Monday, January 25, 2010

Celebrating 100 Books in my Blog!

I made this collage of book covers using Picasa.
I have learnt so many new tricks since I started my blog last year.
This is my CELEBRATION of 100 book reviews

Problem Child by James Roy

If you have no idea what a rhetorical question is then you should read this book. If you think practical jokes are okay then you should read this book. If you have ever been a bully you should read this book. If you have had trouble with bullies you should read this book. If you love to eat pies for lunch then you should definitely read this book!

In fact nearly every chapter begins with a pie eating lunch as our hero Max Quigley, the naughtiest boy in the school, navigates the hazards of the playground, friends, teachers, little kids, parents and most of all one very special boy called Triffin Nordstrom. Triffin Nordstrom now there is a name any bully would capitalize on and that is certainly what happens to Nordstrom – Max Quigley makes his life hell.

This bullying all comes to a head on a class excursion to a cake factory. Max eats too many cheesecakes and Triffin is left behind when the bus leaves. “By the time we were down to our last cheesecake we were feeling very sick but I couldn’t go home and tell mum that we could only get one cake for ten dollars, so we decided to get rid of it. By eating it. That was when I threw up. It was a heaps big spew that’s for sure, right in the aisle of the bus." Meanwhile "Me and Jared had pushed Nerdstrom out one of the exits in the seconds shop, and there was a sign on the door that said THIS DOOR LOCKS FROM THE INSIDE, EMERGENCY EXIT ONLY."

This book made me laugh, groan and cheer. It is a must read for senior primary boys. I knew right from the first sentence I would enjoy this very funny book. In fact I would really like to send a copy to Mr K (see my side bar) because I know he would love it. The author James Roy also has a terrific web site.

Your Pal Mo Willems presents Leonardo the terrible Monster

A big part of my job involves recommending books to teachers, to students, to parents and to colleagues so when someone actually recommends a book to ME I am always keen to get my hands on the book in question and that is how I found Your Pal Mo Willems presents Leonardo the terrible monster.

There seem to have been a huge number of terrific monster books in recent years. Pog by Lyn Lee is an absolute favourite of mine and I have to say Leonardo is certainly just as good.

Leonardo wants to be a scary monster but he is a dismal failure. When he compares himself with other fabulous monsters he just falls short. Until he hits upon the ingenious idea of finding the most scaredy-cat kid in the whole world so he can “scare the tuna salad out of him.” I think I will adopt this expression next time I have to deal with a senior student with very overdue library books!

Leonardo finds Sam – the perfect candidate for this plan – but of course things don’t quite work out as expected. The bold, capital letter text and simple naive illustrations just add to the charm of this very special book

Sorry Miss Folio by Jo Furtado illustrated by Frederic Joos

It is now just over a year since I first started my Momo Blog and I am so happy to say this is book number 100!

Sorry Miss Folio is the perfect book for a librarian (although I am really a Teacher-Librarian and there is an important difference). The opening pages have no text and this usually causes some consternation when I read this book each year to our youngest students. How can it be a 'real' book if there is no story?

Then we look more closely and discover there is a 'story' an important story here about visiting the public library, at Christmas, and borrowing a book.

The real fun comes one month later when the book is due to be returned. Unfortunately something has happened and so it goes on month after month... Sorry Miss Folio...

an elephant sat on your book

I left it outside in the rain

an ostrich swallowed it at the zoo

a burglar stole it

My brother threw it into a nettle bush

it went to Aberdeen with Catherine's luggage

it is in a hole outside the library

I left it on the bus

and.... my favourite "My brother tied your book to a rocket and sent it up in the sky and it came down in the old canal and my dad found it floating the next morning and he waded in and got very smelly and so is the book very smelly and my mum is getting rid of the pong for you..."

Sorry Miss Folio is a simple little picture book with a warm message about imagination and reading and libraries. I treasure reading it, with lots of funny voices, to young students at the start of each school year.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Herbert Binns and the flying tricycle by Caroline Castle and Peter Weevers

In some books I find I can really hear the characters talking, I can hear their voices, I can hear the nuances of their speech, their local dialects and accents. This is certainly true for Herbert Binns and the flying tricycle.

Herbert is an inventor and he has made a wonderful flying machine incorporating a bicycle and huge wings. His three arch enemies McTabbity, an old rabbit, Zip, a greedy young rat and Measly, a mean old weasel, are enraged with jealousy. They hit upon a diabolical plan, to wreck Herbert’s flying machine just before his maiden flight but of course our hero is one step ahead of the evil trio and so things do not turn out as all as they expect.

Here we have another terrific picture book, beautifully illustrated and with a lovely message that is, alas, out of print. It was first published 1986 and if you ever see a copy I would say grab it with both hands and don’t let go – this book is a treasure. Oh and I forgot to mention Herbert is a mouse – this is rapidly become a theme of my blog books so many seem to be about mice!!

