Sunday, April 24, 2011

A long walk to water by Linda Sue Park

In their final term of Year 6 our students study a topic called "Global Connections" and one part of this is our global responsibility as a nation and as individuals to assist others in the developing world.

For this topic I like use the story of Ryan's well, Craig the boy who helps fight against the use of child workers and now I also have this important book A long walk to water.

This is such a slim book with such an important and powerful message of hope, perseverance, dreams and survival. It is vital to read every page of this book including the message from Salva and the author notes at the back.

There is a huge amount of material available to support the reading of this book including chapter questions and audio, the author web site, interviews with Salva and of course a web site about his project to dig wells in the Sudan.

I also found a 60 second book video review which conveys just how powerful this story is. When you talk about this book you might also mention The Hippo Roller project. The dual narrative in A long walk to water tells about the life of Nya and her arduous journey each day to find water for her family.

Salva's story tells us about the war in Sudan and about his journey to Ethiopia and then to Kenya to find refugee camps. Along the way Salva endures unbearable hardship and suffering and yet The long walk to water has a powerful message of hope.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The three loves of Persimmon by Cassandra Golds

“She had only read a page, but she knew already that it was her favourite book in the world. … this sublimely beautiful book gave voice to everything that was most precious to her … She stayed up til midnight reading it, and at times she was so moved she could not read the words through the tears. It was like reading her own soul.”
Persimmon is a lonely young girl. Her family is a divided one. There are those who value fruit and vegetables and those who love flowers. Persimmon’s mother from the fruit and vegetable side had eloped with a flower man and then sadly both parents died when Persimmon was a baby leaving her to be raised by her grandfather, Professor Polidori the acknowledged leader of the fruit and vegetable camp. Despite his best efforts Persimmon is drawn to flowers and on her eighteen birthday she received a mysterious inheritance from her Great Aunt Lily (formerly known as Turnip). Persimmon uses this money to open a small florist shop at the Botanical Gardens Railway Station. This means she is now estranged from her family forever.

Meanwhile down below on Platform One a small mouse called Epiphany is struggling to make sense of her noisy and closed world. She stumbles upon a beautiful butterfly who introduces her to the world of flowers and now Epiphany knows she has to follow her heart’s desire.

This exquisite book is told as a dual narrative and the lives of our two heroes only intersect in the very last scenes. Great Aunt Lily sends a series of letters to Persimmon telling her to go on a quest to find love. The title The Three Loves of Persimmon tells you that Persimmon will fall in love three times but only one of these young men will in fact be her true love.

Be warned there are some heart breaking scenes in this book and some moments of terrible tension, there are little moments of magic and truly beautiful descriptions which transport the reader to life in a busy station. There are also some wonderful words of wisdom :

“we are all bound – prevented in one way or another from doing the good we ought to do, living the lives we are called to live. Being who we ought to be.”

If you love Odo Hirsch you will want to read The Three Loves of Persimmon by Cassandra Golds. This book also reminded me of A rats tale and A Cricket in Times Square. I also enjoyed an earlier book by this author - Clair-de-Lune which interestingly also features a very special mouse.

I discovered this book at the CBCA short list announcement. The Young Adult reviewer included this book in her set of six short list predictions.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Mirror by Jeannie Baker

On so many levels I simply do not feel qualified to talk about this breathtaking book Mirror by Jeannie Baker. Firstly, every time I dip into the pages of this textless book I find new wonders to explore so whatever I say now will change as I discover more little details over the next weeks and months. Secondly, I am in awe of Jeannie Baker’s talent, vision and passion. I listened to Jeannie Baker at a recent IBBY conference where she explained her trip to Morocco, meeting the people, exploring the landscape and traditions all done as a lone woman traveler in a very foreign environment. It was clear Jeannie Baker had already started on her vision for this book and so her experiences and the photographic images she captured were not just incidental but all part of a carefully planned experience which would be shared with her readers through this wondrous book.

