Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Calder Game by Blue Balliett

I remember the first Blue Balliett book I ever found was Chasing Vermeer. This is a book I read years and years ago but a memory of a fast paced adventure and fabulous problem solving lingers with me. These same feelings are true for this third title by Blue Balliett where we once again meet Calder, Petra and Tommy.

One exciting thing I must say before going any further with this review something wonderful that occasionally happens when I read is when real life and the story overlap or make a connection. As I was reading The Calder Game last week Google celebrated 113th birthday of Alexander Calder.

Before reading this book I had not even heard of Alexander Calder. His work is so fabulous.

In this latest adventure our three friends have moved up a grade. The new teacher seems most uninspiring especially since these are all very gifted students. She has organised for the whole class to view the latest exhibition of works by Alexander Calder but there are some many restrictions placed on the kids they all feel as though the joy of this day has been drained out of them.

Several days later Calder Pillay and his father head off to England. Walter Pillay is attending a conference and Calder is left to explore the area around Woodstock. In the main square he sees a sculpture by Alexander Calder. Since they share the same name, Calder is fascinated by the work of this artist but as the days unfold this young boy will disappear, a major crime will be attempted and Petra and Tommy will fly to England to help solve this dangerous and intriguing mystery.

If you enjoyed Chasing Vemeer or The Wright 3 then you will want to grab The Calder Game. I am sure you will not be disappointed. You might also like to dust off your set of pentominoes because they play a vital role in this story too and Brett Helquist the illustrator has hidden them all through the illustrations which adds another puzzle for you to solve. Read more about this book, the illustrations and an extract here. Finally you must take a dip into the author web site it is full of information including details of her newest book which we will now need to hunt out for our library!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Oracle by Jackie French

The wind smelled of rock and ice the night their father took Nikko’s sister out to die.” This is a wonderful opening sentence and if you have been reading for a long time you will know for certain this baby is not going to die and that Nikko will be our hero and he will rescue her. Jackie French is such a master storyteller. I simply devoured this wonderful book about life in Ancient Greece.

Things done in darkness could be ignored. But it was daylight now. … His sister was safe.” I just had to tell you this part so you can breathe again knowing everything will be fine.

Nikko rescues Thetis and so changes the destiny of their lives. They live in a poor mountain village in a rocky environment where food is scarce and goats are the main source of income. Each year the High King sends his tribute gatherers to gather a tenth of the year’s produce. The people of Nikko’s village try to hide their best goats and their grain stores but Orkestres comes upon the children and their goats as they head up the mountain and so the village plans are thwarted.

Orkestres is not a solider or gatherer, he is an entertainer who performs for the High King and is also sent to distract the people in each village as their hard fought resources are taken away. Orkestres is a wonder to behold. “He was bare-chested…. His skin shone like a pot rubbed with oil. Stones shone from his earlobes and wrists and ankles … his hands were empty; he had not even a hunting spear of knife.”

It is Orkestres who will change the lives of Nikkos and Thetis forever. He sees in the siblings a special talent which he thinks might amuse the High King. He offers to swap the children for the village tribute. It is quite a chilling scene when their father simply states “You can take them.”

The new life is both wonderful and terrifying. These two children do indeed perform for the High King and their dance is breathtaking but there is also the constant threat of what might happen if they fail to please the High King.

When you read Oracle you will feel as though you are really in the castle eating the food, smelling the perfumes and soaking up the scenery. There are so many twists and turns in this plot I am not going to tell you everything it would be better to just read this book but if you are curious you could read this blog review.

This book is perfect for a mature Primary student and when you finish reading it you will most definitely want to seek out other books by this very talented writer. Look for Tajore Arkle as your next book it is a personal favourite of mine.

Monday, July 18, 2011

A Whole Nother Story by Dr Cuthbert Soup

Don’t get me wrong I do enjoy a funny book but “funniness” is very subjective. I enjoyed Lemony Snicket for example but only up until about book 6 when I finally succumbed to the pleas of the author to put the book down.

A Whole Nother Story is a whole nother story. I just loved this laugh out loud book all the way through and am very keen to get into the sequel entitled A Nother whole Nother story.

We do seem to have met these characters in other books such as The Mysterious Benedict Society and The Seven Professors of the far north and likewise the plot is not all that original but the writing, witty asides and fun plays on words make this book a winner. You should also watch out for the names of the villains!

Mr Cheeseman is an inventor. He and his beloved wife Olivia have designed a time travel machine but news of this has reached a number of villains and government agencies. These groups try to get their grubby hands on the invention but their motives are for evil and not the good of mankind so Ethan Cheeseman refuses to comply with their demands. The evil of these people unfortunately knows no limits and the lovely Olivia is murdered. Mr Cheeseman and his three ‘attractive, polite, relatively odor free children’ are now on the run.

