Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Rat's Tale by Tor Seidler

This book could be called a rats tail. In fact as I read this book about rats and their lives on the edge of the human world found myself wishing I also had a tail, they are such useful and desirable appendages. Tails are also a good indicator of character. Our hero Montague has nice long tail. Randal Reese-Rat, on the other hand, does not. In a scene reminiscent of The Paperbag Princess by Robert Munch, we meet young Randal. “Although his tail was a bit on the scrawny side, Randall was a handsome young rat. His fur was always perfectly in place, never ratted, and he always smelled good.” Later when Isabel, his intended, arrives home in a very disheveled state we see Randal’s true nature. “Marry you! Are you crazy? Do you think a Reese- Rat would marry something like you!” Horray we know Montague is her one true love.

The rats need to raise money for their survival. Each year they present their human landlord with a barrel full of money but now the stakes have been raised even higher and the rats must find one hundred thousand dollars.

Together Montague and Isabel will save the day using their unique and special talents. Montague is an artist and Isabel is adventurous and the new rat vocabulary you will learn in this story is an extra bonus. The illustrations by Fred Marcellion are wonderful. A little like the style of Lemony Snicket and Chris Van Allsburg in The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. We have a picture book by this illustrator in our library called I, Crocodile – check it out today. You can read more about the author too!

This book was first published in 1986 and so it seems amazing that it escaped my notice until now. If you loved The Tale of Desperaux, Tumtum and Nutmeg, Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, The Borrowers, and the Travels of Thelonious then this is certainly the book for you! On the back cover one review says “I hugged this book to me when the final page was read.” Me too! Now I have discovered there is a second book Revenge of Randal Reese-Rat! Time to go shopping.

The Old Willis Place : a ghost story by Mary Downing Hahn

This is one of the books I bought home from my school library to read over the summer holidays. It was one we purchased in 2009 and right from the opening scene it proved an intriguing book. If you really like scary ghost stories this one might be for you but be warned this book really is very scary. In fact I think this plot will linger with me for a long time. Diana and her brother Georgie live near an old run down mansion. Quite regularly new caretakers arrive to guard the mansion but this time it is a man and his daughter and right away Diana is excited at the prospect of a new friend.

The mystery of Diana and Georgie unfolds very slowly and all the questions I had as a reader kept me glued to the page. Who are these children? Where do they live? Where are their parents? What do they eat? If you have read any of my other blog entries you will know food is often one of my favourite parts of a book yet there is no mention of any food eaten by Diana and Georgie in The Old Willis Place only strange references such as the one on page 13 “It would be so lovely to sink our teeth into hot juicy food again.” Then on page 81 “ ‘You haven’t drunk your lemonade’, I pushed the glass away. ‘I told you I wasn’t thirsty. In fact I don’t even like lemonade.’ " and page 150 “Before I could protest, Mr Morrison set down two bowls and fixed a third for himself. The fragrance reminded me of my mother’s soup…. ‘I really can’t stay. I’m sorry.’ ”. These are some of the tantalizing hints that Diana and Georgie might not be just a couple of children from the local housing estate who like play in the manor grounds. This is a ghost story after all.

This is a book for very senior readers. The fate of Diana and Georgie is truly awful and so this is not a book for very sensitive readers. This author has lots of other titles so take look at her web site.

Stuart’s cape by Sara Pennypacker

Stuart wants to have an adventure. He knows superheroes have great adventures but superheroes wear capes and Stuart has no cape until he finds a bunch of men’s ties in one of the unopened boxes in the hall way of his new home.

Stuart has lost all his good stuff – a mannequin arm, an oven door, a dead Christmas tree, a cracked toilet seat, a box of bent coat hangers, false teeth – all wonderful stuff that it had taken years to collect. These treasures were picked up by the trash collector and not the moving van but Stuart now has the perfect materials for a cape – ties, a stapler and one purple sock. One hundred ties makes a wonderful cape and the sock is a perfect secret pocket.

This is how Stuart’s adventures begin with lots of fun, puns (warm as toast) and one surprising good friend – the trash collector! All these events lead up to the second book Stuart Goes to School. Stuart has so many fears about school and it seems all of them might come true – trouble making friends, embarrassing situations in the classroom, being locked in the toilet or being the shortest kid in the class.

My favourite scene comes during show and tell which is called “Our big interesting world”. Stuart stands tall ready to show is marvelous cape. “Stuart whipped open his cape very dramatically. He had practiced this in front of the mirror a lot. He waited for the kids to say ‘Awesome!’ or ‘Wow!’ or 'Cool Stuart!’. He waited for a long time. The room was so silent Stuart wondered if his ears had stopped working. He felt an odd breeze. He looked down and froze in horror.”
I am once again sad to discover Stuart’s cape is out of print and our library copy is very worn. I guess I need to investigate the world of used copies because you certainly need to read these two books in the right order. Both would be enjoyed by younger readers in Grades 1-3. By the way we have our own Cape in the library made by a kind mum out of old ties. It is fabulous!

The graveyard book by Neil Gaiman

Many people have said to me how much they loved The Graveyard Book although perhaps loved is not quite the best word. This is simply a marvelous and compelling story. It says in the back that Neil Gaiman spent 20 years thinking about and writing this book and yet the highly skilled writing seems so effortless. Gaiman is such a descriptive writer and if you have ever visited a graveyard you will certainly be able to really see this one through the writing and your imagination.

Bod (Nobody Owens) lives in the graveyard with a colourful cast of characters from the past. This cemetery is no longer in use and so the ‘inhabitants’ are all from a bygone era. Bod is in real danger. His life has been seriously threatened and so the dead souls agree to offer their protection and they grant Bod the Freedom of the Graveyard. Luckily for Bod there is one nondead soul who dwells in the graveyard – Silas. It is Silas who will go into the world to get food and later clothes for Bod and it is Silas who will offer important advice and friendship to Bod as he grows to the teenage years.

Bod could have a surprisingly pleasant upbringing in the graveyard with all these souls to care for him but all through there is the underlying threat of danger from the one who wanted to murder him when he was just a tiny child. This man Jack literally stalks the pages of this gripping book constantly waiting for the right moment to strike.

