Monday, August 20, 2018

Just a Girl by Jackie French

"Because you have strength, girl. You and Baratha. You bought meat to your family. You girded your skirts about your loins, even though the women scoffed. You fought for your family. I saved you because you have the strength of love. You were never just a girl."

Actually the title of this book needs to be changed to NOT just a girl because Judith's work ethic, ingenuity, problem solving, care of her family and resourcefulness are inspirational

In the middle of the night Rabba, the grandmother, wakes Judith and demands to be carried away from their home, away from the village, out to the wadi. Judith is told to also take her little sister Baratha and the family's goat.  When she returns for their sleeping pallets she sees Romans arriving. They break down the gates to her village and begin their attack. As Judith watches she sees them kill her mother and cries silent tears as her sisters abducted.

It seems Rabba knew an attack would come. The wadi contains so much food. "It was a cave, the biggest I had seen ... crammed with chests and pots and giant amphorae all stopped with clay or wax."

The little group can survive but what of their future?  To complicate things a young man arrives. Caius is a slave on the run. Judith knocks him down with her slingshot not knowing he will become an important ally. Caius is a Christian. Rabba, Judith and Baratha are Jews.

Running alongside the story of Judith, her grandmother Sawtha Rabba and little sister Baratha is the story of Mary, Joseph and Jesus. Mary is not "just a girl".  Rabba knew Mary, known as Maryiam, as child in Jerusalem. As she recounts stories of childhood we gain a different view of this famous woman Mary, mother of Jesus, beyond the story of the famous birth in a stable.

One real strength of this story comes from the vivid way Jackie French creates each scene. Here is an example where Judith is attacked in the wadi by wolves.

"I sat up and saw the flash of red eyes peering through the cave's opening, glinting in the dim firelight. ... A black shape slinked across the cave .. A second wolf leaped over me in a foetid reek of fur and urine. I felt its fur brush my face."

Here is a brilliant set of teaching notes from Robyn Sheahan-Bright. You can also find a list of further reading including an extensive list of web sites. Here is a detailed review. I will make an early prediction that this book - Just a Girl - will be short listed for our CBCA awards in 2019 in the Older Readers category.

One of the first books I ever read by Jackie French was Tajore Arkle. I still count it among my most favourite books. In my mind there is a strong connection between this earlier book from 1999 and this new title Just a Girl. I do hope the publishers might consider reprinting Tajore Arkle. Here is a review of Tajor Arkle.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

A home full of Friends by Peter Bently illustrated by Charles Fudge

A storm strikes Bramble's neighbourhood and the homes of his friends are destroyed. His own sett is okay but it is a mess. As he walks back through the woods Bramble meets three of his friends in dire circumstances.  Bramble is kind and so he agrees that Snuffle the dormouse, Tipper the toad and Boo the hedgehog, can come to stay.

"Bramble was kind. He would never say no to three little creatures with nowhere to go." 

He rushes home and tries to find enough food, he organizes some seating, sets the table and then starts to worry about how they will all sleep.

"The toad's bound to snore. The hedgehog's all prickly. And the dormouse whiskers are sure to be tickly!"

Just when it seems there is no solution to this problem there is a loud knock on the door. What a surprise for Bramble. He does not have three visitors - his friends have bought along their families too.

"I hate to sound rude. You're welcome to stay, but I haven't much food, and there's only one bed. It's just not enough. 'Don't worry,' grinned Snuffle. 'We've bought loads of stuff."

Of course there is a solution. All his guests have bought along things to share such as a huge blackberry pie, a basket of fruit and nuts, wood for the fire and extra blankets and pillows. The final pages are warm and filled with sweet dreams.

A Home full of Friends is a book will read aloud well because it is told in rhyme. The full page illustrations by Charles Fuge with close-ups of Bramble and his friends are very appealing. I especially love Bramble's expressive face, his wonderful slippers and his 'teddy'. It is also fun to see the book he is reading which is called Brock. The word Brock can mean badger.

There is a second book featuring Bramble called A Home on the River due for publication later this year. We have a number of books by Peter Bently in our school library. I would link this book with No Place like Home and Too Tight Benito.

When the world is dreaming by Rita Gray pictures by Kenard Pak

What does Little Deer dream
at the end of the day?
After the walking,
the grazing, the play.
In a bed of feathery ferns
beside her twin, she gently turns.
What does Little Deer dream?
Rushing rain from a rumbling cloud,
the sky is flashing; the sky is loud!
But tucked beneath our mushroom cap,
we're safe from every thunderclap.
Sleep, Little Deer,
safe and warm.
Dream until the light of morn.

