Monday, January 28, 2013

Give me four reasons by Lizzie Wilcock

First of all I must say I do not like the cover of this book so below I have included the alternate cover which I prefer. I bought this book home to read because it was added to my school library last year and I suspected it might be more suitable for high school readers.  I can now say it is a book that a senior primary student would enjoy but I do think the cover makes it appear to be for an older audience.  Secondly while I did read this book quite quickly, which is a sign that I enjoyed it, I suspect if you ask me about the plot in a month or two I will have forgotten most of it. I do not mean to imply this book is not worth reading but it is essentially just a candy floss type of book - quick enjoyment not much substance.

Paige is the quiet girl. Paige is the good girl of the family. Paige is almost invisible at school because she is clever and obedient   Paige is lucky to have a special group of three friends.  The friends like to play a game called "Give me four reasons"  Each person in the group shares 'their reason'.  As the story opens it is the last day of Primary school.  The students of Year Six are waiting for the half lunch bell so the fun can begin - a huge water fight. While this is raging we get our first insight into Paige who hides from all the action in the toilets.

The final ritual of the last day in Primary is a ceremony to receive a certificate and to collect the class yearbook or passport as it is called here.  These passports contain the thoughts of all the class members.  Paige hosts a special end of Year 6 party at her house and the four friends open their passports ready to read all the funny things written by their classmates but when Paige looks in her book the pages are blank.  The four friends have a motto "don't change" but the Christmas holidays, family breakups and High School mean Paige is about to go through enormous change. The question is how will these changes affect her friendships, her identity and her values.

Here is the author web site about this book.  If you enjoy this book look for others with a similar theme by Catherine Bateson especially Being Bee and Millie and the Night Heron.

The Princess and the Pea by Lauren Child captured by Polly Borland

Wallpaper has always fascinated me and wallpaper is an essential ingredient in any book by the talented Lauren Child.

Our library copy of this scrumptious book was lost some time ago.  Last night I sat down to read the new copy and was enchanted all over again.  Along with wallpaper I also adore doll houses so this version of The Princess and the pea is perfect for me.

At the heart of all fairy tales is the re-telling.  There are so many versions of The Princess and the Pea  and many are quite short but Lauren Child elaborates on the famous story using vivid imagery and a rich vocabulary.

"The wind was howling, the trees were creaking and cracking as if they might part company with their roots, and the rain pounded down and the lightning flashed its forked tongue in the blackened sky. And the girl began to tire.  It was not umbrella weather, no an umbrella would have done you no good at all."

Watch a video with Lauren Child where she talks about the art of collage and about her use of wallpaper.

The Princess and her Panther by Wendy Orr illustrated by Lauren Stringer

Imaginative play is so important and such fun and that is the concept behind The Princess and her Panther.  The first hint of where these sisters are playing comes from the end papers.  You will see a grassy back yard complete with sandpit, inflatable wadding pool, hose, washing line and a small pull along cart.

If you skip to the final end paper the scene now includes a picnic which is in progress, a blanket over the clothes line to make a tent, cushions and toys and a discarded umbrella.

"One afternoon a princess and her panther crossed the desert sand.  The princess was brave, and the panther tried to be."

It would be fun to share this book the first time without looking at the pictures. Let the child imagine the panther drinking from the waters of a wide blue lake.

This book reminded me of Drac and the Gremlin although it is not quite as successful at creating the idea of reality versus imagination.

Here is a little video extract of the story.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

To hope and back by Kathy Kacer

I almost did not want to read this book.  It caught my eye because it had been placed in the Fiction section of our library when it really belongs in Non Fiction. I did not know anything about this ship the St Louis which traveled from Germany just prior to World War II expecting to take over 900 passengers to the safety of Cuba but instead being turned away on arrival because of the power of the German propaganda campaign against the Jews.

Lisa and Sol are two real children who traveled on this voyage with their parents.  The two never meet because Lisa is travelling first class and Sol is in third.  I confess I did jump to the end just to be sure they both survived this frightening voyage which is described in alternating chapters between Lisa, Sol and the Captain of the ship - a man of great compassion and heroism.

The quote below will take you to a full description of the plot.

This is a book for senior students. It links well with some other books we explore towards the end of the year - Rose Blanche by Roberto Innocenti, Let the celebrations begin by Margaret Wild and The story of Anne Frank retold by Josephine Poole.

