Friday, November 30, 2012

The Christmas Book by Dick Bruna

The Christmas book is so perfect for a young child.  It is a simple retelling of the famous bible story but Dick Bruna still uses the authentic vocabulary. "One gave him gold, one frankincense and one myrrh."

I love the format of this book. It is a thin, landscape presentation with text on one page and a full page illustration on each facing side.  Even the back cover is perfect - it has the star!

Thanks to one generous family you can find this book in our library.  I had thought it was out of print and then last year we were given a copy as a present.  Here is a lovely review.

The boy with magic numbers by Sally Gardner

Audio books are an ideal way to pass the time on a long journey.  Yesterday I had a long drive to visit a friend in her school library so I took along The Boy with magic Numbers read by Andrew Sachs.

I read this inventive little novel many years ago but I had forgotten so many details and the audio version was an added delight.

Billy Pickles arrives home from school one day to find his dad has left them and flown away to New York. He leaves Billy a strange money box which has curious instructions about using a double B battery and inserting a nickle.  Billy has neither of these things so the money box sits on his shelf. Along with a gift dad has left a huge pile of bills and so sadly Billy and his mum are forced to move into a room above dad's barber shop where mum, who is a hairdresser, must now try to eek out a living.

One day Billy receives an invitation to visit his dad in New York.  He takes the money box and is met at the airport by his Italian grandmother called Mighty Mama and his uncle.  As Billy returns to his Uncle's apartment after a confusing visit to dad and his new girl friend, Billy sees a man selling batteries.  He buys a double B battery and then back at Might Mamas he puts it in the money box, feeds in two nickles and the money box comes to life. It speaks to Billy and says some rather odd numbers.

The next day Billy and Mighty Mama are watching a television game show.  The host asks viewers to guess how many chocolate chips have been used in a large cake. Billy asks Mighty Mama if he can call in with the number from his money box.  By now you have guessed what will happen.  Billy wins the cake and a ride over New York in a helicopter. The battery is not long life but over the next few days the numbers from the money box will bring about huge changes to Billy and his family and friends.

I especially love the final chapter. There are six books in this series and we have some of them in our school library. This is a perfect book for someone wanting a quick and funny book with an interesting quite unpredictable plot.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The magnificent nose and other marvels by Anna Fienberg illustrated by Kim Gamble

In 1992 The Magnificent Nose and other marvels was short listed for the CBCA awards.  It is a collection of five enchanting short stories featuring characters with special gifts.  Linking each story is a special spider called Aristan.

I thought of this book this week as I was re-reading The Snow Spider by Jenny Nimmo.  I saw The Snow Spider in my local second hand bookshop and I remembered enjoying it years ago.  You can read the plot here.  I did enjoy this story of healing and magic but not enough to buy a new copy for our school library. It seemed a little contrived the way the stranger Eiryls is able to heal the grief of this family following the disappearance of their daughter Bethann.  This review sums up my feelings.

The magnificent nose on the other hand is a fabulous book and one I love to read aloud.  My favourite story in the collection is Ignatius Binz and his magnificent nose.  Ignatius comes from a family of perfume makers.  He has inherited a brilliant nose but he is not content to stay home and continue the family tradition. He longs for adventure. "...alone in his room at night, Ignatius wondered if there mightn't more to life than perfume. It wasn't very exciting, he thought, to sit in an office with a lot of test tubes. And was it, Ignatius wondered deep in his soul, very useful?"

Aristan encourages Ignatius to follow his dream. He sets of to see the world until is nose detects danger in the city. Ignatius alerts the fire brigade and saves the city and in turn finds his place in the world. "... up here on the tower I can sniff out trouble before it gets started. I deal in fires, floods and any number of Natural Disasters.".

This book would be a perfect family read-a-loud for young children aged 6 to 9.  In addition to the book I also have a CD read by Anna Paquin.  I find this strange but The magnificent nose even has a Wikipedia entry.  My copy has a different cover but I was not able to find a image of this to share with you. If you are in the mood for a magical book with charming Kim Gamble illustrations look for this book in your library today.

The mice next door by Anthony Knowles illustrated by Susan Edwards

If you are looking for a book where you can explore the idea of 'point of view' this is the perfect little picture book.  Dad thinks mice are smelly and will lower the tone of the neighborhood. He plans to complain to the council.

The Hardy's are in fact perfect neighbors. They maintain their home and tidy garden, share food and hospitality and over the year Dad mellows until finally he comes to like the Hardy's. The illustrations are a perfect way to explore scale.

On the back cover of this book it says "Brilliant. A sane, humane and very, very funny book."  Books for Keeps.

I treasure the second hand copy of this book in my collection.  First published in 1986 this is another book that is long out of print but is well deserving of a reprint hopefully some time soon.

I have discovered there is a sequel called Christmas with the mice next door.  I have never seen this. The Mice next door is also a perfect discussion starter about prejudice and persuasion.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The lollipop tree by Cherney Berg illustrated by Joan Bonagura

I was talking tonight to a fellow teacher-librarian about books that are out of print so when I came home I thought I know the book I want to talk about on my blog.  This little book was published in 1969 and I suspect it might have been part of a "Reading scheme".  It originally came with a little record but I have sadly lost this.

The lollipop tree is a book for our times.  Given new fresh illustrations I think it deserves to be republished.  Here is a part of the text :
"Once upon a time there lived a little boy who believed in magic and dragons and flying carpets and everything else grownups thought were impossible.  People would say to him 'There are no such things.' And he would say 'There are so.' And they would say 'It isn't scientific,' and then they would shake their heads at him and say 'Tsk, tsk, tsk. Too bad."

