Monday, December 29, 2008

Pete and Roland by Bob Graham

Books with emotional narratives really appeal to me. Bob Graham has created a masterpiece in this little gem. Pete finds a small, blue budgie in his yard very early one morning. You can feel his quiet wonder, excitement and anticipation as the bird flops onto his hand and he takes it to show his sleepy parents. When they put Roland, as they now call him, into a cage the emotions change to shock and sadness. This little wild bird should not be caged. But do not fear Bob Graham quickly solves this by having Pete leave the cage door open so Roland can fly around this wonderful old fashioned house with its wallpaper, picture rails, lamps and mirrors. We laugh when Roland “accidentally bites Peter’s Aunty quite badly on the finger” and are thoroughly enjoying the antics of this little bundle of feathers when Bob Graham packs another emotional punch telling us Roland is gone. Looking into the illustration you can clearly see what has happened, someone has left the window open.

I always stop at this point in the story and talk about the decisions authors make. Bob Graham could end this story here on a very sad note but he doesn’t. We don’t need the fairy tale ending that Pete and Roland live happily ever after, just a little hope that both can be happy. The last two pages of this book are the real masterpieces of this writing and illustrating. You need to look very carefully at the final illustration to see what has happened.

I am very sad to say this book, like so many others in my blog, is now out of print. I own a copy which I found in an old school reading store room and I always include it in my reading program with children in Years 1 and 2.

Tree of Cranes by Allen Say

It is wonderful to find a Christmas story with a totally different perspective. Christmas is not a part of Japanese religious culture and has only recently taken any prominence due to commercial pressures. Incredible as it may seem to an Australian child, the boy in this story has no idea about Christmas.

We see a young boy doing familiar things in an unfamiliar setting. Even his bath looks different. The boy watches, puzzled, as his mother transforms a small pine tree from the garden into a Christmas tree. She adds paper cranes and candles before explaining why she has done this.

I especially like books where you can ‘hear’ the voices of the characters and this is true for Tree of Cranes. You can hear the mother scolding the boy gently as she worries about him catching a chill, you can hear the boy as he feels left out when he is sent to his room and then his excitement as his mother tells the story of her childhood Western Christmas celebrations.

In the week before Christmas I read this book to a group of Year 4 students and it was great to see them settle down, relax and just enjoy and absorb this lovely story.
For more details about Allen Say check out his web site.

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski

Sometimes you need patience to truly enjoy the silences of a story and this is certainly true for this Christmas gem. A young boy and his mother visit the local wood carver and ask him to make a nativity set to replace one they have lost. During each subsequent visit we are given small insights into the hardships of Jonathan and as each piece of his story is revealed the reader sees an easing of his pain.

The repetition and predictable conversations only add to the lovely pace of this book. I am lucky enough to have a version on CD narrated by James Earl Jones. His voice is perfect for this laconic and emotional story.

The illustrations by PJ Lynch compliment this story especially in the scenes where we are given a close view of Jonathan Toomey’s hands working on his carving. The ending brings promise for a new family and of joy not sorrow.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

My Library Thing

I have just created My Library Thing page with the first titles for my Hidden 100 - the undiscovered treasures of your school library.

I am limiting this list to marvellous picture books for all ages and a few special junior novels such as O'diddy which I wish would come back into print.

I had a lot of fun making my Library Thing list and adding the covers etc. Perhaps I will get time to put reviews of some of these great books. In the meantime keep watching this Blog I am using this as a great way to record book reviews.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Billy's Bucket by Kes Gray

Here is another small gem that might have slipped your notice when it was published in 2003. Billy’s Bucket by Kes Gray hits all the right buttons with me. Billy is a boy with a marvelous imagination and a boy with terrific determination.

He does not want a conventional Birthday present given by his conventional parents. He wish is far more simple. Billy wants a bucket! Mum and Dad try to persuade Billy to consider other gifts but Billy simply won’t be swayed.

Finally Mum and Dad give in and take Billy to a store with the fabulous name of
Buckets are us! 
Billy needs to look at all those rows and rows of buckets in order to find that one special bucket he knows is there.

