Sunday, April 25, 2010

Reader Beware Evening for Year 6 boys

This week we will host a very special evening for our Year 6 boys and their dads titled "Reader beware we dare you to take the reading challenge."

The challenge is to read a book with your dad and then the dad needs to complete a simple homework assignment which is marked by the students!

I have made bookmarks to celebrate the evening which include the names of some top authors for Year 6 boys. Some of these authors have amazing web sites so I thought I should include a list here...

There are heaps of other authors I could mention but these ones all had terrific interactive web sites with sound tracks and video footage!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Christmas in the Trenches by John McCutcheon

ANZAC Day is the good time to add music to our literature sessions as we listen to the Last Post and sing songs at school assemblies. A book I love to read at this time of year is Christmas in the trenches. This important picture book is based on a song by John McCutcheon and his song in turn is based on real events of World War One when troops on both sides met in no mans land at Christmas to play a friendly soccer game and exchange simple gifts. These young men forgot about sides and enemies and for a moment their true humanity shone through.

Using the voice of Frances Tolliver, John McCutcheon gives an important insight into this event. You can also read about this time in a book by Michael Foreman called War game - we have this one in our library too.

I first heard John McCutcheon sing one of my favourite poems 'The Kindergarten Wall' on the radio. When I finally tracked down the album with this song “Water from another time” I was so excited to also find this moving song about World War I. A few years later I discovered the book illustrated by Henri Sorensen with a CD inside with the song.  I have also found a video to complete this package.

Among the imposters by Margaret Peterson Haddix

In this world of the future our food supplies have run out and governments have taken the decision to ban third children. To this end they have formed the population police. Luke has lived his whole life up to this point in hiding. His only experiences of the world of and of other people are limited to his mum, dad, and two older brothers. The outside world is limited to his farm and over the last year that too has been taken away as a new housing development is built around Luke’s home.

Watching from a hidden and high upstairs window Luke discovers another third child in hiding. Her name is Jen, but unlike Luke, she knows about the world and is determined to fight to have this repressive and unjust law overturned. Her protest has disastrous consequences and the first book in this fabulous series by Margaret Peterson Haddix Among the Hidden, ends with a shocking tragedy. The ending reminded me of Robert Cormier. His book After the First Death lingers with me even now twenty years after reading it.

As this second installment Among the Imposters begins Luke is forced to flee is home. He is sent to a remote boarding school and he is given a new identity as Lee Grant. This new environment is not just foreign for Luke, it is terrifying. There are no windows, the constant threat of demerits and hideous bullies.

The real power in this book for me was the totally unpredictable plot. There are so many twists and turns as Luke negotiates this horrible school and tries to make sense of himself and those around him. Luke discovers the outside world and begins to make a garden. Then just as things seem somehow bearable, his garden is destroyed - it is a scene of senseless destruction.

There are seven books in this series and I can’t wait to grab the next one… Among the betrayed. I highly recommend this fabulous series for all serious senior Primary readers. Check out my blog post on book one.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Greatest Blogger in the World by Andrew McDonald

Save the day, get the girl and be the hero – this is the motto of Charlie Ridge.

The Greatest Blogger in the World is a fabulous title but while this is a light and funny book it is probably not the greatest book in the world. Having said that it does contain lots of ideas that are really clever and very ingenious.

Charlie is a highly intelligent boy but for reasons that I didn’t really grasp he is desperate to hide his abilities from everyone, especially from everyone at his school – kids and teachers. Blogging is perfect for Charlie because he can truly be himself, or so he thinks. And now there is a competition to be the greatest blogger in the world. First prize is a fabulous url

There are plenty of quirky ideas and characters in this book. I especially liked Charlie’s friend Phattius Beatts (his real name is Gene Bollingworth), the duck called Barcode and Joshua, his little Kindergarten brother who wears a small tuxedo 24 hours a day. Breakfast is Corn Flookes, the teacher makes every day special by focusing on odd things like donuts and the school mascot is a large model of a sheep called the Unshorn Merino.

When the Unshorn Merino is stolen from the school the story reaches a hilarious climax. Children looking for illegal red cordial are also a great inclusion.

This book has large print (I always love this!), it is interspersed with Charlie’s blog entries and the plot moves along at a fast pace so I would recommend this book to boys in middle and senior classes. Check out the fun web site and since this is a first novel by Andrew McDonald make sure you visit his web site too. When you go to his web page you can see him reading this book! His little video will surprise you.

Chess Nuts by Julia Lawrinson

This is a book for chess players and non chess players. I am not a chess player and have no real interest in this game but I did enjoy this simple story about friends and sport and rivalries.

