Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Ida, Always by Caron Levis and Charles Santoso

Oddly I am going to tell you to begin by reading the back cover of this utterly exquisite picture book Ida, Always.

"I am in awe of this wise, endearing, tender, and beautiful - so very beautiful - book, which is sure to become a classic of children's literature ... the words and pictures meld perfectly to explore the emotional journey of love and loss, 
breaking your heart and then beginning to mend it."
Judith Viorst

Read this comment slowly again.  Meld is the perfect word to describe the way the gentle illustrations and text work together.  The emotional journey of Gus is the heart of this tender story.  The way a broken heart can mend is the important message of hope you will find at the end.

Gus and Ida live in the zoo in Central Park in the busy New York city. The story is based on two real polar bears who did really live in this zoo.  One day Ida does not emerge from her night den.  The keeper explains to Gus that Ida is ill and may die soon.

I love this moment of humour in the face of their deep sadness :

"Wherever I go' said Ida, 'I  bet I'll always smell your fishy breath.'  That made Gus smile.  He wasn't sure if he should. But Ida was giggling, too."

The topic of this book is a difficult one.  Here is a pinterest collection of other books to explore from my friend at Kinderbooks.  Here is a teaching guide from the author web site.

This is a difficult story to tell for both children and adults, but “Ida, Always” does it with simplicity and grace.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Series - The World in Infographics by Jon Richards and Ed Simkins

I don't talk about Non Fiction very often but this series has really caught my eye.  I must be a visual learner because I enjoy pouring over the infographic format as a way to present statistics and other general knowledge.

There are 12 books in this series. Topics include Planet Earth, Natural resources, Countries and Machines/Vehicles.  Each book has an index and a comprehensive glossary.  At a time when students and teachers make extensive use of 'Google' style searches I think books like this are especially useful.  Information is presented as graphs and comparisons.  In each book students can make sense of statistics and percentages and some of the content could be used for further research.

Here are a few facts from the Human World :

The Digital World
In 2010 107,000,000,000,00 emails were sent!

Staying in touch
The first call made from a mobile phone was made on 3rd April, 1973

Work Rest and Play
Annual Public Holidays - China 16, India 15, Australia 8

Dwindling resources
Years remaining of mineral reserves measured from 2011
Copper 61 years, Gold 45 Years, Tin 40 years, Phosphorus 345 Years

What a waste
New York produces 11,000 tones of trash a day or enough to cover the USA with a layer 2.5cm deep.

This page is from the Animal Kingdom.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Cartwheeling in thunderstorms by Katherine Rundell

After reading Rooftoppers I knew I wanted to pick up another book by Katherine Rundell.  I started Cartwheeling in thunderstorms early this afternoon and finished it before the sunset.  This is a fabulous book and as Philip Pullman says on the back cover Katherine Rundell has a 'distinctive voice and a wild imagination.'

Will (Wilhelmina) has a blissfully free life in Zimbabwe.  Her friends are the wild animals, her horse and the neighbourhood boys especially her best friend Simon. The farm where she has lived her whole life is owned by Captain Browne and Will's dad is the foreman.  Wills' mum, Lilibet, was a very special lady who also embraced life in the wilds of Africa but sadly she died when Will was only five.

"Seven years after his wife's death, William Silver started running a temperature.  The next day he collapsed on the packed earth floor of the stable."

The story now references Cinderella.  Captain Browne takes a wife. She immediately plots to get rid of little Will.  She organises to send this wild child to an English boarding school.

I love this description of Cynthia (Captain Browne's new wife).  "Cynthia Vincy was well-dressed, strong jawed, long-legged, conscious of her power over men: formidable. ... Cynthia smiled down at Will.  The smile marred the woman's perfect poise; it was a square smile, like a letter box. Cynthia was aware of this and rarely smiled."

Everything about the school is horrid.  The food, the tiny room she has to share with one of the school bullies, the bitter cold and the endless rules.

