Sunday, August 13, 2017

The shop at Hooper's Bend by Emily Rodda

There is a tantalizing idea in this book that people come from stars.

"So some people get made mostly of the dust of one star, and other people get made mostly of the dust from other ones ...  And that's why some people are your friends straight away and some aren't."

Quil (short for Jonquil) calls her own star Palaris.  The others are :

Aginoth - people who are practical and confident
Broon - cheery but boring
Kell - prickly but interesting
Derba - calm and reliable with no sense of humour
Olmadon - generous and fun
Vanna - vague and dreamy
Fiskin - self-absorbed, manipulative bullies.

Quil has been left in the care of her aunt after the death of her parents.  Her aunt is busy and so Quil is sent to boarding school except this is the school holidays.  She is supposed to be heading to a four week camp in the Blue Mountains.

As the story opens Quil and Maggie (her aunt's personal assistant) are waiting for the train.  They are wandering through a market when Quil finds a china mug painted with her name.  Quil is such an unusual name where did this mug come from, who made it.  Quil needs to solve this mystery.

Meanwhile there is a little old disused shop in Hooper's Bend now owned by a business woman called Bailey.  There are also some shifty property developers who want to get their hands on this valuable site so it can be 'redeveloped'. Quil steps off the train at Hooper's Bend - she has seen this name on her mug.  She is befriended, almost immediately, by a small dog called Pirate.  In a jigsaw style plot each of these elements will come together leading to a most satisfying ending for all concerned including the reader.

I read this book many months ago when I was given an advanced reader copy at a conference.  I wanted to talk about it straight away but the copy said it was not for review.  The final published book arrived in our school library last week.

Time for one of my predictions.  I do think this book will be short-listed for our CBCA award in 2018.  Emily Rodda is a prolific and very talented Australian author and I enjoyed her return to realism after all those fantasy series such as Deltora.

this is a story about coming home when you didn't even know that was where you belonged.  Harper Collins


The Shop at Hooper’s Bend is a story with a distinctively Australian flavour, infused with eucalyptus smells, cicada sounds, and nostalgia for simpler times.  Reading Time

There are no dragons or mythical realms in this book; the magic here is about following your instincts and finding a place where you belong.  Books and Publishing

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Strictly no elephants by Lisa Mantchev illustrated by Taeeun Yoo

I remember years ago we had a little book in our library called But No Elephants.   Reading Strictly no Elephants tonight I thought about this older book.  I also remembered a little junior chapter book called The pocket Elephant by Catherine Sefton.

All three books deal with the unlikely, but somehow delightful idea, of having an elephant as a pet and even better having an elephant as a friend.

A young boy has a pet elephant.  It is the day for a meeting of the Pet Club at Number 17.  Sadly when the boy and his elephant arrive there is a sign on the door "Strictly No Elephants."  As they travel home they meet a girl with a pet skunk.  The pet club members don't want to play with skunks even though this little skunk does not stink.

The solution - start your own pet club with a sign that says All Are Welcome.  And yes they all come.  Such a variety of animals and their friends meeting in a wonderful tree house.

I love this line from the book which comes as the boy and elephant make their journey to the club meeting :

"He doesn't like the cracks in the sidewalk much.  I always go back and help him over. That's what friends do : live each other over the cracks."

That's what friends do is a repeated refrain in this story which is about so much more than having an elephant as a pet.

There is even a song to go with this joyous book.  Here is a reading of the whole book.

Sweet and affirming. Kirkus

In “Strictly No Elephants,” a sunny, smart, tongue-in-cheek tale written by Lisa Mantchev, friendships are born out of mutual respect for the idiosyncratic choices of others.  New York Times

I absolutely adored seeing all the non-traditional pets. But my favorite part is the HEART of this book about fitting in. It’s a theme that any aged reader can relate too.   Nerdy Book Club


Sunday, August 6, 2017

Ada's violin by Susan Hood illustrated by Sally Wern Comport





Everything about this book is important.  The wonderful vision of one man to form an orchestra, the making of instruments from materials found in the garbage, the possibility of a different life for these young orchestra members and the simply stunning illustrations.

Start with this little film.  You will hear the wonderful sounds these children can make using instruments made from an amazing assortment of recycled materials.  Here is a report from US Sixty Minutes.

Ada's grandmother sees an advertisement for music lessons.  There are no music instruments.  There are so many children who want to learn.  Favio Chavez is not defeated.  He enlists help to make instruments from the junk dropped daily at the dump near their town and so the orchestra begins.

This book is based on the true life story of Ada Rios and the children in her town of Cateura in Paraguay.  You can read more about this at the back of the book along with further reading and web links.

