Saturday, February 23, 2013

Violet Mackerel's possible friend by Anna Branford illustrated by Sarah Davis

Often a book series will start out with a terrific first book and then they fade away. I find sequels can sometimes be disappointing but this is not the case with Violet Mackerel.  This new installment Violet Mackerel's Possible friend is just as good as the first.

Violet has moved to a new house and she knows a young girl her age lives next door.  Violet is a worrier.  She would love a new friend but at the same time she fears rejection.  On the day of the move Violet notices an interesting knot in the wood of the fence that divides the two houses. Violet pushes the knot and it falls out.  At first she is dismayed.  The garden next door is so very, very neat.  Surely the owners will be cross with her for making this hole - even though it was not intentional.

As I said, Violet is a worrier but she is also a problem solver.  She has a brilliant idea.  Violet has a theory that if "two people give each other a small thing, they might end up becoming very good friends."  If you have read the first book in this series you will know Violet loves small things and she is a girl with lots of theories.  So Violet writes an apology letter and wraps a small thing and places the note and the gift in the fence hole.   She quickly receives a reply :

"Hello Violet, Thank you for the lovely bell.  Don't worry about the hole.  I am not cross and nobody has noticed except me.  Here is a present for you too.  Would you like to come over tomorrow morning? From Rose."

Yes, the girl next door is called Rose - have you guess that she might be the perfect friend for Violet?

This is a simple book with a very warm heart.  The whole collection of Violet Mackerel books are a very welcome addition to my school library.  As a bonus they are Australian.  Violet has her own web site.  This book is perfect for young readers who are just beginning with chapter books.  I especially loved the dolls house the two girls play with - I have a life-long fascination with dolls houses and this one is very special.  I suggest you look for the series of books about Violet Mackerel you will not be disappointed.

Millicent and Meer by Richard Byrne

For some reason that is not very clear to me there are a number of younger children in my school who are wild about Meerkats so I am sure Millicent and Meer will be a popular book choice.

One day when Millicent is busy building sandcastles a big wooden box lands beside her.  Inside there is a little animal.  Millicent sees the word kat - problem solved the animal is a cat and she also sees the word Meer - another problem solved his name is Meer.

Millicent takes Meer home but is behaviour is very "uncatty" and her family begin to despair.  Then Meer meets a real cat and together they solve the mystery of his identity and in the process find the meerkats at the zoo.  The ending is very satisfactory for all involved.

This is not major picture book but the illustrations are very special.  I was not at all familiar with Richard Byrne but I will now seek out some other books by this talented UK author/illustrator.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Under a silver moon by Anne Fine

This is a perfect early chapter book.  I am always on the look out for short (this book has 58 pages) illustrated (this book has brilliant line drawings by Lotte Klaver) and engrossing stories which can be read by young students in Grades 1 to 3.

As it says on the back cover "In a hot land far, far away, two baby boys were born under the same silver moon."  These two boys, however, could not be more different.  One is the son of the hard working gardener.  His name is Akil.  The other is the Sultan's son. His name is Haroun, Lord of the rolling desert Sands, Mirror of Stars and Heir to all Gifts and Wonders.

In scenes reminiscent of the Prince and the Pauper - Haroun and Akil become playmates and for a short time they enjoy an idyllic childhood then one day they are separated.  Akil must work with his father in the gardens and learn his trade and Harou must learn to live like a sultan.  For Haroun this mainly involves sitting around, lying around and eating.  Over time Haroun becomes fat and quite ill from inactivity.  It is the wise gardener and his son Akil who devise a miraculous cure for the young Sultan.

"Somewhere in your palace garden ... hidden under the stony soil, there lies a magic key. A spell is on it, and the moment this key lies in your son's hand, he will be cured of all his pains....There is one problem. Only the person who finds the key can have the good health it brings."

This book feels like an old fairy tale or fable - perhaps an ancient Chinese folk tale because it contains simple and important wisdom about the choices we make in our lives.

