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.