Saturday, December 31, 2011

What my senior students are reading - a list!

One of my annual tasks, and it is a joyous one, is to take a close look at the books recommended by Grade 6 students as they leave our school. This is a part of their Year Book entry along with friends, food, movies and nicknames.

For a change this blog entry (my final one for 2011) is simply a list. I think this list is interesting for several reasons. There is a great mix of titles here. Nearly every child talked about a different book and this makes me smile because so many of these books were titles I enjoyed too. I am always happy to see the students make such great choices from the abundance of our wonderful school library. I feel proud that nearly all of these books are in our library because of me. At a time when there is talk of taking away the position of Teacher-Librarian I wonder if the children (in a school with no teacher-librarian) would produce such an eclectic list. There are only two titles on this list which were read as class novels – The Phantom Tollbooth and Nips XI.

Here is the list in no particular order :

Deltora Quest series by Emily Rodda
Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis
Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy
Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
Nips XI by Ruth Starke
Locket of Dreams by Belinda Murrell
Charlie Small Journals
Harry Potter series
Varjak Paw SF Said
Ruby Holler by Sharon Creech
Alice Miranda series by Jacqueline Harvey
Eragon by Christopher Paolini
EJ12 series by Susanah McFarlanne
UFO in USA by Dave Hackett
Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
Anastasia’s Album by Hugh Brewster
Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz
Treasure Fever by Andy Griffiths
Spook’s Apprentice by Joseph Delaney
Hugo Pepper by Paul Stewart
The Gizmo by Paul Jennings
Cherub series by Robert Muchamore
Chinese Cinderella by Adeline Yen Mah
Marley and me by John Grogan
The day my bum went psycho by Andy Griffiths
Darren Shan series
High Rhulain (Redwall) by Brian Jacques
Hocus Pocus Jellypoo Blues by Laura Milligan
Silk Umbrellas by Carolyn Marsden
Red Dog
Just Annoying by Andy Griffiths
A dog called Grk by Joshua Doder
Holes by Louis Sachar
Raven’s Mountain by Wendy Orr
War Horse by Michael Morpurgo
The Puzzle Ring by Kate Forsyth
The invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
Misadventures of Bartholomew Pif by Jason Lethcoe
Conspiracy 365 January by Gabrielle Lord
Percy Jackson series
The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens
Guardians of G’Hoole series by Kathryn Lasky
Runaway Train by David Belbin
Unfinished Angel by Sharon Creech
The amazing adventures of Chilly Billy by Peter Mayle
Spy Dog by Andrew Cope
Dark Materials series Philip Pullman
A long walk to : a novel by Linda Sue Park
Ingo by Helen Dunmore
Mr Gum series by Andy Stanton
Tins by Alex Shearer
Boom! by Mark Haddon
Iqbal by Francesco D’Adamo
Ivory Rose by Belinda Murrell
Gone by Morris Gleitzman

In addition to these titles which are all in our school library some more sophisticated students cited Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Tomorrow when the war began by John Marsden, Twilight by Stephanie Meyer and a number of surfing biographies. Why not add a comment to my blog and let me know which titles you have read on this list or which titles you might add.

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Robe of Skulls by Vivian French illustrated by Ross Collins

This book is like a very fizzy drink. It is effervescent. The plot just gallops along filled with fabulous evil characters and special heroes all leading to an ending that is totally satisfying.

A Grade 5 student raved about this book and the other three in the series so I was keen to read this one over the summer. This afternoon I thought I might just read the first chapter. Three hours later I finished the whole book! If you have been reading my blog you will know this means I thoroughly enjoyed The Robe of Skulls.

The story opens with Lady Lamorna preparing an order for the dress of her dreams. Black velvet, red petticoats, rows and rows of skulls along the hemline and embroidered with spiders and poison ivy. Does Lady Lamorna sound evil? Of course she does but surprisingly she is by no means the most evil character in the kingdom. That role falls to Foyce “when you looked into her eyes it made your bones go icy cold.” You can read part of the first chapter here.

Foyce and Mange, another evil character, have taken Gracie as a slave. One day, when she is desperately trying to make a meal out water, a little bat arrives with the promise of freedom, adventure and a better life.