After reading Under a silver moon you might also enjoy Kumiko series.  Here is a detailed review.

Care of Henry by Anne Fine

Using a check list to make a decision is at the heart of this beginning chapter book called Care of Henry by master story teller Anne Fine.

Hugo has to find someone to stay with while his mum is in hospital having a baby - the baby will be his new sister.  Hugo meets a man who comes to inspect their house which is for sale. The man has a check list of requirements for his new home and he shows this to Hugo. This is an inspirational idea to Hugo - he makes a check list of all the things he needs so he can decide where to stay.

  • Food - what will you feed me?
  • Entertainment - can I watch my favourite shows on television?
  • Bathtime - can I have it deep with lots of bubbles?
  • Strictness - can I skip school and visit mum at the hospital?
  • Care of Henry - can I bring my dog, what will you feed him and can he sleep in my room?

Hugo asks his Granny - surprisingly she gets four crosses and one tick.  Mrs Mariposa next door gets four ticks and one cross because Henry is not allowed to come. Uncle Jack gets three ticks, one cross - Henry cannot stay in his apartment, and one wobbly tick because the food sounds a little odd.  How will Hugo decide where to stay?

This is a terrific little book for our Grade 3 students as they look at texts using persuasion   Our library copy was very worn out but just last week I found a new copy with a smart new cover. I recommend this book for all young dog lovers.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Dominic by William Steig

You may have read my first post about Dominic - written when I was about half way through this joyous book.

There is just so much action in Dominic I do not think I can do it justice by trying to retell the plot. I will say though, all the way through I keep thinking of the little homily "one good turn deserves another" as a fitting way to sum up the adventures of this special dog.

Instead I am making a list of some of the absolutely delicious words in this book.  The vocabulary in this story is wonderfully rich and vibrant.  I cannot resist words like :

aromatic forests
pious messages
silent tableau

Finally here is a description of the wedding feast "cranberries with walnut sauce, grass a la francaise, cheese souffle with acorns, ... bones marinated in Burgundy, oat fritters, pate of sunflower seeds, stuffed watermelon,daisy salad, clover jelly and orange doodle. ... mushroom beer, ale made from nuts and alfalfa, honeysuckle juice, sweet and sour water, bark brandy."  This reminds me of the treats served in the Redwall series by Brian Jacques.

I highly recommend Dominic - it would especially be a wonderful book to read aloud to your own children.

The 13-storey Treehouse by Andy Griffiths and illustrated by Terry Denton

The students at my school will have an opportunity to see this zany book presented as a stage play later this year so last night I caught up on this romp which I missed last year.

Andy (the author) and Terry (the illustrator) are the narrators of this story about life in their 13-storey treehouse.  It is the treehouse of your dreams complete with a see through pool, a bowling alley, a tank of man-eating sharks, a marshmallow machine and a lemonade fountain.

The book publisher is demanding delivery of a new book but our intrepid pair keep getting sidetracked.  Of course as the third participant in this book - the reader - you soon realise that in fact they are writing a new book - their life is a story.

The final pages in the aptly named chapter 13 were my favourite part of this book - where we see the creation of a book within a book.

The 13-Storey Treehouse is a book you can read in one quick sitting.  It is certain to appeal to students who are just beginning to develop reading stamina.  Here is a web site for the author where you will also find the titles of other books that Andy and Terry have collaborated on.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Giant Hug by Sandra Horning illustrated by Valeri Gorbachev

The perfect picture book should bring you joy - I think The Giant Hug is a perfect picture book.  This is good timing too with Valentine's Day this week - you might make Valentine's Day a celebration of love.

Owen wants to send his Granny a hug for her birthday but she lives far away so Owen goes to the post office with his mother.

"I want to mail a hug to my granny.  Will you please send it?' Owen asked in his most polite voice. 'Well we don't normally send hugs, but I suppose we could give it a try,' Mr. Nevin said.  Owen's mother wrote down Granny's address for Mr. Nevin.  Owen walked behind the counter, opened his arms as wide as he possibly could, and gave Mr Nevin a giant hug. 'Please make the hug just as giant when you pass it on to the mailman,' Owen said."

