Sunday, February 20, 2011

The fabled fourth graders of Aesop elementary School by Candace Fleming

A big thank you must go to Mr K (see my sidebar) because when I read his review of this book I knew I would love it and I did!!!! I read this book in one quick gulp and then I re-read it straight away because it is so clever and funny and wise all at the same time.

Mr Jupiter is the new teacher at Aesop Elementary School and this Grade Four class are notorious for their dreadful behavior. In fact it is so bad that all the teachers have refused to take this class, that is until Mr Jupiter arrives. As he explains to Mrs Struggles, the Principal, he has worked as a dog groomer, he led an expedition in search of the Dodo bird, collected mummified cats in Egypt, discovered the lost city of Atlantis and conducted the Timbuktu Philharmonic Orchestra to name just a few of his achievements!

In just 23 chapters you will come to know and love the kids in this fourth grade class and their wonderful teachers – Paige Turner the librarian, Nurse Betadine, Mrs Playwright the drama teacher who works in 64 schools, Mrs Bunz the lunch lady and of course Mr Jupiter himself. The class members include Victoria Sovaine – naturally she is in love with herself, Missy Place – she looses everything especially all her mittens, Ham Samitch the eating machine, and my favourite Stanford Binet the class brain.

Each chapter has a little moral or homily but these are delivered with such humor I found myself looking ahead reading all the morals before reading the whole book.

My favourite character is of course Paige Turner. Early in the story she meets Mr Jupiter. “She found herself looking into the most beautiful pair of brown eyes in the whole world! Instinctively, Miss Turner straightened her cardigan, the one with the apples appliquéd onto its pockets. She tucked back a strand of mouse-brown hair and pushed up her wire-rimmed glasses.”

Paige is in love and so she spends all her time trying to get Mr Jupiter to notice her. She changes her hair colour, her shoes, her clothes and she presents Mr Jupiter with a box of Valentines day chocolates but nothing seems to work until we reach the second last chapter and the end of the school year. Miss Turner has found true love at last!

All the details in this quirky little book are wonderful. Even the class textbooks are intriguing. I can’t wait to put this book into the hands of a keen reader I just loved it! Here is a video interview with the author.

I also found two sets of terrific teaching notes one by the author herself and the other has some good discussion questions.

The Hodgeheg by Dick King Smith

Picking up a book by Dick King Smith always conjures special feelings. It is like sitting in a warm living room in front of a cosy fire, snow gently falling outside you settle into your arm chair with a cup of hot cocoa and jam toast and begin to read.

This is exactly how I felt on a hot summer night when I started to read The Hodgeheg and once again Dick King Smith did not disappoint.

Victor Maximilian St George or Max to his family and friends is a very d e t e r m i n e d young hedgehog. The park is located on the other side of the road and the park is the place all hedgehogs want to go for food and fun but the journey across the road is a life threatening one. In fact this story begins with the untimely death of Auntie Betty run over while crossing the road.

Max is a bright boy and he is determined (this is a theme in this book!) to find a safe way across to the park. He makes three attempts and there are disastrous consequences. In the first Max is hit by a cyclist and bumping his head badly on the curb leads to his new mixed up way of speaking – words in the wrong order, first letters muddled and so on. There are three possible ways to cross – the zebra crossing, at the traffic lights or with the little humans who walk safely when a great big human in a long white coat with a pole that works like a magic wand as she walks out onto the road and the traffic stops immediately. Max needs to work out how happens because this might prove to be the safest way of all for tiny little hedgehogs to cross to the park.

The illustrations are perfect, the cover is cute and the writing is charming and funny. This is a perfect little beginning novel for a younger Primary reader and once you start reading Dick King Smith you will certainly come back for more. Personal favourites by this author include Smasher, Happy Mouseday, The Sheep pig and Blessu.

I am very sad that this wonderful author died earlier this year but since he produced so many fabulous books just take a look in any library and you will see we can all keep reading wonderful stories like this one for many years to come. By the way this is another book I found in the NSW School Magazine Bookshelf list.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Lulu and the Brontosaurus by Judith Viorst illustrated by Lane Smith

This book is absolutely perfect in every possible way. I love the unconventional size, the bold cover design, the fabulous illustrations by the super talented Lane Smith, the cheeky narration by master story teller Judith Viorst and all the white space.

For all readers but especially those in Junior Primary classes this book is an absolute must read!! I find I am again puzzled that others did not shout about this little gem from the tops of the highest mountains. Thank goodness for the NSW School Magazine bookshelf list – this is how I discovered this wonderful book.

Lulu is a spoilt, bad tempered bully who wants a Brontosaurus for her Birthday. Yes I know they are now called Apatosaurus and I know dinosaurs and people did not coexist but suspension of disbelief is an essential part of all human imagination.

