Saturday, February 28, 2015

The rooftop rocket party by Roland Chambers

With such a large library collection as the one we have in our school it is interesting how some books bubble through and get my attention.  Last week our art teacher was looking for illustrations of day and night and the moon to inspire our youngest students.

As I did a search of our computer database under the heading night and day I came across The rooftop Rocket party.  I could not remember what this book was about but I knew it had made me smile when I read it years ago.  It did not contain any useful images for our art teacher but I bought it home to read.  Once again I have to give a warning that this joyful book is most probably out of print since it was first published in 2002.

This is a book that celebrates the importance of imagination. Pragmatism and scientific thought are important but perhaps real creativity comes from imagining the impossible.

Finn visit New York city.  Finn is curious about rockets and so he meets with Doctor Gass, a famous Rocket Scientist.  (Note the use of capital letters!).  The doctor will not share the secret of his rockets with Finn.  The doctor explains at length all known facts about the moon.  Finn goes to bed disappointed but that night he dreams about the Night Thing whose master is the Man in the Moon and he is holding a birthday party.  When Finn shares his dream, Doctor Gass is dismissive declaring it was 'just a dream'.

Finn notices there are rockets on all the rooftops in New York.  They are big and red and look ready for lift off.  Sadly once again Doctor Gass goes into a long explanation about the workings of water towers.

Luckily that night at "five minutes to twelve" the Night Thing comes again and he whisks Finn off in a red rocket to the Man in the Moon's birthday party.  Everyone has a splendid time and the food is delicious.    Next morning Doctor Gass can get no water from his taps and when he goes outside he finds a red rocket and a half eaten meringue on the sidewalk.

You might also enjoy Daydream Dan, Herman and Rosie which also has a NYC setting Humphrey's bear and Ned and the Joybaloo.

Here is a review which you might like to read.

This book is perfect for everyone who holds fast to the belief that the moon is made from cheese and that one day it will be possible to meet the Man in the Moon.

Night Sky Dragons by Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham illustrated by Patrick Benson

I have finally picked up a few books from the 2015 School Magazine Bookshelf selection.  These never disappoint and Night Sky Dragons is no exception.

This is the third book in a series by Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham. I adored Mysterious Traveller and Cloud Tea Monkeys by this talented writing team.

For each of these explorations of culture, travellers and the power of the individual, Walker Books have selected a different and wonderful illustrator. Cloud Tea Monkeys was illustrated by Juan Wijngaard, Mysterious Traveller is illustrated by PJ Lynch and now with Night Sky Dragons we have the award winning Patrick Benson.  It is important to mention the illustrations because these books are not quite picture books and not quite novels.  The measure 19cm X 23cm which for me is a perfect size to give these books some prominence in the library collection.

If you enjoy Nigh Sky Dragons you should look for The Kite Fighters, The firework maker's daughter and for an older reader A Single Shard.

The setting for Night Sky Dragons is Medieval Mongolia.  Yazul lives on the silk road in a place of refuge called a han.  "Within the han's high walls travellers and merchant caravans found shelter.  A place to rest and trade. A place of safety, too."  Yazul's father is lord of the han but the loss of his wife has made him aloof and stern.  Yazul finds comfort through his special relationship with his grandfather and the kites they make together but when Yazul shows his latest creation to his father things turn sour.  His father bans the making of more kites and sends Yazul to work as a servant in the kitchens.  One afternoon bandits arrive chasing a small group of traders.  The traders rush into the han minutes ahead of the bandits and the gates are firmly closed but now a siege begins.  The people are trapped inside with no access to water and food supplies that are rapidly disappearing.

How will Yazul, his grandfather and a kite or two save the day?  Will this change the relationship between Yazul and his father?  How does this all connect with the magic of fireworks?  You need to read Night Sky Dragons where all will be revealed.

Kirkus describe this book as dazzling and heartwarming.  You can read the first chapter.

Here is a wonderful description of the bandits :

"The bandits, perhaps fifty or sixty of them, had reined in their horses just beyond the range of arrow-shot.  Fierce men with beards greased into rat-tails, swords sheathed on their backs, bows handing from their saddles, quivers of arrows close to their knees.  They sat silently on their horses, watching, while the dust settled around them.  Then they slowly circled the han, studying it. Looking for its weaknesses."

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Withering-by-sea : A Stella Montgomery Intrigue by Judith Rossell

There are so many things that I adored about Withering-by-sea.  Here is a list :

  1. The texture of the cover - such a pity we have to put on a plastic cover.
  2. The colours used on the cover illustrations and the little illustrations scattered throughout the story
  3. The printing is dark blue and the book has a ribbon book mark - quite charming
  4. The title which reminded me of seaside towns in England
  5. My email last night to the author asking for details about the next in this series and the immediate answer from Judith Rossell.  She is working on the next installment right now and we might see it in 2016.
  6. The thought that this terrific action packed story might be short-listed for our CBCA Awards (fingers crossed)
  7. Inside this book you will find the most delightful words such as : antimacassar, quadrupeds, tendrils, perambulator, and so many more.  You know how much I appreciate books with a rich vocabulary.
  8. There is also a murder, a magic show, some very special friends and a group of talented cats.

