Sunday, May 19, 2019

The most wonderful egg in the world by Helme Heine

When my friend from Kinderbookwitheverything and I talk about picture books we often exclaim about particular authors and illustrators. One of these is Helme Heine. A book we both love is The most wonderful egg in the world or Das schonete Ei der Welt in German.  This book is not on my Tuesday Treasure list but it is truly a treasure. I just made an exciting discovery.  If the Wikipedia is up to date the entry on Helme Heine (born in Germany) says he now lives in New Zealand.  In 1982 his book Superhare was an IBBY Honour book.

"What you can do is more important that what you look like,' 
said the King. 'Whichever one of you lays the most wonderful egg 
I will make a princess."

I love the words - what you can do is more important than what you look like!

Once upon a time three hens called Dotty, Stalky and Plumy, were quarreling about which of them was the most beautiful. They decide to ask the King to settle the matter. Dotty lays a perfect egg, shimmering and polished like marble. Stalky lays an enormous egg, one of the biggest the King has ever seen but it is Plumy who astonishes everyone. The King is unable to choose a winner and so he declares all three hens should be made princesses.

Something to notice - the chickens have walked across the front end papers and the king's foot prints walk along side the chickens on the back end papers. You can almost hear the quarrel from the way their prints are bunched together.

Here is a set of discussion questions for The Most Wonderful egg in the world.

Here are some books by Helme Heine. Nearly all are sadly out of print but you might be lucky and find one or two in a school library. The Pigs Wedding and The Pearl were part of a book series called Pocket Puffins.  You might also find the Weston Woods videos of The Pigs Wedding and of The most wonderful egg in the world. Here are the teaching notes which can be used with the animated film.

Friday, May 17, 2019

My reading pile May 2019

I know it is time to stop entering bookshops and looking at online bookstores for a while when my "to read" pile is this huge! I added up all the pages and found a total of 2891 pages!


The Secrets of Magnolia Moon by Edwina Wyatt illustrated by Katherine Quinn
From the blurb:
"Magnolia Moon is very good at keeping secrets. She knows just what to do with them, and has a way of talking to the jumpy ones to stop them causing trouble. Which is why people are always leaning in and whispering: Can I tell you a secret?"
Due for publication October 2019

The fox girl and the white gazelle by Victoria Williamson
From the blurb:
"She is the Fox Girl. I am the White Gazelle. Together we can outrun anything.
Reema feels completely lost. She'll never call this strange country, with its grey skies and boring food, home. Syria is her home and it's a million miles away.
Caylin feels completely alone. She's looking after her useless mum, stealing from other kids so she can eat. She can't tell anyone, they'll only let her down.
The refugee and the bully - Reema and Caylin can't imagine being friends, until a shared secret brings them together."
Listen to the author reading a extract here.

May B: a novel by Caroline Starr Rose
From the blurb:
"This gorgeous novel in verse by Caroline Starr Rose will transport you to the Kansas prairie - to the endless grassland, and to the suffocating closeness of the sod house where May is stranded. May's straightforward yet eloquent voice, and her bravery, determination, and willingness to risk everything will capture your heart."
I am very drawn to books set in the prairie - think of Little House on the Prairie, Black-eyed Susan and Sarah, Plain and Tall.

The Giver by Lois Lowry
I have read this of course but I have such strong memories of this wonderful dystopian plot that I want to re-read it this year.
From the blurb:
"Intelligence. Integrity. Courage. Wisdom. These are the qualities a receiver of Memory must have. And one more which can only be named, but not described. The Capacity to See Beyond. Jonas lives safely within the community, a place where there is not war, no hunter and no pain. But when he is selected as the Receiver of Memory, he starts to discover dark secrets that lie beneath the surface of this perfect world. Secrets that will lead him to undertake an incredible journey."