And what a bucket it is. When Billy gets the bucket home he fills it with water and then the magic begins. Rock pools, fish, coral, sharks, clown fish, a stingray and much more can be seen inside this marvelous bucket. Of course Mum and Dad don’t bother to look and so miss all this magic.

The best twist though comes at the end, when despite Billy’s stern warning, Dad uses the bucket to wash his car. Spoiler alert -  “It took Billy’s Mum and Dad six hours, three fire engines, four cranes and a shoe horn to get the whale back into the bucket and they never borrowed Billy’s bucket again.”

This is a book you can easily revisit again and again. It will be a hit with young readers and with Mum and Dad too! Check out other books by Kes Gray such as Eat your peas and You do. They are great fun.

Here is a set of teachers notes. Zoe at Playing by the Book loves Billy's Bucket too. Here is a splendid video of the whole book.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Toothpaste and The Astonishing Madame Majolica

Here is another small book that most people probably missed when it was published over 10 years ago. It is called The Astonishing Madame Majolica by Erylis Hunter. In just 64 pages this book has all the right ingredients for young readers – humour, magic, toothpaste, a touch of fantasy and a cliff-hanger about half way through.

Our hero sees an eccentric lady at the local shopping centre with a sign that says ‘Let Madame Majolica Astonish you’. This magical lady explains she has some special toothpaste that you only need to apply once each year. In exchange for 20 cents and a fudge recipe Toby takes home the little tube, he tries it out and then he screams!

Madame Majolica has a magical bag. She places the recipe inside and just a few moments later pulls out a dish of freshly baked fudge. It is delicious!
The theme of lost teeth is always popular with Years 1-3 and I love to read books like The Tooth Ball by Philippa Pearce, Oliver Sundew Tooth fairy by Sam McBratney and by Robert Munch Andrew's loose tooth.

On the topic of toothpaste books like The Chocolate Touch by Patrick Skene Catling and the sequel Chocolate Touch II along with The toothpaste Genie by Sandy Frances Duncan are worth searching for in your library. Finally there is one of the best short stories of all time Paul Jennings One Shot toothpaste which I first read in a little Puffinalia magazine in 1985.

In writing this blog I now discover the author of The Astonishing Madame Majolica is from New Zealand.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Pencil of Doom by Andy Griffiths

I will admit I am not a huge fan of Andy Griffiths – why would I be – I am completely the wrong demographic. I am not a boy in Year 4 or Year 5 but I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed reading one of his newest books – Pencil of Doom.

What a great book to read if you feel like real laugh. The plot has just the right number of twists and turns for a story that could be so predictable.

The pencil of this book is totally evil. The idea is similar to the genii from the bottle who gives wishes but always gets those wishes wrong. When the children draw their wishes using this pencil they really need to take care. How these wishes are ‘interpreted’ by the pencil of doom is guaranteed to be a shock, dangerous and often a disaster.

One memorable scene is in the school library towards the end of the story. Our 5 intrepid heroes enter the library stealthily. Clive, their enemy, has the pencil and he has produced a cartoon that fills all the friends with dread. Frame one is a happy picnic scene set under a snow capped mountain, frame two the cap of the mountain breaks off, frame three all the friends are buried under the snow, and the final frame is five tombstones in a ring on the snow.

The cartoon comes true but since we are in the library it is the bookshelves, not snow that falls on the gang. Mr Shush, the librarian, must set the children free but first “I have to do it systematically. In alphabetical order. This is a library, you know, not a garage sale. It will take me a few seconds ... minutes ... hours …days … weeks … months … years.” See Chapters 58-63 for more details.

I love the name Mr Shush and of course the other characters have great names too – the teacher Mr Brainfright, Mrs Rainbow the art teacher, Mr Grunt the sports teacher and my personal favourite Mrs Bandaid the school nurse.