 ... this is a tragic story about an historical event that deserves to be told, and which should provoke thoughtful discussion about a difficult subject

My superhero by Chris Owen illustrated by Moira Court

My super hero will be one book I read aloud to Kindergarten this year. I enjoy reading books with a repeated refrain so the young children can join in with the story telling and I know everyone will enjoy the flaps!

In this story the narrator attempts to define the superhero.  "Some superheroes have the knack of tying knots in railway tracks or leaping in a single bound the tallest office blocks around."

In all there are nine definitions but our narrator's experience of his own superhero are quite different and these differences are announced throughout the book with the idea that the reader might try to guess the identity of this superhero.


The author and illustrator of My super hero are both newly arrived English migrants which is odd only because this book is a celebration of our Australian Numbat.

Here is an excellent set of teaching notes.

A bear and a tree by Stephen Michael King

"Bear had a gift for making everything better."

A bear and a tree is an absolutely perfect picture book.  I do hope it is short listed for the CBCA awards for 2013.

The tree has lost its leaves because it is winter and Ren is sad.  Bear postpones his hibernation and the two friends enjoy a joyous day of fun in the snow. That night they are joined by mouse who invites them to play a game of star catching.

Eventually bear must sleep but before he heads off into his cave he has a special idea which will transform the tree.

I will quote one more line from this exquisite and gentle book :

"Bear offered Ren his umbrella and they sat, as they often did, for as long as was needed"

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Ella's big chance : A fairy tale retold by Shirley Hughes

Yesterday I was looking for some longer picture books to show the teachers in my school.  I came across Ella's big chance.  I seem to have been hearing a lot about Shirley Hughes lately. She has written a novel called Hero on a bicycle which will arrive in my school soon.

Ella lives with her dad.  He is a tailor and they have a happy life until one day he remarries. His new wife is cruel and she has two very nasty daughters.  Have you guessed which fairy tale is retold here?

Here is a review that sums this book up perfectly :

From School Library Journal Starred Review. 

Is there room for one more "Cinderella" variant in your collection? The answer is yes if it's this charming version set in the 1920s. Ella Cinders, her father, and Buttons the doorman/delivery boy run a dress shop until the terrible day when Mr. Cinders remarries and his nasty new wife moves in with her equally nasty daughters, Ruby and Pearl. "His new wife seemed to pop up from nowhere like a sharp-eyed, expensively dressed jack-in-the box." Ella's life is misery from then on, mitigated only by the care and attention of the faithful Buttons. Her Fairy Godmother sends her off to the ball where the Duke of Arc is smitten with her, but in the end Ella chooses a different happily ever after ....
Hughes's gouache-and-pen-line illustrations exhibit her usual meticulous attention to detail, with the ball scenes inspired by Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movies, and the original dress designs by important French couturiers of the period. This insightful retelling also offers a fascinating visual peek at a glamorous time. 
-Grace Oliff, Ann Blanche Smith School, Hillsdale, NJ
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Camo Girl by Kekla Magoon

"Grammie clicks her tongue at me. 'Anyone who can see will see you beautiful,' she says, which is what they always say.  She slides her fingers into my knots of curl.  It's not Grammie's fault. Grandmas are supposed to think you're beautiful. They have to, because it's their job, and also because if they didn't love you as hard as they could, you might just die of ugliness."

There are three kids, students, friends, teenagers, middle schoolers, main characters in this book.  Camo is the nasty nickname used by the class bully - her real name is Ella but Z or Zachariah calls her Eleanor.  Eleanor is friends with Z, even though he is a very strange boy who lives in a world of his own. Z used to be her neighbour but when his dad left, Z and his mum had to move out.  They now live in Walmart.  Yes I do mean Walmart the department store.  Z's mum works there at night. A new boy arrives one day in their class.  His name is Bailey James.  He is confident, good a sports and like Ella he is black - the only other black kid in the class.

Bailey lives near Ella.  She has a basketball hoop at the end of her drive way. Bailey loves to shoot hoops.  He teaches Ella how to play and the two become friends.  This sounds easy and trouble free but it is not because Ella has a huge loyalty to Z and troubles of her own to overcome.  Ella can cope with the world as long as she does not have to look in any mirrors. Z can cope with the world if Eleanor is his milady. Bailey can cope if people believe the stories he tells.

I loved Camo Girl because it challenges your intelligence.  You have to read this book slowly and carefully.  Kekla Magoon gently introduces fragments of each life story and allows the reader to piece together the tragic events that have affected the lives of each of these children. This is not, however, a sad book.  I actually laughed out loud at some of the observations by Grammie and the ending is brim full of hope for the future.

