Sunday, July 28, 2013

Pip Street A Whiskery mystery by Jo Simmons

If you are in need of a really funny book that is very easy to read grab A Whiskery Mystery.  If you enjoy a good mystery and you like to read about young crime solvers grab this book.  If you own a cat - grab this book.  If you need a book to read aloud to your child - grab this book!!

A big thank you must go to Bloomin' books in Carringbah.  The owner Kate Colley found this gem and included it with the parcel she sends us each term.

This book is full of jokes.... Here is the beginning of Chapter two :

"Bobby Cobbler was a little boy, about this big with a sprinkling of freckles and teeth as white as snow (and everywhere that Bobby went, his teeth were sure to go).  He had sharp eyes (but not sharp enough to cut yourself on), and a mind as curious as a kitten's and fifty times as smart."

Bobby's dad sells sweets and when the market dries up the family need to move on so Bobby has spent his whole life moving from one town to another.  Luckily he has his beloved cat, Conkers, to keep him company. As this story begins the family have moved into Pip Street but after just one night Conkers goes missing.

Bobby makes a new friend - his neighbour - a girl called Imelda Alice Marjorie Small "(Which if you write it out, makes I AM Small - and she was)."  Imelda suggests they should make missing cat posters to put up around the street.  Bobby thinks this is a splendid idea but as they race around the street putting up their posters they discover there are missing posters everywhere and nearly all of them are about missing cats.

Bobby and Imelda are now on the trail of a mystery.  There are many possible suspects among their neighbours.  There is a man who writes chalk messages on the footpath, an old lady who blinks a lot and a man who rides a wild mobility scooter.

Even the chapter titles in this book are perfect - A plan is planned, He thought he saw a pussycat, A right Royal snoop around and A street called Pip.

I am excited to discover a second adventure is available - A Crumpety Calamity.

If you enjoy this book - and you will -  you should  also look for the Claude series which have a similar sense of fun.

The twenty-seventh Annual African Hippopotamus race by Morris Lurie

A colleague of mine has been reading the classic story The Twenty-Seventh Annual African Hippopotamus Race to our Grade 2 classes over the last few weeks so I decided it was time to listen to the audio book.

This story is such a treat.  You just know from the beginning that Edward is destined to win this important race along the Zamboola River. It is a long journey to race day but Edward never looses his happy manner and joyful wonder. "Gosh" is his favourite word and each time it is repeated I just smiled and smiled.  I know when we were reading this book in the library everyone was cheering as Edward reached the last stages of his race.

It might amaze you to discover this book is 44 years old.  Here is a web quest based on this book. Here is a set of worksheets and a story extract.

I have been recommending this book, especially during Olympic years, for a long time.  I am glad I found our CD so I could listen to this terrific story of courage and determination.  One more thing to mention.  Edward has brilliant support from his whole family - mum, dad and his special grandfather who is himself a former race winner.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Walker book of Poetry for Children (Review number 500!)

Today is the day I reached 500 reviews/posts on my blog.  I set myself the target of four books per month back in 2009 but last year I decided to try and reach 500 posts by the end of 2012.  I am six months late but all I can say is better late than never.  I have been thinking over the last few days about which book I might use to celebrate post 500 and I have selected a poetry book.

I have owned this book for nearly thirty years and it continues to be a book that I regularly use from my book shelf.  If I need a poem this anthology nearly always has a wonderful example.

The full title of this book is The Walker book of Poetry for Children a Treasury of 572 poems for Today's child selected by Jack Prelutsky and illustrated by Arnold Lobel.  Here is the blurb and it really sums up why I 'treasure' this book :

"This book is a treasure chest.  In one beautifully illustrated volume there are 572 poems to suit a child's every mood: nonsense poems and poems about pets; nature poems and goblin poems and even poems about chocolate!  Here are traditional favorites as well as poems of today - all brought to life with enchanting illustrations by Caldecott Medal winner Arnold Lobel.  Children, as well as adults, will delight in page after page of splendid rhythm, rhyme and imagery."

