Sunday, March 24, 2013

Bless this mouse by Lois Lowry illustrated by Eric Rohmann

There seem to have been such a lot of books about mice on my reading pile lately so I waited to begin this one.  I find it best to mix up my reading between genres so that I can remember the plot lines of individual books and not blend them together.

With the election of the new Pope last week this was the perfect book to read this morning as it set in a church although this in an Anglican church.  On my recent trip to UK I visited grand churches and enjoyed hearing those beautiful names like nave, transept, chancel and sacristy.  In this book Bless this mouse I have learnt a new term - narthex.  "Next she found herself in the narthlex  Hildegarde so liked the formal names for the parts of the church.  If she were an ordinary mouse, she thought, twitching her nose at this idea, this would be know as the front hall.  What an ordinary name! Narthex had a ring to it.  You knew you were in an important place when you entered a narthex!"

Hildegarde is mouse mistress at Saint Barthloemew's.  In her charge are over 200 mice including her friends Roderick and Francis, who used to live at the university library, and her rival Lucretia.

This book is simply a delight.  If you are a Tumtum and Nutmeg fan you must read Bless this Mouse. Hildegarde herself is a wonderful character. She is firm in her convictions, wise in her actions and loyal to her people.  When not one not two but three mice are seen by humans in the church Hildegarde know it is time to act quickly before the Great X leads to their extermination.  She carefully organizes for all the mice to leave the church and take shelter in the graveyard.  "I know most of you have never been Outdoors before.  We are not, after all, field mice!'  The audience tittered.  Field mice! Of course they weren't field mice!.  'And we will not be here long. Probably two days. But I myself have traveled a bit from time to time, and have learned to appreciate some of the dangers of the Outdoors.  So I want to alert you."

The first plan to avoid the Great X involves eating the phone book so Father Murphy cannot find the number to call, then they decide to just eat the page with the number so the mice, after some very hard work, turn the phone book to the X section only to discover there is no mention of the terrible X.  Later Hildegarde overhears Father Murphy on the phone and realizes their mistake.  It is not X it is E for EXTERMINATOR!

The way these wonderful mice outwit the exterminator will have you cheering right to the last page.  Here is a detailed review and another one too.  This book also reminded me of Mossop's last chance by Michael Morpurgo which has long been a favourite book of mine.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The year Mrs Montague cried by Susan White

Last year I was lucky to spend some time in Halifax and in particular visiting one of the best children's bookshops in the world - Woozles.

While I was there chatting with the manager she mentioned The Year Mrs Montague cried by a local author from New Brunswick.  I do like to read books by local authors when I visit faraway places.

I am so very happy that she told me about this gentle book.  As you will have guessed from the title this is an emotional story best suited to a very mature Grade six reader.  Mrs Montague's son Zachary has died towards the end of the previous school year but she is back and ready to continue with this same group of children into Grade four.  Mrs Montague is suffering profound grief and at times she has to leave her class in tears but she tries to soldier on by coming to school, encouraging the children to write every day in their journals because, as she explains, by writing and writing you become a better writer.  Mrs Montague also loves to read to her class every day.

Here is a lovely image :

"When Mrs M reads to us during Read Aloud she sits on the couch. Every day she invites four kids to sit on the couch with her: she's in the middle and two kids are on each side. The rest of the class sits on the floor in front of the couch."

Mrs Montague reads the most wonderful books to her class.  I would love to put this book in to the hands of all teachers - every one should read to their class every day.  Mrs Montague is an inspiration and thoughtfully Susan White has included a book list so you can also read the books enjoyed by Taylor's class. We have nearly all of them in our school library. Some of my favourites are Because of Winn Dixie, The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, Hatchet, Love you forever, Number the stars, Holes and Where the red fern grows.

While we read about the journey through grief that Mrs Montague shares with her class over the year, Taylor herself has a lot to contend with at home.  Her younger brother Corey is gravely ill and through Taylor's insightful journal writing the reader is able to follow her emotional journey and changing family relationships.

I really enjoyed this book and even though sad books do make me cry I did not cry at all in The Year Mrs Montague cried.  I think this is because Taylor herself writes which such deep wisdom and this allowed me to observe Mrs Montague slightly from a distance.  I also enjoyed all the Canadian references in this book.  It is one of the terrific things about being an English speaking country.  We can enjoy books from so many different parts of the world.

I highly recommend this book for older students who enjoy sensitive and insightful stories.  You might also enjoy Remembering Mrs Rossi.

Clementine Rose and the pet day disaster by Jacqueline Harvey

This will seem like an odd comment but when I sat down to read Clementine Rose and the pet day disaster, which is in fact the second book in this series, I really thought I am not going to enjoy this book. I expected to be able to predict the plot and on reading the blurb I thought the story would be thin and too sweet for my taste.

I was so wrong.  I found myself smiling and enjoying the company of Clementine Rose.  She is a little like a mixture of Judy Moody, Junie B Jones  and even the original Clementine by Sara Pennypacker.  As for the plot - well it was not predictable.

Having read the second book before the first I do need to go back to the beginning and find out a little more about Clementine's eccentric family and especially read more about her pet pig Lavender who is naturally the star of this second book which involves a school pet show. I also need to read more about how Clementine came to be part of this family and why they live in an old hotel.

If you ignore the fact that Clementine Rose is only five years old - she does have some wonderful insights into the world of school and especially into teachers and school routines.