Here is the web site for the author - please take time to read this it will answer all your questions about this brilliant book.  Here is an interview with the author.

This elegantly crafted story features strong writing and solid characterizations of both main and secondary characters.

This book reminded me of an Australian book called Swashbuckler by James Maloney. You might also like to read Wonder by RJ Palacio, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli and Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Emperor's new Clothes Horse by Tony Wilson illustrated by Sue deGennaro

Step One read the famous Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale The Emperor's New Clothes

Step Two read The Emperor's new Clothes Horse

Step Three read The Emperor's Underwear from the Seriously Silly stories series.

I do enjoy fairy tale parodies.  The Emperor's new Clothes horse is perfect.  The illustrations are whimsical and lively.  The twist of using a clothes horse and a horse race is a delightful innovation.

I do hope this book is short listed for the CBCA awards in 2013. It will be fun to share this romp in my library.

We have a good collection of Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales in our library.

Here is an audio version of The Emperor's New Clothes. Here are lots of activities for this story. Finally here is the full text of the traditional story if you don't have your own Fairy Tale collection nearby.

Here is an image of a clothes horse which might be useful.

Purplicious by Victoria Kann and Elizabeth Kann

This is the first book in the Pinkalicious series that  I have read and I will admit I was quite reluctant to open it.  I thought this would simply be a silly book about an inconsequential girly girl who liked pink - how wrong I was.

Pinkalicious does love pink but peer group pressure means she doubts her conviction. Black is now the 'in' colour.  Pinkalicious becomes very sad.  On Monday she still thinks pink is perfect, but by Thursday and Friday her diary entries read "Pink is a lonely colour, Pink has no purpose.  She has a bad case of the blues.  At this point the story reminded me of one of my most favourite books of all time Sloppy Kisses because Pinkalicious decides to denounce pink.  She settles for a vanilla ice cream even though it tastes bland.

The turning point comes on Monday when Pinkalicious sees a new girl in her art class.  The girl has painted a blue cake but the icing does not look quite right.  Pinkalicious supplies some pink paint and the cake is transformed, Pinkalicious is happy and a new friendship begins.  Can you guess where the title Purplicious fits in?

There is obviously a huge amount of marketing surrounding this series but I was surprised to find Purplicious made me smile.  Here is the web site for the series but be warned you will find more than books ... scooters, backpacks, dolls, t-shirts, furniture and even a musical!

Oh no, Monster Tomato! by Jim Helmore and Karen Wall

This picture book is a joyous romp from the first page to the last.  It contains music and giant fold out pages.

Oh no, Monster Tomato reminded me of June 29th, 1999, Jack and the Beanstalk and The Lollipop Tree.  It is time for the Great Grislygust grow-off.  Marvin hopes to win by growing the tastiest tomatoes but his sister and brother have plans of their own.  Marvin, however, does some careful research and using the book Hancock's Horticultural Horrors he works to produce the best possible seeds.  Meanwhile Boris is growing tall bean plants and Prunella has a crop of plump pumpkins. Marvin plants his seed and waits. Nothing happens so he sings a simple song of encouragement and suddenly his tomatoes burst though the soil and through the page! The problem now is that these tomatoes are too big. Marvin enjoys watching as his brother and sister are splattered by the monster tomatoes but in order to win the competition Marvin needs to tame this wild plant.  He quickly composes another song to encourage the plant to shrink. The song works, the judges love these tasty tomatoes and Marvin wins first prize. The prize is a book entitled "Big bad Broccoli Ballads."  You will find a terrific surprise hiding under the final flap.

The music is perfect in this book.  The growing song is loud and ends on a high note while the shrinking song gets quieter and quieter and ends on a low note.  Here are some teaching notes.

I don't know how this book came to arrive in our school library but it is a very welcome addition.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Truly Tan by Jen Storer illustrated by Claire Robertson

Truly Tan is truly perfect in every way.  This is an ideal book for a young reader.  It is funny, there is an adventure and you might even meet a ghost.  I smiled all the way through this terrific little book. Girls especially in Grades 1-4 are sure to fall in love with Tan and her wacky sisters.

Tan is the youngest girl.  Her sisters were all named by their mother and they have names like lollipops or traffic lights - Emerald, Amber and Rose.  When the fourth baby arrives Dad does the naming but it still has to be a colour hence we have Tan.

