Sunday, November 22, 2015

Lest we forget by Kerry Brown illustrated by Isobel Knowles and Benjamin Portas

Every week I visit a veteran in an aged care facility not far from my home.  His name is Bert and he was working as a solider when WWII began.  At the end of the war (he served in Darwin and PNG) the men were told not to talk about their experiences and so Bert does not talk about this experience in any detail but he has a voracious interest in WWI and especially the pacific campaign of WWII.

Bert met his wife while he was training other soldiers in Newcastle, north of Sydney, and this week they celebrated their 73rd wedding anniversary.  All those years mean both of them have enormous stores of memory.

Lest We forget is about memories.  I shared this book with a Grade 3 teacher just prior to Remembrance Day November 11 and she found it was an excellent way to link this important commemoration with the experiences of young children.  While we do have many titles which classes can use for ANZAC Day we do not have so many books which explicitly mention Remembrance Day.

 "In 1997, Governor-General Sir William Deane issued a proclamation formally declaring 11 November to be Remembrance Day, urging all Australians to observe one minute’s silence at 11 am on 11 November each year to remember those who died or suffered for Australia’s cause in all wars and armed conflicts."   (from the teacher notes by Elaine Smith)

One of the most powerful parts of this book is the use of textless pages to tell the story of the young soldier. As he leaves in his smart new uniform it is clear his young wife is expecting a baby.  Moving over two scenes we see a letter has arrived with a photo of the new baby and perhaps significantly she is not a new born.  There are so many discussion points for this one page.

There are 27 pages of teaching notes available which give you excellent strategies for using this important book with a class.   Here is another set of notes with additional activities.

I discovered this book by accident.  I had arranged to meet a friend at a local shopping mall.  Just before we met she had found this book in a discount department store.  Luckily she showed it to me and so I was able to pick up a copy for our school library.

Here is a review from the Sydney Morning Herald.

My ganddad says there are two types of days:
those you want to remember and those you want to forget

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell

Here is another one of my midnight reads.  I simply could not postpone my reading until today so late into the night I finished this amazing book.

The theme and motto of this book is

Never ignore a possible

I actually hardly know where to begin with this book.  Sophie survives a shipwreck and is rescued by the wonderful Charles.

"On the morning of its first birthday, a baby was found floating in a cello case in the middle of the English Channel."

"Think of night-time with a speaking voice. Or think how moonlight might talk, ... give those things a narrow face with hooked eyebrows, and long arms and legs, and that is what the  baby saw as she was lifted out of her cello case and up into safety.  His name was Charles Maxim, and he determined ... he would keep her."

Naturally the authorities do not approve of these arrangements.

"The child is your ward.  She is not your daughter.' This was the sort of woman who spoke in italics.  You would be willing to lay bets her hobby was organising people."

Sophie lives a happy, if somewhat odd life, with Charles until she turns twelve.  At this time the aforementioned authorities arrive this time with plans to move Sophie into more suitable accommodation - an orphanage.

Sophie has a deep longing in her heart.  She knows her precious mother is still alive somewhere in the world.  She is certain, absolutely certain, that her mother was a musician who played the cello. Sophie is a resilient, intrepid and daring young girl with extraordinary climbing skills. When she discovers the name of the cello maker hidden inside her cello case her course is set.  She and Charles now need to move quickly, run away to Paris, find the cello maker and in turn find Sophie's mother.

While in Paris, Charles and Sophie stay in a run down hotel. Sophie climbs onto the roof and there she meets a young Rooftopper - a boy called Matteo.

Here are a few more quotes to demonstrate the beauty of this writing.

For their train trip to Paris Sophie travels in a small carriage usually reserved for the children of the Duke of Kent.  "The carriage was beautiful. Everything was child-sized and made with the delicacy and detail of witch-craft."

Sophie and Charles race across Paris to the cello maker.  "It was ten minutes' walk; ten minutes through cobbled streets, and window boxes full of red carnations, ... ten minutes in which Sophie's heart looped the loop and danced a jitterbug".

Matteo and Sophie share a feast provided by Charles (who perhaps know more than he is letting on).

