Sunday, April 29, 2012

Remembering Mrs Rossi by Amy Hest

Our lives are filled with a range of emotions from happiness to sadness and this is why I do not mind occasionally reading a very sad book. Think of Sarah Plain and Tall, The Naming of Tishkin Silk, I’ll always love you and The Colour of Home as examples that came quickly into my mind.

You can probably guess from the title alone - Remembering Mrs Rossi - that this will be a sad story. Mrs Rossi is Annie’s mum, Professor Rossi’s wife and the teacher of Grade 5 and 6, especially the kids in Room 222, at the Louis Armstrong School.

Annie and her family have a lovely life of routines, summer holidays and heaps of love but one day quite suddenly Mrs Rossi dies. This is the story of Annie and her dad grieving, finding each other and about balancing their new routines. Through all of this the greatest comfort of all for Annie is a book made by the students of Room 222. You can read their whole book (with a box of tissues) at the end of the story.

“I’m supposed to say it was Mr Shaw who thought up the idea to make a book about our teacher … but if you want to know who did all the work... we did. That’s right, the kids are the authors…. (and) after all the hard work we’re not even keeping our book. We’re giving it away!”

“Annie opens her book for the hundredth time – no, thousandth – time! She reads slowly. Silently. Quietly turning the pages. … Twenty-four stories and twenty-four best authors! … I read and read. It’s like giving my mother a kiss good-night. And she is giving me a big kiss too.”

This is just one of those little books that will probably be lost over time (although I did find quite a lot written about it on the internet) but if you do discover this book you will be rewarded with a gentle and emotional story told in an honest voice by a young narrator.  Here are some teacher notes.  One more thing.  I have been pondering how I came to read this book. I have joined my local public library and as I browsed the shelves I found Remembering Mrs Rossi.  It appealled to me because I knew the author, it was a hard cover book and I liked the gentle pastel coloured cover. I wonder what might make a young reader pick up this book?  I fear it might languish on the shelves because young readers might not know this author, might prefer paperback books and they might not find the cover very exciting.  How lucky for me that I picked up this book so now you might discover it too!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Try! by Sharon McGuiness

Well my blog has reached the modern age because here is my first review of an ebook! Try! By Sharon McGuiness is a terrific junior chapter ‘book’ about rugby league and I guarantee it will appeal to young sports fans and to adult readers too.

Since this is a day for firsts here is my first ever review on Amazon and it was for Try!

Jesse has a dream to play Rugby League but there are some very real obstacles he needs to overcome. Jesse is a boy who is not afraid to try!! He shows enormous determination firstly to win over his mum and then in learning how to tackle even though he is quite a small boy. Jesse himself grows through his experiences and he makes an important new friend at the end of the story. I especially like the way Sharon McGuiness does not talk down to her young readers. She is not afraid to use sophisticated words like maimed, persistent, bolted and determined. Young children, especially boys, who love to play sport will enjoy this book. Try! is perfect for beginning readers and parents who read this book with their children will appreciate the gentle emotions. The dedication page is especially poignant.

And here is my review on the website where you can purchase this ebook.

Try! is a terrific little story about football that young children will relate to. It is told with a gentle sense of humour. Jesse shows great perseverance wanting to play is favourite game. I love the way Sharon does not talk down to her audience using words like maimed, persistent, determined and bolted. This is a very short book but it packs a powerful punch of realism and emotion. Even the dedication is special!

I did have a few teething problems with the downloading but this will be easier with my next book I am sure.

I do hope Try! will be the first book in a series. Young readers, especially boys, love books about sport but I find there is real gap in the market with most having quite thin and predicable plots. Try! is well worth trying!! It seems a little odd to say this but I think the cover illustration is perfect too! Now for my next dilemma.  How to lend this book to students in my library.  At least we can all enjoy reading it together on my iwb.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Book Speak! Poems about books by Laura Purdie Salas illlustrated by Josee Bisaillon

If a tree falls

If a tree falls in the forest
with no ear to hear its fall,
does it make a crackling thunder
or descend in silent sprawl?

If a book remains unopened
and no reader turns its page,
does it still embrace a story
or trap words inside a cage?

This is the third poem in a wonderful new book I spied on a booksellers stall at a recent CBCA conference. Book Speak! Poems about books by Laura Purdie Salas is the perfect book for me. I love poetry, I love books, I regularly share poems with the teachers in my school and I like to collect poems about books and libraries and reading!! This is a scrumptious book with 21 poems about every aspect of books and reading including just what books get up to at night in a bookshop. The illustrations, a mix of collage and line drawings, enhance the poems and might serve as a stimulus for student's art projects too. Here is a web site for the author and from this link you can see more work by the illustrator too.

