Thursday, December 13, 2018

I'm just no good at rhyming by Chris Harris illustrated by Lane Smith

Yes this is a funny book but it is also a book for intelligent and sensitive readers. You will laugh (a lot) but you may also stop to think which is part of why I enjoy reading poetry.  This book is a must buy addition for any school library.

Chris Harris is a television producer working on shows like Top Gear.  Lane Smith is the perfect illustrator for this generous anthology. His work is more than decoration. He adds to the fun and meaning of every poem.

Here are two of the more sensitive poems that I like:

The Valleys shape the Mountains

The valleys shape the mountains
The shadow shapes the crescent moon
The chill of late December
Shapes the warmth we feel in June.

So next time that you're crying,
Just remember this small rhyme;
Your sadness shapes the happiness
You'll feel again in time.

I'm Shy on the Outside

I'm shy on the outside, but inside my head?
I'm not at all shy - I'm outgoing instead.

I'm chatty, I'm witty, I'm hilarious,
Funny and friendly and downright gregarious.

Ask me about me - I'll say, "I'm a cut-up!
Sometimes? I can't get get me to shut up."

Even though out here I'm minimal-worded,
Deep down inside? I am so extroverted!

I'm the life of the party here under my skin,
So keep knocking -
Someday I might let you in.

In so many classrooms teachers use the form acrostic as a way to have students create a simple poem. In I'm Just no Good at Rhyming you will find the perfect anti - acrostic poem.  It made me laugh and laugh.


L is for looking out for others.
O is for Open heartedness.
R is for -
Hey! There's no "R" in LOVE"!
I know, but I thought maybe I could that I'm for Respecting -
No! No! No! There is no "R" in "LOVE"!! Get outta here, R! Go on, git!
Okay that's more like it. Now let's keep going.

Another clever inclusion is the poem that references the work of the famous American poet Robert Frost.

Here is the final verse from the original:
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Here is the poem by Chris Harris

Two Roads

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I - 
I took the one less traveled by ...
Since then I've been completely lost
Thanks for nothing, Robert Frost.

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You might like to read this review in Reading Time. Betsy Bird writes a terrific review in the School Library Journal and here is an interview with Chris Harris. You can also listen  to a radio interview with Chris.

There are so many funny touches in this book. There is a list of poems that didn't make it into the book such as "I'm N-N-N-Not scared of G-G-G-Ghosts (I'm just C-C-C-Cold)" and "Dust! 482 lines About the Most Incredible Thing in the World."  Also check out the page numbers and then hunt for the poem that explains why so many pages are missing. You do need to read this book from the beginning through to the end because several poems evolve such as The Door. One more thing, do take the time to read the dedication page - it's such fun!


Here is the cover of the paperback edition.

Huge thanks to a friend of mine who loaned me this wonderful book from her school library. I have been looking at it in shops for months and months wondering if I really did need this book for my home collection - the answer (now I have spent several hours with this book) is a resounding YES!

In the storied tradition of Nash, Lear, and Dr. Seuss, Harris joins forces with Smith to present over 100 original poems and illustrations dedicated to having some serious fun. Kirkus Star Review

There is plenty of humour with jokes and riddles (some deliberately very unfair) and puzzles, including a poem to read backwards and a duel between the letters d and b. The title belies the range within however, there is so much more than nonsense here. This is also a collection which is full of love and hope, warmly perceptive about being a child and growing up and being a parent observing this happening. Books for Keeps

Saving Winslow by Sharon Creech

"Okay," Louie said. I accept the mission."
"What mission?"
"To save this pitiful motherless donkey."

Louie is exactly the right person to care for a new-born baby donkey. Yes, he has not had a good track record with other pets and wild animals, but there is a deep emotional tenderness about Louie and even though everyone doubts the young donkey will live through the first night, Louie never gives up. 

"I don't want to watch it die,' his mother said
'No!' Louie said. 'No dying. I told you, I accept the mission.'
The pitiful creature tentatively touched its nose to Louie's. 'Awww,'
'Don't get attached,' his mother warned. 'You're going to be heartbroken when it - '
'Shh,' Louie said. 'Don't let it hear you.' He asked his father if it was a boy or a girl.
'Boy,' he said. 'Poor thing."