"She discovered that times tables had nothing to do with time, not in fact with tables; that history was not a thousand stories building up into the colossal, strange, heart-stoppingly beautiful present; that knowing about cows and snake bites and birth and umbilical cords was irrelevant in science class.  She also learned that shorts were wrong and she had gypsy hair and she wasn't funny, wasn't clever, and looked like a mad tramp in her thick socks and muddy boots."

Will finally escapes after an especially distressing incident where a gang of girls force her into a cold bath.  She wanders the streets of London.  It is Winter and she is only wearing shorts.  She spends a night at the zoo, a night in Hyde Park and tries to hide in a corner of Harrods department store.

While at the zoo she has a chance meeting with a young boy.  He shares his Mars bar and gives her half of his comic book.  Later she sees an address scribbled on a corner of this comic.  Perhaps she can at last find somewhere to feel safe and take refuge.

After reading Cartwheels in thunderstorms you might look for Duck for Danger (sadly long out of print), Callie and the Prince (also out of print) and Figgy in the world.

Take a minute to watch this video with Katherine Rundell where she describes her own childhood in Zimbabwe.  You could also read the beautiful speech she gave at the Horn Book awards.

I do need to mention the title - Cartwheeling in thunderstorms.  After her journey, both physical and emotional, Will now accepts that for now she needs to learn how to cartwheel in thunderstorms.

Kirkus have given this book a star!  Here is an extract from their review :

Monday, June 13, 2016

Fortune Falls by Jenny Goebel

In Fortune Falls jade costs more than diamonds and so do four-leaf clovers, horseshoes and rabbits' feet.  Birthday wishes should not be wasted and the child care center is called Pot-of-Gold.

Luck - good and bad - this is an elusive thing.  Don't step on a crack, don't walk under a ladder, look for four leaf clovers and of course an apple a day will keep the doctor away.

All of these ideas about staying lucky are included in Fortune Falls and I did enjoy this premise.  The idea that your propensity to good luck or bad luck could determine your future path in life was also a good one but could have been explored in a little more depth especially the final idea - the one that the story had hinted at all along - that we make our own luck by our attitude.

In Fortune Falls every life incident is attributed to luck.  Sadie seems to be plagued by bad luck and her brand of bad luck has been catastrophic for the family perhaps causing the death of her father when is path is crossed by a black cat.

Sadie is about to turn twelve and inauspiciously this will happen on a Friday and yes the date of her birthday is the 13th. When students turn 12 they have to participate in a Spring Luck Test.  This takes them from Undetermined to either Lucky or Unlucky and then determines which school they can attend.

The description of life for Unluckies is quite telling :

"I remembered Dad taking me on a trip downtown ... 'These are the luckless that have given up.' We drove by windows that had been broken out with baseball bats, ... On the streets were people with unkempt hair and beards and expressionless faces.  The worst were those staring off into space as they sat immobile on curbs or behind blowing curtains,"

The actual Spring Luck Test was intriguing.  The school hall is set up with a number of games of chance - a roulette spinner, a dice game and a ball drop game.  You might be able to use this scene with a class and make connections with the maths strand of chance and data.

The Spelling Bee is also a chapter that could be used with a class if you are preparing for a bee at school.  Compare Sadie's words with those given to the lucky but awful Felicia.

dearth gem
debauchery sugar
treacherous lilac
mercurial diary

Fans of books about dogs will also enjoy Fortune Falls.  Sadie has a very special dog :

"Wink makes people feel uncomfortable.  She makes them especially uncomfortable when her missing eye takes them by surprise. I'll be taking Wink for a walk and someone will come up to her at just the right angle, but when she turns to greet the person - her tail wagging so hard it shakes her entire backside - giving whoever it is a full view of her one-eyed, pirate-y face, the stranger usually flips."

Here is a detailed review which includes some of the issues I have raised here.

You might also enjoy A snicker of Magic and Three times lucky.

Fizz and the Police dog tryouts by Lesley Gibbes illustrated by Steven Michael King

One important section in our school library contains our short chapter books which we call Fast Fiction. These are little books which contain easy to read stories suitable for our students in Grades 1-4 but which also have very satisfying story lines.  I love hunting for new titles to add to this collection.

Fizz and the Police Dog tryouts has all the right ingredients.