You will laugh out loud when you read this book so if you need a good laugh try Pencil of Doom! This is the second book in the Schooling Around series which began with Treasure Fever.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Daydream Dan by Sarah Garson

We all enjoyed a lovely visit to our school library today by Sarah Garson Sarah has recently come to live in Sydney moving from Oxford in UK. Her picture books are published by Andersen Press and are just delightful. Our Year 3 children particularly enjoyed Daydream Dan and Alfie’s Angels.

In the story Daydream Dan we meet a boy with a fabulous imagination although he insists he is not daydreaming. His teacher is too caught up in the daily routines of the classroom and does not notice a jungle as it grows in the classroom, the arrival of a pirate ship, Dan’s meeting with mermaids or the fact that this classroom has rapidly filled with amazing things.

This book reminded us of A nice walk in the Jungle by Nan Bodsworth where the children are on an excursion and while the teacher focuses on the tiny jungle creatures and insects all around them, a boa constrictor is slowing working his way down the line of children swallowing each one in turn.

Sarah was able to show us the process of picture book production from the design of the 32 pages, the dummy book, proof copy and finished product. We were especially impressed by the global journey that a book makes from its creation in Australia, back to the UK, on to Switzerland, back to Australia, then to the Bologna Book Fair, off to Singapore and finally it is placed in a warehouse in UK ready for distribution around the world.

Sarah’s newest book is One Two Cockatoo and it was inspired by the lovely Sulphur-crested Cockatoos that arrive in her garden. Sarah has really captured the personality of this cheeky bird and very young children will adore the little twist at the end of this one to ten counting rhyme when one more little arrival is added.

Sarah’s work appears in more than twenty books from covers, to poetry anthologies, bilingual texts to her own special stories. Today was certainly a day to remember in our school library.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The amazing adventures of Chilly Billy by Peter Mayle

In 1984 I first started teaching and at some stage early in the year someone gave me a two page list of about 100 titles that made good read-alouds for junior primary classes. I remember sitting on a plane flying back to my home and reading the tantalizing title The amazing adventures of Chilly Billy the little man who lives in the ‘fridge".
At that time I had two special friends working in the book trade so I contacted them and they were able to obtain a copy of this book for me. First published in 1980 by Peter Mayle, this little book is such a gem with just 7 short chapters describing adventures that every child can relate to. In the opening chapter we meet Billy and discover his special and vital role in the ‘fridge which is turning the light on and off. In subsequent chapters Billy falls in love, makes a new friend called Norman and participates in the ‘Fridge Olympics and Frozen sports contest against his arch rival The Mad Jumper!

The colloquial style along with the genuine appeal of our little hero make this book a special winner every time. I estimate I have read this book to at least 2000 kids in Grade 2 and 3. The illustrations are just perfect too!

This book is unfortunately now out of print. I long for a service where publishers could be alerted about little books like this. I wish I could shout from the hills all the titles that should be reprinted so heaps of new children can enjoy them too. I would include O’Diddy by Jocelyn Stevenson, Ratbags and Rascals by Robin Klein, The Vegetable Thieves by Inga Moore, Sloppy Kisses by Elizabeth Winthrop and One is for one by Nadia Wheatley on this list. I do have some hope. I saw another favourite book of mine War and Peas by Michael Foreman was finally reprinted last year.

Peter Mayle is so famous for A year in Provence but I would like to tell the world to also read Chilly Billy. If you look on the internet you will see copies for over US$700 not bad for a simple little children’s book that was probably about $2.50 when it was first published.

I also own a copy of the sequel Footprints in the butter. It is not as successful as the first book but it is great to be able to show the children how Peter Mayle continued this story. A big thank you goes to a friend who found this book in a remainder shop over 18 years ago.

If you ever find a copy of The Amazing Adventures of Chilly Billy hold onto it and do not let it go it is one of the most special books of all time.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Black Book of Secrets by FE Higgins

I really enjoy the way some authors seem to be able to create perfect names for their stories. A good example is The black book of secrets by FE Higgins. The dentist we meet at the beginning of this story is called Barton Gumbroot. The unqualified doctor who pronounces every one dead from heart failure is Samuel Mouldered. The gravedigger is called Obadiah Strang and I especially like the bookseller who is called Perigoe Leafbinder. Even the town has a great name Pagus Parvus.
Surprisingly the two main character names, however, were not quite as successful for me. Ludlow Fitch is the unlikely young hero of this tale while Joe Zabbidou is his master and the ‘Keeper of secrets’.