Ottilie Colter and the Master of Monsters by Rhiannon Williams
I loved the first installment where we met Ottilie Colter.
From the burb:
"Ottilie Colter is the first girl to join the secretive, boys-only Narroway Hunt - and she's determined that she won't be the last. The hunt trains boys to defend against ruthless dredretches, but the threat is getting worse all the time. No-one is sage, especially not the girls who work at Fort Fiory alongside the huntsmen, but aren't allowed to fight. Ottilie must convince the Hunt to train the girls - but with talk of witchcraft on the rise, and a mysterious hooded figure lurking in the Narroway itself, her time is running out."

Where the River runs Gold by Sita Brahmachari
From the blurb:
"Bold adventure and breathtaking writing."
I have begun reading this one and it is utterly engrossing. I anticipate this will be one of my favourite books this year. Due for publication July 2019.

Songbird by Ingrid Laguna
From the blurb:
"A new house. A new school. A new language. In a country far from home. 
Jamila wants to make new friends and fit in but it's hard when you miss your best friend at home in Iraq, and you're worried about your father's safety, and your mother needs your help with simple tasks like shopping. When Jamie joins the school choir, she finds a place where she can belong, a place where she might find a friend. A place where she can dare to hope."
I saw this one at the Children's Hospital Book Bunker and the cover intrigued me.

Rumble Star by Abi Elphinstone
Inside the front cover of my advanced reader copy (this book is due for publication later this month) are endorsements by Katherine Rundell (Rooftoppers), MG Leonard (Beetle Boy) and Emma Carroll (Letters from the lighthouse). How impressive! Take a look at Abi's web page.
Here are the first sentences from the prologue:
"The trouble with grown-ups is that they always think they're right - about bedtimes and vegetables mostly, but also about beginnings. And in particular about the beginnings of our world. They have all sorts of ideas about big bangs and black holes, but if they had come across the Unmaped Kingdoms (which they wouldn't have because secret kingdoms are notoriously hard to find), they would have learnt that at the very very beginning there was just an egg. A rather large one. And out of that egg, a phoenix was born."

Vincent and the Grandest Hotel on Earth by Lisa Nicol
Due for publication July 2019.
From the ARC Blurb:
"If I could just take a brief moment to explain something about moments... Not all moments in time are the same. There are some moments that change everything. Some moments that set you on a different path, altering your life forever. Some moments after which no one and nothing will ever be the same. This story begins with one of those moments."
I really like the cover of this one - do you?

Straw into Gold: Fairy Tales re-spun by Hilary McKay
From the blurb:
"A fabulous collection of imaginative retellings inspired by classic fairy tales ... Featuring new versions of old favourites, this ten story collection includes Rapunzel, Cinderella, The Princess and the Pea, Rumpelstiltskin, The Twelve Dancing Princesses, The Pied Piper of Hamlin, The Swan Brothers, Hansel and Gretel, Snow White and Red Riding Hood."
I am planning to read one fairy tale each night. I started with The Princess and the Pea.

Lampie and the children of the sea by Annet Schaap
This is a book about a lighthouse keeper - one of my favourite topics. It will be available in July this year. Huge thanks to Beachside Bookshop for my advance reader copy.
From the blurb:
"Every evening Lampie the lighthouse keeper's daughter must light a lantern to warn ships away from the rocks. But one stormy night disaster strikes. The lantern goes out, a ship is wrecked and an adventure begins."

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Louisa May Pickett the most boring person in class by Rod Clement

Do you call it news? Do you call it Show and Tell? I'm talking about the time in the school day, usually in the morning, when members of a class take turns to talk about something or to show something precious to their friends. Teachers are always looking for ways to make these sessions more interesting. For some curious reason children do love Show and Tell but oddly they worry about performing for public speaking. These two activities are quite closely linked.  Show and Tell feels like a good way to prepare for public speaking.

Louisa May has been a champion at Show and Tell for the last three years but now she has moved to a new school - Bobbin Head Primary.  A little note to readers in Sydney, Australia - there really is a place called Bobbin Head but sadly there is no Primary school there.  It is a beautiful bush suburb. For her first Show and Tell Louisa takes along a sabre-toothed Tiger skull.

"I think I should start nice and slowly.
I don't want to look like a show-off ... well not on my first day."