Luckily our little hero has two important qualities belief and perseverance.  He plants beans and waits for giant magic beanstalks.  Alas only real beans come up. The little boy just says 'Wait!'.  Next he plants pumpkins and waits for them to grow into magic coaches but sadly they only grow into pumpkins. Again the boy says 'Wait!' He plants marshmallows, chocolate bars and gumdrops. Rabbits, a dog and a squirrel take care of these.  "Nothing grew. And everybody said 'Scientifically, you are wrong."  The boy decides to try one more thing so he plants a lollipop stick.  Days and days go by until one morning the little boy goes outside to water his stick just one more time, just in case.  "He didn't see any coaches, or magic carpets or even one dragon - but just where he had planted the lollipop stick there was a very strange looking tree."

I can't say look for this book in your school library but perhaps you might be lucky and find a second hand copy one day.  The little record featured Burl Ives and tonight I found it!  I recommend listening without the images.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Possum Magic by Mem Fox illustrated by Julie Vivas

Last week I needed to empty all my home bookshelves so I could install some new ones.  My book collection continues to expand no matter how hard I try to exercise some restraint and no matter how often I try to cull older books ... I simply have too many favourites.

Since my last blog post was about an Australian picture book I thought I should also mention one of the most famous Australian picture books of all time Possum Magic by Mem Fox.  I remember first reading this book in 1984 not long after it was published.  In 1994 I visited a remote Hutterite community in Alberta and I gave the teacher and children a copy of this book after I read it aloud. I wonder what these children who were living such different and strict lives made of all the wonders in this book – the animals, the food, the magic!

Hush is in danger from snakes in the Australian bush so her grandma kindly makes her invisible. This works well in terms of safety but while little Hush does have some terrific adventures there comes a day when she would like to be visible again.  Grandma Poss hunts through all her magic books but she cannot find the right magic.  “There was magic for thin and magic for fat, and magic for tall and magic for small but the magic she was looking for wasn’t there at all.”  Hush reassures her Grandma that she does not mind staying invisible “but in her heart of hearts she did.” The illustration on this page by the wonderful Julie Vivas is so poignant and sad. Luckily Grandma Poss is not one to give up.  She knows the magic has something to do with food and so the two embark on a huge journey around Australia sampling all manner of exotic foods in the hope they will stumble upon the right formula.  Hush eats Lamingtons, Minties, Anzac Biscuits, Vegemite and Pavlova. 

In 2004 I attended a huge 21st Birthday party for Possum Magic and the celebration included all the foods found in the books.  The Lamingtons were bought into the enormous hall on piled high like pyramids and carried from each corner by chefs complete with those fabulous tall white hats.  It is a scene I will always remember.  Our tables were decorated with gum leaves and Minites and of course we all sang Happy Birthday.  Now Possum Magic is about to turn 30!  There are heaps of things to explore on the web site.  You can see the illustrations and hear Mem herself read this book here. Finally here are some cross curricula teaching notes.

There's a hippopotamus on our roof eating cake by Hazel Edwards illustrated by Deborah Niland

Taking young children on a reading journey through the seven years of Primary School is a very joyful part of my job as a Teacher-Librarian and the very first book I read to Kindergarten has not changed in over twenty five years.  It is There’s a Hippopotamus on our roof eating cake by Hazel Edwards.  This year marks the 30th Anniversary of this famous character.

Why do I love to read this book?

  • I have a hippo toy who lives in my library bag and the children love meeting this cheeky fellow
  • This is a very familiar book – most children have heard it at pre-school and there is something very comforting about hearing an old favourite.
  • This book is filled with nonsense which all children love.
  • The hippo gets away with all sorts of ‘naughty’ behaviours.
  • It is fun to read this book aloud with special voices.
  • Finally and most importantly the repeated refrain of “There’s a hippopotamus on our roof eating cake” is a perfect way to invite the young children to join in as storytellers.

Just in case you have not seen this book, our young narrator lives with her mum, dad and older brother in a suburban house.  The roof is leaking so Daddy has called the men in to fix the roof but our little heroine knows why the roof is leaking.  There’s a hippopotamus on the roof having a shower, eating cake, riding a bike, watching television, drawing with crayons, and having a great time. When he is not on the roof the hippopotamus works part time at the zoo.

There are several sequels but for me the original is still the best.  I look forward to sharing this classic with the new Kindergarten children who arrive at school in February next year.
Here is a movie trailer, and author web site.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The true story of the 3 little pigs! by A. Wolf as told to Jon Scieszka illustrated by Lane Smith

Every part of this book is a cheeky delight.  On the cover you can see a pig reading a newspaper called Daily Wolf. Our hero A. Wolf - you can call me Al -  is seen huffing and puffing and two pigs are flying through the air. The back cover is a collage of newsprint with a central illustration of the scenes of the crimes - three little houses of straw, sticks and brick.

Reading this book aloud I seem drawn to using an American accent. Al wants to set the record straight. In his version he begins the day making a birthday cake for his "dear old granny".  He runs out of sugar and so sets off to borrow a cup from his neighbor  a pig who has built his house from straw.  Al has a bad cold and  his knocking dislodges a little dust. Al has a coughing fit and the straw house falls down.  "And right in the middle of the pile of straw was the First Little Pig - dead as a doormat!"  Al can see no reason to leave a ham dinner lying in the straw.  "So I ate it up."  He moves on through the neighborhood still in search of that cup of sugar.  The Second Little Pig has a house made of sticks.  Once again Al is overcome with a sneezing fit "And you're not going to believe it, but this guy's house fell down just like his brother's.  When the dust cleared there was the Second Little Pig - dead as a doornail."  Al now moves onto to the last house made from brick. The Third Little Pig is home and he calls out a terrible insult aimed at Al's dear old granny.  This makes Al mad, the police arrive with the media in tow and the rest as they say is history.