Louie is determined to save the little donkey. He names him Winslow. Later we learn how this name connects with Louie's own difficult start in life.

Louie is a real kid. Sure he lives with a terrific mum and dad and has some loyal friends but his brother is away serving as a soldier and everyone deeply misses him.  Gus misses his family too. He write brief letters but always with the sign off "Remember me." There are reminders of his brother all over the house - they think about him every day.

Living near Louie is Nora. Nora has had some deep sadness in her short life too. Her premature baby brother has died and so did the family dog. Sharon Creech does not need to spell this out but it is very clear Nora is scared of being hurt. She likes Winslow, the baby donkey, but she is wary of making a connection because, in her view, it looks as though he might die too. Yet she is drawn to the little fellow. His fur is soft and he keeps butting into her boots and making friendly noises. How can she resist him?

Colby Sharp talked about this book and the wonderful thing that happened for all the students in his school.  One of his students loved Saving Winslow and he book talked it with all his class and it became such a popular book. An adult listening to Colby talk with passion about the urgency of getting books into kids hands decided to buy 60 copies - one for each child in Grade 5. Such a generous and special thing to do.

You might know that I am a HUGE (say this loudly) fan of Sharon Creech. I knew I just had to buy this book and buy it NOW! The power of the writing here comes both from what is said and what is left unsaid. I love that the reader is allowed to 'join the dots.' When you pick up this book take a look at chapter 10. It is titled Freeze that Scene. Louie records two contrasting scenes into his memory. One is of sunflowers growing against a white fence under a blue sky. This scene is made even more perfect when a small blue bird lands on a stalk.

"And now the scene appeared even more perfect to him: an indigo bunting atop a golden sunflower beside a white fence beneath a blue sky with drifting white clouds."

Does this sound poetic?  It should. If you know the writing of Sharon Creech you are sure to be hearing echoes of words from Love that Dog.

That same day Louie sees a thin, disheveled man in a tattered army jacket sleeping on a park bench. "On his way home, Louie slid a small brown bag next to the bench. In the bag were two rolls and a candy bar." If we didn't know it already it is very clear Louie has a kind heart.

You can read the first 6 chapters on the author web site. I highly recommend you do this (now!) You can read about the inspiration for this story in an interview in the School Library Journal.

Another outstanding and unforgettable story that will work well both as a read-aloud for younger listeners and as a rich offering for those recently transitioned to chapter books.  Kirkus Star review

Set in an unspecified small-town past, largely free of adults and rich with unscheduled play time, the story is told simply but subtly, celebrating the unexpected strength of the vulnerable. Horn Book Star review

SAVING WINSLOW explores the balance between holding tight to those we love most and recognizing that holding on may not be best for them. SAVING WINSLOW is a thoroughly enjoyable read and a future classic in the genre of children and the animals they love. KidsReads

Take a look at my review of other books by Sharon.  Moo, Love that Dog, Heartbeat, Granny Torrelli makes Soup and The Boy on the Porch.

Compare the cover of Saving Winslow with Moo, Love that Dog and Hate that Cat. These four books would make a great set for any library or home collection.

Here is an indigo bunting - I just had to show you one because they look so amazing!

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Sunday, December 9, 2018

Crazy Hair Day by Barney Saltzberg

This is going to be a day I will never forget.

Back in 2008 I wrote my first post for this blog and I mentioned Crazy Hair Day. This year I visited a tiny rural school here in NSW and Crazy Hair Day was one of my chosen books to share with this group of children aged 5-10. This is a book that appeals to every age. Yesterday I was talking about some favourite books and I again mentioned Crazy Hair Day.  I thought it was time I talked in more detail about this little gem.

Stanley is so excited because today is Crazy Hair Day. His mother helps to wrap, dip and spray his hair. As Stanley says "I am a work of art!". The final flourish of Halloween hair spray is just perfect.