As the story opens the family are moving from the city to a new house in the country.  They take with them all the family pets (dad is a vet) - a tiny dog called Doodad she is a Poohuahua, a poodle chihuahua cross, Queen Victoria or QV a tortoise, Babbles the parrot, E the cat and Awesome, Tan's large dog who is always depressed.

Life in the country potentially gets off to a bad start when the removal truck simply dumps all their possessions and drives away.  Then the family find they do not have the key to the new house and so the first night is spent sleeping on the veranda  Tan really enjoys this.  To mark the way into the property the agent has left a dead fox draped on the roadside letter box but when the sisters retrace their journey out to the road the next morning the fox has disappeared.  While they are trying to work out what might have happened they meet a young boy called Ted who has made a hideout with his sister, called the Purple Haunt.  Ted allows the girls to join the Chosen Few - people who know about this hideout but are sworn to secrecy.  And so the adventures begin.

Scattered through the book are word definitions and diary entries from Tan herself.  Here are some of the words Tan defines :

My most favourite word is popularness.  "I need something fascinating for my first Show and Tell.  Something envy-making. Something that will definitely make me the popular new girl from the city. My eyes land on the cat skeleton.  Purrrfect."

The other part of this book that I really appreciated was Tan's mother who is a food writer and splendid cook.  The meals that are described in this book sound delicious.  It is so refreshing to find a story featuring parents who are good cooks.

If you enjoy this book then look for other series like Clarice Bean, Ivy and Bean, Keena Ford, Violet Mackerel, Clementine or Alice Miranda.

I am pleased to see I have already reviewed a few books by Jen Storer including Tensy Farlow, and Norman does Nothing.  I wonder if Truly Tan will be short listed for 2013 CBCA Awards I do hope it is.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Humphrey's bear by Jan Wahl illustrated by William Joyce

As I read A boy and a bear in a boat I thought about Humphrey's bear.  There are links between these two books even though Humphrey's bear is aimed at a much younger audience.

This book also links with Sleep well, Little Bear.  Each evening when Humphrey goes to bed his bear takes him on wonderful adventures.  "As soon as Humphrey was asleep the bear grew big, as it always did, and took him by the hand. .. they sailed right out of the backyard."  They sail along whooshed by a nice wind and bear makes a cup of hot chocolate.  This reminds me of the hot chocolate in The Polar Express - thick and rich like melted chocolate bars.  Just as in Where the wild things are, Humphrey sails to a small island where "Humphrey found bear,and the moon outside and the hot chocolate inside warmed them."

As Humphrey heads off to bed right at the beginning of this book he over hears his father comment that Humphrey is surely too old to need this bear.  The last pages of this tender story will warm your heart.

A boy and a bear in a boat by Dave Shelton

This is such an interesting book - A boy and a bear in a boat.  The whole plot is almost covered by the title.  I picked this book up thinking it should be in our junior or fast fiction section but now I am not so sure. The audience could be quite a young child and yet there is a message here too for an older reader right up to an adult about human relationships, purpose, goals and our journey through life.  Like The Life of Pi this is a deeply philosophical book but it is also very very funny.

Start with the cover.  This is a map with the stain of a tea cup in the corner.  This is the map used by the bear.

The boy steps onto a boat rowed by a bear and they set off for a distant shore. This is a small row boat called Harriet.

"He watched the bear. It was a reassuring sight.  He rowed as if it were the most natural movement he could make. As natural as walking, or breathing even.  He had a steady, casual rhythm and seemed to be making almost no effort at all but the boat sped along just the same."

The whole book is about this journey.  I cannot tell you how it ends but along the way the boy and the bear will discover a lot about themselves and about each other. The illustrations in this book are perfect and an integral part of the story telling.  One page is a colour comic which the boy finds in the bottom of the boat.  Sadly it is in a foreign language and so the boy is unable to make much sense of the  plot.

There are some delightful touches in this story such as when the bear makes a cup of tea each day at four o'clock - this is such a complex ritual which include the playing of a ukulele. The pair do not have much food but bear has bought along some sandwiches with very interesting fillings such as tuna, peanut butter and pineapple, sprouts and honey, bacon, sausage, egg, porridge, cornflakes and coffee beans and the most important one of all the Very Last Sandwich.

I highly recommend this book but take your time and read it slowly. Also before you begin do read the back cover - it is all true.  After one reading be warned you may feel the need to read it all again.

Here is an interview and book reading by the author.  Here is a glowing review.

