Sunday, October 30, 2011

Celebrating 100 books and Bob Graham

As part of our 100 books to 100 classes project we have spent the last week exploring all the wonderful Bob Graham picture books in our collection. The week began with his newest title A bus called Heaven and ended with one of his first books Pete and Roland.

The celebration of community is an important theme in many Bob Graham picture books. It is little Stella who sees the real potential of an old bus which has been abandoned outside her house. Everyone comes together from the streets nearby to clean up the old bus, move it into Stella’s driveway and create a communal space inside for games, friendship and fun. Even the graffiti boys rise to the occasion by painting the bus with a glorious design after their night of tagging is discovered by Stella’s mum. As with any great story, however, there needs to be a moment of crisis. The local council are not happy to have the old bus partially over the footpath and so a tow truck arrives to take the now restored bus to the wreckers. Stella is a quiet, shy little girl but she bravely steps out to meet this challenge head on.

Stella reminded me of other wonderful young, yet strong, girl characters in Bob Graham’s books like Rose Summers in Rose meets Mr Wintergarten , Dimity in Dimity Dumpty and Kate in Let’s get a pup and The Trouble with dogs. In a way all of these characters are like Max – a small hero doing quiet deeds – the world needs more of those.

We read all of those Bob Graham titles this week along with Oscar’s half birthday, Crusher is coming, Buffy and Greetings from Sandy Beach. Given more time we should also have looked at The Wild, Pearl's place, First there was Frances and Queenie the Bantam.

If you have not explored the wonderful books of Bob Graham take a look in your library soon. These are books that can be read over and over again and they are books that are best shared sitting side by side with a friend or an adult as together you explore all the tiny little details Bob Graham lovingly includes in each illustration.

Teaching notes for A bus called Heaven and for Max.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick

Everything about this book is wonderful! All the way through I kept thinking of one of my favourite childhood books – From the mixed up files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler (Newberry winner 1968) and now, when I have finished Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick, I was delighted to read in the acknowledgements that he also loved this book and has actually put in many references to this story by EL Konigsburg so now I need to re read From the mixed up files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler and then re read Wonderstruck to find the connections.

A few years ago I read The Invention of Hugo Cabret (Caldecott winner 2008) and was swept along by both the written story and the amazing visual images. In Wonderstruck we now have a second outstanding story in words and pictures by the gifted creator Brian Selznick.

Wonderstruck is an innovative dual narrative. There is Ben, a boy living in 1977 in Minnesota. His world has been turned upside down with the death of his mother and the discovery of mysterious details about his unknown father. Along side this we see the story of Rose who lives in Hoboken, New Jersey fifty years earlier. The story of Rose’s childhood is told through illustrations that move swiftly like a silent film. The idea of silent motion pictures as a way to tell stories is important to the author especially as a way deaf and hearing people in the past were able to enjoy this shared experience.

This is a massive book with over 630 pages but just like The Invention of Hugo Cabret, the two alternating stories speed along. I found myself wanting to slow down my reading so I could make the experience of reading this inspiring book last longer. I also kept hoping there would be a link between Rose and Ben but I am not going to tell you about this beautiful and emotional part of the book.

Working as a Teacher-Librarian I love references to libraries. Here is one I will now treasure : “The next morning, Ben headed to the wolf diorama. He read the sign on the wall over and over again … he wished that he were with his mom in her library, where everything was safe and numbered and organized by the Dewey decimal system,. Ben wished the world was organized by the Dewey decimal system. That way you’d be able to find whatever you were looking for, like the meaning of your dream, or our dad.”

This is one of those very, very special books that I can't wait to put into the hands of my students. At times like this I feel very privileged to collect, read and share the reading treasures that abound in our world.

If I ever get to New York I would love to visit all the special places that are included in this story. Here is another detailed review. Here is a very detailed interview.

Finally I gasped out loud when I read the dedication on the last page – "To Maurice Sendak" a perfect way to link these two outstanding talents!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Garry Keeble's Kitchen by Errol Broome illustrated by Maya

Here is another one of those older books in my library that I have just re-read prior to culling our collection. This is a book I have been recommending to students for years and years and once again I must say it has stood the test of time (first published in 1992) but alas it is also out of print.