The Magician’s elephant by Kate DiCamillo

This book was featured recently in the Sydney Morning Herald and it received a glowing review by Angie Schiavone AND Kate DiCamillo is a loved author so I was very excited to begin reading this fabulous little story.

There are many small incidents in the book and small unrelated characters but DiCamillo weaves such an intricate story that is able to pull all these seemingly disparate threads together. You just know you are in the hands of a master story teller right from the opening page and that there will be a very special happy ending.

Our hero is Peter Augustus Duchene. Over the first half of the book we learn Peter’s mother and father are both dead and he is in the care of an old autocratic soldier who uses harsh treatment and austere living to prepare Peter to become a solider.

All of this changes one day when Peter uses their dinner money, one florin, to ask just one very important question of a fortune teller. Peter knows he will be in trouble with this disobedience but he must know the truth is his sister dead or alive? “Your sister? … She lives…. You must follow the elephant.”

Meanwhile at the Bliffendorf Opera House a magician has performed the most astonishing magic, conjuring an elephant who comes crashing through the ceiling.

Like all Kate DiCamillo books – The tale of Despereaux, Because of Winn Dixie, The Tiger Rising – this is a truly special book and one I highly recommend for Middle Primary readers. Look out for the lovely illustrations and amazing web site.

Marley a dog like no other by John Grogan

MY dog was called Charlie and for me he was a dog like no other. Just like Marley, Charlie and I went to obedience but unlike Marley my lovely dog was obedient and I like to think if we had continued beyond the novice level he might even have been a champ. Marley's experiences at obedience training are just so funny.

Marley a dog like no other is a very enjoyable read probably because the author is talking about experiences dear to his own heart and letting us see his life with Marley who is such a lovable if somewhat destructive character. Chapter one introduces is to Shaun, John Gorgan’s childhood dog – the perfect specimen and then in subsequent chapters we meet Marley, the dog John buys with his new wife Jenny. Marley certainly is a dog like no other. I think I liked him best when he calmed down in his old age.

Our library copy of this book is one adapted for children. If you have a dog or if you love dogs this book would be a great one to read it would also be a fun family read-a-loud.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Benjamin Dove by Fridrik Erlings

Benjamin Dove interesting title, appealing cover NO how wrong first impressions can be. Benjamin Dove is the first Icelandic book I have ever read. This book has an IBBY award, The Icelandic Children’s Book Award, and Reykjavik Children’s Book Award yet I am saying my first impressions were totally wrong. This misleading cover meant this book was the choice of a little Year 3 girl who donated it to our school library. I certainly hope she didn’t read it – yes I can hear you saying what a strange thing to say.

Benjamin Dove is an amazing book but it is also such a vicious depiction of bullies that I must say it is only suitable for the most mature of Primary readers and probably would be better placed in a High School library.

Benjamin has two special friends Jeff and Manny. A new boy moves into the neighborhood and he quickly joins the boys. Roland has a very adult way of speaking and thinking but he also has fabulous ideas for new games. He introduces the boys to the world of heroic knights and all quickly make swords, tunics and shields and take the names Roland Dragon, Benjamin Dove, Jeff Eagle and Manny Unicorn.

Living nearby is an elderly lady called Grandma Dell who is loved by all the neighborhood children. The bullies strike attacking her cat and then her home of more than 40 years is burned to the ground. Our knights become heroes as they inspire the whole community to rebuild before Granny Dell is discharged from hospital. These scenes were the best in the book, a bit like those make-over television shows where all the neighbors line up along the street as a welcome home after racing against the clock to make everything so special..

All of this sounds fine but of course those bullies are ready to strike at any time and one of the friends will betray our heroes, think of Judas, with disastrous consequences.

This book reminded me the The Fat Man by Maurice Gee (a book I can hardly bear to think about), Surfing Mr Petrovic by Colin Bowles (another title with very vicious scenes of bullies) and Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo. If you are a fan of Robert Cormier and can cope with the death of a loved character then I would recommend this book but only to readers who are ready for this challenge. It does have a very important message and a powerful story that will stay with me for a long time. A film was made in 1992 and you will see the tone of the book from this clip even though it is in Icelandic.

I also found a terrific interview with the author which you must read if you are considering adding this book to your reading list.

Meannie and the Min Min by Pamela

Meannie is a fabulous witch, mean, ugly and with a most terrible diet of lizards. Having arrived in Australia during the gold rush she has now settled in the Australian Desert “where there is heaps of dust and plenty of hot sunshine.”