I would pair this book with Magic Trash, The paper house and the senior novel Trash by Andy Mulligan.








Giving thanks illustrated by Ellen Surrey




Giving thanks - the subtitle says "more than 100 ways to say thank you."

"Hi I'm Andy. When I was asked if there was anyone I would like to thank, these are the people I thought of."

I love the retro style of this book and the lovely message of simply saying thank you.  Each double page poses a question.


  • What would you like to say thank you for?
  • If you could give them a gift, what would you give?
  • If you could do anything for them, what would you do?
  • If you could share an afternoon with them, what would you do?
  • If you could give them a feeling what would you give them?


The final two pages give ideas for thank you cards and gratitude jars.

Thank you are two simple words but they can be so powerful when expressed in a truly meaningful way.

This is a book to share with a young child or use with a class.  Take time to see what Andy does with his dad on each page.  It will warm your heart.


Saturday, August 5, 2017

Beyond the bright sea by Lauren Wolk

"What's wrong?" I asked him.
"Not a thing," he said.  "I'm just looking at you.  Exactly as you are right now. And not because you'll change, though you will of course. ... But because if I could have built a human being, I would have built you.  Just so."
Nobody had ever said anything that good about me.



I seem to be locked on an island at the moment.  This is the second book I have read recently with an island setting.  I adored Lauren Wolk's previous book Wolf Hollow.  Beyond the Bright sea is a slightly more gentle book as Crow, a little girl who washed up on Cuttyhunk, the outermost of the Elizabeth Islands in Massachusetts, struggles to make sense of her origins and identity.

Crow is found in a boat, all alone.  She is taken in by the reclusive Osh.  He has moved to this remote island many years previously to escape has past.  While we never really know what happened to Osh it is very obvious that his love for little Crow has made a huge contribution to his healing.  On a nearby island Maggie watches this man and little child and she gradually gains his trust and joins in with the care of Crow.  She is also an excellent cook and is able to provide delicious and nourishing meals exactly when they are needed.

Across the water from Cuttyhunk is the island of Peikese which has previously been the location of a leprosy hospital. The hospital has closed but the people on Cuttyhunk are suspicious that Crow might carry this frightening disease.  She is shunned by the islanders but this just fuels her own curiosity about Peikese and it's history.

Crow convinces Osh and Maggie that she needs to visit the island and see the hospital for herself. Osh does not want to go there. He feels their life is settled.  No need to go looking for the past but he does eventually agree to sail over.  While the three of them are exploring, Crow hears a thud.  She is suspicious that someone might be trapped in a building on the island.  They meet a man who they think is the bird keeper but he seems odd and hostile and the three of them rush back to their boat and sail home.  Crow cannot get this thud out of her mind.  The three of them will need to make a return visit to the island and quickly.

The intrigue builds when Osh gives Crow a small collection of objects that came in the boat when she washed up all those years ago.  There is a fragment of a letter, a ruby ring and her feather shaped birth mark.  On the island there is a grave for a baby and also a carving of this same feather.

Here is an interview with Crow herself  - it is sure to make you smile and you can read an interview with Lauren Wolk too.  Here is a review with more plot details.

I feel lucky that I have visited Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket so I do have some sense of the setting for Beyond the Bright Sea.  If you enjoy the idea of island life or you want to read a good mystery look out for Beyond the Bright Sea.

This book will make people want to run away to the Elizabeth Islands. Kirkus

Leprosy, pirate gold, orphans, shipwrecks, lost messages, they all crowd the pages and leave you coming back for more. Wolk actually knows how to write for kids, and not just that, write beautifully. SLJ Betsy Bird

Monday, July 31, 2017

Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder



I hardly know where to begin with this very different, deeply thought provoking book, Orphan Island, which for me seems to be exploring what might happen if we go against our destiny.  Or perhaps it is about the external forces that control our lives.  Or maybe it is about taking steps into the unknown when the time is right. It is also a book about our human strengths and weakness.  Then there is the important lessons about responsibility and the power of kindness.  I will give one warning here.  Please do not be tempted to skip to the end and see 'what happens'.  Be patient and let Laurel Snyder take your hand and lead you carefully to an ending which will probably raise more questions than answers.

Nine children live on an island.  They are each one year apart in age.  The island somehow provides all their needs and over time the children have developed their own rules and so have a fairly good life.  Each year, as adolescence, looms a boat arrives to deliver a new child and take away the eldest. This is called The Changing.  Today Deen will leave and Jinny will take over as the leader.  She is expected to take care of the new child (her Care) who is called Ess and teach Ben his Elder lessons so he will be ready when his turn comes next but already Jinny is begun to question the status quo.  She misses her friend Deen terribly and initially resents the arrival and burden of this new child.