The plot for this book seems like such a simple idea. People have terrible secrets which keep them awake at night. Joe is a pawnbroker who buys these secrets and he uses Ludlow to record them in the black book.

The really interesting part of this book, though, is the secrets themselves and the way Higgins weaves a tale of life in this small town under the tyrannical leadership of Jeremiah Ratchet.

You can see a video interview with the author at
Here you will also find out about her next book.

You can also read more about the story at
If you enjoy eating meat pies then I don't recommend this book. The pies are deadly made by the butcher with another great name Horatio Cleaver!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Skybreaker by Kenneth Oppel

For a real adventure you might try two books by the Canadian author Kenneth Oppel – Airborn and Skybreaker. I just finished the second book in this series and was certainly not disappointed. The setting for these fast paced stories is an airship powered by hydrium, an amazing alternate fuel. The setting might be the turn of the century or it might be the future all that I know for certain is that the world is certainly a different place. These airships feel like the luxury of travel on the Titanic.

In this second book we again meet our hero Matt Cruse and his great friend Miss Kate de Vries. This time they are on a mission to find the Hyperion, an airship which was owned by an eccentric millionaire but which is now a ghost ship floating at very high altitudes. While the ship might contain huge wealth for our intrepid explorers it will almost certainly also contain very great dangers which only the bravest of heroes will survive.

Just like the depths of the ocean, high altitudes are home to some weird and amazing creatures including some that use electric shocks to stun and kill their victims. The travellers have named these creatures aerozoans. Matt accidently sets one free into the main cabin of the hyperion :

“To my relief it seemed to lose interest in me and sailed away. Then it stopped. It turned. It jetted straight for the glass, stretching irself as long and skinny as a spear. I cursed under my breath and started running. The aerozoan gave one last great contraction of its apron and tentacles, compressed itself into a tight bundle, and soared clean through the hole, over my head and into the engineerium.”
The next book to be published in 2009 is called Starclimber. You can read more about this author and all his books at Set aside some time because this is an amazing web site and you will be in for a wild ride just like the one in his novels. I have kept an eye out for this author (he looks so young on his web site) ever since I read his first book Colin’s fantastic video adventure many years ago. I have now discovered he was only 18 when he wrote this terrific little story. The Silverwing trilogy is also an interesting set of books with very dark political themes, quite different to the Airship books.

One more thing - there is a little romance in these books with the promise of more to come in the next book.

Bread and roses, too by Katherine Paterson

I do enjoy Historical Fiction for children especially when the setting and experiences relate to Industrialization. For this reason I loved Bread and Roses, too by Katherine Paterson.

Some of my Year 6 girls had read this one and were very surprised to discover I had let it slip by. Of course I purchased this book based on the author, Katherine Paterson. I have always loved her books – not just Bridge to Terabithia, more recently I read Same stuff as stars and remember enjoying Lyddie which is also a Historical novel set in a weaving factory. From Wikipedia I see that Bread and Roses, too is Katherine latest novel published in 2006. The Historical note at the end is so interesting as it explains the context of the 1912 Textile workers strike and the possible origin of the slogan ‘Bread and Roses, too’.

In this book we get a vivid picture of poverty, family life and friendship. The ending is really very satisfying as Jake finds his new family and Rosa returns to hers, full of hope for a better future.

You can read a more detailed review of this book in the New York Times.

The timing for my reading of this book was perfect as I have just finished watching the tv mini series North and South based on the novel by Elizabeth Gaskell which also involves textile mill workers, poverty, strikes and a very strong and fiesty main female character!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Max by Bob Graham

Our Year Two classes are reading some past CBC winners. This week we re-visited Max by Bob Graham. I love this author/illustrator. His books are such special treasures. My favourite is actually the first book he wrote – Pete and Roland. This is most certainly out of print but as in Max, Bob Graham uses exquisite language to describe small but special moments. Roland leaves little breath marks on the mirror with his budgie breath. Max learns to fly but he does not become a superhero like his mum and dad he is content to be a small hero doing quiet deeds. Look closely at the end papers before you begin this book - front of plane, back of plane, morning, evening, Max in a stroller, Max can fly - so much information from two pictures.