With amazing illustrations by Chris Riddell this is a book to savor and enjoy, it is a book to read and re-read, it is a book I would not hesitate to recommend to a senior primary student as one of my top books of 2009. No wonder it was the winner of the Newberry Award.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Momo by Michael Ende

I promised I would talk about Momo when I started this blog last year. I decided to start my Christmas holidays with this favourite book. I am so happy to say I was not disappointed. It is about 25 years since I first read Momo on the recommendation of a young friend who had encountered the original translated edition entitled The Grey Men. Momo is a modern allegory about TIME and it has certainly passed the test of time. For me this story was as fresh today as it was when I first read it. The grey men are robbing people of their time. “They were experts on time just as leeches are experts on blood.” 2,207,520,000 that is the number of seconds in a life assuming you live to seventy. Agents as the Grey Men are called are able to convince people to give away their time on the promise that it is going into a bank. In reality the people loose this time. “People never seemed to notice that, by saving time, they were losing something else. No one cared to admit that life was becoming ever poorer, bleaker and more monotonous.” With the help of Professor Secundus Minutus Hora and a special tortoise called Cassiopeia, Momo needs to thwart these time thieves but she only has one hour as measured by an hour lilly. “Momo had never seem so exquisite a flower. It was composed of all the colours in the spectrum – brilliant colours such as Momo had never dreamed of.” If I could give one book as a gift to all the families in my school it would be this one. The Neverending story by Michael Ende is a terrific book but I think Momo is even better. Look for it at a library near you today. I was amazed to discover a film was made of this book in 1986. This preview is in German but you might enjoy it anyway! You will see all her friends including the lovely Beppo the street cleaner and Guido the storyteller and the voice you can hear is Michael Ende himself. I also found a web site with quotes from this book and a comment from Natalie Babbitt that Momo should have been recognised as a modern classic. My new copy has a fabulous cover. As a final bonus if you read this very special book perhaps you will discover why my blog is called Momo celebrating time to read!

Knuffle Bunny and Knuffle Bunny Too by Mo Willems

Every little child will relate to the horror of losing a loved toy. Just like the lovely book A pocket for Corduroy, Trixie takes her special toy Knuffle Bunny to the Laundromat.

In a lovely combination of photos and drawings we see her Daddy filling the washing machine but of course he is not looking! Trixie realizes they have left Knuffle Bunny behind but what can she do? Trixie is not quite old enough to talk. She tries to explain. She points and gestures. She screams and goes boneless. Thank goodness for Mummy.

The whole family runs back to the Laundromat and Trixie says her first real words. Can you guess what they are?

In addition to the book we also have the DVD in all school library. This version has all the charm of the book and I can’t wait to share it with the children.

In Knuffle Bunny Too, Trixie can talk and is now off to pre school. This second book reminded me of Boris and Borsch by Robin Klein. Here we have the same basic plot of swapped toys with the addition of charming characters and illustrations. These two books about Knuffle Bunny will form part of a toy theme we will explore with Kindergarten in our read-a-loud session in the new school term.

Ruby and Little Joe by Angela McAllister

When we add books to our library collection we record, inside the front cover, the price and place of purchase so when I looked inside this unremarkable little picture book I was not surprised to see it came from one of my favourite children’s bookshops where the owner has such a passion and love for books and reading and children that her book choices are always a delight!

This is not an unremarkable little picture book. It is truly a gem. Ruby and Little Joe are toy kangaroos but they are not new. All the other toys are new and have never been loved. Their hearts are hard and so Ruby and Little Joe are not invited to sleep on the end of the bed and must sit on a hard shelf all night.

Ruby is so wise. She knows patience and perseverance will win the day but it is only when Little Joe finds himself in terrible peril, outside the house and inside the garbage bin, that all the other toys learn how to show kindness and each finds room for a heart to grow. This is the lesson Ruby has been quietly teaching them over the last few months.

I will certainly add this story to our read aloud list for Kindergarten along side I love you Blue Kangaroo by Emma Chichester Clark and Corduroy by Don Freeman.

Cherryblossom and the Golden Bear retold by Pamela Freeman

We have been reading fairy tales to our younger students over the last term. This began with the Princess and the Pea then Sleeping Beauty, The Frog Prince and Cinderella. Two interesting things occurred during these sessions. When I asked the children who had heard each of these stories before there were a small group of children aged 6 in each class who had never heard these fairly tales – this makes me quite sad. My happiness was restored, however, as I retold and then read each of these famous tales. These young children just sat spellbound. Each week the children and I enjoyed that magical moment when everyone is so caught up in a story you can hardly hear any breathing.

Moving on from the fairy tales I have begun reading folk tales and fantasy stories to Year 3 students. I started with a few favourites from our library collection. Last term we all enjoyed The Moon’s Revenge by Joan Aitken, The Minstrel and the dragon pup by Rosemary Sutcliff and the Quiltmakers gift by Jeff Brumbeau and so next term we will read Cherryblossom and the Golden Bear. Just like the best fairy tales, this lovely story has the usual elements of magic and promises and trust. Cherryblossom makes a cloak of nettles and a dress of cherry blossoms. It is this unselfish act that sets the Golden Bear free revealing a golden haired prince in his place.

Pamela Freeman explains the origins of this story on her web site.

Miki by Stephen Mackey

Here is a Christmas story with a difference. “On midwinter eve when an icy wind blew the moon weaved her magic and wishes came true.” So begins this lovely book about Miki and her wish to decorate a little tree in an icy land.

Miki and penguin begin by wishing for pretty lights that tinkle and then to make it a tale for our times their wish for a power source brings a very modern looking windmill. Even though the polar bear is very strong he runs out of breath and so then Miki wishes for a star that can shine forever.

This is a moving story about perseverance and the unbreakable bonds of true friendship. The repeated refrain gives the narrative a song like quality and the softest of illustrations will be loved by the youngest readers. You can even see a little video of this book.

The flower by John Light

I am currently reading a selection of picture books that we added to our library this year. The Flower is an interesting allegory about the subversive information available in books. Brigg reads about flowers in a banned book. There are no flowers in his futuristic and bleak city. Wandering the streets Brigg sees a picture just like the one from the book he smuggled out of the library. He buys the picture and discovers it is a seed packet. Using dust collected from the streets he nurtures the plant and in time his room is filled with beautiful flowers.

In a scene reminiscent of Josephs Yard by Charles Keeping, one morning while Brigg is at work, the automatic cleaning system sucks his plant away.

Look for this special book in your library. The illustrations (here is a lovely web site for the illustrator) are perfect and so is the ending which is filled with hope for the future.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

1001 Children's books you must read before you grow up Preface by Quentin Blake

What a tempting title for a Teacher-Librarian who certainly has not yet ‘grown up’ 1001 Children's books you must read before you grow up.

How did I approach this 960 page book?
Well first of all I just flipped through the pages. Then as more and more of my personal favorites appeared I began to wonder who selected these 1000 titles? All is revealed on the last five pages. From Australia, for example, there are three very well respected book reviewers such as Ann James, Jo Goodman and Dr Belle Alderman. Other nations have also employed their very best people.

What is inside 1000 children’s books you must read?
Well there are 5 chapters organized by age Chapter 1 is ages 0-3, Chapter 2 is ages 3+; Chapter 4 is ages 8+ and Chapter 5 is ages 12+ (although I think many are really suitable for Upper Primary.) Within the chapters the books are organized chronologically by date of publication.

