Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Ratbags and Rascals by Robin Klein illustrated by Alison Lester

Here is a terrific collection of seventeen short stories. Alas as is often the case with books in this blog it is out of print.

This book was first published in 1984 but look for it in your library. Every story is the perfect length for when you have ten spare minutes and need a quick story to read either for yourself or to a class. Today we read How Clara Bepps put Strettle Street properly on the map and Year 5 loved it. Clara thinks her street is so boring but she soon rectifies this by adding stars on the footpath, a swimming pool inside a disused house, a canter levered car park and a stage where you can bring something and take something. This is such a lovely idea.

Another very funny story in this collection is Parker Hamilton about a family robot. I like the idea of robots helping in the home and in fact this does happen in Japan. If you want to go further with robots you should also read Eager and Eager's Nephew by Helen Fox- these are among my favourite robot stories.

Have you ever been on a school camp and had to put up with a night of snoring? The Anti Snore Machine is the story for you. The diagrams that accompany this story are just perfect for all aspiring inventors.

There are fun little illustrations scattered throughout the book by Alison Lester. My copy has a different cover which is yellow and pink and actually more appealing than the one I found for this blog entry. Look for Ratbags and Rascals.  I am sure it could easily be hiding on your school library shelves. I have also found several copies at charity book sales in recent years.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Kumiko and the Dragon's secret by Briony Stewart

I have read many very positive reviews of this junior novel so when it surfaced in our library I grabbed it. I will say the first book was a little disappointing – perhaps a little bit too short but I just loved this second book Kumiko and the Dragon’s secret. All the way through I kept thinking of little girls who would love this small, beautifully illustrated gem.

Kumiko has the ancient blood line of dragons – we discover why in the first book Kumiko and the Dragon. Every night Kumiko and her little sister Arisu are guarded by dragons and up until now they have been safe but in this second installment we read how the Shadow Catchers are rising and they are hungry for dragon power. When Kumiko leaves her house to visit her Obasaan (her Grandmother) the Shadow Catchers pounce and kidnap Arisu. Having captured her they now have power over the dragons which means the dragons themselves are unable to help Arisu. This vital task falls to Kumiko even though she was once very afraid. “I stand up with anger beating through me like a drum. I have been terrible to my younger sister … but there are some things I know for certain…. Life without her would be like the moon falling out of the sky or spring without flowers.”
As with all good folktales Kumiko is given some special gifts to help her in her quest. The oldest dragon makes a ladder so Kumiko can travel from the clouds. For this he uses his whiskers. Next she is presented with an ancient kimono which will be her disguise. Another dragon sheds his tears and as they fall onto her skin they offer a special layer of protection. She has a feather as sharp as a knife and a small necklace from her own guardian dragon Tomodo so she can remember how much he truly loves her.

I have now discovered why the voices and tone of this book feels so authentic and so Japanese. Briony Stewart heard these stories from her own Japanese Grandmother. The fighting scenes, for example, seem to come straight from Crouching Tiger Hidden dragon as Shadow Catchers leap into the air and spring across great distances. There is so much packed into this 80 page chapter book – find it soon – you will not be disappointed.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Mummy snatcher of Memphis

Some books give you such a strong sense of place and time and this is certainly the case with the Mummy Snatcher of Memphis with the dark alley ways of nineteenth century London through to the deserts of Egypt.

Kit, the only daughter of Professor Theodore Salter, attends the opening of a new mummy exhibition which includes items recently acquired by her aunt Hilda who is a famous explorer. The boxes are taken into the museum and while Hilda and Professor Salter are outside waiting for the next carriage the children hear strange noises coming from the largest packing box. “It was dark inside the box. A glimpse of golden paint, shining off the sarcophagus…. Then I noticed something dark and crouching. The whites of two eyes peering through the gloom.”.

The contents of the mummy case lead the children on a wild adventure to Egypt from Cairo to Siwa across the dangerous desert. They are hunting for the scarab beetle which has caused a curse.

I found the last few chapters exciting but a little confusing as I lost track of just why everyone was frantically trying to reach the temple at Siwa and why these crazy English villains were so desperate for the scarab.

Putting that to one side I will look out for the next three Kit Salter adventures I am sure they will be just as wild as this one. The author has a good web site worth checking out. You can read more about the plot on this blog.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Plum Puddings and Paper Moons by Glenda Milllard

Magic is left over from childhood … we are all born with magic in us but many of us forget about it when we are grown up.”

When I read books to young children I often feel this kind of magic. I want to start this blog with three seemingly disconnected thoughts/events.

A young boy gave me a very special gift today – a bar of chocolate all the way from Belgium where he had recently travelled with his family.

Every so often a book arrives in our library that is so precious it leaves me breathless with anticipation. I have to begin reading straight away.

I don’t come from a large family but if I could choose a family to join this would be a very easy decision. I would choose the Silk family. They are incredibly special people who I have come to know and love through the skillful and magical writing of Glenda Millard.