There is a shock coming. Her skull is 'beaten' by the head of a Tyrannosaurus Rex bought in by Jake.  The pattern is established. Each day Louisa brings something amazing only to be gazumped by another kid in her class.  Here is a list to show how this works:

Juggling mouse
Tap dancing and singing rat

Complete samurai suit
Warrior troll outfit

Meat-eating plant
Black rhino - he eats her plant

She even has a talking chair that recites the complete works of Shakespeare, solider ants dressed as soldiers and an Eiffel Tower made from match sticks. But each and every time another student presents something bigger, or better or more amazing.  By May 3rd she admits defeat. She stand in front of the class and explains:

"My name is Louisa May Pickett
and I have nothing to show you and nothing to tell.
I did nothing all week.
I stayed at home with my parents.
I ate.
I slept.
I sat around and
thought about ... nothing.

And you know what?
I loved every minute 
of it!"

This is such a funny book and it is a good way to explore the concept of:


I work with a small group of girls in a local school and their teacher would like them to participate in the NSW Premier's Reading Challenge this year.  I am not sure if this is the right project for these girls who all find reading very difficult but they are keen to participate and reach their goal of reading twenty books. Luckily the challenge does allow for special needs students to read books from a different book list. These girls are in Grade 5 but I am sourcing books for them from the Grade 3 and 4 lists. I shared Louisa May Pickett with them last week when we were looking at a range of possible titles to begin the challenge.

Louisa May Pickett was published in 2005 and since that time it has been given a new cover and a new title! I wonder if there was an issue with the word 'boring'? The good news is you can still purchase this book.

If you want to follow up this topic of class news try to find this terrific read aloud title -  Gooney Bird Green. Your school library might also have Whoppers by Moya Simons and the sequel Even Bigger Whoppers from the Aussie Bites series.  Here are a some other picture books about Show and Tell. Read my review of The Frank Show.

After you read Louisa May Pickett you might like to pick up an earlier book by Rod Clement - Just another Ordinary Day.  It has a similar tone and theme.  You could then read other books by Rod Clement such as Edward the Emu.  You can listen to an sample of Edward the Emu here. It is one of Rod's most famous books.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Boot: Small Robot big Adventure by Shane Hegarty illustrated by Ben Mantle

Oddly I am really drawn to books about robots. And again, quite oddly, I usually find they are often very emotional stories. I can hear you saying, hold on, robots don't have emotions.  Yes they do in this book called Boot.

"Humans made robots so that we'd be smart enough to understand them without making us smarter than them. So we could be helpful to them without questioning them. But something made us ... change. Maybe that thing was when they threw us out. When we found ourselves lost and broken and rejected. We started to ask questions. Started to ... feel things."

Boot has been discarded and when he "wakes up" he only has two and a half memories. A girl called Beth appears in these little fragments of his past life. Boot knows time has passed for each memory because Beth is wearing a butterfly pendant with 16 "tiny green, red, yellow and blue jewels dazzling in its wings." In the second memory one jewel is missing from its wing and in the third, even shorter memory of just 5.824 seconds, there are only thirteen jewels left.

When Boot "wakes up" he says one word - boot. He is certain Boot must be his name. He knows the girl called Beth loved him. His life is in danger. He is about to be smashed to pieces in a place called 'Krush 'em Kwik' by a maniac called Flint. Boot cannot let this happen. He has discovered the butterfly necklace is in a drawer in his side. He must find Beth. He is certain she needs him.

This book is fabulous. I read it in one sitting. Boot is a hero but so are his friends. He meets an old model robot called Noke who is desperate for a plug so he can recharge his batteries, a crazy mixed up dog robot called Poochy, a camera robot called Tag who takes the photos of scared people on the ghost train at the funfair and a robot called Red.

"Red was shaped more like a human than any other robot I had yet encountered. It had long limbs and a smooth body so light red it was almost see-through."

Red has a very serious problem. She has a design fault which means she will burst into flames if she gets too hot. To stay cool Red chants calm coool words as she goes around and around on a carousel in the breeze.