Stanley bounces along to school. He knows this will be a great day. His class really enjoy celebrations like this. They have already had Twin day, Sixties day, and Pyjama Day. You have probably guessed what is going to happen. As Stanley walks along the hall towards his class he hears his teacher, Mr Winger, say some terrible words:

"And remember,' Mr Winger was saying, 'Crazy Hair Day is ... Next Friday."

Making things even worse it turns out today is also class picture day. Stanley runs down the hall and hides in the bathroom.

I love the emotional arc of this story.
Happy anticipation - today will be great
Despair - he has the wrong day
Boredom - hiding in the bathroom time moves slowly
A laugh or two when Stanley invents a race to flush all the toilets
Reconciliation - Stanley and his best friend Larry need to heal their friendship
Problem solving - Is there a way to help Stanley feel he is part of this class and to take away the pain of this day?
Happiness when Stanley re-enters his class and discovers the kindness of his friends and wonderful teacher.

The repeated parts of this story also add to the fun when you read this book aloud:

Stanley rolled the elastic bands in is hair. 
He gently tapped the tops of his spikes.
This is going to be a day I will never forget.

You can hear the song here but be warned it may lead to an ear worm it is just so catchy. Barney Saltzberg is an illustrator and a talented musician. I have this album of children's songs.

You can see and hear the author Barney Saltzberg reading the whole book here. He explains the inspiration for this book:

"I was talking to some students at a school one morning before the bell rang, and a boy came up to us with his hair dyed orange and blue and with big spikes," the author-illustrator recalls. "Somebody looked at him and said, 'Crazy Hair Day is tomorrow!' The boy looked horrified, blurted out something, then ran the other way. I felt terrible for this boy and wondered how it could possibly turn around into a better situation."  I wanted Crazy Hair Day to show how Stanley might come to terms with feeling so out of place and realize he still belong to a larger group of friends, even though he looked different. Of course, I didn't want to hit anyone over the head with a 'message', so I tried to plant the seeds through humour." 

There are two other books where you can read about Stanley Birdbaum and his best friend Larry Finchfeather. I love these names. Can you also see a link with Mr Winger?

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Ideas for library visits with your child

“At the moment that we persuade a child, any child,
to cross that threshold, that magic threshold into a library,
we change their lives forever, for the better”

Barack Obama

My friend at Kinderbookswitheverything has written a wonderful information sheet of suggestions about using her school library.

Since this page is a paper handout I asked her if I could share some of it here.  I am quoting from her information sheet:

"It is often hard to know what to borrow or where to start borrowing when you encounter so many books (in a wonderful library). This handout is designed to offer you ideas about how to use the library to support your child reader; how to use the library to expand your repertoire of reading material; and how to step outside 'your reading comfort zone' in order to expand your child's comprehension skills."

Borrow books your child can read but also gather books that you can read to your child.

Plan your choosing:
Decide what you will take for example set a quota 'I will choose five books and you may choose five.'
Encourage risk taking as well as revisiting 'friends' (popular series).
At night you could say 'We will read one of mine and one of yours.'

What should/could you choose:

  • Choose books that appeal to you. It is extremely hard to be enthusiastic about something you do not like yourself?
  • Choose books that will appeal to your child. No one knows their interests better than a parent.
  • Choose stories that expand their general knowledge and their knowledge of the world.
  • Look for books that use a rich, and in some cases subject specific, vocabulary.
  • Choose picture books as well as chapter books.  Remember not all picture books are easy, many have multiple layers of meaning and of course they have the added bonus of beautiful artwork.
  • Vary the genres you borrow. Take a look at non fiction, poetry or biography. You could take a poetry anthology and read a poem each night.
  • If you are bilingual, read to your child in your other language. 
  • Read for yourself.
  • Choose books from library displays. They are there to be borrowed. You might see books on a theme or books by one author or illustrator or perhaps about a current event.

“It is not enough to simply teach children to read;
we have to give them something worth reading.
Something that will stretch their imaginations-
something that will help them make sense of their own lives
and encourage them to reach out toward people
whose lives are quite different from their own.”