I first used this book with my Grade three class - we were asked to perform for a small school event and so we learnt two poems from this book and even now I can still recite them.  One is called Rules by Karla Kuskin and the other is Me also by Karla Kuskin.  This poetry collection contains three essential devices - an index of poets, an index of first lines and a subject index - which is brilliant.

Our school library copy of this book has an interesting history.  When I arrived in my current school we already had a copy of this special poetry collection.  I was so happy to see my favorite book. A student teacher called into the library asking for a poem to read to his class so I loaned him The Walker book of Poetry and we never saw the book again.  This was in 1997 and this book was out of print.  I was in despair.  Luckily about ten years later my poetry book appeared again - the title is slightly different but the content is the same.  I wonder if this young man became a teacher - I do hope he has enjoyed using this book.

I will finish my 500th post with the last poem in this book :

Keep a poem in your pocket by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers

Keep a poem in your pocket
and a picture in your head
and you'll never feel lonely
at night when you're in bed

The little poem will sing to you
the little picture bring to you
a dozen dreams to dance to you
at night when you're in bed

Keep a picture in your pocket
and a poem in your head
and you'll never feel lonely
at night when you're in bed.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

SLOB by Ellen Potter

SLOB is an amazing book.  Ellen Potter has written a plot that is impossible to second guess. I had no idea what was would happen in this story.

Owen Birnbaum is fat but he is also a very intelligent boy and an inventor.  School is an especially tough place for Owen and things become even harder when a new kid arrives.  This new student has dreadful scars down one side of his face and an reputation for violence.  The worst lesson of the day for Owen is PE.  The teacher is deliberately cruel to Owen and every session is torture.  Now it seems the teacher is also attacking Mason.

At home Owen is working on an elaborate invention which will help him solve a mystery.  He is using parts scavenged from building sites to make an electronic device which can pick up signals sent into space from earth over one year ago.

Owen's family is another complex dimension to this story. His sister has joined a group of girls at school called the GWAB - girls who are boys.

"There are seven other girls in the club and they have all changed their names to boys' names. They only wear boys' clothes and cut their hair in boy haircuts."

Joining this group means conflict at home between Caitlin now called Jeremy and Mom.

This is a book that a senior primary student will enjoy.  In our school library we will mark this book Grade six only as there are some violent scenes.  My friend Mr K has written a terrific review and he gives this book five out of five.

If you enjoy SLOB - and I sincerely recommend you try to get your hands on this book - then you might also enjoy two Australian books The Tuckshop kid by Pat Flynn and Fat Four-eyed and useless by David Hill.  You might also look for 35 Kilos of hope which has a similar tone.  Finally the Kirkus review below mentions Jerry Spinelli and yes if you read SLOB your next author should be Spinelli.

An intriguingly offbeat mystery concerning the theft of cookies from a boy’s lunch, at turns humorous, suspenseful and poignant

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Bailey by Harry Bliss

At the start of each school year I enjoy putting together a huge box filled with books about starting school to be read to our new Kindergarten students. I have some favourites including Tom goes to Kindergarten by Margaret Wild, Countdown to Kindergarten also illustrated by Harry Bliss and Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes.   In fact I even have a pinterest collection with all our titles.

Now I have found Bailey and this book is definitely another perfect book to begin the year.  Bailey is heading off to Champlain Elementary School.  "The early bird wakes Bailey up.  It is time to start the day and get ready for school."

There are so many pages that just made me smile.  Bailey brushes his fur counting 98, 99, 100.  He chooses what to wear from his extensive wardrobe of coloured collars. After a short distraction Bailey manages to catch the bus and he arrives at school in time for a greeting by the Principal.  "Good Morning Bailey! Try not to lick anyone today."