Stella is an orphan who lives in a seaside town in the Hotel Majestic.  The time is Victorian when young girls should be seen and not heard and a truly accomplished young woman has excellent deportment and embroidery skills.  Stella's aunts - the aptly named Aunt Deliverance, Aunt Condolence and Aunt Temperance -  live at the hotel so they can partake of the waters.  They have carved out a life of comfort and routine and they are determined to mold Stella into an appropriate young lady.

Stella takes refuge in an atlas which is a book that allows her to visit, vicariously, all the exotic regions of the world.  One morning while she is absorbed in her atlas and hiding in the hotel conservatory, she sees a hotel guest - Mr Filbert furtively place something in Chinese urn holding a potted plant..  Later Mr Filbert is murdered and his dying words to Stella are "Hide it. Keep it safe."

"The little bottle was corked and sealed with red wax.  It was heavier than it looked and as smooth as glass. ... (Stella) shook it and heard a whispering noise, as if something were slithering over shingle. ... A sinuous shape seemed to move inside the bottle ... It was beautiful but it made her skin prickle."

There is so much action in this book.  In just 250 pages you will find your self cheering for the good guy and hissing at the baddies somewhat like a Victorian melodrama.  You might anticipate the action but I am sure you will be wrong.  The twists and turns made me dizzy.  Here are some excellent teaching notes.  Here is a detailed review and the author web site.

If you enjoy Withering by Sea (and I am sure you will) you might also like to look for The Book without Words, Tensy Farlow and the home for mislaid children,  Three times lucky, The truth about Verity Sparks, and The remarkable secret of Aurelie Bonhoffen.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Mr. Maxwell's Mouse by Frank Asch and Devin Asch

Today I spent some happy hours book shopping.  As I walked through one very large shop this book caught my eye - the mouse on the plate, the expression on the face of the cat and above all the author - the wonderful Frank Asch.  I knew at once Devin must be his son and after reading the first page I knew this book would be perfect.

I have been collecting books for a senior class on the theme of power - power in relationships, use of power, feeling powerless and so on.  This week we enjoyed discussing Extra Yarn and now I will add Mr. Maxwell's mouse to my list.

Mr. Maxwell dines each day at the delicious sounding Paw and Claw Restaurant.  On this day he decides to partake of a mixed green salad followed by raw mouse.

"Excellent choice, sir, Would you like us to kill it for you?' asked Clyde.  'That won't be necessary,' said Mr. Maxwell ... just make sure it is fresh and healthy."

The meal arrives - a mouse stretched out on a single piece of rye toast as if sunning itself on a sandy beach.  Our canny mouse engages Mr. Maxwell in conversation.  Asking for salt, suggesting the type of wine as an accompaniment and even asking Mr. Maxwell to say grace before - well before the deed.  Mr. Maxwell is not a religious man so the mouse kneels down and prays ending with the perfect word 'Amice!'

If you are looking for another book on the theme of persuasion this one is perfect and it also has such a delicious vocabulary and scrumptious illustrations.  This is a picture book for our middle and senior students.  This book is also an example of a trickster tale.

Vocab - precisely, manicured, flourish, gloated, unaccustomed, fraternize, dignity, squeamish, patrons and mayhem.

Here is a review if you need more detail of the plot.  Mr. Maxwell's mouse was first published in 2004. The paperback copy was released this year.

You might also enjoy Cat you'd better come home, The Spider and the Fly and Strat and Chatto.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Paper House by Lois Peterson

"Safiyah stodd ankle-deep in garbage near the top of the dump.   Below her lay the Kibera slum, a patchwork of rusty tin roofs.  A thick blanket of cloud and dirty smoke hid the concrete buildings and busy roads of nearby Nairobi. ... Safiyah sold most of the stuff she found at the dump.  It was the only way to make money for a pound of maize or some tea.  Sometimes a breadfruit for Cucu, her grandmother, who loved them so much."

The Paper House is another book that I found during our library stocktake. This is one of those slim volumes (108 pages) with a powerful story.

While Safiyah is digging through the rubbish dump she finds some magazines.  She takes them home and with her friend Pendo she pulls some of her favourite pictures out of the glossy magazines.  As Safiyah looks at these images she can see patterns and a picture forms in her mind.  The hut she shares with her beloved grandmother is draughty and cold.  Safiyah stuffs the cracks in the walls with torn pages from the magazines but then she has the idea of papering the outside.  Her friend borrows some scissors and glue from her school and Safiyah begins to create her murals but her work is suddenly interrupted when Cucu is taken ill and Safiyah moves into the hospital to stay by her side. 

