Saturday, July 24, 2010

Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan

I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to kneel or buy stamps from him or what. Then it occurred to me why he must be here. “Oh listen Lord Hermes, about Luke…” This thought process and fragment of internal dialogue epitomize why I really enjoy books in the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan. They have a clever mix of humour, Greek mythology, and action.

Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters is the second book in this series. You can read my review of book one earlier in this blog. Book two certainly does not disappoint. The story opens with Percy trying to lay low on his last day in a regular school before he is due to return to Camp Half Blood but as early as page seven we know the events of this day will not go to plan.

In this book we meet some well known characters such as Annabeth and Clarisse along with Grover and Chiron but added to the mix this time is Tyson who incidentally is a Cyclops. Using skills learned from Hephaestus, Tyson makes the most fabulous parting gift for our hero Percy. There are hints all through the story that Tyson is making something and I couldn't wait to find out what it might be.

Once again our heroes embark on a quest (to retrieve the Golden Fleece no less) and as always there is a prophecy to unravel. This time they battle with sirens, the Hydra, Stymphalian birds, Scylla and Circe. I think the scene when this last character turns Percy into a Guinea Pig will linger with me for a long time.

This book is certainly another action thriller. You can read an extract. It can stand alone but you will make better sense of all the relationships and history if you read The Lightning thief first. Finally when you find yourself hooked on this series take a look at all the fabulous books on Greek Mythology in your school library. Knowing more about Zeus, Poseidon, Ares etc will add to your enjoyment.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Night Fairy by Laura Amy Schlitz illustrated by Angela Barrett

Book design plays such an important part in book selection and words on the cover of this book certainly caught my eye – the author is a Newberry winner (although she is new to me) and I love the illustrator Angela Barrett. On the other hand I am not a huge fairy fan so I began this book not sure what journey it might take me on.

This is a winner – a really lovely book, beautifully written with just the right amount of tension and personality. Yes this a book for girls but what a special book it is. When the girls have finished with those Rainbow Magic books (not among my favourites) and are ready for some real reading with a fairy to admire then grab The Night Fairy.

Flory, like all fairies, is left to fend for herself from a very tender age. As she ventures forth into the world danger is close at hand and she is attacked by a bat who “swooped down upon her, caught her, and crunched up her wings.” This means Flory can no longer fly and so she seeks refuge in the garden of a giant. This garden is so well described with flowering trees, bird and nectar feeders, a pond, and in one tree a disused bird house which Flory is able to use as her home. The transformation of this space into her fairy home is very special.

There are interesting ideas in this book about negotiation and rights and bargaining and keeping promises and the illustrations by Angela Barrett are just perfect including the little embellishments at the start of each chapter.  You can see these on the book web site.

This is a tiny and insignificant looking little book but I certainly won’t let it languish on our library shelves – I am really looking forward to putting this magical tale into the hands of a young reader. It would also make a terrific family read-a-loud for middle primary girls. You can read some glowing reviews of this book on the internet.  Here is a set of teaching notes.

This book reminded me of Rumer Godden (I loved all her books as young child), and Peter Collington – The Tooth Fairy this is a wordless picture book but with the same magical settings.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Keena Ford and the second-grade mix up by Melissa Thomson

We have a new kid in the class joining Clarice Bean, Judy Moody, Billie B Brown, Clementine, June B Jones and Amber Brown. We now welcome Keena Ford.

Keena is not really sure how to write the date for her birthday. Here is a simple way to explain to your students why the date is called 9/11. Keena’s birthday is not on 2nd September but she writes 9/2 on the Birthday graph her new teacher is constructing and the teacher immediately jumps to the wrong conclusion that Keena is celebrating her birthday tomorrow! There will be Birthday crowns and chocolate cake and Keena loves chocolate cake almost as much as she loves a pudding pie (I have no idea what a pudding pie is but it sounds extra delicious). Adding to her problems the second grade children have been split into two classes of boys and girls. Eric, Keena’s best friend, makes his boy class sound fabulous – no rules, you can chew gum, and best of all “you get to write with a PEN! … I thought it was against the law to write with a pen in the second grade.”

Then Keena discovers they even eat pudding pie in Eric’s class and this happens EVERY day so Keena knows she has to investigate. We know if she does this she will heading to Mr Lemon’s class again – he teaches time-out!

I will certainly hunt out the second book in this terrific junior series because I know it will be a winner.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Houndsley and Catina and the quiet time by James Howe illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay

Houndsley and Catina is like a lyrical poem disguised in a simple junior novel. Houndsley loves the silences and the white that the snow affords and he looks for ways to make this quiet day even more special, especially once he suggests their house is like an island. Catina, on the other hand, at first only sees disaster but as the day unfolds with music practice, poetry writing, board games, cooking and stories she settles down.

Their neighbour Bert has also been practicing his music too but this mostly seems to involve lots of crashes and bashes. Like me I hope you hold your breath when Bert plays the final note at their evening concert. “It was the closest the cymbals can come to silence. It sounded like a chime in the wind. It lingered and floated and fell into the quite time.”

All three friends travel home together and Houndsley invites Catina and Bert to stay the night. Luckily the cookies they had made for supper were left at home. “Eating cookies was a perfect way to share a quiet time together.”

Look for other books about Houndsley and Catina in our library. I give these gems ten out of ten every time.

Click on this link to see another book illustrated by Marie Louise Gay - you can see her lovely illustrations. We have this book in our library too!

Morris MacMillipede The Toast of Brussel Sprout by Mick Fitzmaurice illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura

This book has such a fabulous title!!

We all have dreams and Morris MacMillipede is no exception. He dreams of ballet but how can this be possible with 42 pairs of feet? Buying ballet shoes is the first obstacle but after many weeks as a paper boy Morris is finally able to buy all those shoes for 84 pounds. The ballet classes with Madame Butterfly are hopeless but when Morris lands the part of the ugly caterpillar in Sleeping Beauty it seems his dreams can come true. Sad to say the performance is a disaster but all is not lost. It is the wise old Stag Beetle – the voice of wisdom who first encouraged Morris to follow his dreams, who now comes to the rescue.

I am a huge fan of Satoshi Kitamura and this little junior novel is made all the more special by the addition of his marvelous illustrations. Morris MacMillipede has a fun cast of insect characters and an tells an important heart warming story.

Simple stories that are easy to read but have stories you want to keep reading are sometimes hard to find for young readers. This one is a winner. You should also look for other books illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura in our school library especially What's inside the Alphabet book and In the attic.

Ever Clever Eva by Andrew Fusek Peters

Folk Tales do not figure high on my reading list not for any deliberate reason they just don’t seem to make it onto my reading pile very often. It is for this reason Ever Clever Eva was a terrific surprise. This is a traditional Czech tale which is easy to read and where goodness and good sense are rewarded and fools have important lessons to learn.

Eva is a wise girl who is able to solve riddles and more importantly understand human pride. She works for her tyrant uncle who falsely promises a cow in return for her years of labour. The matter ends in a court case where the judge sets a riddle. Eva solves the riddle and marries the judge but he makes her promise never to interfere in his judgments. We readers know Eva will never be able to keep this promise.

“You have interfered in my work and broken your promise…. You must leave this house tomorrow morning and never return….. but as a gesture of goodwill, I will allow you to take with you the one thing that is dearest to you. Now choose wisely!”

Can you guess what Eva decides to take?