Monday, November 18, 2013

Escape from Mr Lemoncello's library by Chris Grabenstein

"These twelve children have lived their entire lives without a public library.  As a result they have no idea how extraordinarily useful, helpful, and funful - a word I recently invented - a library can be. This is their chance to discover that a library is more than a collection of dusty old books.  It is a place to learn, explore and grow!"

Today was a rainy day.  I thought I would just spend half an hour dipping into this new book.  Three hours later I lifted my head with an enormous smile on my face.  Saying I loved this book is not enough!  I LOVE THIS BOOK!

If you are a fan of Charlie and the Chocolate factory, Jumanji, The Mysterious Benedict society, any books by Blue Baillett, or The Mixed up files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler you will love this book.  Rush out and grab it now!

Just like Willy Wonker, Mr Lemoncello sets up a competition and the winners (there are twelve of them) will spend the night in the new library in the town of Alexandriaville.  Yes you should make your first connection.  Have you heard about the famous library at Alexandria?  Our hero Kyle almost misses the competition because he did not listen when it was announced but Kyle knows in any good game you sometimes get to roll the dice again and so he works furiously and writes his essay entry.  The teacher will not accept his work but Kyle decides to email directly to Mr Lemoncello himself.

The twelve lucky winners enjoy a wonderful night in the new library but the real surprise comes the next morning when they have the chance to play a far more exciting game.  They must find a way out of the library (it used to be a bank), they have only 24 hours and  "the way out is not the way you came in.  You may not use any of the fire exits. .. Creating an incident that requires evacuation will not count as having discovered a way to exit the library."  The children have three lifelines each and they can also participate in extreme challenges but while the rewards will be great failure means elimination.  The library is filled with holograms, amazing technology and rooms organised using the Dewey decimal system.

Here are a set of questions to use with your class.

I have made a list of some of the books Chris Grabenstein cleverly mentions in his story either in a sentence or as a pun:

"The correct answer is - and not just because of Winn Dixie - D"
"something wicked this way will probably come"
"there's no place I'd rather be on my big day than inside a library, surrounded by books. Unless, of course, I could be on a bridge to Terabithia."
"And thus ends the story of Andrew and the terrible, horrible, no good very had day."
"Fail ... and ... you will be eliminated from the game, and your team, due to a series of unfortunate events, will be forced to struggle on without you."
"Well, it's cloudy with a chance of meatballs and I had nothing better to do."

There are two books on each of the children's library cards - No David!; One fish, two fish, red fish, Blue fish; Tales of a fourth grade nothing; Olivia; Scat; Where the sidewalk ends; I love you, Stinky Face and The Napping house are a few examples.

Read this review if I have not convinced you that this book is wonderful.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Little Riders by Margaretha Shemin illustrated by Peter Spier

This is one of those books I mentioned where our school library copy is old and needing replacement so I bought it home to re-read just to be sure it was worth buying a new copy.

I read this book over twenty years ago and yes it has stood the test of time.  Actually The Little Riders was first published in 1963.

Johanna is sent to the safety of her grandparents in Holland during World War II and for four years she has enjoyed helping her grandfather care for the little riders.  The riders are a set of figures that live in the town clock.  Each hour, on the hour, music plays and the little riders emerge from the clock.

"They would ride up to each other, lift their swords in a salute and then go in the opposite door. In and out as many times as the clock had struck.  While they rode in and out of the doors, the carillon of the church played old Dutch folk tunes."

One day the German soldiers march in to the town.  The little riders are no longer safe.  "Grandfather started to think again about a safe hiding place for the little riders because now, more than ever, the Germans needed every scrap of metal for ammunition."

The real crisis is not long in coming.  A German soldier has moved into the house and even into Johanna's room.  In this same room there is a hidden space inside the cupboard.  When her Grandfather and Grandmother are taken by the soldiers Johanna has only minutes to hide the precious riders.  Will she dare to hide them in this cupboard which is filled with German uniforms?

You can watch the movie here.

My father's dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett ilustrated by Ruth Chrisman Gannett

My Father's dragon (1948) seems to appear on so many beginning reading lists I was very pleased to discover we have an almost new copy in our school library.  Today I had a spare twenty minutes so I picked up this book and read it from beginning to end.

This is absolutely my kind of book!  It truly is a timeless classic and yes it would make a fabulous read-a-loud for a young class.