So begins the journey of this special hug.  Mr. Nevin hugs Ms. Porter.  She then hugs Leroy.  Leroy travels into the city.  The next person in the chain is a porcupine called James who is not really the hugging type. He then hugs the aeroplane Captain.  Amanda, who drives the mail truck is next and the hug really brightens her day.  Amanda hugs Chad who immediately asks to a dance. Chad reaches Mrs Greenberg who passes the hug on to Shelly - the final link in this long chain of hugs. Granny is delighted to receive the hug from Shelly but she has a special message that needs to be returned to Owen!  The picture on the last page will make you smile and smile.

This book will be part of our library collection later in the year.  It is one of the special titles we will include in our annual donate a library book event.  I discovered this book at the New York public library last year when I spent a glorious few hours in the children's library reading and reading picture books.

Here is the author web site. Here are some teaching ideas, songs and other books on the topic of The Post Office.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

A pet for Miss Wright by Judy Young illustrated by Andrea Wesson

The work of an author is a mystery to most of us, children especially.  Authors need a huge amount of self discipline and at times I am sure it must be quite a lonely job.

Miss Wright decides she needs a companion, a pet.  Just like in the famous Australian picture book A pet for Mrs Arbuckle, Miss Wright needs to try out various pets before she finds the perfect one.

Miss Wright does not need to travel around the world, though, like Mrs Arbuckle, she simply visits the pet shop and brings home a mynah bird, a monkey, a fish, a cat and a hamster.  For fairly obvious reasons each is a disaster.  "No more pets,' Miss Wright said. But when she took the cat back, the man at the pet store insisted 'You must try a dog."

This is a beautiful picture book.  The end papers and like rich wall paper and the same pattern appears as a decoration on each page.  Here is an interview with the author.

Both the story and the illustrations have a light, charming flavor, with understated humor and a sophisticated air that assumes that intelligent children will enjoy this story. The watercolor-and-ink illustrations are filled with swirling lines, and delicate, French-inspired patterns decorate borders and endpapers.

The Hidden House by Martin Waddell illustrated by Angela Barrett and House held up by trees by Ted Kooser illustrated by Jon Klassen

This post is about two books that seem to go together like bookends.  One comes from US and was just published last year and the other is from England and was published in 1990.  I read so many reviews and book lists that mentioned House held up by trees that when it arrived in my library this week it was the first book I pulled from the box to read.

House held up by trees is about life, the passing of time and nature.  In our suburban lives we try to tame nature by trimming our trees and mowing the grass.  The man in this book makes this his life's work. His house stands alone "on a bare square of earth.  There was a newly planted lawn around it, but not a single tree to give shade in summer or to rattle its bare twigs in the winter cold. ... But in the lots on either side, there were wild trees of all kinds - maple and elm and ash and hackberry and cottonwood, all noisy with wind and birdsong."

The children who live in the house love to explore and play among the trees that grow each side of their garden but each evening the father plucks out any trees that try to sprout from seeds blown on the wind so he can maintain his perfect lawn. The children grow and leave home and the father now lives alone but then he too must leave because he is too old to maintain the house and lawn.  Slowly, slowly over years and years things begin to change around the house.  No one comes to buy it and so the seeds can finally sprout "the young trees kept (the house) from falling apart and as they grew bigger and stronger, they it together as if it was a bird's nest in the fingers of their branches."

The final pages of this book are are very special - you can see the image on the front cover.  Here is an excellent review.  The author talks about his inspiration.

When I finished reading House held up by trees I immediately thought of The Hidden House.  Once again we have the story of an abandoned house where mother nature takes over.  The original owner of the house makes three dolls called Ralph, Maisie and Winnaker.  The dolls are left behind and these three are witnesses to the changes to the house over time.  "They didn't say anything because they were wooden dolls, but I think they were lonely."  Mice, insects, birds and trees move into the house but one day a man discovers the hidden house.  Many months later he returns with his family and together they restore the house. Even the dolls are given new faces and clothes and more importantly a new family.