One thing that fascinated me when Jeannie Baker spoke was when she explained she had a totally different book construction in her mind and the design we see now was the result of collaboration with her publisher and the book designer. To the reader this innovative book design, where the two sides of the narrative are viewed simultaneously seems so perfect and natural. I would love to know what Jeannie Baker first envisaged.

This book took over five years to produce and of that two years were spent making all the amazing collage pictures. Every detail has been so carefully thought of from the fun number plates for the Sydney scenes and the stork on its nest on the top of the building in Morocco.

Nothing in Window is there by chance. The weaving patterns are authentic, the family scenes are based on a real family that Jeannie Baker stayed with and the Sydney street scenes are in Balmain (look for all the Tigers colours). Take a look at the page where the Moroccan family are sitting down for breakfast. You will see a recessed shelf with their prized personal possessions – a wedding shawl and some special pots. Later when the family have been to market to sell their carpet they sit down for dinner – new technology now has pride of place in their home and the wedding shawl has been hung on a window frame. When you look at the Sydney family you will notice their table is a door complete with handle and on each page the fireplace moves closer to completion.

I am lucky enough to have two sets of the large pictures with teaching notes to share with my students and I plan to purchase several copies of Mirror for our school library so all the children can handle and delve into this book themselves.

There is so much to explore in this book. I make a prediction that it will win many awards in the future including Picture Book of the Year for the CBCA awards and like all Jeannie Baker books Mirror is destined to become a classic.

Here are some quotes from Jeannie Baker (they may not be exact I tried to write these down as she was speaking)

"There is a spectrum of interpretations for this book"

"Curiosity about cultural difference"

"Richness of cultures"

"Our global world"

"We are the mirror of each other".

On the Blue Comet by Rosemary Wells

Playing with a model railway set was not something I did as a child but it was something I would have loved to have tried. Oscar and his dad have a fabulous model railway system set up in their basement and they spend many happy hours there creating the railways of America in miniature.

Then disaster strikes. The year is 1933 and the stock market crashes and the bank forecloses on their mortgage and Oscar and his dad have to move into town. Oscar is left in the care of his penny pinching, opinionated, mean spirited aunt while his dad travels to California to find work.

This book is a terrific read. It is both a history story and a time slip fantasy. I am in awe of Rosemary Wells who has written some of my most treasured picture books. Here she has a wonderful story which races across time and across the American countryside. I was also excited to see this book received a high rating in Horn Book Magazine.

I had no idea about many of the famous people from American History who were alluded to in this book but this did not detract from my enjoyment of the story.

If you loved The Polar Express and are ready for more train travel adventures look for On the Blue Comet. Special mention must also be made of the exquisite illustrations by Bagram Ibatoulline. We have some other books by this illustrator in our library such as the Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane and Great Joy.

I lost track of why I purchased this wonderful book but now I have discovered it is on the NSW School Magazine Bookshelf list - they certainly make excellent choices for our students.

The Deep End by Ursula Dubosarsky

Learning to swim is an important skill for all children and as with most activities for children, swimming lessons are now very structured. Becky has been to these lessons for a long time and she has moved from tadpoles to frogs and today she will become a platypus! Moving up to the platypus group means venturing up to the deep end of the pool. “She looked down to the end of the big pool, and read the words, painted in black on the wall : DEEP END. It was so far away! And the water was so dark and waving. Who knew what was lurking down there?”
Becky does not know it yet but help is at hand. Her swimsuit has a picture of a girl riding a seahorse printed on it. Becky also has a very lively imagination and these two things combine to help her cope with her first lesson in the deep end.

This book is from the Aussie Nibbles series. My favourite Nibbles are Poor Fish, My amazing Poo plant, First Friend, The Princess who hated it, Winning the world cup and Topsy and Turvy. We have over 60 Nibble titles in our school library.

The Deep End is short listed for the CBCA Early Childhood Book of the Year Awards. I am not sure that it will be a winner but I do think the youngest children will enjoy this simple little story and they are certain to relate to Abby and her swimming lesson terrors. It will also be interesting to compare this with other books in this category which are Picture Books.