Correct me if I am wrong,’ said the bat, ‘but would the main ingredient of water soup be water?’ Gracie nodded. ‘I do use hot water and cold water. It doesn’t make much difference to the taste, though.’”

Meanwhile two young Princes are living in a nearby castle and are training to take on their royal duties. Prince Arioso is studious and compliant but his twin brother Marcus, just ten minutes younger, is bold and desperate for adventure. Mysteriously their tutor Professor Scallio seems to have plans for Marcus which involve a forbidden map.

Our little bat, called Marlon, draws these characters together and, along with the three Ancient Crones, everyone arrives at a very satisfactory place except perhaps Foyce and Mange.

If you enjoy Robe of Skulls you will need to read the three sequels and then find Which Witch by Eva Ibbotson and The Starkin Crown by Kate Forsyth. I rarely say this but Harry Potter fans will enjoy this book too.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Junebug by Alice Mead

Junebug has only 100 pages and yet it packs in a powerful story of growing up African American, poor, in a single parent family and in “the projects”. Luckily Junebug is living near water. I looked on Google maps to see New Haven, Connecticut and now I understand about the ferry trip he takes with his mother and little sister Tasha.

More on that ferry trip in a moment. Junebug has a big dream. The dream to go sailing. As the story opens we hear Junebug's thoughts as he imagines he is on a small yacht trimming the sails and following the breeze. Reading this book at this time in Australia feels quite serendipitous as the Sydney to Hobart Yacht race is just concluding. While it is wonderful Junebug has such a magical dream by contrast he is living in such a dreadful environment. It almost makes you cry out in pain for him and his sister. His neighborhood is dominated by poverty and drug dealers.

There’s just a wall of old, smashed-up windows rising up to the sky. The embankment is piled high with dead leaves and trash stuck up against the fence … burned out cars sit in the lot, with no tires on them.”

There is one small glimmer of kindness in the form of a library run by volunteers and housed in a small space in the basement of his apartment building. One truly special lady comes each day and she has begun to teach Tasha to read. I love the way she uses Peter Rabbit to do this. Then in an awful heart wrenching scene violence erupts outside the door of the library and Mrs Swanson, an elderly lady who works as a volunteer running the library declares “That’s it … as of today, the library is closed. I refuse to stay here any more. I’ll tell the church. The reading program is over.”

Turning ten will mean Junebug will be forced to participate in a gang and this is something he dreads but can see no way to avoid until his mother mentions she has the chance of a new job in a different part of town, a new job of living in and caring for elderly people so Junebug and Tasha would live in a new home and attend a different school.

Now back to the dream of sailing. Junebug has a fabulous plan. He has been collecting bottles and he plans to write notes to place inside each one. For his birthday he has told his mother all he wants is corks. Can you make a connection between the bottles, corks and the ferry ride?

I now discover there are two more books about Junebug so I will need to investigate these for our library. I have also discovered that Oprah has book lists for children and that this title once appeared on her list. I don't usually give books a rating but I would give this one ten out of ten!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Mrs Frisby and the rats of NIMH by Robert C O'Brien

Quite by accident I seem to be reading Newberry Winners at the moment. The real reason these books are bubbling to the top of my huge reading pile is that in early December we did a huge cull of our school library shelves – this is called weeding. We weeded out over 1400 old fiction books. A few of the titles we removed are important books like the one I am about to discuss Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH so we will of course purchase new copies. The sad thing about paperback books is the way, over time, the pages discolor. The other sad thing is that quite a few of the books we need to replace are long out of print. Luckily this is not true for Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH.

I know I must have read Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH sometime long ago (it was first published in 1971) but I really had only a very scant memory of the plot and so it has been a delight to sit down today and read the whole book in one sitting.