Lulu throws diabolical tantrums when she does not get her own way including shrieking until the light bulbs burst. After twelve spectacular days of these tantrums, Lulu finally declares she is leaving to find a Brontosaurus for herself. She packs a little suitcase and takes off. Her mum and dad, now totally worn out, sit down in their now quiet kitchen and drink a silent cup of tea.

While Lulu and later the Brontosaurus are the stars of this story, special mention must be made of the little suitcase. It seems to hold the most amazing things all ready for any predicament that befalls Lulu.

I am not going to spoil the plot by telling you how Lulu finds her Brontosaurus and what exactly happens when they meet but telling you there are three versions of chapter thirteen, the final chapter, you might realize Judith Viorst has created a lot of loose ends that need to be tied up.

I don’t usually rate the books I read but I must give Lulu and the Brontosaurus 11/10. Grab this book with both hands and don’t let go! My little paper back copy has the best cover much brighter than the hardcover edition. If you need a preview take a look at the last minute or so of this Scholastic promotion - Lulu is the last book they review but it is worth the wait.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Jandy Malone and the Nine O'clock Tiger by Barbara Bolton illustrated by Alan White

"He is getting ready to prowl up and down the hallway of our house. Just as he does every night."
"I am Jandy Malone, the oldest of the family, and I am frightened."

I have been looking for some wonderful books to read to one special class in our school this term. The class will be filled with very keen readers so I want to share some truly special books and the first to come into my mind was this very old, long picture book called Jandy Malone and the Nine O'clock Tiger.

The language of this book is so poetic. It makes a wonderful read aloud title and the story is so intriguing that it opens the way for great discussion. Woven through this book are amazing art works and references to one beautiful piece of music "Sheep may safely graze". This is a book for slightly older readers because there is no real ending and the allegory of the nine o'clock tiger may not be easily identified by all students. 

The Wolf by Margaret Barbalet illustrated by Jane Tanner has a similar feel. Before you rush out and try to get your hands on Jandy Malone and the Nine O'Clock Tiger, it has long been out of print as it was first published in 1980. It was commended by the CBCA in 1981 in the Book of the Year category. This alone could be a good reason for it to be reprinted. 

 Jandy has told a bed time story to her younger siblings about the prowling Nine O'Clock Tiger. He prowls their hallway every night between nine and nine thirty. "It is ten minutes to nine at night. About now the Tasmanian tiger who lives in a lair somewhere in the shadows of our hallway is starting to stir. He is stretching his long muscles. He is baring his sharp teeth." Now Jandy and her brother and sister lie in bed each evening listening for the soft pad of the tiger's paws. All three are petrified but it is up to Jandy, the eldest, to face up to this fear and banish it once and for all but can she be brave enough? 

Here are some review comments from the back cover:

"Immediately striking and utimately haunting. The resolution is both emotionally satisfying and beautifully crafted" Canberra Times

"Splendidly atmospheric pictures ... a scary book with a happy ending which is as unusual as it is realistic." Melbourne Herald

I do need to mention that the tiger is not the wild tiger you may have assumed. This is an Australian children's picture book. It is set in Melbourne, Victoria. We do not have tigers in Australia (except in zoos). The tiger that Jandy has conjured into her night time story does not live in Melbourne and it is in fact extinct. Her tiger is the famous Tasmanian tiger.

You can read more about Tasmanian tigers in these two picture books:

I was excited to discover Handspan Theatre performed Jandy Malone and the Nine O'Clock Tiger as theatre production in 1991. It is a dream of mine that one day a major Australian city such as Sydney will host a festival of children's theatre. In 1994 I attended a festival like this and it was just wonderful. I saw a production of Bill's New Frock by Anne Fine. 

I hope you can find Jandy Malone and the Nine O'Clock Tiger in a school library along with another great title by the same author Edward Wilkins and his friend Gwendoline which is a must read for cat lovers. 

Violet Mackerel's brilliant plot by Anna Brandord

Here is a lovely concept – how to have a very important and brilliant idea. Keep your eyes open for small treasures lying on the ground such as a sequin, a button, a shell or a piece of ribbon. When you find something pick it up and then try to remember what you were thinking about at the precise moment you spied the small thing. This reminded me of Stargirl which is a novel for older students.

I like this idea of finding treasure because it relates to the theory of mindfulness and mindfulness is a key to happiness.

This is a charming little book. Call me old fashioned but I really like the size, the hardcover binding, the beautiful pencil illustrations and even the smell of this junior novel.

You can read more about this book including a Competition and how to make a small thing collection for yourself at the author web site.

The themes of this book are happiness through dreams and perseverance. Violet Mackerel loves a tiny blue bird she sees on a stall at the local market. She goes to this market each week with her mother, sister and brother. Violet's father has left the family and her mum has reinvented herself and found a new dream and a great skill - knitting.

Violet has no money but she would love to own the little blue bird so she embarks on some 'out of the square' thinking.

This is the first book in a series and it is one I will recommend to my younger readers especially those who understand the idea of determination!