Boot has only his fragments of memory to use as a guide but with his team of unlikely friends they set off to look for Beth. What they don't know is that they are being followed by Flint. He and his henchmen, called Cutters, plan to destroy Boot. Flint hates all robots because he knows one day they will take over his job.

My copy of Boot was an advanced reader edition from Beachside Bookshop and so it did not have the illustrations and I am not allowed to quote from the text. This book will be available in May, 2019. I plan to grab the real book and check it so I can come back to this page and add in some text quotes and see the illustrations which I know are scattered throughout the text. My copy just said 'illustration to come.'

There are some very funny but also some beautifully insightful parts to this text. You can read a text extract here. Reviewers will link this book with Toy Story and WALL-E and while I do agree I think this book is so much more.  There will be a sequel to Boot published in 2020.

I would pair this book with Ollie's Odyssey by William Joyce.  For older students I would suggest Eager and sequels by Helen Fox should be their next read along with the wonderful Wild Robot  and sequels by Peter Brown.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Black Dog by Christobel Mattingley illustrated by Craig Smith

Tuesday Treasure

Here we have another of my Tuesday Treasures. I adore this book for so many reasons. Begin with the front cover which stretches out to show the whole class of 28 kids with oddly similar faces yet all so individual.

Kerry arrives at a new school. Her old school was small and familiar. Now she is faced with huge numbers of children and a huge set of buildings:

"It was three storey's high.
There were many flights of stairs
and long passages with dozens of doors."

Kerry only just copes with all the strangeness of the new class and teacher. I love the moment when things calm down for her after the class go to the library. Kerry finds her old friends Winnie the Pooh, Madeline, Babar and Ping. She settles down and becomes so absorbed she doesn't hear the class leave. The librarian eventually discovers Kerry surrounded by books in the reading corner.  She sends her back to class with a book but Kerry does not know the way. Kerry is terrified of dogs and so when one appears in the empty school corridor she shakes with fear but Black Dog is a friendly dog. He only wants to show Kerry the way. It almost feels as though he is rounding her up like the cattle or sheep. Eventually Kerry finds her way back to her new teacher and Miss Bell explains:

"I thought you might be lost. It's such a big school. ...  But Black Dog has found you. ... he should not be at school, but he is always so lonely at home by himself on the first day after the holidays. He follows me to school. ... He likes making new friends."

Craig Smith has long been a favourite illustrator of mine. This is one of his earliest books published in 1979 and his style was different back then from books he has produced recently. Craig has been illustrating books for forty years. I am again going to say I am very sad this book has been recently culled from my former school library - it truly is a book to treasure and this book is also an essential text for teaches who want to study the work of an Australian illustrator such as the very talented Craig Smith.

Compare Craig's style above with the covers and pages from Craig's newest books:

A Cat Called Trim

Here is a set of teaching ideas for Black Dog.  You might find Black Dog in a school library in a different format - First Friend - an Aussie Nibble. You can listen to an audio sample here. It is interesting to compare this with the original - there are some tiny text changes for example desks are now tables, maths rods (cuisenaire) are now counters, the sound of pianos changes into recorders and sewing machines are now computers! I need to see this Nibble edition to check if the wonderful illustrations by Craig Smith were used.

I would pair Black Dog with Misty by Christine Dencer.

I plan to explore some other older books illustrated by Craig Smith over the coming months including Whistle up the Chimney (Nan Hunt), Dreadful David (Sally Odgers) and My Dog's a Scaredy cat (Duncan Ball).  Other books from Craig that I have enjoyed sharing with children are Bob the Builder and the Elves (Emily Rodda), Crumbs (Emily Rodda), Pilchards in Tomato Sauce (Alison Stewart), Billy the Punk (Jessica Carroll), Bungawitta (Emily Rodda) and Marty and Mei Ling (Phil Cummings). 

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Tenrec's Twigs by Bert Kitchen

Tuesday Treasure

"As the sun rose over the hill, Tenrec popped his head out of his burrow and sniffed the fresh morning air. The weather was dry and bright, just right for building. He snuffled along until he came to the place where he had gathered a pile of twigs the day before."