I love the description of Meannie “She wears the usual black raggy dress down to her prickly ankles, but it is coated with thick red dust that dribbles into mud pools when it rains, and makes stains like tomato sauce on her singlet. She also wears the usual witch’s hat. But it has corks tied around the brim to chase the blowflies away and a point that has wilted in the heat…. Meannie’s nose is always an ugly, red, peeling thing that glows in the dark and scares the bats silly.”
Bindii and Mike (names invented for a story written in 1987 long before the Steve Irwin and his famous daughter) also live the Australian desert. They have a pet lizard called Thorny. He is an Thorny Devil and very rare. Meannie has never tasted a Thorny Devil and so she hatches a plan to kidnap him and add him to her cooking pot. Thank heavens for the resourceful and quick thinking Bindii and Mike. Thorny is saved and justice triumphs.

This is a terrific Australian book. I am sure it would be out of print now but I plan to read it to my Second Grade students this year along with the tape I have read by Max Gillies which is delightful. If you like lots of adventure, fast fun and short chapter books with marvelous illustrations (Terry Denton) then look for this little book in your library.

Fantastic Mr Fox by Roald Dahl illustrated by Quentin Blake

“They all sat down, panting for breath. And Mrs Fox said to her children, ‘I should like you to know that if it wasn’t for your father we should all be dead by now. Your father is a fantastic fox.’ Mr Fox looked at his wife and smiled. He loved her more than ever when she said things like that.”

Before I see the movie I thought I should re-visit Fantastic Mr Fox. As I write this entry for my blog I haven’t seen the movie but I certainly enjoyed the book about Mr Fox all over again. I had forgotten the priceless scene at the end when the three farmers are left just sitting and waiting for Mr Fox while he and his friends continue to feast on the goodies from each farm.

Dahl has such an ear for language. His books are always a delight. “They were digging the new tunnel. They dug on in silence. Badger was a great digger and the tunnel went forward at a terrific pace now that he was lending a paw.” Paw is the perfect word here!

I have read lots of good things about the movie but as usual I would say take a few minutes to read or re-read this classic story before you see the film. The movie experience will be all the richer if you have recent knowledge of the original. The movie web site is sensational.

Lexi by LS Matthews

From time to time girls in senior grades have mentioned this book called Lexi so I knew it was time for me to actually read it too. This is an intriguing story about identity and the harsh realities of homelessness and city life. While this book would not make my top fifty list it was an easy read and a fast moving story with an interesting plot. I can’t say too much about Lexi or her circumstances because this will give too much away.

Lexi has amnesia and you need to read the book and follow Lexi’s journey as she discovers the amazing truth about her family. The descriptions of the run-down city and the frightening night time scenes are gripping reading.

This book would appeal to middle and upper primary readers, especially girls and I would recommend it.

The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden

Chester the Cricket, Tucker the mouse and Harry the cat are the most unlikely of friends but thank goodness they are friends because together they are able to help Mario and his family who own a small newsstand in Times Square.

If you enjoyed Tumtum and Nutmeg, The Tale of Despereaux and A Rats Tale then you will certainly love this classic book The Cricket in Times Square. Just like Tumtum and Nutmeg there are moments when I just gasped out loud for example on the night when the friend’s discover Chester has this amazing musical ability. Just when everything is going really well and it seems there might be a way to help Mario and his family who are so poor, Tucker topples over a box of matches. “One match, unluckily, struck right next to a pile of that mornings newspapers. The spurt of flames it sent up lit the frayed edge of the papers and quickly spread over the whole bundle.” This is particulary disasterous since this happens in a small newstand filled with papers and magazine.

The Cricket in Times Square is once again a very old book. It received a Newberry honour in 1960 but I am very pleased to say that it certainly stands the test of time. I will hunt out a new copy for my school library and this is a book I will recommend to my middle primary readers and their teachers. In USA there was even an animated television show of this book in 1970s.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Found Margaret Peterson Haddix

This is such a marvelous book up to the last 60 pages which I found thoroughly confusing. A plane lands late at night in Chicago. Angela DuPre is the only witness to this strange event. There is no record for this plane, there appears to be no pilot or co-pilot and most surprising there are 36 babies sitting all alone in the plane seats.

Thirteen years later we meet Jonah and Chip. Both are adopted, both are thirteen and both have received somewhat sinister letters addressed in plain envelopes.

With the help of Katherine, Jonah’s sister, the three kids piece together this mystery or perhaps a better word would be conspiracy. Who are these 36 children? Where did they come from? And why does someone want to gather and silence them?

This is a book for Senior students who enjoy thrillers. I hope that book two The Missing will help me understand those last 60 pages. The author has a terrific web site.

The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pene De Bios

This is also quite an old book (1947) and a winner of the Newberry Medal and I guess it might be called a classic so it seemed like the right time this summer to read this book. It is slightly quirky and old fashioned but amazingly The Twenty One Balloons is very easy to read and enjoy. I sometimes find older books take too much time with descriptions and don’t arrive at the action quickly enough but The Twenty One Balloons is such a quirky premise that you want to keep reading on and on to find out how Professor William Waterman Sherman ended up in the Atlantic Ocean three weeks after his journey began especially when the Professor intended to stay aloft for at least one whole year.

