Sunday, August 28, 2011

Lost and Found by Andrew Clements

Following our very busy Book Week celebrations (we had daily thinking challenges, songs, lunch time craft days and more) I was very happy to just sit and read for an hour or so this morning and what better book to relax with than another title from master storyteller Andrew Clements.

I noticed a great quote on the front cover of this book - "'That could totally happen at my school' Fiction".... I think this will become a new subject heading or tag perhaps for my reading.

Twins have always fascinated me. I am not a twin but I was good friends with two sets of twins as a young child. One set of twins were totally different in every way - looks, interests, physical size and temperament. The other set of twins were so alike - two girls who did look almost the same and who had the same interests etc. although I could always tell them apart.

As a teacher I often find identical twins can be a challenge. Since I usually only see these students for a short time once a week it can take me years to confidently separate them. Teachers and other adults who constantly say - "which twin are you" must drive these kids crazy and that in fact is the premise of this little book by Andrew Clements and I was also interested to read Andrew Clements has twin sons. This might be why his insights into the issues of being a twin seem so authentic.

I will not say this is the best Clements book I have read - that would be Frindle followed by The Janitors Boy and Extra Credit - but Lost and Found is easy to read and as usual Clements seems to get right inside the head of Grade 5 and 6 students.

Jay and Ray discover the school has muddled up their records from the previous school and that only one student is enrolled. This opens the way for the boys to experience school as an individual and not as a twin. They take alternate days off but of course this must end in disaster!

You can read a little more of the plot here or just grab this book for a quick and enjoyable read!

Another set of Aussie Nibbles to nibble

As promised earlier in my blog, I am reading my way through our collection of Aussie Nibbles and I continue to be surprised and excited by so many of these simple titles.

Pop-up Fox has been in my collection for a long time (published in 2004) and I am now puzzled why I did not pick it up much earlier. David does not have many friends and so a party invitation is a very special event. The party has a dress up theme - come as something starting with the same letter as the name of the Birthday boy. This is easy for David as he loves dressing up and he especially enjoys making masks. He decides to go as a fox but on arrival at the party he discovers something terrible. The boy hosting the party is called Phillip and the other children have come dressed as a pirate, pizza and a plane.

How will David survive this situation? Do you know why he went to the party as a fox? Can the author Janeen Brian give us a plausible happy ending – yes she can. Read Pop-up Fox to find out how.

I have always enjoyed the idea of using food colouring. I once had a magazine that featured a pie where the top was decorated like a patchwork quilt using food colouring. I also love those little food colouring bottles from the supermarket. Margo and her sister Sonya need to decide on the colour for the icing on their cake. Their grandmother suggests blue. While she does enjoy the cake their grandmother complains she does not like her grey hair. Can you guess how food colouring, blue icing and hair might make for a hilarious outcome? This book Blue Hair day is made all the more special by the addition of zany illustrations by Leigh Hobbs.

Sonya Hartnett has just won our Children’s Book of the Year award for her novel The midnight Zoo so I was very keen to see what she might do within the constraints of a Nibble. When the youngest children in my school preview our special donate a book display I always tell them to tuck their hands behind their backs. Fingers can sometimes get a little out of control and this is the exact premise of Sadie and Ratz. Sadie and Ratz are in fact the left and right hands of Hannah and try as she might they sometimes lead her into mischief. Hannah has a little baby brother called Baby Boy. “Baby Boy is four years old. Four years is a long time. … everyone says Baby Boy is a good boy. But …”

Baby Boy has found his voice and his power. When something goes wrong he accused Saddie and Ratz. Hannah is fed up but what can she do? Then something really surprising happens to Baby Boy and Baby Boy needs to name is own right and left hands because it seems they are causing their own mayhem. I must again make special mention of the illustrations. Ann James perfectly captures the expressions and emotions of each family member.