Timothy, the youngest child of Mrs Frisby and her late husband Jonathan, is very ill and while Mrs Frisby has been able to obtain some medicine from Mr Ages he has also warned her that Timothy must stay in bed for many weeks to recuperate and that it is vital he stay warm inside their home. Unfortunately our family of mice live under a field that is due to be ploughed any day now as Spring has just begun. Normally the family would move to their Summer residence but this seems impossible when Timothy is so ill. When Mrs Frisby returns from her visit to Mr Ages she stops to help a young crow that is caught in a fence. This simple act of kindness means Jeremy, the crow, promises to repay the favor. He suggests Mrs Frisby should ask the local owl, considered a very wise animal, about the dilemma of moving. As Mrs Fribsy says “All doors are hard to unlock until you have the key.”

The key is this case involves requesting assistance from a group of rats who live under a thorny rose bush near the farm house. All travel around the farm is made more treacherous by the presence of the farm cat, aptly named Dragon. Mrs Frisby is determined to save her family and so, on the advice of the owl, she visits the rats. It is here that she discovers the true identity of these remarkable rats, their connection to her husband and her role in the saving of more than one life.

We do have the two sequels to this book in our school library which were written by Robert C O’Brien's daughter but right now I am content to leave the ending to my own imagination.

After reading Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH I have many suggestions for where to go next :

  • If you love mice, rats and other small creatures you should read the Redwall series by Brain Jacques, The cricket in Times Square by George Selden or for younger readers take a look at Tumtum and Nutmeg by Emily Bearn.

  • If you would like some terrific books to read aloud to the whole family look at The Gerander trilogy by Frances Watts

  • If you are interested in science experiments involving animals and the moral dilemma associated with this practice take a look at A Pig called Francis Bacon by Stephen Measday and the two sequels.

  • If you like the way the rats and mice outwit the farmer then pick up Fantastic Mr Fox by Roald Dahl or Charlotte’s web by EB White.

  • If you love rats then read A rat’s tale by Tom Seidler.

  • If you love owls read Guardians of Ga’Hoole by Kathryn Lasky.

  • If you want to continue the theme of kindness towards others you should read The Night Fairy by Laura Amy Schlitz.

I was amazed when I put "Mrs Frisby" into Google to see nearly 2,000,000 hits. There is a wealth of material out there if you want to use this book with a class. Here are two examples. There is also a animated movie but the small part I previewed seemed to be a poor interpretation of an important book.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Snow by PD Eastman illustrated by Roy McKie

I am in Australia and we do not have snow at Christmas but I picked this book up off my shelf today because I was feeling quite nostalgic (Christmas does that to me) and because this is a very old book I fondly remember from my childhood. First published in 1962 Snow is book number 27 in the Beginner Book series. PD Eastman wrote and illustrated quite a few of these famous books including another favorite of mine Are you my mother?

Beginner books were/are special because they are very simple to read, they rhyme and yet they also manage to tell a story often with humor which is something you average class reader could never do. I was sad to hear a teacher comment in my school the other day that a Grade 5 boy in her class had not heard Cat in the Hat and further dismayed to realize this same teacher did not immediately send up to our library for a bundle of Beginner Books – we have nearly all of them.

Reading this book today I found I remembered all the little scenes such as the snow fort, the dog sliding down the snow on his tail, the melting snow man and most importantly, the attempt by the children to save some snow in their refrigerator.

When I first read this book around age four I had not seen snow and yet the lively text and joyous illustrations gave me a good grasp of the cold and the fun.

PD Eastman met Geisel (Dr Seuss) when they were in the army together. In 1958 PD Eastman wrote his first beginner book Sam and the firefly. This is another Beginner book I loved as a child and it probably explains my fascination with fireflies (Eric Carle The Very Lonely firefly) even though we do not have these in Australia.

If you enjoy Snow you might also look for Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats which is in our library and Snowballs by Lois Ehlert. As a bonus both of these also have fabulous illustrations. For a full list of the the PD Eastman books take a look at the web site.

Snow! Snow!
Come out in the snow.
Snow! Snow!
Just look at the snow!
Come out!
Come out!
Come out in the snow.
I want to know
If you like snow.
Do you like it?
Yes or no?
Oh yes! Oh Yes!
I do like snow.
Do you like it
In your face?
I like it any place.
What is snow?
We do not know.
But snow is lots of fun
We know.
What makes it snow?
We do not know.
But snow is fun
To dig and throw.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The 13th floor a ghost story by Sid Fleischman

I first read this book in 1995 and today I re-read it and was surprised just how much of the plot I remembered.

