Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Daydream Dan by Sarah Garson

We all enjoyed a lovely visit to our school library today by Sarah Garson http://www.sarahgarson.com/. 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 http://www.meettheauthor.com/bookbites/1358.html
Here you will also find out about her next book.

You can also read more about the story at http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2007/feb/17/featuresreviews.guardianreview16
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 http://www.kennethoppel.ca/. 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!