Duck for a Day by Meg McKinlay

“Mrs Melvino didn’t look like any teacher Abby had ever seen. She had wild, curly hair and rectangular glasses with purple frames. She was wearing a long, floating skirt with funny little bells hanging off it, and dangly earrings that jingled when she moved, like the wind chimes Mum hung up out the back.”

Mrs Melvino also arrives with a strange bag that turns out to be a small cage covered with a spotty cloth and which contains a very special duck called Max. As with any class pet children in the class might be allowed to take Max home but there is a huge list of requirements to be met before this can happen. Abby is desperate. Her mum will not allow her to have pets of any kind but one compromise is that Abby can bring home a class pet because it is temporary.

Abby sets about creating a project to document how her backyard is the perfect environment for Max. She creates a built-in pond with side mud bath, she buys duck food pellets, her yard is calm and secure and there are strawberries. Of course there are disasters on the horizon. Living next door to Abby is Noah and he too is desperate to bring Max home.

The line drawings in this little gem are perfect and the occasional use of different fonts adds to the reading without taking over. There is just enough tension in the last six chapters to keep the pace of this short book moving right to the end.

Duck for a Day is on the CBCA short list for Younger Readers. I am not sure it will be the winner but it is a fun little book that I will enjoy sharing with our younger Primary and Infants readers. When we do this we will probably revisit Rex by Ursula Dubosarsky which follows the same theme of taking home a special class pet.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Easter books to share

I have four books I love to share with different grades at Easter.

With the older students a very special book to read aloud is The talking Eggs by Robert D San Souci. While I am sure my Southern American accent is quite hopeless it feels impossible to read this Cinderella style folktale without an attempt sounding like someone from the south. Click on this link to hear a better reading. Rose and Blanche are sisters - one is good and sweet and kind the other is mean and lazy and cruel. Blanche helps an old lady and in return for her patience and care she is rewarded with riches, but when Rose tries to obtain some of these riches for herself all the nasty aspects of her personality mean she receives hideous frightening and poisonous animals. The illustrations are beautiful and the message of this book is timeless and important.

For my youngest students my Easter pick is Max's chocolate Chicken by Rosemary Wells. There is so much going on in this story in the text and especially in the illustrations. Ruby sets a challenge for Max to find the most hidden Easter eggs to obtain the prize of a large chocolate chicken. Max does not find any eggs but he loves that chicken so much he runs off with it, hides and then one nibble at a time he eats it!

Max's Chocolate Chicken from Weston Woods on Vimeo.

My third pick for Easter is Hopper's Easter Surprise by Kathrin Siegenthaler illustrated by Marcus Pfister. This is a story about dreams and perseverance as Hopper, a hare, hears about the marvelous Easter bunny and along with a new friend he tries to emulate his new hero. When reading this book we talked about the differences between hares and rabbits and about camouflage used by arctic hares along with ideas for decorating eggs ourselves.

My final pick is Rechenka's Eggs by Patricia Polacco which is another timeless folktale with a powerful message about kindness and the magic of life. Babushka makes exquisite painted eggs all through the harsh Russian winter to sell at the Easter market. One day a goose is shot near her home. She nurses it back to health but in a terrible accident all her precious eggs are smashed. Babushka then discovers a wonderful treasure in Rechenka's basket each morning for the next twelve days. I read this book to over 100 children and all were totally still and silent as the magic of this story entranced them.