The 13th floor a ghost story is a terrific action packed adventure filled with pirates, witch hunts and humor. Buddy is twelve and, following the death of their parents, he is living with his sister, a young lawyer. Liz and Buddy come from a family who settled in Massachusetts in 1910 but the family history goes back even further to a Captain Crackstone a pirate from 300 years ago. Legend has it that the Captain buried some treasure which has never been found and that his real name was John Stebbins is thus related to our hero Buddy Stebbins.

Money is short and it seems Liz will need to sell the family home. She heads off to work one morning and never returns. The evening before someone left a cryptic message on the answer machine. It is from a girl called Abigail Parsons. Her language and instructions are very strange, almost old fashioned. Searching for this sister leads Buddy to the Zachary Building where he finds the non existent 13th floor and is transported onto a pirate ship in 1695 where he meets the real Captain Crackstone. Luckily Buddy has his school back pack with him. It is fun to discover how many items in this bag prove useful along the way.

Liz has also been transported via the 13th floor but she arrives as Abigail is about to be tried for witchcraft. Liz is a passionate advocate and is ready to fight the case but 17th century Boston is not ready for an outspoken young woman to speak at the trial. I think this part of the plot and the references to the Salem witch trials are my favourite parts of the story.

If this all sounds complicated that is true but it is also a beautifully crafted, fast paced and occasionally very funny story which I do think middle Primary students can easily follow. Buddy needs to find his sister, Liz needs to save Abigail, and of course our 20th century family need to find a way to restore their fortune and keep their house. There is a very neat little twist at the end.

I am sad to discover Sid Fleischman died in 2010 but he does have a useful web site. Look for many of his books in our school library. I also enjoyed The whipping boy and Jim Ugly. You can read The 13th floor a ghost story book online here. I should also mention the excellent full page illustrations throught this book done by Peter Sis. Look for his picture books in our library too!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Black-eyed Susan by Jennifer Armstrong

Here is another old book which we have had to take out of our library due to wear and tear. Black-eyed Susan is a mix of Little House on the Prairie and Sarah Plain and Tall.

Susie lives on the plains of Dakota. Even though I am not at all familiar with this landscape, Armstrong is such a lyrical writer I have a vivid picture in my mind from her words. “There wasn’t a tree within twenty miles of us, just some twisty box elders and cottonwoods along the creek … we shared the view again seeing how the land lay about us and fell in swells and rises, the movement of the wind visible in the movement of the grass.”

Susie lives in a sod house made from the earth with her mother and father but while Susie celebrates life every day by standing on the roof, arms outstretched to welcome the sun, her mother is living in the fog a deep depression. She can no longer leave the house and seems unable to smile or enjoy the simple pleasures of life.

Susie and her father travel to town. Susie sees a piano for the first time and has fun interacting with the owners of the local general store. On the way home they meet up with a family of eight from Iceland who are moving west to start a new life. Susie and her father invite them to stay the night and this encounter becomes a turning point for Susie’s mother. She can now move on with her life and she might even bake a pie!

The title comes from the flowers her father plants each year on the roof of their sod house. “Every spring he planted them thick on the roof .. and when they bloomed in summer you could see our house standing out from the green prairie from just miles away.”

I probably should not have reviewed this book since it is no longer in our school library but perhaps you will be lucky and find one somewhere. If not you must read Sarah Plain and Tall and you might also enjoy Hill Hawke Hattie by Clara Gillow Clark.

Jennie's Hat by Ezra Jack Keats

Jennie’s Hat was one of my top one hundred picture books which were my focus last term. This is a simple story which demonstrates the rewards a simple act of unselfish kindness to others can bring.

Jennie longs for a new hat but when it arrives from her aunt it is so plain. Jennie can hardly hide her disappointment. Then she remembers it is three o’clock and time to go and feed the birds as she does every Saturday afternoon.

Coming home from church in her plain hat the next day she notices the birds are following her. Then the birds swoop down onto her hat and when they fly away Jennie now has the most magnificent hat complete with a nest of chirping birds.