"Clementines tummy grumbled and she was very glad when Mrs Bottomley announced that it was time for lunch. The teacher had the children stand in two straight lines and marched them across the quadrangle.  Clementine was quite sure now that Mrs Bottomley had a thing about lines."

Even though the main character is quite young this is not a beginning chapter book.  I think Clementine Rose is a series that will appeal to girls from Grade four and up.

Here is the web site for the series. The publisher's video makes this series look quite junior but I think a slightly older reader will have a better understanding of jokes and nuances of character.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

A place to call home by Alexis Deacon illustrated by Viviane Schwarz

This book is all about your point of view.  Depending on your location, your size and your experience you will see the world in a certain way.

If you are talking with children about visual literacy this is a perfect book.  The reader peeps through a large hole on the cover looking at seven hamster like creatures who have been living in a small dark hole. All is going well until the day arrives when the hole becomes too small and so the family have to set off to find a new home.

Using speech bubbles we follow their journey across a treacherous landscape which is actually a junk yard complete with large guard dog.  Of course this is not the view seen by our tiny friends.  To them a large puddle seems as wide as the sea, an old set of drawers are a mountain and a patch of sand must be the desert.

The final page where they discover an even bigger world is simply spectacular.  Here is a review.  Here is the web site for the illustrator.  Look for her other books in our school library they are very special.

This book is a joyous romp from front to back.  Go into your library and grab it today.

Fast-paced with wit and heart, this ridiculous rodent road-trip will appeal to future comic-book lovers—and anyone part of a tight band of brothers (or sisters). 

My name is Elizabeth by Annika Dunklee illustrated by Matthew Forsythe

This is such an obvious idea but I am almost certain this is the first picture book I have seen with this message.  My Name is Elizabeth is the title and the theme of this book.  Elizabeth simply wants to be called Elizabeth - not Lizzie, or Beth or Liz or even Betsy.  Elizabeth loves her name.  She is proud to be named after the queen and so using body language and facial expressions she works hard to convince everyone that her name is ELIZABETH.  In fact her name is Elizabeth Alfreda Roxanne Bluebell Jones "but you may call me Elizabeth."

The timing of this book is perfect for me as I ask our new Kindergarten children their names each week in the library.  Many are quite confused by all the names they have and will tell me the whole name, others can only whisper a tiny abbreviated name which I have to translate onto our formal barcode list.  Names for young children can be confusing.

This is a simply and perhaps slight book but it is nevertheless quite delightful. Here is a review.

As an extra coincidence I really wanted Elizabeth to be my middle name when I was a child.

Secrets at Sea by Richard Peck illustrated by Kelly Murphy

Tumtum and Nutmeg fans will want to grab this book, Secrets at Sea, with both hands and dive into the lives of these adventurous mice.

Helena and her family live in New York city and can traced their family origins back to the original Dutch settlers.  The mice have adopted each new family over the generations.

Helena and her surviving sisters Louise and Beatrice are named after the daughters of Queen Victoria in England.  By a lovely coincidence Victoria is about to celebrate her diamond jubilee just as Queen Elizabeth did last year.  Vicky, Alice and their mother and father have perished.  Helena is in charge of her sisters and her tearaway brother Lamont.  The upstairs family - the Upstairs Cranstons have decided to travel across the oceans from New York to London in order to find a partner for their elder daughter Olive.  It is all about "giving Olive her chance".  Olive sadly is a fairly plain girl while her younger sister Camilla is considered a beauty.

There are so many quaint and delicious touches in this book.  The mice wear only fur around the house but at home as a family they dress in human clothes fashioned from scraps left from the human sewing basket.

"Louise and Beatrice and I were up there half the night every night, bringing down snippets of satin and serge that had fallen from the dress makers' scissors. And ribbon ends. And any spool of thread, rolled under their worktables. And all the pins and needles worked into the carpet. Because you never know what yo';ll need.  We think ahead, we mice."

Helena decides to seek advice from an elderly relative.  Using a crystal ball (a marble) Anunt Fannie Fenimore tells her the family must travel with the upstairs Cranstons on the ship to England. This is terrifying news because mice and water do not mix.  In fact it was an accident with a rain barrel that led to the drowning of three family members.  The four siblings travel to the ship inside the family trunks and once on board they discover all the other mice who are also travelling with families bound for England.  Nigel, their charming cockney Cabin Steward, takes the four mice to the dining hall on their first night.

"On the far side we got the surprise of our lives.  There sat easily a hundred and fifty mice, at three or four long tables - yardsticks, supported by alphabet blocks. ... Young mice waiters with perky black bow ties bustled along the diners, stepping neatly over their tails, serving the soup course. ... Before we knew it we'd been seated down the end of a yardstick. Thimbles of a clear soup were set before us.  As it turned out, we kept just a course behind the humans in the dining saloon above."

The details in this book are all perfect.  The food, the world seen through the eyes of a mouse, life on board the ship, the observances of rank and privilege, and the insights into the personalities of all the characters. I especially loved the food!

I wonder why illustrators get such small billing on the front cover of novels.  The illustrations in this book are so important and so well drawn that even in black and white pencil you almost feel you can stroke the fur of each mouse.  The final illustration of Helena and her partner skimming the dance floor is magical.  You can read more here and see all the illustrations.

Whimsical language, sure characterization, unflagging adventure, even romance—all seen through Helena's relentlessly practical beady little eyes.