The Red Wind by Isobelle Carmody

The first book I ever read by Isobelle Carmody was Obernewtyn when it was published in 1987 and my memory is that the experience left me breathless. I have just lifted my head after reading The Red Wind and, while the intended audience is much younger, this book has also transported me to distant lands, climates and creatures. Bily and Zluty are tough little survivors who have carved out a simple life for themselves using materials found in their environment in creative and ingenious ways. Knowing that winters can be long and harsh they have filled their cellar with pots of preserves, jams and chutneys along with urns of honey, bales of sweet grass, sacks of grain, rice and flour and mounds of cones which they use for fires. The close environment does not supply everything they need so while one brother – Bily is the homemaker, Zluty – who is more adventurous – travels to far off places on trips lasting from one day to ten, collecting mushrooms, tree sap, honey and sweet grass. He also looks for plants that Bily might use as dyes. As our story opens Zluty is preparing to go on the longest journey he makes each year to the Northern forest. The whole trip will take ten days and while Zluty enjoys sleeping under the stars and travelling across the wide plain there is still a level of anxiety about the journey. On the morning of his departure the two brothers wake to find a mysterious red mist approaching from the West. Over the next ten days the story alternates between Zluty and his trip to the Northern Forest and the survival of Bily, left at home, as the red dust arrives followed by a storm where rocks and boulders fall from the sky and finally days of torrential rain. This book has all the ingredients I enjoy – food, interesting characters, tension, marvelous descriptions of place, a little humor and kindness. Exactly what is going on in this strange environment that appears to be littered with metal and just what kind of creatures Bily and Zluty and the ‘monster’ are is yet to be revealed. At the end of this first book there is also the tantalizing prospect of a metal egg similar to the one Bily and Zluty hatched from – I wonder what is inside? This is the first book in a trilogy and along with one of my younger students who alerted me to this absolutely wonderful fantasy I simply can’t wait for the next installment. Also congratulation to Isobelle Carmody on the short listing of this book for the CBCA Awards for 2011 it is sure to be awarded a prize.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Press Here by Herve Tullet

This is my picture book of the year so far for 2011. The idea here is so simple it made me wonder why no one has done this before.

Here is the perfect interactive picture book with no electronic gadgets needed not even any batteries or electricity. I read this gem to Year 2 students and Year 6 and all were equally enthralled especially by the page where you tilt the book to the left and all the dots 'move' across.

I first heard about this book when it was reviewed on the radio this week by Kate Colley of Bloomin' books. She said Press Here is a very difficult book to describe on radio and I agree. The illustrations are so simple but the thought behind this creation is the work of a genius. You could enjoy this book with a pre school child and with an art student it is just so amazing.

If you know how to press, rub, shake, tilt, blow or clap you will easily be able to 'read' this wonderful book. Herve Tullet has a beautiful web site and other wonderful books including an intriguing colouring book.

You can see this book in action here - it is interesting that I thought you needed to press all the yellow dots at the same time.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Adam Canfield of the Slash by Michael Winerip

I have absolutely no idea where to start with this book I simply loved it from page one to page 326. What do I love about this book?

  • I love the energy of the main characters – Adam, Jennifer and Phoebe.
  • I love the politics of a school district driven by State wide testing to the point of hysteria and madness.
  • I love the idea of a student newspaper that reports on news from the town not just the school.
  • I love books that celebrate great teachers (Andrew Clements does this).
  • I love the idea of overprotective school administrative staff who guard the Principal.
  • I love reading about corruption in government.
  • And most of all I love books where truth is the winner.

Adam and Jennifer are co-editors of The Slash, the student newspaper of Harris Elementary/Middle School. Adam and Jennifer have worked on the newspaper for many years and are now coming to the end of middle school so they have been selected as editors, Phoebe is a third grader and she is keen to be a reporter. Adam is skeptical but luckily Jennifer gives Phoebe a chance. Phoebe has an enormous amount of talent which she demonstrated when she conducts five interviews with the school Janitor, Eddie. This opens a huge can of worms for the School Principal Mrs Marris.

Meanwhile Adam is working on a story about the banning of basketball hoops that are visible from the street and the mysterious Minnie Bloch who has bequeathed an enormous sum of money to the school even though she appears to have lived in poverty in the poorest neighborhood in the town. Then there is the story of the smile competition run at the local shopping mall by the town dentists that seems to promote sweets not clean teeth.

If you have read any books by Andrew Clements then rush out and grab Adam Canfield of the Slash by Michael Winerip – it is a winner!!! I also found 37 pages of teacher notes. Here are some more notes with details about the author who I now discover is a journalist on the New York Times - this should not be a surprise but it is! Here is a little book review video. Good news there are two more books about Adam Canfield keep an eye open they should appear in our library very soon.