On the surface this book is all laughs, underneath it is much deeper. Between the lines this book is a metaphor for the circumstances in which we find ourselves, spending time with people we don't like and rubbing along and not knowing what lies over the horizon.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Shooting Kabul by N.H. Senzai

When I read a book I usually trust the author - he or she will make everything all right in the end but with this book I was so devastated by the opening scene I just had to skip to the last page to make sure.

The title of this book Shooting Kabul has two meanings. If you look very carefully you can see a piece of film surrounding the title.  Fadi has a precious camera and if he can shoot a winning picture he might get back to Kabul.

Fadi, his mother Zafoona, his father Habib, older sister Noor and baby sister Mariam need to flee from Afghanistan after Habib is asked to work for the Taliban against the Americans.  The family had been living in the US but returned to Afghanistan hoping to assist their people but instead the regime has become completely repressive - no books, music, movies, photography or even kite flying.  Girls cannot go to school and life is extremely dangerous.

As the family reach their transport - provided by a people smuggler who has demanded a high price for his services - Fadi loses his grip on Mariam's hand and the family drive away without her. At this point I could hardly keep reading.  I was so worried about this little six year old girl.  The family arrive in America but poor Fadi is so riddled with guilt.  Everything reminds him of his precious sister.  Weeks go by and still she is not found even though everyone is looking.  Fadi starts school and encounters some truly horrible bullies.  This was another scene in Shooting Kabul that I almost could not read. I knew those bullies would beat Fadi and worse they might discover the box of treasures he has carried for Mariam.  Then Fadi hears about a photographic competition.  The prize is a plane ticket to India.  Fadi knows if he can get to India he can then set off over the border to look for his sister.

Here is an interview with the author. You can read more details of the plot here.  Here is an interesting way to present this book - a glog.

I highly recommend Shooting Kabul.  It is a heart-wrenching story told with compassion and insight. I read the whole book in one sitting and for me that is a sure fire way to know I enjoyed a book.

After reading this book (which I highly recommend you do) you might look for Soraya the storyteller by Rosanne Hawke, Boy overboard by Morris Gleitzman, Oranges in no mans land by Elizabeth Laird, Extra Credit by Andrew Clements and The colour of Home by Mary Hoffman.

One more thing all through this book Fadi makes links to a book he is reading - From the Mixed up files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler so you might like to check that one out too.

Sleep well, Little Bear by Quint Buchholz

Sleep well, Little Bear is not a new book (originally written in German in 1993)  but it is a new addition to my school library.  It reminded me of Humphrey's bear by Jan Whal illustrated by William Joyce.

"In the evening, the little bear took off his apple trousers and put on his star pyjamas.  He had heard a long good-night story.  He had said a small prayer.  He had hummed along with a little sleep song.  He had been given five kisses."

I adore the idea of apple trousers.  Little Bear also has to put on his red sleeping socks, drink water from a blue cup and find someone to blow warm air under the covers of his bed to warm it up.  I imagine if you read this book at night you might blow some warm air too.

Even though he has followed his night time regime Bear is not tired.  So he builds a book staircase and looks out the window at the moon.  He remembers all the good things from his day.  Sailing on the lake, gardening with a neighbour, playing with a scarecrow and seeing the circus people arrive in town.

"A balloon with a letter hovers over the meadow.  It has travelled on a long, long journey. And soon it's going to land.  Who is the letter for?  Maybe the little bear will find out. Maybe tomorrow morning after he's had his sleep."

This is a perfect book to share with a young child at bedtime.  The illustrations are soft and comforting and the text is like a poem.  My favourite picture shows bear giving the moon a good-night kiss through the window.  The other aspect of this book that I appreciate is the sense of optimism.  Bear makes plans for the day ahead but then he wonders "But what if the sun doesn't come out tomorrow?  What if it's raining tomorrow?"  No need to worry bear puts a positive spin on this possibility - he will have a terrific day playing in the loft.  If you look carefully you can see his friend sitting with him,

But for the reader - the reader aloud - who finds his early dreams unearthed by the story, they are a confirmation of the all too easily forgotten knowledge that there is a world well worth living in, there between us and the near horizon

If you enjoy this book you should also look for the Little bear books by Martin Waddell.

Empty Fridge by Gaetan Doremus

Over the last year quite a large number of new books have been added to my school library and since I have been away for the whole year I am now trying to catch up on all this reading.  The pile beside my bed grows taller each day.  Today I picked up a couple of the new picture book additions one of which was Empty Fridge.

This book is brilliant. It is a simple celebration of community via a shared meal made from ingredients collected from each of the inhabitants of a tall apartment building.  Everyone has had a busy day "so much so that no one has thought of buying anything to eat. There's not a single packet of noddles in a single cupboard, not a single onion in any one's fridge. To cut a long story short : it's a disaster!"