You can read an excellent detailed review and see some illustrations.  Here are some questions to use with a senior primary class.  There have been many theater productions of this book and here is a television advertisement you could share with senior students.  This book might also be a fun way to show how Venn diagrams work.

Children's book-a-day almanac by Anita Silvey

You might have noticed the Book-a-day almanac on my sidebar.  I love to dip into this and now Anita has published all her reviews into a book!  I received it for my birthday.  The perfect present for a Teacher-Librarian.

I will let Anita explain the structure of these reviews :
"Every day of the calendar year I discuss an appropriate title and then provide information about how it came about, the author, the ideal audience and how the book has connected in a meaningful way with young people from babies to age fourteen. ... For each day of the year I also provide a sidebar that lists other events and contains children's books related to these events."

How will I use the Almanac?

  • As a shopping list of course
  • A memory jogger of books I have read and perhaps forgotten
  • A diary planner so I can celebrate author and illustrator birthdays
  • A celebration planner so we can celebrate using children's books
  • And finally as inspiration.

Turning to my birthday I see the book of the day was Savvy which I have also reviewed.  This was a book I really loved so I am happy to see it coincides with my birthday. The sidebar mentions I share a birthday with Frances Hodgson Burnett and Carlo Collodi (Pinocchio).

I am very glad to have a copy of this book on my shelf of children's literature reference books and I am sure it is a volume I will return to many times.  My only dilemma is will I write all over it with annotations... this is so tempting.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Eloise by Kay Thompson illustrated by Hilary Knight

Eloise has been totally commercialized with toys and even a theme shop in the Plaza hotel itself but returning to the book today the story still makes me smile. Eloise was first published in 1955 but I did not encounter her until 1985 when a tiny puffin edition arrived in my school library. I remember being intrigued by the fold out pages and ‘old fashioned’ two colour printing as well as rejoicing over the antics of the young naughty little girl.

Eloise lives at The Plaza Hotel on the top floor with her nanny. Her mother is often absent but this does not seem to bother Eloise because she has organised organised organised her day around life at the Plaza. When you look at this book take your time and really look at the faces of the hotel guests – they are so expressive. I especially love her room which is filled with untidy projects, books and toys.

How can you not fall in love with writing like this :
Then Nanny gives the signal and Weenie and Skiperdee and me we skibble out of bed as fast as everly we can and Nanny wraps us in our robe and holds us tight and I pat her on her botto which is large then we have to do our morning duties and laugh and sing.

Be warned Eloise is not politically correct.  Her Nanny smokes, her mother is absent as I mentioned and there is no reference to a father but all this is irrelevant because Eloise herself is such a delightful little character full of mischief and able to enjoy her unique life in this luxury New York City Hotel.

I wonder if Eloise might have been the inspiration for Olivia they have so much in common.

If the commercialism does not worry you take a look at the Eloise web site.  I did visit the Plaza hotel this year and I did peek inside the Eloise shop where I bought a simple postcard to celebrate this classic book character.  If you enjoy Eloise there are several other books in the series.

Spot bakes a cake by Eric Hill

My friend at Kinderbookswitheverything has alerted me to the amazing idea that tomorrow, November 26th, is National Cake Day in America.

This makes me smile because I love cakes, I love books containing cakes, November 26th is quite close to my Birthday and I have been eating cake, I just bought a 2013 calendar with pictures of the most elaborate decorated cakes and I often think I would like to have a cake filled afternoon tea party with some of my favourite children's writers especially the ones who write about delicious food including cakes. First on my list of guests would be Odo Hirsch and his chocolate dippers from the book Hazel Green.

When I think about cake in a picture book I think of young Spot baking a cake for his dad. Sure it does look a little lopsided but I am sure it tasted delicious.

In A friend Like Ed by Karen Wagner, Ed makes a triple layer fudge frosted cake which no one can resist. Meanwhile little Ella has a cake to deliver on her cart and you will hold your breath as this special cake travels up and down the countryside to its destination.

Finally I must mention The Witch in the Cherry Tree by the wonderful Margaret Mahy.  Oddly this book has a recipe for gingerbread in the back but it is a book about cakes. David and his mum are making small cakes and it is the smell of the baking that lures a witch into the cherry tree.  A few cakes are burnt and these are useful to throw at the witch.

Along with these picture books don't forget to check out the collection of cake making books in our library. Have a happy cake day!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Whistle for Willie by Ezra Jack Keats

As I walked through the bush the other day the birds were singing including our wonderful Australian Whip birds.  When I hear a Whip bird I just have to whistle to try to trick the bird’s mate into answering me.

Whistle for Willie is a book about learning to whistle but this cannot be your only reason for seeking out this book.  Ezra Jack Keats is a very special story teller and illustrator. Take a look at my review of Jennie’s Hat.   Once again Ezra Jack Keats uses fabulous collage papers and graffiti back grounds to show the inner city world of our hero Peter.  Peter takes a journey through his neighbourhood. He sees a large empty cardboard box.  He would like to hide in the box and whistle as a trick to surprise his dog Willie.  Peter tries and tries but no whistle comes but he is a boy with a dream and with perseverance.  So Peter tries one more time.  “He blew and blew and blew.  Suddenly – out came a real whistle!”  I especially love the way Peter’s mum joins in with his imaginative play.

You might also like to look at A Snowy Day which is the first book about Peter.  You can read about all the Ezra Jack Keats characters here.  Also here is a short video of someone reading this book.  One more thing I have discovered there is a sculpture of Peter and his dog in Prospect park in Brooklyn New York.  I visited the park this year but I did not know about this statue. Perhaps one day you will visit this.  Beside the statue you can see Peter's little chair.  This playground is sponsored by the Ezra Jack Keats foundation.

Here are some more details :

Brooklyn also has an Imagination Playground ...Conceived by Christian Zimmerman, vice president for design and construction at the Prospect Park Alliance, it celebrates storytelling.