Ezra Jack Keats uses vibrant collage illustrations to show the joy Jennie feels as her new hat is created. We have a lovely new copy of this picture book in our library. If you love hats you must read this book and check out the endpapers where Keats has created a lovely fabric design. You might also enjoy the Daisy Dawson series especially the first book Daisy Dawson is on her way. You can hear the whole story here.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Heartbeat by Sharon Creech

As usual I love to begin my holidays with a good book and for the start of this Summer break I picked out a book I read quite a long time ago. It is one I often recommend to my senior Primary students.

Heartbeat is a verse novel and as I have mentioned in other review of verse novels this genre always seem to pack a very emotional punch.

Annie and her friend Max love to run. For Annie running is a release, a joy, fun! For Max running is a competition, an obsession, the way to forge a new destiny. Being twelve and thirteen their lives are changing. Annie will soon have a new sibling. Heartbeat is a chronicle of the development of the new baby from just a few cells “little tiny cells multiplying every second” through to delivery. At the other end of life, Annie and her parents share their home with her elderly grandfather. He was also once a runner but his life is slowly drawing to a close and his memory is failing. “He says he is falling to bits little pieces stop working each day and his brain is made of scrambled eggs.” These two aspects of Annie’s life lead her to think very deeply about life and relationships.

Max also reminds me
that when I was ten
I suddenly jumped of a swing
and said
‘Why are we here?’

Am I supposed to do something
It doesn’t seem enough
to merely take up space
on this planet
in this country
in this state
in this town
in this family

I do not yet know
what I should be

The other truly special moments in this book come as Annie works on an art project. We have an art room in our Primary school and I would love to think there might be children who treasure this room the way Annie does : “Twice a week at school we have art class with Miss Freely in a room I’d like to live in.” The art project is to draw apples for 100 days. This simple idea provides a beautiful metaphor for the evolution of life Creech explores though this book.

If you enjoyed Don’t breathe a word by Marianne Musgrove and all the books by Sherryl Clarke and Sally Murphy (Pearl verses the world), Heartbeat is even better. Sharon Creech is a master writer of the verse novel. You might also enjoy an old but very special picture book we have in our library called A Rabbit named Harris by Nan Hunt. Take a look at my reviews of Love that Dog and Hate that Cat. (Sharon Creech made a comment about this review and it is one of my proudest blog moments!).

I often muse about the way a book reaches me. Earlier this year a senior student lost our copy of Heartbeat. After quite a long period we purchased a new copy and then about four weeks ago the old copy was unearthed in a different classroom. This original copy is in fairly poor shape so we have withdrawn it from our collection and thus I bought it home to read. My holidays are off to a fabulous start with the reading of this sensitive and affirming story. You can read some notes here by Sharon Creech and an extensive set of questions for teachers who might like to use this book with a class.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

I am not sure if I actually read The Secret Garden when I was a child but I do remember reading it at University. As I was working on our library stock take I discovered we had the CD of this classic read by Helena Bonham Carter so for the last week I have listened to this magical story driving to and from school.

Helena Bonham Carter has the perfect voice for this story especially the parts for the characters with Yorkshire accents. When Ben Weatherstaff encounters Colin, Mary and Dickon in the secret garden it is a moment of high emotion which made me cry.

There was Ben Weatherstaff’s indignant face glaring at them over wall from the top of a ladder! He actually shook his fist at Mary.” He begins a tirade of abuse that Mary has betrayed his trust when he suddenly stops. Dickon has wheeled Colin over to the wall and Colin confronts Ben. Ben recognizes Colin as he has his mother’s eyes but also exclaims that he cannot imagine how a crippled boy like Colin could have made it out into the garden. This puts Colin into a rage and he stands up, supported by Dickon, and shows that he has neither a crooked back not crooked legs. Ben “choked and gulped and suddenly tears ran down his weather-wrinkled cheeks as he struck his old hands together.”

