Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Spies of Gerander by Frances Watts The Gerander Trilogy Book Two

There are so many wonderful little details in this second book of the Gerander Trilogy I hardly know where to start. Here is one example that made me laugh out loud. Two of our heroes, Alex and Alice have been sent as spies to the palace in Cornoliana, headquarters of the Sourian army in Gerander. Following heaps of adventures and mishaps they arrive at the palace and are to be taken to the notorious Lester. The sentry leads them through the huge palace and although he claims to have a photographic memory they soon become quite lost.

“They descended some stairs, and came to a halt in front an inconspicuous wooden door. The sentry tapped on it then, at the occupant’s command, opened the door. A tiny mouse with nearly combed grey fur and enormous pearl earrings looked up from her desk with an impatient expression. ‘Who are you?’asked the sentry in obvious astonishment. ‘I am the Undersecretary Assisting the Head of Floral Arrangement in the Department for Banquets,’ she replied loftily. ‘Who are you?’” I think it is the earring that really set this scene for me.

The Spies of Gerander picks up where The Song of the Winns ended with Alistair and Tibby Rose reunited with Alistair and Alice. Before you read on I recommend reading my review of the first in the series just so you have an idea of the plot so far.

Along with their Aunt Beezer and Uncle Ebenezer the group arrive at FIG headquarters only to be sent on new missions the very next day. Alistair and Tibby Rose, along with Slippers Pink and Feast Thompson, need to find the secret paths through Gerander which they now realize are part of the pattern on Alistair’s scarf, knitted by his mother who was captured four years ago, and they need to find the triplets parents Emmeline and Rebus. Along with this all members of FIG are working with the blessing of Zanzibar, who has escaped and is now in hiding, to free Gerander. Alice and Alex meanwhile have been sent as undercover spies to gather information on just what the Sourians are planning.

If you loved Toby Alone you must read the Gerander Trilogy. It contains the same political elements and acts of bravery and extreme adventures. Take a closer look at the cover. You will see a cupcake. Yes there is once again plenty of delicious food in this book but more importantly three cupcakes, along with some flower beds, show that resistance fighters have already infiltrated the palace so I am sure in the next book FIG will once again outwit and ultimately defeat the Sourians. I highly recommend this series. Look for them in your library today.

The third book will be published in 2012. While you wait you might also enjoy The Redwall books by Brian Jacques or if you are up for a challenge try Guardians of Ga'Hoole series by Kathryn Lasky.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Trouble-Maker by Andrew Clements

There is always a wonderful sense of anticipation when a new Andrew Clements title arrives in our library. If you have been following my blog then you might have read my review of Extra Credit for example.

Trouble-maker is not quite at the level of Frindle, Extra Credit or The Landry News but it is nevertheless a good read. If you have read The Janitors boy then you have met a character like Clay who is the central character in this newest book. Clay cannot help creating mischief. He rumbles with his friends, sabotages his classmates, starts food fights in the cafeteria and regularly challenges authority figures especially the school Principal Mr Kelling. Here is a good example of Clay’s strategies when the class have a substitute teacher.

The woman looked like she as about seventeen. She was all nervous and chatty, trying to be way too friendly with the kids. It would have been so much fun to mess with her head – maybe act like he only spoke Russian … or maybe he could start crying and tell her how his pet skunk died yesterday … or maybe pretend he was allergic to her makeup, see if he could get her to scrub all of it off her face. He could riff and goof and tumble her head around until she ran screaming out of the room … like some other subs had.”

The turning point for Clay comes when his brother Mitch arrives home after a short stint in jail. For Clay, Mitch is his hero. Clay thinks Mitch will be impressed and proud of his school mischief but the reverse is true. Mitchell’s experience in jail has been profound. He is determined his younger brother will never go to jail. Mitch makes Clay promise to reform. He organizes a new tidy hair cut and new school clothes for Clay and makes sure Clay is not out late with his friends.

This is all fine until Halloween. The home of the school Principal is vandalized and everything points to Clay.