I know all of this sounds far from funny but you just have to trust me this book is very, very funny. Here is a tiny sample which I hope will convince you.

“If I could give you just one word of advice, it would be … well an incomplete sentence. Besides being grammatically iffy, I’m sure you’d agree that a single word of advice is rarely of much use. Even the phrase ‘Look out!’ (which would prove to be live-saving advice – especially where large falling object or missing manhole covers are concerned) is two words. To simply shout ‘look!’ to a friend as a tuba falls from a ninth-story window … will at best only serve to make sure he gets a good look at the tuba before it parades him, unceremoniously, into the sidewalk.”
Who are the children in this book I hear you ask? Well that is an excellent question. There are two boys and a girl but the names of these three requires a more complex answer. You see every time the family is forced to flea the aforementioned villains the children select for themselves new names. The first is fourteen year old Barton who later becomes Joe Smith – too ordinary I agree but wait till you see the spelling – Jough Psmythe. Then there is eight year old Crandall who chooses the new name of Gerard LeFontaine and lastly twelve year old Saffron who will now be known as Maggie or more formally Magenta-Jean Jurgenson . I should also mention Steve but you will need to read the book for yourself to discover how he fits into this special family. There is also a wonderful and very helpful family dog called Pinky.

If you are a fan of Lemony Snicket and you like a fast paced, action packed and wildly funny book then look for A whole Nother Story in our library soon. The author has a delicious name and the web site is WILD!! It includes an audio sample which is well worth listening two plus a written extract and an interview with the author.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

1 is for One by Nadia Wheatley

One of my favourite things is when a young child says "read it again". Here is a mischievous little counting book which fulfills the plea of read it again.

I discovered this book many years ago after Nadia Wheatley visited my school in a NSW country town when her wonderful book My Place (1988) had just been published. I remember Nadia talked about how she wrote this little book for her daughter who often said "read it again".

How does this book work? Well you read all the way through to ten and then it says "Ten is for ten who starts counting again!". Inside the back cover is the same book only smaller. Have you guessed the ending of the second book which also concludes with the words "start counting again."? YES there is yet another teeny tiny book inside the back cover of this one.

Why am I blogging this book? My precious copy is lost. I love to read this little gem to Kindergarten but I cannot find it. I suspect someone else may have loved it and picked it up from my story table at school so I decided to do a little internet snooping. Yippee I found 1 is for One but this is the US edition and while it is fun it is also amazing to see how the words (and illustrations) have been changed. I will quote both here although I am doing the original Australian one from my memory so I apologise if any parts are incorrectly quoted.

1 is for one who starts counting for fun
2 is for two who keeps rats in her shoe
2 is for two who keep mice in a shoe
3 is for three skating fast by the sea
4 is for four for whom life is a bore
4 is for four who find life such a bore
5 is for five who is learning to dive
6 is for six who gets into a fix
7 is for seven cutting stars out for heaven
8 is for eight who leaves peas on her plate
8 is for eight who leaves peas on the plate
9 is for nine drinking blackberry win
9 is for nine hanging clothes on the line
BUT 10 is for ten who starts counting again.

One of the other fun things about this book is watching the illustrations change through each of the three retellings.

I will leave you to ponder the change from 'blackberry wine' over to hanging clothes on the line. I hope one day I find my original copy of this treasure. It came in a little slip sleeve with a different illustrator Helen Leitch.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The girl who could fly by Victoria Forester

This book is so good I feel like I hardly drew in a breath for 327 pages. When I read a book like this I wonder several things – Do others know about this amazing book? How did I find this amazing book? (I think it was Mr K again!) What have others said about this book?

I want to stand on top of the highest book mountain and shout out to all students in Years 4-6 go out and grab this book it is utterly fabulous.

If you loved The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart, Fearless by Tim Lott and Tensy Farlow by Jen Storer this is the book for you. This book also reminded me of the evil woman in Northern Lights.

Piper is a very special girl who is a born into a simple farming family. Piper has a gift – the gift of flying. Her older parents love their only child so much but they are simple folk who find change and difference of any kind very difficult to cope with. They keep Piper and her gift secret from the rest of the community and while Piper longs for freedom and friends, life is going on quite comfortably until the family attend the annual Fourth of July Picnic. By some coincidence I read this book on the fourth of July!