Garry Keeble’s Kitchen is the story of Garry who becomes so fed up with the situation at home particularly in relation to his mum’s new boyfriend that he decides to leave home in the hope that he can find some peace and better food.

Garry is a fabulous cook and so with suitcase in hand he heads for the park. Once there he meets Karen who hates cooking. Karen has a spare shed out the back of her home where her granddad once lived. Karen needs help as she is expected to cook for her family each night so she makes a deal with Garry. In exchange for cooking dinner he can stay, rent free, in her shed. The arrangement seems ideal especially since Karen even provides money to go shopping.

There are 28 real recipes in this book including main courses, snacks and yummy desserts. Garry has no paper and so the illustrator, Maya, cleverly presents each recipe on an interesting scrap of recycled paper. She uses everything from packaging labels to bus and tram tickets.

We have two copies of this book in our library but the one I have been reading is in very poor shape. It will need to be culled. I hope our other copy is able to be saved. If you love to eat and you have a spare hour or so look for this funny and poignant story of “how one boy left home and survived with 28 recipes that anyone can cook and everyone will eat.” This book was originally published by Random House and selected by Mark Macleod – he no longer has this role but Mark always managed to select terrific books. One last caution do not read this book if you are feeling hungry!

Monday, October 17, 2011

One Hundred books continued

Over the next seven weeks I plan to read one hundred books to one hundred classes. So far it has been very exciting to see the reaction of different groups of children to some of my cherished favourites.

In addition to the titles mentioned in the last post about this project by the end of last week we had read Where's the Baby by Pat Hutchins - there are four books in this series, Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes, The Mouse with the too long tail by Banni McSpedden and Princess Smartypants by Babette Cole. The search of identity within a family seems to be a link.

Pat Hutchins has created a delightful cast of characters in her monster series staring the wonderful Hazel and her little monster brother Billy. In the first book little Billy is lost. Hazel can see all the mischief he has been up too but the true delight comes from the reactions of the grownups - Grandma and Ma who, blinded by love perhaps, think all these horrible things show how marvelous Billy truly is. He paints the walls, spreads the chimney soot all over the white carpet, floods the bathroom and even cuts up a new dress Ma has been making. For Hazel the worst is yet to come when Billy attacks her room but the final scene is the one all children love. Where did those eggs come from?

Chrysanthemum is loved by her mother and father and life is happy and filled with warmth until the day she goes to school. Her beautiful name becomes a torture and each day is harder than the one before until the wonderful Mrs Twinkle turns things around in an unexpected way. We also have the Weston Woods video of this story and it was very special to see how the children were caught up in the plight of Chrysanthemum and how the actions of the bullies enraged them.

Years ago I read The mouse with the too long tail to a group and one little boy who had a fairly severe physical disability declared at the end that it was the best book he had ever heard. I could see him cheering for "Mouse with the too long tail" - the fifteenth child of Mr and Mrs Mouse. Our little hero has to discover that sometimes differences can be an advantage. At first he hates his tail but after a special dream everything is turned around. "The only difference was how happy he was - now that his tail was some thing everyone looked up to." Once again this is a very old book long out of print but well worth looking for in your library.

Finally we read Princess Smartypants to a group of Grade One children. I think parts of it may have been a little too difficult for this group although one child loved listening to this story as it was clearly a personal favourite. Babette Cole does not water down the vocabulary so the teacher needed to do quite a lot of talking all the way through. I have always loved defiant princesses and Smartypants is a wonderful example. There are two sequels to this book in our library.

Where to next? I think we should continue this theme by reading The very worst Monster by Pat Hutchins, Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes, Trixie the witch's cat by Nick Butterworth and The paperbag princess by Robert Munch.

Next post I will talk about some longer picture books we are sharing with Grade 3 and the next in my series of holocaust picture books for Grade 6.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Junonia by Kevin Henkes

We read to know we are not alone (CS Lewis). I wish I had read Junonia when I was a Primary school child, Alice Rice and I have so much in common. Alice is a quiet, compliant and well mannered child. As an only child with older parents she spends a lot of time in the company of adults. She travels to the same special holiday house in Florida year after year and Alice especially loves celebrating her birthday with the most special food, presents and happenings that she can imagine. Finally Alice has a little mole on her face which she has very mixed feelings about.