It turns out each person in the building can rustle up one or two simple ingredients until they reach the top floor where everyone reviews the collection.  Flour, butter, milk, three carrots, five tomatoes, a capsicum, some chives, two eggs and a little bit of cheese.  What can they make?  A quiche. One quiche turns into a neighborhood celebration.  The final illustration is a riot of colour as tables are set up outside and everyone shares a quiche or two.  "Slices of quiche, slices of life."

The touches of colour among the black and white line drawings reminded me of an old favourite book Murgatroyd's Garden illustrated by Drahos Zark.  Empty Fridge was originally published in France in 2008.  I am so happy some one decided to do an English translation.  Quite simply this is a joyous book!  As a bonus its size and shape mean it looks just like a fridge.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Noah Barleywater runs away by John Boyne illustrated by Oliver Jeffers

As a marketing strategy books often have recommendations or other details on their covers.  This book, Noah Barleywater runs away, has a sticker that says "From the author of the Boy in Striped Pyjamas".  For me this is not a recommendation.  I rarely say I dislike a book but I thoroughly disliked The Boy in Striped Pyjamas and so I did hesitate to open this book.

Now that I have read it, however, I can say I really did enjoy Noah Barleywater runs away.  This is a brilliant storytelling using the story of Pinocchio woven into the story of why Noah has run away.  I must confess that while I think I "know" the story of Pinocchio I have no memory of actually reading this famous story so that will be my next book.  Luckily I own a wonderful version illustrated by Roberto Innocenti.

Noah runs away travelling through two strange and unwelcoming villages where he witness very odd things such as a moving apple tree that begs him not to take its fruit.  When he reaches the third village he meets a talking donkey, a helpful dachshund and a man in a toy shop.  The toy shop is a magical place.  Every toy is handmade from wood and most special of all the shop is filled with hundreds of puppets. The building is oddly shaped and positioned beside a very special tree that seems to be almost hypnotic.  Noah enters the shop and spends the whole day with the toy maker.  The two of them take turns to tell their own life story.  The toy maker has had a very eventful life beginning with absolutely horrid bullying in school and then the discovery that he is an outstanding runner.  His running takes him on an adventure around the world. Noah talks about his family and in particular his mother who has organised the most wonderful and memorable outings for Noah over the last few weeks.  As Noah reveals more and more of his story the curiosity of the Toymaker grows and grows as he tries to discover why Noah has run away especially when everything he describes seems to point to a loving family.

Here is a description of the toys :

"There were houses and villages, boats and trucks, every conceivable toy that an interested mind like his could dream of - and every one of them was made of solid, dark wood which seemed to give off a glow of richness and, yes, even a sort of distant hum. ... Almost everything was painted carefully - and not with just any old colours either, like the toys he had at home ...These were colours he'd never even seen before; ones he couldn't possibly even begin to name."

Reading this book is a wonderful experience. I especially loved the quirky shop with its moving door called Henry and the real cuckoo cuckoo clock. This book will probably be very different from any you have ever encountered but this is a book I highly recommend for middle and senior primary students.  One reviewer quoted inside the front cover said : "a carefully crafted, whimsical gem."

Here is a detailed review by Lois Lowry writing in the New York Times.  Take a look at the author web site.

Here is a comment from The Australian newspaper :

Quality novels for primary school-age children are quite hard to find, so this book is very appealing. There are many worthwhile series books, often filling important niches, but the inimitable stand-alone novel is rare.

Sam I am by Ilene Cooper

A few years ago a new topic was introduced for our Grade 3 students called People and their beliefs.  In this topic the children learn about some of the major religious beliefs in the world.  We have an extensive collection of books on this topic in our Non Fiction section.

Sam I am takes up this theme from the point of view of a family where the dad is from a Jewish family and mum is an Episcopalian Christian.  The sticking point comes with holidays like Easter and most especially Christmas.  The compromise they have developed is called a Hanukkah Bush.  Sadly as Christmas approaches the energetic family dog knocks over the tree breaking it and most of the delicate vintage decorations.  Mrs Goodman is so upset she refuses to replace the tree and so the stage is set for a very different Christmas this year for Sam and his family.  Meanwhile Sam struggles with his first boy girl friendship/relationship, a term in school where the topic is the holocaust and the family tensions surrounding these different religious beliefs.