Which books do I love?
Many of these are part of our regular library program.
Chapter One Goodnight Moon, Each peach pear plum, The elephant and the bad baby, Elmer, Kipper and Owl babies

Chapter Two Eloise, Harry the dirty Dog, Where the wild things are, Corduroy, Morris’s disappearing bag, Peace at Last, Avocado baby, Possum Magic, Felix and Alexander, Winnie the Witch, Owl Moon, Frog is Frog, Lost and found, and Max

Chapter Three Caps for sale, Flat Stanley, The giving tree, Joseph’s Yard, John Brown, Rose and the midnight cat, The lighthouse keeper’s lunch, Cloudy with a chance of meatballs, Jumanji, The Paper bag Princess, If you give a mouse a cookie, The Polar Express, My Place, Drac and the Gremlin, The true story of the Three little pigs by A Wolf, Henry and Amy, Fox, and Flotsam

Chapter Four The hundred dresses, Stuart Little, The little white horse, The lion the witch and the wardrobe, James and the giant peach, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, From the mixed up files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler, Mrs Frisby and the rats of NIMH, Conrad the story of a factory made boy, Bridge to Terabithia, Goodnight Mr Tom, Sarah Plain and Tall, Journey to Jo’burg, Redwall, The snow spider, Two weeks with the Queen, Bill’s new frock, Shiloh, The giver, 45 and 47 Stella Street, Clockwork, The view from Saturday, Fire bed and bone, Because of Winn Dixie, Mortal engines, Journey to the River Sea, The naming of Tishkin Silk, Utterly me, Clarice Bean, The tale of Despereaux, Wolf Brother, The invention of Hugo Cabret.

I was so happy to see so many of my favourite books and to see such a match with my Library Thing collection which I designed to reveal the 100 hidden treasures of a Primary School Library.

I highly recommend this fabulous book to anyone interested in books for children. Start with the end papers they are very special. Then go along to your library and borrow the books you read about - we have heaps of them in our school library! One more thing this is not just a book for the grown ups it would be a great resource for children too.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Naming of Tishkin Silk, Layla Queen of Hearts, Perry Angel's suitcase, All the colours of Paradise by Glenda Millard

There are some books where the words are like golden honey spread onto warm fresh bread. That is how I feel about all four books about the Silk family by Glenda Millard. In reading order these, almost spiritual books, are The Naming of Tishkin Silk, Layla Queen of Hearts, Perry Angel’s suitcase and the newest title All the colours of Paradise.

In The Naming of Tishkin Silk we meet Griffin. At his naming ceremony his Daddy had said “We welcome you to the Silk family and offer you the name of Griffin William Silk. May you rise up on wings as the eagle and may your heart have the courage of a lion.” Naming page 63

Griffin has five rainbow sisters- Scarlet, Indigo, Violet, Amber and Saffron. Each child in the family has a special name day book with a cover carved by their father Ben and pages of paper made by their mother Annie. Layla is a very special girl who makes friends with Griffin after his first harrowing day at school. “It wasn’t Layla’s smile or her cheerful greeting or her blue, blue eyes or even her shiny black hair that made Griffin come out from under the tree. It was the daisy chain that she wore like a crown on her head…. ‘I’m pleased to meet you Princess Layla,’ he said gravely, offering his hand to the Princess. ‘I’m Griffin Silk.’” Naming page 19, 21

Another very special character in these books is the family dog called Blue. In the second book Layla needs someone special to take for Senior Friends day. She meets Miss Amelie and Layla is able to give this elderly lady unconditional love and happiness in the last few weeks of her life. “Blue saw Layla’s distress. He moved his head, left a warm patch on the old one’s lap for her and watched the comforting begin. He knew the girl was in safe hands. The old one had a kind heart. She had rescued him at birth; unwanted, deaf and the runt of the litter, and had treated him like one of her own ever since. And his boy was a fine boy. He too had loved him from the beginning. It was no surprise to Blue when Griffin put his arms around Layla.” Layla page 84

Finally in the family we have Nell, the most magical of grandmothers and a very special little foster boy called Perry Angel.

My favourite scenes in these books are the special picnic’s and breakfasts held under the Coxon’s Orange Pippin which is an old apple tree in the garden. In All the Colours of Paradise Indigo makes the breakfast and decorations. “Indigo’s world was sensational. Hanging from the stooping boughs of the apple tress were hundreds of tiny blue and purple paper cranes. Even the tiniest puff of wind made them sway gently to and fro. From a distance they looked like butterflies.” Paradise page 74

These four little books are written for very sensitive readers. They are filled with poetic language, love, sadness, laughter, beauty and warmth. These books should never go out of print and should be read by mature readers who love fine words and aspire to live in a world like The Kingdom of Silk. If you loved Sarah Plain and Tall (Patricia MacLachlan), if you cried in Sadako and the Thousand paper cranes (Eleanor Coerr), if you treasure Hana’s suitcase (Karen Levine), if Old Pig (Margaret Wild) touched your heart then these four books, by Glenda Millard illustrated by Stephen Michael King, are meant for you.

To quote Maurice Saxby who praises The Naming of Tishkin Silk “A poetic paean of hope offering home and sanctuary to troubled souls of any age and any generation. This book nourishes the soul.”

One final quote to show the honey of this writing. This is one of my favourite descriptions : “(The Silk Road) meandered between the paddocks, a generous ribbon of gravel with a mean smear of bitumen up the middle and dribbling off the edges. Clumps of blowfly grass and scaly grey lichens trespassed undisturbed on the road’s ragged borders.” Naming page 16

The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey by Trenton Lee Stewart

Here is the sequel to The mysterious Benedict Society. The book reviews quoted inside the cover of this second installment really sum up this wild adventure. “There are plenty of clever twists and hair’s-breadth escapes.” This book certainly had me on the edge of my seat several times and I needed to keep reassuring myself that these children would survive even though some of the situations seemed so utterly perilous.

Before you embark on this series take some time to explore the web site it is marvelous. I took the challenge and found out I am most like Reynie!

Another great feature of this book is the way our four heroes are all growing up and learning new skills. Constance, the youngest, makes huge leaps in this second book and the sneek peek at the end promises more for Constance who will then be four years old. We also see the special friendship between these four friends grow and flourish. They all work so well as a team and have strong understandings of each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Kate has also improved her bucket which is once again employed to rescue the children from dire situations.

Essentially in this adventure the children have to follow a series of very, very complex clues as they try to reach their beloved Mr Benedict. He is looking for a very rare plant called a duskwort which will cure Mr Benedict of his narcolepsy or sleeping problem. Of course Mr Curtain, the evil twin, is also after this miracle cure and so the dangerous chase is on. Mr Curtain’s Hench men, called Ten Men, are truly terrifying. They have briefcases filled with deadly stationery items such as pencil darts.

Of course I also need to mention Sophie the Librarian. “A cheerful looking young woman with lustrous blond hair and hazel eyes …. (then the ten men attack her) They made me unconscious… they did not understand how we organise the library…. I shouted at them as they left: ‘It is a free and public library! All you had to do was ask!’”

There is a great deal of recapping in this book so a reader could probably enjoy the story without reading the first installment but I am certain on reading book two everyone will then go back and find book one.

If you liked The series of Unfortunate Events then try this series. Next stop Book Three!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Skeleton Creek by Patrick Carman

This is a very curious book. I am not sure if it really is aimed at Primary level and yet there is no reason why a Year 5 or Year 6 student should not read it. The whole book is written as a diary in a handwriting font and all in capital letters and at first I found this slightly annoying but once I was caught up in the story I hardly noticed.