The first part of the book you will be in paradise. The children gather food - eggs from wild hens, honey from hives. They have a library filled with old books. The catch fish and wash in the beautiful waters on the shore line.  Ben is an excellent cook and seems to be able to provide just the right amount of food for each meal using everything the children have foraged.  They have even learnt to dry fruit and eat this as a type of candy.  High on the cliff top the lightest children can float on the updrafts.

"One by one Jinny and Joon set the dark green-skinned fruits out on the dry rocks. If they were lucky, and the birds didn't steal too many of them, the sunshine would shrink and sweeten the firm globes into rich bits of chewy deliciousness.  In about a dozen sleeps, they'd come back and collect them again."

Jinny begins to notice a change in herself.  As adult readers we might recognize the beginning of adolescence.  She seems to need to spend time alone.  For the first time ever she takes up the habit of marking the days.  Finally a year passes and the bell rings again signalling The Changing.  Spoiler alert - Jinny does not step in the boat.  She picks up the new child called Loo and now, with ten children not nine,  the island balance is disturbed.

Small things happen at first but you just know a tragedy or catastrophe is close.

Here is an interview with the author.  I highly recommend Orphan Island for any mature senior primary student.  I am sure it is a story that will linger with me for a long time.


Orphan Island is a metaphor, an allegory, a work of magical realism, a fantasy, a post-apocalyptic work of quiet science fiction. It’s for kids. It’s for adults who think they think like kids. It’s for adults that don’t think they think like kids at all. What’s the true story here? What is this book and who is its audience? Orphan Island is a book that leaves you with more questions than answers.  SLJ Elizabeth Bird

This charming, engrossing tale set in a vividly realized world is expertly paced and will appeal to fans of wilderness adventure stories and character-driven relationship novels alike.  Kirkus

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Mouseheart by Lisa Fielder



"What this mouse and this pretty rat were telling him was simply unbelievable. He didn't think they were lying, but perhaps they misunderstood the purpose of the camps and the conditions of Titus's treaty. Titus had responsibility to all who entered the gates of Atlantia. Atlantian citizens were safe. Titus cared about his subjects."

This is the great deceit.  Prince Zucker, son of Titus needs to be convinced his father is committing genocide against the mice and other small rodents as part of a corrupt peace treaty with the cats who are led by Felina.  Yes this is a violent story.

"Felina was, in a word, gorgeous. Pure white, with enormous tilted eye - one gray-green, the other the clearest icy blue. ... The queen had a perfect little pink nose, her ears were proudly pointed, and her fur looked almost too soft to touch. The gem-studded band that encircled her throat was proof of her pampered background."

The deal with Felina is for the supply of mice as food and entertainment for her subjects the cats. Lost mice and other rodents are taken to camps where they are fed and cared for prior to moving to resettlement areas.  Zucker believes "my father chooses rodents from his refugee camp and sends them out to colonize and build new cities in the tunnels."  This is not true but it will take two utterly dreadful events to show Zucker the truth.

Meanwhile three young mice have recently escaped from a New York city pet shop.  They are swept away down a storm water drain and are separated.  There is a legend among the mice who live along the subway train tunnels that their savior will be a mouse with a white circle marking around his eye. Hopper has this mark but so does his sister Pinkie.  Luckily for Hopper he makes friends with Zucker and together they are able to defeat their mutual enemy but before this can happen Hopper needs to sort out exactly who is telling the truth in a world filled with lies and deceits.

Here is a web site for this book series which includes an audio sample, games and teacher notes.  I did not feel the need for a sequel at the end of Mouseheart but I now discover there are two more titles so I will be happy to dive into the world of these mice again some time soon.  I was totally engrossed right through Mouseheart.  Little Hopper is a wonderful if naive hero and Firren, leader of the rebels, is inspirational.  I do enjoy books about mice and also books with a political layer. I should also mention the excellent illustrations which are scattered throughout the text.  One more thing - yes there are violent scenes but this is balanced with moments of true courage and warm humour.

If you enjoy Mouseheart you should then look for all the books in the Redwall series and I would also recommend Guardians of Ga'hoole if you are a fan of political intrigue.


Another stalwart mouse with a brave heart will win fans in this captivating underground adventure. Kirkus

Hopper is an easy enough protagonist to like. He cares about his siblings, even the one who doesn't deserve it, and he always tries to act selflessly. And of course, he's an adorable little mouse, so how can one not like him? The Reading Hedgehog