This book is only suitable for Senior Primary students because Sam's holocaust assignment takes up about one third of the book but teachers of younger grades could read extracts. The explanations of Hanukkah are a little overstated but would be useful for students with no background knowledge of this festival.  There are also extensive details about the bar mitzvah of Avi, Sam's best friend.  Here is a web site for the author where you can read a detailed re-telling of the plot.  Here is a review.  I did not purchase this book for my school library and I am not sure where it came from but it would be a good book for a Senior student who is interested in religion or the holocaust.

The trip to Panama by Janosch

"Once upon a time, a little bear and a little tiger lived down by the riverside."

Thus begins an absolutely charming story of adventure, friendship and contentment.  Little Bear is a fisherman. Each day he he catches the fish for their dinner. Tiger is a very good cook so while Bear is fishing Tiger collects mushrooms, berries and honey. Each evening they sit down for a delicious dinner.

One day down by the river Little Bear sees a crate which smells of bananas,  On the side is the word Pa-na-ma.  "This crate comes from Panama, and Panama smells of bananas! Oh, Panama is the land of my dreams."

The next morning they pack up their fishing rod, red cooking pot and stripy tiger duck toy.  Along the way they meet a mouse who cannot believe any place in the world could be better than his mouse hole.  Then they meet a fox.  "Turn left,' said the fox, with out giving the matter much thought .... Left was the wrong way; they shouldn't really have asked the fox."  Next they meet a cow who also advises turning left.  Even the youngest child will realize you cannot keep turning left.  "If you keep turning left, where do you get to in the end?  Yes, quite correct!"

I adore this conversational style of the off stage narrator.  The Trip to Panama is a conversation between the characters and between the reader and narrator.  Often this means the reader knows more than the characters and this is just such fun.

As the journey progresses there are numerous obstacles but these two are such good partners.  Bear builds a shelter, Tiger finds mushrooms and with gentle reasurance the pair are not afraid.  By good luck they meet a kindly hare and hedgehog.  The next day they meet a crow.  She flies the pair into a tree and they marvel at the wonderful countryside.  Bear and Tiger are really just seeing their own countryside, river and home but from the tree they don't recognize this - they are seeing their world from a new perspective. Continuing their journey down to the river, they build a raft, repair the broken  bridge (Little Bear had once built this bridge many years earlier) and lastly they stumble on a sign post.  At the start of their journey Little Bear had made a signpost from a piece of the crate to show the way to Panama.  Now "it had fallen over and was lying in the grass"  Reading the sign they dance for joy and just a little further on they spy a house.

I thought it was time for me to talk about this special book since I mentioned it in a previous post.  There are several books in the series about these friends although sadly all are now out of print.  You can read more about these on the author web site.  Luckily we do have this book and a simple video in our school library.  Look for it today.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The ghost at the point by Charlotte Calder

I must confess at first glance this book seems to fit into two genres which I usually do not enjoy - Ghost Story and Historical Fiction. That said I really did enjoy this book.  It is not actually a ghost story at all even though the title mentions a ghost and the historical aspects (it is the 1930's) were not a major theme.  If I had to put a genre label I would say The ghost at the point is a mystery story.

Dorrie lives with her grandfather on an island accessible only by boat from the main land.  They live on the far side of the island where there are very few inhabitants and no electricity   They enjoy a simple life of companionship and fishing.  They grow their own vegetables and raise chooks for eggs and  Gah makes a living selling the fish they catch each day. Dorrie goes to school on horseback and the only real interruption to their lives so far has been a short visit by Aunt Gertrude, Gah's sister, a few years earlier.  Aunt Gertrude has now died but her visit was motivated by concern that Gah might be letting Dorrie run wild. The simple lifestyle and outside 'thunder box' mean this city person does not stay long.  While she is visiting, though, Aunt Gertrude mentions that she feels the presence of a ghost and that as a young girl she actually saw a ghost in this house.

Gah has a bad accident and Dorrie takes him to hospital.  She is determined to stay home and look after her precious cat Poppy but she is also fearful of night-time noises which at first she thinks might be the ghost.  Then things start to go missing from the kitchen and finally she spies a young boy hiding in the bush.  There is a connection between Dorrie and this boy called Alonso and some treasure that Aunt Gertrude has mentioned in the past.  Two swindlers have obtained a map showing the location of the treasure so now there is a race to the finish to see who will claim the prize and solve the mystery.

I will make a prediction that this book will be short listed for the CBCA awards in 2013.  I should have expected this to be a good book to read based on the publisher.  Walker Books editors have an exceptional eye for talent.

