Monday, February 18, 2019

A bike like Sergio's by Maribeth Boelts illustrated by Noah Z Jones

The first thing I thought when I finished this book was - how clever to write a book with a strong moral message presented with such a light touch that you only consider the moral after reading. Then I read this decoloresreview and I saw some aspects of this story in a different way.  I am now planning to read this book to a group of Grade 2 children here in Sydney. None have ever experienced poverty, I don't think they will notice the skin colours used by Noah Z Jones but I do wonder what they may think of the 'message'.

Ruben has no bike. All of his friends have bikes but Ruben's family are poor. We know this because when his Mom writes her grocery list we see her counting the money in her purse and then crossing things off her list. 

For me this is not entirely a book about honesty it is also about 'walking in another person's shoes'.  Ruben picks up a dollar in the grocery store that has been dropped by a regular customer. He decides to keep the money - it is only a dollar he thinks. But when he gets home he discovers it is not one dollar it is one hundred dollars. When you are exploring this book in Australia you would need to show the children US money. In Australia our notes are all different colours and of course we no longer have a one dollar note. 

Ruben feels bad about the money and he also realises if he tries to spend it on that long desired bike serious questions will be asked. At the end of his first day with the money he checks his bag and discovers the money is gone. 

"Rain is falling as I retrace my steps from school to bike shop to home.
Leaves and money look the same.
Rain and tears feel the same.
It's nowhere."

Ruben suffers through another long day at school. To add to his torment their math topic is money. Ruben checks his bag one more time and discovers it is still there in a small zip pocket. He heads over the grocery store to buy milk and juice for his mom and sees the lady who lost the money. "I remember how it was for me when that money that was hers - then mine - was gone."

Here is the Kirkus review. Here is an excellent trailer made by the publisher. Take a look here at some other picture books about owning a bicycle. My friend at Kinderbookswitheverything also has a terrific Pinterest collection on this topic.

With a group of older students I would read Mr Chickee's Funny Money for another perspective on finding money.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Lulu is Getting a Sister by Judith Viorst illustrated by Kevin Cornell

a sister
Who WANTS her?
Who NEEDS her?

I have been waiting, waiting, waiting for this newest Lulu book to land on our shores in Australia - why did it take so LONG?

Naturally when my friend (a totally splendid Teacher-Librarian) gave me Lulu is Getting a Sister yesterday I DID NOT WAIT ONE MINUTE. I read it. I devoured it. I loved, loved, LOVED every word.

Have you met little Lulu? I do hope so. This is the fourth book about this feisty, loud and  opinionated only child. Wait a minute did I say 'only child'.  Take another look at the title. Lulu is about to get a baby sister and she is NOT happy. NOT HAPPY!

Mum and Dad know Lulu is bound to be upset so they have a plan. They have found a camp for Lulu called Camp Sisterhood:

"designed to provide a happy sister experience for girls accustomed to being an only child. As sisters-in-training (SITs), they'll work and play and share with younger children, having so much fun with their temporary little "sisters" or little "brothers" that they'll soon want permanent siblings of their own."

Lulu refuses to attend this camp so her parents offer her a set of bribes. Lulu agrees to attend if she can have one of the bribes -  the promised hot air balloon ride BEFORE the camp. What her parents don't realise is that "Lulu could hang around with a thousand little "sisters" and still not want a permanent one of her own. "

There are lots of rules about this camp experience. The "sisters" and "brothers" are aged five to eight. They are not babies - this has something to do with insurance as our narrator explains. Call-me-Debbie the camp director assigns nearly eight year old Mitzi to Lulu. Mitzi is almost as pesky as Lulu herself and she is a scrabble champion. Lulu expects to win every game but of course she doesn't. They play for four hours. The next day "Mitzi" challenges Lulu to a swimming competition. Lulu fails at this too and then she discovers she has been tricked. Mitzi as a twin sister called Fritzi and it is Fritzi who has won every swimming race.

It is against the rules as set by Call-me-Debbie, but Lulu demands a new younger sister. What she gets, though, is a new younger brother. His name is Sebastian and he adores Lulu. Of course Lulu does not adore him!