1. It is part of a series - we do have the second book Fizz and the Dog Academy rescue and the next two will arrive soon.
2. It has a fast pace and very satisfying story. You will cheer for little Fizz who is trying so hard to become a police dog against all stereotypes.
3. With eight short chapters this book could easily be read in one or two nights and I do enjoy chapters with names - this can be a good way to predict the plot
4. There are illustrations on every page and these add to the fun.  Steven Michael King certainly knows how to capture the personality of a range of dog breeds
5. Fizz is a special little hero who demonstrates determination and problem solving

When you look at the cover of Fizz you might see a resemblance to Mutt Dog also illustrated by Steven Michael King.

Fizz turns up for the tryouts but so do a huge number of other dogs.  One of these is Amadeus, an enormous German Shepherd from the Wolfgang family.  Here is a description of Amadeus.  "His neck was thick and strong, and his massive chest was set between two muscular sloping shoulders.  His dense fur was as black as midnight, and his eyes were cold and cruel."

Here is a description of Fizz "a small cute ball of white, fizzy, fuzzy fur."

Amadeus looks like a police dog but he is a bully. He wants to win at all costs but it is his cheating and mean behaviour that nearly sees him disqualified.  Fizz passes the first two tests - The Bark Test (Amadeus steps on his paw and Fizz screams at just the right moment), and the Scare Test (Fizz uses his anger against Amadeus flashing his teeth and shooting his fluffy hair into wild hackles).

The third test, however, the Chase-and-catch test, proves too much of a challenge for little Fizz but all is not lost.  Fizz is offered a place in the Undercover Dog Division and the stage is now set for book two.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Rabbit & Bear by Julian Gough and Jim Field

There are many books now that cite comments or reviews by other distinguished authors on their covers.  Rabbit & Bear cites two quotes on the back - one from Neil Gaiman and the other by Eoin Colfer.  This is esteemed company indeed.

Neil Gaiman says this "is the sort of story that makes you want to send your children to bed early, so you can read it to them."

Eoin Colfer says this "should become an instant modern classic .. Cheeky, delightful and hilarious."

Bear is hibernating.  It is the middle of winter.  He wakes up when a robber stands on his nose, having just stolen his honey, salmon and beetles eggs.  Bear has never been awake in the winter.  He forgets about the missing food when he sees the snow and decides to make his first snowman. His snowball comes to rest on a rabbit hole. Rabbit is wise to the ways of gravity but he is also a cantankerous character who has no time for making snowmen with bear until something makes him change his mind.

This is the first book in a new series.  The subtitle is Rabbit's bad habits.  You need to read this terrific little book to discover exactly what these bad habits are.  You might find them disgusting but I guarantee every child will be laughing long after the book is finished.

Here is an interview with the author.  In this blog Julian Gough explains how he discovered this story. We do have several books in our library illustrated by Jim Field including the wonderful There's a lion in my cornflakes.

Rabbit & Bear is a compact little book about the size of a Ladybird book.  The illustrations are fabulous as you can see below. I am certain every young child will adore this special gem.

Lifetime : The amazing numbers in animal lives by Lola M Schaefer illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal

When I read a book like Lifetime I just want to rush to a teacher and beg them to use this book because there is just so much to discover here.

Lifetime is so much more than a simple counting book of even an exploration of numbers.  "Lifetime shows how many times one particular animal performs one behavior or grows one feature in a lifetime."

The book begins with a spider and her fragile egg sac. As you turn each page you will find so many fascinating facts in this book.  Did you know caribou shed 10 sets of antlers and a rattlesnake will add 40 beads to its rattle.
Every part of the animal kingdom is explored from seahorses to kangaroos, dolphins to butterflies.

The final pages are an excellent additional resource.  Lola M Schaefer explains how averages work and then explains in great detail how she arrived at the actual average she used for each creature.  For example the Red Kangaroo will birth 2 or 3 joeys every year and their lifespan is about 21.5 years. The maths of averages means after 20 years of having joeys the Red Kangaroo will have 50 joeys in her lifetime.

Here is the author web site.  We do have several of her books in our school library but I plan to add more.