Following a question and answer format the little tenrec (they only live in Madagascar) asks a number of unusual animals if they know why he building his twig constructions - should he stop building them?  Here is a list of the animals:

  • Warthog
  • Giant anteater
  • Small-scaled Pangolin
  • Golden Mole
  • Marabou "Adjutant" Stork
  • Two-toed Sloth
  • Milky Eagle Owl

And here is our little tenrec:

It is perfect timing to talk about this book which is one of my Tuesday Treasures (even though today is not Tuesday).  Last week the UN reported one million species are at risk of extinction on our planet. There are two things I love about this book - the wonderful science-like illustrations by Bert Kitchen and the way this book increased my curiosity about animals such as the tenrec, pangolin and stork. The last page in the book has some scientific information as a springboard to your research. Read these comments by my friend at Kinderbookswitheverything. We both agree this is a favourite book which I hope you can find in a school or local library.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Cogheart by Peter Bunzl

From the first page Peter Bunzl creates his alternate (Steampunk) world. Take at look at these text fragments:

"the silver airship"
"clockwork innards"
"the stench of burning has filled the fight deck"
"It's at least a day's journey from here, have you enough clicks?"

Clicks?  Wait a minute John Hartman is talking to a fox - isn't that surprising enough? Now we discover this fox is clockwork.

"Take your winder anyway.' John produced a tarnished key on a chain and hung it round the fox's neck, next to the pouch. 'Though heaven knows who'll wind you if I'm not here."

Malkin, the fox is now on the run. This was one of my favourite parts of this story. Malkin is carrying a message for John's daughter, Lily. This message is so urgent I think I almost held my breath through the first 160 pages of this book. Then tragedy strikes. Maklin is shot. He survives but the letter is badly damaged and almost impossible to read. Lily thinks her father is dead, she thinks Professor Silverfish can help her, and she knows she must hurry because some very evil men want to get their hands on her father's invention. Thank goodness she has two wonderful friends and of course Malkin to help her. This book is a wild ride with so many surprising twists.

Professor Hartman has made some remarkable mechs. I especially adore Mrs Rust - the housekeeper. She has a number replaceable hands perfect for every task - spatulas, spoons and a whisk for example. She also has such wonderful expressions and she adores Lily. Here are some of her funny expressions:

"Cogs and chronometers! My tiger-Lil's back!"
"Smokestacks and sprockets."
"Widgets and windscreen wipers."
"Stopwatches and spinning tops."

Peter Bunzl gives us wonderful descriptions of the evil men who are after Malkin and Lily and her friend Robert:

"A big fellow with ginger mutton-shop sideburns arrived carrying a steam-riffle. His body looked lumpen, like a sack of rocks He resembled a crusher ... his cheeks were as red as bulging blood sausages. But what made Robert gulp was the pair of silver mirrors screwed into the raw sockets of the man's eyes. Scars  emanated from them, criss-crossing his cheeks, and running up under the brim of his hat."

Cogheart is the first book in this series. I accidentally stumbled across a comment by Peter Bunzl about Steampunk which is a genre I really enjoy. His comment made me curious to read his books so I have begun with the first published in 2016 (it is actually Peter's first book) and I do hope to continue the series. You can see the three books above. I do like their covers and on the Cogheart website they have been animated. I hope we meet Mrs Rust in the next installment and perhaps gain further insights into the emotional sensibilities of the mechs created by the professor.

An extraordinary story, exceptionally written it truly is a future classic which will be enjoyed by children and adults alike. Book Lover Jo

You can read the prologue to Cogheart on the Usborne site. Peter Bunzl has some activities for each book on his website. Here is a set of discussion questions. Peter Bunzl answers five questions. Listen to Peter talk about his book on this podcast.

In an Australian classroom you might link this book with Mechanica and Aquatica. If you enjoy Cogheart, and I think you will,  I would recommend other Steampunk books such as Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve, Airborn by Kenneth Oppel and also the wonderful book Tin by Padraig Kenny.

Here is a display by a class in a UK school where they develop the idea of Mechanimals - Malkin, the fox for example, is a mechanimal.