If you do not know this famous book it all begins when Mary, an only child of busy and disinterested parents, is caught up in a Cholera outbreak in India. When both her parents die she is sent to England into the care of her Uncle, a recluse who lives at the beautifully named Misselthwaite Manor which is located on the edge of the moor. I have never seen a moor but books like The Secret Garden and of course Wuthering Heights have given me a lasting impression of this landscape. At the manor Mary must amuse herself and so she wanders around the extensive gardens and discovers there is a mystery -a secret garden that has been locked up for ten years and the key is lost. Mary, with the help of a friendly robin, finds a way into the garden and she begins to tend and nurture it. She also discovers Colin.

Often I have to advise parents that ‘classics’ of their childhood memory may not appeal to modern children but I do not think this will ever be the case for The Secret Garden first published in 1912. The joy of watching the garden grow, of seeing Mary and Colin transformed into happy, healthy and friendly children and the care and love shown by Dickon and his mother are timeless threads.

I seem to always talk about food in this blog but another favorite scene of mine is when Mrs Sowerby, Dickon’s mother, sends along food for the growing children. “Dickon … bought forth two tin pails and revealed that one was full of rich new milk with cream on the top of it, and that the other held cottage-made currant buns folded in a clean blue and white napkin, buns so carefully tucked in that they were still hot.” The image of the blue and white napkin is such a lovely one.

We have several copies of The Secret Garden in our school library – an abridged version for younger readers, a beautiful illustrated large text illustrated by Robert Ingpen and the audio CD. Look for this wonderful story in our library soon. If you enjoy The Secret Garden you might also look for books by Rumer Godden especially Miss Happiness and Miss Flower and books by Noel Stretfeild which I have already talked about in this blog.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

From the Mixed up files of Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

I first read From the Mixed up files of Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler in 1969 just after it won the Newberry medal. I was in senior Primary school and I can even remember the look and feel of the hard cover edition in our school library complete with its special gold sticker. I remember I also loved the long title and the author who only used her initials.

I recently read Wonderstruck and all through the book I kept thinking of From the Mixed up files of Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler and then I read that Brain Selznick also had this book in his mind. Selznick says there are clues from the Mixed up files to be found in Wonderstruck but I have yet to discover them. This will take further careful study. Which leads me to today - I read this wonderful book once again all in one sitting and I loved it but I am also amazed at the parts I remembered and the parts I had forgotten and the parts I had invented.

I remembered the running away, the bed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art used by Claudia and Jamie, the fact that they had very little money, seeing the Angel statue for the first time and their attempt to solve the mystery. I did not remember the lovely relationship that forms between these siblings, their swim in the restaurant fountain nor the real reason Claudia needed to run away. In my distorted memory I thought part of the story happened in the basement of the Museum and I had the impression Mrs Frankweiler was a far more mysterious figure.

This is such an old book but we have a lovely new edition in our library with a heart felt afterword by E.L. Konigsburg. Even though a few really minor details are reflective of the time this book was written such as the cost of things and the use of typewriters, this book has really stood the test of time. I am certain any middle Primary reader in my library would enjoy it.

I imagine visitors to the Metropolitan Museum of Art who have read this book often try to find all the special places these children explore over their week of adventure. Konigsburg mentions this in her afterword. I also liked the way Konigsburg provided ways for the children to really live in the museum – washing their clothes, cleaning teeth, following school tour groups, eating at the cafeteria and even leaving the museum to do research in a real library.

Teachers looking for a way to explain the true purpose of learning should look no further than this timeless quote from Mrs Frankweiler

“But Mrs Frankweiler, you should want to learn one new thing every day.(says Claudia) … No … I don’t agree with that. I think you should learn, of course, and some days you must learn a great deal. But you should also have days when you allow what is already in you to swell up inside of you until it touches everything. And you can feel it inside you. If you never take time out to let that happen, then you just accumulate facts, and they begin to rattle around inside of you. You can make noise with them, but you can never really feel anything with them. It’s hollow.”

Here is a link to the 1995 movie.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Darius Bell and the Crystal Bees by Odo Hirsch

Mrs Simpson was making walnut cakes … Darius counted ten cooling on the kitchen bench and suspected there were more in the oven. Mrs Simpson was icing one of them. She slapped the thick white cream on with a spatula and then rapidly spread and smoothed it with the skill that came from having iced thousands of cakes over the years…. ‘I don’t suppose any of you would like a piece,’ she said. Darius smiled. He didn’t suppose any of them needed to answer. Mrs Simpson cut three large pieces from the cake.”