Bungawitta by Emily Rodda

Bungawitta by Emily Rodda - will it be the first title I mention to be part of the 2012 CBCA short list? This is the quintessential Australian yarn. The town of Bungawitta has been ravaged by drought. There are young children who think rain is a myth because they have never seen it in their lifetime. The few remaining inhabitants now gather at the general store each morning to listen to the unchanging weather prediction – fine and sunny. On the day of this story Jay makes a suggestion that will change the course of all their lives, put Bungawitta on the map and give this community the happy ending they deserve.

Each of the twelve people has a skill or a gift. Jay suggests they hold a festival – The Bungawitta Earth Festival, where city folk are invited to come and sculpt the clay that can be made from the dirt around the town when it is mixed with brown water from the post office water tank. Auntie Flo organizes refreshments, souvenirs, chutney and jam, Cookie makes fruit cakes, Socko’s mum organizes a sausage sizzle and pony rides for the kids and so on.

On the day of the festival everyone holds their breath waiting to see if anyone will turn up. “Then the first car came over the hill. It was a bright yellow VW Beetle with four people inside.” It is the promise of the ABC television reporters and camera crew that has bought the city people in their droves but will the television people really come and what is Glory-Alice, the youngest child in town, excited about?

Drought is a harsh reality in Australia. City children can gain an insight into life in a small country community through this easy to read novel Bungawitta but they will also enjoy the humour, friendships and sheer determination of these special people.

Emily Rodda has taken a new direction in her storytelling and with the lively illustrations of Craig Smith I hope you agree this book is a beaut!! You can read very extensive teachers notes here.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Children's Book of the Year Awards for 2011

Once again there are surprises, nods of the head and smiles all around as the CBCA book awards have now been announced for 2011.

Smiles? Well I loved and reviewed The Midnight Zoo, Mirror and The Red Wind and all three were winners in their sections which means I agree with the judges!

Surprises? I am not sure about Maudie and Bear. I love bear but I just want to take Maudie to one side and explain a few things to her like good manners and patience and taking turns and being fair but perhaps all these things are beyond the comprehension of a three year old. I do like the message on the back cover however, that love is inexhaustible.

I am also not so sure about Just a dog but I guess that is the main point of awards - it would be a boring old world if we all agreed on the same titles.

Nods of the head? The judges had to give an award to Why I love Australia, Violet Mackerel's Brilliant Plot and The Tall man and the twelve babies.

Excited? Yes I am excited to see the Sydney Morning Herald reviewer mentioned a couple of great titles that did not reach the short list including The Three loves of Persimmon.

We will celebrate Book Week using lots of copies of the wonderful book Mirror. I am looking forward to hearing the children talk about this innovative and important book. It will be a huge week of reading, songs, dance, competitions, knitting and lunch craft. To me Book Week should feel like Christmas with lovely surprises, smiles and happiness all around.

Who's in charge

Here is my first review of a non fiction book. Everything about this book is yelling out the word quality. The title Who’s in charge? The cover layout. The foreword – something I don’t always read. The table of contents and finally the fabulous easy to read and engaging text on a complex and difficult subject – politics, leadership, governments, voting, democracy and so much more.

Using bright relevant graphics, different sized fonts, cartoons and catchy headings, Who’s in charge is a book that you will want to read from cover to cover in one go. Later you might return and dip into the sections that are of interest and there are so many all easy to find using the extensive index.

If you are trying to explain any aspect of government or politics to a young student then this is the perfect book. I especially enjoyed the pages that explain left or right, socialism versus conservatism. This is a book from the UK but it is full of international examples and since it was published in 2010 it is very up to date.

In conclusion I will quote from the foreword :

“Half the people in the world live in a democracy… but even in a democracy, millions of people have no effective voice at all. Perhaps they don’t vote, … or don’t follow the news so simply don’t know what’s going on. The truth is, politics only works when people put in the (small) amount of thinking needed to take part. It is messy, but often exciting … do you want to get involved, or just made to follow someone else’s rules?”