Kirkus use the term "chatty narrative" - I think this is the perfect description for the writing style used by Judith Viorst.

You can hear chapter 7 as an audio sample here. You can read more on the publisher web site.

For me this is a five out of five or ten out of ten book. I hope one day the publisher might consider selling the Lulu books as a box set. I would grab that box with both hands. This series would make a perfect read aloud for Grades 1-3 and it will also be enjoyed by newly independent readers.

I love the format, size, funny chapter headings - "chapter sixteen and one half" and the delightful illustrations. Kevin Cornell has illustrated book three and four of the Lulu series. Lane Smith did the first two. There are also heaps of funny side comments like this one:

"(Sebastian - I've always liked that name except it's one of those names that it's impossible to find a nickname for. Seb? Sebbie? Bastie? Astie? Tinny? Yinny? What? If anyone out there has a suggestion, please send a postcard to me. Meanwhile Lulu is calling him Sebastian.)" 

You don't NEED to read the Lulu books in order but if you find the three previous titles I do recommend you begin with book one, then book two, book three and finally this latest installment. I wonder if Judith Viorst has plans for another book about her brilliant character - Lulu. I don't mean to be rude but Judith Viorst was born in 1931 which makes her 88. If she has further plans for Lulu she might need to HURRY! Read my thoughts about the first three books by clicking the titles here:

Rich vocabulary and a relatable theme make this an excellent chapter book for children moving beyond beginning readers and an entertaining selection for a classroom read-aloud. Highly recommended. School Library Journal

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Too Small to Fail by Morris Gleitzman

Oliver wants a dog. The perfect little dog is in his local pet shop. Oliver doesn't need to tell us - it is clear his mum and dad will not allow him to have a dog. Oliver visits the pet shop every day and sadly now the pet shop owner has banned him from entering the shop. As Oliver sits looking in the window trying to explain to the little dog why he cannot buy him a lady arrives. She enters the shop and, to Oliver's consternation, she buys "his" dog. Adding to this crazy scene she then dumps the dog into his arms and tells him to follow her down into the car park. Who is this crazy woman? How does she know Oliver's name? Where is she taking him?

Oliver is a rich kid with a sad life. His mum and dad own a bank. The woman who bought Oliver's dog (he names him Barclay after the bank his mum and dad like) is owed thousands of dollars by Oliver's parents. They are refusing to pay so Nancy has taken matters into her own hands.

All of this action takes place in the first two chapters of Too Small to Fail. If you keep reading (please keep reading this terrific book) you will also encounter an amazing camel, a tough young girl who has every reason to be sad and an ambitious young man who works for the bank. Barclay will be held for a ransom, Oliver will be kidnapped and some new and surprising friends will be made.

You can click the three review quotes below for more plot details.

It seems timely to read this book by Morris Gleitzman. In Australia we have just had a Royal Commission into banking practices. Too Small to Fail is set around the time of the Global Financial crisis in 2008. Mr and Mrs Newton (mum and dad) are motivated by greed and use fraudulent practices to make their money. Oliver has no idea about all of this but the dishonesty of his parents slowly becomes apparent and we watch him make sense of the adult corporate world.

Morris Gleitzman is also our Australian Children's Laureate for 2019-2020 and I recently read Melody Trumpet by Gabrielle Tozer and the parents in this story reminded me of the awful and misdirected parents in Too Small to Fail.

I saw Too Small to Fail at a charity book sale. I have been keen to re-read this book for some time. I have often referred to it here on this blog. This is one of the many books by Morris Gleitzman and it is one that I really enjoyed but perhaps it is not as well known as his more recent titles.

Here is an excellent set of teaching notes for Too Small to Fail. I do think it would be the perfect book to share with a Grade 5 class.

You can hear Morris reading the first chapter of his book here. The covers above are from UK and Australia.