Inside, a huge bronze dragon curls through a frame shaped like an open book. In warm weather, water cascades over the creature and spews from its mouth. “We chose a dragon because it’s in children’s literature throughout the world,” Mr. Zimmerman said.

On the other side, a bronze sculpture by Otto Neals portrays a boy seated on a rock reading, one hand stretched toward a playful dachshund; a little bronze chair sits nearby.

The figures are Peter and his dog, Willie, characters created by Ezra Jack Keats (1916-83), a Brooklyn writer and artist often credited as the first picture-book author to weave stories around a black child. In the 1990s the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation approached the Alliance about commissioning a sculpture commemorating his work. It soon became part of the planned playground. The space includes a stage and colorful steel animals with cutout faces.
When the playground opened in 1997, the sculpture of Peter was a deep blue. “The ears soon lost their patina,” Mr. Zimmerman said, “because kids would sit on the rock and whisper to Peter.”

Cannon the Librarian by Mike Thaler

Today I moved all of my books onto new shelves and in the process I found books I had totally forgotten about.  One of these is an inconsequential little book called Cannon the Librarian by Mike Thaler. I have a good collection of picture books about libraries and librarians and this tiny book is another gem which I plan to read aloud next year.

Our intrepid narrator visits his local library each day after school.  It is such a dangerous place because while he is there he encounters dragons, pirates, a giant octopus, Dracula, a witch, trolls, a martian and Frankenstein.  Luckily Miss Cannon is on hand with her trusty 12 inch ruler!  The inclusion of an old fashioned card catalogue and date stamp just add to the fun.

Miss Cannon got angry. She took of her glasses, grabbed her ruler and vaulted over the checkout desk. … Miss Cannon saves me a lot. She also lets me use her hanky when my nose runs. I love Miss Cannon.  In fact besides the books, she’s why I go to the library every day after school.”

If you like the idea of librarians in literature take a look at this list.  We have a few of these titles in our school library.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Happy Mouse Day by Dick King Smith

Some of the smallest books designed for young readers can be real gems.  Happy Mouse Day is a favourite of mine. The perfect read aloud for Grade 1 or 2 and today I found a brand new copy. My school copy is from the Corgi Pups series but this new one is a Colour First Reader from Random House.  It seems they have taken about 8 of the Corgi Pup titles and reissued them with bright colour illustrations and a large font. Oddly I could not find a full list of these new editions apart from those illustrated on the back cover of Happy Mouse Day.

Pete wants a mouse – he is desperate but his mum says you will never have a mouse in this house.  Pete is thinking about these words while he is up in his tree house one Saturday.  For Pete Saturday is mouse day. Each Saturday he asks his parents again if he can please have a mouse and as always they say no.  Then Pete has a revelation.  He is not allowed to have a mouse in that house but what about in this house in his tree house?

Pete enlists the help of his friend and after school they go to the local pet store and Pete buys the mouse of his dreams – a PEW – a pink eyed white.

He manages to keep his mouse a secret from his mum and he even builds her the most splendid mouse house. Pete has a terrific little book which he uses for reference – “Mice and how to keep them”.  There are a few close shaves but it all seems to be going very well until one very stormy night the tree with the tree house is struck by lightning and it seems little Nice (that is the name of the mouse) is dead!  You might like to think how a mouse might come to be called 'Nice'.

Dick King Smith is of course a master story teller so you are in very safe hands. The ending will make you smile and smile. I adore sharing this little book with children in my library.  Go and look for it today – this is a heart-warming story which is sure to be enjoyed by children and adults alike.

The Silver Christmas Tree by Pat Hutchins

Confusion, misunderstands, not seeing “the signs”, being so caught up in your own problems you overlook the people or in this case animals around you.  This all sounds quite complex but these things are sometimes right in the heart of some of the best picture books for very young children. It is a delight to a reader, especially a young one, to see or know things that the main character is missing. One book I have been thinking about this week which fits this description is The Silver Christmas tree by Pat Hutchins.  Long out of print this is one of my favourite Christmas books.

Squirrel is convinced he knows exactly what his friends will give him for Christmas but as he sees Rabbit, Mouse, Fox and Duck each carrying a parcel - a parcel of the wrong shape and size, he can only feel great disappointment that his friends seem to have forgotten him.
On Christmas eve the friends gather at Squirrel’s house to share the presents. Each present is perfect but Squirrel himself realises he has been so caught up in his own issues he has forgotten to get a present for his friends. Then then darkness falls and one star can be seen at the top of his Christmas tree.  This star is the best gift of all.

Here is an quote from the Kirkus reviewand that final glow of star light, snow flakes and friendship leaves no doubt that Christmas is in the air.

We met these same characters in other Pat Hutchins titles – The surprise Party, We’re going on a picnic and Shrinking Mouse.

Sadly we do not have this book in our school library nor do I have my own copy but I was delighted to find it in a Christmas Anthology titled Once Upon a Christmas time.

If you have not dipped into any Pat Hutchins books rush out and take a look.  Along with the most perfect illustrations each contains a magical story.  My personal favourites are the Monster Baby series although her most famous book is of course Rosie's Walk.

A friend is someone who likes you by Joan Walsh Anglund

This book is not in our school library. It is very very old, first published in 1959, but I just felt like talking about this tiny book that touched my heart when I was very young.
Here is some of the text :

A friend is someone who likes you
It can be a boy
It can be a girl
or a cat …
or a dog …
or even a white mouse
A brook can be a friend in a special way.
It talks to you with splashy gurgles.
It cools your toes and lets you sit
quietly beside it when you don’t feel
like speaking.
Sometime you don’t know who
are your friends.
Sometimes they are there all the time,
but you walk right past them
and don’t notice that they like you in a special way.
And then you think you don’t have any friends.
Then you must stop hurrying and rushing so fast
Sometimes you have to find your friend
… everyone … everyone in the whole world
has at least one friend.

