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.