Gifts? Yes I really did receive a lovely gift today. A gift chosen especially for me (a chocolate lover) and a gift given in kindness. The book that arrived today was the fifth book about the Silk family called Plum Puddings and Paper moons. At its heart I feel this book is about gifts even though the gifts are expressed as wishes. There are two kinds of wishes – those that are deep and dark and made aloud wishes that are usually for fun and not important at all. The silks call this second kind “Red kite wishes”.

Scarlett the oldest Silk sister wishes for peace in the world. The catalyst for this is a young refugee boy who has come to live in the town of Cameron’s Creek. Scarlett asks an important big question and hears the horrible truth about Anik’s family. “When I return home there is only smoke and fires. My village is burning. My house is gone. I hear guns and I run very fast.” Anik’s words spill out like hot soup. Scarlett needs to take action so she uses her worn out school tights to make wishbands. She sells these for fifty cents to all the people in Cameron’s Creek and on Christmas eve over three hundred people from the town gather in a quiet demonstration for peace.

Afterwards, in true Silk tradition, everyone gathers for a shared meal under the Cox’s Orange Pippin and for this Ben Silk has made a new table. It is so large and long nine men are needed to lift it out of the workshop. The table is made from the wood of an old bridge. Bridges have featured very prominently with us this year in school across Australia. Bridges do bring people together.

Finally I need to mention cakes, I love to cook cakes and one I regularly cook is an Armenian Nutmeg cake. Glenda Millard calls it an Armenian love cake and she kindly includes the recipe in the back of the book. I can tell you this is a delicious cake and just as delicious is the idea that Amber (another Silk sister) makes cakes to show her true feelings when words don’t come easily. Silver milk bottle tops also feature in this story and they were certainly a part of my childhood.

If you haven’t discovered the Kingdom of Silk find these books and start from the beginning this is a reading journey that will linger with you for a long time.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Ghost in the Machine by Patrick Carman

You can read my blog entry for the first book in this series. I must confess I only watched two of the videos – the first and the last and I watched them after I read this book. The book does stand alone and while I am sure most readers will love all those videos personally I found the two I watched a little slow and the heavy breathing drove me a slightly crazy.

All that to one side I did enjoy Ghost in the Machine even more than Skeleton Creek. The tension in these stories is fabulous.

Ryan and Sarah need desperately to solve this mystery. Why does the ghost of Joe Bush still haunt the dredge and how exactly is Ryan’s father involved in all of this? I liked the double life of the town librarian, the idea of writing on walls in your sleep, blue rock and all the science/alchemy ideas. Gold and greed are at the heart of this story but the ending will surprise you.

Since communication between our two heroes is limited to emails, the internet and text messages Carman keeps the reader on the edge of his or her seat as each small fragment of this mystery is revealed.

Go to the web site of the author to see him in person.

You need the book in your hand to view all the videos because for each one you need a password. Is this a marketing ploy or just a clever union of the book with the web – I have to say I am not sure?

Here is a very comprehensive review of these two books if you would like to know more. You will need to read book one first to make sense of Ghost in the Machine but if you enjoy a great mystery look for this book today. And YES the third book has just been released.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

It was you Blue Kangaroo by Emma Chichester Clark

It was you Blue Kangaroo is a perfect book to share with a young child. They will quickly recognize the scrapes that Lily gets into and enjoy the repeated denial of any wrong doing as she points to her friend Blue Kangaroo. In our library we have the whole set of these terrific stories and our recent editions included a CD for listening. Look at each title page and count the flowers - we discovered this is the way to track which book to read next.

With the CD for It was you Blue Kangaroo I was delighted to discover Joanna Lumley is the story teller. She does read the whole book but this is on track two - it is the first track which is a delight as Joanna simply tells the story of Lily and Blue Kangaroo complete with little unobtrusive sound effects.

Lily begins by washing her toys – a great idea except she forgets to turn off the tap. Next is the great idea of dressing up the cat this is of course not a great idea as far as the cat is concerned. Next stop on Lily’s journey of destruction is her little brother in the sand pit. Mum then sends Lily and Blue Kangaroo to her room but here the real mischief begins. In total exasperation Blue Kangaroo is banished to a high shelf for the whole night.

Throughout the story Blue Kangaroo just looks at Lily but he doesn’t say one word. The final indignity of the high shelf galvanizes him into action. Blue Kangaroo climbs down from the shelf in the dead of night, finds a piece of paper and pen and he writes a very important letter when he then ‘posts’ under the bedroom door of Lily’s mother.

The final line of this book, while entirely predictable is also the most special.

Look for the whole series in your library soon. One day I might even add a little toy of Blue Kangaroo to my collection. Oh and by the way this is my 150th blog entry - an achievement I am quite proud of.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Esty's Gold by Mary Arrigan

There is a perfect little philosophical statement towards the end of this well written and well researched historical novel Esty’s gold by Mary Arrigan : “It’s a funny thing about life : one moment you can be in the depths of despair and the next you are working a new plan to make things better.”

Esty is living through the Irish potato famine and while her family are not farmers and she herself is not starving, the impact of these terrible events is nevertheless devastating. Early in this story Esty (short for Esther) befriends a young starving girl called Brigid only to witness her quiet death as they sit together outside Esty’s home.