Our hero Ryan lives in Skeleton Creek a place where something truly sinister has happened at the old disused gold dredge. The really intriguing part of this book is you can see it all for yourself. Ryan is stuck at home with a broken leg after his terrifying accident but he manages to stay in touch with Sarah via email. Ryan’s gift is writing – he needs to write things down to make sense of them while Sarah needs visual clues and so she records everything on her video camera.

As you read this book you are directed to go to and using the passwords that are supplied you can join Ryan and Sarah as they try to solve this intriguing mystery which involves murder, ghosts and high level corruption. So this book becomes a real partnership between the characters, the reader and the internet. The publisher has a role too because you can't see the videos without the passwords and you need THE BOOK! to see these!!

"The dredge is a crucial part of the town's dreary past. It sits alone and unvisited in the deepest part of the dark woods. The dredge, we discovered, was a terrible machine. Its purpose was to find gold and its method was grotesque. 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the dredge sat in a muddy lake of its own making. It dug deep into the earth and hauled gargantuan buckets of stone and debris into itself. Nothing escaped it relentless appetite. Everything went inside the dredge.... and then it was all spit out behind in piles of rubble ten feet high." page 20

Of course I do need to add that this is just book one in a series and it does end on a real cliff hanger but I am very keen to read book two. Recommended for Senior primary readers.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Mr Chickee's funny money by Christopher Paul Curtis

We all dream about ways to get rich quick but what would you do if someone gave you a bank note with a one and fifteen zeros on it? It is a quadrillion dollar note. But is it real? Can Steven really cash it in?

There are some really fun little incidents in this terrific book. Early in First Grade Steven asks his teacher how big is a million. The teacher suggests the class collect bottle tops but she doesn’t realize the kids will all rise to this great challenge. After just six months they have collected 635,541 bottle tops. Their weight makes the classroom floor collapse! This causes the Principal to summon the teacher to explain… “The janitor assured me that the collapse of my closet floor into the Kindergarten room (unoccupied) has caused the death of at least two and a half million cockroaches. These disgusting and unfortunate insects have been using your project as an incubator for the past six months.”

Other terrific ideas in this story include a dictionary with attitude, very odd parents, an amazing vinyl record collection and the biggest dog with the biggest slobbery lick in the whole world.

Warning don’t read chapter 13 after eating a big meal. Zoopy the dog eats everything and I mean everything Steven can find in the kitchen and fridge.

Is the money real? Can Steven spend his fortune? The twists and turns of this plot will leave you breathless and like Agent Fondoo, from the treasury department, you might also be left trying to stick your tongue into your left nostril!

One other thing. Steven knows when he has pushed his dad too far because he has an excellent sass meter. I really like this idea.

I absolutely enjoyed the two other books by Christopher Paul Curtis that I read many years ago – The Watson’s go to Birmingham and Bud not Buddy but these are for very senior students. Mr Chickee’s Funny Money will be enjoyed by middle Primary readers especially those who aspire to become accomplished detectives.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

How to save your tail by Mary Hanson

Once upon a time …. and they both lived happily ever after…. These are the first and last words of How to save your tail.

Storytelling and fairy tales are at the heart of the quirky little book with the intriguing subtitle “If you are a rat nabbed by cats who really likes stories about magic spoons, wolves with snout-warts, big, hairy chimney trolls… and cookies too”. The only thing missing from this little gem is a few cookie recipes. Those butter cookies with cream cheese filling and a sinful blend of spice, mint chips and sugar, sound delicious.

When Bob, the rat, is caught by two huge cats it seems his life might be about to end but Bob is a resourceful rat blessed with a great talent for storytelling. Using his stories based wildly on well known but very mixed up fairy tales, Bob charms his captors and in turn saves his own skin. Each story has a link to a member of Bob’s family and there is a helpful family tree at the beginning of this book so the reader can identify Bob's ancestors.

This is a book for children who really know their fairy tales such as Jack and the beanstalk, The three little pigs, Cinderella and The three billy goats gruff. The illustrations and final map all add to the fun.

This would make a terrific read-a-loud for children in Years 2-4. You might also look for Seriously Silly stories by Laurence Anholt and our new series Happy Ever After by Tony Bradman if the idea of twisting fairy tales appeals to you.

The seven professors of the Far North by John Fardell

There are lots of great books about megalomaniacs who plan world domination and who are thwarted by kids (for example The Mysterious Benedict Society) and here is another one that certainly does not disappoint. The 7 Professors of the Far North are indeed a collection of seven professors – six have good intentions for the world and one is an evil mastermind planning world domination via genetic engineering. The location for his evil experiments is the far northern island of Nordbergen located somewhere near Scandinavia.

Our hero, eleven year old Sam Carnabie, gets caught up in this wild adventure when he goes to stay with Professor Ampersand and his great niece and great nephew – Zara and Ben. Professor Ampersand is an inventor with terrific ideas which are not always entirely successful. My favourites are his cooking inventions. “I’ll boil some peas in a wee while”. Ten minutes later Sam uses the bathroom.

“Sam wasn’t surprised to find that the bath was positioned on a raised platform, an arrangement that, as far as he could work out, enabled old bath water to be used to flush the toilet. Nor was he surprised to notice that the shower cubicle had six water nozzles and three mechanical brushes arranged up and down the inside walls (He stepped into have a closer look but stepped out again hurriedly as the brushes began to move automatically). But he was surprised, when he started to wash his hands, to find dozens of tiny green balls cascading out of the hot tap. He yelled and unlocked the door as Ben and Zara came running. ‘They’re peas!’ said Ben. ‘Uncle Alexander must have put them in the wrong compartment.’ They tasted one. ‘Well at least they’re cooked’."

After the six professors are kidnapped by men in combat suits wielding laser guns, Sam, Ben and Zara must travel to the far north. For the journey they use a variety of transportation and are assisted by some very helpful and likable people. The initial journey is by a secret underground railway which is accessed via a shop that sells shoe polish with the delightful name Bright and Buffwelle.

This book is such a rich and rewarding story. The adventure is fast paced, cold (it is the Arctic!) and thrilling. The friendships are strong and loyal and there is heaps of good humour along the way. I thoroughly recommend this book for students in Years 4-6. Read more about the author here. I will certainly look out for the sequel - The Flight of the Silver Turtle.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Billionaire's Curse by Richard Newsome

I think fans of Indiana Jones will love The Billionaire’s Curse even though it is quite a predicable story with a heap of loose ends and in spite of a fairly unappealing (to me) cover.

Our hero Gerald (awful name but it has an important family connection) suddenly becomes the richest thirteen year old on the planet when he inherits twenty billion pounds… a house in Chelsea, the manor near Glastonbury, shares in the family company – the inventors of the tea bag staple, an island, a yacht, an aeroplane and various artworks. Gerald also inherits two mysteries. He needs to find out who murdered his aunt Geraldine and who has just stolen the Noor Jehan, the most valuable diamond in the world, from the British museum.

This robbery forms the basis of the first chapter and then we switch focus to Gerald and his appalling mother and long suffering father as they prepare to fly to England for the funeral and more importantly the reading of the will.

