.  Here are some detailed reviews if you need to know a little more about the plot and setting. This is the first book in a trilogy.  I am really looking forward to re-entering the world of Birdie and her colourful friends.

If you enjoy (believe me you will!) A Very Unusual Pursuit you might also look for the Barnaby Grimes series by Paul Stewart and The Truth about Verity Sparks by Susan Green.  Later you might also be tempted to read Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens.

In America this book has a different title (once again this change puzzles me) - How to Catch a Bogle is the US title.  The Kirkus Review below is a perfect celebration of this wonderful book.





Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Hold fast by Blue Balliett


This book epitomizes why I love my job and why I love reading children's books and why I feel so lucky to have access to brilliant authors like Blue Balliett.

I have shared this experience previously but once again I sat down on Sunday intending to read a few pages of Hold Fast before getting on with other tasks.  Needless to say the tasks are still waiting.  I read through the afternoon, the early evening, late into the night, over breakfast and again the next night.  In short I devoured this wonderful book.

You can read the reviews below to find more about the plot I am just going to share two quotes from this book.  The family in this book consists of the father called Dashel, Mum called Summer and their children Early - so named because she was born when her parents were still in high school and her brother Jubilation or Jubie for short.

"Early learned form her dad that a dictionary is a powerful and underestimated kind of book.  First of all it has the shortest stories in the world, and thousands of them: stories with sounds, changing shapes, history and mystery. Open anywhere and you'll find layers of meanings.  Choices.  And when you put a word in your Word Book, you can pick what you want from the definition, like picking flowers from a garden."

"Imagine if you couldn't head home when you left your office tonight or if your kids couldn't head home after a day at school. No matter what age you are, you need a place to rest where you feel like you belong. A place to have friends and be with family, a place to feel safe and private, a place to make plans, a place to dream. A place to put down some roots, or as my dad used to say "A place to go and grow."

Here is a detailed review from the New York Times.  Here are some teaching notes.  Finally here is a brilliant audio interview with Blue Balliett.  This is a twenty minute program but I really recommend you find time to listen.

I have read and loved every single book by Blue Balliett - make sure you borrow one from a library as soon as you can - you will not be disappointed.

Louise, the adventures of a chicken by Kate DiCamillo illustrated by Harry Bliss

This book, Louise, the adventures of a chicken,  has all the right ingredients for a terrific picture book. Chickens!  A brilliant author! and glorious illustrations.

On the title page we see Louise looking out to the horizon early on morning.  Later that same day perhaps, on the next page, Louise gives the farmer's wife a sideways glance as she takes her first steps away from the farm.  There are four chapters which describe Louise's adventures.   The first is an adventure with pirates who argue over the best way to cook her!  Luckily there is a ship wreck and luckily Louise is washed up on the right shore and she is able to hop back to the farm.

"She tucked her beck beneath her wing.  She closed her eyes; and there safe in the warm henhouse, Louise slept the deep and dreamless sleep of the true adventurer."

One adventure, however, does not satisfy Louise and so in Chapter two she sets off again to join the circus. Here she performs on the hire wire carrying a pink umbrella but after a few performances this becomes 'mundane'.  Then the lion gets loose and excitement builds.  Louise narrowly escapes from the jaws of the hungry lion but all of this is a little too much for Louise and she she bids the circus adieu.

Back home she "closed her eyes; and there safe and warm in the henhouse,  Louise slept the deep and peaceful sleep of the true adventurer."  Of course this is not the end. Chapter Three sees Louise setting off on another adventure.

This book is a joy to read.  It has two simple messages - the grass is perhaps greener on the other side of the fence or is it? Contrasted with there's no place like home.  Here is a set of teaching notes.  Also you might like to read an interview with Kate about this book.  Here is a little video extract.

If you enjoy Louise, the adventures of a chicken you should also look for Daisy by Brian Wildsmith and Queenie the Bantam by Bob Graham.  You should also take a look at Peggy which was a very popular book in our school library last year.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The ANZAC Puppy by Peter Millett and Trish Bowles

When I read The ANZAC Puppy I did not let myself turn to the back.  I really wanted this to be a true story and YES it is. Lucy puts her little puppy by the side of the road with a sign that says "puppy free to a good home".  What she does not know is that a young soldier will walk by on his way to war.

Sam picks up the puppy and he makes an important promise to Lucy to bring the puppy back safe and sound.  Lucy tells Sam her puppy is called Freda.  At first the puppy is small enough to fit inside Sam's pocket but over the coming months we watch her grow as Sam suffers through the awful conditions of trench warfare.

"Trapped in their grimy prison, Sam and Freda shared everything they had; their blankets, their bully beef, biscuits and water - even their fleas!"

Freda gives Sam a reason to survive and someone to love.  Finally after weeks have turned into months and months into years the war ends.  "Sam was no longer a boy and Freda was no longer a puppy."  Sam arrives at Lucy's house but she has changed too, into a beautiful young woman.  Can you guess what happens next?

The final pages of this warm book fill in all the historical details about a mascot dog - a Harlequin Great Dane called Freda.  With the 100 years anniversary of World War I we are looking for books to share at school and this one is perfect for our younger students.