Following the death of her own father, he works for the land owner as a tax collector, Esty herself is sent into service. Here she makes real friends and learns important life lessons. Having the rare skill of literacy, she reads all about the discovery of gold in Australia and so when an offer is made to send her mother and grandfather to America she persuades all concerned that instead they should head to Australia.

This story is told in two parts. Life in Ireland and life on the Goldfields. I especially liked the way Arrigan made the transition between the two times. She didn’t labour over the journey to Australia but just filled us in gradually, through Esty’s eyes, as she journey’s to the goldfields encountering prospectors, and bushrangers along the way. The characters and relationships in this story will stay with me for a long time. This is an excellent book for senior Primary students even though the publisher’s web site lists it as suitable for 12-15 year olds. I had to keep reminding myself the author is Irish and lives in Ireland because the second half of the book in the goldfields feels very authentic.

If you need an accessible way to explain the politics of Ireland in 1850s and the politics of the Eureka Stockade in Australia this is the perfect little novel.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Book Trailer for Billionaires Curse

The Emerald Casket by Richard Newsome

Two boys and two girls, exotic and dangerous India, jewels that unlock caskets, evil men with murderous intentions, dreams that foretell the future, chases, climbs and so much more, The Emerald Casket is the sequel to The Billionaires Curse.

I commented in my first blog entry about this book saying that I really did not like the cover design but I think I have changed my mind. This second book clearly has the same designer and with the hints of crabs, ninjas, flood waters and temples the cover this time the cover does seem the perfect way to showcase what is to come when you open this book.

Apart from the evil Mason Green the adults in these books, especially the police, are all a set of bumbling fools. This second book opens with Constable Lethbridge at home alone attempting to make breakfast only to discover the milk is long past it’s use-by date. He makes a cup of tea sweetened with honey and wanders into his back yard to check on his beloved pigeons. He doesn’t notice when a large plop slops into his tea. Unfortunately his pigeons are no help when Lethbridge is attacked in his kitchen by figure clothed entirely in black. He scribbles an SOS and slips it into the tube on his pigeon’s leg but when he finally wakes up several hours later his pigeons are happily pecking at bird seed in his kitchen and his notebook (with all the case notes from the first adventure) has been stolen.

Meanwhile Gerald (he is the billionaire) and his two friends twins Sam and Ruby receive an invitation to visit Alisha Gupta in India. Alisha helped in the first installment when they were looking for the diamond to open casket number one. Gerald as a billionaire owns a plane of course and on boarding the Captain suggests a game of plane sledding – this sounds like terrific fun. On arrival in India, though, the scene is set for spies and kidnappers. At the airport Gerald sees a mysterious man “The black-clad figure remained motionless, staring. Gerald could feel the eyes drilling into him.” This is the first of many people who appear to be trailing our team.

The girls go shopping on their first day and while on this expedition Gerald is confronted by a fortune teller who hands him a mysterious card bearing his family crest and a tower. This leads the kids to take a luxury but hazardous train trip to the Taj Mahal and from there to the lost city of Mamallapuram which disappeared under a tsunami many years ago.

By the end of this amazing romp we have the emerald and the second casket as you might have predicted but now the way is set for Book Three of the trilogy with our intrepid heroes contemplating a journey to France.

In my first blog of this series I held great hopes for Mr Fry unfortunately these were not realised in the second book. I do hope we can learn more about this contradictory butler in the next installment. I recommend this series for any one who likes rapid adventure, a few laughs and kids who never give up. You can read more on the author's site.

The Flight of the Silver Turtle by John Fardell

I have begun this week reading sequels. The first of these is The Flight of the Silver Turtle which is the sequel to The seven Professors of the far North.

In this second book by John Fardell we have another rapid paced adventure filled with wonderful team work, codes, flying machines and travel.

This adventure begins again with a visit to Professor Ampersand by Ben, Zara, Sam and Marcia. Following an outing to the seaside the group find an old aeroplane hanger with a partially completed seaplane inside. This seems like the perfect vehicle for the professor to trial his latest invention – “a new kind of energy cell which combines the technology of batteries and fuel cells and is more compact the efficient than either…. After just ten minutes plugs into the mains electricity, my energy cell contains enough power to keep the motor running for several hours.”

The friends meet the owner and builder of this plane – Amy and join her in the restoration project but they are being watch by very unfriendly eyes and thus begins a chase across Europe to discover the truth behind the mysterious work of Maskil Stribnik and the Silver Turtle. They must also thwart Noctarma, an evil international criminal gang who need these secrets to complete their plans for world domination.

If you enjoyed The Mysterious Benedict Society then you will race through this series. I especially enjoyed the scenes where the kids have to fly the seaplane and the ingenious way they solve their navigation problems as they fly across the English Channel, across France and arrive safety on Lake Geneva and the terrifying moments when Claire is trapped underwater in this lake with her air tanks rapidly emptying.

I am now on the look out for book three in this series The secret of the Black Moon Moth.