You can read the full details of the plot here but this might spoil the story so I recommend reading this heart warming and evocative tale first.  There is an excellent little trailer here.  This blog will give you some teaching ideas and further links.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Chance of safety by Henrietta Branford

Many years ago I discovered a blog called The Little library of rescued books.  My book today would be the perfect candidate for this collection.  Chance of Safety was first published in 1998 and is of course long out of print.  This is such a shame because this slim volume contains a powerful story with themes of love, family and determination. 

Chance of Safety is a book set in a dystopian future where people who are rich are of course powerful and people who are poor are left to suffer.  The government have set draconian rules for the population including travel restrictions and check points with armed police.  There is a culture of secrecy and corruption. 

Citizens who commit even small crimes are fitted with electronic tags and forced to work long hours in road building labour gangs.  Alex and Nelly, though, know nothing of this.  Their mother Ruth is a doctor and Rob their dad is an employee of a government agency called Motorways Incorporated.  Until now the family have enjoyed a comfortable life of privilege. Through the course of their work both parents discover that the government have covered up the real reason the road gang prisoners are dying.

"The prisoner had been in reasonable health, for a Beta Sector Juvenile, when arrested. A bit overweight.  Bad teeth. Poor muscle tone. Flat feet. Mildly anaemic. Nothing unusual. When she died, ten months later, she was suffering from vomiting and diarrhoea and her hair was falling out, though that was hard to tell with prisoners once their heads were shaved.  Also she was bleeding from everywhere."

The knowledge held by Rob and Ruth that the road building materials are filled with nuclear waste mean the family are now in danger so they load up their car and drive off towards Wales in the hope of safety with their grandmother.  The journey is fraught and very dangerous but they manage to get through several check points.  Finally they stop near a road gang and chaos ensues.  Rob and Ruth are captured and Alex and Nelly flee on foot hoping to reach their grandmother.

This is gripping story of survival.  Along the way Alex and Nelly meet some amazing people, aptly called Runners, who are living as outcasts from this regime.  They offer enormous support and care to the young children.  The best part of this book, which is only 138 pages, comes very close to the end when everyone is finally reunited and resting safely with their grandmother Kate.  You will sigh with relief that their long and dangerous journey is over and then read of a betrayal so awful you will be left gasping.

Our copy of Chance of safety is quite yellow but for now I am keeping this book in our library.  I adore books like this.  You might also like to read Toby Alone, Forbidden Memories,and the series Shadow Children which begins with Among the hidden.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Possibles by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

I had a little spare time this morning so I thought I would just start this book - planning to continue reading it later tonight. Have you guessed what happened? Yes in just over an hour I had read the whole book and YES it is that good!

This is another old book in our school library and another of the books I bought home to read this summer.  The cover of Possibles has always appealed to me but I am not sure why I had never picked it up to read.  I am putting an alternate cover below.

Sheppy (Mary Sheppard Lee) is grieving the recent loss of her beloved father who has died.  Instead of heading off to Summer camp, Sheepy needs to work to add to the meagre incomes of her mother and brother.  Sheppy goes to work "lady sitting" a young woman who has a badly broken leg and and a nasty temperament. Constance seems uncommunicative and is only interested in watching boring after television serials.  Sheppy, however, is a resourceful girl and she manages to break down the walls with delicious food and the sharing of a good book.

"Sheppy hummed to herself as she toasted two slices of wheat bread and spread one with mayonnaise.  She carefully put pieces of chicken on the mayonnaise side, then two slices of tomato, some lettuce, and the top piece of toasts.  She put the sandwich on a plate and cut it in half, point to point like her Mama always did.  It looked a little lonely all by itself. Needed something on the side."

Sheppy does have two very good friends but Tess has gone to camp and Parker has moved away. 

Her father gave Sheppy two terrific gifts - his poetry and a love of reading.  He has created the Everlasting Reading List.  They add new books and cross off the ones they have read.  It is a list that can go on forever but sadly Sheppy has not been able to add new titles since her father died.  Her mother and brother seem unable or unwilling to talk about Papa but this conversation is so vital if the family want to move on with their lives.

PossiblesPossibles opens with a moving poem by the late Shel Silverstein

Listen to the mustn'ts, child,
Listen to the don'ts
Listen to the shouldn'ts
The impossible, the won'ts
Listen to the never haves
Then listen close to me -
Anything can happen, child,
Anything can be.

Kirkus describe Possibles as poignant, lovely and lyrical.  You might also enjoy Bird.