Katherine Paterson

Here are a few (a tiny sample) of my favourite picture books:

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Watch the author read this book:

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Further Reading - Megan Daley (Children's Books Daily) will have a new book -  Raising Readers: how to nurture a child's love of books -  available next year. It is sure to be practical and well worth reading. Here is a link to her blog and the cover reveal.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Helen Oxenbury a life in illustration Words by Leonard S Marcus

As Christmas approaches book lists are appearing all over the place - on blogs, in shops and in book store catalogues. After you have made all those book purchases for others here is a book to add to your own list or if you are looking to give a gift to a Children's Literature fan (like me) this book is perfect.

I spied Helen Oxenbury a life in illustration on the web some weeks ago and then I saw the actual book on the coffee table of a good friend yesterday. I exclaimed WOW I want to read that! She generously said take it home. You will love it.

So last night I sat down thinking I would read a few pages. You have probably guessed I read the WHOLE book in one sitting. That's over 265 pages but before you are too impressed, about half the book is given over to full page examples of the joyous work we associate with Helen Oxenbury.

My own first memory of Helen Oxenbury would be her Tom and Pippo series. Reading Helen Oxenbury a life in illustration I have discovered Helen produced 12 books about Tom and his toy monkey. They were first published in 1988. This is one series that surely should be back in print. I fondly remember giving these book to many family friends.

It is at times like this I wish I was still 'living in' my school library.  I need to sit down and look more closely at earlier Helen Oxenbury books such as The Great Big Enormous Turnip by Alexei Tolstoy (1968), The dragon of an ordinary Family by Margaret Mahy (1969), The Hunting of the Snark by Edward Lear (1970) and Meal One by Ivor Cutler (1971). I also love the way I make discoveries. I had no idea Helen Oxenbury illustrated another favourite book - Franny B Kranny there's a bird in your hair (2001).

Image Source:

Of course one of the most famous books illustrated by Helen Oxenbury is We're going on a Bear Hunt. This book has been a part of my read aloud repertoire since it first appeared in 1989 and who can resist Farmer Duck by Martin Waddell (1991). There is a whole chapter devoted to Farmer Duck in Helen Oxenbury a life in illustration.

Michael Rosen (We're going on a bear hunt) talks about his ideas and reaction to the illustrations in a candid way.  He simply didn't understand Helen's images at all.  We're going on a bear hunt began life as a song. Helen actually did the art for the album sleeve. About this time Michael Rosen came across the song and he added it to his one-man show for school children. An editor at Walker books heard the song and recognised the potential for a book. Helen drew on the landscapes near her home at Hampstead Heath and the landscapes of her childhood in Felixstowe. Eighteen months later the books was finished. I loved reading her thoughts about the last page, which for me is the most important. Here is a quote from The Guardian:

"It occurred to me three-quarters of the way through that possibility that the bear was all on his own in the cave, and might just have wanted some company rather than to eat the children."

So the bear, Leonard S Marcus explains : "slopes of into the night, looking utterly downcast." "The sudden pivot from suspense to pathos lends the story an unexpected poignant added dimension."

One thing that has always puzzled me is why the pop up version of We're going on a bear hunt does not have this all important end paper. The pop up does, however, have a fantastic page with the snow storm and it is such fun to pop everyone under the bed covers after they race upstairs and jump into bed.

Now take a few minutes to read this review where Booktrust asked some of the most famous names in children's books (such as Anthony Browne, Lauren Child,  Michael Morpurgo and Shirley Hughes) to share their comments about Helen Oxenbury and her equally talented husband John Burningham.

Helen Oxenbury a life in illustration is a scrumptious book. It has a beautiful dust jacket which covers a surprise, a ribbon bookmark, there is a list of all the awards Helen has won since 1969 and the bibliography of her titles is generously spread over 10 pages allowing room for many of her book covers. It is very clear Leonard S Marcus just loves Helen's work but at no point does he intrude.

One last thing - did you know Helen Oxenbury designed the famous Walker Bear - all book people know this little logo means you can be sure the book in your hands will be just perfect.

"The Walker Bear is always in motion, right foot first, perpetually carrying the flickering candle in its green candlestick - respected the world over a symbol of publishing quality and distinction."