Sunday, August 14, 2011

One dog and his boy by Eva Ibbotson

I adore the writing of Eva Ibbotson so it was with great joy I bought home One Dog and his Boy to read over the weekend. I loved this book so much I simply did not want it to end. It has so many things I love in a book – dogs, friendship, heroism, an action packed plot and a most satisfying ending.

This is the last book Eva Ibbotson wrote before she died in 2010 and that news has made me sad. Her books are all so varied. The horror scenes in Which Witch will stay with me forever and I constantly recommend Journey to the River sea to my senior Primary library students.

In One Dog and his Boy our hero is Hal. Hal is like the boy in the last Morris Gleitzman book I reviewed Too small to fail – he has rich rich rich parents who have no understanding of their son and who forbid him to have the one thing he really wants in life – a dog.

Near Hal’s home the Easy Pets Dog Agency has been set up by two unscrupulous people who are out to get money by providing dogs to fit the whims of fickle people. “They had realized that nowadays most people didn’t want anything to last for a long time. People changed their houses and their cars again and again; they changed their children’s schools… so why would they want to hang onto their dogs?” Myron and Mavis Carker have set up a dog rental agency using only the best pure bred dogs which are pampered and fully trained.

Hal has asked and asked for a dog as his next Birthday present. His mother disappoints him once again but later that night his father agrees Hal can have a dog. Quite wrongly these parents expect Hal will tire of his new pet and so hiring a dog from the Easy Pets dog agency seems the perfect solution. The complication comes when Hal finds Fleck at the agency and it is love at first sight for both of them. Fleck is not a pure bred dog, he is a stray but he is also a dog with a huge heart.

This book reminded me of What do you think Feezel by Elizabeth Honey, and of other books where the love between a boy or a girl and his or her dog lies at the heart of the plot. Books like Shiloh by Phyllis Naylor Reynolds, Where the red fern grows by Wilson Rawls and Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo so if you are a dog lover you might look for all of these in your school library. You can read more of the plot here if you need to be convinced to read One dog and his boy.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Edsel Grizzler Book One Voyage to Verdada by James Roy

One of the things I like to recall is exactly how I find great books. More on that in a minute. I also often marvel that there are so many fabulous books out there just waiting to be read and enjoyed. How do authors come up with such wonderul plot ideas? James Roy is a very talented Australian writer. I knew this already from reading Problem Child and I am so happy I have now read his terrific fantasy/science fiction book Edsel Grizzler Book One Voyage to Verdada.

Edsel lives a safe, predictable and boring life and this is reflected in his address Number 58, Bland Street, West Malaise.

The only light in his dull life is his regular trip to the local junk or second hand shop where he has found a friend and more importantly found he has the talent to take junk, repair it and make money. On one such trip to Nicks ‘n’ Nacks Edsel is given something very strange. “This something was roughly the size of a large wheelbarrow, and shaped like half an egg. Standing high on three spindly, chrome legs, it appeared to be made of the same kind of material as bathtubs and vanity basins … embossed into the surface was a small, simple logo: a curly V with a slightly distorted oval around it.”

Have you made a connection between this symbol and the title Voyage to Verdada. This thing looks like a space ship. Perhaps it is a space ship.

Back to my original question how did I find this book? Once again a young boy came to my library counter and enquired about the sequel. I knew this meant he had enjoyed the first book so I grabbed it for a quick read. Several hours later I lifted my head. There is no way you will predict the journey of this book. Edsel does travel to Verdada but why he is there, what happens to him and what the future holds are all things you will only know when you READ THIS BOOK.

This book will make you think about your life choices, your destiny and perhaps even your parents!

I am now ready to grab the sequel called Rescue Mission and this week I also need to purchase the final installment for our library.

This book reminded me a little of The Girl who could fly where you have a team of children doing work for adults and the children need to draw on their special talents to support and ultimately rescue each other. If you have read The Girl who could Fly or even if you haven't go into your library and look for Edsel Grizzler Voyage to Verdada. There are teacher notes here. The author site is also worth a look.