One reason I especially enjoyed this book is that no part of the plot was predictable. Sherman lands on the island of Krakatoa and finds wealthy, cultured and creative inhabitants. Their ingenious inventions are especially appealing.

The Twenty One Balloons would appeal to Middle and Upper Primary readers who like adventure and science.

The Sisters Grimm The Fairytale Dectectives by Michael Buckley

I have to confess this quaint looking hard cover book has been on my reading pile for many months. Not sure why I waited to read it. This is a terrific book if you love references to fairy tales and nursery rhymes and other famous literary characters.

A good example of these references is when Mayor Charming (yes he is really Prince Charming of those famous tales Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Rapunzel) hosts a special ball. Our heroines Sabrina and her sister Daphne attend the ball disguised as the Woodsman and Mama Bear.

“A car pulled up in front of the house and a blond woman in a blue bonnet and puffy dress got out. She reached into the back seat for a long white staff with a curled end. Before the attendant could close the door for her, half a dozen lambs tumbled out and eagerly followed the woman inside.”

Sabrina and Daphne are the Grimm sisters. Granny Relda Grimm has been kidnapped by a giant after someone plants a bean stalk seed. Is Jack (of Jack and the Beanstalk) the best Everafter character of Ferryport or is that Fairyport to employ to save the day or have Sabrina and Daphne just made the most terrible mistake possible?

This is book one of The Sisters Grimm and I am keen to keep reading. This book would be a great family read-a-loud.

Freddie the frightened and the wondrous Ms Wardrobe by Pamela Shrapnel

This is a very old book (1988) with a fabulous title and terrific illustrations by Terry Denton.

Freddie has a huge number of goblins, gremlins, zombies, and things that go bump in the night to contend with and his mum and dad are absolutely no help as they spend the critical time each evening from 7.30pm watching a favourite television soapie and oblivious to Freddie and his fears.

Up til now poor Freddie has had to battle these horrors all alone but as luck would have it the Wondorous Ms Wardrobe arrives and immediately helps to sort out these problems. Ms Wardrobe is Freddie’s cousin Penelope and she has bought her special kit of monster fighting tools (actually it is a fishing tackle box with Penelope’s name in silver across the lid) which include a sugar sachet, a whistle, a gold glitter glue pen, a magnifying glass, penknife, chewing gum and several different sized band aids.

Penelope systematically attacks the Cardigan Zombie, the Troll in the Hall and finally the dreaded Googyman who lurks in the garden tapping the window each evening trying to get into Freddie’s room.

This book is a little like One Night At Lottie’s House by Max Dann which is an all time favourite read-a-loud of mine. Penelope is a lot like Lottie, a special girl with heaps of daring, common sense and most importantly someone in whom you can have great confidence.

I bought this book to re-read and was not disappointed. Children in Junior grades who like books about monsters will really devour this little chapter book.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Cicada Summer by Kate Constable

We all judge books by their covers and this is exactly why I picked up Cicada Summer. The cover is lovely, the story quite magical and the title a perfect one to read during an Australian Summer.

El for Leather, El Dorado, Ella Fitzgerald, Elementary, Elbow Grease, Elephant, Electric Chair, El’s Bells, Elf Ears, Electron Microscope. “ ‘Um Dad’, said Eloise shyly. ‘Would it be okay it you just called me my name?’ … ‘ Yeah sure,’ he said after a minute. 'I guess so. I thought you liked all my funny little nicknames.’”

Eloise is totally lost following the death of her mother. Her father is caught up in schemes to make money as a way to avoid really helping Eloise who has become mute in her grief. In the latest scheme Stephen, her father, has decided to bulldoze an old house that previously belonged to his mother Mo and build a modern convention centre.

Eloise stays with Mo, who has her own suffering to overcome, while her Dad heads back to the city to organize the finances. Luckily for Eloise and Mo the Durrani family live next door. They are newly arrived immigrants from Afghanistan and I found myself wishing to know more of their story they are such special people who generously help Mo and Eloise and even her dad.

Left to her own devices Eloise heads back to the old house. In this timeslip fantasy everything goes still and cool and Eloise finds the buildings and garden transformed with a green lawn, flower beds, a neat white fence and fresh paint work. The noisy cicadas and strong heat of summer signal her return to real time. Eloise may not be able to talk but she really needs a friend and in this other time she finds one but who is Anna?

This is a gentle story of healing and true friendship. It is so easy to read it is like a long cool drink on a hot summer day. I would recommend this book to girls in Middle Primary grades. I think some children in my school might have contributed to this set of reviews.