Each year as this group of three, mother, father and Alice, arrive at their holiday destination they have a little competition. Who will spot the first pelican, dolphin, heron, ibis and seagull? But as they approach the familiar holiday house Alice is overcome by a feeling of dread. It seems things are destined to be different this year.

One thing that that has not changed though is her room :

The sun-bleached bedspread was printed with a pattern of a seaside Chinese village. Alice ran her fingers over rooftops and archways, over billowy swarms of butterflies and blossom-covered tress…. Here and there the bedspread was threadbare but Alice hoped it would never be replaced. She often fell asleep imagining that she was part of the village, wandering the twisted streets among the butterflies, collecting armfuls of fallen blossoms.”

Alice loves to collect shells and Henkes has thoughtfully included an illustration of all the shells that are found in this part of Florida. One shell that has alluded Alice is a junonia. She hopes that this year, the year she will turn ten, she will find this special shell washed up on the beach. Living near the beach I also find shells absolutely fascinating. Here is a video of the author talking about his book.

One of the biggest differences for Alice this year is the composition of the fellow holiday makers. Her holiday friends Colin, Chad and Heather are not coming and her beloved Aunty Kate is bringing a new friend called Ted and his young six year old daughter, Mallory.

Alice has to adapt to all this change but at least, it seems, her birthday celebration will be perfect :

“The hot dogs were perfect. The potato chips were perfect. Even the carrot sticks were perfect; they were sweeter than ever, and crunchy, and the most pure orange colour imaginable. Can food somehow know it’s your birthday and change to become more delicious? Underneath it all lay the faded red-and-white-checked tablecloth that Alice’s mother had found in the back of the cupboard. It was perfect too.”

You will hold your breath I am sure as the magic of this celebration crumbles around Alice.

My list of favourite books constantly changes and expands and now I am happy to add the gentle and emotional book Junonia. By coincidence we read Chrysanthemum to our Grade One classes this week and now that I think about it I can see lots of links between this very special picture which is essentially about identity and this novel by the same author, Junonia.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

One Hundred Books and One Hundred classes

My one hundred books in one hundred lessons project has just begun. When I look at all the wonderful books in my library I have very mixed feelings. There are so many wonderful books that I love to read to classes and so many other wonderful books that I just don’t have time to read to classes so I have invented the one hundred book project. This term I will read a different book to nearly every class of the 33 I see each week. My usual pattern is to read the same book 4 or 5 fives times to each class in a grade. In this way no child misses out on my carefully chosen books but this also means I can only cover a limited selection of titles each term. For a change this term I will read different books to as many classes as I can. I have only seven weeks to complete this challenge which means I need to share fifteen different books with the children each week.

Our first week began with Kindergarten. I am not able to resist themes so this week I have selected my favourite Teddy Bear and other toy stories. First off I choose Corduroy by Don Freeman and the sequel A Pocket for Corduroy. This is such an old series. The first title was written in 1968 and the sequel ten years later but both continue to have a strong appeal to young children. Corduroy is special but he has lost his button. The Department Store where Corduroy lives is filled with wonder for the young bear. When he goes exploring he discovers the furniture department and luckily he finds beds with mattresses and these are sewn down with buttons. Corduroy has found his button but wrestling it off the mattress will alert the night watchman on duty that night in the store. You can sometimes hear young children gasp when they realize this guard might discover Corduroy and he might be in real trouble. The other exciting way to enjoy this story is by viewing the Weston Woods video.

In A Pocket for Corduroy our Teddy Bear is taken to the local Laundromat and accidentally left behind. During the night his adventures continue all because he now needs a pocket!

Continuing our theme of toys and Teddy Bears we also read Arnold the Prickly Teddy by Kym Lardner, Felix and Alexander by Terry Denton, Dougal the garbage dump bear by Matt Dray (this has a terrific combination of art work and photographs and lots of extra marks on the pages made by coffee cups, flies and dog paw prints) and finally today I read Boris and Borsch by Robin Klein. This last one is a long book, almost a junior novel, so it was exciting to see how the young children were engrossed and able to make lots of predictions.

Other books in my One Hundred Project this week have been Martin’s Big Words by Doreen Rappaport (here is a video of the whole book), Rose Blanche by Roberto Innocenti, Herbert Binns and his flying tricycle by Caroline Castle and Little Bo Peep’s Library book by Cressida Cowell. I looked at Little Bo Peep with Grade Four students as a way to begin our exploration of the Dewey Decimal system.