The last third of the book is particularly like an Indian Jones thriller as our hero and his two friends solve a puzzle to find a missing casket which it seems is more valuable than the diamond. In fact the diamond is the key that opens this casket which is rumored to hold the Holy Grail. I guess we will discover more about this in the second installment.

There are some terrific descriptions in this book and I especially liked the Young Billionaire’s survival kit left to Gerald by his aunt. “He tore the flap and pulled out a small leather wallet. He flipped it open, let out a low whistle and counted out two thousand pounds in crisp new notes. He also pulled out a black American Express card, with a neat Gerald A Wilkins embossed on the front….. every young billionaire needs some walking-around money.” Page 79

The intrepid heroes find the clues lead them to an exclusive gentleman’s club in London. “The floor was an intricate parquetry in a pattern of roses and ivy. In the centre was an enormous green carpet with the letter R woven in red in the middle. Long-green-and-gold-striped drapes lined the tall Georgian windows, blocking all outside light…. The place reeked of a mixture of wood polish, stale cigar smoke and privilege.” Page 145

This book contains nothing new for readers of detective stories but it is still a terrific read, fast paced, funny at times, filled with coincidences and three very brave and resourceful kids who work really well as a team. There are also rats, some knife slashing, murders and a cast of characters most of whom are not trustworthy. I hope we can read more about the butler Fry in the second installment.

You can read more about the Australian author who I have just discovered won a huge prize for this first novel. The second book is not yet published but you should keep your eye on the author web site for more details. You can also read the background to the writing and character names.

You should read this book to find out about tea bag staples - this is such a hilarious idea but it is how the Archer family have made their fortune. This book will appeal to readers in Years 4-6.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Loudest Beagle on the Block by TT Sutherland

Here is a fabulous new series for all dog lovers. This book was such a huge surprise because the cover is so commercial looking and I don’t always have high hopes for books published by Scholastic but Loudest Beagle on the Block by TT Sutherland (Book #2 in the Pet Trouble series) is a terrific story.

Ella loves to sing and play the piano and has become so diligent about her practicing that she really has no friends and no other interests. Her elderly Great Aunt Golda dies and leaves Trumpet the Beagle to Ella. Trumpet is a really cute little dog with one incredibly annoying habit – he howls constantly and very loudly whenever Ella sings. Is Aunt Golda trying to tell Ella something? Is the arrival of Trumpet all part of a plan?

How can Ella solve the dilemma of Trumpet’s howls? She discovers her classmates are a wonderful source of help especially Heidi who is obsessed by dogs but alas does not have one of her own.

This is a perfect little chapter book for students in Years 2-4 especially those who love dogs. I will certainly look out for other titles in this series.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Honey Cake by Joan Betty Stuckner

When I am looking for simple and satisfying junior fiction I can never go past titles from the Stepping Stone series by Random House. Years ago I read O’Diddy by Jocelyn Stevenson and although this has long been out of print it remains a firm favourite.
I recently used Horn Book to identify junior novels for our children in Years 1-4 and ordered over twenty new titles for our library. One of these was Honey Cake by Joan Betty Stuckner. Set in Copenhagen just after the Nazi occupation, David is caught up in the work of the resistance when his dad who is a baker asks him to deliver a box of chocolate √©clairs. Through David’s eyes we see how this lovely city has been horribly changed as the Germans begin to exert their influence.

This book is very short and quick to read but it still manages to convey much of the history of that time and the fears and anxiety’s that would have been common experiences for young children living through these dangerous and confusing times. This book would make a good introduction to this subject for children in Years 3 and 4.

I would recommend reading this book along side The little Riders by Margaretha Shemin which is about the Nazi occupation of Holland and What about me? by Gerte Evenhuis which is also about the resistance.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix

I often find myself drawn to read books with a futuristic setting. I love this kind of book and Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix did not disappoint. In fact I sat down just two hours ago and swallowed down the whole book in one quick sitting.

Luke is the third child living in a world where only two children are permitted. The world has experienced severe famine and in response the totalitarian government have laid down numerous rules about food production, farm management and family size. They even have Population Police who supposedly monitor computers and televisions hunting out third children. The politics of this book is also intriguing as we gain insights into the enormous corruption of the government.

Luke lives a totally isolated life hidden inside his own house. The situation has been made worse when urban sprawl changes his neighborhood and a new housing estate is built right behind the family fence line. This is where the book opens, as we discover Luke will now have to stay inside at all times.

“There was a law against Luke. Not him personally – everyone like him, kids who were born after their parents had already had two babies. Actually Luke didn’t know if there was anyone else like him. He wasn’t supposed to exist.” Page 6

Then Luke’s world is turned upside down when he meets Jen, a third child, living next door. She gives him a new world view and the courage he will need to take his first steps into this frightening world.

Yes there are sequels in fact there are six more books but at only 150 pages each this is fine, in fact I can’t wait to get my hands on the next book Among the impostors.

Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins

This book contains all the elements I dislike in a story – rats, underground cities, spiders and lots of crawling through thin spaces which make me feel totally claustrophobic and yet I absolutely gobbled this book right up it is such a fabulous story. Gregor the Overlander is the story of Gregor who slips into the underworld when his sister disappears behind a washing machine in the basement laundry of their apartment building.

Gregor’s father disappeared exactly two years, seven months and thirteen days ago and once Gregor and is sister slip into this underground world it is clear to the reader although not to Gregor himself quite yet, that these two children will find their father and reunite the family.
There is a puzzle to solve and great friends who help including of all things cockroaches and bats. I also loved the food, the ingenious clothes and the special medicines developed by the underlanders.
"an Underlander servant placed a half circle of small bowls around him. At least three contained what looked like various mushrooms. One had a ricelike grain and the smallest contained a handful of fresh greens. He could tell by the skimpy potion that the leafy stuff was supposed to be a big treat."

This is book one of the Underland Chronicles but I didn’t have my usual problem with sequels as this one does have a very satisfactory ending although I will certainly look out for book two and in turn book three. You can read more here.

Fans of Tunnels by Roderick Gordon and Skulduggery pleasant by Derek Landy will devour this action packed adventure.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Love that Dog (and) Hate that Cat by Sharon Creech

Verse novels feature very high on my list of favourite books. Titles like Dust by Karen Hesse, Farm Kid by Sherryl Clarke, Tom Jones Saves the World by Steven Herrick and Love that dog by Sharon Creech are among my most favourite books so I was particularly excited to see another title by Sharon Creech, Hate that cat when I recently visited a new local book shop.

Today was the first day of my holidays and as a treat I started the day by reading Hate that cat. It certainly did not disappoint. Following on from Love that dog, we again enter the marvellous English class of Miss Stretchberry – such a lovely name. Over the course of a term or perhaps a month or even a year, students read a wide range of poetry and we read Jack’s responses to this through his poetry but his responses are so much more than just a commentary on the poetry, through his writing Jack tells us so much about his family, his dog, his cat, his own emotional development and his view of the world. As in Love that dog the poems are presented in chronological order. I just re-read the poem from January 4th and it made me smile.