House held up by trees also made me think of The Tin Forest by Helen Ward and Joseph's Yard by Charles Keeping.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Dominic by William Steig

Even though I am only half way through this book I just need to tell you about Dominic.  On my recent trip to America I met a lady who runs a very special project in her school where every class listens to the same novel over a three week period.  In the past they have read Mr Poppers Penguins and The world according to Humphrey.  In 2013 the featured book will be Dominic.

Dominic is a old book - published in 1972.  William Steig is especially famous for Shrek.  It might surprise you that Shrek was originally a picture book but be warned is very different from the movie.

Dominic is a dog looking for adventure.  Along the way he encounters kindness and disasters.  He also meets a cruel gang of outlaws who have been terrorizing the countryside.

The scene I want to share (remember I am still reading this book) comes in chapter five.  Dominic stumbles on the home of an old pig called Bartholomew Badger.  Bartholomew has lived for almost one hundred years and he is ready to die.  Dominic steps into his house and makes his last few days comfortable and special.  "For the next several days Dominic was Mr Badger's nurse, housekeeper and friend.  He fed him well.  He kept his house clean and neat; he talked to him and listened to him talk.  He kept him warm when he felt cold and fanned him when he was too warm.  Most helpful of all was the music he played on his piccolo.  It bought peace to the pig's spirit."

As a parting gift the old pig leaves all his treasure to Dominic.  This is such a touching scene.  It reminded me of the Australian classic picture book Old Pig by Margaret Wild illustrated by Ron Brooks.  Bartholomew dies and Dominic goes for a walk so he can do some thinking.  He buries the old pig in a hole.  "he felt his heart quake.  He had to cry.  Life was suddenly too sad.  And yet it was beautiful. The beauty only dimmed when the sadness welled up . And the beauty would be there again when the sadness went."

I will update you further on this book when I finish reading.  One more thing this book has a wealth of fabulous vocabulary.

Penelope Popper book doctor by Toni Buzzeo illustrations by Jana Christy

Penelope Popper book doctor is essential reading for all new school library users.  Penelope wants to be a doctor when she grows up but when she keeps trying to practice on everyone she meets her teacher wisely suggests visit to the school library.

The wonderful Teacher-Librarian Ms Brisco introduces Penelope to the idea of a book doctor.  There are plenty of books in the library in need of tender care and attention.  Torn pages, dog-eared corners, dirty covers and pages that have been squished as the book is crammed on to a shelf.  Penelope learns all the special skills needed to heal the books and the reader will hear the important library messages about book care.

There are a set of teaching notes available for this book.  I especially like the song that is included with these lesson ideas.  I was not surprised to read that the author was once a Teacher-Librarian herself.

This is not a serious book or perhaps even a memorable one but it is great fun and I am looking forward to sharing it with the children in my library over the coming weeks.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Lavender by Karen Hesse

There are three reasons why I selected this book to purchase for my library on a recent visit to a wonderful Sydney bookshop called Gleebooks.  Firstly I know Karen Hesse is an outstanding writer so I knew I would be in the safe hands of a master storyteller.  Secondly this book only has 38 pages and I am always on the look out for short books that contain terrific stories so that readers who lack reading stamina can be rewarded quickly for their efforts.  Thirdly this book has a gentle cover which shows a young girl making a quilt.  She is clearly taking her time to produce something very precious.

Everything I thought about this book before reading came true.  Lavender is an emotional and uplifting story about love in one family and the joy of a new arrival.  Codie loves her aunt Alix and she is so excited that after many disappointments a new baby will soon be born.  Codie has decided to make a special gift for the baby a patchwork blanket.

"I have a secret.  I am making my cousin a blanket all by myself.  It's a surprise."

If you enjoy Lavender you might also read The Hundred Dresses and The Chalk Box kid.