Friday, December 31, 2010

Recommended reading for Grade 6

At the end of Year 6 students write small entries for their Year Book. One part of this is to list the ‘best book I’ve ever read’. In 2010 this list surprised me and made me very happy. This group did not appear to be great readers but their collective list of recommended titles is very exciting and would make a great starting point for any future Year 6 student looking for a great read. Many of these titles were reviewed in this blog which could mean some students actually read my blog (wonderful) or some students talked to me and asked for recommendations (my favourite thing) or some students listened when books were recommended to the whole class!
I put the image of Blueback here becuase it is one many had enjoyed as a class read-a-loud and it is a famous Australian book and I am writing this blog entry on a warm summer day.

  • Here is a list of the series they enjoyed :
    Conspiracy 365
    A series of Unfortunate events
    Deltora Quest
    Main Street
    Harry Potter
    Darren Shan
    Midnight Library
    Alex Rider
    Zac Power
    Sisters Grimm
    Spiderwick chronicles

Here is a list of individual titles :

  • Tussock by Elizabeth Pulford
    Locket of Dreams by Belinda Murrell
    Alice Miranda at school by Jacqueline Harvey
    Skeleton Key by Anthony Horowitz
    Why I hate School
    Unfinished Angel
    Mao’s Last Dancer by Li Cunxin (Young reader edition)
    The Billionaires Curse
    Little Secrets by Emily Blake
    Eragon by Christopher Paolini
    Vicky Angel by Jacqueline Wilson
    Sticky Beak by Morris Gleitzman
    No Tears by Krista Bell
    Ramose in exile by Carole Wilkinson
    Marley and Me
    Just Annoying by Andy Griffiths
    Robe of Skulls by Vivian French
    The donkey who sailed the world by Jackie French
    Percy Jackson and the lightning thief
    No talking by Andrew Clements
    Cicada Summer
    Blueback by Tim Winton
    Frankel Mouse by Odo Hirsch
    Boy Overboard by Morris Gleitzman
  • Lord of the rings by JRR Tolkein
    Medici Curse
    Nightmare Academy by Dean Lorey
    Closing out by Pat Flynn
    Where the mountain meets the moon

Hope you find a title or two on this list you would like to read - remember they are all available in your school library....

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The midnight zoo by Sonya Hartnett

Each word in the Midnight Zoo by Sonya Hartnett is like a drop of liquid gold. So breathtaking are her descriptions of place and character that you become immediately immersed in this ugly place – a city almost bombed out of existence. You need to take your time reading each word but the action is so breathtaking the story just rushes you along. As I go back now to write this blog I find that you can open any page in this narrative and find an exquisite piece of writing.

Here is an example so you can ‘see’ the city in ruins “Broken glass glittered on every surface, like fireflies caught in an appalling web of smashed furniture and cleaved stone. …It was dangerous … not everything that had fallen had arrived in its final resting-place yet”.

Each child and animal is seeking hope in this hopeless world. This is a fable about war, its futility and harm. But it is also about hope and freedom, about choices and true humanity, about trust and the importance of listening.

Please take the time to read this book but before you do you can hear an excellent commentary on the story recorded as part of the ABC Radio National book show.

I am not sure who is the intended audience for this book but I almost needed to postpone my everyday life so I could rush home to read the second half of this book started early one morning. The cover seems child-like (I think I like the Walker books one better) but this is not a book for a young reader and yet the messages are so universal it is important book for everyone. I guess for my library this book will be recommended to senior Primary readers although there are some distressing scenes Sonya Hartnett handles these swiftly so the reader is not left to dwell on the sadness but rather to see the light of hope.

The metaphor of night as black clad horseman immediately sets the mood. Tomas and Andrej are on the run carrying their bundles. Hartnett takes her time revealing the contents of these bundles along with the reasons for this war, the boy’s terror and the reasons for the existence of the midnight zoo. I love the way one little word gives you a hint for example those bundles … “Both boys carried sacks on their backs, the older bearing the weightier load, the younger charged with the more delicate.”

Ever since I read Taronga by Victor Kelleher, zoos have represented a level of terror and concern for me. I struggle with the idea of wild animals kept in cages away from their homeland, species and natural life. The zoo in this book is so important. Each animal has story to tell but equally each represents a different world continent – kangaroo, bear, llama, wolf, seal, lion and boar. The children themselves are also from a threatened species - they are Rom or gypsies.

I will make the prediction that this book will reach our Children’s Book of the Year short list and I would love to see it reach the Newberry judges too. This seems very possible since Sonya Hartnett is a highly acclaimed author and received The Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award in 2008 - an award very close to my heart!