Bailey has a gift for his teacher - a bone.  As you might expect a dog ate his homework so Bailey finds himself with a severe tummy ache.  Back in class Bailey presents his news, enjoys a maths lesson and an art lesson and lunch and playtime.  He even has a special talent for dancing.  The day ends with reading time.  Then Bailey catches the bus home happy in the knowledge that tomorrow will be another great day.  Here is a special review in the New York Times.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Because by Richard Torrey

When you read a picture book to a young child it should be an opportunity for a conversation.  Because is the perfect book for this because nothing is explained.  The reader has to fill in all the gaps.

"My mum says 'because' is not a real answer.  But I think it is."

Our little hero needs to find the toy in the cereal box, make a washing basket spaceship and experiment with a whole box of band-aids. Along the way he and his dog make a a great amount of mess and have a lot of fun.  My favourite page is when Jack has to send his dog to the naughty corner for cheating at checkers.

This book has perfect and joyful illustrations.  It reminded me of the wonderful Barney Saltzberg and his character Cornelius P Mud.

There are two other books in this series - Why? and Almost so we will need to add them to our shopping list.

The summer of May by Cecilia Gallant

"That time in class when you said I laughed at you about this poem?"  ... 'Do you remember what it was you said?'  I remembered perfectly.  It had been one of those rare days when I hadn't exactly felt like trying, and I definitely didn't care one way or the other, but I'd been listening with half an ear anyway.  Movado the Avocado had read 'Harlem' three times aloud to the class and now she was packing up and down the length of the room, shouting out questions. There were a few timid answers, but most of the students just stared down at the poem.  'Why do you think Mr Hughes asks so many questions in this poem?' she'd asked at one point.  I raised my hand ..."

May lives with her dad and her grandmother.  May's mother has left.  As this story opens May really has gone too far.  This lesson, like so many others lately has gone badly wrong and May has been caught painting graffiti on the classroom wall.  Now she is facing expulsion or Summer school with the dreaded Movado the Avocado.  She has no choice and so May goes to Summer school each day for a series of rather surprising English lessons and along the way she discovers important things about herself, her family and Miss Movado - things that are sure to surprise you.

The Summer of May is a novel for a senior reader.  I read this book in one sitting - yes it is that good. Here is a detailed review.

After reading this book you might like to look for The Year Mrs Montague cried which also deals with the subject of deep grief. You should also read one of the next books I am reviewing Slob by Ellen Potter.  I also thought of Ida B when I was reading this book because Ida is another character who has to deal with anger and the world of adults.

Albert le Blanc to the rescue by Nick Butterworth

This is the second book about a special polar bear called Albert Le Blanc.  At the end of last term a parent from our school donated a huge number of second hand books.  Most of these will be placed in classrooms, a few are going to a country school with a small library and a handful will become part of our library collection.

As I sorted through all these books I was keeping my eye out for any real gems and I found this one.  Albert Le Blanc is a wonderful book about the way we judge others by their facial expressions.

Albert looks so sad that the other toys decide he needs cheering up.  They don't listen when Albert tries to explain about his face.  In the final crazy moment of the show Sally the hippo lands on top of Albert and plants a huge lipstick smile onto his face and everyone laughs.

We have had this book in our school library for many years but I had no idea there was a sequel.  In this second installment Albert Le Blanc to the rescue Sally herself has been sold which is sad but Albert is still able to see her as she is carried by her new owner when she is shopping.  One day, however, Sally falls out of the little girl's bag and into the mud.  She is picked up by a stranger and taken home and washed.  Albert is desperate to help Sally and then he sees her hanging on a clothes line just outside the toy shop window.  It will take co-operation between all the toys to rescue Sally.  If you love the movie of Toy Story you will really enjoy this adventure.

If you enjoy this book you should also read Arnold the Prickly Teddy by Kym Lardner.