"The pack was full of parcels wrapped in greaseproof paper. ... bread rolls, four of them, soft in the middle and dusted with flour at the top.  They were still warm from the oven and they smelt of blue skies.  The bread had been spread by someone with strong opinions about butter - it was as thick as the first joint on Sophie's thumb."

If you enjoy Rooftoppers - actually when you read Rooftoppers - please read this book - you should also look for The three loves of Persimmon, The invention of Hugo Cabret, The truth about Verity Sparks, Secret letters from 0-10 and Withering by Sea.  I also thought of Journey to the River Sea and Tensy Farlow.

There is a musical score right through Rooftoppers.  Perhaps you could listen to a little of it to set the mood.  You can read a more detailed description of the plot here.  Here is a video with the author.

I held my breath through most of this book and then I held my breath when I clicked on the Kirkus review. YES!!! They loved this book too.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Floors by Patrick Carman

Floors has an extra message on the cover - Welcome to the wildest hotel in the world.  This is so true. The Whippet Hotel is crazy, surprising and wild!

The hero of this story, and of the hotel, is Leo, a young boy who lives with his dad at the Whippet Hotel.  Leo's dad is the hotel fix-it-man and right now he and his son are totally run off their feet as everything in the hotel seems to be breaking down.  The Whippet Hotel is the creation of the eccentric and reclusive Merganzer D Whippet but he has disappeared.  He has been gone for one hundred days.

If I list some of the crazy aspects of this hotel it might give you a small insight into the mayhem contained in this intriguing book.

A family of ducks live on the hotel roof.  Each day they need to be brought down to street level in a special duck elevator.

"The duck elevator was a contraption very much like an ordinary elevator, only shorter, narrower, shower and bursting with the aroma of wet feathers."

On the third floor there is a room that is actually designed to be a giant pinball machine.

"The slanted floor was covered with lights and arrows and circled numbers, just like a real pinball machine. At the far end of the room was a hole as big as a tyre, which had a flipper on each side."

On an upper floor where things are even crazier there is the Flying Farm Room.  This room is filled with goats and sheep and even a bull but actually they are holograms.

Interspersed between chapters, where Leo and his friends explore the hotel and follow an intriguing set of clues and instructions, we read about Merganzer Whippet and the plan by someone unknown to acquire this valuable hotel for an especially low price as it seems to be falling into ruin.

You might like to explore the web site for this book which includes videos, picture and an author Q&A.  I have reviewed another book by Patrick Carman - Skeleton Creek.  It seems there might even be a movie of this amazing book one day.  You can read a little more of the plot here.  I have included an alternate cover.  Floors is the first book in a trilogy - we urgently need to add the other two tiles to our library collection.

What do you wish for by Jane Godwin illustrated by Anna Walker


I wish I could write this heading in gold just as it appears on the cover and title page of 
What do you wish for?

Here are a few wishes (from the end papers see below):

I wish we could have pink lemonade
I wish I could drive a bus
I wish I would get taller
I wish my teddy would talk to me
I wish I was able to fly
I wish I had sparkly shoes
I wish stories could come true

The children in this special Christmas book have some magical rituals.

"Every year there was a Christmas party in the park at the end of the street.  Ruby and her friends put on a show, with songs and costumes and real curtains.  But first, each of them wrote a Christmas wish to hang on the tree."

Everyone writes their wishes for the tree except for Ruby.  Her wish seems too big to fit on a little piece of paper. Ruby thinks about all the things that make Christmas special.  My favourite is when she mentions the smell of baking.  This is a strong memory for me, especially of mince pies and special Christmas biscuits with silver decorations.  We do discover Ruby's wish but you need to read this book because it really is too big to explain here.

This is a truly Australian Christmas book - we see the family enjoying an ocean swim on Christmas day and lunch outside in the sunshine.

I am really looking forward to sharing this magical book with our youngest students over the next few weeks as we lead up to Christmas.  You can see a few of my other seasonal favourites below all of which can be found in this blog and a review of Peggy which was also illustrated by the talented Anna Walker.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Fire Girl by Matt Ralphs

Here is the perfect book for fans of Skulduggery Pleasant and the Catherine Jinks series which began with A very unusual Pursuit.