Here is another favourite poem from this book :

The End

You race
toward me,
checking page numbers
and calculating their distance

sprint, skip, skim
to win
the reader’s race
to cross me –

the book’s finish line.

But then
smile, cry, sigh,

flip to chapter one
and start again.

I am not so much
The End
as I am an invitation back
to the beginning.

Other lovely poems in this collection include Book Plate, This is the book (might be a song) and Index – all librarians will love this one. We will add this book to our school library next year. You can see a trailer for this book here. I also found an interesting blog about poetry books for children where there is another video about this book.

Friday, April 6, 2012

A fox called Sorrow - The Legend of Little Fur Book 2 by Isobelle Carmody

Perhaps it was because her parents had been a troll and an elf; whatever the reason, Little Fur possessed a quality that was truly strange – she was random.”

This is the second book in the Legend of Little Fur series. At times it seems there are too many books presented as a series and I must confess I rarely read a series right through to the end. Take A Series of Unfortunate Events I lasted up to book six, Conspiracy 365 I only made it to February and The Sisters Grimm I read the first book!! With The Legend of Little Fur, though, I am determined to read all four books. I am desperate to know more about Little Fur and her origins and destiny.

You can read my blog entry for the first book in this series. I have now listened to the audio of Book 2 – A fox Called Sorrow and in just one day I read Book 3 – A mystery of wolves. Book 4 is next on my reading pile.

When Ginger deposits a tiny baby owl at Little Fur’s feet I am sure she could never have imagined she is destined to once again embark on a very dangerous quest. The Sett Owl has a vision of danger emanating from the Troll King who dwells in Underth. Little Fur visits the Sett owl to ask about the baby owl that she later names Gem. When she arrives she discovers an owl convocation is taking place. Gazrak, the rat who serves the Sett Owl, has the power to decide who can gain an audience with Herness. Little Fur will not be defeated. She waits over night in the company of a fox who is very badly hurt. These two, along with Gazrak and two ferrets will become the unlikely band who need to travel to Underth in order to discover the Troll King’s plans but the Sett Owl has seen in a vision that one of the party will betray them.

Once again Isobelle Carmody weaves a magical tale. Her language and descriptions are so rich. I felt like I too was on this journey, most memorably in the parts when they travel under the gound to the Troll city. You will be holding your breath right to the end especially after Sorrow reveals the tortures he has endured. Be warned this part is harrowing. If you can find the audio book of A fox called Sorrow it is a splendid way to follow this story. Isobelle Carmody herself is the narrator and her voice for Sorrow is just perfect.

As in the first book I loved all the little details in A Fox called Sorrow such as when Little Fur has the idea to plant seeds all over the city. “At the edge of the field, she knelt beside a dead patch and took out a little wad of moist moss and a seed. She pressed the seed into a patch of living moss, then pushed both into the ground just inside the rim of the dead earth, making sure a little of it still touched the food earth. Then she sang a song to encourage the seed to life… I am like a mouse nibbling at the edge of a mountain, Little Fur thought as she stood up. But she was smiling as she closed her seed pouch … Being small, she has no contempt for small triumphs…. There was no telling how many seeds she could plant before she entered the world’s dream.”

Little Fur is not called a healer for nothing. Her healing power and acute senses make her such a memorable and special character. If you enjoy a series, you love fantasy and you want a book that takes you on a huge journey - imagined and emotional - then look for the series The Legend of Little Fur in your library.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Miracle Tree by Christobel Mattingley

IBBY recently nominated two outstanding Australian authors/illustrators for the Hans Christian Andersen award. Even though Bob Graham and Christobel Mattingley were not successful it is wonderful to see their names put forward for this prestigious honor.

To celebrate this, IBBY NSW recently hosted an afternoon with Bob Graham and Christobel Mattingley. I was able to purchase a copy of The Miracle Tree, a book I first read in 1985. This book tells the important story of family and community recovering after the dropping of the atomic bomb in this case in Nagasaki. By coincidence I re-read Sadako and the Thousand paper cranes a couple of weeks ago. These two books compliment each other very well. Sadako is living in Hiroshima when the bomb is dropped. Even though she was only a baby Sadako claims to remember this catastrophic event. As the story opens she is excited to attend the Peace Day commemoration. Sadako is now eleven years old. A short time after this special day Sadako feels the first symptoms of the sickness.

Sadako’s friend has a wonderful idea. “I’ve figured out a way for you to get well,’ she said proudly. ‘Watch!’ She cut a piece of gold paper into a large square. In a short time she had folded it over and over into a beautiful crane.” The girls now make a plan to fold 1000 cranes so that Sadako can live for 1000 years. While the ending is inevitably sad, Sadako and the thousand paper cranes contains an important message about hope and peace in our world. When you visit the peace park in the city of Hiroshima you can see a statue to Sadako decorated with thousands of cranes. We have this book in our school library along with an abridged picture book edition and DVD.