I have Love that dog as a tape and it is a treasured possession of mine. Sharon Creech also provides copies of all the poems that Miss Stretchberry uses in class and in this second book she also thoughtfully provides an extensive poetry reading list. I hope to buy some of these titles for our school library very soon.

I especially like the way Jack tries out the poetry forms after each lesson. The poems are also a conversation between Jack and his teacher :

And I think I understood
what you said about
and alliter-something
not HAVING to be
in a poem
and how sometimes
they ENRICH a poem
but sometimes
they can also make a poem
sound purple.

Ha ha ha.

Students in Years 4-6 will love these two fabulous books. I wish I had time to really explore both of these with a class because there is so much to read and enjoy. Look for all the books by Sharon Creech in our school library you will not be disappointed.

Tensy Farlow and the home for mislaid children by Jen Storer

“Tensy rocked thoughtfully, toe to heel, and looked towards the rising dawn. The dark sea pounded the cliff-face and a few gulls stirred. She smiled as she felt for Olive's biscuit. It had to be a sign that things were looking up. Chocolate was always a good sign.” Page 189

Tensy Farlow and the home for mislaid children by Jen Storer is an amazing book. It reminded me of Fearless by Tim Lott. In this book we meet a very special orphan called Tensy Farlow. She is given this name by Albie Gribble after he rescues her from the River Charon. Along the way we meet human characters and their guardian angels. Matron Pluckrose is an especially memorable character reminiscent of the headmistress in Matilda by Roald Dahl and the orphanage she runs is even worse than the one in Oliver Twist.

This is a complex novel but so rewarding. I just loved the characters and kept hoping for a happy ending. Is there a happy ending? Yes and no. I can only say you need to read this book to find out for yourself. The ending was certainly not as devastating as the one in Fearless.

I found a lovely book trailer. I have just read about the idea of making book trailers written by Anne Waver in my latest ASLA magazine.

I was pleased to see this book featured on the cover of Magpies July 2009 issue. I agree with the reviewer "over thirty three chapters plus epilogue, readers will have to keep their wits about them to keep track (but) Tensy Farlow is a thoroughly entertaining read with a memorable heroine, wit and an unsettling atmosphere likely to appeal to fans of Odo Hirsch."

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Regular Guy by Sarah Weeks

After reading Mr K’s blog (see sidebar) I decided to make some library purchases based on his recommendations. Regular Guy by Sarah Weeks is the first of many titles I have found this way. This is a terrific story – quick to read, good fun and filled with great characters.

Guy, our hero, is convinced he does not belong to his family. They are so different to Guy. His mum likes to Tye dye is underwear and make decoupage from his football cards. His dad is even worse. He like to perform a trick in restaurants where he sucks an oyster up his nose and …

Guy and his really good friend Buzz hatch an ingenious plan. They discover Bob-o an odd ball boy in their class, was born on the same day, in the same hospital as Guy. Buzz and Guy decide the adults need convincing that there has been a horrible mix up. Guy moves in with Mr and Mrs Smith for a most surprising weekend.

Children in middle Primary grades will really enjoy this short and funny story. You will also enjoy 35 Kilos of Hope by Anna Galvada which has the same feel and voice.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

CBC Book Week winners, short list and slogan

Now that the dust has settled on another exciting book week at my school I thought I would pen a few thoughts about the books from 2009 and our library happening over the last week.

Firstly the slogan – wow what a great one! I did struggle with Reading Rocks, Readiscover and Book Now! but not with Book Safari. We certainly had great fun with this slogan. The children made maps, binoculars, postcards, jungle animals and vines. In fact every day last week was just filled with fun. My library is overflowing with amazing creations.

On the short list front I just loved Puffling by Margaret Wild and so did all my youngest children. We were of course sad when it received no prize this year. Leaf by Stephen Michael King (Honour Book award) is a very special book and we were able to display the pages on our Interactive Whiteboard which really allowed whole classes to see all the little details. Even though Leaf is quite long I found even the youngest children became really involved. How to Heal a Broken wing (Early Childhood Picture book of the Year) worked well with slightly older students. As I have said in a previous blog, Bob Graham is one of my all time favourite picture book people. We prepared for How to Heal a Broken wing by reading Pete and Roland which is where Bob Graham began. I think talking about care and compassion, the really special family that Will belongs to and those key words of love, time and hope really helped the children to relate to this very special book.

I am not a huge fan of Colin Thompson, although I do appreciate the amazing hard work and detail in the illustrations of his earlier books like How to Live forever and Tower to the Sun. The Big little book of Happy Sadness (Honour Book) has a lovely story with all the right ingredients for me – an emotional story, an intelligent story that allows the reader to ‘fill the gaps’ and just the right amount of humour. I just love the slipper foot George and his grandma make for their three legged dog. I am not a fan of the illustrations but the children in my school did enjoy this book. From the short list we were hoping Nobody owns the Moon by Tohby Riddle would be awarded a prize. This book has a lovely message and such interesting illustrations.

Now we can start thinking about the 2010 slogan – Across the Story Bridge!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Untangling Spaghetti by Steven Herrick

I really enjoy poetry books especially ones by Steven Herrick such as Tom Jones Saves the World (it made me cry) and Do-wrong Ron (it made me laugh and cringe) so I was keen to read Untangling Spaghetti. This is quite different to the other books I have mentioned, because this is an anthology of Herrick poems and not one story, however it does contain some real gems.

Here is a short example

smoke alarm

during the night
our smoke alarm went off
and off and off and off and off
and off and off and off and off
and off and off and off and off
and off and off and off and off
and off and off and off and off

until dad hit it with his shoe

Other favourites are The Librarian, Advertisements for poetry, Guess that word and The Poetry Visitor.

For a quick read and a quick laugh why not borrow a poetry book from the library?

Pig City by Louis Sachar

Here is a book that is good from the very first word to the very last. I enjoyed this book so much I found myself reading it over breakfast then I would come to a part that was so shocking that I simply had to stop and take a break. A few hours later back I would come. Then I simply gobbled up the last fifty pages of this terrific book.

Pig City was first published as Sixth Grade secrets in 1987. I think we used to have this in our library but I had not read it perhaps because back then I didn’t know how much I loved the story telling of Louis Sachar.

In this book we have our central character Laura and her Year 6 classmates who are in the final stages of the year prior to High School. Laura starts an exclusive gang called Pig City and this is where the trouble really starts.

Mr Doyle, the long suffering class teacher, makes students copy dictionary pages as a punishment. By the end of the year Laura is certainly in deep trouble – she has to copy 16 pages!

This is a story about misunderstandings, rivalry jealousy, gangs and the ups and downs of school life but more than anything this is a story about friendship.

This book will certainly be one I remember for a long time. Students in Years 4, 5 and 6 will really enjoy this realistic, funny, sad, horrifying story about school life.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Tapestry Book One The Hound of Rowan by Henry H Neff

A young boy with special talents is approached by a special school located far from home to come and join a set of first year students and learn magic so that we can fight against evil powers. He has a magical animal to care for and powers and abilities well beyond his age or experience. No this is not Harry Potter but it certainly contains all the same elements and yet this book is not a copy or a poor relation to Harry Potter it is surprisingly a very engaging fantasy story.