This is a very short book but it shows the power of our thoughts and the power of an individual to change his or her outlook on life and relationships with others. I think middle Primary boys in particular would enjoy Trouble-Maker by Andrew Clements. You might also enjoy Adam Canfield of the Slash by Michael Winerip, The Janitors Boy or Small steps by Louis Sachar (read Holes first). Slightly older students might also take a look at Wringer by Louis Sacher.

One final thing I loved the character of the school secretary Mrs Ormin – she is perfect!

Here are some discussion questions, an audio file and a good review if you need to read more about this book!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Picture books for Older students from my Top One Hundred list

As a part of our one hundred book project I have been reading books on the theme of conflict with Grade 5. We started with War and Peas (Michael Foreman) which is about conflict but equally about wealthy nations and the developing world and our responsibilities to each other. The illustrations by Michael Foreman in War and Peas are quite scrumptious. The land belonging to the Fat King is depicted using cakes, biscuits and huge milk shakes. The final lines are so important when King Lion from the poor nation suggests they should now live in peace. The fat king replies “Peace … never heard of it. What’s the recipe?”

Our next book was Tusk Tusk by David McKee. I love to read the Elmer books to my Kindergarten students so it is good to revisit this talented author/illustrator with senior students. The elephants are at war. The issue is colour. The peace loving elephants flee into the forest and are never seen again. The black and white elephants annihilate each other and no elephants are left on earth until many, many years later some grey elephants emerge from the forest. Once again in this book it is the ending that is so important. I am sad to tell you the elephants with the small ears are looking at the elephants with the large ears and it seems conflict might once again be on the horizon.

Herbert and Harry (Pamela Allen) go fishing and catch a ‘treasure’ chest. Harry falls overboard and Herbert claims the treasure but with this comes the terrible burden of fear. Someone might try to steal his ‘treasure’ and so Herbert cannot sleep and he takes the ‘treasure’ to the top of a mountain far away and he buries it deep into the hillside and he sets up an enormous fortification to keep the ‘treasure’ safe. The heart of this story once again comes as a conclusion. Harry swam back to shore and has lived a long, happy life with his extended family. Years later Herbert still cannot sleep, ever watchful in case someone comes to steal his ‘treasure’. So who has had treasures in their life – Herbert or Harry?

Next we read The Butter Battle book by Dr Seuss. This is a book you could share with senior High School students but it is also accessible to Upper Primary even though the references to the Cold War are too abstract for them. The issue under conflict here is perfect and really demonstrates how sometimes we disagree over such trivial things. Do you put butter on the top or the bottom of your bread? The two sides in this conflict embark on an arms race to wipe each other out. The weapons and uniforms grow bigger and more outlandish as we turn each page until both sides develop a bomb. Neither can drop this bomb and so we have a stalemate. We also own the video of this story which is filled with lively songs.
Other titles we will explore over the next few weeks on this theme include Fox by Margaret Wild, Grumpy little King by Michael Streich, Clancy the Courageous cow by Lachie Hume (Notes), The General by Janet Charters illustrated by Michael Foreman, The Conquerors by David McKee and The bear with the sword by Davide Cali (Notes).

Saturday, November 5, 2011

"One Hundred books" meets The Large Family by Jill Murphy

This week our Kindergarten children met the delightful, and ever expanding, Large Family. Recently a friend gave our library a plastic moulded elephant display piece that had been used in a bookshop to promote these books by Jill Murphy so it seemed like a good time to revisit these old favourites.

We began with Five Minutes Peace where Mrs Large just needs five minutes to herself something we can all identify with. Lester, Laura and the 'little one' have different ideas, though, and as Mrs Large tries to relax in her warm bath each child visits her and offers entertainment. Lester wants to play his recorder, Laura wants to read her book and the 'little one', who in a later book we learn is really named Luke, wants to share all is toys. In the end they all get into the bath with the 'little one' still in his pyjamas.

Later in the week we read A Piece of Cake, All in one Piece, Mr Large in Charge and A quiet night in. We were also able to enjoy the audio versions and it was terrific to see the children engrossed in listening as opposed to looking at a video.

Look for all the wonderful books by Jill Murphy in your library soon. They are perfect for sharing.