Somehow, Gleitzman managed to create a believable voice narrating a funny, sweet, yet somehow serious story.  It was addictive, humorous and I stayed up late especially to finish it. Book Addicted Girl

Too Small to Fail is funny and sad simultaneously, which all Morris Gleitzman stories are. The child's point of view is taken seriously and given value, as it is in all Morris Gleitzman stories. There's a serious message at its heart, as there is in all Morris Gleitzman stories. The Bookbag

I love how Morris Gleitzman consistently manages to combine really intelligent and advanced themes with an intensely childlike sense of fun.  Kids Book Review

I would follow Too Small to Fail with What do you think Feezal, How to Steal a Dog, Melody Trumpet, and One Dog and his Boy.

Monday, February 11, 2019

There's a bear on my chair by Ross Collins

Here is the some text of from this terrific book.  You can see it rhymes, which is perfect for a young reader, but it is also very, very funny:

There's a bear on my chair.
He is so big it's hard to share.
There isn't any room to spare.
We do not make a happy pair, a mouse and bear with just one chair.
When I give him a nasty glare, he seems completely unaware.
I don't know what's he's doing there, that bear who's sitting on my chair.
I must admit he has some flair.
He has fine taste in leisurewear.
I'm fond of how he does his hair.
But still I wish he was not there.

Take a look at the video of the whole book (note it is read a little too quickly for use with young children) where you can see how Ross Collins incorporates colour to emphasize parts of the text.

This picture book is quite simply a delight. The illustrations compliment and extend the text in deceptively simple ways.  For example the leisurewear page - our bear is the iconic Elvis hair style. You can see this illustration on Ross Collins own web page. On another page bear receives a parcel and even though there is no mention in the text we can see he now has a mobile phone!

Bear seems deaf to all the protestations of mouse. Mouse becomes so frustrated we can hear him yelling as the text size grows bigger and bigger and nearly every line ends with a powerful exclamation mark! Adding to this the whole page is red.

How will all of this turmoil end? Mouse wants THAT chair. Eventually Bear grows tired and he decides to go home for a nap.  Have you guessed just who HE finds lying on HIS bed.

There is an impressive set of awards on the front cover of this book. UKLA UK Literacy Association; Amnesty CLIP honour; and Kate Greenaway Medal (Shortlisted). 

Of There’s a Bear on My Chair, the judges said “packed full of joyous humour: it develops children’s empathy and shows how we can protest creatively and peacefully when something is wrong.”

I did not know anything about this book but noticing it is published by Nosy Crow I should have realised I would be reading a wonderful book. Nosy Crow always publish terrific books. When you pick up this book make sure you compare the end papers. Also, on the final page, you will see the book mouse or is it bear has been reading - Good Chair Guide.

Here is a set of teaching notes.

There are lots of funny books about chairs. And of course you would also include the classic 'chair' story Goldilocks and the Three Bears along with my favourite parody of this - Somebody and the Three Blairs.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Animalphabet by Julia Donaldson illustrated by Sharon King-Chai

There are so many things I love about this book.

1.  Every young child should own a special alphabet book - this could be the one that you select.
2.  Every young child should own a book filled with the marvels of the animal kingdom.
3.  Every young child should own a book with art that is colourful, beautiful and almost tactile and in this book there is the bonus of flaps to lift and cut-outs which reveal surprises.

I had a special animal alphabet book when I was small. It was nothing like Animalphabet but I loved it and returned to it often and even now more than 50 years later I still pick up this book.  I do hope that will be how your child feels about Animalphabet.

So many different people have illustrated books by the award winning author Julia Donaldson. What a thrill it must have been for Sharon King-Chai to be asked to work on this book. I've made an exciting discovery. Sharon King-Chai was born in Australia. Take a look at this very short publisher video which shows some pages from inside Animalphabet.

Image source:

I like the way the pages work like a guessing game in a question and answer format which invites a natural participation by young readers.  Here is a sample of the text:

Who is bigger than a deer?
An elephant!
Who is pinker than an elephant?
A flamingo!
Who can butt better than a flamingo?

Along with the animals there is an array of comparative adjectives - prettier, faster, pinker, muddier and shaggier. You could work with a class to add to this list and then encourage students to add this grammar device to their own writing.