Max McDaniels visits an art gallery with his dad, his mum has disappeared (I hope the resolution of this will happen in the second book). While he is at the gallery he sees a tapestry with a vivid battle scene. A mysterious man with white eyes appears to be following Max with sinister intentions. Later Max is visited by Nigel who works for the Rowan Academy and so Max leaves his dad and goes to live at the Academy which has all the usual features of a boarding school with eccentric teachers, banquet halls, ball games, and older students who are bullies.

There are some nice touches in this story by Henry Neff such as a grove of apple trees which the students visit on their first day. “Every year a Class Tree will bear one apple for each living member of that class. When a member of that class has passed on , his or her apple turns to gold. Thus we remember them, and those apples we do not touch.” Page 74

Then there are the rooms which are configured to match the students. Max and his room mate David are given the most magical room with an glass ceiling that reveals the night sky.

I also liked the magical creatures that the students are entrusted to take care of. The children are taken to the Sanctuary which is guarded by YaYa, a black lioness. Among the rare and endangered animals is a winged bull or Syrian Shedu, a small dog or Somerset Bray, twin fauns, a red bullfrog, a highlands hare called Tweedy and a silver gazelle or ulu. For Max the creature he must care for is Nick a Black Forest Lymrill which resembles an otter with metallic quills, a foxlike tail and curing black claws like a bear. To feed their animals the students tell a food bin what they need for example Max says ‘food for Nick: Black Forest Lymrill'. “The bin was piled high with crates of writhing rodents and worms along with small stacks of metal bars.” Page 143.
Sport, in this book, is a game like soccer but the twist is the sports field keeps changing with varying degrees of difficulty. Hills, fences, barriers, walls, lakes etc all appear randomly as the game progresses adding to the drama and requiring amazing skill levels.

If you enjoyed the Harry Potter books, or Skulduggery Pleasant (Derek Landy) or The Tower at Moonville (Stephen Elboz) then I am sure you will gobble up Tapestry Book one The Hound of Rowan. A terrific start to the series which is sure to be a winner with Primary readers.

The castle of Corona by Sharon Creech

When I see a book by a favourite author I can’t wait to dive in. Sharon Creech does not disappoint with her book The Castle Corona. This is a completely different style and genre to other books by Creech all of which are on my most favourite books lists. Love that Dog, Ruby Holler, Granny Torrelli makes soup, Heartbeat and Replay are all in our school library and all are really fabulous.

In this latest book we have a fairy tale with all the right ingredients – a king, a queen, spoilt royal children, orphans and a special destiny you just know will end with those important words “they all lived happily ever after”.

Pia and Enzo are orphans living with an angry and mean merchant. They dream of a better life. One day they find a small pouch filled with mysterious objects two cornos or amulets to ward off bad luck, two gold medallions, a lock of back hair and a small piece of parchment with a message the children cannot read.

My favourite character in this book is the Wordsmith who is summoned in the evenings in the castle to tell stories. He carries a small bag or pouch, he asks the audience to supply story ideas and characters, looks briefly into his pouch and then weaves his magical tales.

This is a book for all Primary children especially those who long for happy endings and stories of castles, royalty and delicious food! Warning don't read this book if you are feeling hungry.

The toilet kid by Pat Flynn and Don't Breathe a word by Marianne Musgrove

I have just read two books with very different styles and subject matter but both fall into the category of didactic fiction – books that are trying to teach us something. Perhaps this is not a bad thing but as an adult reading a children’s book sometimes the lessons can get in the way of a good story.

The first book is The Toilet Kid by Pat Flynn. At its heart this is a book about about anorexia although this word is never used and young readers could possibly read this short and funny novel all the way through and not know this is Kayla’s secret. I really did the enjoy The tuckshop kid which was the first book in this series but I am not sure The toilet kid is quite so successful. This second book has the same characters and setting but does not quite reach the humour of the first. Pat Flynn has a great web site you might want to check it out.

Just as we are never really told about Kayla’s problem, in Don’t Breathe a word Marianne Musgrove does not use the word dementia until the very last chapter of this story. Sisters Tahlia and Mackenzie Carew try to cope with their elderly Grandfather. They know something is seriously wrong with him but they are afraid if his condition is revealed the sisters will be separated and put into foster care. This is an easy novel to read and the girls, especially Mackenzie, are very caring of Pirate, the grandfather but I really wanted to know a little more of the back story. Mackenzie is terrified of water, for example, and this is linked to the death of her parents but this important story element is only briefly touched on towards the end of the book. These criticisms to one side this is a very readable book with a realistic setting and strong characters who touch your heart.

I would recommend these two books to sensitive readers in Years 4, 5 and 6.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Wild West Witches by Michael Molloy

I did enjoy this book and I think it might be a good one to recommend to Harry Potter fans but I would have liked a character list perhaps under headings of good and evil. There are so many bad characters in this book with similar evil intentions that I did get a little confused at times. This book does stand alone but things might be clearer if you read the first two books in the series before this one – The Witch Trade and Time Witches.

Our heroes are Abby and Spike two gifted kids who, with their Light Witch friends, travel back to the Wild West in order to save the world from the evil Wolfbane. There are two sources of magic in this book one for good used by the Light Witches called Ice Dust and one very evil. Wolfbane needs more of the evil one called Black Dust and he needs Excalibur to get it.

I fear there might be too many literary and historical references in this book and that readers might find it confusing. Mention is made to vaudeville, Excalibur, Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley to mention just a few.

Putting aside this criticism, there are fabulous character descriptions in this book and these might be useful for teachers when they are working on narratives with students.

Sir Chadwick Street : Tall and slender, he was a handsome man with a bold Roman nose dominating his face and , in the chill air he was looking pinker than usual. His battered tweed hat was pulled casually over his long marmalade-coloured hair and he worse a flowing red polka-dot bow tie with his stylish, fine-cut tweed suit. Page 18

Polartius the librarian : His sliver hair lay in coiled pools on the stone-flagged floor. … The ancient man looked at her over his wire-rimmed spectacles. Page 53

Homer P Stout : Dressed in black, he was quite thin except for a protruding stomach that swelled his waistcoat and drew attention to his heavy gold watch chain. He wasn’t very tall but he nonetheless seemed to be looking down at them. Page 104

Just like Harry Potter and his cloak of invisibility, Abby and Spike have wonderful Atlantis capes which can be cleaned and dried with just a shake and which transform themselves into any appropriate clothing for the climate and place.

If you like an action packed fantasy story and know something about the Wild West during the goldrush times then this might be the book for you. I have given some hints about the plot in this review but really this book is quite complicated so I can only say read it and see what YOU think!

Barnaby Grimes Curse of the Night Wolf by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell

This fabulous gothic horror story is set in the London of Charles Dickens. Barnaby is a tick tock lad or messenger. He uses the roof tops as a quick route across the city and he knows all the nooks and crannies like the back of his hand.