If you have read books by David Almond such as Heaven Eyes or Skellig, or perhaps Unfinished Angel by Sharon Creech, Tajore Arkle by Jackie French, The other side of Truth by Beverley Naidoo or After the First Death by Robert Cormier then you will want to read The Midnight Zoo.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Gorgon in the Gully by Melina Marchetta

Well done Puffin for publishing this fabulous little Australian chapter book! I loved it from page 1 to page 119. Why am I praising the publisher? This is a story with a very authentic Australian flavour which is not surprising given the credentials of the author Melina Marchetta. There is no way this book will be taken up by the US market and this makes me cheer. Our children need books set in their own time and place. Danny is our Australian school boy hero. He lives in a very recognizable neighborhood and attends the local Catholic Primary school. His class teacher is a fearsome beast and I love her! I also laughed at all the little playground groups in Year 4 such as the soccer kids, handball, netball, the ‘So you think you can dance?’ girls, cricket players, homework kids, marble players, card players and the hopscotch girls.

“The only thing the kids from St Raph’s had in common was that all them knew that way, way, way beyond the basketball courts, the classrooms, the tuckshop, the bubblers, the toilets and the school hall, there was a patch of grass and then a dip and everything that rolled beyond the patch of grass and the dip disappeared. Every single time.” The real issue here is no one is brave enough to venture into the gully because of the Gorgon who has lived there for years and years. Countless hundreds of balls, and other objects are held in his clutches never to be seen again.

Our unlikely hero is Danny Griggs. He has to find a way to go down into the gully because he has just booted the soccer team’s lucky ball, the one signed by Harry Kewell no less, straight into the gully. Trouble is Danny has a huge secret, well actually it is not a secret because everyone knows, Danny is scared of everything. He is scared of his friend Bella because she is smarter and taller then him, he is scared of Jackson, another friend, because he often just wants to talk and just talking scares Danny but most of all he is scared of the school bully Simmo. Danny is even scared of using the telephone in case the person on the other end of the line can’t remember who he is.

Danny may be scared but he also has amazing strengths. He is a thinker and an organizer and he is very skilled in negotiation. For this crisis he will need all these skills to bring his friends and class mates together to conquer the gorgon once and for all.

I especially loved the character of Mrs Ruby, the Year 4 teacher. Any issue in class is resolved with find-a-word puzzles – dangerous - peril, hazard, risk, threat, menace, jeopardy. Mrs Ruby has a find-a-word for every situation. Other class rules include no eating in class, no green pens, no sharpening of pencils in to sharp point to jab in someone’s arm, no using the S words – shut up or stupid and no getting up from your desk to put a paper in the bin!

This is a book to make you laugh and think and cheer. The ending is simple and predictable but that is all part of the charm. As soon as I finished this book I wanted to put it into the hands of a teacher and ask them to read it to a class because it is a book that demands to be shared.

The idea of these Pocket Money Puffins is to celebrate seventy years of Puffin books, written by favourite authors at a pocket money price. As far as I can tell there are fourteen titles in this series. The first one I picked up was Magic Puffin: A Birthday Surprise but it didn’t really grab me. I will now go back to it and try again and I plan to pick up more of these little books I am sure many will be winners with our Junior Primary readers.

You can preview the whole of the first chapter from The Gorgon in the Gully and when you do I am sure you will want to rush out and borrow this book from your school library and read it read it read it! Look out too for all the references to favourite books like Beast Quest. When you finish this book you should look for NIPS XI by Ruth Starke it is a longer book but it has the same charm and wonderful team work of The Gorgon in the Gully.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Where the mountain meets the moon by Grace Lin

In a scene reminiscent of the best folklore Minli uses her last coin to help a poor beggar. He is thirsty and wants a peach from the market stall. The mysterious beggar eats the peach and then he takes a small stick from his pocket and plants the peach pit alongside the stick. As the crowd stand there mesmerised the stick begins to grow. It sprouts branches and then pink blossoms. The petals fall like a soft carpet, green leaves sprout and soon the tree is heavy with ripe fruit. "Children gathered round and stared longingly at the luscious fruit." The old man invites the crowd to help themselves but Minli stands to one side watching. She alone notices that "every time someone plucked a peach from the tree, a peach from the fruit stand disappeared." Who is this beggar? Minli follows him and as he runs away she catches his sleeve and sees a glint of gold. The gold is a bracelet in the shape of a dragon. "Everyone knows a gold dragon is always and only worn by kings."

This is just one of the many memorable scenes in this book. Minli needs to visit the Old Man of the Moon so she can ask him how to restore the fortunes of her family who live near Fruitless Mountain. At its heart this story is a journey and like all great stories involving journeys as a reader I really felt I too was travelling with Minli. Along the way she meets a dragon and through her kindness the two become inseparable friends with a shared destiny.

I love the way Grace Lin weaves Chinese folklore into her story. Minli's father is a storyteller and so are many of the other people and magical characters she meets along the way. A simple change of font allows the reader to recognise the inclusion of a story and each of these help weave a tapestry of life lessons as Minli woks through each of the challenges presented by her quest.

Gold fish, markets, peaches, dragons and most importanly friendship abound in this magical tale.

At the end of each year our Grade 6 students include a highly recommended book as part of their year book profile. The list for 2010 was quite exciting and this fabulous book was mentioned by more than one student.

Where the Mountain meets the Moon is a Newberry Honor book which means you can find plenty of information about it on web sites and blogs. I also found an excellent page of teaching activities. This would be a terrific book to read as a serial for a class talking about China. The book design and illustrations are also beautiful.