In this school, Phoenix Primary, there are the sport heroes and the chess players and the two groups do not mix. Then one day Jackson walks into the chess practice room “Jackson wanted to come back in, sit down, and blitz them all, but how could he? Everyone knew Jackson was the best athlete in the school, and why would someone like that hang around the chess room?”

At the heart of this story is friendship and self-discovery. Both Anna, the number one chess player, and Jackson have a lot to learn about themselves and each other, about prejudices and stereotypes and most of all about trust.

This book is a quick and enjoyable one especially if you don’t think deeply about character motivations or the strange parent child relationships. If you like chess then in this book you will also find game diagrams and quotes from famous chess players. If you are keen on sports then in this book you will find great scenes of swimming carnivals and cross country running.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Motormouth by Sherryl Clark

If you are a motormouth does it mean you talk to much or does it mean you talk to much about cars or does it mean you know a lot about cars?

This is the season for verse novels and here is one for the boys! Motormouth by Sherryl Clark is a terrific emotional roller coaster ride as we piece together the truth about Josh, the new kid in town and discover what has happened to Dave all through the eyes of their friend Chris.

The impact of this book reminded me of Steven Herrick and Tom Jones Saves the world or Do wrong Ron.

There are some great little gems in this writing “this kid Josh sticks to me like chewie on my runners.”…. "Dad takes to Josh like a flea to a dog”….

This is a very short book but it is so powerful. The illustrations, end papers and black and white graphics are just perfect. I think this book would be great reading for senior boys who have not yet discovered just how a book can tug at your emotions and include some funny parts too!

January Conspiracy 365 by Gabrielle Lord

If you want to read a book that puts you on the edge of your seat right from the first page. "It was the wild, billowing black cloak, streaming behind the menacing figure, that first caught my eye.” to the last – on the final page (of the first book January) you will be underground in an oil storage tank with oil rapidly filling up around you.
If you are looking for a series to take you through the whole year – yes there will be 12 of these books.
If you have ever wondered what you might do if you only have 365 days to solve a major crime and stay alive in the process then this is the book or series of books for YOU!

In the first book the author carefully reveals the gripping facts. Callum’s dad has been on a mysterious visit to Ireland, he has sent Callum some letters and drawings, someone has tried to warn Callum of the danger he faces, his uncle Rafe seems implicated when their small row boat sinks far out at sea on a wild and stormy night and now Callum is accused of murder so he is on the run from the police and a gang of sinister thugs.

I just loved Conspiracy 365 January and am sure I will be telling you about February very soon. The book design is just perfect with crumpled letters, from Callum’s dad, and drawings interspersed through the diary style entries. The decisions Callum has to make about his family and especially the safety of his little sister reminded me of that terrific series called Surfers we have in our library especially titles like The Last Bus and Runnaway train.

I do hope Gabrielle Lord can keep up this pace through all 12 books. I also hope the plot twists don't slacken. I have begun to make my predictions about the Ormond Singularity and especially about Rafe, twin brother of Callum’s dad.

The web site is totally out of control!!

Don’t blink don’t forget to breathe - this is really good advice.

I thoroughly recommend these books for senior primary boys especially if you enjoyed books by Anthony Horowitz and Robert Muchamore.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Pearl verses the world by Sally Murphy

Here is another one of those incredibly sad books about the pending death of an aged grandparent. We had a similar theme in Don’t breathe a word and Layla, Queen of Hearts.

Pearl versus the world is a verse novel – this is a format I love to read and so admire. That an author can say so much using such precise words - to me a good verse novel is like very fine embroidery. (See my other blog entries about Sharon Creech and Amy Hest).

Pearl lives in a family of just three people- herself, her mum and her grandmother. Granny is coming to end of her life and this slow deterioration is witnessed by Pearl. Each day the teacher asks the children to write rhyming poetry but Pearl’s world contains no rhyme or rhythm. Pearl is a great writer she just doesn’t fit into these narrow constraints set by her teacher. “There is no rhythm in me. There is no rhythm in my life.”

As Pearl reads her special poem at the funeral I found myself in floods of tears.

She loved mum
And she loved me.
She wasn’t here
For long enough
But I am glad
That she
Was here
At all.

There are some lovely words of wisdom in this book.

Everyday the princess say at her window
Waiting to be rescued by a handsome prince.
I wonder if the prince was as handsome
As Mitchell Mason

He is very handsome
Even though he is not a prince
Just a boy in my class
But I wonder
Why does the prince need to be handsome? I wonder if all princes
Are supposed to be handsome.

And this one :

There is no nicer noise
Than the sound of the bell
At the end of the day.

There are also some salient words for teachers and teacher-librarians in this story. I felt so distressed when Pearl was unable to find a library book in her allocated time. She doesn’t want trucks, trains or transport, and she doesn’t want horses, houses or hyenas. She needs a book to support her through this time of pain and confusion but there is no time to find one.