This exquisite lyrical text asks this same question of Little Snake, Little Newt, Little Rabbit, Little Mouse, Little Turtle and Little Dreamer. You can see them on the cover. Each set of pages end with the refrain "Sleep Little ____, safe and warm. Dream until the light of morn."  I long for someone to set this lullaby to music. Changing colour and font also adds the dimension of another voice to this text - the voice of the dream itself.  Here is the dream of the snake:

Catching the wind, the kite sets sail;
and trailing behind, I am the tail!
Soaring above the tallest trees,
I dip and ripple in the breeze.

A perfect picture book is a marriage of art and words. The art in When the World is Dreaming is an example of this perfection.

Add this title to your list. It would be a beautiful gift for a young child and one that will be treasured. Read this review. Another reviewer uses the words ethereal and dreamy which seem the perfect description. Kenard Pak has collaborated on other books with Rita Gray - Have you heard the Nesting Bird? and Flowers are calling.

I recently saw a book written and illustrated by Kennard Pak and fell in love with his art and now I discover Kenard did the cover for The Poet's Dog which is a book I adored. These connections make me so happy. Here are two other books illustrated by Kenard Pak.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

His Name was Walter by Emily Rodda

"It's not true that only children can enjoy a really good children's story" Emily Rodda ABC radio interview with Angela Meyer.

Australian author Emily Rodda is a true writing talent. You may be familiar with the Deltora stories and Rowan of Rin books.  Previously here I have talked about Bungawitta and The shop at Hoopers Bend.  My personal favourite among her books is Bob the Builder and the Elves which is a simple junior novel and a delight to read aloud. Now we have His name was Walter which the publisher says is for 8+ but for me is much better suited to upper primary and junior high school readers. This is a spellbinding story which I read almost compulsively.

This book contains, as the cover says, "a story with in a story".  Four students and their teacher are stranded on a remote country road after their excursion bus breaks down. The group take shelter in a derelict house. One of the students, Colin, admires a small desk in the kitchen. He knows furniture like this often conceals hidden compartments.  He takes a closer look and finds a secret drawer. Inside this drawer is a book with a dramatically illustrated story.

To three of the children the house itself feels so strange. There are noises and strong feelings that seem to impact them almost violently. They gather together and begin to read the book they have found. It reads like a fairy tale or folk tale beginning with an orphan of unknown heritage who is living in a horrible institution with little prospect for a happy future. He escapes from this situation taking two tiny things which might point to his identity - a paper which says his name is Walter and a few strands of hair. By chance he meets a beggar woman who tells him a little more of his history but it is the encounter with a kindly witch woman who really settles his fate.

She predicts:
"You'll never be rich in gold but your life will be rich in other ways ... You'll protect a friend. You'll find true love. You'll free a prisoner. You'll champion the weak. You'll save a life. You'll keep the faith. You'll ... "

Having begun like a folk tale, a rags to riches story, the focus then references Beauty and the Beast especially when we read about Lord Vane.

"The man was hunched jealousy over an iron box heaped with gold. To Walter's horrified eyes he looked more like a beast than a human being ... The filthy undershirt that strained over his massive chest and sagging belly was blotched with patches of sweat. Hair like greasy grey straw stuck up all over his head ... Evil greed seemed to cloud the room like smoke."

I especially enjoyed the way Emily Rodda drew all the threads together at the end of this book showing the links between the 'fairy tale' from the book and the past history of life in the house and town. I mentally ticked off each item and felt satisfied all the pieces of this puzzle were once again joined in all the right places.

Here is a review from Readings. The publisher have generously provided you with four chapters as a sample of the text. Here is a special video with Emily Rodda talking about her books and their creation and a very recent radio interview.  I will predict, in fact guarantee, His Name was Walter will feature in our 2019 CBCA short list. Yes, yes it is that good.

Thanks again to Beachside Bookshop for providing this copy.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Fergus and Zeke by Kate Messner illustrated by Heather Ross

My hunt for terrific stories aimed at newly independent readers continues and this week I found another perfect one. Fergus and Zeke is from the Sparks series (Candlewick) and all of their titles are wonderful. I was excited to discover our own Bob Graham even has a book in this series - Tales from the Waterhole.  Look at my reviews of Rabbit and Robot, Annie and Simon, Pigsticks and HaroldHoundsley and Catina and Joe and Sparky.

Fergus is like John (in John the Mouse who learned to read from 1969 illustrated by Noela Young) and Humphrey the hamster we meet in the terrific series by Betty Birney. Fergus is the class pet. He thoroughly enjoys joining in with the class.

"When Miss Maxwell said, 'Sit quietly for storytime,' Fergus sat still and listened. ... When the students solved math problems, Fergus solved them too. He always kept his eyes on his own work."