As a bonus this copy comes with a listening CD.  You can hear it here.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Gooney Bird Greene by Lois Lowry illustrated by Middy Thomas

I keep seeing Gooney Bird Green mentioned on book lists.  It seems there are a huge number of lists circulating in cyberspace. Lists for second graders, lists about themes, list of books to use for teaching and so on.

Now that I have read Gooney Bird Greene I can see why this title appears on lists for second graders and lists of great read-a-loud books.  Gooney Bird herself is an irresistible storyteller even the class teacher comes under her spell.

Gooney Bird arrives at Watertower Elementary School about one month after school has started for the year.  As chance would have it the class are learning about story writing.  Gooney is a fascinating girl and so when the teacher asks for suggestions about a character for the class story with one voice the whole class suggest Gooney herself.

Her introduction to the class had left every one full of questions :

"I'm your new student.  My name is Gooney Bird Green - that's Greene with a silent 'e' at the end - and I just moved here from China."  Later Gooney also tells the class she has diamond earrings given to her by the prince at a palace, she has traveled on a flying carpet and her cat was consumed by a cow.  These outlandish claims form the basis for a daily storytelling time and these stories will certainly make you smile especially when you hear Gooney say "I only tell absolutely true stories."

There are many sites with questions and ideas for using this book with a class.  This is not a new book but it is a new addition to our school library and one that I am sure many young readers will enjoy.  There are five books in the series so we need to add these to our shopping list.  Reading this book reminded me of Pippi Longstocking.  I especially loved the descriptions of Gooney's clothes each day.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Pie by Sarah Weeks

It sounds like a cliche but Pie is quite simply a delicious book.  I gobbled it up so quickly and, not surprisingly, it has made me feel the need to go out and eat a large slice of pie.

Aunt Polly is a brilliant pie maker.  So talented she has won the Blueberry Pie Medal thirteen times and the whole town has benefited from her talents.  People come from far and wide to 'buy' these delicious pies.  No money is involved though, because Polly likes to give the pies away.

"Why on earth would I charge people money for something that brings me so much pleasure?"

Since they cannot pay with money people leave produce for Polly in the form of pie ingredients but sadly as the book begins Polly has died.  Her loving niece Alice is utterly lost.  She herself has no real interest in making pies even though she has watched and helped her aunt for years.  Alice is lost without her special aunt and so is everyone in the town because Polly has mysteriously left the details of her pie crust recipe to her cat Lardo.  When the pie shop is ransacked and Lardo is catnapped Alice and her new friend Charlie employ their detective skills to get to the truth.

If you want to know everything about this book and read a bonus pie recipe review look at this blog - it is amazing.  Here is a set of discussion questions.

This book does contain fourteen pie recipes.  Some of them sound a little odd like Green Tomato pie and Peanut butter and Raspberry Cream pie but I do like the sound of the Buttermilk pie and the Peach pie.

This book reminded me of Bliss which I recently reviewed.  We also have Regular Guy by Sarah Weeks in our school library and I now discover there are more books in this series.

How to steal a dog by Barbara O'Connor

This book, How to steal a dog, has a terrific cover which is why I picked it up today.  I read this whole book in one sitting and I have to say this is a wonderful story.  It is not a new book - first published in 2007 but it will be new into our school library next term.

Georgina, her mum and brother Toby have been evicted from their apartment and are now forced to live in their car.  Georgina is a resourceful girl and so when she sees a missing dog poster that offers a $500 reward she hits on a brilliant plan.  If she could steal a dog from a wealthy owner perhaps she could claim the reward and then the family would have enough money to move back into an apartment.

To this end Georgina makes lists of all the tasks involved in completing her plan :

April 5th ...
Step 1: Find a dog ...
These are the rules for finding a dog :
1. The dog must not bark too much.
2. The dog must not bite.
3. The dog must be by itself sometimes.
4. The dog must be loved a lot and not just some old dog that no one cares about
5. The owner of the dog must look like somebody who will pay a lot of money to get their dog back."