All goes well at the picnic although Piper discovers the awful prejudices of the townsfolk who are also suspicious of difference and who unfortunately listen to the local gossip Millie Mae Miller. During the baseball game Piper decides it is time to show these people who she really is and so she flies high to catch a ball and performs a series of aerial maneuvers. Piper has revealed her difference and this unleashes a dreadful chain of events.

Within days she finds herself whisked off an institute that specializes in assisting “special needs children… in learning skills so they can fulfill their dreams.” This is how it is explained by Dr Letitia Hellion but on her arrival at the school it seems things are not quite right. The other students do all have special and varied gifts but they are also very hostile to the newcomer. None more so than Conrad who takes particular pleasure in making Piper’s life a trial as he inflicts more and more diabolical punishments upon her.

The biggest thing to know about this book is to expect the unexpected. No one will conform to your opinion of them. I especially loved they way all the kids had gifts which, when combined, allowed everyone to fulfill their destiny. Little Jasper has perhaps the most important gift of all but be warned this is not revealed until right at the end.

I cannot recommend The Girl who could fly highly enough although I think the title could be more inviting and the cover design is not really inspiring (the US hardcover one is better) and I wish they had left off the Stephenie Meyer endorsement on the cover (Meyer does not match the audience for this book) but putting all this aside you must go out and grab this book. You might discover some things about intelligence too – brains are important but so is the emotional intelligence displayed by my hero Piper.

I would like to conclude with some wise words from Piper :

“Think you’re the only fool who ever made a mistake?” Piper looked at Conrad as if he was crazy. “Phhhhh! Talk about delusions of grandeur. One mistake isn’t nothing. Heck I’ve made more than that before I even get up in the morning. Can’t learn nothing worth knowing with out makin' a few mistakes first!” If you read this book with a class here are some questions.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Nibble a Nibble

I started these holidays with a dip into four terrific little Aussie Nibbles. As promised earlier I am continuing to read my way through this series. These four were all a treat to read but I especially enjoyed Sami’s Genies.

Sami comes from a poor family and like our old friend Jack of Jack and the beanstalk Sami is sent to the market to sell something, in this case eggs, to raise some money. On the way he meets a man who has a box filled with lamps. Sami swaps the eggs for the four lamps and when he gets home he begins to polish them.

As you would expect the lamps contain genies who grant wishes but these wishes are most surprising and Sami now has a pile of camel dung, a pair of false teeth, a floor rug and a baby hippopotamus. The real power of this story comes as we discover the ingenious way Sami makes use of each of these ‘treasures’ and how he and the genii are able to restore the family fortunes, assist Sami’s grandfather Ali and allow Sami himself to follow his dream of learning to read and attending school.

Katherine England has succeeded in writing an engrossing and funny junior chapter book and this is one title I will certainly recommend to my youngest students.

In Blast Off we meet Adam who wants to be an astronaut. He puts together a terrific outfit using his brother’s old parka, bike helmet and snorkel and heads off with his family to visit his aunt. While playing with his cousins he throws an empty drink bottle into the neighbor’s yard. The cousins retreat in horror but Adam bravely heads through the fence. He discovers the neighbor has a space ship in his shed and Adam is invited to go for a test flight. The real identity of the neighbor, the fun of the ‘journey’ and the twist at the end all make for a very satisfying read. Margaret Clark really knows her audience. In space Adam needs to eat so Marvin supplies special space shuttle food in a tube like toothpaste so it won’t float away. Then there is the problem of going to the toilet. “You want to go the the toilet? Proper astronauts just do it! …. Like a baby. You did wear the proper padded pants didn’t you?”
Books fall open and we fall in. I have always loved this little expression and it is the perfect way to describe The Girl who fell into a book by Julia Lawrinson. Annie loves to read although the power of a great book to transport and delight you seems to be missing from her parents experience and I found this very sad. Luckily Annie does not give up her passion and despite their pleading, Annie continues to read book after book. One day a little fairy, a boy fairy appears on her shoulder. He needs Annie to help him get rid of a wild cat that has been terrorizing all the fairies.

The illustrations in this one are just perfect by Anne Spudvilias. This is one of the things I really like about Aussie Nibbles, the publishers employ some of our most talented Australian illustrators such as Craig Smith, Stephen Michael King, Tom Jellett, Ann James and Mitch Vane.

Speaking of illustrations they are magical in The Magic Violin. Jimbo is learning to play the violin but all he can make are excruciating sounds that drive everyone, including the violin itself, crazy. The violin takes matters into its own hands and produces beautiful music. Jimbo becomes famous and rich but Jimbo feels there is something important missing in his life.

If you are looking for a satisfying read at a simple level you will not be disappointed by these four gems.