Where did you find yours?

This book introduced me to words like brook and to the magic of very simple words to convey an emotional message. I also loved the illustrations then and they still make me smile.  I have two copies of this book. One a little newer bought in the last ten years at a second hand sale and my original copy with my name in simple printing inside the cover and my clumsy colouring of the black and white illustrations.  I treasure both.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Wildwood by Colin Meloy and Carson Ellis

It feels as though I have been reading this book for many weeks.  This might be the longest book I have read on my Kindle – it has 576 pages.  While this is not the longest book I have ever read it did seem especially long and at times I did not think I would reach the end.  This is one disadvantage of reading a novel on a Kindle.  I like to see page numbers when I am reading but the Kindle only gives you percentages.  I find I like to have a better sense of how much I have read and how much reading I still need to do.

It may be simplistic but one of the ways I judge a book is by how reading it consumes me.  If I love a book I am happy to devote many continuous hours to reading.  When I gobble up a book this way it means I have really enjoyed it!  Because Wildwood took me so long to read I cannot say I loved it but there were moments when I did get completely caught up in the story.   I was interested to read some of the Kindle reviews because they were so divergent.  Some people gave this book 4 or 5 stars while others gave it only one or two….  Wildwood seems to be a book that does provoke a strong reaction. It has won lots of awards but the New York Times reviewer agrees with me that parts of this book were quite slow.  You can read about the story from the series web site and the NY Times review but here are some of my observations :

I knew the story would end in a fierce battle right and yes it certainly did.  The battle was so graphic I could hardly read all the details.

Alexandra, the Dowager Governess reminded me of so many thoroughly evil, power crazed, women we find in fantasy writing – I am thinking of the Queen of Narnia and The Snow Queen as obvious examples. But also of Robe of Skulls.   Here is a graphic description of Alexandra :  “Her face was ovoid and pale, though her lips shone red like the freshest late summer apples.  Her hair was electric copper-red and it hung in braided tresses … she was discernibly human, yet she struck Curtis as being entirely otherworldly, as if she’d been pulled from the face of some ancient cathedral’s … fresco.”

I did like the opening chapters when Prue watches, helpless, as her baby brother Mac is lifted from the park and flown away to the Impassable Wilderness.  The inclusion of detailed maps help the read make sense of this wild area.

The link to Rapunzel, while obvious, was also somehow reassuring.  Prue’s parents make a promise to the evil queen that they will relinquish their second child if she will help them to conceive.  “one day … we were at the farmer’s market … and I was off getting … rutabagas.”   “So you need a baby?’ and we nod yes.  ‘I’ll make you with child but you have to agree to something.’ And we say okay, what it is? And she says ‘If you ever have a second child, that child belongs to me.”

The cast of characters are diverse and interesting. The Dowager Governess wants to use the ivy to take over the whole kingdom. She enlists the help of coyotes.  She tames them and gives them smart uniforms and military discipline. On the other side, apart from the two heroes Prue and her class mate Curtis, we have a disparate bunch of Bandits, farmers, animals like rats, sparrows, badgers and a very impressive owl.  Various trees and plants also pay an important role in the eventual triumph over evil.

I am quite lost as to why Curtis stayed behind and deserted his family.  He is such an important character in this story but even now right at the end I feel I know very little about him and this is frustrating.
To some extent this book reminded me of Toby Alone (which is an utterly fabulous book)  and The Emerald Atlas.  If you are a Narnia fan you should also enjoy this book.  I have read a good review of the audio version which might be worth looking for.

The stage is set at the end for the sequel but I am not rushing to read it just yet.  There is a good video on the series web site.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Follow the swallow

I enjoy discovering books with a repeated refrain.  “I don’t believe you” say Chack and Apollo as they compare their flying, food choices and habitat.  I also like to make links between books.  An old favourite for many generations is the classic book Don’t forget the bacon.  In Follow the Swallow by Julia Donaldson Chack, the Blackbird, sends a message to his friend Apollo, the swallow, who has flown to Africa.

Just like Don’t forget the bacon, with each repetition the message is changed…

Come to the tree
Jump in the sea
Grumpy like me
Monkey for tea
One, two, three whee!

If you have not read a book by Julia Donaldson you are in for a real treat. She spoke and performed at the IBBY Congress and now I understand why her books are filled with such wild exuberance. Julia Donaldson herself bursts with enthusiasm for books and libraries and music and reading. After you read Follow the Swallow you should read Tiddler which is also about the way messages can be changed as they are passed along… like a game of Chinese whispers.

We don’t have blackbirds or swallows in Australia but that means there is plenty to explore here.  What is bird migration? Why do birds migrate? What are some other animals or birds that change their colouring as they grow older.  Perhaps you should also revisit the Ugly Duckling.

This book also made me think of Moonbear's Pet by Frank Asch which is about the change of a tadpole into a frog and Lucy Goosey by Margaret Wild which is a delightful book to read aloud.

I have now discovered Follow the swallow is already in our school library in a small edition - a Banana book.  I will add the picture book copy next year and it can sit beside Julia Donaldson's most famous book The Gruffalo.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Azzi in between by Sarah Garland

Take a minute to read my review of The Colour of Home.  Now read my review of Oranges in No man's land.  I think these two books set the scene for my book today which is Azzi in Between.

Azzi lives in a country beset by war. Each day the sights and sounds of the war come closer to her precious family until one day a message comes that they must flee.  Sadly they leave her grandmother behind along with her special garden.

“Quick! Get in the car! No time to lose, no time to pack.  We must leave the country. We are in terrible danger!”

The family make their dangerous journey to a new land. Just like Hassan in The Colour of Home, Azzi has to make a huge adjustment to her new home, school and culture.