Stir it up by Ramin Ganeshram

This short novel is absolutely brilliant.  Anjali is a young girl living in New York.  Her family are from Trinidad and Anjali has a huge passion for cooking.  She helps out each evening in the family roti shop where she is allowed to experiment with her cooking ideas and occasionally even try these out on friendly regular customers. Anjali is a brilliant cook and she has a dream to one day host her own cooking show on television.

Anjali's parents, and especially her wonderful grandmother Deema, are happy to support this dream but they are also ambitious that their daughter attend a good school and to do this she needs to sit for a test to enter Stuyvesant High.  Deema takes Anjali to special cooking classes on Saturdays and one week she learns there will be a kids cooking show on television - think of Master Chef.  Anjali, with the help of a good friend,  makes a video and sends it into the competition.  She is asked to audition and this is a dream come true but there is a clash of dates with the High School test.  Naturally there is also a huge clash with her parents.

There are two kinds of recipes in this book.  Real ones for special food and recipes for life!  I read one review who thought kids would react badly to the food recipes because they contain ingredients that will be unfamiliar to many children but I loved this aspect of Stir it up.  We all need to expand our cultural horizons.  I knew nothing about food from Trinidad before reading this delicious book.  I may not cook the recipes but I can enjoy the experience of this spicy food through reading.

I am sure you can tell I loved Stir it up.  It is a quick and rewarding book and I especially enjoyed the realistic ending.  I won't spoil this but you might have guessed what happens.  I smiled all through this book because on my recent trip to New York city I visited the Chelsea Market where television cooking programs are filmed. (Anjali goes to Chelsea Market - can you guess why?)

The real recipes in this book include Red Bean Pudding, Aloo Pies, Deema's easy Curry Chicken and Jicama Watercress slaw.

Here is one of the life recipes :

Recipe for Ambition
4 parts desire
1 part hope
5 dashes moxie
3 cups plans, well laid
1. Pour the desire into a heavy pot placed over high heat.  Allow it to come to a hard boil and add the hope. Stir well and lower the heat to a simmer.
2. When the mixture begins to thicken, add the moxie and mix rapidly, using a whisk. Remove from the heat.
3. Allow the mixture to cool until it is no longer steaming but still hot to the touch.  Carefully fold in the well-laid plans until completely combined.
4. Pour into a heavy ceramic dish and allow to gel.

You can read a good review here and here.  If you enjoy this book you might also look for Thai-riffic.

Eddie Pipper by Janeen Brian

This book is from a junior chapter book series called Little Rockets.  I am only going to say it was okay - not great.  My biggest problem with this book was the age of the main character Eddie.

Eddie is obsessed with penguins he is also an absent minded child.  In the story he is eight years old about to turn nine but I really thought his behavior and reactions were more suited to a younger child of about five or six.  Eddie Pipper reminded me of Penguins in the 'Fridge (this is a much better book).  Eddie wants a penguin so badly he decides to make a paper-mache one to show his parents he is able to care for a pet.  He has had two bad mishaps with pets in the past - his mice escaped and the goldfish died from lack of food.  Eddie runs out of paper for his craft so he takes some paper strips from his dad's study.  It turns out these were plans for an origami competition and so Eddie is in big trouble.

The way Eddie forgets everything is so far fetched.  He forgets his bus money and so he super glues coins to his palm. Naturally he cannot pay the bus fare. He forgets his swimmers and has to swim in his pyjama pants which are decorated with penguins but the most unbelievable part is at the end when he forgets to go straight home and misses part of his own birthday party.  His mum had invited a wildlife carer to bring a real penguin but Eddie arrives home too late and the penguin has left.

The ending is not really surprise and instead of being quite joyful it just left me feeling flat.  I am sorry to be so critical.  This book does have a place in our library for younger readers who are ready for a simple chapter book.  The first chapter is good fun.

"His mum stood in the kitchen.  She was wearing her straight-mouthed look and her eyes glistened like two icicles.  She was pointing to the fridge door as she was doing a telly ad. She could've been saying, 'Look how much we can fit into out two door family fridge.  You should buy one too.'  Only her finger was stiff like a fish finger and she tapped her foot.  'Fridge door. Open. You?' Eddie nodded.  Why did his mum talk like she was texting him?  He was right in front of her."

Here is a web site for the series and we have all them in our collection. Janeen Brian has written lots of books and nearly all of them are in our school library.  I recently review Wishbone which I loved.