Before reading this review take a look at the trailer.  It is utterly enthralling as is this book.

Hazel watches as her precious mother is kidnapped by a demon. Her anger brings her own powerful magic to life - the magic of fire.  With the help of her familiar - a dormouse named Bramwell, Hazel sets out on an extremely dangerous journey to find and free her mother.  The world is an especially dangerous place because witches are being caught and killed all over England.

One of the ways I can explain this book is by quoting some of the chapter headings :

"After the Witch War, England's witches fled to the wild parts of the land. It is best to avoid such places, unless travelling with adequate protection."

"Demons are unholy creatures in endless forms most foul."

"When prosecuting a witch, Witch Hunters are encouraged to use fear and intimidation to extract information."

 Fire Girl is not a book for the fainthearted.  There are some really gruesome scenes in this book especially when the demon consumes the woodsman.  I read this book quickly but I did need to stop when the action became quite harrowing.  On the other hand, characters like Bramwell will give you plenty to smile about and the bravery of Hazel will make you cheer.

Here is an extract from the scene with the demon :

"The tentacles whipped round, and in the time it took for a heart to beat twice they were on him. ... The fifth tentacle - thicker than the others - reared up like a cobra and swayed hypnotically from side to side.  There was a wet tearing sound as its tip peeled open like a flower, revealing a round, toothless throat.  The woodman wen rigid as it descended towards his head."

Here is an interview with the author.  Here is a review by an eleven-year old.

After reading this book - and I really do recommend you read it -  especially if you are a fan of this horror fantasy genre, you might also like the Chain of Charms series of books by Kate Forsyth which have the same setting of Cromwell's England for a slightly younger audience.

I should warn you this book is the first in a series, many things remain unresolved at the end and the second installment is not yet published.

Rain Reign by Ann M Martin

"If you can read, you'll love this book."  

This is the claim on the front cover and it is so true as are the words in the quotes below.

I have wanted to read Rain Reign for months so I was excited on Friday when it was returned by the student who donated it to our school library.  I wonder if she read it?  I certainly did.  I read this whole book in one sitting very late into the night.

Rose is a very special girl.  She lives with her Dad but she needs to be careful of his moods and temper.  One night he brings home a stray dog.  Rose names him Rain because it is raining when he arrives and because Rose loves homonyms.  Rain, reign and rein.

"I am the only student in my class who's interested in homonyms.  ... Homonyms can be surprising and fun, and that's why I started a list of them."

Rose relies on routines and rules.  She loves her dog Rain and her wonderful uncle Weldon who lives on the other side of their town but the balance of her life changes with the arrival of Hurricane Susan.

"In our yard two trees have fallen, the birch and the elm... the water is so deep that it's flowed over its banks and flooded both the road and the lower part of our yard. ...I turn around wondering whether it's okay to wake my father... I'm about to knock on his door when I realize that I haven't seen (scene) Rain."

This is a heart-breaking and affirming story.  Ann M Martin has written a wonderful book.  Rose is a truly memorable and special girl.  I give this book ten out of ten.

You might like to use this simple trailer.

You might also enjoy So. Be. It., Wonder, Rules by Cynthia Lord, My life as an alphabetCounting by 7s and Looking for X by Deborah Ellis.

Rain is a wonderful friend to Rose.  If you love books about dogs you could try Because of Winn Dixie, One dog and his boy and Shiloh.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Ivan the remarkable true story of the shoppping mall gorilla by Katherine Applegate

I found The One and Only Ivan such a moving story. I was a little worried about opening this new picture book.  The treatment of Ivan over 27 years is so hard to accept.  How could people be so cruel to a wonderful wild creature.

This book is aimed at a younger audience but since it is a true account of what happened to Ivan you can find it in the non fiction section of our school library.  After reading this book make sure you also read the final three pages which add in all the factual details about Ivan.

"The jungle, green with life was gone.
The gorillas had traveled halfway around the world to Tacoma, Washington. A man who owned a shopping mall had ordered and paid for them, like a couple of pizzas, like a pair of shoes."

I think this quote demonstrates the heart break you will feel when you read about Ivan.

Here is an interview with Katherine Applegate.  Take a minute to watch the trailer from the publisher.