You may know Sarah Garland from her joyous picture books like Doing the washing, Going shopping or Having a picnic.  This new book marks a huge change of intended audience, style and theme.  You can read the authors own words here where she explains her inspiration for this book. Azzi in between is a graphic novel/graphic picture book.  The ‘message’ of this book is powerful and important but it is delivered in a way that is accessible to a younger reader and it concludes with such a positive and happy ending that you will find yourself smiling like Azzi.

You might also look at Refugee by David Miller, Zilba came on a Boat by Liz Lofthouse and for older students Home and Away by John Marsden.  If you would like to read a novel on the topic of refugees I think Soraya the Storyteller by Rosanne Hawke is one of the best.

You should also know this book is endorsed by Amnesty International UK.  I will quote from Robin Morrow in Magpies “This book should be welcome in every library and classroom, and bear fruit in knowledge and empathy.”

Monday, November 12, 2012


Lists lists I am not really sure how I feel about lists. Lists can be a good way to keep track of books you have read, books on a theme or topic or books on a wish list of titles you would like to read. I seem to have collected a huge number of book lists for all these reasons.

I have been sorting through all my boxes of papers accumulated over the last ten or fifteen or even thirty years of working in school libraries.  I came across a list I made in 2008.  As I was stocktaking (doing an inventory) of our fiction section I kept coming across books I had read, loved and perhaps forgotten. I made this list of great books thinking of some of the very keen senior primary girls who use my library.

Girls Girls Girls - great books to keep you reading!

Lucky for Some Fleur Beale
Runestone Anna Cidor
The Not just anybody family Betsy Byars
Singer of songs Kate Constable
Walk two moons Sharon Creech
Wolf Gillian Cross
The Mystery of Devon House  Cory Daniels
The rescue of Princess Athena  Kathryn England
Yolanda's Genius  Carol Fenner
Pictures of Hollis Woods  Patricia Reilly Giff
Forbidden Memories  Jamila Gavin
Clair de Lune Cassandra Golds
Olive's ocean  Kevin Henkes
Soraya the storyteller  Rosanne Hawke
Hazel Green   Odo Hirsch
When the circus comes to town  Polly Horvath
At the sign of the sugared plum  Mary Hooper
The tale of Emily Windsnap  Liz Kessler
The view from Saturday   EL Konigsburg
Ella Enchanted  Gail Carson Levine
Secret friends  Elizabeth Laird
The giver  Lois Lowry
Gathering Blue  Lois Lowry
The stonekeeper's daughter   Linda McNab
Belle Teal Anne Martin
Night Singing  Kierin Meeham
Secret letters from 0 to 10  Susie Morgenstern
The slightly true story of Cedar B Hartley  Martine Murray
Night Flying  Rita Murphy
The snow spider Jenny Nimmo
First Test   Tamora Pierace
Love Ruby Lavender Deborah Wiles
Millicent Min, Girl genius  Lisa Yee
The garden of the Empress Cassia   Gabrielle Wang

While this list might now seem a little dated it might make a starting point as you explore your school library.  Perhaps a title will catch your eye.  You could "Google it" and see if the plot appeals to you then check it out in your library.  As I look down this list I can see quite a few titles I would like to re-read and add to my blog.  I am a little surprised that I have not blogged more of them.  This just adds to my conviction that I wish I had begun this blog years and years ago then I could read my thoughts about these books.  I hope this list is useful for you too.

Happy Reading!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The lion the the little red bird by Elisa Kleven

This is not a word I use very often but The Lion and the Little Red Bird is quite simply a beautiful book. I picked it up in a splendid bookshop in New York called  McNally Jackson  because last year one of the new teachers in my school mentioned Elisa Kleven.  We have several of her books in our school library.  You can see many her titles here.

Elisa has a very decorative style of illustrating.  Her pictures almost sparkle with tiny flowers and and water droplets. On the back cover of this book on review says “readers will want to feel the pages.”

If you need a special book to talk about colours or friendship or the wonders of art then grab this lovely book. The ending surprised me and I hope it might surprise you too!

Here is the full quote from Kirkus Reviews

"A little red bird meets a lion and wonders why the end of his tail is a different color each day. The lion can't understand the bird's chirping questions, but he likes her cheerful company, and so they wander amiably together through fields and hills and splash in a mountain lake. One night, the gentle lion rescues the bird from a storm and brings her into his warm cave, which is decorated with paintings of the places they've seen together--paintings that the lion has made using the end of his tail as a brush. This joyous tale about the wordless discoveries of friendship is illustrated with mixed-media collages so richly colored and textured that readers will want to feel the pages. "

Friday, November 9, 2012

Pied Piper of Hamelin retold by Michael Morpurgo illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark

Instead of rubbish tips I want to see parks where all the children can play, and schools where all the children can learn. I want to see fairness and kindness. I want to see the happiness that only fairness and kindness can bring. Only when I know that Hamelin is a fit place for children to grow up, can the children go home again.

Do you recognise this from The Pied Piper of Hamlin?  As an added bonus this retelling is by master story teller Michael Morpurgo with joyous illustrations by Emma Chichester Clark.  I have adored Emma Chichester Clark ever since I met her work in the Blue Kangaroo series so when I spied this new book at the IBBY Congress I knew it had to join my growing pile of purchases.

To quote from one reviewer :
(This versions is) a nuanced and substantial retelling of the well-known morality tale; young readers can identify with the resourceful narrator, and adults may find relevance, given current economic woes. 

If you are new to this timeless story or if you just need to update your own worn copy this new version would be the perfect choice.  We have a number of interesting versions of the Pied Piper in our school library including  a simple reader style retelling from the Leapfrog series, a fun version by Tony Ross, a spoof called The fried Piper of Hamstring and as a contrast a version illustrated by Drahos Zak.