She finds the perfect little dog called Willy.  He seems to meet all her criteria but there also seem to be so many more things Georgina needs to think about - how to find a rope for the dog, where to hide him, then there is the issue of food and water.  Then Georgina meets Carmella Whitmore and she discovers some uncomfortable truths about appearances.  Carmella does have the same name as the road where she lives and her house is large but Carmella is poor.  Little Willy is her special friend. She is inconsolable without him.  Sadly it seems Georgina has created a problem that she cannot solve.

I highly recommend How to Steal a Dog and you might like to keep an eye out for the movie which will surprise and delight you.  It was made in Korea and I recently watched it while flying from Singapore. The cover below shows a slightly different title but the movie I watched did match the book.  Hopefully it will reach us here in Australia some time soon.  You might also like to dip into the author web site.

If you enjoy How to steal a dog you might also like to read Too Small to Fail by Morris Gleitzman, Hold Fast by Blue Balliett and for more mature readers take a look at The Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt.

Here is a quote from the review by Kirkus.

Friday, July 5, 2013

How to get your kid to be a fanatical reader -

This article is very interesting.  We work hard in our school to provide fabulous books for all students ...boys and girls.  This article addresses the role of parents.  Modelling, setting goals, reading with and to children and providing great books are all essential ingredients along with parent attitude showing you value reading!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

View from the 32nd floor by Emma Cameron

Every so often I read a book that I just love and this is one of those times.  View from the 32rd Floor had an unpromising cover but please don't let that put you off.  This is a wonderful book very reminiscent of the writing of Odo Hirsch.  This book has a strong sense of compassion and community and a cast of interesting characters led by one special boy called ...

The hero of this book is a boy called William - well that is his real name but he has a book  - The big book of Names so each day he selects a new name and his joyous family and friends do not question this - each day William announces his new name and for that whole day everyone is happy to use it.

Here are some examples :
Gregory (vigilant watchman) Faust (lucky)
Demetrius (lover of Earth) Altair (flying eagle)
Forbes (traveller) Peregrine (a falcon)
Aulis (helpful) Oswin (divine friend)

William lives in a high rise apartment opposite another high rise apartment building.  He likes to use his binoculars to check on his neighbors - not because he is a spy or a busybody - he is just interested in people and their habits.  As the book opens a new family have moved in and William notices the girl walks like a pony.  He hopes this girl, who is called Rebecca, might become his friend.  He also notices one elderly neighbor is not eating properly and another never opens her curtains.

There are some delightful little ideas in this book.  For example each night William's dad sets their CD player with a new song for William to listen to while he eats breakfast.  Another example is the way William says "Always, always."

This book is also brim full of splendid food - and if you have read any part of this blog you will know that I love books that mention food and feasts and picnics and cake!

If you enjoy View from the 32nd Floor - what am I saying WHEN you read View from the 32nd Floor you will love it and then you should look for Hazel Green by Odo Hirsch, What do you think Feezal by Elizabeth Honey and Amelia Dee and the Peacock lamp also by Odo Hirsch.

I am going to make a bold prediction and say this book should be short listed for the 2014 CBCA awards.  If you are looking for a book to read this book should be number one on your list - it is sure to make you SMILE!!

Definitely no ducks by Meg McKinlay illustrated by Leila Rudge

I had my fingers crossed when I started reading Definitely no ducks!  I enjoyed Duck for Day when it was short listed by the CBCA but so often I find sequels just don't weave quite the same magic.

I am so happy to report Definitely no Ducks did not disappoint me. I loved it - even more than Duck for Day.  The children across the school are preparing a special assembly for an important visitor.  Each class has been assigned an continent and Mrs Melvino and her class have been preparing their item all about Antarctica complete with huge papier mache models of penguins, seals and an iceberg.

Abby and Noah, who we met in the first book, are still allowed to look after Max at night and since they love Max, the class duck, so much they are happy to share this privilege.

As the story opens Melanie, a girl in the class, lifts up a bag from under her desk.