I loved this book because it is so very tidy.  Our hero sets off to free an enslaved dragon.  Under the guidance of a cat he has befriended he packs :

  • chewing gum
  • two dozen pink lollipops
  • a pack of rubber bands
  • a tooth brush and toothpaste
  • six magnifying glasses
  • a comb and hairbrush
  • seven hair ribbons

As his adventure unfolds each of these 'supplies' is used in different and quite inventive ways to save him from a number of life threatening situations involving tigers, a rhinoceros, a lion, an itchy gorilla and some very fickle crocodiles.

I recommend you read this book with a supply of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and a huge pile of tangerines.

Here is a set of teaching notes.

The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry and the Big Hungry Bear by Don and Audrey Wood

I have loved this book The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry and the Big Hungry Bear for a long time so you can imagine my delight when I discovered a copy with a CD - this adds another dimension to this deceptively simply story.

Someone is talking to the little mouse - warning him about the big hungry bear and the desperate need to protect a yummy ripe red strawberry that the mouse is just about to pick.  I think the charm of this off stage narrator works in a similar way to the extra voices we hear in Spot.  See below for my favourite page where we see the mouse trying to disguise the strawberry.  This is a book I never tire of reading and I know my kindergarten students have really enjoyed reading it with their teachers this term too.

In addition to the book and CD I also have the mouse, the strawberry and even the knife in my toy collection.

This book is a timeless classic for our youngest children.  Look for it in your library today.

Here is a video of the book.  Here is a detailed lesson plan.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Holly and Ivy by Rumer Godden illustrated by Barbara Cooney

Is it too early to review a Christmas book?  The shops are already filling with trees and decorations and today I saw my first fruit mince pies so perhaps I can talk about this very special Christmas book even though it is only early November. The story of Holly and Ivy is very old.  It was first published in 1957 but we have bought a beautiful new copy for our school library.  I remember an elderly relative gave me a book by Rumer Godden when I was about four or five - Miss Happiness and Miss Flower.  I still have my precious old copy.

The story of Holly and Ivy is a Christmas book that should be read with a young child beside you.  It is a long story which could be enjoyed over several nights.  Here in Australia you would be reading this book in the Summer but it would be even better shared on a cold winter evening with snow falling softly around your home.

This story is slightly reminiscent of The little match girl by Hans Christian Andersen but it does not have the same tragic ending - in fact the ending here is miraculous and this is part of the charm and delight of this story.

Holly is a doll in a toy shop.  The time is Christmas eve. Nearly all the toys have been sold but the little Christmas doll in her red dress, red shoes and green socks has been overlooked.  In a scene like the one in Toy Story 3, there is an evil toy who also remains unsold - an owl.  He is the voice of doom.  His name is Abracadabra and he seems determined to make Holly's life miserable.  He even tries to stop the shop boy Peter from giving Holly to Ivy the little orphan girl who has spent the night sleeping near the toy shop after looking all day for her 'Grandmother.'

"Peter said that Abracadabra must have toppled, for a toy owl cannot fly, but it seemed for a moment that Abracadabra was right in his face; the green eyes were close, the spread of wings, the hooked beak, and the claws."

Ivy has left the orphanage when no one offers to take her over the Christmas holiday.  She is supposed to travel to an infant home but instead stays on the train and arrives in Appleton.  Ivy is convinced her grandmother lives there.  "I must look for a house with a tree and no children,' said Ivy.

Meanwhile Mrs Jones is longing for a child to share her Christmas. She tells her husband 'Christmas needs Children.'  I am sure by now you have joined all the dots here just as Rumer Godden did when she wrote this book over fifty years ago.

I love the sentiment of this quote :  "Dolls are not like us, we are alive as soon as we are born, but dolls are not really alive until they are played with."

Here is a link to the television movie of this book.  I am also including one illustration here.  As far as I can work out Barbara Cooney is the third person who has illustrated this classic Christmas Story.  The Christian Birmingham one looks lovely too but it is long out of print.  

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Flora and Ulysses -The illuminated adventures by Kate DiCamillo illustrated by KG Campbell

I hardly know where to begin with this amazing book Flora and Ulysses.  If you have not met Kate DiCamillo she truly is a master storyteller.  I have adored every book she has written and yet each book is entirely unique.  If I gave you a tiny extract of each book and you were unfamiliar with this writer I am sure you would never guess each piece of writing is by the same author.  Read my review of The Magician's Elephant, and The Tale of Despereaux.