I had forgotten the ending which is so satisfying.  Stories like this are an important part of our western culture.  Look for this version in your library.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson

If you have read some of my blog you will know I adore verse novels.  When I was in New York I visited the famous children’s bookstore Books of Wonder.  My problem in a bookstore like this is what book or books to buy.  As I browsed along the shelves I saw Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson. I have seen this author mentioned on lots of book lists and while I have read some reviews of her books I have never been quite sure if her books would be good to purchase for my school library.

I bought Locomotion and read it in one sitting!  In fact I loved it so much that a few weeks later I gave my copy to Joyce, the US Reading teacher I mentioned when I was talking about The world according to Humphrey.  We had talked about how much we love verse novels so this book was the perfect gift.

I continue to be amazed at the way verse novels consistently present complex and deeply emotional stories from such brief texts.  The real name of our narrator is Lonnie Collins Motion or Lo Co Motion.  His mum loves to dance to the song Come on Baby do the Locomotion hence the name.  This is a special memory for Lonnie.  I say memory because Lonnie's parents are dead through a tragedy that is so profound I will not elaborate.  Jacqueline Woodson, just like Sharon Creech in Love that dog, slowly reveals what has happened and why Lonnie is living with Miss Edna while his sister is far away living with a new mama. “The floors are made of wood and there’s pretty rugs in different spots.  … I don’t lean back though cause Lili’s new mama will give me a look. … I take a little sip of milk and make sure to set my glass back down on the coaster thing ‘cause I know Lili’s new mama is watching me from the kitchen.

This is a book for a sensitive reader in upper Primary.  It has won many awards which you can see listed on the author’s own web site.  As an added bonus I read this book while I was visiting Brooklyn and New York.  You can find some teaching notes here.  Here are some details about the poetry.  I do not give books a rating but I would give Locomotion ten out of ten!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

I have the right to be a child by Alain Serres, illustrated by Aurelia Fronty and translated by Sarah Ardizzone

I seem to have accidentally collected quite a few books on the topic of the rights of the child.  I have the right to be a child is one I spied at the IBBY Congress.  In our library we already have three other books on this topic all of which I love to share with Grade Six students when they are working on the HSIE topic of Global Connections.  These all use a wonderful range of award winning illustrators.  The titles are : We are all born free, A children’s chorus  and For every child.  It is interesting to compare how each illustrator interprets the same “right”.

In this book, I have the right to be a child, the style is more conversational.  “I am a child. I’ve got eyes, hands, a voice and a heart. But have I got rights?” “Do I have the right to a roof over my head? A home that isn’t freezing cold or baking hot.  A place I can feel safe – nothing fancy, but with everything I need.”.

When I talk about the rights of a child I like to give the students a set of photos showing children living in very different circumstances to our own.  We use these to compile a list of basic rights. It is interesting to see ones the students mention and the ones they just don’t think of for example special rights for the disabled, the right not to have to work and as this new book says : “Why should I suffer any kind of violence? Nobody has the right to abuse my childhood. Nobody!”.

This new book has only one illustrator but it will make a perfect addition to my collection. It will also compliment the books I have collected about the topic of peace such as The Peace book by Todd Parr and What does peace feel like? by Vladimir  Radunsky.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

School according to Humphrey by Betty G Birney

I am very lucky there is a small primary school across the road from my home and they have a terrific and very attractive library so I called in to see if they had any books from the series by Betty G Birney about my new friend Humphrey.

Even though School According to Humphrey is the eighth book the order really does not matter (although I would start this series with the first book which I blogged about last week).

A new school year is just beginning.  It is America so it is September and the Fall.  Humphrey and his new friend Og the frog are waiting in room 26 for the arrival of their old friends. What Humphrey does not realise is that a new school year means a new class!

Mrs Brisbane opened the classroom door and soon students started to come in.  I realised straight away that something was wrong. … ‘You’re in the wrong room!’ I squeaked. ‘This is not your room, go back!’ … Why didn’t’ she notice her class was full of the wrong students?”

Eventually things settle down and Humphrey realises these new kids will be the students in Room 26 but then he begins to worry about his old friends.  Aldo the night janitor tells Humphrey that his nephew Ritchie is missing Humphrey and that he wants a class pet in his new room.  The ever anxious Humphrey imagines the worst. Will he have to leave Room 26?  What will happen to Og? What if the new teacher does not like him?  At night Humphrey opens the lock that does not lock and he goes exploring the school.  He needs to find the classroom where his old friends have gone.

There are some wonderful laugh out loud moments in this installment.  One is when Humphrey discovers the work this year is really easy.  “While the strange students seemed quite bright, I was surprised to find out that I knew quite a lot more than they did about these subjects.  At first this was confusing to me, until I realised that I’d studied the exact same information last year.  I felt unsqueakably smart!

I am looking forward to reading more books in this series. We only have one title in our school library as I write this – Friendship according to Humphrey but early next year I will purchase the full series. In America School according to Humphrey has a different title - another publishing mystery?  Finally I should mention each chapter ends with a delicious little piece of advice. 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken

I saw this book at the airport and thought I know The wolves of Willoughby Chase is a classic and I have not read it and the new cover from the Random House Vintage Classics series caught my eye.

If you have read books like Emmy and the incredible Shrinking rat or The truth about Verity Sparks then I know for sure you will adore The Wolves of Willoughby Chase.  Yes it was published in 1963 but this book is a classic that has certainly stood the test of time and as a bonus there are many more books in the series for you to enjoy.