When you pick up a book by Odo Hirsch you can be sure of several things. There will be delicious cakes, you will be in the hands of a master storyteller and at its heart any book by Odo Hirsch will ultimately be a celebration of community. Darius Bell and the Crystal Bees fulfills all these promises.

Darius Bell and the Crystal Bees is the sequel to Darius Bell and the Glitter Pool but it can stand alone. In this installment the bees have all mysteriously died throughout the district and this will have disastrous consequences for fruit and vegetable production for the coming year especially on the Bell estate. Mr Fisher, the gardener, has an enviable reputation as a master grower but with no bees his crops will not be pollinated and so the fruits will not form. His family will have to find work elsewhere. The Deavers, who are the estate bee keepers, can offer no solution so Darius attends a meeting of apiarists at the town hall. They suggest bringing in bee hives from other areas and it seems all will be well but the mayor George Podcock sabotages this plan. He loathes the Bell family. What can Darius do to save the crops and stop his friends Mr Fisher and his daughter Marguerite from leaving?

The answer comes unexpectedly from several sources involving his classmates, his mother and brother, his ambitious and hideous school principal, Mrs Lightman and his dedicated science teacher, Mr Beale.

I read this book in one sitting. Just like those cakes, I cannot help but devour books by Odo Hirsch. Look for this one in your library today and be prepared to cheer as our hero wins the day once again!

Read more about Odo Hirsch here.

The museum of Mary Child by Cassandra Golds

Have you read Coraline by Neil Gaiman? I found that to be a very disturbing book so be warned The Museum of Mary Child is also oddly disturbing. I discovered this title during our library stocktake and as it was one I had not read and because I loved The Three loves of Persimmon by Cassandra Golds (and her other title Claire du Lune which also lingers in my book memory) I picked it up to read.

I found the first two thirds of The Museum of Mary Child very difficult to put down but then the final scenes were so disturbing and yet I was somehow drawn to keep reading.

Heloise is an orphan who lives in austere and controlled environment with her harsh godmother. There is no colour in Heloise’s life. Even her bible has been censored so she cannot read large sections. Heloise spends her days sewing drab clothes for the neighboring orphanage and she herself is dressed in these same tones. Heloise does however, have a dream. She longs for a doll both as a plaything but more importantly as something to love. Finding a doll hidden under the floor of her room puts Heloise in great danger and sets her on an amazing adventure in search of her identity.

If you have read Fearless you will certainly want to read The Museum of Mary Child. Be warned though, this is not a book for a very sensitive reader. There are girls in our senior Primary classes who I think would enjoy The Museum of Mary Child. You might also enjoy People Might Hear you by Robin Klein (long out of print but in our library) and The Emerald Atlas. One final thing you might like to take a look at the alternate cover because I think it does show the sinister tone of this story in fact this review calls this book Gothic which is a term I did not think of but it is absolutely correct.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Quiet Book by Deborah Underwood illustrated by Renata Liwska

A few months ago a friend, who is also a bookseller, told me about The Quiet Book. The title only partly tells you about this special book. Inside it is truly magical.

It is a series of little scenes from early morning until late at night showing all the times we experience quiet and all the ways we experience it too.
Here are some :

Coloring in the lines quiet
Last one to get picked up from school quiet
Making a wish quiet
Best friends don’t need to talk quiet

Before the concert starts quiet
Story time quiet
Bedtime kiss quiet
“What flashlight?” quiet
Sound asleep quiet

The illustrations depict quirky little animals like bears, a porcupine, moose and rabbit all done in soft brown and grey tones with an occasional tiny touch of colour.

This book would make wonderful gift for a young child and it is a perfect book to share with that same young child either quietly or with some gentle conversation about each scene.

It is in our school library along with the companion volume The Loud Book. You might also enjoy The Important book and Another Important book by Margaret Wise Brown and If you listen by Charlotte Zolotow.