Flora and Ulysses is such a unique and special book.  Read this review in the Boston Globe and this one in the NY Times as both explain this madcap adventure between a squirrel, a special girl called Flora and a cast of odd ball characters - some evil and some really good.  Reading this book you will also gain insights into superheroes, poetry, huge donuts and wonderful advice books such as "Terrible things can happen to you", "The illuminated adventures of the Amazing Incandesto!" and "The criminal element." The warm intelligence of a temporarily blind boy and a socially clumsy father will also add to your enjoyment but it is Flora herself that I am sure you will love.

Here is a terrific book trailer from Candlewick press.  The quote below comes from an amazing review in the SLJ.  I do hope this book wins some major awards - even perhaps the Newbery!  Teachers should grab this book with both hands and read it to their class.  The vocabulary is splendid and the way this book stretches the reader is just wonderful.  You and your class will be richly rewarded.

Flora and Ulysses does precisely what I always want in a book. It lures you in with the ridiculous and then when you least expect it gets you in the gut with a bolt of pure, uncut, unadulterated meaning. Rare fare.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Wild Wings by Gill Lewis

It is thanks to one of my younger students that I took the time to read Wild Wings.  I did start this book months ago but did not get past the first few chapters.  My student in Grade 2 renewed this book several times and, when she finished, it was clear she really enjoyed it.  I did think this book looked a little beyond a Grade 2 level so I was curious to read it for myself.

This book does require some reading stamina.  The first section is quite slow then everything changes in chapter 18. Callum and Iona  become close friends.  Iona shows Callum the nest of an osprey, which is an endangered bird, living on Callum's farm in a remote part of Scotland.  They watch these birds every day for months as the nest is built, the female osprey they name Iris arrives and eventually the eggs hatch into chicks which rapidly grow into independent adults.  Sadly Iona becomes suddenly very ill.  Callum is determined to keep his promise to care for Iris but how can he do this when she flies away to The Gambia in Africa. Luckily, with the help of a local wildlife ranger, they attach a tracking device to Iris.  As they track her migration the signal suddenly stops.  Callum is desperate to find Iris so he sends off a series of emails to strangers in The Gambia near where the signal was last transmitted.  He is contacted by Jeneba, a young girl who has been hospitalized following a bad accident.  Jeneba finds Iris but she herself needs urgent medical attention and so Callum enlists the help of everyone in his Scottish village to the raise the funds to support this young girl.  In the final scenes Jeneba arrives in Scotland and Callum takes her to see the osprey which have once again migrated to this remote part of Scotland.

"And suddenly it was as if Iona were with us, there on the mountain.  It was as if she had always been there.  I curled my fingers around the locket and held it in my hand.  My eyes burned hot with tears that wanted to come.  'Here,' I said.  I put the locket into Jeneba's palm. 'My friend would have wanted you to have this."

I have now discovered this book has a different title (Sky Hawke) in the UK so I have put both covers here.  I do hope the title and cover picture is all that has been changed as we have the US edition.  This book has won five awards including one from Kirkus - see the quote below.  If you enjoy this book you might also enjoy Hoot by Carl Hiaasen.

Here is the author web site.

With universal themes of life and death, friendship and respect for the natural world, this is still quite particular, a powerfully memorable story of a boy’s grief and determination to keep a promise.

The year of the perfect Christmas tree by Gloria Houston pictures by Barbara Cooney

I was chatting with a friend and fellow children's literature blogger about our favourite Christmas picture books.  I have lots I love but The Silver Christmas tree by Pat Hutchins is near the top.

My friend mentioned The Year of the perfect Christmas tree and I knew I would love this book. This is a Christmas story for a slight older age group - Grades 2-4.  I would follow this wonderful Christmas story with The Angel with the Mouth Organ (sadly long out of print).

The setting for this story is the Appalachian Mountains.  The Great War is raging across the oceans but Ruthie and her Mama and Papa live in a valley of peace.  Following a local tradition, Ruthie and her Papa set off in the Spring to find the Christmas tree that will be their gift to the church next Christmas.

"We shall have a balsam Christmas tree, my pretty young'un,' said Papa.  'The balsam grows up the rocky craigs where only a venturesome man may go.  The balsam is a perfect tree.  It grows up high, near to heaven."  Don't you love the word 'venturesome'.

Sadly, not long after they mark the tree, Papa is called away to be a soldier.  On Christmas eve Ruthie and her Mama visit the church.  The preacher explains that he has asked another person from the town to supply the Christmas tree this year.  Mama won't allow this to happen so she and Ruthie undertake the cold and dangerous journey up to the mountains to find the special balsam tree.

Here are some lesson notes.  Here is the review which includes the illustration below.  I am looking forward to adding this beautiful book to my Christmas reading list in 2013 which coincidentally marks the 25th anniversary of this book.