In chapter one and chapter two we meet our two heroines Bonnie and Sylvia.  Bonnie lives at Willoughby Chase with her loving parents, attentive and caring servants and every good thing a little girl might need to for a happy life such as delicious food and a pony.  Sylvia is an orphan who lives in London with her aunt. Sylvia's life has been one of struggle and poverty.  Bonnie’s parents need to travel abroad because Lady Green, Bonnie’s mother needs a warmer climate to recover her delicate health.  Sir Willoughby has found a distant cousin to engage as a governess for the two girls. Are you already thinking she will be evil?  Of course she is – she has to be with a name like Miss Slighcarp.  “an immensely tall, thin lady, clad from neck to toe in a travelling dress of swathed grey twill, with a stiff collar, dark glasses and dull green buttoned boots.”  Later we discover she is also wearing a wig!

Sylvia also arrives at Willoughby Chase.  Sitting in her carriage is a strange, seemingly friendly man, but Sylvia has been warned to never talk to strangers. It is a long and tiring journey which ends in a terrifying confrontation with the wolves of the title.  This strange man also ends up at Willoughby Chase and so the conspiracy beging.

Almost as quickly as Miss Slighcarp and Sylvia arrive the parents depart.  Miss Slighcarp dismisses all the servants and starts wearing the gowns and jewels of Lady Green.  If all this is not bad enough, the children are then sent to a workhouse and it begins to feel as though Bonnie will never recover her former, happy life and that Sylvia will not enjoy the happy life she deserves.

Many parts of this book reminded me of The Secret Garden.  The outdoor scenes are vividly drawn and once again we have three children who work together to restore happiness to everyone.

Many years ago a full length movie of this book was released.  If you need to know a little more of the plot read one of these reviews.  Finally The Wolves of Willoughby Chase might be a stepping stone for a young reader into the books of Dickens.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Aesop's fables retold by Beverley Naidoo illustrated by Piet Grobler

Many years ago a parent asked to borrow a book of Aesop’s fables from our school library.  Sadly all our collections at that time were verbose and uninspiring.  Ever since I have been on the lookout for new books of Aesop fables and so we now have a strong collection all told with simple language and a variety of illustrations. Here is a new edition of these famous tales that I will add to my school library.

Beverley Naidoo sets her collection in Africa.  “Aseop’s fables aren’t like fairy tales from Europe with ‘happily ever after’ endings.  They are more like traditional African stories.  Life is tough … and things can end badly for anyone who doesn’t watch out or use their wits!

My favourite Aesop fable is The lion and the mouse. This is the final fable of this collection which also includes The Cat and the mice (Once bitten twice shy), The lion and the warthog (It’s safer to be friends than enemies), The mosquito and the lion (Pride comes before a fall) and The Farmer and his children (Work is the real treasure).

Piet Grobler has added scrumptious illustrations to each page along with decorative borders.  I especially like the hand drawn font he has used for each title.  It may be a while since you read an Aesop Fable but can I recommend you revisit them.  They are ideal for reading aloud, they are short, often heroic and always wise. In this special collection you are sure to discover some old favourites along with some that may be new.  Beverley Naidoo spoke about this book at the IBBY congress.

Friday, November 2, 2012

The big bad wolf and me by Delphine Perret

Do you worry about missing great books?  I try so hard to keep up with new publications but every so often a book turns up that was published many years ago – that I somehow missed at the time.  The big bad wolf and me is one of these books.  Published in 2006, I wonder how I missed this?  Back in 2006 we were not really talking about graphic novels but if I had to label this book I might use that term – well sort of.

I love Harold and the purple crayonThe big bad wolf and me has a similar feel. Our young narrator meets a small Big Bad Wolf.  The Big Bad Wolf needs feeding (with chocolate chip cookies) and training to be scary! But above all he needs a loving friend.

I will quote from one reviewer who said this book is beautifully designed, both sophisticated and sublimely silly, this should please readers and listeners of all ages. Kirkus

Make sure you take a look at the back cover.  There is lots to talk about here.  This book reminded me of Mo Willems Leonardo, the terrible monster.  I am surprised no one seems to have made an animation of these simple illustrations. This book was originally written in French and there is a sequel The big bad wolf goes on Vacation. If you read French you might like to dip into the illustrator's web site.

Ned and the Joybaloo by Hiawyn Oram illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura

One of the questions I am often asked (that I find very difficult to answer) is - what is your favourite book?  I have so many.  Likewise who is your favourite author or illustrator?  Another almost impossible question, however, I do have a number of favourite illustrators and one is Satoshi Kitamura.  I met a book collector at the IBBY Congress.  Her whole focus was Christmas books. I admire this singular purpose and it made me consider who or what would I collect?  I think Satoshi Kitamura could fit the bill.

At the Congress I bought an older book from this master illustrator. Ned and the Joybaloo was first published in 1983.  I discovered Satoshi Kitamura many years ago through his book What’s Inside : The alphabet book.

I could say Ned and the Joybaloo book has a deep philosophical meaning but really I think it is best read as a simple romp of the imagination.  Ned finds every day routines boring until he discovers the Joybaloo, a friendly creature with “a funny leathery nose and .. breath full of paper roses.”  The Joybaloo takes Ned on wild adventures each Friday but Ned wants more.  He wants every night to be like Friday night.  His life on other days becomes a misery.  The Joybaloo warns he will get “used up” if he plays every night but Ned does not heed this warning.  There are lessons to be learned (in a gentle way) and some growing up and self discovery to be undertaken.

Ned and the Joybaloo is a good follow up to two earlier books by the team of Satoshi Kitamura and Hiawyn OramAngry Arthur and In the Attic.  Read these then re visit Where the Wild things are which was an inspiration for this book.  Here is a review if you need more information.  One small confession in conclusion.  I did think Hiawyn Oram was a man.  Now I discover she comes from South Africa and now lives in UK.  We have lots of books by Hiawyn Oram in our school library along with many books illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura. You should seek their books out today. You will not be disappointed.