The first page sets the tone for this book “Have you ever felt your skin being peeled slowly away from your arms and legs. Your muscles being torn and shredded as every bone in your body fights to burst through your flesh? Have you ever felt every tendon and sinew stretched to breaking point as your skeleton attempts to rip itself apart from the inside? I have and I’ll never forget it.”
Barnaby finds himself in the employ of the mysterious Dr Cadallader. Read more about the plot here.
Paul Stewart gives marvelous descriptions of his characters. Dr Cadallader had long white hair, parted in the centre, a pale, almost chalky pallor to his face and a pair of pince-nez spectacles. The illustrations by Chris Riddell are so detailed and fine. I especially liked the one on page 62 which shows Barnaby descending from a rooftop in a maneuver called a rolling derby. You can read more about these moves on the web site for this book listed below.

If you enjoy a touch of horror, werewolves, sinister characters and things that go bump in the night look for this book in our library you will not be disappointed. The web site for this book is outstanding - don't miss it. Turn on your computer and listen to the web site sound effects as you begin to read this story. Good news there are at least two more books in this series for you to enjoy too! Look for Legion of the dead and Return of the emerald skull.

Diego's Pride by Deborah Ellis

Sometimes sequels can let you down but this one certainly doesn’t. The action here begins from the end of the first book. Mando and the drug lord are both dead, Diego is on the run and he is now sheltering with a simple farming family in a rural district of Bolivia.

Deborah Ellis has that special gift of writing a narrative that allows you to really feel part of the action. Her books are like reading the movie.

Diego’s Pride is based on real events in Bolivia when the government used the army to destroy the country’s coca crops, bringing hardship to the local farmers. These farmers, called cocaleros, organised themselves into a union and blockaded highways all over the country. This protest movement continued for nearly 5 years and many people were injured and killed.

Diego and the Ricardo family, who have befriended him, are caught up in these events. “A loud bang jolted him out of his sleep and onto his feet .. for a long moment there was just the shrieking of the birds to show that there had been an actual noise, that Diego hadn’t dreamed it. Then it happened again – three bangs in a row, like gunshots. Could of smoke rose up from the bridge. All around him Diego heard people coughing and screaming. ‘Tear has!’ he heard some one shout. ‘They’re shooting tear has at us!’.”

If you enjoyed Diego, Run! you will not be disappointed when you go to the library and grab our copy of the sequel. This is a powerful action packed story with a hero that you will never forget. A great read for Senior Primary students.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

In the shadow of the Palace by Judith A Simpson

Warning here is another title with a sequel and the ending is a cliff hanger and alas the sequel is not yet published but don’t let this put you off. Get your hands on In the Shadow of the Palace and read it today. This is a marvelous book set in the mystic and colourful culture of India.

If you enjoyed the Sun Sword trilogy and you are perhaps a fan of Tamora Pierce, especially her series Protector of the small about Keladry with the titles First Test, Page, Squire and Lady Knight then you will adore this book.

Just as with the Sun Sword books the opening scene is a kidnapping. This time it is of three Indian princesses at their betrothal ceremony. In a nice twist it is the middle daughter who has to change into a boy to disguise herself in the far away kingdom where all three are taken. Rani must learn to shoot arrows, fight with a sword and stop arguing like a girl! Only one high ranking officer seems suspicious of the new recruit Ram, as Rani calls herself. There is just the tiniest shimmer of love in the air between these two although the story does not go for long enough for this to be discovered by Rani or Sanjay.

There is an excellent glossary to help with Indian terminology but I rarely referred to this as the contexts usually explained the meanings. I think readers in senior primary will love this action packed exotic story. As a bonus for readers Judith Simpson is an Australian author. I also appreciated the larger print size and use of white space. There was no effort involved in reading this engrossing story and there were just enough twists to keep me coming back with great anticipation over the last couple of days.

On the morning of the kidnapping the girls are put into beautiful robes. “She had never worn so much jewellery. It covered her neck, her arms and her ankles and she tinkled, clinked and jangled as she walked. She felt grand but uncomfortable…Rani felt so heavy she was sure she would sing into the earth as she walked.”
Just like Rangers Apprentice and Sun Sword this is a book about friendship, loyalty, over coming prejudices about class and the victory of good over evil. As our four heroes ride off to continue their adventure I will eagerly await the sequel hope it is not too far away.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild

When I saw ABC Television would screen The Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild I knew I wanted to re-read this childhood classic before the screening. This is the book Meg Ryan talked about in “You’ve got mail” when her exquisite book store “The shop around the corner” has been closed.

My copy of this book is very old and the print size is far too small for the modern reader and yet I do feel the story does pass the test of time.

The three girls, unrelated, living in the home of Gum (Great Uncle Matthew) and Sylvia are lucky that the borders who come to live in this large rambling house can each add a special magic to their destinies. There is a dancing teacher (perfect for Posy), two retired academics (who can train Pauline) and a motor enthusiast (so Petrova can pursue her passion).

I read this book when I was a child because I wanted to read Ballet stories but I have to say this is not really a book about ballet, rather it is about the whole range of perfoming arts including drama and recitation and it is a story about growing up and finding talents.

I did enjoy the BBC production especially after such a recent re-reading of the novel I could see the way they adapted the plot to include all the major incidents in a nicely paced story.

You can read more about Noel Streatfeild and other productions of this book and a little of the history of this writer who won the Carnegie Medal.

I did find the ending very disappointing because this time I really wanted a sequel. Thinking the story might continue I have just read Ballet Shoes for Anna but it is a totally unrealated story except for the references to ballet. This is the last book written by Noel Streatfeild who died in 1986. This second story does make a good read but the dialogue annoyed me. Her attempts at writing broken English were not very successful. Middle Primary readers would enjoy Ballet shoes for Anna even though the ending is predictable the story has so much tension and this makes the plot move along very quickly. If you thought the Dursleys were horrible to Harry Potter you need to meet The Uncle - Cecil - he is totally horrible!

The Medici Curse by Matt Chamings

Ever since I read Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliet I have been interested in the idea of weaving art into a story. It is with this in mind that I picked up The Medici Curse by Matt Chamings and I was certainly not disappointed.

This book has alternating stories in each chapter. There is a modern day family on holiday in Florence with Maria the central character who is drawn to the painting of Alessandra. In the alternate chapters we read about Arnaldo the younger painter in Renaissance Florence who is working for Verrocchnio. Arnaldo is an apprentice and a friend to Leonardo da Vinci. Arnaldo is painting the beautiful, young Alessandra prior to her marriage to the very elderly Signor Paolo Orsini. The painting has two canvases linked by a arch of flowers which are held by the subject of each portrait.

This painting is, however, cursed and so when Maria’s father uncovers it under a rather plain landscape that he has purchased on impulse, a series of disasters linked to the curse befall this family. Woven into this story there are also references to the life and work of Leonardo da Vinci especially his experiments with flying and his study of anatomy. Leonardo is working on the portrait of Orsini.

This book is certainly a page turner filled with mystery, intrigue, love, feuds and sword fights. I would highly recommend it to keen readers in Year 6. I found myself reading this book every spare minute I could grab. The historical notes at the end only added to my enjoyment.

Read more at in these teacher notes.