When Fergus hears to class are off to the museum where they will see dinosaurs, the butterfly garden and shooting stars in the planetarium, Fergus absolutely expects to go along too. Sadly the teacher does not know this and it seems Fergus will be left behind. This is too much for Fergus so he slips out of his cage and into Emma's backpack. His adventure has begun and what a splendid adventure it will be. Who is Zeke I hear you ask. Fergus meets another mouse living in the museum and their combined antics serve to spice up the fun.

Here is the Kirkus review. Kate Messner has such a huge variety of books from wonderful non fiction to longer chapter books and even professional reading for teachers. She talks here about the inspiration for this story.  The sequel will be published later this year.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Mr. Penguin and the lost Treasure by Alex T Smith

Full of fish-finger sandwiches, secret jungles, nefarious plots and cryptic codes, it’s addictive slapstick, with Smith’s appealingly arch black, white and orange illustrations. The Guardian

This is quite a new book - the paperback edition was published this year.  I have loved Alex T Smith ever since he introduced me to Claude. The Mr Penguin series are a little longer but once again we have a special sidekick to assist our hero.

Mr Penguin is down on his luck and down to his last fish finger sandwich. He places an advertisement in the newspaper offering his services as an adventurer and solver of mysteries.

Mr Penguin gets into work on time at 9am thinking "that today his telephone would be ringing its head off from the moment he flipped the CLOSED sign on his office door over to OPEN ... but this hadn't been the case at all. His telephone had sat tight-lipped and silent."

When the phone finally does ring it sounds like the perfect adventure for Mr Penguin and his side-kick Colin.  I just need to talk a little about the wonderful Colin. He is a spider. He uses a notebook to communicate IN CAPITAL LETTERS. Colin is a loyal friend to Mr Penguin and has a most useful skill of kung fu. Mr Penguin has another special friend - Edith Hedge "who lived in the park and fed the birds. (she was) wearing fifteen different anoraks, one of top of the other, belted at the waist with a large bum bag. Sitting on top of her head was a pigeon. He was called Gordon."

Boudicca Bones, director of the Museum of Extraordinary Objects. The museum is in desperate need of funds for urgent repairs and there is a possibility that the original founder of the museum Sir Randolph Bones may have hidden some treasure somewhere in this vast museum. Mr Penguin and Colin arrive at the museum and Miss Bones and her gigantic brother Montague outline the problem, share the clues they have found so far and even produce a useful map - X marks the spot!

Of course things are not quite straightforward. As a reader you may be suspicious of this Miss Bones and her odd brother but Mr Penguin is determined to solve this case so he can boost his finances and get home to eat his packed lunch of a precious fish finger sandwich.

This romp has twenty three very short chapters presented over 203 pages of large print often on coloured paper. This story just zooms along. I read over 100 pages with out pausing. This book is perfect for newly independent readers. As a guide if your child has enjoyed The Bad Guys by Aaron Blabey this series featuring Mr Penguin would be the perfect next book.

You could also look for some other slap-stick style detective stories
High Rise Private Eye
Detective Donut and the Wild Goose Chase by Bruce Whatley (sadly out of print but hopefully in your local library)
Detective Gordon series
Timmy Failure series
Pip Street series

Good news there is a sequel to Mr Penguin and the lost treasure which will be published later this year.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Little Beaver and the Echo by Amy MacDonald illustrated by Sarah Fox-Davies DVD read by Emilia Fox

"When you are sad, the Echo is sad,' said the wise old beaver. 'When you are happy, the Echo is happy too."

Little Beaver and the Echo has long been a favourite book. I have read it aloud to our youngest students for many years but I had no idea there was an edition that included a DVD. Walker Books do products like this so well. In our school library we have the DVD sets of We're going on a bear Hunt by Michael Rosen, Our House illustrated by Bob Graham and Owl Babies by Martin Waddell.

Little Beaver is lonely. He cries out down by the lake and immediately hears the cries of another sad soul across the water. He sets off to investigate picking up duck, otter and turtle on the way. He needs to talk to the wise old beaver about the other beaver on the far side of the lake. The old beaver tries to explain about echoes but Little Beaver is confused.

"But how can I find him and be his friend? ... He doesn't have any friends, and neither do I."

Wait a minute - you do have friends. Little Beaver. The Duck, the otter and the turtle all explain they are now his true friends.  Little Beaver is so happy and your young reading companion will be too! And if you can find this DVD edition you could follow your reading with a viewing of this beautifully presented and gentle little movie.

Another echo book that I would pair with this is Happy Birthday Moon by Frank Asch.