My other favourite Bob Graham titles are Greetings from Sandy beach (this one demands you read with a special book voice) and Let’s get a pup whereKate briefly wore him like a hat”.

Bob Graham does not have a web site but I am sure you will find heaps of his very special books in any library or bookshop. If you see Oscar's half birthday look for the candles in the soap dish beside the bath. Bob Graham once saw this in a house he moved into. Try to read a Bob Graham book to one special child and enjoy all the tiny little details in his marvellous illustrations.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The book without words by Avi

A couple of weeks ago I went book shopping and I selected heaps of terrific new books for my school library especially some titles for my Senior Primary children in Grades 5 and 6.

Over the next few blogs I will report on these exciting new books. I can’t wait to read them all!!!

Last night I finished reading The book without words. What I hear you say how could you possibly read a book without words? Well it wasn’t easy. No seriously this is a fabulous title from one of my favourite authors Avi . It was first published in 2005 but I have only just discovered it.

This is your classic story of greed, magic, potions and true heroism. The book without words can only be read by people with green eyes and strong desires. Sybil, her friend Odo the talking raven and Alfric must work together to thwart the evil powers of the magician Thorston who seeks immortality.

My favourite scene is quite early in the book as Thorston is making the potion which contains the four stones he needs for immortality. One special ingredient is the life breath of a young girl. This breath comes from our heroine Sybil. “He bent over the sleeping girl. With a quick, scooping gesture, he caught up a fistful of her sleepy breath – a hand bowl as it were, of her life. He clapped his other hand over it, trapping it.”.

My copy of this book has some terrific extras such as discussion questions, a glossary and an interview with Avi. I even learnt a new word in this story – reeve. He is a man who works for the mayor and from what I can discover this word is still used in Canada.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Year 6 an important story and a new novel

This week I am reading “The colour of home” by Mary Hoffman to my Year 6 students. I continue to be amazed at how much this story affects me when I read it aloud. Hassan has just arrived in England as a refugee from Somalia. Every part of his school day is confusing including lunch which he does not recognise and so does not eat. But it is through the painting of his home that we are given a confronting insight into the real story of war and violence that Hassan as witnessed. This is such a powerful story which is told simply and with great compassion. A perfect book for Year 6 as they try to understand the plight of refugees in our world.

Last night I stayed up really late to finish “Princess Ben” by Catherine Gilbert Murdock. This book has all the ingredients I enjoy. Fairy Tale motifs are woven skillfully into the story, the feisty heroine is smart and unconventional, there is a little magic and at the end some romance. I can’t wait to see what my Year 6 girls think of this one. I especially enjoyed the sophisticated vocabulary used by Murdock and the authentic 'voice' of Ben (Benevolence) as she recounts this important year in her life. This author also has a web site where I found it interesting to read her views on cover design. This is something I am constantly conscious of as I watch children select books in my library. I think the publisher made a good choice with this cover for Princess Ben.

I think this book would appeal to girls in Year 5 up to Year 8.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Why Momo?

This is my first blog - I guess everyone starts with this. My Favourite book is "Momo" and there will be more on that in a later blog. I am a children's librarian and I hope to use my blog to talk about the books I love.

This last week we have been reading "Crazy Hair Day" by Barney Saltzberg. He has a great web site I love all the messages of this book. It is okay to be different. Friends can help. All we need to know in life is that we are accepted by our friends. I estimate I have read this book to over 500 children and it is a winner every time.

So what happens in this picture book? Stanley comes to school all ready for Crazy Hair day but it is on next Friday. Today is class photo day. Stanley hides in the boys toilets in despair. The last page is so wonderful and all my kids love the little song Stanley sings for courage. Children aged 6 and 7 especially enjoy this story about Stanley and his friend Larry. Look in your library for a copy.