Pearl verses the world is another title in our Children's Book of the Year competition for 2010. It is good to see a verse novel short listed and I hope it receives an award in August.

When you reach me by Rebecca Stead

I think this book When you reach me needs a large sticker in the middle of the front cover as a warning. Before reading this book make sure you have already read A Wrinkle in time by Madeline L’Engle.

People always talk with great fondness when they mention the book A Wrinkle in time and it is one of those books I was quite sure I had read as a young child but now I am not so sure. When you reach me by Rebecca Stead (A Wrinkle in time is her all time favourite book or so it says in the acknowledgements) is interlaced with a recount of the plot from A Wrinkle in time so now I find I need to read that book in order to make some sense of this new one. All of that to one side this is certainly a book that I just gobbled up in one reading, I read the first 75 pages without drawing breath and it is a book that I know will linger with me for a long time. I also find, after reading it, that it is the 2010 winner of the Newberry Medal!

Miranda lives in New York, a city filled with decaying apartment buildings, dangerous gangs of youth and seriously ill homeless people who inhabit the streets.

Miranda begins to find small cryptic notes in unexpected places – inside an unread library book about squirrels, deep inside a huge bag of bread rolls which Miranda counts each day as part of her job at Jimmy’s and in her winter coat pocket. As the months move on Miranda learns some hard lessons about friendship and about herself. Sal, her best friend from early childhood appears to shun her but she finds a new friends in Colin and Annemarie. All these kids along with Julia - her arch enemy - have special things to show Miranda about life.

The key to this story is the idea that time is just a construct. “Time isn’t a line stretching out in front of us, going in one direction. It’s – well, time is just a construct actually.” These wise words come from Marcus a boy with the most serious life lessons to share.

On a happy note I really enjoyed the characters in this book especially the school secretary fondly called Wheelie. Also Rebecca Stead gives you a great sense of place with her descriptions of Miranda’s apartment with the peeling paint, water stains and cigarette burns on the lounge. To understand more about this book read the review in School Library Journal by Elizabeth Bird. On only one point I disagree - I love the cover although ours is slightly different from the American one I have put here in my blog. If you look closely all the clues from the story are there – the key, the coat, letter box and shoe.

This book reminded me of Looking for X by Deborah Ellis. I highly recommend When you reach me for thoughtful readers who like realism, or Science Fiction or perhaps just readers who are looking for a book that makes you think about life and more.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Matty Forever by Elizabeth Fensham

“How are your parents” seems like such an innocent question but by page 87 we readers know more than Bill our hero – we know Mrs Farquay-Jones really does want her little girl Isabelle to be friends with a ‘nice boy’. When the truth comes out on page 123 it will leave you breathless.

Bill has moved to a new school and a new neighbourhood with his mum. His dad is not around and Bill is missing him. Then he discovers the girl next door - Matty and she becomes his true friend along with her lovely eccentric family (a beautiful family like the ones we visited in the Kingdom of Silk). Bill passes four very difficult tests of endurance and courage and then joins Matty's gang (of two). Together these two young friends create a very special relationship enjoying simple and fun things like using an old bath tub as a pool after a long hot day at school or painting the wall in Matty's house with a huge circus scene and of course enjoying delicious food on every occasion. They also share their most important secrets. Then one day Isabelle arrives and right from the start we know she is going to spoil EVERYTHING!!

This book is so reminiscent of one of my all time favourite picture book A friend like Ed. Once again we have an attempt at a three way friendship which is doomed by jealousy. Isabelle is a lot like Alison on Hating Alison Ashley even down to the fabulous set of highlighters, felt pens, coloured pencils, erasers and special biros that come in “a presentation case about the size and width of a large picture book, with a lock on the side that could only be opened with a secret code. .. she explained to everyone that her mother would not let her share her things because they had cost a fortune.” Isabelle even has beautiful hair like Alison Ashley. The lovely community and the way these kids bring everyone together also reminded me of Hazel Green. Finally Matty Forever reminds me of Tiger Rising, which is another special favourite of mine, especially the part where Bill needs a suitcase to hold his sorrows.
I enjoyed this book so much I started this blog entry while still reading it. My only hesitations, and they are small ones, would be Matty and Bill seem older than eight and half and nine. I am not sure a nine year old boy would notice a girl's hair - "a cascade of waving fire-gold hair" nor do I think a nine year old boy would ask to kiss a girl, not even one who was his best friend but Fensham writes this final scene so beautifully perhaps I can believe in the kiss!
I highly recommend this book and await the results of the Children's Book of the Year awards in August.