Here is an image from Ten Little Fingers Ten Little Toes by our own Mem Fox.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

George the Bilby Chef and the Rasberry Muffin Surprise by Jedda Robaard

On a book forum recently someone asked for books with recipes and cooking ideas.  I am not sure what age group they were aiming at but for young readers aged 3-5 George the Bilby Chef and the Raspberry Muffin Surprise might have suited.

George (a bilby) loves to cook. Betty (an echidna) is having a birthday so George decides to make her a raspberry muffin but he doesn't have any raspberries. His animal friends help him but the fruit filled bush is too high to reach. Luckily a friendly bird called Maggie (a magpie) is able to help with this problem and so the friends gather the fallen raspberries and carry them home each one taking as many as they can lift. (The mouse can only carry one in his tiny wheelbarrow). At home the cooking commences while the others decorate the house and then everyone arrives to enjoy the birthday party. On the back cover there is a small envelope containing the full recipe which is the perfect addition and hopefully means after reading this book you might cook some delicious muffins too.

Here is the web site for Jedda Robaard.  I like the look of her books for the youngest children. Here is a review of George the Bilby Chef.  You can see all the book characters in this painting.  If you would like to explore other books about bilbies take a look at this list. My friend over at Kinderbookswitheverything has written a post about National Bilby Day.

On the theme of cooking I would look for Spot Bakes a Cake by Eric Hill, Bunny Cakes by Rosemary Wells and Can we lick the spoon now? by Carol Goess.  I would also like to take a look at this board book by Helen Oxenbury - It's my Birthday - I think it would be the perfect to read with George the Bilby Chef.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

What's on my reading pile?

My reading pile has grown so tall recently. I am feeling a little overwhelmed. At least I will have plenty of good reading over the festive season.

Books from Beachside Bookshop - many of these are advanced reader copies so I can't say too much about them yet. Here are three which are on top of my pile. (There are six more titles!)

Bren MacDibble The Dog Runner
You will remember I loved How to Bee. I even moved the copies in bookshops so that people would buy it.  I have read 70 pages of this new title, which is due for publication in February 2019, and I am loving it. I am a huge fan of dystopian fiction. The plot reminds me of an old book from UK called Chance of Safety but The Dog Runner has an Australian setting and the world catastrophe relates to food not oil.

Karyn Parsons How High the Moon
This one is due for publication in March 2018. The notes on the back cover link this story with Wolf Hollow and To Kill and Mockingbird so this is sure to be a powerful story.

Meg McKinlay Catch a Falling Star
Take a look here to read the inspiration behind this story about the Skylab space station.

My recent book purchases:

Sharon Creech Saving Winslow
When I saw this video with Colby Sharp I knew I wanted to read this book and the bonus is author Sharon Creech.  Colby talked about the urgency of getting books into the hands of kids. Someone in the audience decided to buy this one book for every child in fifth grade. That's eighty copies. I can hardly wait to read Saving Winslow.

Anna Sewell Black Beauty
Yes I know this is old. Yes I know this is a classic. And YES you probably expect I have read this famous book. BUT no I haven't.  I was the kid in Primary school who read all the dog books not the horse books. I help with a volunteer reading program in a local school and last week they found a pack with 20 abridged classics each with a CD.  I offered to read a selection and listen to the audio. Sadly they are awful but listening to Black Beauty has made me curious to read the original.

Alex T Smith How Winston delivered Christmas
This book is my Christmas gift to myself. The idea is to read one story each day through December. There are twenty-four-and-a-half chapters interspersed with craft and other activities. I am only up to December 4th the date of this post but so far this is an enchanting book with delightful illustrations by Alex T Smith (think of Claude and Mr Penguin).

The Great War: stories inspired by objects from the First World War illustrated by Jim Kay
I talked about this book recently in my post about the wonderful title Captain Rosalie. There are eleven short stories in this book so I am taking my time and reading one each day. So far every story has been splendid. This would be a fabulous book to share with a Senior Primary or Junior High class. It includes one story by Australia author Ursula Dubosarsky.