This same message of peace is at the heart of The Miracle Tree. Taro has been sent away to fight in the war. Arriving back in Japan, after the bombing, he discovers that his new bride Hanako has been working in Nagasaki. Taro searches for her everywhere but he does not find her. He helps with the clean up of the city by becoming a gardener. This helps with his personal healing. He tends trees all over the city and plants a little pine tree in the corner of a garden near a church. While this is happening Hanako’s mother has begun to search for her daughter. There are wounds to heal here too. Hanako had married Taro without her mother’s consent and in her anger the mother burned the letters from her daughter without opening them. Meanwhile Hanako herself has suffered horrendous injuries but she is still alive. Christobel Mattingley skillfully weaves a story around the lives of these three people and a little pine tree that will become their Miracle tree at Christmas.

This book made me think about Tree of Cranes which looks at the celebration of Christmas in Japan. You might also like to look for two important picture books about the events surrounding the bombing of Hiroshima – My Hiroshima by Junko Mirimoto and Hiroshima story by Toshi Maruki. While I did appreciate re-reading The Miracle Tree can I also direct you to the best book, in my opinion, by Christobel Mattingley in our school library - The Angel with a mouth-organ. This is also a book about World War II and listening to Christobel herself I now find the inpiration for this came from true events in the life of the illustrator Astra Lacis. This makes the reading even more poignant. Read more here.

CBCA Short list for 2012 announced

This is always an exciting time in the world of children's books - when the judges release details of the short listed titles after nearly a year of reading.

I am happy to say a few of the titles featured this year appear in my blog. Over the next few weeks I will add others.

Younger Readers

Picture Book of the Year

The slogan for 2012 is Champions Read! I am also excited to see so many favourite authors and illustrators among the short list such as Sonya Hartnett, Nick Bland, Elizabeth Honey, Emma Quay, Glenda Millard, Ron Brooks, Margaret Wild, Jackie French, Bruce Whatley and Nadia Wheatley. Many of their books have featured in my blog.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula LeGuin

It feels a little daunting to talk about such a famous book as A Wizard of Earthsea but my blog might be the way some young readers discover this important and classic title. I think the best thing might be for me to talk about some aspects of this book that moved me. The last link in this entry will lead you to the full plot of this book. My edition has an afterword by Neil Philip which sums this up perfectly “Nothing can rival that terrible scene on Roke Knoll when Gen summons Elfarran and looses the shadow-beast. Reading it you forget to breathe.

I read this book as part of an undergraduate Children’s Literature course in 1981 and then a few years later I listened to the audio book on a long country car trip. This is story is indeed breathtaking. Based on A Wizard of Earthsea the word archipelago has long been one of my favourites and I think my delight in books with maps can also be traced to this powerful fantasy novel.

Early in the book we read that Ged is a wild, quick, loud, proud boy who is full of temper. It is this temper that leads to the unleashing of the shadow-beast mentioned above setting Ged on a journey of self discovery and danger through all the islands of Earthsea. This is also a book about balance in the world, personal growth and self-acceptance. Every action has a consequence and this is a lesson Ged needs to follow a hard road to learn.

At its heart this is also a book about identity. Names are a powerful part of our identity. “No one knows a man’s true name but himself and his namer. He may choose at length to tell it to his brother, or his wife or his friend, yet even those few will never use it where any third person may hear it.” Hence Ged is commonly known as Sparrowhawke. “A man never speaks his own name aloud, until more than his life’s safety is at stake.” This is certainly true for Ged so when the shadow-beast says Ged’s name it is a shocking and devastating moment. Yet the beast itself seems to have no name. “You summoned a spirit from the dead .. Uncalled it came from a place where there are no names. Evil, it wills to work, evil though you. … it is the shadow of your arrogance, the shadow of your ignorance, the shadow you cast.” Conversely Vetch tells Ged his real name and thus binds their friendship and it is this friendship that will stand Ged in great stead as together he and Vetch or Estarriol travel to the final confrontation with the shadow.

This powerful fantasy is filled with wonderful place names and perfect language. Earthsea seems so much like a real place. You feel you could travel to Gont or Roke and that you might drink some rushwash tea or pat an otak.

If you love fantasy then add A Wizard of Earthsea to your reading list. Don’t let this be the first fantasy you read, as it is quite complex, nor the last. A mature reader who has already discovered books like the Rangers Apprentice series or Eragon or Narnia Chronicles or books by Isobelle Carmody, Garth Nix, Philip Pullman, Jenny Nimmo, John Nicholson, or JRR Tolkien would certainly enjoy A Wizard of Earthsea. You should also know there are three sequels. Here are some good reviews by young readers.