If you loved the Dragonkeeper series by Carole Wilkinson you must look for Where the Mountain meets the Moon.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Clementine, Friend of the Week by Sara Pennypacker

Clementine is irresistible. Her meetings with the school Principal, for example, are always so funny.
“’You think students should have professional development days, the way teachers do?’ She asked …. ‘Right, some extra days off to get better at stuff.’….’Well, Clementine … I could run that by the school board. But I think I already know what they’d say.’ … ‘I think they’d say students already have professional development days. Two of them a week. They’re called Saturday and Sunday.’”
Clementine is heading for an extra special week at school because it is her turn to be Friend of the Week which means she gets to tell her autobiography, be line leader, collect the milk money, feed the fish and her class mates will write compliments in a special booklet which she can take home at the end of the week. Margaret has two suggestions for Clementine give compliments and presents to her classmates to ensure good comments in her booklet. Then Margaret thinks Clementine has been reading her booklet, made the year before, and it seems the friendship is over.

Then there is the bicycle decorating contest which will be held the following Saturday. When I was in Grade 6 we also had a bike decorating contest so I could really relate to the excitement of this idea.. Clementine is lucky that her dad, in his job as manager of their apartment building, has a collection of decorations for every week of the year, not just Halloween, Valentines Day and Christmas but important celebrations like Fruitcake-Toss Day, Hair Style Appreciation Day, Punch the Clock and National Honesty day. All these decorations are stored in the basement and Clementine is allowed to use any or all of them to decorate her bike.

If you have not yet met Clementine look out for this series in your library. If you like Junie B Jones, Judy Moody, Clarice Bean, Amber Brown, Keena Ford and Daisy Dawson, you will love Clementine. I wonder if we will ever know her brother’s real name? A Clementine is a type of orange and so as a protest and in a hilarious twist Clementine calls her brother vegetable names Parsnip, Cabbage, Turnip, Radish etc. Read more about this and an extract from the novel in the author’s blog. Clementine Friend of the Week is the fourth book in this series and I think they just keep getting better and better.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Left Shoe and the Foundling by Annie O'Dowd

I have spent a lovely week listening to the audio book of Left Shoe and the Foundling. A friend reviewed this book when it was first published and I did always mean to read it but somehow never quite got there. Thank goodness someone gave me the audio book – this is a story to treasure.

Left Shoe is a seadog. Just to fill you in on the details of these warm little creatures. Humans cannot see seadogs but they live quite close. Seadogs live in burrows along the seashore. The rooms in these burrows have the delightful name snug. Seadogs eat seed cakes and drink squink which is a drink made from squid ink. Seadogs are always born as twins – a boy and a girl but sadness arrives all too soon at the beginning of this book for Left Shoe, our hero, when his twin sister Broken Shell dies.

Seadog babies “are always named at sunrise. They are named after the most special piece of treasure …. (such as) interesting objects washed onto the beach by the sea." The Sandburrow family consists of Blue Bottle – the mum, Old Cork – the dad, Shark Tooth and Driftwood – baby twins and Left Shoe. The greatest threat to the lives of these peaceful creatures is the giant squid.

Early one morning Left Shoe decides he simply cannot bear to attend the school sports day where all the races and fun seem to involve being a twin. Instead he decides to go fishing in his small boat. There have been signs in previous months that the giant squid has returned and grey skies and gusting winds indicate that Left Shoe is heading for a dangerous, perhaps even life threatening, encounter.

What about the foundling I hear you ask. In the wild seas Left Shoe sees a basket and “to his surprise the basket held a tiny, shivering seadog. … it was a girl puppy, dressed in a yellow spotted night dress…. When Left Shoe picked her up … he could feel her trembling.” So this is how we meet Marigold who will soon to become the newest family member. And yes there are three more books in the series too. Check out the author web site. The illustrations (by the author herself) are just perfect. I will certainly add this title to my list of great reads for younger students.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Donavan's word jar by Mona Lisa De Gross

As I drove home from my School Library tonight the host on the radio was talking about collections. In particular he talked about people who collect toys. I have a great collection of soft toys that match with stories for example Spot, Clifford, Kipper, and Arthur – the famous book dogs. Why mention this? Because it is a great example of serendipity – I love that word and serendipity is the key to this book.

Donavan collects words which he researches and writes on yellow paper with a purple pen. His first words for the collection, which Donavan keeps in a large jar, are nutrition, ballyhoo, boutique, pincers, profound and hush.

This tiny chapter book is only 70 pages but it packs a huge emotional punch at the end which I won’t give away. The big issue for Donavan is what to now his word jar is full. He seeks advice from everyone but while each person offers a possible solution ultimately all say Donavan must make his own decision.

It was also fun to discover the author's son is called Donavan.

There is always someone out there who shares their work. I found some fabulous teaching ideas for this book.

I also found a page with all the wonderful words from the book and a game too!

A couple of years ago we made a word wall for our library. All the children and parents sent in their favourite words and we printed them onto brick coloured paper and posted them on a notice board. We might do this again when my class reads this book early next year.