"It was a bag - a bright pink bag with a shiny metal zipper. An open zipper; with something poking out of it. Something small and wriggly.  With a little furry face and an even littler neck. A neck with a sparkling silver collar and a tiny pink tag."

Moments later there is a crash in the class storeroom and the children rush in to see all their wonderful models are smashed. Blame falls on Max and then the school Principal Mr Oswald arrives.  He sees the mess and declares "definitely no ducks!"  Everyone tries to think of a solution but Mrs Melvino knows Max cannot stay and so neither can she.  This is a catastrophe. Everyone loves Mrs Melvino and Max.  What can the children do to save their teacher, save their assembly item and save their beloved Max?  The ending will make you smile but it might also surprise you.

Here is a web site for the illustrator.

Keeper by Kathi Appelt

Keeper is like an onion with lots of layers or perhaps a rose with endless petals.  The story is structured like a spiral with lots of repetition and flashbacks.  Each of the one hundred and twenty chapters gives a tiny glimpse of the plot.  Reading this book is, as I said in my last post, quite a challenge. As a reader you need perseverance but if you give this book time the final scenes are brilliant.

Keeper is convinced her mother is a mermaid.  As a small baby she has been left in the care of Signe, a young girl who has previously run away from home.  Other adults in her life are Dogie, a young man damaged by his experiences as a soldier and Mr Beauchamp her elderly neighbor who was once a seafaring man.  She also has the companionship of her her faithful dog called BD (Best Dog), a seagull called Captain, Sinbad, Mr Beachamp's cat and Too, Dogie's dog.

As the story opens Keeper is leaving her tiny community in search of her mother.  Keeper needs advice.  It has been the night of the blue moon but all the special things have been ruined.  Singe's gumbo is spoilt, the crabs have been set free, Singe's special bowl has been smashed, Dogie has not sung his special two word song and Mr Beauchamp's night-blooming cyrus has been knocked out of its pot on the one night of the year when it was due to bloom.

I was curious about this flower so I thought I would include an image of this cactus.

It seems things cannot get any worse for Keeper so she prepares a twenty-six step plan, gathers her special wooden mermaid figures carved by Mr Beauchamp and with her dog BD by her side she rows out toward the open ocean.

Here is the trailer - no words just wonderful images.  Here is an excellent detailed review.

If you read enjoy Keeper you might also look for the Ingo series by Helen Dunmore, Everything on a waffle by Polly Horvath and the Emily Windsnap series by Liz Kessler.

Deftly spinning together mermaid lore, local legend and natural history, this stunning tale proves “every landscape has its magical beings,” and the most unlikely ones can form a perfect family.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Coming up

The pile of books on my reading pile never seems to grow smaller.  I thought I might use this quick post to list the books I will read over the next couple of weeks so you know what is coming up.

We have our library donate-a-book early next term and with over 900 new books ready for our display I have plenty of books to read.

Today I started Keeper by Kathi Appelt which I am enjoying.  The writing style is stretching me.  The reader needs to work hard with this book to fill in the gaps and allow details to emerge slowly.  We have had this book in our school library for quite a while. It keeps getting borrowed but so far no students have come back and talked to me.  I suspect this might be because this book requires some perseverance.

Other books I plan to read soon are :

Definitely no ducks by Meg McKinlay - I did enjoy Duck for a day so I expect this one to be a treat.
Slob by Ellen Potter - the cover intrigues me
Wild Wings by Gill Lewis - Kirkus describes this as a powerful story
Pie by Sarah Weeks - anther intriguing cover and it contains recipes for pie! which if you have ever read my blog you will know greatly appeals to me
Moon over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool - since this is a Newbery winner I have to read it.
View from the 32nd floor by Emma Cameron - I just read the first two pages of this Australian novel and I am hooked
The luck of the Buttons by Anne Ylvisaker
The Summer of May by Cecilia Galante