It is only Wednesday and we have read ten of my top books. Keep your eye on this blog as my students and I explore more wonderful picture books over the coming weeks. Next week Grade Five will continue the topic of African American rights and Grade six will discuss a range of picture books about the Holocaust. I will explore these in detail in my next blog entry.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Seekers Book One The quest begins by Erin Hunter

This book is a little frustrating because you know from the outset that the lives of these four bears will need to collide but by the end of this book one only two have met.

A student in my school asked me to buy the books in this series by Erin Hunter. She is a new author to me but I see she is actually quite famous and prolific. Her series called Warriors consists of eighteen titles plus two specials!

In this series, Seekers, the characters are four bears. Two are brown, one white and one black. Each have different life circumstances and hardships to endure and all are equally confused about humans or flat faces and their firebeasts.

Kallik is a polar bear growing up with her brother Taqqiq and their mother Nisa. As the weather is warming the group attempt to reach land moving from one iceberg to another but when Nisa is taken by a killer whale Kallik must continue the journey alone ever hopeful that one day she will be reunited with her brother.

Lusa is a zoo bred black bear who longs for the forests and freedoms she hears about from other bears. After months of careful observation an opportunity arises and Lusa escapes from the zoo to begin the long journey to find Toklo. Lusa has met Toklo's mother. She has been captured and placed in the zoo in the next enclosure. Oka is a mother in mourning. Her son Tobi has recently died as have many other cubs before him. This last death is too much for Oka and so she has abandoned Toklo.

Toklo is a brown bear. He is wild born but he has been left on his own before his mother has taught how to hunt and fish and survive.

We meet the fourth bear in this saga right at the end. He is called Ujurak and he is a shape shifter.

If you enjoy books about animals and survival this might be a series to look for. Each chapter has an alternating focus between the first three bears and in this way Erin Hunter firmly establishes the personality and strengths of each bear.

The Glass Tower by Margaret Beames

I recently visited a school library where the new Teacher-Librarian had thoroughly culled the collection and this made the library so appealing with plenty of space on the shelves. This year we are due to stock take (inventory) our fiction including novels and picture books and as always I do need to do some culling. While it is easy to cull some older worn out books and popular books that were never great stories and that are no longer popular, I always struggle with one group of books when I cull. I find it hard to toss out books that I have loved. I guess if the copy is worn out or the cover is uninviting or the print is too small then the book needs to go.

This leaves me with obscure little books like The Glass Tower. Here we have an older book (published in 1991). It is in very good condition and I think the cover is still quite appealing. The print size could be bigger but it is not too small. I loved this book when I first read it ten years ago so today I re-read it and it has stood the test of time. There is only one outdated reference to video cassettes but it is so incidental I don't think a modern child would even notice it.

The setting for this story is a post apocalyptic Earth in the year 2300. Humans have fled our planet and set up space colonies but now the time has come when Earth is seen as safe and so small groups of space dwellers have returned. Meanwhile on Earth the survivors (ancestors of those left behind) have carved out their own simple society based on trade, crafts and a simple leadership hierarchy. As is often the way in books of this kind, over time the leadership has become corrupt – I am thinking of Toby Alone for example.

Rowan, a boy from Earth, meets up with two of the space dweller children and embarks on a race across the land. Rowan needs help for his mother who is gravely ill, and Astra and Drew need to find their family. The journey is filled with hazards, natural and man made, but the children never loose sight of their goal, the Glass Tower. This is a mysterious building that somehow survived the cataclysm that befell Earth. The glass tower is the scene of the Summer solstice and hence a gathering place for many of the Earth dwellers. It is the perfect place for the people of the two worlds to meet and hopefully move forward in friendship.

The Glass Tower by Margaret Beames is an action packed adventure of friendship and survival. This book would be an excellent way to introduce a young reader to Science Fiction. Of course this is another title that is out of print as are so many of the books in my blog but take a look in your library – you might be lucky! Finally I like to think the glass tower itself might have originally been a lighthouse and lighthouses are among my favourite things. The idea of a lighthouse as a place to show the way to safety is an appropriate metaphor for this book.