Some of the animal choices might seem predicable to an adult but the youngest children won't notice this I'm sure. Take a look at this list

A = Ant
B = Butterfly
H = Hedgehog
I =Iguana
L = Ladybird
N = Nightingale
U = Umbrella Bird
V = Vole

Here are some of my favourite alphabet books.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Erica's elephant by Sylvia Bishop illustrated by Ashley King


The same book - three covers. Which one do you like? Tronk? This is a word with many meanings. The elephant who arrives cannot speak but somehow she can interpret the word tronk which the elephant uses in every situation.

Uncle Jeff left two years ago. Today Erica is turning ten and there is an elephant on her doorstep. She is delighted but also, as a practical girl, she wonders how she will feed and care for a full sized elephant in this small two-up, two-down townhouse. She discovers elephants need 150 kilograms of food each day. Uncle Jeff did leave Erica some money but after all this time she only has about 30 pounds left.

Luckily for Erica her elephant is a curiosity and kids and adults from around the town are happy to pay for rides and enjoy watching him performing tricks. Unluckily for Erica some people are not pleased to see an elephant living with a young girl. Her neighbour Miss Pritchett complains and then Amy Avis from the Department of Exotic animals arrives with a Notice of Elephant extraction.

How can Erica keep her elephant? Would he be better off in a zoo? Does he miss his herd?

The very best chapter of this book comes right at the end. Miss Pritchett, who is now 103, scolds Erica, who is now a zoology professor.

"You can't just stop there!' she said.
'Why not?' I asked.
'Because it isn't The end,' she scolded me.  ...
We argued about it for a while, and finally agree that I would tell you a little bit about what happened next in an Epilogue, which is a bit like a pudding - you don't need it, but it finishes things off nicely."

Working at our city Children's Hospital Book Bunker this week I spied Erica's elephant.  I knew the name Sylvia Bishop but I couldn't think why.  Now I discover she is the author The Bookshop Girl which I read a couple of years ago and enjoyed.

Here is an excellent Bookbag Review.

Here is an interview with Sylvia Bishop where she talks about elephants and being tall! You can see Sylvia and her illustrator Ashley talking about their book here.

The perfect partner to Erica's Elephant is Zoo boy by Sophie Thompson. An older child might also enjoy Tua and the Elephant. One more book that popped into my mind is Pocket Elephant by Catherine Sefton. This is an old book which is out of print (sadly) but it might be in a school library.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Aristotle by Dick King Smith illustrated by Bob Graham

I am collecting books to use with a group of students as a part of a new volunteer role. The school had a set of Aristotle so I bought a copy home to read.

I think this book will appeal to my group because it is about a witch (a popular topic with young readers) and a cute kitten. Even though this is a fairly simple story there will be plenty to discuss. My group are children who are just beginning to gain confidence with their reading. Their new focus is on comprehension - looking into the structure of a story, looking for the hints provided by the author and making links between scenes.

Here is an example of our discussion using just the first sentence of Aristotle:

"When Aristotle was a kitten, he did not know that cats have nine lives. His mother knew, of course. But I'm not going to tell him, she thought."

  • How did his mother know about the concept of nine lives?
  • Why do you think she decided not to pass this information onto her new kitten?
  • Does the next line of text give you a hint?
  • Do you agree with her decision - why or why not?

We will look at the structure of this story. The pattern of accidents and losing one life at a time and the way Dick King Smith uses this to create tension in the story. We will also list all the funny moments in this story and notice how Dick King Smith gives his reader lots of laughs and smiles.

Names to research:
We need to explore the name of the witch - Bella Donna
Who is the real Aristotle? How might this name be connected to the little kitten?
Why is Gripper a good name for the dog?


  • tearaway
  • foreseen
  • cauldron
  • lumbering
  • embankment
  • thatched roof
  • ridge-pole
  • lofty
  • earthenware jug

It will also be good to talk about Dick King Smith himself. He is the author so many books I love such as The Finger Eater, Happy Mouse Day and The Hodgeheg.

One more interesting point to discuss. In America this book has a different cover and more importantly a different title.  Does the title need to be different for a different audience? Why add the words "the nine lives of ...".  Compare this with Let's get a Pup by Bob Graham. In Australia this book is simply called Let's get a Pup! but in America it is called "Let's get a Pup!" said Kate.